Thursday, 25 February 2010
Dáil Eireann Debate
3. Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when he will publish the White Paper on local government reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9857/10]
Deputy John Gormley: I published the Green Paper on local government, Stronger Local Democracy — Options for Change, in April 2008. This was followed by an extensive programme of national consultation for the purposes of informing the preparation of the White Paper on local government. This will set out policy on a wide range of local government issues and will be of great importance to the future of the local government system and its stakeholders.
The environment has altered considerably since April 2008, not least due to the severe economic downturn. Work on the White Paper has also had to have regard to the report of the Commission on Taxation, the report of the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes and the renewed programme for Government. The approach to the White Paper is now under consideration by Government. A Cabinet committee has been established to finalise the major strategic issues to be included in the paper. While this may take some additional time, it is essential that we get the White Paper right, that it is grounded in today’s challenges, contains appropriate ambition and is readily implementable.
However, I am continuing to take significant local government initiatives in the meantime. As announced in the budget, I established the local government efficiency review group in December to review the cost base, expenditure of and numbers employed in local authorities. Last week, I established the Limerick local government committee to prepare a report into the most appropriate arrangements for local government for the city and county of Limerick. Yesterday, I published the general scheme of the legislation to provide for the mayor for Dublin. The Government decision to introduce a directly elected mayor for Dublin in 2010, and the general scheme to provide for it, marks a first and significant step in implementing broader local government change. I anticipate that many of the policy decisions in the White Paper will require further legislation over the coming years.
Deputy Phil Hogan: The Minister promised the White Paper by the end of December 2008 but we still do not have it over a year later. A Cabinet sub-committee has been set up to rein in some of the Minister’s madness in regard to some of his proposals in the Green Paper. There will be a delay because Fianna Fáil does not like what the Minister is doing.
Deputy Phil Hogan: However, 2014 is the appropriate time to have that because we want to initially develop functions from central Government to local government and the councillors. I do not see why there should be four local authorities, 130 public representatives and the appointment of a person who is effectively the glorified chairperson of a city development board. Does the Minister accept there is much work to do at a time of recession and that a cost of €5 million to set another layer of bureaucracy and another individual at the centre of local government in Dublin, when the person will not have any powers, is unjustified?
Deputy John Gormley: First, I am not in any way being reined in. The fact is that in the context of the renewed programme for Government, if anything, my ideas are gaining momentum. The whole idea----
Deputy John Gormley: The fact is that this is what we are going to implement in the context of the White Paper. It is very important, when talking about regional government, that one actually gets it right. There are contentious issues around borders — literally, where one draws the line — and we are going through this step by step. I can report that we had an excellent meeting yesterday and that I am getting full and total support from my Cabinet colleagues in this regard.
The Deputy referred to the directly elected mayor. It is very unusual for a Minister to design a job for a member of the Opposition. Despite all the Deputy’s misgivings, there will be a queue around the corner in his own party looking for this job.
Deputy John Gormley: I am dealing with a legacy of so-called local government reform from Fine Gael. It came up with those ideas and with the number of councillors, and I am trying to deal with that. It will take a while to evolve because allegiances and systems have developed which cannot be changed overnight. I am trying to integrate the position of mayor of Dublin into that.
What we have come up with is a very cost-effective system. The Deputy quoted the figure of €5 million, which, in the overall scheme, is not a significant amount. The sort of efficiency, innovation and drive that will result for this city is well worth it. This has been called for over many years but nobody has delivered on it. I intend to deliver on it in Government.
Deputy Phil Hogan: I suggest that if there are efficiencies to be achieved, they should be achieved without reference to anything else that is happening. The four local authorities are doing the best they can in the current system — I have no difficulty with them. What the Minister is doing is seeking to put another layer of political bureaucracy on top of the four local authorities instead of reviewing the role and remit of the four local authorities in a regional sense at the time he is putting forward this legislation.
Deputy Phil Hogan: He did. He would not need a Cabinet sub-committee for something that was as straightforward as the Minister suggested. Does the Minister accept that this directly elected mayor of Dublin will have no power, effectively no budget, there will effectively be no Dublin Transport Authority and that what he is engaging in, in the middle of a recession, is a waste of money?
Deputy John Gormley: ——he will see under head 38 that the mayor can intervene directly and has the power to direct — the mayor is the boss. This is modelled directly on the London mayoralty and I have taken many soundings from Mr. Ken Livingstone and others.
Of course, there is one issue on which we can perhaps have a debate, namely, local government funding. The Fine Gael party leader was asked a few weeks ago what his position was on water charges. He did not have a position.
Deputy John Gormley: I wonder whether Fine Gael has had time to think about the issues since then. What is its position? I would like the Deputy to tell the people out there what is its position on a simple issue like that.
Deputy John Gormley: All modern cities have water charges and domestic property taxes. This is taken as the norm. Yet, Fine Gael cannot even come up with a position on water charges. Why can it not do that? It is because it cannot take tough decisions on anything — that is the difficulty. Instead of waffling on, when the Deputy talks about the four local authorities, he should remember his party came up with the idea of the four local authorities — it was its idea.
Deputy John Gormley: He asks how we are going to integrate the four local authorities. I am giving him the solution to that. It is an extensive piece of legislation, 200 pages long. If the Deputy studies its provisions, he will see the position is a powerful one. I reiterate that I have no doubt there are members of the Deputy’s party who will be gagging for this position.
Deputy Phil Hogan: When will the Minister roll out the property tax? Will the money gathered under that taxation measure, which is supposed to fund local government, be ring-fenced for the mayor of Dublin in respect of every dwelling in Dublin, as would be appropriate?
Deputy John Gormley: Now that the Deputy is banging the table, demanding it, I will give him an answer. He already knows that we have a domestic property tax on second homes. The Deputy pooh-poohed the idea and said it would not work.
Deputy Phil Hogan: Excuse me, a Cheann Comhairle. When will the Minister, with his Cabinet colleagues, allow for the financing of local government through a property tax for all homes? When will it be rolled out?
Deputy Phil Hogan: We are discussing the White Paper on local government reform which includes financing local government. I ask the Minister when will a property tax be rolled out for local government.
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