Local Government Bill, 1994: Second Stage.

Thursday, 14 April 1994

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 441 No. 3

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Minister for the Environment (Mr. M. Smith): Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time”.

[553] When I first came to the Custom House as Minister for the Environment in early 1992, I was astonished to find that yellowed legal texts, almost as old as the building iself, were still being consulted. The law on local government was still an archaic, obscure and inconsistent labyrinth. Even the very terminology is largely meaningless to an ordinary citizen in the last decade of the 20th century. It is my aim to bring this maze of local government law within the realms of rationality and modernity.

Since I took up duty as Minister for the Environment, a major programme of legislative reform has been pursued across the whole range of areas which come within my portfolio. During that period, a total of ten Bills has been enacted. This is the third local government Bill in as many years, following the Local Government Act, 1991, and the Local Government (Dublin) Act, 1993, which completed the successful process of creating three new county councils in place of Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire Corporation. We have also had legislation enacted or introduced in most of my other main areas of responsibility: three electoral Acts, two planning Acts, a roads Act, a housing Act, the Environmental Protection Agency Act and a Road Traffic Bill. I hope to be in a position in the relatively near future to proceed with a further major electoral Bill and a Bill dealing with waste management and disposal. From time to time I am under pressure to look at other changes in the electoral law which could, perhaps, include single seat constituencies and matters of that kind.

The Local Government Bill, 1994, represents a further significant advance in the ongoing process of legislative reform. It is, in its own right, a major exercise in reform, providing for what is probably the most extensive revision of local government law undertaken since the foundation of the State. It consists of 70 sections and five schedules, and provides for the repeal of provisions in 78 different enactments, including the repeal of 27 separate Acts in their entirely. It provides [554] for the replacement of legislation dating back almost 150 years by a modern, comprehensive and effective code relating to a wide range of local authority operations and some fundamental aspects of the local government system itself.

The present Bill complements the Local Government Act, 1991, bringing forward the process of local government reform which that Act commenced and addressing several important new areas. The Bill, the Dublin Act and the 1991 Act, together contain a total of 165 sections, providing for repeal or revocation of provisions in 105 different enactments dating as far back as 1840. By any standards, this amounts to a major overhaul and updating of the local government code. Together, these measures bring us ever nearer the situation where all general local government law relating to structures, procedures and functions can be consolidated into one comprehensive modern enactment. This Bill is not simply a passive consolidation exercise, much as we need that; it is a vehicle for a great many significant changes and substantive reforms, some of which I will now deal with.

Nowhere has the process of legislative reform in recent years been more evident than in the area of electoral law, with new legislation on Dáil and Presidential elections and referenda. Now it is the turn of local elections.

Part II of the Bill contains updated and consolidated provisions in relation to local authority membership. In Part III, I have set out anew, with desirable changes, those provisions in relation to the conduct of local elections which need to be enshrined in primary legislation. This will facilitate the codification of the detailed procedures relating to local elections, now contained mainly in the Local Elections Regulations, 1965, as amended by a number of subsequent measures. Following this Bill. I intend to bring before the Oireachtas for approval regulations to consolidate and modernise all the procedures at local elections. In the [555] process, I propose to apply to those elections the many improvements in procedure which have been introduced for Dáil and Presidential elections in recent years.

The electoral provisions in this Bill are not just a restatement of those which apply in the other electoral codes. I have given a great deal of thought to the special circumstances and requirements of local authorities, with particular reference to qualifications for membership. I am conscious of the body of opinion in favour of ending the so-called dual mandate of local authority and Oireachtas membership, and I know that many local authority members would welcome changes in this regard as a means of enhancing the separate status of local authority membership. No doubt there is also the counter opinion that these should be retained.

What is primarily in question here is, I believe, the significance of local government as a worthwhile enterprise in its own right, separate from central Government in both the political and administrative spheres, as far as that can be achieved. This is a feature of many other democracies. It is notable that in many European and other countries, dual membership of the national parliament and of local authorities is absent, or a rarity. The opposite pertains in this country — a position almost unknown in other small comparable countries like Denmark. The concept of distinct membership is consistent with, and complementary to, the principle of enhancing the powers and discretion of local authorities as bodies with real responsibility for local matters — a major objective of the Government's local government reform programme.

Initial steps towards enhancing the separate status of local authority membership were taken in 1991 with the exclusion of Ministers and Minister of State from membership. I thought long and hard about the further extention of this principle before concluding that a blanket statutory prohibition on dual membership would not be appropriate at [556] this stage. Such a prohibition is not often found in other countries. Besides, an outright ban would cause inordinate discontinuity in local authority membership, given the existing high level of overlap.

However, the Bill does provide for the exclusion of a range of public office holders from local authority membership. These are the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, chairpersons of various Oireachtas select committees, members of the European Commission and other EU office holders. Oireachtas members will be disqualified from being local authority chairperson or vice-chairperson — to be known incidentally as cathaoirleach and leas-chathaoirleach in future. These new exclusions will serve further to promote the concept of separate local authority membership. Together with the other changes in the law relating to qualifications for local authority membership, they will apply from the 1998 elections. Existing local authority members are not, therefore, affected.

More immediate electoral interest will focus on the holding of the town elections in June, as provided for in sections 14 to 20 of the Bill. These will involve five borough corporations, 49 urban district councils and 26 town commissioners, authorities which have not had elections since 1985. As already announced, the elections will take place on 9 June in conjunction with the European Parliament elections. They will be held, not on the basis of outdated town boundaries which have, up to now, excluded many residents from having a say in electing the council, but rather with the electorate enlarged to allow residents in the built-up environs of towns to participate in electing the authorities for those towns.

The Bill provides for the extension of boundaries for the purposes of the elections in the case of 54 towns listed in the Third Schedule. These boundary alterations will be put into effect by way of regulations under section 18, implementing proposals submitted by county managers following consultations with the county and town authorities concerned. The boundary extensions are being [557] implemented in each case on the basis of proposals agreed by the local authorities concerned.

Of the 89 local authorities affected, 62 have a population outside their urban boundaries. Local agreement has now been achieved in the case of 55 local authorities. I compliment the county managers and the elected members of the county councils and of the urban, borough and town commissioners where such marvellous success was achieved against very severe time constraints. I appreciate that support. I realise that Members of this House who were elected in some of these areas have contributed also.

This brings me to the wider aspects of the issue of town local government. Before I comment on the specific provisions of the Bill, I would like to provide a brief historical perspective to this question and to set the proposals in the Bill in the overall context of the Government's programme of local government reform.

The report of the Review Group on Local Government Reorganisation and Reform, published in 1991, produced no agreed recommendation on this matter. The importance of the issue becomes apparent, however, when one considers the perspective of Ireland's social and demographic development during the past 30 years or so.

In 1961, a clear majority of Ireland's population was rural. Today, that situation has been reversed and at the time of the 1991 census, almost 60 per cent of the population lived in urban areas. This fundamental shift in a relatively short space of time has presented new challenges, particularly in areas such as employment, infrastructure and amenities, recreation and leisure facilities, education and youth matters, community structures and the whole area of social infrastructure in the towns.

The Government is alert to these challenges and has responded constructively and imaginatively on several fronts. The significant investment in urban water and sewerage facilities; the provisions of town by-passes which remove disruptive and [558] damaging through-traffic, allowing towns to develop as social and economic centres; the priority being given to social housing and the urban renewal schemes which have revitalised the centres of many of our towns and in the process created valuable employment are all examples of a decisive response to the issues of concern to towns.

The actual structure and framework of local government in our towns has not developed in keeping with social and demographic changes. The legal provisions associated with bodies such as town commissioners are archaic in many respects. Large and important county towns, such as Mullingar and Portlaoise, are still hampered by a form of town government introduced 140 years ago. I say this without disrespect for the members of those authorities, but rather in the certain knowledge that those same members would be the first to acknowledge the need for modernisation of the structures within which they must work. Similarly, the fact that large centres of population such as Dundalk, Bray, Tralee, Ennis and Athlone have local authorities of the same classification as places only a small fraction of their size would suggest a lack of consistency and of good organisational arrangements. Other places, like Celbridge and Maynooth, have witnessed very rapid development in recent years, with populations now far in excess of many longstanding urban districts. They are very much in need of proper representative structures, yet they have no town local authorities.

In short, the system of town local government has not moved with the times. When the rural district councils were abolished in 1925, the urban districts survived, but the emphasis has remained on survival rather than on development and growth. There has been a tendency to adopt sterile, simplistic, adversarial positions whenever change is mooted. Perhaps for this reason, succssive Governments have shied away from addressing the issue. The result, for town local government, has been relative [559] neglect and failure to keep pace with modern developments.

The issue is, admittedly, a complex one. Various suggestions have been floated over the years but there is no single simple solution. I pointed out, when announcing the publication of the Bill, that its purpose was not simply to guarantee the continued survival of town local authorities but to create a modern and effective system of town local government. However, by putting to rest once and for all the fundamental question as to the future sub-county structure to be adopted, a major step has been taken.

Town local government is to remain and is now to be modernised. The outstanding matters requiring decision have been narrowed down considerably, and it should now be possible to focus on these without sterile and distracting controversy. I hope that all concerned will make a positive and constructive input to the next stages of the reform process provided for in the Bill.

These stages will involve a statutory review by an independent local government reorganisation commission which is provided for in Part X of the Bill. The commission will consist of up to seven members and must include elected councillors from both town and county authorities among its members. The task of the commission is to prepare and submit a reorganisation report containing proposals for town local government, including such matters as the number of classes of local authority; the role and functions appropriate to each class; financial, staffing and organisational matters in relation to each class and the implications for county councils. The report will also contain proposals regarding the appropriate class for each existing town local authority, criteria and procedures for the creation of local authorities for non-municipal towns and measures and arrangements for the implementation of reorganisation proposals.

The commission will have regard to all relevant factors such as community identity and civic tradition, local capability, the need for effective and efficient [560] discharge of functions and delivery of service and the need to safeguard the position and capacity of the county councils as the primary units of local government. The Bill gives the reorganisation commission a clear mandate and a definite framework, and makes specific provision for implementation of its proposals. There is no question, therefore, of solutions being imposed by the Custom House.

During my visits to local authorities I was amazed at the difference in capacity — this is not always related to size and function — of many of them. This will have to be addressed in a comprehensive way with maximum local involvement so that the best possible solutions can be found.

Since 1991, a policy of strengthening the powers of local authorities and giving them greater flexibility and freedom of action has been consistently followed. Removal of the ultra vires rule, relaxation of centralised controls on local authorities and devolution of functions in specific areas of operation such as housing, are cases in point. Similar measures are proposed in the Bills on road traffic and casual trading. The Bill before the House continues and extends this approach. For example, it provides for the removal of central controls which currently apply to local authorities in areas such as by-laws, parks, burial grounds and personnel matters. The principle that the local authority is best positioned to decide local issues on its own initiative is similarly reflected in the creation, in Part VII of the Bill, of a new broad by-law making power which will enable the elected local authorities to regulate a variety of matters and activities where they consider this desirable in the interests of the common good of the local community, without the need for ministerial approval, sanction or consent. The same philosophy is also brought to bear in Part VI which provides flexible, devolved powers for local authorities in the provision of various amenities and facilities. A scattered range of largely outdated provisions will be replaced by a modern, uniform code which will be concise, yet comprehensive.

[561] I wish to make special reference to the provisions relating to public library services. These provisions, contained in sections 34, 35 and 36, will have the effect of consolidating and modernising the law while at the same time strengthening and extending the library powers of local authorities. The three sections will replace a total of nine separate Acts dating as far back as 1855, largely archaic in form and restrictive in effect. This is exemplified by the fact that they even prohibit compulsory acquisition of a site for a library, something which I think was unique among local authority services.

In their place, a simple enhanced set of provisions will be substituted, providing a new statutory basis for the library service, with broad and flexible powers, as well as important new elements such as provisions for the adoption of library development programmes. Removal of the anomaly regarding the acquisition of land is provided for and there is provision to allow the application of updated provisions to An Chomhairle Leabharlanna.

The public library is one of the most valuable services provided by the local authorities. It serves educational, recreational and cultural purposes as well as more specialised needs such as those arising from the ever-increasing interest in local history and heritage. The service constitutes a valuable resource and I want to see it continue to grow and develop. I am delighted, therefore, to announce that I will be providing additional funding for the library service to the tune of almost £2 million this year. This significant injection of funding is intended for new book stock providing an important boost to the service to coincide with its “statutory relaunch” under the Bill.

The library service has done much to promote interest in local history and heritage, helping to develop a sense of identity and self-esteem within a community and a pride which can spill over into practical, beneficial effects such as care for the local environment and the built heritage. There can also be an important tourist dividend with the increasing numbers of visitors motivated by a desire to [562] trace family roots and gather material about their ancestral place of origin.

It is not appropriate, however, that we should depend solely on the local librarian, or local history societies, to see to the collection, safeguarding and presentation to the public of local records and archival material. That is the reason section 67 of the Bill contains a new provision relating to keeping local records and archives, modelled on the law applying to the national archives.

There must be a priceless heritage of archival material throughout the country, deriving from the activities of our local authorities and the bodies that preceded them. In the absence of any formal statutory provision and without a co-ordinated programme for the development of a local archives service much of this material could be lost or destroyed. A network of fully-fledged local archival institutions cannot be developed overnight, but we cannot afford to delay in taking the basic steps. Five years from now, in April 1999, our country councils will be 100 years old. What better way could the councils mark their centenary than by resolving now to put in place a phased programme for recording, conserving and making available for inspection the records of their own activities over the years? I hope to be able to make a tangible input to this in terms of a modest, but I hope useful, amount of funding. Initially, this might be directed towards ascertaining what has been done to date in relation to local records and archives, what material exists in different areas, what the immediate priorities are, and how a consistent programme of development could best be put in place.

With a wide-ranging Bill of this type, it is virtually impossible to comment on all the provisions in a Second Reading speech. Some are, in any case, of a relatively minor or technical nature and do not require any elucidation of principles. I would like, however, to touch very briefly on a few further provisions.

Part IV contains provisions relating to the office of local authority cathaoirleach and leas-chathaoirleach which will, in future, be the official titles of the chairperson [563] and vice-chairperson and were recently introduced for the new Dublin authorities. The titles of lord mayor and mayor will, however, continue to be used, where they already exist, with a new statutory provision for deputy lord mayor and deputy mayor.

The existing law relating to local authority meetings is obscure, fragmented, inconsistent and well-nigh impenetrable from the point of view of the ordinary councillor or the public. Part V provides for making regulations to introduce a modern and uniform code which will be beneficial to local authority members and officials and conducive to more efficient discharge of business. It should also make the workings of local authorities more understandable and accessible to members of the public.

I will conclude by referring briefly to Part VIII of the Bill as it contains provisions relating to the unavoidable question of finance. The provisions themselves are largely technical in nature, dealing with such matters as situations where a local authority might adopt an insufficient estimate and updating the statutory basis for the payment of general purpose block grants to rating authorities. I would like, however, to refer briefly to the wider question of local authority finance.

Local government is a huge financial concern with a total workforce of almost 30,000 across the country and estimated total spending of over £1.6 billion in 1994; of that total, about £850 million is financed by Exchequer grants, almost all from my Department. Local authorities provide a wide range of services, the extent and diversity of which are unequalled by any other undertakings in the land. Many of these services are essential to life itself; all are vitally important to our quality of life, even if they are often taken for granted.

I, more than anyone in this House, would like to be able to provide ever higher levels of financial support to improve and expand local services, but we must all be realistic about this. Calls for more local authority spending are [564] either calls for more taxation or calls for expenditure cuts in other public services which are important in a caring society. We must take full account of the inescapable reality that there is no bottomless well of resources to meet all the many genuine demands that can be put forward. The Government has to strike a balance between expenditure and taxation. We simply cannot have it both ways. The Government's aim is to reduce, rather than increase, the overall level of taxation and to achieve a fair allocation of the overall resources available. Within these limitations local government has been doing relatively well in recent years. It is often said at times like this that local authorities have no resources of their own. This year they will raise over £400 million from their own resources. With Exchequer and European Union funding, this will allow them to finance housing, road developments and sanitary and other services for which they have responsibility.

We must also ensure that the maximum return is achieved from the resources which are available. The changes for which this Bill provides, with other reforms in recent years, will make for more efficient and effective local government. In particular, the removal of out-dated centralised controls should promote a greater sense of responsibility, initiative and dynamism on the part of local authorities and increase their determination to achieve the best possible return from the resources at their disposal.

This Bill is designed to improve local government in its operations and relevance to the communities it serves and to modernise its procedures and structures. It is a landmark Bill and I confidently commend it to the House.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  This Bill represents a lost opportunity to do what should be done to make the local government system more meaningful and efficient. Despite what the Minister said and the commitments in the Programme for Government this legislation does not address the central issue of the roles and functions to be [565] allocated to national and local government, respectively. Until this is done there will be no change in local government.

If we are to move away from a centralised system of government towards more self-reliant and self-governing communities there must be political commitment to strip the central Government system of local government functions. I regret that the Government is not willing to let go and allow for devolution. If this does not happen the changes proposed in this legislation will not improve the lot of local government. Government is supposed to serve the people. If this is to happen, a reformed local government system should be seen as a valid partner in the process of government and be accorded a status commensurate with its new role. Ireland is way behind other western European countries in updating its regional and local government system. As a result, we have denied the people that we are supposed to serve the right to control their own affairs as far as possible and to play a more active part at every level of government. The centralised system we operate has choked local initiative and prevented the development of the pool of talent that exists in local communities. It is time we got rid of this outdated system of government and introduced a programme of public empowerment. Local communities need and want to be more involved in the local process. If we are prepared to strip central Government of many of the local functions it currently deals with, the public will respond at local level.

It is over 20 years since I was first elected to a local authority and in that time I have seen the system go backward instead of forward. The reason is the abolition of domestic rates and the lack of anything to replace them. I am not advocating that we should return to that outdated system of financing local government, but one must be realistic. Local government service cannot be provided without money, and no form of local government taxation will be acceptable to the public until the central taxation system is reformed. How can we [566] ask anybody to pay additional taxes on top of what they are asked to pay at present? The real problem we face is the failure of the Government to define the functions that should be carried out by local government and provide the finances to enable the local government system to operate. We are trying to retain as much power as we can at central level and hand out as little money as possible to run the system we have. The whole thing is an utter mess.

It was the Minister's party that decided in 1977 to abolish domestic rates and fund local government from central taxes. I listened to what the Minister said this morning when he asked for understanding because local government is only part of the administration that a Government has to service. That is true, but the problem rests on the Minister's shoulders. It was his party that decided that central Government should fund local government. Since 1977, the Government has not kept pace with inflation in funding local authorities, but who gets the blame when the local authority cannot meet the demands of the public? It is the local authority.

A typical example is the appalling state of our roads. About £100 million per annum is raised from motor taxation and an estimated £241 million from motor registration tax, yet the road network is collapsing around us. If people think that some day they will wake up and find every pothole has disappeared and road surfaces are what one would expect to find in 1994 in the run-up to the 21st century, they are fooling themselves. Despite the state of the roads, there is no plan to reinstate the county road network as it used to be. Local authorities do not even have money to fill potholes. Engineers in local authorities say that the best they can do is to throw a bucket of tar into a pothole but, because of the weather we have had during the last six to nine months, the hole that was filled last week will have all the tar washed out in less than a month. What a disgrace, and what a waste of public money and of the time and energy of the workmen who are sent out to do this job. Roads cannot [567] be built or repaired without money, and the local authorities do not have the money. The Minister may plead that we must be understanding about the share of the cake that can go to local government. However, it was his party that decided that was the way it should be and they cannot have it both ways.

The public are rightly becoming irate at the damage being caused to their vehicles which are so expensive, the risk to life, the accidents that are caused by the disgraceful condition of our road network and the absence of a plan to deal with this problem. It is all very well to announce in the National Development Plan that we will spend so much money on building new national primary roads, here, there and everywhere. I do not object to that, but every time we build a road we had better start building up a fund to maintain that road every year in the future because the EU will not be allocating money for the maintenance of national primary routes. The maintenance of all those new roads will come out of current expenditure provided by the taxpayer. We are building new roads now and we do not have the money to maintain the existing ones, yet nobody in the Government is prepared to come forward with a plan to tackle that. We will cut tapes and put up plaques when we open by-passes. However, to get on to the by-pass one has to travel along county roads riddled with potholes and I have yet to hear any proposal from a member of this Government for dealing with that problem. Once again it is the local authority that gets the blame. I have read a few speeches by the Minister. First he blames the councillors, then the county managers, then the inefficiency of the engineering staff, as if he himself were not responsible. It is the Department of the Environment that controls the purse strings. There is no point in blaming county managers, councillors or engineers for the state of our roads when they do not have the money to do anything about it. That will not solve the problem.

As I stated, this Bill does nothing to alleviate the two central problems of our [568] local government system. We must decide the roles and functions to be allocated to national and local government. We can change boundaries, repeal old legislation and update existing legislation, but that will not tackle the central issue of the functions to be given to local and national governments. Having made that decision we should then decide proper financing for local government. Financing for local authorities cannot be decided without knowing the functions which they are expected to carry out. Until the Government addresses those two major issues the public will continue to consider local government irrelevant. We are destroying real potential in local communities which would produce growth in our economy and develop society as a whole.

If we had a proper system of local Government more people would be prepared to serve as public representatives at local level, but we must first convince them that the system will allow them to use their talents for the benefit of society. Otherwise they will not be interested. If Members are honest they will agree it is difficult for all political parties to find committed candidates to stand for local elections. I accept that on the last occasion we had some issue candidates, for example, the pothole candidates in County Cavan, but they had a purpose in going forward for election. The number of people prepared to go forward for local elections is reducing because they consider local government irrelevant. The newspapers published articles about the number of trips and the money involved but nothing is written about the contribution people are prepared to make. It is extraordinary that the Department of the Environment has to control the number of meetings a county council should hold and, of course, the number of meetings will dictate the amount of allowance per month. A member will have to attend 80 per cent of meetings to receive the allowance. Am I living in the same world as that outlined in the Minister's speech? He talked about giving great powers to local government and that central Government is taking its [569] hands off local government, but that is a joke. We are conning people. Will the Minister tell one county council it can hold 40 or 50 meetings a year and another that it can hold 70? Will he tell county councillors that they must attend 80 per cent of those meetings to receive a certain allowance per month?

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Those are issues on which elected members voted.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  I do not care who voted on them.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  It was a democratic decision.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  I am giving my opinion about what is wrong with local government. There is too much interference from central Government and members involved in central Government are afraid to divest themselves of certain roles and functions and allow them to be carried out at local level. This Government is not unique in that regard, successive Governments have been afraid to make that change. The Minister should not say this is a Bill to reform local Government because it is nothing of the sort.

The Barrington report on Local Government Recognition and Reform was published in 1990——

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  It did not contain recommendations.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  It contained one very important recommendation on the devolution of functions from the centre to a new revitalised local government system. It stated that the devolution process would have the following elements:

Matters which would be devolved from the centre and administered directly by local government would include: individual housing grants, group water schemes and driving testing; foreshore licences and non-commercial small harbours; non-national (heritage parks, protection of historical [570] and archaeological sites), and a role in the maintenance of public buildings; standards and controls for safety at work.

More importantly it goes on to state:

Matters which should be related to (though not necessarily integrated in) the local Government system, i.e. aspects of Education, Health, Social Welfare, Transport and Traffic, Heritage and Amenity, Tourism, Police and Courts, Consumer Protection, Social Employment Schemes. There also appears to be scope for devolution in areas such as agriculture and industry. A Local Authority Information Service in relation to Public Service Activities should also be developed.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Most of those were done.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  I support that recommendation, it is the basis on which we should all work to develop a system of meaningful local government. Local authorities should be involved — perhaps not directly — in the central issues outlined in the Barrington report. The extent to which they can be involved can be debated, but there must be some connection between local government and those important services which the public need and deserve.

I read in the Irish Independent some weeks ago that the Minister intended to prohibit Members of the Oireachtas and MEPs from simultaneous membership of local authorities. What has happened since then and since the publication of this Bill? It is extraordinary that, not having gone ahead with that, we are now deciding that the best way forward is to disqualify Members of the Oireachtas from holding the office of cathaoirleach or leas-chathaoirleach of a local authority after 1998. With respect, does the Minister consider that reform? A person is either a member of a local authority or not. Will it be a case of a person, say, with black hair being chairman and a person with white hair being vice-chairman? The Minister should or should not [571] allow people to be members of a local authority. A Member of the Oireachtas who is also a member of a local authority has similar rights to other members, but this legislation will prohibit such person from becoming the cathaoirleach or leas-chathaoirleach. If a Senator is a member of a local authority, is the Minister claiming that he or she could not perform the duties of leas-chathaoirleach in a proper manner? This is a pathetic attempt to show we are doing something about the question of the dual mandate. I do not know if it is constitutional as I am not a constitutional lawyer. People should not be allowed to become members of the local authority in the first place if the Minister does not want them to perform certain roles.

If the Government has the will and courage to move from the centralised system of government to a more expanded role for local government, it would be in the interests of democracy that those who serve as public representatives at local level were not allowed to serve at national level and that those who serve at national level were not allowed to serve at local level. If the Minister expands the role of local government we could then consider the question of dual mandate, but it should apply both ways. If a person's career is in local government it should remain there and if one leaves local government and wishes to stand for national Government then so be it. It is ridiculous to say that because one is a Member of the Oireachtas, one cannot stand for local government, but if one is a member of local government one can stand for the Oireachtas; that would mean people hopping and trotting off local authorities on a regular basis.

There is also the question of allowing people bring experience to those bodies. I hope Members have contributed to the development of local authorities from the experience they gained at national level. If we had the courage to adopt a real system of local government giving greater powers to local authorities I would be the first to suggest that the two systems [572] should be separated and people should decide if they wish to serve at local or national level, but there is not much difference in the two systems at present. It is time central Government showed its willingness to abolish the legislation under which the Minister of the day — I am not referring to the present Minister as such action has been exercised by his predecessors — can postpone the holding of local elections by order. That is a case of big brother, central Government, deciding that local elections will not be held. Elections to local authorities should be held every five years.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  I agree.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  No Minister of any party or Government should be empowered to postpone an election for two years. There have been many postponements in the past 20 to 30 years. Elections were not held between the years 1967-74, 1974-79, 1979-85, 1985-91 and the present local councils are due to run from 1991-98, seven years. A fixed term and election date should apply to local government as applies to the European elections. Central Government should take its hand out of that administration and the people should decide every five years who they wish to elect. That would provide us with a system of local government of which we can be proud and will serve people, which is the purpose of any system of government.

Part VI which deals with amenity, recreation, library and other functions is welcome. Those functions are an essential part of the activities of local government. I am delighted a number of out-dated, restrictive enactments are being repealed in this Bill. The role of local government in dealing with community and local affairs is vitally important, but, unfortunately, no finance is available to such bodies to enable them become involved. I can say, with my hand on my heart, that in the 1970s in the Dublin County Council area, the local authority had more money to spend on amenities and grants for local developments than it has in 1994, and we are supposed to be [573] making progress. At that time the national lottery had not been established. Why can national lottery funding not be chanelled through local authorities for distribution to local communities and sporting bodies? The Estimates for this year highlights that no finance is available to local authorities for those activies.

I would welcome the transfer of the sports section of the Department of Education and the Minister of State responsible to the Department of the Environment. Such a change would result in a better co-ordinated approach in dealing with the needs of the public in regard to sport and recreation. If I was Taoiseach tomorrow I would change the Minister's title to that of Minister for the Environment, Sport and Recreation. Those activities are an essential part of life in local areas. We are ignoring the potential in those areas and the valuable work being done by voluntary groups. Many people give much of their spare time to looking after football and athletic teams and so on on a voluntary basis. Since the establishment of the national lottery it has become difficult for those groups to raise money at local level, particularly in under privileged areas.

My colleague, Deputy Gilmore, will confirm what I said in respect of the Ballybrack area, which we represent. A football club there has approximately 17 teams. When that club charges £5 per ticket for an entertainer like Joe Dolan in the Victor Hotel, its members have to collect £1 a week, door to door from the local people to make up the price of the ticket. There is high unemployment in that area and people spend money on the national lottery. That club received in the region of £200 last year from the County Dublin vocational education committee. The efforts of the voluntary members of that club are being ignored although the national lottery raises millions of pounds.

It is difficult to explain to those people how a golf club or other organisation can get £30,000 or £50,000 when that club cannot be allocated £1,000 towards its annual running costs. It does not turn away children when they arrive on a Saturday or Sunday morning without the [574] fare for the coach the club hires to transport players. It sticks in people's craws to see large sums of money handed out everywhere and announcements made by Ministers, TDs and Senators while they are trying to do something worthwhile for the children of the area without receiving a penny from anybody.

Part VIII, which refers to local authority estimates and rates, highlights the centralised system of local government. Under this legislation the Minister will retain power to instruct a local authority to revoke or amend its estimate of expenses following a request by a manager. The elected members of a local authority should be answerable to the people who elected them in respect of the level of service they supply and the charges they impose. If the management of a local authority is not happy with the estimates agreed by the elected members the efficiency audit group should be called in to examine the expenditure being sought for the financial year.

I know of managers who have said the rate was not sufficient and appealed the matter to the Minister. However, the Minister does not need to be satisfied that the level of expenditure is justified or if savings can be made. The word of the manager against that of the elected representatives decides such issues. No manager or Minister should be allowed to interfere in that system. An efficiency audit group should be called in when there is a dispute to examine the level of expenditure and to see if savings can be made. Nobody should be allowed wave the big stick and have the right to abolish an elected local authority because they do not strike the rate the manager wants. That is not local democracy or local government. It is time that out-dated system was removed.

As recommended in the Barrington report, each local authority should publish an annual report within six months of the end of the financial year and include an audited statement of accounts. They should also be permitted to appoint a firm of commercial auditors to audit their accounts annually within standard [575] commercial deadlines. That is how local government should be run.

When three new local authorities were established in County Dublin in January the Minister waved a big stick and said that if they did not impose service charges he would abolish them. The Minister in introducing this legislation said he is handing down great powers to local authorities, but he told them that if they do not charge the public more he will put them out of business, in the same year the residential property tax was introduced. It is time central Government removed the threat that “either you do what I tell you or I will put you out of business”.

It is sad that the only provision in this legislation relating to town councils is that boundaries be extended for election purposes. A reorganisation commission is to be set up to carry out a review and make proposals for the reorganisation of local government. Why were the local elections postponed in 1991 if in 1994 the only provision we are making in legislation is for boundary changes and the setting up of a new commission? What has happened to all the changes proposed in the last three or four years?

I put the Minister on notice that my party will be opposing the powers in section 65, which provides that areas hitherto known as wards in county boroughs and district electoral division in counties will in future be known as electoral divisions and that the boundary of a division can be altered by regulations. I oppose the giving of this power to the Minister for the Environment in view of the commitment in the Programme for Government to set up on a statutory basis an independent electoral commission. If the Minister of the day has power to decide on the boundaries of electoral divisions he will influence the work of the independent commission as electoral divisions will form the basis of Dáil constituency boundaries. I will oppose that section tooth and nail. If we are to have an independent electoral commission it should be allowed to do its job. The Minister should not have power to alter [576] the boundaries of electoral divisions, which will form the basis on which the commission will do its work.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  The Deputy got it wrong.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  All of us have been around long enough to know exactly what that means. I oppose that provision and will be voting against it on Committee Stage.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  I am astonished the Minister is bringing in a Bill with so few proposals, yet in his introductory speech he describes the proposals as being of major significance. The Bill is a waste of time. It is astonishing to hear the Minister say in his speech that the Bill is, in its own right, a major exercise in reform, providing for what is probably the most extensive revision of local government law since the foundation of the State. That is excessive and a gross exaggeration of what is proposed in the Bill, much of which restates existing law in a more modern way. It brings the law in this area up to date, which may be necessary, but it should not be called reform of local government.

The Bill provides for elections to town authorities in 1994. Such elections have not taken place for nine years. They were postponed on four separate occasions and the reason given was that there were major proposals under consideration for reform of the local government system and it was decided not to proceed with the elections until these proposals were in place. Having witnessed four postponements of the elections the only proposal from the Minister is to extend boundaries in some towns. The Minister knows there are many towns with substantial populations which have no town authority. A substantial proportion of residents live in areas where there is no authority beneath the level of county borough or county council. People not living in county council, county borough and town authority areas have no local authority available to them. That matter has been swept under the carpet.

[577] I wondered for some time what approach the Government would take to elections to town authorities. The excuse was used on previous occasions that extensive progress was being made in drawing up proposals for reform of local government and that we were to expect positive changes in this area. I knew nothing positive was being done, but I wondered with the change of government what excuse would be used. Under this Bill a commission is to be set up. The Irish solution to nearly every problem is to pass the ball to somebody else, to think up some excuse to get us over the hump. We could not have the audacity to propose that elections to town authorities be postponed again, in which event, a period of ten years would elapse before elections are held.

This is a depressing exercise. It is clear that Ministers for the Environment for the last 20 years and Governments in those years, dominated for most of the time by Fianna Fáil and for part of the time by Fine Gael——

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  The Deputy was there also.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  ——were involved in a conspiracy which is supported by these parties when they take office. They support the ethos of the Department not to relinquish to town authorities any function or authority which it feels it can best carry out. Despite the fact that in Brussels and Strasbourg we fully support the principle of subsidiarity for Ireland as a nation, we do not apply that principle to the administration of services at home. Ours is the most centralised system of government in the European Union and practically in the western world.

That position is supported by the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government, including the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Smith. His predecessors in recent years also supported that position and were reluctant to respond to the constant call from communities throughout the country to give them a more meaningful role in the administration of affairs in their locality. That call has been clear for [578] the last 30 years and Muintir na Tíre responded to it in its movement for the establishment of community councils. Local government in Europe has responded to this call, which was not just an Irish phenomenon. People wanted more of a say in the administration of affairs at local level, but we have resisted that call to devolve functions and stifled the local government system through lack of funding.

It was ironic to listen to Deputy Barrett, a member of Fine Gael who, with Labour, brought in the Financial Provisions Act, 1983, which removed the statutory obligation on the Government to provide funds to local authorities in lieu of the money that would have accrued to them had rates on houses continued to be implemented. Once that statutory obligation to properly and adequately fund the local authority system was removed, the whole system rapidly deteriorated.

It was not only Fianna Fáil who proposed the abolition of rates on houses. In the 1977 general election all the parties, Labour, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, had that promise in their manifestos.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  The Deputy was a member of Fianna Fáil at that time.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Yes. I am putting the facts because there is no point in giving half the story.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  The Deputy is good at twisting stories as he did the other day.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  All the parties in the House at that time wanted the removal of rates on houses but they proposed it in different ways. The Fine Gael and Labour proposal was to remove them by 25 per cent per year over a period of four years. Fianna Fáil said it would remove them in one fell swoop, that was the only difference. The Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government at the time had started down that road; with a 25 per cent reduction, the remaining 75 per cent to be abolished the following year. There [579] was a difference of two years between what Fianna Fáil did and what the Labour-Fine Gael Coalition intended to do. So let us not make a big deal about that. None of the parties in the House want the reintroduction of rates as a means of funding local authorities. Given the high level of personal income tax and other taxes on employment, resulting in people having a low level of disposable income. It is simply not politically realistic to seek to implement a local tax, whether on property or otherwise. Until there is major reform of the system and there is a Government commitment to the sharing of national Exchequer revenues between central and local Government, people will not readily accept the imposition of a local tax to adequately fund the local authorities.

That lack of funding is not the fault of the people. Previous Governments changed the law on the funding of local authorities, the result of which is that local government is now in a shambles. It has little discretion over what it may or may not do in its locality. It has a semblance of power and of having a certain range of functions, but its ability to carry out those functions is severely restricted and, as Deputy Barrett said, the rate support grant given to local authorities has not been maintained in line with increases in inflation. The opposite has been the case. However, central Government ensured that its finance was adequate to take account of inflation rates. The Department's funding was not dealt with as was the funding for the local authorities. There lies the crux of the matter — central Government looks after itself at budget time and local governments has been left aside.

No Minister for the Environment in the past 20 years has taken a realistic stand on behalf of the local authorities to ensure they are properly funded. Fine speeches will not cover up the neglect and decay that has set in to the system. People are angry about the inability of elected local authorities to deliver on the level of services expected and they are not over ambitious in their expectations. [580] People want reasonable facilities. The deterioration of the whole county roads system at an accelerating pace due to the neglect of the Minister for the Environment and successive Governments to provide adequate funding, represents a serious dereliction of duty.

These roads were built with the investment of taxpayers money and decades of investment is now being washed away because of the failure to maintain road surfaces. It is absolutely scandalous that millions of pounds were spent on building roads which have now been neglected in order to provide access for people in rural areas and towns.

I do not know what the Minister or the Government are waiting for; do they want the people of rural Ireland to march on Leinster House before they will take action to deal with this matter? The Minister came into this House and made a fine speech about his proposals for the reform of local government. This is not being done with mirrors and we are not fools. I am 29 years a member of this House, I have seen Ministers come and go, I know what to believe and what not to believe and I will not believe speeches such as those made by the Minister this morning and his predecessors. Whoever writes those scripts in the Department wrote practically the same scripts for some of the Minister's predecessors, including all the fine language. This is the way things are done now; a script is handed to the newpaper journalists, that is the headline they run with and who cares if the reality does not live up to the verbiage. I care and I have the right to speak on behalf of the people who sent me here to complain about the neglect.

Tens of thousands of people here love this country, want to live and work here and want to play a role in improving the areas where they live. After their families they are concerned about the upkeep of their local areas. They want to be proud of their areas and contribute to their improvement. The Government can be in no doubt about the willingness of people to work voluntarily to improve their own areas, to act on local councils and to offer themselves for election or [581] rejection at local council level. Although there may be few functions that the local council can provide, in the main, they are the functions in which the people are mostly interested, namely, the amenities and facilities in their own locality.

When the Leader programme was promoted at Europen level, it was available here on a pilot basis and people are in ecstasy about how sucsessful it has been. The response of the people has been lauded but we knew there would be such a response because there is a desire on the part of the ordinary person to participate in the betterment of his or her own locality. Central Government, however, has been a major obstacle to that and has never yet admitted that it is a stifling influence on community development and some change will have to be made.

The expectation of major reform arising from the discussions between parties in this House in Government over the past number of years — certainly since 1989 — would lead one to believe that something meaningful would emerge in the area of local Government reform. Instead of that we have tripe in the form of this Bill. The only solid parts of the Bill concern the up-dating and re-stating of existing legislation just like the referendum Bill before us the other day which for that reason needed little debate. This type of mirage to suggest that some activity is taking place and the use of flowery language may fool some people but it will not fool everybody.

The specifics of the Bill are so bare that one wonders about the necessity for its introduction. If it was necessary to have a Bill could it not have been a one line Bill stating that the town authority elections will be held in 1994. I am not certain that this Bill is essential.

Under the Bill the Ceann Comhairle, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Chairpersons of various Oireachtas select committees, members of the European Commission, the Comptroller and Auditor General and judges are excluded from local authority membership. When did a judge or a Comptroller and Auditor General ever decide to stand for election [582] to a local authority? From where did the Minister get all these public office holders? Was it just to fill up space in the Bill? Is he afraid Commissioner Padraig Flynn wants to come back in June to stand for election to the Castlebar Urban District Council?

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  If his daughter does not get on too well.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  It is laughable. These issues do not arise. I am a long standing Member of the House and I never remember it happening. The Minister has not given a satisfactory explanation. If Members of the Oireachtas were debarred from membership of local authorities I would say, having given it careful consideration, the Minister is creating a real distinction between the role of central Government and local government. That would have been worthwhile and radical but I have come to accept that I must not expect anything radical from the Government. If the Minister wanted to give local government a separate identity he should exclude Dáil Members from local authority membership.

If a councillor was elected to the Dáil he should have the right to nominate his successor. That would overcome the conflict and jostling that occurs when a vacancy arises. The procedures should be similar to that operating in the European Parliament where there are replacement substitute candidates in the event of a vacancy arising.

It is not an earth shattering proposal as the Minister claimed in his speech when he said it is “the most extensive revision of local government law undertaken since the foundation of the State”. If that is an example of one of the major changes I am sure there are other people who would feel as I do about it.

Each local authority is to have a Cathoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach and I agree with that. However a Member of the Oireachtas is disqualified from being a Cathaoirleach or Leas-Chathaoirleach. As Deputy Barrett said, if a person is elected to a local authority it seems strange that he should not be [583] entitled to go forward for whatever positions may arise. It would have been more sensible to apply the “no dual mandate” principle instead of this milk and water proposal. It is not an area of major reform.

The Minister referred to the reorganisation commission as being independent and then said he would appoint all the members to it. The Minister cannot claim it is independent if he makes the appointments. That matter was debated on numerous occasions when other legislation was processed. In the recent past the Government agreed to nominate organisations who would have a right to nominate people whom the Minister would appoint rather than have the Minister select all the members. It would be wiser to continue down that road rather than revert to the position where the Minister appoints all the members. The commission's proposals will be implemented subject to the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas. If the work of the commission is to be embodied in legislation the commission must be seen to be independent and above party political influence. This will not be the case if the Minister appoints the members. He should reconsider that issue.

Local Government reform cannot be isolated from adequate funding for local authorities. The distribution of the rate support grant has given rise to concern. It is not distributed in a logical manner but on an ad hoc basis and the amounts to be allocated are decided by the Minister. That provision is contained in the Finance Act, 1983, introduced by the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition. It gives the Minister absolute discretion regarding the amount of money to be allocated. Will the Minister indicate why he has not made a statement about the proposal to introduce equality in determining the allocation of the annual grants if the rate support grant is to remain the major source of funding for local authorities? The fiscal studies report highlighted major differences in the amounts allocated and it may have been an embarrassment [584] to the Minister to see the huge discrepancies that existed following this accepted method of assessment of the needs of each local authority.

Tá brón orm go bhfuil an t-am caite chomh tapaidh sin ach ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuil an-díomá orm nach bhfuil an Bille ag tabhairt aon ath-structhtúr ceart ar an chóras rialtais áitiúil de réir mar ba chóir a dhéanamh agus mar a bhí daoine ag súil leis. Níl sa Bille seo ach rud beag suarach nach ndéanfaidh mórán difríochta. Tá an cheist mhór leagtha ar leataobh.

Iarraim ar an Aire ath-smaoineamh a dhéanamh ar an chaoi ina bhfuil sé ag dul ar aghaidh agus chun deimhniú éigin a dhéanamh ó thaobh airgeadais na n-údarás áitiúil. Muna ndéantar é sin go luath, is beag seans go mbeidh árdmheas ag muintir na hÉireann ar na comhairlí áitiúla is cuma cén athruithe a thagann orthu amach anseo.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  I join with my colleagues Deputies Barrett and Molloy in expressing disappointment with the Bill. We have become used to a style of Government which is all about spin and nothing about substance. It does not matter what the Government do so long as there is an army of spin doctors, advisers and public relations consultants to put the best gloss on every statement and pretend something extraordinary is happening. This is one of the most pathetic examples of appallingly weak, inadequate legislation being hyped up by the Minister for the Environment as if it were major local government reform. It is nothing of the kind.

The Minister referred to his experience in the Department of the Environment, the need for his officials to consult the texts of old Acts and the urgent need to modernise all that law. This is very laudable: it is time the archaic legislation and texts which embody local government law were modernised and consolidated into a single Act. A case could probably be made for a local government consolidation Bill. However, writing old law in a new way does not constitute local government reform. It is a classic case of [585] putting old wine into new bottles. This Bill may well restate in a more modern and coherent way various pieces of local government law but it will not reform our outdated, out of touch and badly financed system of local government.

In most countries local government reform means giving power back to the people; to use the current Euro term which is so much in vogue, it means giving effect to the principle of subsidiarity, giving people a greater involvement in the way their areas and environment are controlled and administered. In Ireland local government reform means a ministerial speech which presses all the right buttons and uses all of the politically correct phrases about local government reform but which always postpones local elections thus denying people their minimal involvement in local government, this is, the right to vote for their representatives. It always means ducking the crucial question of the financing of local government, setting up yet another commission to examine the system and, at best, a little administrative tidying up. That is effectively what this Bill does.

I have a sense of déjá vu about the debate on this Bill. On 15 May 1990 the then Minister for the Environment came into the House with an order to postpone the local government elections which were due to be held that year. The reason given for the postponement was that the Minister was setting up an expert committee to examine local government reform, something which had been under examination for more than 20 years: in other words, because a committee was being set up we could not have elections to old bodies. Everybody agreed there should be reform and the expert committee would examine the matter and produce a report, legislation would be introduced by the beginning of 1991 and the local elections would be held later that year. However, in 1991 there was yet another postponement of the urban council and town commission elections, which we are discussing today. The reason given for that postponement was that such an extensive reform of local government was taking place at county [586] level that the question of reform of local government at town and district level would require further examination.

There will have been a nine year interval between the urban district council elections in 1985 and the elections which will take place later this year. The Minister referred to his commitment to electoral reform, the measures he has taken in this area and the legislation he has introduced, and will introduce for example, the Presidential Elections Act and the Referendum Bill. It is some reform when elections which are due to be held are postponed and people are denied their basic right to vote for their representatives, the purpose of an election in the first instance. In anybody's language, nine years is too long an interval between the holding of local elections. The last occasion on which local elections were held on time was in 1979. It will be 1998 or possibly 1999 when the next local elections will be held. During the intervening 20 years, there will have been much talk about local government reform. Giving people the opportunity to vote for their representatives on three occasions in a 20 year period, when five local elections should have been held, does not constitute electoral reform.

The Bill proposes to postpone the county council elections until 1998. These elections were postponed in 1990 to 1991 but are due to be held in 1996. The Minister has given himself the additional power in section 25 to postpone these elections until a later date, something he probably will do. The rationale behind the postponement of the elections in 1998 will be that as the European elections will be held in 1999, it will be better to wait the extra year and have all the elections together. This is the type of rationale used by the Government for the postponement of elections.

The Minister has made fine speeches about electoral reform yet, the local elections are postponed and no reference has been made to the two vacancies which have existed in this House for over a year and for which by-elections should be held. Last week the Taoiseach said it may be too complicated to hold the by-elections [587] on the same day as the European elections.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  He did not say that.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  He said it would be too confusing to expect people to vote in four elections.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  He did not say that.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  He was reported as saying that. He has not corrected the statement——

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  He did.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  Will the Minister confirm that the by-elections will be held on 9 June as expected? The postponement of these elections would not happen in a banana republic in the southern hemisphere. This country is sending observers — Members of this House and representatives of non-governmental organisations — to oversee the elections in South Africa, and this from a country which refuses to hold elections. The Government is being downright hypocritical about its commitment to electoral reform and giving people the right to vote.

The postponement of the elections from 1990 to 1991 was to allow the Barrington committee to report. That committee made certain recommendations about urban councils and town commissioners.

Mr. M. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  It avoided the issue.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  It made recommendations about what was called the sub-county structure and proposed two alternative options. As it happens, I did not agree with the recommendations of that committee but that was sufficient at that time for the Government to come in here in 1991 and say, “we have not yet decided what we will do about the urban district councils and town commissions, we must wait a little longer, more work [588] will have to be done on this so the elections cannot go ahead in 1991.”

The Government has had four years since the original postponement of the local elections in 1990 and the establishment of the Barrington committee in which to produce a reform of urban district councils and town commissions. What has it produced in those four years? At the beginning of this year we had the panic, a circular issued to the county managers concerned telling them to produce revised boundaries for the various towns in their counties and submit them to the Department of the Environment by the end of March 1994. That was done because the Government was in a flap, because it had given a commitment that the local elections would go ahead in June 1994, because it was politically tied to that commitment and it would have been too embarrassing to go for another postponement; it had to produce something.

No reform of local government has been carried out, so what are we getting? We have county managers producing revised boundaries, which will be electoral boundaries only, and people will be asked to vote for them. For what are people being asked to vote in these new enlarged towns? They are being asked to elect people to bodies which will not administer the areas in which those people live. It may well be that, at some point in the future, those towns will be extended to cover those administrative areas. Therefore, there will be candidates in these elections knocking on doors on the outskirts of towns asking people to vote for the urban council or town commission elections in those towns, and the people at the door — as people always ask what are you going to do for me? The answer will be there is nothing I can do for you because the body to which you will elect me will not be delivering services to your area. The remaining credibility of local government and local elections will be undermined by an absurd circumstance being produced under the provisions of this Bill, people will be electing representatives to bodies [589] which will not administer the areas in which the votes live.

Why did we wait these four years? There had been an expectation that, at a minimum, some of the larger town commissions would have been raised in status to urban district councils but little or nothing has been done in that area. There is a root and branch reform required at local government level which has not been dealt with under the provisions in this Bill.

Now we have the postponement of the local authority elections in 1998. In our discussion of the Local Government (Dublin) Bill, 1993, I argued that, in the establishment of the new Dublin county councils, there should have been a fresh set of elections to allow the people of Dublin an opportunity to vote for the members of these new county councils. Now the earliest opportunity the people of Dublin will have to vote for those county councils, which came into being at the beginning of 1994, will be four and a half years later, in the middle of 1998. That makes a mockery of local government if the Minister does not exercise his powers under section 25 of this Bill to provide for a further postponement.

Then there is the provision in section 6 of this Bill regarding the disqualification of various people from membership of local authorities or from various offices in local authorities. I will not lie awake at night worrying about the fate of the chairpersons of the various Oireachtas Committees but I am concerned about some of the small print in this section, for example, the reference to people who may be disqualified for the non-payment of court awards made against them in respect of a local authority. Does that mean that if somebody say a member of ACRA who participated in ACRA's campaign of non-payment of service charges in some parts of the country, stands for election to a local authority, has participated in that campaign and, as part of that campaign, has not paid service charges he or she will be disqualified? As I understand it they will be disqualified from membership of a local authority under the provisions of this [590] Bill. Similarly, if, say, a pothole councillor or somebody who is engaged in that type of campaign decides to withold some payment from a local authority. Would such disqualification apply? For example, a local authority tenant who very often, through no fault of theirs but rather through some kind of retrospective assessment which very often occurs in the assessment of local authority rents, may find themselves with an award being made against them in court. Very often tenants can find themselves with very large arrears, not through any continuous neglect of payment on their part but perhaps through the non-supply of information or some difficulty that may have arisen in that area, sometimes through family difficulties, and if they are not in a position to pay the rent, they will be disqualified from membership of a local authority. This is a draconian power the Minister is stitching into this Bill.

There has been much discussion of local government reform in this House over many years. We had the Local Government Act, 1991, many aspects of which provided for a reform of local government had its provisions being implemented. The most exciting part of the 1991 Act was Part VI which allowed local authorities to establish committees and joint committees on a completely new basis, allowed local authorities to involve in those committees and in the running of services people from the wider community, from sports clubs, voluntary organisations, residents associations and so on, allowing local authorities to delegate those functions to those committees. Those sections of the 1991 Act, three years later, still have not been implemented. I wonder why. Why were local authorities denied the right to reform the manner in which they operate themselves simply because the Minister has not implemented sections of the Bill passed in this House three years ago?

Then there is the provision in Part VIII of this Bill regarding estimates. As I read it, in this Bill there is a new provision — the Minister can, by order, change the estimates a local authority has struck if he considers it to be an insufficient estimate. [591] As I understand the provision here, effectively he can order that local authority to change its estimate. In other words, it gives the Minister effective power to adopt estimates for local authorities. That is one thing I cannot understand because, at the end of the explanatory and financial memorandum we are told there are no financial implications in the provisions of this Bill. A very simple reform which could have been effected and which both members and officers of local authorities would have welcomed would have been to reform the archaic system of accounting obtaining in local authorities and in the drawing up of local authority estimates. I see no reference to that in this Bill.

The whole question of finance has been avoided. Perhaps the most significant omission from this Bill is the total absence of any proposal to deal with the financial crisis facing local government. The failure of successive Governments to put local government on a sound financial footing means that local services in many areas are virtually grinding to a halt.

A number of reports highlighted the growing crisis in local government funding as councils fight a daily battle to survive. However, successive Minister have failed to act, preferring instead to force councils to impose or increase service charges. The present rate of support system is totally unsatisfactory. It was drawn up on an ad hoc basis and produces huge variations between the funds available to different authorities. For instance, the per capita rate support grant for local authorities in the County Dublin area last year was £38.60, less than half which the Minister gave to his own local authority in Tipperary North Riding. Water charges have now been forced through in the three new county councils of Dublin by the Coalition parties and it seems that Dublin Corporation will be forced to follow suit next year.

The main objection to service charges which is as valid now as it was in 1983, when they were first introduced, is that they are levied in the main on the already overtaxed PAYE sector. It should be [592] remembered that both the Government parties, when in Opposition, pledged to repeal the charges and milk them for all their political advantage but they have now totally reneged on their promises. Householders who are unable to pay service charges or who take a principled stand against them are treated without mercy. There is a great contrast between the way our authorities deal with the wealthy tax dodgers on the one hand and the water charge protesters on the other.

Wealthy tax dodgers are the beneficiaries of regular amnesties and allowed to write off huge debts owed to the State. Those who take a stand against the form of double taxation represented by water charges are subjected to heavy-handed treatment with children refused higher education grants, money deducted from pensions and disconnection of supply. Local authorities should not be allowed to withdraw vital water supplies and should be required to cover any outstanding charges through the courts, as in the case of other debts.

The public are becoming used to U-turns by politicians — changing their position in Opposition to a different position when in Government. Nobody performed a U-turn with more skill than the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Stagg, in relation to water charges. He built his political career by opposing service charges. He is now presiding over the effective imposition of charges by diktat on local authorities and the various communities they represent. There is no point in making speeches to the public saying that at some stage in the future these charges may be abolished when the Minister — and in this case the Minister of State — has the power to do something about it.

Section 48 deals with local government finance and provides that the Minister for the Environment can give whatever size of grant he wishes to local authorities. There is no provision for funding local government. On 15 May 1990, when the local government elections were postponed, the then Minister for the Environment, Mr. Flynn, said — Official [593] Report, column 1157 —: “It is appropriate that this question of funding should now be examined in conjunction with the question of structures and functions”. He did not make it a term of reference for the Barrington committee. After Barrington had reported the Institute of Fiscal Studies carried out a study of the funding of local government. That study is still gathering dust on somebody's desk and nothing has been done about it. We are no wiser today about the Government's intentions with regard to the funding of local government than at that time. The only inkling we have is that it is the Government's intention to starve local authorities of central funding and to force them to charge the public for services. There are now charges for water and in some counties for sanitary services and refuse collection.

An article in The Sunday Times of 3 April 1994, stated that it is the Government's intention, as I had suspected, that the motorway ring around Dublin will be a toll road. Local authorities will be told to charge people — who have already paid road tax — using the roads. This is the direction in which the Government is going. It is putting the gun to the heads of local authorities and telling them to charge for services. However, the public want a system of local government that provides efficient services, good roads, good public parks and good housing properly maintained. They also want a system of local government that will provide for a clean environment for themselves and their children. They want to feel a sense of community where the local authorities support the voluntary efforts of community organisations through sports clubs, youth clubs, residents' associations and so on. They want control over the decisions which affect their lives. What passes for local government reform by the Minister for the Environment does not provide for any of those things.

The Bill states that various services can be provided by local authorities ranging from libraries to roads but that was already the case. The problem most local authorities experience in providing those services is lack of resources. Providing in [594] a Bill that a local authority may do X, Y and Z is completely meaningless when the local authority does not have the resources and no means of obtaining them.

The Minister referred to the system of local government that operates in Denmark. I wish we had the same system here and the level of commitment from the Irish Government as the Danish Government has to devolving powers and giving resources to local authorities. In Denmark two-thirds of all public expenditure is spent at local government level whereas the whole approach here is to retain the financial control in central departments.

This Bill does not provide for local government reform. It is crude, sloppy, lazy legislation introduced for the primary purpose of postponing the local elections, and to allow the local elections to the urban councils to proceed this year on the basis of the revised boundaries. It will introduce a greater degree of confusion into an already confused system of local government.

Mr. E. O'Keeffe: Information on Ned O'Keeffe  Zoom on Ned O'Keeffe  I welcome this elaborate legislation introduced by the Minister. I understand that with 77 sections it is one of the longest Local Government Bills introduced in the history of the State. It updates many Victorian Acts and brings us into line with modern times. In this country we speak about local government reform and everyone, including Governments, have been afraid to challenge it. The Minister is going part of the way in identifying with what has been said in the past. The first real attempt to reform local government was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. People say that this Bill would not have been introduced were it not for the necessity to hold local elections. The last urban council elections were held nine years ago. There has been much discussion in the intervening period and we heard talk of district councils and other issues while different parties in Government were identified with certain beliefs.

Local government affects every day life and is very important. The first thing that [595] comes to mind is the condition of our roads. This issue affects all politicians, especially those outside the greater Dublin area where road structure is second to none. County Cork, has a reasonably good roads structure but improvements are necessary. I understand that this year £57 million will be spent on county roads. An even greater amount was spent last year but the system is to be changed this year.

National primary roads are of vital importance. Heavy vehicles on the national primary routes are weighed regularly, to comply with EC legislation and to ensure that they do not damage the roads. However, because of the changes in business in rural areas the county roads, many of which date from Cromwellian times, have to carry greater weights than the primary roads. They cannot continue to carry that level of traffic and this problem needs to be examined. Year after year the county council has to carry out essential repairs to sections of county roads, sometimes three or four times a year. In fairness, the people who work on the roads do an excellent job but there is a serious problem with drainage of county roads as a result of which water polluted by soil and acid lies on the road corroding the top dressing. Narrow county roads cannot accommodate two wide vehicles side by side so that they are driven up on the dykes and take soil on to the road as well as blocking the inlets into the dikes. This is causing major problems. I sympathise with local government and the Minister in his efforts to improve our county roads but we need to take an intelligent approach to the problem. I am glad the Irish Farmers' Association is taking an interest in county roads. It realises the importance of a good roads structure for transporting goods and services. I urge the Minister to enter into negotiations with the farming community with a view to taking a partnership approach in alleviating this problem because they seem to know how to deal with it.

Some seven to ten years ago we had [596] special grants to maintain scenic routes serving little coves, seaside resorts and areas of heritage but they were withdrawn. I call for their reintroduction.

We have a model system of local government, one of the best in the country in County Cork. The county council employes 2,500 people and has a turnover in the region of £120 million, which is big business. It is responsible for 7,000 miles of public road, 700 miles of which is on the coast stretching from Youghal Bridge to the Kerry border. That takes a huge amount of servicing including expertise to deal with coastal erosion and many other problems. I am extremely proud of the management, engineering and other staff of Cork County Council. The county council has a northern, southern and western division under three separate assistant or deputy county managers who are all innovative and play a major developmental role. Dublin County Council would have been well advised to look at how the system operates in Cork and rather than establishing three separate county councils they could have taken their example. That would have been a better way forward. I understand that the system in Dublin is working reasonably well but in areas it leaves much to be desired.

The morale of county councillors is low and I wonder why. Is it because they have no say in decision making or are not prepared to take decisions? The financial area relates to business and councillors of all persuasions like to be involved in financial decisions but there are few decisions to be taken in that area because there are no moneys coming into the system to develop it. We need to look at methods of funding local authorities in a different way. The State is perhaps too much involved in local authorities and I do not support this because it takes away from the councils's autonomy.

The council do an excellent job but we are seeing a change because of the dual mandate about which we have heard much. It is proposed to give the chairman of the county council an executive type function. If so, we will need to examine the impediments incorporated in the [597] county managers Acts of the thirties and fifties. The county manager has the executive power and is in a position to override the decisions of local authority members if he is not satisfied with them. This does not happen very often, but it is a real possibility and we are always nervous of it.

The dual mandate here is becoming a bit of a laugh. Politicians are being encouraged to resign from one job before taking on another. The dual mandate operates in France and in many other countries. I understand that it is proposed to deprive councillors who are also Members of this House from holding the office of chairman of the local authority. I would not support any such proposal; it is a retrograde step as it will deprive Deputies of their right to be nominated by other councillors as chairperson.

There has been much talk about the workload of Ministers and a reference to the American system. If Ministers are as busy as they say they are should we consider some other method of appointing them? They must neglect their constituents as they have to appoint advisers to look after them. There is, therefore, a need for reform. The Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, is extremely busy and has tried to reform the local government system. If he was not a Dáil Deputy he would be able to devote more of his time to local government affairs. As we are all aware, because Ministers are extremely busy it is becoming fashionable to appoint advisers.

Many Members have held a dual mandate and candidates in the European elections, in an effort to maximise their vote, said that they will offer the seat to somebody else if they are elected. In 1987 Ray MacSharry held a dual mandate and did an excellent job. When Deputy Cox held a dual mandate he was heavily criticised mainly because he offered to give the seat to somebody else if he was elected. Others who held a dual mandate include Deputy De Rossa and Deputy Blaney.

People with expertise are appointed as chairpersons or directors of semi-State [598] bodies. These people are double jobbers and have a dual mandate. Bernie Cahill, who is a busy man, was appointed because he had special expertise. Why should a Dáil Deputy with ability be deprived of the opportunity to be appointed as chairperson of a local authority? I am not aware of any great demand for a provision such as this. This is only the thin edge of the wedge; under any subsequent legislation local authority members will not be allowed to be a Member of the Oireachtas.

The Cathaoirleach of the Seanad who is a colleague of mine will not have to seek re-election. The two cushiest jobs in the Oireachtas are those of the Ceann Comhairle and the Cathoirleach of the Seanad. Why should they be given more protection than a backbencher, like myself? It is time we stopped this nonsense.

To return to the question of the dual mandate a person elected by the public has a constitutional right to seek the position of chairperson of a county council. Local authorities have a major role to play in each county. A case can be made in favour of expanding this role. We now have enterprise boards, the Leader programme, various town bodies and a training authority while the Industrial Development Authority has been divided into three bodies. Every Member is aware of the problems constituents can encounter when they apply for grants from any of these bodies. Local authorities should have a co-ordinating role and provide assistance to these people.

Committees of agriculture and energy within local authorities have tended to overlook forestry development which has been a source of annoyance for some land owners for several reasons such as problems with drainage and the road structure. Since the programme was adopted and promoted by the European Union in recent years county councils have a role to play.

The population of this country is 3.5 million; yet we have the most expensive local government system in the western world. It is hard to explain the reason we have such a top heavy executive structure. [599] Society is full of whizz kids and do-gooders who have many ideas but which rarely work. There is a need to reform the system. Someone will have to say “stop”; are we getting value for money and is the system cost effective?

My party's 1977 manifesto was heavily criticised. Such a reform was inevitable as the rateable valuation system was a burden and a financial strain. The system of land valuation would have been changed by some Government if the Government led by Jack Lynch — whom I wish well — had not done so. With hindsight it is easy to be wise.

Service charges were introduced under the 1983 Local Government Act and we should recognise there is a need for them. As problems have been encountered throughout the country we should now close ranks.

Deputy Gilmore referred to the section which deals with convictions for the non payment of charges. I support this section because if members of local authority fail to give example there will be no discipline.

I welcome the decision to provide an additional £2 million for libraries. There is an excellent library service in Cork where an extensive modernisation programme is underway. In our provincial towns we have some of the finest libraries, but many more towns are awaiting development, for example, Mallow, Youghal, Midleton which is onstream, Mitchelstown and Fermoy, which is looking for new facilities. There is more to a modern library than the facility to get a book and take it home. There are many more periodicals and newspapers available both to our people and to tourists. A library must be easily accessible to everybody because of the facilities it provides and, therefore, this is a progressive step.

I often dominate the House and there is much more I would like to say. On this occasion I had to say a few words, whether popular or unpopular. I have said them and I thank you.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  We have heard so [600] much about reform of local government in the last five or six years that it is disappointing this is all we have received. Politicians, the public and members of local authorities were led to expect general reform of local government, but unfortunately that has not happened. Having awaited the publication of this Bill with a certain amount of anticipation and interest I am disappointed at what has been produced, a Bill with much padding and rhetoric and little sign of any local government reform.

Local government reform is essentially conceived to give local people an effective say in the running of their affairs, but there is nothing in this Bill to provide for it. The Bill does provide for the extension of town commission and urban district boundaries, but it should not have been necessary to introduce a Bill to do that. The Minister may think that if he can convince the public he is doing something, it does not matter whether he does it. This Bill is all shadow and no substance and may fool some of the public, but it does not fool me. The extension of the town commission boundaries and urban district boundaries is for electoral purposes only. The people will have a right to vote for the candidates offering themselves for election but, once elected, those candidates will not be able to represent the extended areas, responsibility for which will still remain with the local authority in whose area they are. When Galway City was made a full county borough in 1986 by the then Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, the county council and the city council, in consultation with each other, worked out a major extension of the city boundary to take in large parts of the now built up city and much rural land for future development of the city. This was a real extension of a local authority boundary because the responsibility for providing services in the new area was also given to the authority taking over those areas. I mention this to highlight that what is proposed in this Bill is not reform of local government in that manner.

The collapse of local government as we know it began in 1977 when, in order to [601] win the election, Dr. O'Donoghue decided to abolish domestic rates. Perhaps it was right to abolish domestic rates which were an unfair local taxation. We were promised that the amount of money lost to local authorities would be reimbursed by way of what we now call the rate support grant. That was done for one or two years, perhaps three in some cases. Since then the grant has fallen far short of compensating local authorities for the loss of domestic rates. The local authorities lost their power to raise money and spend it in their own areas as they deemed necessary. This loss of the rate support grant has ensured that local authorities are now unable to carry out their functions as local authorities. I was a member of Galway County Council for 20 years and of Galway City Council for eight or nine years. The service provided to people has deteriorated greatly in the last few years. The only functions local authorities now have is to pass the annual estimates and draw up a county or city development plan every five or six years. All other powers have been stripped from them and they have suffered because of that. They have suffered because the 1977 manifesto has denied them the funds they were due and, in every year since 1980, the necessary finance to run the services within the county.

The most obvious example is the lack of funds to service the roads. The amount of money provided by the Department is sufficient for surface dressing of county roads in Galway only every 40 years. Two or three years ago that was 35 years. At the present rate of funding that will increase to 50 years until the whole system of county roads will collapse altogether. It is a false economy. Many roads are deteriorating to such an extent that some are now impassable. In Connemara and other parts of the county, doctors and public health nurses have to park their cars at the end of a country road and walk a mile across potholed roads to deal with their patients. School children cycling to school or walking to meet buses must traverse the same road. In áiteanna i gConnemara ta na bóithre ana uafásach. That is because once the surface dressing [602] of roads in such hilly terrain deteriorates, the foundation is washed away. It is false economy not to provide money for the surface dressing of those roads because it will cost millions to restore them to their original state. Drainage should form an important part in the construction of roads in such areas. The criminal neglect of those roads is due solely to the fact that county councils are not provided with the necessary funding to carry out repairs.

It would be logical to spend some money to take water off those roads, but we should at least keep their surface dressing in place. In the long term that would save the Department of the Environment millions of pounds because the structure of the road would be maintained. Throwing loose stones into potholes is a waste of time, energy and money. It is false economy. In a wet winter those stones will be washed away within a week.

I find it difficult to explain to people why our county roads are in such a state when I consider the amount of money spent on national primary routes. In the past six months a total of £1.6 million was spent on a mile and a half or two mile stretch of road on the Dublin-Galway route between Oranmore and Derrydonnel. The surface of that road, which appeared to be adequate, was taken up, the road was lowered, raised and lowered again, ending up with a road which is more dangerous than the one which existed before the repairs began. On part of that road the surface is higher than the boundary walls of the houses and fences alongside it and that can be very dangerous. Will the Minister explain how £1.6 million can be available for that type of work while in rural areas of County Galway roads are virtually impassable?

Major local authority schemes are being financed by Brussels where the criteria for the spending of such moneys are laid down.

Mr. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  What about a contribution from the farming community?

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  The Deputy will have an opportunity to speak. Until we [603] channel to local authorities the EU money available for providing services in local areas, we will not have tackled local government reform.

Money is provided from the EU for group water schemes, but such schemes have come to a complete halt in County Galway and other rural areas because the money is not being channelled to local government. We are told it is not viable to grant-aid schemes in isolated rural areas where there are 200 or 300 houses scattered within a radius of four or five miles. People living in such areas are as much entitled to running water in their houses as those living in built up urban areas. The channelling of money to local authorities for such schemes should also form part of any meaningful local government reform.

A £25 million sewerage scheme in Galway city to prevent the pumping of raw sewage into the bay and waterways has not been sanctioned because of lack of liaison between the local authority and the EU. Last year sanction was refused because somebody claimed it might breach an EC directive on birds and this was investigated by the EU. Officials of the EU requested the Department of the Environment to submit the second environmental impact study on the scheme produced by Galway Corporation and it took 2 months and two days for the Department to send a copy of that study to Brussels. I do not know how much money the Department of the Environment has to allocate for local services since we lost out in respect of the Structural Funds, but perhaps that is why we in Galway are destroying our bay and beaches. As a result of the delay in sanctioning that scheme we have not received the blue flag status for our major beaches for the past two years. We are willing to proceed with the scheme, but until we open the channels between local authorities and Brussels there will not be any real local government reform.

Before publication of this Bill I read in newspapers articles that the Minister intended abolishing the dual mandate whereby a member of a local authority [604] could also be a Member of the Oireachtas. However, I understand Fianna Fáil and Labour backbenchers objected to that section and it was not included in the Bill. I was amused to hear my colleague, Deputy Molloy, stating that he favours the abolition of the dual mandate. Between 1989 and 1991, when he was a Minister, he remained a member of his local authority despite my advice that he should resign. He resigned from the sheep dipping committee, but remained a member of several other subsidiary committees of the council. I am glad that at least he has seen the error of his ways and taken my advice.

I have an open mind in regard to the dual mandate. There is merit in having people here who are also members of local authorities because of their direct knowledge of local matters, but there is also merit in having people solely members of local authorities. If local authorities are properly financed members should only be members of those authorities.

I do not see merit in excluding a Member of the Oireachtas from being chairperson of a local authority. Two years ago I had the privilege of being elected mayor of Galway and I enjoyed the role. I would have given up my position as a Member of the Oireachtas to serve as mayor of Galway because I achieved more in one year in that position than I achieved in one year as a Member of the Oireachtas. It was a full time job and if I had not been a professional fulltime politician I would not have been able to carry out the demanding duties placed on me as mayor of a city. I fail to understand how anybody holding down a nine to five job, as members of local authorities who are not Members of the Oireachtas must do, would be able to carry out that function. Will the Minister reconsider that aspect of the Bill?

None of the provisions in the Bill indicates real reform of local government. We are only fooling ourselves by pretending that the extension of boundaries and debarring the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, the Cathoirleach of the Seanad and judges from being members of local [605] authorities is reform of local government. I do not know many judges who are anxious to be members of local authorities. Their time could be more usefully spent than being a member of a local authority. We must face up to the need to reform local government. EU money now financing local authorities should be channelled to local authorities in a less controlled fashion. They, rather than the Department of the Environment, should be given the responsibility of dealing with their affairs and deciding how to expend their finance. The postponement of elections and tinkering with authorities' electoral areas cannot be considered real reform of local government. I am astonished this Bill has been introduced. I often heard that long churning makes bad butter and this Bill is an example. The debate on local authority reform has been ongoing for the past seven to eight years and the result — this Bill — is disappointing to everybody concerned.

Mr. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  I welcome this small attempt to widen the responsibilities and role of local government. The Minister introduced three major local government Bills which will result in changes for Dublin and other areas in the administration of many aspects of local governemnt. The Minister introduced about ten Bills which affect the running of local authorities. It is striking in this legislation that there is a reference to the 1854 Act passed approximately 50 years prior to the establishment of the present local government system. The previous system was that of the grand jury and municipal local authority. It is the Minister's duty to blow some of the cobwebs from that legislation to provide a more coherent system of local government. I welcome the definition of the Minister's task. He said his objective is the significance of local government as a worthwhile enterprise in its own right separate from central Government in political and administrative spheres which is a worthy one. He also said that when discussing the concept of distinct membership the principle of enhancing the powers and discretion of local authorities as bodies with real [606] responsibility would be the cornerstone of future legislation in this area.

During the past few years there have been some small steps forward. As a member of a local authority, I welcome the removal of the ultra vires regulations which made it impossible for local authority members to effectively engage in commercial enterprises. The possibilities being explored in Dublin City Council of reinvigorating the economy of that area would have been impossible without the introduction of recent legislation. Under this Bill the powers of local authorities have been further expanded in respect of the administration of parks, local community facilities, graveyards and other aspects of local community life. Indeed, the Minister will give local authorities considerable new powers in the area of casual trading.

I agree with the previous speaker that local government does not need another small aggregate development but a revolutionary Bill. During the days of English rule there was no local government, the local landlord or grandees in a town effectively laid down the law at local level. This Bill or earlier legislation do not address the key problems of responsibility, the nexus of power in local authorities and the area of finance, to which I will refer shortly. Until we address the area of responsibility at local level, and decide who wields the power — the local authority or some local mandarin who is effectively responding to another mandarin in the Department of the Environment — we will not have local democracy. Before that can be achieved we must also provide a system of local financial support. The last speaker referred to the condition of country roads. The Dublin area has consistently received the second lowest financial allocation in respect of local government. When travelling in the North recently I was amazed at the condition of the roads. Many people in that area appear to be prosperous and perhaps a greater local input could have been made to improve the roads, particularly when large milk tankers and other heavy vehicles contributed to their bad condition.

[607] Part II of the Bill empowers the Minister to ban Ministers and Ministers of State from being a member of a local authority and covers other areas. However, most backbenchers, particularly those on the Government side, would find it a disadvantage in terms of carrying out their duties if they were barred from being a member of a local authority. The political journalist, Denis Coughlan, sparked off a recent debate on this matter by asking what backbenchers and other Members should do to make this House more responsive and effective in respect of legislation. The establishment of four major committees has resulted in all Members working hard and greater responsibilities being given to backbenchers. While the current system of constituency organisation incorporating proportional representation remains it would create enormous difficulties for backbenchers, particularly those in the Government, if they were not members of local authorities. The minutiae of local events are important. As the famous Tip O'Neill said, “all politics is local” and all professional politicians know that is true. Mr. Coughlan and other journalists who examined this area do not consider this the central problem.

I am disappointed with the coverage the media gives to local government. Although my local authority is responsible for more than one-seventh of our population, many newspapers, like The Irish Times, do not send a journalist to local meetings and, therefore, much work at local level is not reported. The central problem is that neither this Bill nor any Government, including those of which Deputy McCormack's party were a partner, have tried to grasp the nettle, which is the lack of local democracy. This Bill deals with much of the legislation covered in the Acts governing local development, namely, Local Government (Dublin) Acts 1930 to 1933, Limerick City Management Acts, Waterford City Management Acts and Cork City Management Acts. We are dealing with the managerial system and it is interesting [608] to note that the current system came from the United States in the progressive era of Thomas Woodrow Wilson. At that time it was considered that businessmen or appointed executives, not directly elected mayors, should run local communities. That movement spread across much of America and to this country.

Our local government system is often extremely undemocratic, given the massive Executive powers and the very limited powers of local authority members. It was interesting to hear the previous speaker say that when he was mayor of Galway, as a full time politician he found the role very satisfying but one may serve in the ceremonial position of mayor for only a year and there is no effective system of political control. As leader of the civil alliance on Dublin City Council I found it very difficult to develop a Cabinet system because the bulk of the powers are retained by the bureaucrats. It is similar to the Minister responding to proposals by civil servants.

The Government should consider introducing real local democracy. The discussion about the dual mandate totally misses the point. What is needed is to give much more extensive power to locally elected representatives. I am in favour of having full time local councils who would be paid a decent salary to run the councils. Locally elected representatives would have real authority and if at the end of five years the people did not like what they had done they could be removed from office. The introduction of the new expensive systems has had the effect, at least in the local authority of which I am a member, of capping the number of meetings held and rendering it more difficult to carry out our duties. I am pleased the Minister will be considering this system, particularly as that which operates in larger local authorities, has an anti-democratic effect.

Despite the increased powers given under this and previous legislation, some measures in recent years have removed powers from local authorities. For example, the setting up of the National Roads Authority resulted in all primary and many secondary roads being taken [609] out of the control of local authorities. In this city there is the Dublin Transportation Initiative which is run by an executive committee. We have been trying to rebuild the centre of Dublin and by creating tax incentive zones the Government has removed from the direct administration of the city council large areas of the city. In dealing with the issue of the dual mandate the Minister has not addressed the central problem of local government which is lack of power for directly elected local representatives. This matter and the financial weaknesess of local government should be considered.

I welcome the initiatives in section 3 on the management of the alteration of boundaries, polling dates and so on. This section also deals with the position of Cathaoirligh, Leas-Chathaoirligh, mayors and deputy mayors. If we are to continue with the present system of local government Deputies should not be arbitrarily excluded from carrying out their key role as members of local authorities. It is incredible that some of the most experienced and gifted politicians would be excluded from their role in local authorities. It is only eight years since the Minister for Finance, who was then Minister for Labour, held with great distinction the position of Lord Mayor of Dublin. That shows that it is not impossible to hold both offices at the same time.

The Minister retains great powers over local authorities' meetings and procedures. While he has extended powers to make by-laws in a wide range of areas, particularly relating to amenities and library services, he retains the absolute power to reject proposals in this regard. One of the main areas of control of local authorities in regard to amenities is the provision of parks and so on. Dublin City Council is very proud of its parks developments. Despite straitened financial circumstances we have developed new parks such as the Stardust Park and provided a range of amenity services. We are very proud of our library service which has given Dublin city and county a wide range of information and other services. In many localities such as my [610] area of Coolock the library service is a live resource centre for the district.

The financial issue is dealt with in section 8 in which the Minister restates his powers. I hope that at the end of this year the local authority which I lead will not be in conflict with the Minister on the management of our local finances. It is very difficult for a local authority to carry out the full range of its activities with limited resources. In the area controlled by Dublin City Council many buildings, including this one, are owned by the Government, which does not pay one penny in rates on them. We have a unique record among local authorities in that we raise 70 to 75 per cent of our own revenue. Yet in recent years we have been severely constrained in the services we offer because for three consecutive years there was a freeze on our rate support grant. In 1977 when Professor Martin O'Donoghue was Minister we witnessed the unbelievable folly of the abolition of rates; and local government is still suffering the aftermath of that action. Had rates not been abolished Dublin City Council's budget of £220 million would be increased by £50 million per year.

In many areas of this city people face the prospect of paying residential property tax and service charges. This ad hoc build up of local taxation is extremely unfair to householders. The Government should streamline a system of local financial support. It is crucial that there be equality as between city and country. Dubliners should not have to pay taxes that are not imposed in other parts of the country. The Minister should consider that matter.

I welcome the Bill as a tiny aggregate step forward. We are not dealing with the key problems of local government, those of power, responsibility and finance. Section 10 deals with the setting up of the Local Government Re-organisation Commission. Deputies who are or have been members of local authorities would agree that we do not want to take two steps forward and one step backwards on this issue; we need a revolution in local government and until that is [611] achieved we will not have a satisfactory system of local democracy.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  Deputy Broughan is at the beginning of a distinguished political career. He never loses an opportunity to sock it to the Government on a number of issues, as he has done just now, and I foresee the day when he will detach himself from this totally dishonest Government and join a decent party. He would then have far more liberty to make the kind of comments he has made without having to——

Mr. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  There is a rumour that Deputy Dukes is joining a new party.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  ——put up with the kind of nonsense he has to deal with at parliamentary party meetings of the Labour Party.

This morning the Minister made an acute if somewhat rueful observation during his contribution. He stated: “With a wide-ranging Bill of this type, it is virtually impossible to comment on all the provisions in a Second Reading speech”. There was a time when that would not have been the case in this House. That is the case now, however, because of the Government's boneheaded insistence on allocating time slots for Members who wish to speak on the Bill. The Minister is allocated half an hour, regardless of the size of the Bill, and 20 minutes is allocated to other Members. I would have liked to hear Deputy Broughan, for example, continuing his contribution and, perhaps venturing into the even more lurid and indiscreet areas of his private thoughts.

Mr. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  My private thoughts are in no way lurid.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  It would have made for a far better debate in this House but with a Bill such as this, the nonsensical time limitation for Deputies on Second Stage, universally applied in the way that it is, is making a mockery of debate here.

This Bill is wrongly titled. Its title, the [612] Local Government Bill, 1994 should be, the Local Government Evasion of Responsibility Bill, 1994 because it deals with none of the issues the Minister has set out as its functions and objectives. It will not reform local government, far from it, and the one provision which might address the question of reform kicks the whole issue off to another commission. I will return to that later.

In this case the mountain has laboured mightily and brought forth a mouse because even in the limited area of reform that the Bill claims to bring about, it will not succeed. We will have to wait even longer for that. It ducks all of the principal issues in local government reform, some of which were identified by Deputy Broughan, who should be ashamed to be a member of a Government party that introduces such a rag Bill, flying under the false colours of reform. This Bill does nothing of any real significance about the functions of local government at town or county level. It ducks the issue of powers, with the exception of some fairly small and rather cosmetic changes in the powers of local authorities and, crucially, it says nothing of any consequence about the financing of local government — I will return to that later. Deputy Broughan raised this point, although he has a biased view, and I speak as one Dubliner to another having gained a certain impartiality from living in another part of the country. The Bill does not do anything significant about the way local authorities are financed.

I am suspicious of the way the terms of reference of this reorganisation commission are written because the reference to financing in those terms of reference gives me no confidence that the Minister will be seeking or will be receptive to any real proposals about changing the way we finance local government. No changes in the fundamental nature or structure of local authorities are proposed in this Bill nor do I expect any fundamental changes in those areas from any report emanating from the commission. I am not criticising the people who will be appointed to this commission but the terms of reference they are being given will spancel them. [613] They are a little less restrictive than the terms of reference given some years ago to the Barrington Commission. We all know that the terms of reference were so strict in that case that the report of the Barrington Commission was accompanied by a minority report which took issue with the fundamental task given to that commission.

Despite all that the Minister has entertained us this morning with worthy thoughts about how matters have changed and what changes are required. He referred to the “fundamental shift in a relatively short space of time” in the distribution of population here. He stated:

In 1961, a clear majority of Ireland's population was rural. Today, that sitaation has been reversed and at the 1991 census, almost 60 per cent of the population lived in urban areas.

I congratulate the Minister for finally discovering what the rest of us have known for quite some time. I wonder if the Minister is happy with that shift in the population structure. Does he think it is a good thing? Is he of the opinion that there is nothing we need to do about it other than this tomfoolery of finagling around with the structure of towns, which will have no effect on population shifts. I would like to hear the Minister's views on that and I would gladly propose that he be allocated more than half an hour to give us them.

The Minister went on to tell us his view of the challenges facing us. Ministers like to use words such as “challenge”; it makes them look progressive and macho. He went on to state: “But the actual structure and framework of local government in our towns has not developed in keeping with social and demographic changes”. If one had a tune one could put music to that and sing it. The Minister said he will produce a Bill to ensure that the structure and framework of local government in our towns will not develop in keeping with social and demographic changes because what we can anticipate from this commission will not make much of a difference.

[614] The Minister referred also to the purposes of the Bill. He stated: “its purpose was not simply to guarantee the continued survival of town local authorities but to create a modern and effective system of town local government”. Then, because he is making no proposal, he went on to say: “However by putting to rest once and for all the fundamental question as to the future sub-county structure to be adopted, a major step has been taken”. I would be the first to shout hosannas and allelulias if it were true but there is nothing in this Bill that resolves to me any fundamental question as to the future sub-county structure to be adopted. One would need a microscope and a great deal of tutoring to find anything in it that resolves that question. The Minister went on to state “Town local government is to remain and is now to be modernised”. Where? I see no modernisation in this Bill. He stated further: “The outstanding matters requiring decision have been narrowed down considerably”. The Minister is ducking all the main issues because he does not want to talk about financing, functions or powers and he said “... it should now be possible to focus on these without sterile and distracting controversy”.

I would like to know what the Minister calls the controversy in the Labour and Finnna Fáil parties concerning the dual mandate. Is that not sterile and distracting? I listened to some of the speeches by Government Deputies today and they have not been talking about financing local authorities or about local democracy. They have been talking about this sterile and distracting controversy concerning the dual mandate and, according to the papers this morning, they have been talking about it so much that the Minister is backing down from even the small change he proposed in this Bill. I am willing to bet at this stage that the only changes we can rely on seeing to this Bill on Committee Stage will have to do with this dual mandate arising from this sterile and distracting controversy, and indicating again the enduring proclivity of the Labour and Fianna Fáil parties in Government to look after jobs [615] for the boys and girls. That is all that will come from this magnificent change in the structure of town local government.

I wonder if the new commission will suffer the same fate as the Barrington Commission. Very little of the report on local government reorganisation and reform is embodied in the Bill. None of the fundamental questions posed in the report is answered. I do not know what “financing” in the new commission's terms of reference means. It is just one item mentioned in that subsection. Did the Minister consider what was said about financing?

In 1985 Deputy Kavanagh, then Minister for the Environment, produced a policy statement on the reform of local government in which he stated at paragraph 9.1:

It is the aim that local authorities should have opportunities of raising a reasonable proportion of the resources required to meet local needs from local sources. This is essential if they are to measure up to the role implied for them in the Government reform programme.

That is what was said in 1985 but both Labour and Fine Gael set their faces firmly against the only financing proposal for local authorities made by that Government which was local charges. They promised to abolish them in the next local government election. They have not done anything about it and are hoist with that petard since. It would make a cat laugh to hear the Minister and members of the Government parties wriggling around on the question of local charges and baring their consciences. Deputy Stagg was one of the prime exponents of that until he got caught up in some nasty difficulties on local charges. There are no proposals about financing now.

The Barrington Commission in page 38 of their report stated:

We believe that it is essential that the system of financing local authorities [616] should conform to the following principles.

1. There must be some link between spending and raising money in order to promote responsibility and accountability; a number of the submissions we received referred to this point. Democracy and responsibility can be looked on in this context as two sides of the one coin.

2. This implies that local authorities should raise a significant proportion of their revenue from non-central sources such as charges or local taxation.

3. Liability should be dispersed widely among the electorate and not confined to any one sector.

What does the Government think about those statements and what does it intend to do about them in the context of town local government? If the financing issue is not resolved there will be no prospect of bringing about a democratic local government system. We know the typical profile of a local authority budget — 90 per cent of its capital expenditure is determined by the Department of the Environment. That money goes to the local authority with a tag attached stating what kind of project it is to be spent on and what phase of what project is in question. Some 60 per cent of current expenditure comes directly from the Department of the Environment and the balance is raised by means of rates and local charges. They have very little real discretion in spending. The only real area where they can make substantial changes is in relation to their current budget and expenditure on staff. Until we resolve that problem along the lines set out by the Barrington Commission we will never put “government” back into local government nor will we have democratic local government. We will continue the pretence we have had since 1977.

It is fine for members of the Labour Party and some members of Fianna Fáil to talk about empowering local communities. That ensures them a favourable [617] mention in the newspapers and on trendy television shows but where does this movement come from? In most cases it comes from the sense of frustration felt by people faced with a system whose only response is we do not have the funds to do what you want us to do. They do not have the flexibility to respond to the priorities identified by people living in their area of responsibility. No matter how much goodwill there may be, we will not be able to do anything about that until we put government back into local government and until it is in a financial position to make its own choices in favour of the people who elected the members.

There has been much discussion about the dual mandate. It seems to be the only point Government Deputies are excited about. Does the Minister expect us to take him seriously. He spoke about “the significance of local government as a worthwhile enterprise in its own right, separate from central Government in both the political and administrative spheres, as far as that can be achieved.” When the Minister spoke about the distinct entity of local government he did so in the context of the dual mandate and not in terms of producing structures which could work for people. Do I conclude that the Minister sees the issue of local democracy only in terms of whether Deputies should be members of local authorities or chair them? If that is the case, it is a sad reflection on the Government's understanding of the role of local authorities.

The commission has been given a deadline of 12 months but this can be extended by the Minister. If he is serious, why should he tell the commission it can have more time to make a recommendation if it has a difficulty? Section 21 states that local elections are to be held every fifth year. It is nonsensical to extend the lives of local authorities for years. Section 25 proposes that the life of local authorities can, by order, be extended. Is the Government trying to fool us? It is saying that there is no reason to change the present law, yet includes these provisions in the Bill to try to get some credit for reforming local [618] government, even though it does not even have the spine to try the slightest reform. That extension provision should be done away with in so far as the local elections and the reporting limit of the commission are concerned.

Local authorities will be given extended powers to make by-laws in a number of areas. I am delighted that this provision has been included in the Bill; I supported a similar provision in the Casual Trading Bill. However, again the nobble and the spancel are provided for. The Minister said that in certain circumstances he may decide that the local authority may not make by-laws for some areas or may do so only with his consent. I take it the Government has no political, emotional, intellectual or conceptual attachment to any idea of local democracy. Every time one looks at a provision in the Bill which is halfway democratic one has only to look at a later section to see that the nobble has been put on and local authorities will still be subjected to the whims and directions of the Minister who sits in the Custom House.

The Bill provides for a series of boundary extensions. Why has Newbridge not been included in that list? It had been expected for some time that Newbridge, or Droichead Nua, would be one of the towns whose boundaries would be extended. All the reasons given by the Minister for extending the boundaries of towns apply with particular force to Newbridge, approximately half of the population of which is within the electoral boundary. Why are these boundaries being extended, to use the Minister's phrase, “for the purposes of the elections”? In the case of the 50 or so towns which will have their boundaries extended, whether they have urban councils or town commissions, it seems the extension is being made only to increase the number of people who will be entitled to vote in the elections. They are not being extended to give those town authorities any powers over the new areas which will be included for the purposes of these elections.

That is a very cynical manoeuvre. If we are to extend the area in which people [619] can vote for a town authority, then we should also extend by the same amount the area in which that town authority can make decisions within its sphere of competence, limited though that is in the case of urban councils and almost nonexistent as it is in the case of town commissions. This is the worst example of a cosmetic change being made for purely superficial political reasons; it is another straw in the wind which shows that the Government has no commitment whatsoever to any real reform of local government.

Mr. Ellis: Information on John Ellis  Zoom on John Ellis  Deputy Dukes referred to the boundary extensions, which will be a source of annoyance to some people as areas they would like to see included will not be included while other areas may be. This Bill gives us an opportunity to look at the overall local government system. When one looks at the progress made in the area of local government one must wonder if the system is becoming more bureaucratic every day. The difference between the number of people involved in administration and those engaged in physical work is alarming. We are all aware from our constituencies that the number of local authority outdoor workers has decreased substantially; in many cases these workers are a dying breed. As a result the level of maintenance on roads, housing and sewerage schemes is not of a quality expected in a modern society.

Over the past six months many roads have fallen to pieces, so to speak. While this has been caused to some extent by inclement weather it is also partly due to a lack of maintenance by local authorities which do not have adequate maintenance staff. The reason local authorities do not have adequate staff to carry out maintenance is that many of these workers availed of voluntary redundancy schemes. County managers saw these schemes as a way of reducing their overheads and paying bills but forgot that they would also lead to a loss of essential manpower. At the same time the number of engineers employed by local authorities [620] has increased considerably. Have we gone overboard in terms of local government administration? Despite the improvements in back up facilities, computerisation and other office aids, it now takes five or six people in administration to do the job done by two or three people when I became a member of a local authority 20 years ago.

Because of the increased dependency by local authorities on the central Exchequer for funding, many local authority members are not prepared to implement some of the cruel decisions which are necessary for the long term benefit of the people they represent. We have seen examples of this in Dublin city where the members of Dublin Corporation avoided imposing charges for many years. It was easy for them to make up any shortfall in revenue through the high rate base on commercial property. I want to compare this with the position of Leitrim County Council which has approximately 700 ratepayers. One can see how the discrepancy has arisen between the provision of services in smaller rural counties and the provision of services in large cities. Local authorities in rural areas are expected to provide the same services as those provided in Dublin, yet when we seek to impose charges we are told that no charges were introduced in Dublin city until this year. This begs the question: how much extra revenue could have been raised by Dublin Corporation and did it get a much larger share of funding from central Government than it was entitled to?

Mr. E. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  That is a very good question.

Mr. Ellis: Information on John Ellis  Zoom on John Ellis  I believe it got a much larger share of funding than it was entitled to for the very simple reason that it made its case and got away with it under successive Ministers. As a result it was able to avoid introducing charges.

I wish to refer to the county road system which has been hammered by the weather in recent months. If one were to ask local authorities specifically how much of the capital allocation they [621] receive for roads is positively spent on the roads system in any county, one would be shocked to discover that the adminisation costs are much greater than would be normally acceptable if the same work were undertaken by way of public contract. I hope the additional moneys allocated by the Minister's Department for county roads will yield a better return. If we want people to remain in rural areas we will have to provide them with the same basic facilities as are provided for their counterparts in urban areas. They will have to be provided with reasonable roads on which to travel to and from their places of work and their local town. Many such roads have been repaired but, because of negligence on the part of their users, have deteriorated within a very short period. That is sad but nonetheless true. Yet it is those same people who will hold public meetings and criticise public representatives of all political persuasion because their local roads are not in the condition they would wish. In many cases surface water, mud and the like will be allowed remain on them, thus damaging their surface.

I am sure the question of the dual mandate has arisen already. Anybody elected to a local authority should have the right to hold any office available to them through such membership. I do not want to sound anti the proposals contained in this Bill but it is only fair that those who face the democratic process should have equal rights once an election is over. While it might seem cruel to some Members in this House, the hard fact is that whenever a member of any party is elected, they are entitled to hold any office available to them. Often their colleagues decide who should hold such offices. I suppose I could attribute that to the Houses of the Oireachtas, but the position there is different and I will not comment. As Chairman of an Oireachtas Committee, the Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs, if the provisions of this Bill are enacted, I could no longer be a member of a local authority but I believe people should be given the option of choosing. On Committee Stage I hope the Minister will reconsider [622] the position vis-á-vis the holding of such offices by Members of the Oireachtas. I am sure the Leas-Cheann Comhairle would feel similarly that as a member of a local authority he can often avail of that forum to express his views on local problems.

We must look at local government from a number of perspectives. It is proposed in this Bill to postpone local elections to 1998. Perhaps it is a pity there is not a fixed term of office with regard to Dáil elections so that Members elected to this House would have before them a guaranteed term and not always have to look over their shoulders. It might well lead to better government and representation for the electorate generally.

The provisions with regard to the making of by-laws will afford members of local authorities an opportunity of taking decisions it would have been their wish to take over many years, although some probably would prefer that such power was not handed back to them. Members of local authorities will have to stand up and be counted when it comes to taking decisions affecting their local communities. Over many years the drawing up of by-laws has been important to local authorities but the consultative process was too long-winded. I hope this Bill will help to short circuit that process.

While not dealt with in this Bill, the designation of certain areas and the preparation of county development plans should be examined. The right of local authorities to designate areas as being unsuitable for certain purposes has not been fully exploited to date. There is need for local authorities to have wider discretion. Planning with regard to, say, afforestation and other projects should fall within their remit. The reason is very simple. No doubt Deputy Enda Kenny will understand what I say in this respect.

Mr. E. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  That is true. The monkeys will be able to swing their way from tree to tree from Donegal to Cork.

Mr. Ellis: Information on John Ellis  Zoom on John Ellis  I do not know that our climate is sufficiently good for such inhabitants.

[623]Mr. E. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  West of Ireland monkeys.

Mr. Ellis: Information on John Ellis  Zoom on John Ellis  I hope some of those monkeys are not the type to which Deputy Kenny refers.

Local authorities are powerless to control or prohibit much development that takes place within their administrative areas. I am glad the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry announced recently that something will be done to control development which can affect our environment and which can have a devastating effect in certain parts of the west and elsewhere. Last week we saw the same problem arise in County Meath when a non-national bought up 700 acres of prime land and planted hardwood trees, thus taking it out of production for the next 100 years. It was not subject to planning permission. The laws obtaining with regard to afforestation can be easily circumvented by anybody wishing to do so.

The Minister and his Department, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, should be devising a proper overall development programme. There must be joint involvement of those most aware of local conditions, those who live in an area and their elected representatives who are answerable to the public. The public will always remember the misdeeds of members of local authorities, those who are perceived as having failed to fulfil their role. Generally such people do not hold membership of local authorities for very long. We will all have observed that phenomenon, whether in Dublin, Cork, Leitrim, Mayo or wherever. Nonetheless such members of local authorities are often blamed for things which occur within an area which may be totally beyond their remit or the limits of their capabilities as members of local authorities. The future development of our country should be in harmony with the wishes of local people. It is unfair that foreigners should have the right to force local people to accept developments not to their liking. Many disputes have arisen [624] regarding developments forced on people in various areas.

Debate adjourned.


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