Thursday, 28 March 1985
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. M. O'Toole: When we adjourned this debate yesterday evening we all seemed to be in a very jovial mood, including the Minister and the people on the other side of the House. Then I was speaking generally on the Bill. This morning we will get down to more serious discussion and deal with a few facts that will indicate the seriousness of this Bill to the local authorities.
I want to reiterate in the most serious terms that I can that the people, the local authorities, the county managers and members of local authorities are completely disgusted that there is no local reform in this Bill. I hope I will get an opportunity here today to bring to the notice of the Minister the imbalances that exist in the various local authorities throughout this country. I will spend very little time on the geographical changes that have taken place, in some cases for electoral purposes and electoral gains. There are major geographical changes in the city of Dublin and in Galway but because of the minimal changes we have in the country I do not wish to return to them. I am not capable of dealing with the changes on a geographical basis within the greater Dublin area. I wish to point out to the Minister the present system of rating that  we have as regards one county and another, the different charges between counties Meath and Mayo, where the rates which the people in Mayo are paying as against the people in Meath on the good land are sizeable. The variation that exists from county to county on the rate adopted each year by the various councils is so varied that that is the first type of reform that the Minister must tackle.
In the early sixties County Mayo made a case nationally for equalisation of rates. On that occasion the then councillor who moved it, Councillor Owen Hughes, prepared a document and submitted it to the Minister of the day. That document in its own right indicated the severe imbalance that obtained between counties. Why is it that a ratepayer in Mayo, this year has to pay over £30 in the £ in rates whereas a ratepayer in County Meath gets away with £18 to £20? I have not got the exact figures but everybody knows there are statutory figures and figures for the various counties. It is wrong to ask the people of Mayo to pay over £30 in the £ in rates when the ratepayers in other counties where there is better land and better facilities pay only £18 to £20. This imbalance is brought about by a variety of causes, the main one being the land valuation. Because of the poor type of soils there, County Mayo has lower valuation than obtains in more fertile counties. Therefore, in County Mayo it is not possible to obtain the maximum recoupment of finances.
Ratepayers under £20 valuation in Mayo were exempted prior to the abolition of rates and adjustment of the agricultural grant. As a result of the abolition of rates counties with higher valuations got a bigger input of capital than counties with lesser valuations, such as Leitrim and Sligo. All the 12 western counties got the same treatment. That is an unfair system to have in operation. The imbalance was exacerbated as a result of the abolition of rates. In agricultural grants at present we are getting less than we were getting prior to the abolition of rates in 1976.
As I have said on many occasions in  the Seanad, abolition of rates was continued on domestic dwellings and agricultural land. It was a continuation of Fine Gael policy. They had at that time taken a quarter of the rates away and we continued to remove the remainder. They were doing it on a phased basis. People forget. For political reasons and otherwise it has been said up and down the country by Fine Gael people that Fianna Fáil removed the rates on domestic dwellings and agricultural land. They did not. Fianna Fáil carried on the policy that was initiated by Fine Gael when they removed a quarter of the rates on that occasion. It is no harm to remind the Labour Party of this.
The Minister told us here yesterday evening about the only financing that he has in mind. It is a complete laugh down the country. It is a complete laugh to every farmer that I know and, of course, it will never happen — the adjusted acre crusade that we are now embarking on.
We think that the Land Commission have been abolished because when I ring them up and ask them what they are doing now they say that they are awaiting directions from Dublin as to what their next move will be. They really do not know what they should be doing. Of course, they are doing nothing. It is no fault of the Land Commission that they are doing nothing. They have been abolished. They do not know where they are going from now on. They are the people who, with An Foras Talúntais and ACOT, will do the adjusting under the adjusted acre scheme.
What will be the result of the adjusted acre scheme in County Mayo? I want to tell the Minister that whatever imbalance there is in regard to rates, there will be much greater imbalance in the western counties as a result of the adjusted acre system that is now mooted to finance local authorities. It will take at least 10, 15, 20, 30 or 100 acres of land in Mayo to make one adjusted acre whereas in County Meath one acre will adjust to one acre. Where they get one acre payment in Meath it will take 100 acres in Mayo to make the same contribution to the rates system and to the financing of local  authorities. There will be a much greater imbalance. Of course, it will never happen. I will put my political career on it that it will never happen. It cannot happen because of the variation in land, region, terrain, turbary rights et cetera. The Minister knows that it will not happen.
This is a system of financing that has been brought in as a stop gap. I understand that the Government say they will reform local government and that they must make an attempt at some reform because they face the people again. The imbalance in valuation cannot be corrected under the adjusted acre system. We will end up with a situation that the 12 western counties will get less to finance their services and the people in those counties will get poorer. In Munster and Leinster, where there is better land, acres will adjust acre per acre as against acre per 100 acres or maybe 1,000 acres on the hills of Mayo, Donegal and Kerry. I do not know how they will make the adjustment in the poorer regions. There is no way it can be done effectively. The system outlined in the Bill for financing local authorities will not work and will result in greater imbalance than exists at the moment.
The Minister indicated the amount of money being paid to local authorities from the Exchequer each year as being in the region of £1,400 million. One would imagine that that came about since Deputy O'Brien became Minister of State and since Deputy Kavanagh became Minister. This is an ongoing thing. It is not at all in keeping with inflation or the expansion of services or with the requirements of local authorities. That is why Mayo County Council has been brought to court by the Western Health Board. That is why we owe the Office of Public Works some thousands of pounds. We are not getting sufficient grant aid to run the services of the county.
I want to give a few statistics about the contribution Mayo makes to the Exchequer. This year Mayo will pay £1 million in PRSI; £1.5 million in PAYE; £4 million in motor taxation; £250,000 in ESB rates and in VAT roughly £3 million. We  received a bill for £1 million from the Western Health Board and another bill for £1 million from the Office of Public Works. The total bill for the Office of Public Works for the entire country is £5 million. Mayo is billed by the Office of Public Works this year for one-fifth of that, so we are paying one-fifth of the national requirement. I want to repeat that for the Minister. The total bill for the Office of Public Works nationally is £5 million and Mayo is paying one-fifth of that, one-fifth which is a recurring expenditure for the maintenance of the Moy drainage, the Robe-Mask and various other drainage commitments within the county. That imbalance should be tackled in local government reform. There is not a word about it. The Minister could not care less. The same applies to the Department of the Environment. There is no indication in the Minister's speech of legislative proposals to redress the imbalance that exists.
We have to pay the Committee of Agriculture £45,000 and we have to pay the Vocational Education Committee. I want to say to the Minister that I am very disappointed and that something will have to be done regarding this imbalance. Mayo and other coastal counties do not have the secondary network that exists in the internal hub of the country. There are criss-cross primary roads running through the midland counties. Where counties touch the sea and where the national primary road just touches Mayo on the east and a small portion of Sligo, Roscommon and Galway a system of grant-in-aid on a block basis would be desirable. If a county council get a national block grant each year they say to the county manager, this is your block grant and live within this. It could start on a base, and there could be a percentage increase every year in accordance with inflation on a continuing basis. Let the county manager be responsible for the county road system, for housing, for sanitary and all the services within the county within that block grant. He could make up the difference in charges for services within the system in the county.
 With the system we have today, if one is doing a group scheme in County Mayo, one has to apply for the grant from the Department. Grants are specified and proportionate to the local contribution. If the county council wish to subvent a group scheme they must apply for sanction to the Department. Every day county councils are applying to the Department of the Environment in Dublin for sanction for schemes the Department know nothing about, which have been processed by the technical field staff. Engineers, members, managers and the whole administration are involved in any scheme within a county. They have to sit tight and wait until some buck chief in Dublin with a brass hat, who possibly does not know where Mayo is but saw it on a map, decides to agree to the scheme because Mayo is a poor county but to hold it up for nine months, 18 months, two years. If the Government are not going well politically and if the financial constraints are tougher than they should be the scheme may be deferred to 1986. It is then decided to send a letter informing the local authority that there will be a stop gap situation until they apply again for sanction. This is the situation that one experiences day in day out.
That system should be abolished. The Minister for the Environment should give a block grant to local authorities, get a base to start on in accordance with the financial base of the county, start a new local government reform and give the county a percentage increase every year in accordance with national inflation. Let the manager live within his means within the county. Let him run his county without any dictation from civil servants who do not know what they are talking about on the ground. The officials who run local authorities do a very good job. The members of the local authority hold a watching brief over their activities. I see nothing wrong with the system internally within the counties. I see a lot of duplication as between county councils and Dublin. I would like to see that duplication abolished. I am speaking as an individual representing one county.  Every Fine Gael and Labour councillor who has sat on a local authority down through the years knows that I am speaking the truth. It is up to the Minister to introduce the necessary legislation. Members have to be whipped into line to vote for this Local Government (Reorganisation) Bill, 1985. I know the political system that operates. Members will be coming through the Tá and the Níl lobbies just because they are affiliated to a party. Outside, when the vote is over, they will tell me that I was right about the system that should be in operation. They are not stupid. They have to face the people in June and they know what is good for their respective counties. There is nothing in the Bill regarding local government reform. The system of financing by adjusted acres that it is proposed to put into operation will not see the light of day in our time or in the time of any Minister. It is non-operational. Any scientist or practical man who has an interest in the agricultural base of the State will say there is no way this system can be implemented. I appeal to the Minister. He has time on his hands, because he is bringing in only a phase of adjusted geographical territory. He will have an opportunity of bringing in a Bill that will suit the requirements of all local authorities.
The Minister should be able to read between the lines. He should consult his backbenchers and county councillors before bringing in reform legislation. The local government system should be examined with a view to the efficient running of local authorities. The Minister must remember that managers are frustrated. They have been given greater powers but greater powers do not solve the problem if people do not pay for services. One cannot extract blood from a turnip. We are finding it very difficult to collect fees for services. The people are overburdened and the whole system is wrong. Each county should have its own identity and should be financed in accordance with requirements, starting with a base that can be easily adjusted each year in accordance with inflation without political interference from any Minister.
 I favour district councils in some of the bigger counties. I know from my own experience in local government that we travel night after night to local community councils and various other councils set up within the community, to identify their problems and requirements. Under the new reform the Minister should think of introducing district councils within large geographical areas that would eliminate the community councils that we know of at the moment, some of them usurping the authority of public officials and elected public representatives. They are not elected by the people and they make a lot of noise from time to time. They may have cases to make and at least they identify the problems within the area. That should be the responsibility within an electoral area or some area of a workable size. People could be elected to that district council and could screen and examine the requirements within that district and then submit them to the parent body, the local county council, where the problems could be heard, solved and financed and projects put into operation.
It is very hard to bring in a system that will operate throughout the whole of the State and for that reason I would ask the Minister to think of a separate identity within each county. The system that is in operation does not work and the system the Minister has outlined, which will never come into operation, would give the same imbalance. The Minister should talk to his own councillors. They are long experienced in the field of local government. They have the same problems as I have in Mayo. I think that they will advise the Minister as to the best local government reform for the various counties throughout this State.
Mr. Hourigan: Firstly, I would like to compliment the Minister, the Minister of State and all others concerned for their initiatives in putting together this reorganisation Bill for local government which, indeed, is long overdue. One point that needs to be made is that this legislation is only a beginning of a longer  and more comprehensive review and restructuring of local authorities generally. It is specified very explicitly within the Bill, and within the Minister's statement, that this is only a beginning. The final stage was clearly identified in the Minister's speech in relation to the Bill and essentially, at this point in time, one is largely talking about the first phase. I would like to say that the Minister and the Minister of State have shown considerable initiative in taking on board something that has been left stagnant for the whole century and once they have taken that initiative we are making progress.
I do not think it is correct or proper for somebody to be just totally and absolutely critical of the Bill and of the Minister's pronouncements in relation to the Bill. That is being negative in the extreme. It has been apparent for some time that there is need to reorganise the structures that have existed. These structures in their time have served us well. They have served the county well. There is now a change in the situation on the ground which has necessitated a change of administration generally. It is only correct and proper, on an occasion like this, when we talk about restructuring local authorities that we should pay tribute to the members of local authorities throughout the country, whether they are in Mayo, Dublin, Limerick, Cork or elsewhere for the outstanding work they have done over a long number of years, sometimes in very difficult circumstances. The members of local authorities, the county councillors, city councillors and members of urban district councils, have done an excellent job. They have given up their time on a voluntary basis. They have not been recompensed for it. The country and the people generally are indebted to those people for the excellent input they have made to help steer the affairs of local authorities over a long number of years.
These people ought to be considered for recompense of some sort. The idea of giving free postage or a certain amount of free postage to members of local  authorities has been raised before in this House. I raise it this morning and say to the Minister that consideration should be given again to providing free postage to councillors and some amount of money to offset communication charges, such as telephones and so on. That is the least that could be considered at this point having regard to the constraints there are on the financial purse. This is not anything new. It has been requested by many members of local authorities. The matter has been pursued by people at Oireachtas level. Unfortunately nothing has happened about it. I would ask the Minister to take a very positive and definite look at this. I will leave it in the capable hands of the Minister and hope that he will do something about it.
The whole fabric of society has altered significantly over the years while the system of local government has remained essentially static and unchanged. There is no way that kind of situation can continue and what we have in this Bill is just the introduction to a changed situation which I hope will bring about the necessary developments that are required at present. One of the reasons why local authorities have got into difficult circumstances, not only vis-á-vis money but vis-á-vis authority and power is lack of finance. Financial constraints and financial handicaps have been imposed on local authorities but that is not the only disadvantage that they have suffered. They have suffered very seriously from a lack of authority. The person who pays for something, by and large, should be the person who has a big influence on its expenditure. Funding from a central agency, as has been the practice since the abolition of rates on agricultural land, which was done as a result of a High Court judgment, is not a good way for local authorities to be financed. There are, of course, very positive steps indicated by the Minister as a means of overcoming this.
Senator O'Toole repeatedly stated yesterday and again today that the land tax will not work and that, therefore, this whole Bill will collapse. The land tax is one dimension of financing, it is not the  only dimension. The Minister in his address to the House yesterday, clearly said that other ways of financing local authorities are under examination. He said that studies in this area have been undertaken by the National Economic and Social Council and by the Commission on Taxation and that advice and suggestions from these sources should be forthcoming. That is linked with what I was saying a moment ago.
The Minister referred to the land tax and to the collapse of the rates from agricultural land. The point I made is referred to by the Minister as the fifth phase of this plan where, in fact, you would have absolute total financing of these local authorities. I agree completely with this but with regard to the land tax, which as of 28 March 1985, is the one that is up front with regard to financing local authorities, coupled with payment for services which are there, is not working too well. The collection of moneys for various services is not functioning in the way in which it was expected to function. With regard to the land tax, this whole programme is currently in train. The people from the Valuation Office and the people from the Land Commission, not necessarily all of them but at least some of them, have now been deployed in this area of the adjusting of acres. In addition to that, there have been press advertisements for persons suitable to carry out this job of adjusting acres. I do not violently disagree with my colleague and good friend Senator O'Toole when he talks about the difficulty of the adjusting of acres. It is not an easy matter but I would contend it is not insurmountable. It can be done but there are difficulties inherent in it.
Perhaps it is appropriate to define clearly what is an adjusted acre. It is something that is talked about but sometimes it is not clearly understood. An adjusted acre means an acre that is capable of maintaining one adult bovine for 12 months of the year. That is an adjusted acre. In fact there are very few acres in the county on the basis of map acres that would constitute an adjusted acre, whether it is in County Meath or County  Tipperary or the good lands of east Clare or wherever. There are very few if any acres that would make up an adjusted acre. It may take two acres, three acres or indeed it might take ten acres to make an adjusted acre. That is the basis on which these persons are going out.
We know that on previous occasions an adjusted acre meant the best acre on the individual's farm. If one were to go along that sort of path and use that criterion it would be impossible to have a coordinated national acre. The national acre we are talking about is this one acre that is capable of carrying one adult bovine for 12 months. I agree there is a lot of difficulty in achieving an understanding or getting agreement as to what that acre is but I would say to the Minister of State and to the Minister that, when the adjusting of acres is done it would be appropriate to err on the side of generosity rather than otherwise because if, for example, a person has 80 map acres rather than arguing that he should have 60 if he is classified as having 50 or 55 it might alleviate many of the problems and many people would in my view be quite satisfied with that kind of arrangement. I know people have a wrong understanding about acres. Their idea is that you just take away the fences and the hedges and whatever area of land is left is your adjusted acres situation. Senator O'Toole has dwelt at length with this question of adjusted acres. It is not insurmountable but it is not easy. I am confident that it can operate and I believe that with the appropriate amount of consultation it can be done. It will be a slow process, it will not be an easy process but it can be achieved.
The over-dependence of local authorities on central funds has been a very severe handicap. There is an air of uncertainty among members of local authorities, among officials of local authorities, including the managers. It is not good that people are going on from day to day without knowing exactly where their programme or plan is leading them. That is something that has to be changed and I am quite certain that something along the lines we are talking about will do that.  We know there is a certain departure already from what we knew as the old system but we have quite a distance to travel before we achieve this improved local authority structure and with it must come the greater vesting of authority and vesting of functions.
The Minister for the Environment in the press recently clearly outlined that it was his intention and the intention of the Government to give more positive powers to local authorities, powers that they did not enjoy up to now. I agree with the view that people have expressed that it is impossible to legislate for a local authority in as remote a place as Limerick, Mayo or wherever would be from Dublin. The decisions applicable to a local area are best made in that area by people from the area who have a full, true and clear knowledge of the problems of the area. I tend to share the view that has been expressed that there is a lot of merit in reverting to a county basis in many cases rather than a regional basis. Perhaps we can have the two but the autonomy, the independence and the separateness of a local authority for its area has much to commend it.
There are problems that are unique to a county that are not necessarily common to the neighbouring county. There are adjoining counties like Cavan Monaghan, Mayo/Galway, but the problems in the counties could differ quite significantly. It is important that the county as a unit should be maintained. In recent times there has been the emergence of voluntary organisations and groups which to a certain extent might be seen as replacement bodies for local authorities. Perhaps their functions, aspirations and objectives do not go that far but one could not but see them as taking over or endeavouring to take over the powers and functions of local authorities. That is something that has to be borne in mind. Perhaps it is because a void has been allowed to develop with regard to local authority functioning that this kind of development has taken place. That is something that we must come to grips with and the best way of coming to grips  with that kind of situation is to make certain that local authorities are not in any way lacking and do not leave gaps or voids for other groups or bodies to fill. The streamlining of local authorities is a matter of urgency.
The first phase of the plan put before us has to do with the adjustment of Dublin city boundary, the setting up for electoral purposes of three new counties covering the territories of the existing Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire Corporation to which elections will be held in June. There are powers designed to enable effect to be given to the recommendations of the two electoral commissions recently published. Coupled with that there is the extension of Galway city boundary and the upgrading of the city authority to the same status as Limerick, Cork and Dublin City Councils. These in the main are the first proposals. There are other proposals vis-á-vis boundaries and so on but that clearly is the first and very well-defined phase of the Minister's plan. He specifies that the next step that is proposed is a reorganisation of the system in Dublin, including transfer of functions to new councils, the establishment of district councils and the setting up of a metropolitan council as a co-ordinating body. These will be the subject of a new Bill.
The Minister is not trying to mislead anybody. He specifies very clearly that he is doing a beginning sort of exercise, that there are second, third, fourth and fifth phases to follow and that these will be done at the earliest stage possible. There is the whole area of the transfer of functions, the development of new functions and a host of other things that one could talk about ad nauseam but I do not propose to do that at the moment. It is essential that local authorities are given a lot more teeth, a lot more power. Local authorities lack these powers at present.
Were it not for the proximity of the local elections the Minister would have been in a position to have produced a far more comprehensive, detailed and long term type of Bill than this one. Many  people would have been very disappointed had there been any delay in the local elections and for that reason the Minister was working under very severe time constraint in trying to meet the June deadline. It was not just meeting June but meeting a time well distanced from June to enable the appropriate legislation to have gone through and to enable the appropriate regulations to be drawn up and the necessary arrangements made for the election.
I would remind Senators on the other side of the House that this is only a beginning. I realise there are certain things in the Bill that need adjustment here and there. I believe, for example, that the question of the ratio of number of electors to elected representative needs further examination. While one acknowledges that a variation of several thousand is understandable having regard to the differences that exist between the city of Dublin and parts of the country even between the city of Dublin and the other major cities, Limerick, Cork, Waterford, the variation is still a bit too wide. There must be a narrowing of the gap between the highest number of electors that a councillor represents and the lowest number. It is obvious, of course, that in a sparsely-populated country area, like a western area it is more difficult effectively to represent 2,500 people than it is to represent 5,000 or 6,000 in an area of more concentrated population. That is something that we must bear clearly in mind. Having said that, the variation generally needs a little more in-depth study.
There is not much more that I want to say because it is basically a question of acknowledging what we have before us as a starting-point and a beginning of a complete new set of procedures for local government. I am confident that the boundary commission which was mentioned by the Minister in his address to the House yesterday and other matters which are in train will all lead to a situation where we can expect good development.
One of the priorities of the boundary commission clearly is to review very  closely county and city areas of Cork and Limerick and to see where new and revised lines of demarcation ought to be. This is very necessary. In Cork and Limerick the city has outgrown itself and is now a major part of the council area. To a certain extent, this would be true also of Waterford. That aspect has been clearly taken into account in the Galway context. It is a great tribute to the people involved in Galway that they found it possible so readily and so agreeably to come to agreement on county and city boundaries.
I conclude by complimenting very sincerely the Minister of State, Deputy O'Brien and the others concerned on this legislation and by reminding the Opposition that it is only the beginning of an overall far more comprehensive exercise which will embrace and embody the whole local government scene. As I have stated, I pay tribute to the many stalwarts who served this country well in a voluntary capacity over the years in local authorities. I have made a proposal to the Minister which I hope I set out clearly and I want to emphasise that I look on it as the least concession that these people ought to get. Their services have not been recognised fully over the years by various Governments.
Mr. Killilea: I am quite disappointed with many aspects of the matters included in the Bill. The Bill has been a major disappointment to all political parties and, indeed, to many Independents who were led to believe that a major reform was coming. When the Minister of State last year announced that there would be no local government elections — at that time it was alleged that it may have been because of political expediency — he also announced that a major reform was to take place and that we would have a Bill before June of this year which would include major reforms. The Bill that has been introduced does not include any reform.
I refer to the problems which are most obvious and which have not been tackled in the Bill. The first is the manner in which the finances of local authorities  are to be managed in future. There is absolutely nothing new in the Bill other than what was contained in the Minister's speech to this House yesterday where he mentioned the “fifth phase of reform”— this seemingly is the first phase — and said:
The Government have recognised the need for change following the removal of domestic rates and the collapse of the agricultural valuation system and made provision for a land tax from which proceeds will accrue to local authorities.
That is all that the Minister has said of any new way in which local authorities should be financed. He said they are looking at other means and other modes. He does not specify one of them. What are they? What is so secret about them?
Mr. Killilea: We are talking about the fifth phase as it is called. The only item mentioned in the fifth phase is this alleged land tax. I will deal first with the two glaring problems we have. We have a problem in the west of the supplementary welfare payments situation where Galway council owe millions of pounds to the Western Health Board. We have had deputations to the Minister and to the Minister of State on numerous occasions asking them to help us to solve this problem. Minister Deputy O'Brien assured us last year at a deputation that this matter would be dealt with in the coming year and that the finances would be corrected. Absolutely nothing has been done. We owe more this year and we are now at the stage where the Western Health Board have lodged in court a claim against Galway County Council. The Western Health Board must perform their functions and I acknowledge that. The same thing has happened to other county councils who owe them money. What is in this Bill to alleviate that problem? Nothing. It is still a major problem with us. The least the Minister should have done was  to stop two State authorities from taking one another to the High Court on an issue of finance.
Secondly, I refer to the Office of Public Works commitment which Senator O'Toole mentioned. He is right. There is a demand for £1 million by the Office of Public Works from Mayo County Council, £1.6 million demand from Galway County Council. The total demand for the Republic of Ireland is £5 million and the counties of Mayo and Galway are asked to pay £2.6 million of that sum. What has the Minister done in this Bill? Where is the reform? We have no control over the funds. We are just asked at the end of the year to pay the bill or, as the Western Health Board said, “we will take you to court”. That is the situation. That is the predicament we are in. There is nothing in this Bill to help it. I am more than disappointed, and I speak for many members of county councils in this regard, that nothing has been done concerning this situation.
Take the block grant each year allocated by the State. I remember in 1979 that the Fine Gael Party in Galway County Council almost went into revolt because the State allocation to remunerate the county council for the abolition of the rates was only 12.3 per cent. There was an outcry —“We cannot manage; we will not be able to work,” they said. In 1985 the State allocation to Galway County Council was .8 of 1 per cent. How are we going to function? How are the county council going to manage?
Speaking of Galway the county roads there have potholes so large that you would need a lifejacket to go down into some of them. That might sound extraordinary, but that is a fact. We have no allocation of funds to try to alleviate that problem. The authority are the county council elected members — what can they do about it? We are blue in the face hiking up to Dublin, with begging bowls in hands, beseeching Ministers to help us in certain situations and all to no avail. We have an organisation in Connemara called Cumhacht, for example, where the community came together in protest because they were not able to get the  normal day-to-day services delivered to them because of the conditions of the roads. Galway County Council do not have the money. Why do they not have the money? Because this Government reneged on their responsibilities to Galway County Council and it is for no other reason but that. Now, they speak of the fifth phase of reorganisation. That is a long way away. We were waiting one year for phase one: phase five will be when? In 25 years time? The only answer they have is the land tax.
I listened to Senator Hourigan speak about the land tax, this new adjusted acreage. He said that an adjusted acre is equivalent to what can keep and maintain one adult bovine in the year. Think about that statement. If I had an acre in Dunboyne, County Meath, and it was assessed as keeping one adult bovine in the year and I had an acre in Claretuam, Tuam, County Galway, and it was assessed as keeping one adult bovine in the year, would anybody really suggest that both those adjusted acres were equal? It is the most ludicrous suggestion that has ever appeared on paper. We have in County Galway 76 per cent of the farmers with an old poor law valuation of less than £7. The former organisation, of which Senator Hourigan was a member, made protests about it but it still was, as far as we are concerned, the fairest assessment of land valuation that we knew. But it did not suit everybody. The courts decided — I agree. The new system being suggested is even more ludicrous. Some 87 per cent of the farms in County Galway are below that figure of £15.
We listened to what the Minister of State, Deputy Connaughton, said when he first suggested this new adjusted acreage system that the first 20 acres were going to be exempt from tax. On the basis of that statement 87 per cent of the farmers of Galway are going to be exempt from tax. Where is this money that the Minister is talking about going to come from to give the Galway County Council a financial base? From the same 13 per cent that are now paying their rates; the same 13 per cent who are still in existence and paying through the nose? Some of  them can; some of them cannot. Does any person in this House, or does the Minister suggest that that is the new phase, phase five of the programme, where the new base is going to be the administration of County Galway as a major source of supply of cash which is going to be supplied by 13 per cent of the farmers of County Galway?
I ask the Minister to cut out the nonsense now. This is not on. Senator O'Toole outlined the Mayo situation. Anybody living along the west coast can tell you that the land valuation in the acreage-per-farmer situation is too small to sustain this proposal. All their lives these farmers paid and paid, many of them not willingly, but as a matter of respect for their county in order to keep it going. Our roads and our services were very good up to 1982, and even extraordinarily good, taking into account the values of the land held by small farmers in the county. That statement rightly puts paid to this idea. It is about time the Government cut out this nonsense about the adjusted acreage. It is not feasible as a source of supply of cash to any county, and most certainly it is not feasible as a supply of cash to our county. It will not work; stop it; there is no need for phase five if that is what is going to be included in it.
It was the policy in our county council to re-surface our roads every 12 years. Last Monday at our county council meeting we were told that if we were to continue on the basis of the supply of cash to our county for the maintenance of our county roads they would be resurfaced at the rate of once every 67 years.
Mr. Killilea: Yes, if you were lucky. Once in every 67 years is the factual assessment by our county engineer for the resurfacing and the maintenance of our county roads. That is a despicable situation taking into account all the work we put into it. As a county, we are very proud of our services, and particularly  our roads, on which we were complimented. But now, because of necessity, we have diverted our attention from resurfacing. We have to go back to the bucket of tar and the shovel of chips to try to fill the potholes. That is our situation. There is nothing, not one line in this Bill which changes that situation. If that is reform then the definition of the word has changed quite drastically from what I learned at school.
Take another aspect of the Bill. Under a little scheme that we had, the small sewerage scheme, every year we were able to account for two, three or four villages. We have now a list as long as my arm and not one shilling is provided or mentioned in this Bill to look after the smaller communities in our county. It is little wonder that Senator O'Toole could say that the community councils are frustrated, that they are trying to usurp the authority of county councils. They cannot usurp the authority of county councils because the county councils have no authority. They can do nothing. This Government give us .8 of 1 per cent as a financial allocation for 1985.
Senator Hourigan has not been very long in local government. I do not know has he served yet: perhaps next time. He will learn the lesson as did many of the backbenchers and, indeed, did many Senators, Deputies and the other public representatives. They know the problems facing people who are trying their best to serve their community. This Government certainly have done nothing for them in this Bill. I think the meat of this Bill is in a different sphere altogether.
I have explained briefly the financial reforms that should have been taken on board by the Government but were not, but I am now concerned, after the second round of the boundary commission, about the independence of that body. Perhaps many will not agree with me. I see it in this way: the appointed judge's dependence on the Department of the Environment is far too great. He must, under the system by which those commissions are set up, depend totally on the  information given to him or to that tribunal or commission in order to come to a conclusion. The Department of the Environment have had a major role to play in all commissions to date. I am not naive enough to think that any Minister's influence with the Department, if he is worth his salt, need not be a strong one. If he is not a strong Minister for the Environment then he is not a Minister at all. I am suggesting that the power and the persuasiveness of the Minister exercised on the representatives of the Department of the Environment and the commission is too immediate and too powerful. I would say that in the case of the present Minister, Deputy Kavanagh, his power of persuasiveness with the Department might not be as strong as I would like, but the power of persuasiveness of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Brien, and his influence are formidable. I think the commission's report is full of Minister O'Brien's guile and political cunning. I am saying that openly in this House because I feel it.
I can begin with the third appendix in the document sent to us concerning the electoral areas boundary commission's report. Many years ago there was an advertisement “Who is Jim Figgerty?” We watched it in all the national papers for many months in excitement and in wonder. Then we found that he was the man who put the figs in fig rolls. I would like to ask the Minister of State and the commission, “Who is Councillor Thomas Callaghan of the Galway County Council?” He is the first man named in the list of bodies, organisations and persons from whom submissions were received by the commission. I am a long serving member of Galway County Council and I do not know Councillor Thomas Callaghan. I would go so far as to say that in the last 14 years of my service in the county, not alone did we not have a Councillor Thomas Callaghan but we did not even have a candidate by the name of Councillor Thomas Callaghan. But I do know a renowned and long-serving member of the Fine Gael Party who might have thought he should have been a candidate  and probably thinks he is a county councillor by the name of Tom Callaghan. The audacity of him writing to the commission and telling them this is incredible. They accepted it despite the fact that all the information was there before them to indicate that no such man existed on Galway County Council as Councillor Thomas Callaghan. I wonder where they found this man or why they allowed his name to be printed. As I said, we wait as we did for Jim Figgerty for the Minister of State, Deputy O'Brien, to tell us who is Councillor Thomas Callaghan. It seems he is held in very high esteem when he is placed number one on the list of submissions.
To bear out the point that I made in the Minister's short absence — and he is entitled to that — I believe that his influence is considerable. I would like to say while he is sitting here, that his influence in the Department of the Environment is considerable and I publicly state that his guile and political cunning stand out in this legislation. There is no question or doubt about it. It concerns me when I read down through the electoral areas boundary commission report and I find submissions sent in from Fine Gael in Galway. Not happy with that, we have submissions from Fine Gael in west Galway, from Councillor Padraig McCormack from Galway County Council, and from Councillor Paul O'Friel from Galway County Council, all I may add, outstanding members, as they see themselves, of the Fine Gael Party. Then we go down further and we see that Mr. John Donnellan, TD, Minister of State, Department of Health, made a submission.
I am amazed that under the legislation this House cannot see those submissions. The law must be looked at. It should not be a document for the eyes of the Minister or the Minister of State. Those documents can be filed and locked away in the Department.
I once made a submission to a commission; I thought I was doing a good job but I could hear every word of my submission seven days later from a Fine Gael member of the Galway County Council.  I stood amazed and I said that never again as long as I lived would I submit anything in private which could become public. I was horrified and I am still horrified. The secrets of the suggestions made by that band of boys are certainly kept very much under cover.
We have been praised here for the efforts of the Galway Borough Council and the Galway County Council in the division of the county borough. I played no small part in bringing those joint meetings to a very fruitful and strong conclusion. It is appreciated by the Minister in his statement to this House — I want him to be honest — that there was more sent to the Department and to the boundary commission than just the agreement of the Galway County Council and the Galway Corporation. Unanimous decisions and recommendations were sent which are not accredited to the Galway County Council by the Minister. I want to instance them.
In section 20 of this Bill the commission, through the Minister, have the power to change electoral areas. We worked for two long weeks to bring to a fruitful conclusion the revision and divisions between the county and the new city. We worked very hard. We had numerous votes; we had numerous conversations and deliberations to bring the matter to a fruitful conclusion because we wanted to do the job properly. We felt that, with all the hullabaloo and propaganda that came from the Minister about reform, we would play our part as a county and have reform. We had meetings which went on for days and the Minister acknowledged that in his speech.
The Minister also suggested that there were consultations with local authorities concerning revisions and divisions of electoral areas. Galway County Council, after agreeing among themselves quietly that they would look at this division and do the best they could do with it and hopefully get unanimous agreement, which they did, sent to the commission a suggestion, unanimously decided, that all  of Connemara, the greatest area of Fíor-Ghaeltacht and the Breac-Ghaeltacht, should be regarded as one constituency, a seven-seater. That was the unanimous decision of Galway County Council. That decision included the Aran Islands.
We then took the rest of County Galway and with honesty and integrity suggested a very natural and normal proposition. We nominated seven seats for Connemara as one unit. We then suggested to the Minister that the three major market towns, Ballinasloe, Loughrea and Tuam, should be taken as the basis for new electoral areas and the hinterland about them included in those electoral areas. We left the nomination of the seats and the numbers of seats to the commission. That was a unanimous decision of Galway County Council which is not accredited to us in any statement by the Minister but which should have been. It is a serious omission not to acknowledge it. What did we get? That was a fair proposal. I am glad Senator Michael Higgins is with us today because he seconded that proposal on that occasion. It was a very honourable thing to do to help the commission in the reorganisation of County Galway, including the city.
We have had the presence in our county for some days afterwards of the second most senior man in the national handlers' organisation. He went about his duty. It was widely rumoured around the country that the darling of the national handlers, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Brien, attended all the usual Tuesday morning meetings for breakfast. They sat around, connived and put it all together. No. 2 national handler arrived in Galway to see the situation. With the aid and assistance of the Minister of State, Deputy John Donnellan, who sent in a submission afterwards, Fine Gael (Galway), Fine Gael (Galway West) which are written in here and accredited to Councillor Padraic MacCormac — the man they could not make a Senator of and Councillor Pól Ó Foighil who is about to be appointed chairman of the Údarás — had a little meeting in the city  and made a decision as follows: they separated Connemara. They drew the division between Inverin and Spiddal, a distance of four miles. Inverin is a Fíor-Ghaeltacht. Spiddal is a Fíor-Ghaeltacht.
The Minister crossed the mountain down to the northern side of Connemara and put Oughterard and Leither Foir into the Gaeltacht areas which are, in fact for the most part English-speaking. They made a five-seater. Why did the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, make it a five seater in recommendations to his chief civil servant? Fianna Fáil had three seats out of four in that area. Now they can get only three out of five. They are hoping and praying in Fine Gael that they might steal that last seat. Senator Michael Higgins and I know they will not.
Mr. Killilea: Cope: I forecast Cope. Cope qualified. What did they do then after dividing the Gaeltacht in two? There was the English-speaking part of Galway city and the environment of the city. They took the Aran Islands, the Fíor-Ghaeltacht, out of its association with Connemara and put it in with Tuam rural area. That is what happened. There is a village known as Cloondarone three miles north of Tuam town. It is now in the same electoral area as the Aran Islands. Did the judge and the commission sit down and work that out? I submit that the No. 2 national handler, aided and abetted by the Minister and cohorts in Galway, sat down and worked it out and made for us a six-seater.
What happened to the unanimous proposal of Galway County Council in their submission to the commission that the main market towns and hinterland surrounding them should be the basis of new electoral areas? It blew up in smoke. Then we had the Minister in his submission thanking the corporation and particularly thanking Galway County Council for the manner in which they divided the city. Not one word was spoken about their efforts to divide and reform the county in a proper way. That is the scene that was set and the Bill we  are asked to pass today is to give authority to the commission to do obnoxious things like this.
It is for those reasons that I said that I have lost faith in the alleged phraseology of “independent Boundaries Commission”. I submit that the independence is long since gone from them. I honestly do not believe they were ever independent.
What did they do about the position of the six unfortunate councillors who will be lucky enough, or unlucky enough, to be elected in Galway electoral area? Did they say: “Let us see what Galway County Council over the years have laid down in the administration of the county”? Did they say they would take, for example, the engineering districts which are well known, widely mapped and can be put together? If one is lucky enough to be elected a member in that area and a person asks you to get a road widened or a pothole fixed or a wall mended or a hedge cut, you must remember that the area now embraces five engineering districts. One would have to go to Oughterard to deal with the Connemara side, to Galway city to deal with the environment of the city, to Athenry to deal with the middle part, to Tuam to deal with the north middle part and to Milltown to deal with the northern part.
Does the Minister think that the people will accept that as integrity, honesty and as an above-board proposition by the said commission to divide the county of Galway and to reform it? I honestly submit they will not. Let me add to that. At last Monday's meeting of Galway County Council a recommendation was sent to the Minister, post haste and to the commission asking them to change the arrangement, saying that it was wrong, immoral, was not looking after the interests of the people. It was not reforming the position.
There was a vote on the matter in the county council. The vote to send in that recommendation for change was 22 to four. Even people in the Fine Gael Party could not take the decision by the commission through the Minister to have the county reformed. There was a vote against the decision of 22 to four, by  Galway County Council, which includes independents and Provisional Sinn Fein which has backed Fine Gael consistently in Coalition and county council. They voted consistently and insistently to ask the Minister at this last moment to ask the commission to change the boundaries and revert to the informed and unanimous opinion of that county council. I see the Minister complimenting the county council because it suits to compliment them on one aspect and ignoring them because it suits to ignore them on the other. I have made my point. I am not saying that because of any individual crib I have. It makes no difference to me. I was trapped. That can be verified. It drew much debate with all the honesty that was in all of us and particularly myself to bring this proper and reasonable reform to our county and to make reasonable and honourable requests. That is what they have done to us. That is the thanks we get for it. We learned in Galway by the innuendo and rattling that went on in the dark of night in queer hotels in the city to try to manipulate a situation. I will not call it a gerrymander because that word is stale now. It is a new thing called psychological analysis. It is like the old computer. What you feed in must come out. That is what the Minister of State in the Department of the Environment, Deputy O'Brien, did. He fed it in and it had to come out. The maps that are drawn on the document that I have here show that that is what happened.
The divisions are a tragedy. They are a tragedy for the administration of the county. They are a tragedy for the county councils deemed to be elected in the county as I have outlined. If that is reform, then call me any name you like. I have in a broad sense spoken about the reality of this supposed revision. I have come cleanly and openly. Maybe it might be called a wild allegation but my mind is absolutely settled that there is no such thing in existence in this country as an independent boundaries commission. I am now absolutely and totally convinced because the structures for the formation of that commission are not correct and can be got at. That commission cannot  work, as I have outlined, unless they are fed the information. I do not think it is fair. I do not think it is correct. It is past time that reform take place on this aspect of our administration.
I was looking at the map concerning the division of County Clare. There is a dotted line through the town of Ennis and half of it put into Miltown Malbay. There are five Senators here from Clare and there are five Senators over there from Clare. I would like if they would explain to me how the old commission found the dotted line through the town of Ennis and placed half of it in Miltown Malbay.
Mr. Killilea: If you follow the old code at the top, they are not. They are very serious lines for certain people. When you divide a town like that, how do you expect that town to administer itself? How do you expect the hinterland of that town to administer itself? How do you expect any sort of cohesion in the administration of a town like Ennis? I just picked it out and asked myself about it. The town is divided. Would it not be far better to take the town of Ennis as a main base and the hinterland about it and put it in as an administration? I do not know if there is any of the guile and cunning in it but I am suspicious.
I have listened to Senator Hourigan pleading in his own inimitable way for more services to serving members of local authorities. I actually agree. It is too much to expect members of local authorities to give their time free continuously in the administration of local authorities. I am not saying that they should get an annual salary but I think they should get remuneration for their day's absence from their jobs, their farms or from wherever they work. Equal compensation should be made. The Minister has failed dismally to do anything about that situation.
We know the cost of postage. It costs 26p to post a letter. It is very small-minded of the Government not to include  in the Bill some method of compensation for that expenditure. We know the cost of communication. We know the cost of being out at night and being under pressure at meetings, as councillors are every night; the following morning, one must ring the county manager; he has no answer and says to ring back at 3 o'clock. One may have to ring the county engineer at 4 o'clock. It is a costly job. Something has got to be done now concerning this situation. It is only proper and right and the suggestion is coming from all sides of this House, that reasonable expenses be paid to compensate people for their time. We have consistently defended local authorities.
We have consistently received letters about expenses. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, is not the only Minister to write to us. All the Ministers from all political parties, including my own, send out letters concerning the alleged junkets that the poor county councils were taking all over the world. I want to take this opportunity to remark on it again publicly. I stand over our county council and their performance always. I had reason recently to be quoted in the national press as making comparisons. I made them. I left out many Ministers who went off on rosy junkets. I do not want to get into that argument. I ask the Minister if there are county councils who are misbehaving and who are abusing the system to stop them immediately.
In County Galway responsible county councillors and county managers make responsible decisions. A letter from the Department and from the Minister of State and from the Minister for the Environment comparing the county council with other county councils who may be abusing the system was received with outrage. If there are councillors abusing the system and county councils abusing it, the Minister should write to them. It is time to stop writing to county councils who are not abusing the system and who are not in any way usurping funds for their own benefit. It hurts and insults councillors when such a letter is sent to every one of them, all branded together as the one herd, when 90 per  cent of them are very honourable and have integrity in their decisions as County Galway always had and always will have. I submit that suggestion to the Minister of State for consideration.
It is suggested about all political parties serving in local government that it is time they were recognised for the work they do, that they were thought of highly for the work they do, that they were honoured for the work they do. Any of the alleged junkets of county councillors from Galway — I mean the word “alleged” because that is what they were alleged to be — were on matters of regional planning, housing and development. We do not apologise for it. We never will apologise for it to any Minister of any Government at any time here. If there are councils abusing the system the Minister should send letters and circulars to them but not to honourable county councils.
To sum up, I am shocked and disappointed that we were tricked and connived into doing something which we understood was for the betterment of our county and which has been worked into the political history of the usual type of electoral divisions to suit the sitting Government. In particular, it is ominous that the effort was made in County Galway. It will not be successful because the people are too used to this sort of conniving, too used to this sort of trickery. It is little wonder these days that politicians often say the youth do not look to us because we do not appear to be responsible. I want to say, a Leas-Chathaoirleach, there never has been a more honourable effort to carry out an honourable job of reform than the effort County Galway has made in the recent past and got no recognition or thanks. The county got a slap in the face from this alleged independent boundaries commission which, as I have illustrated, is no more independent than any body in the long history of the State who ever sat down to divide constituencies.
Mr. M. Higgins: I have listened with great interest to my colleague on Galway County Council, Senator Killilea. I  became even more aware of the attractiveness of living in County Galway as I listened to him roll off the beautiful place names near his native Belclare and important places such as Cloondarone.
Mr. M. Higgins: I would like to share some of his concern regarding the discussions that took place at Galway County Council and Corporation at a joint level and their not finding themselves as they were perceived in the form of the legislation. I would agree with him that the atmosphere that prevailed at the meetings was one of trying to serve city and county in the best possible way. I regret that he has come now to the opinion that he has announced to this House that the decisions were politicised. I am not in a position to comment on it in so far, as he will agree, that I function on Galway Corporation and Galway County Council in an autonomous way.
Mr. M. Higgins: I gained from Senator Killilea's contribution that the handlers had formed themselves into an association. I did not realise that they were so numerous that they needed to be governed by a constitution.
Mr. M. Higgins: I welcome the opportunity to take up a number of issues about the background to the Bill. On Second Stage the Minister mentioned that the Bill should be construed as an approach to the problem of the need for comprehensive reform in local government and should be regarded as a stage in a process. I want to express some concern at that. The division of the process into five stages in itself could be dangerous. For example, to take up a point made by Senators O'Toole and Killilea, there is  no doubt that the impression was given by the Minister on Second Stage in both the Dáil and Seanad, on the question of financial reform, that the financial section can be left until other stages are complete. Local authorities at the present time could tell you that the financial crisis in which they find themselves is the governing reality in their lives. It is acknowledged by the Minister that since the abolition of rates — I believe for entirely politically motivated purposes — in 1977, local authorities have had their revenue base destroyed. Since 1977, there have been a number of technical suggestions as to how that financial base might be restored. However, there have not been any progressive suggestions in that eight years. There had been a report before that from the Economic and Social Research Institute to which local authorities were asked to respond as to the provision of an alternative revenue base. I am aware of local authorities where subcommittees were established to discuss the recommendations in that report but which never met or reported.
A number of attempts to consider the broader question of local government reform have not been successful. The greatest failure is the failure of the Committee on National Structures to report. I recall the flourish with which the then Secretary of a Government Department — I think it was the Department of the Public Service, Dr. Noel Whelan — visited Galway. I participated in a seminar at which we discussed the whole question of sub-national government. The committee placed advertisements, in its own beautifully Irish contradictory way, in the national newspapers but not the provincial newspapers, seeking recommendations on sub-national structures. A few months ago, on inquiring at Galway County Council as to whether the report of this body was available, I eventually, after several weeks, extracted the reply that the committee had met once or twice but had produced no report. That is very disappointing. The failure to examine the fundamentals of local government reform is to some extent reflected in this Bill and  has been reflected at stages in the discussion. It is important to consider history in relation to local government and local representation. The case for local representation has always been made on the basis of two primary criteria, representation and accountability. The importance was realised of having people coming forward to represent their areas, which was seen as having a number of beneficial effects. It was felt that it was democratic and had an educational effect; that it facilitated the involvement of persons who would be close to the experience of the consequences of decisions fed into the system and so on.
On the question of accountability, the argument in one phase of representation was that those who were taxed should be represented. There is an entirely different philosophy in relation to local representation. Thus today occasionally at meetings of councils and corporations people say that those who pay, for example, the commercial sector, should be the people whose voices would be heard. In both streams the norm is that there should be some accountability both in relation to the raising and spending of money.
The Irish experience of local government has been a mixed experience. I have read the newspaper accounts, for example, of the running of the election of 1899 in Mayo, Senator O'Toole's county, and the enthusiasm with which the elections were greeted by the people. They felt that it was in itself perhaps more important than demands for home rule. They saw it as an important contribution to the independence movement and particularly to the consolidation of gains that were being made in relation to the Lands Acts. In one enthusiastic speech after another people said it would enable the ordinary people to participate. Thus in Westport, Claremorris, Belmullet and other places when the first elections took place in 1899 they were divided between the snobocracy as it was called, which was a mixture of traders who were involved in different forms of credit relationship but who were opposed to the United Irish League, and, on the other hand, traders  who were sympathetic to the United Irish League and who were assisted by what were called the trade and labour elements, who gave patronising addresses to carpenters, tanners and others saying that even they could become involved.
It could be argued that those first local elections were dominated by the fact that some shopkeepers used politics as a substitute for advertisements for their wares, using the United Irish League as a vehicle. Perhaps it was from this source that the over-representation which has been a feature of Irish local government, of shopkeepers, publicans and so on had its origin. That is a matter for some academic dispute. What is true is that there was an approach towards what was seen as the new mechanisms of local government, that would usher in a new era of representation in Irish local government.
The period following the setting up of the State is an extremely unhappy one. There was, of course, widespread corruption. Little is written about this but there is no doubt whatsoever that in the first flush of enthusiasm for the exercise of power there was, eventually leading to the establishment of the Local Appointments Commission, massive abuses in relation to appointments in the exercise of new powers. Again, if we were to refer to Mayo in passing, there was the famous Dunbar-Harrison case where it was held that it would be improper if a Protestant librarian was responsible for putting books into the hands of Catholic children. That was to happen in the thirties. There were, of course, numerous disputes as to the appointment of doctors. One colourful account speaks of the manner in which the poor doctor had to get the signature of two county councillors to be reappointed quarterly. It was said that their pass book served like a red rag to a bull. The doctor lived in terror of the day when some nephew or cousin of an elected representative would enter the medical profession and deprive him of his livelihood.
It was like that all over the place, even in relation to the occupancy of public positions. County secretaryships were  held to be the property of families. There were disputes between families about county secretaryships similar to those where estates had been divided badly. In that atmosphere a kind of justification in an embryonic way built up to justify the managerial system.
I am only quickly making these remarks because they serve as a context for looking at local government legislation. The 1940 Managerial Act is indoubtedly the great plateau of our achievement. As you are aware, a Leas-Chathaoirleach, and as everyone here who has longer experience than mine in local authorities is aware — my experience in local authorities extends to just 11 years — the managerial and reserved powers and the division of powers is in itself a very significant feature. It is probably the unique feature of Irish local government. I am disappointed that there seems to be a reluctance to look at its efficacy. There is now a considerable literature on the operation of the managerial system. It was a topic that was neglected for a great number of years but it has now been studied and we are aware of the balance of power that exists between elected and executive people. I am disappointed that there is scarcely any reference to that. It could be argued that the use of section 4 of the basic City and County Management Act in directing the manager to exercise decisions of a particular kind has been over extended and on occasion abused in relation to planning. The planning Acts came after that and they foisted this power on to them. There were abuses. That in a way is a continuation of the case against devolving powers to local authorities. The abuses eroded the case that many local representatives were making for more powers. That is my personal opinion.
I want to get beyond that. There has been a growing imbalance in the powers involved. The balance of power is now very much on the managerial side. Take, for example, the impact of planning legislation on local authorities. In order to contribute to the revision of the county or city plan the elected representative would almost need to have his own squad  of engineers and architects. In the administration of local authority planning the absence of an architectural contribution is noticeable. The absence of architects in both county and city local authority areas is very much the result of inter-professional jealousy. Engineers have staked out an exclusive claim in some respects and have — perhaps I am wrong — viewed with less than enthusiasm the idea of the incorporation of an architect's contribution into physical planning. Thus there are houses that are properly located in relation to their basic physical facilities and even in relation to all the requirements of insulation and in relation to being properly built but they are sticking out of sites and no attempt is made to integrate them into their environment. There is the appalling destruction of different locales which is the result of a mixture of that jealous private view that I build where I like. I do not want to stray from the purpose of the Bill but that point strikes me.
In the balance of executive and elective functions, the complexity of the measures which have to be dealt with, taking account of the changes which the Minister has adverted to, means that the technical expertise is available to one side of the equation. This raises a very obvious parallel that strikes me instantly. The appropriate parallel is the relationship of the public service to the Cabinet and the relationship of the Cabinet to the ordinary Members of these Houses. Again, the Irish parliamentary system is somewhat unique in so far as the Minister of the day exercises his administrative and policy functions.
I am aware that across the House the different Leaders of the Opposition parties at times held different views on this. They were covered in the Devlin report. For our purpose what I am saying is that locked into the Cabinet system at national Government is almost most of the technical apparatus of the State. For example, I would invite the average Senator or Deputy to think about bringing forward legislation. You will certainly  receive, as we always have, courteous cooperation in drafting but I am thinking more of the preparation in the longer phase of legislation. The public service, whether we like it or not, will see that this relationship is with its Cabinet masters. The Opposition say they are somewhat excluded from access to the public service. There are significant exceptions to that. So also are the Government backbenchers and many Members of the Seanad. I often looked at this imbalance and what its effect was. Was it that, for example, that made contributions in political parties less than what they might have been in relation to understanding the complexities? I often recall people saying all we are here for is to be asked to vote. They are excluded.
Equally, when we look at the local authority system, local government is in effect very much like the local State. On the technical side what has grown up is a vast body of technical preparations in relation to different functions and legislation with which those who administer it are familiar. The resources for their framing and implementation are entirely on that side of the equation. Thus it is that people who are elected members, as matters become more and more complex, find themselves being able to participate much less than they would like to.
In regard to reforming local government you must ask yourself the question, what has been the experience of the managerial system? I am stating it as a topic that has to be discussed. Equally, local government and national Government also share some features which are not addressed in this programme of reform. Irish government, both at national and local levels, is the most centralised in Europe. I say that very advisedly because I am in the business of commenting on political structures. It is centralised and I am not talking about the opposite of decentralisation.
People have the idea that decentralisation is a matter of putting clerk typists and duplicating machines into the backs of furniture lorries and sending them off  to exotic places. It is centralised administratively. It is also hierarchically organised. It is centralised administratively because there are so many functions contained at the centre which in relation to power and decision making need not be there. The Minister adverted to this. I accept that, but I notice he is looking for areas in which decentralisation might be practised.
The Minister is more than aware, and I recall discussing this with him, that one very obvious area is education. There is no logic whatsoever in the fact that when people want to build a tiny extension to their school they have to come to Dublin city and flake their way through all the different sections of the Department of Education, located in different places, then on to the Office of Public Works, and then back to the Department of Education. They wonder how the files flow between all these different sections. It makes no sense whatsoever. There is one clear area. Let us not imagine that we have to go searching for functions. One person after another has said education is an obvious example for decentralisation in relation to the school system.
Equally, what I meant by saying that the local authority system and the national system is hierarchical was that quite frankly the whole relationship between the secretaries of the Departments and the people who work for them is not an ideal one. It is a rather dated version of things. The notion, for example, of the model which comes through from “Yes, Minister” of the relationship between Minister and secretary of a Department is sometimes near the mark. I wonder about it. Equally the relationship at the local stage, and I deliberately call it that, between manager and other functionaries within the local authority system is something rather like a model of the same thing. I question that. That is not modern, it is outdated.
It is very important to realise that if we are talking about changing local government it is sometimes rather like a kindergarten. It is all about pencils and paper. People are taking maps and drawing strokes here and circles there and they are  putting townlands in and out as if it was all a matter of geography. Reform of local government has a special dimension and that special dimension has related to it representational implications and you have to realise that, but, it is very much more. We have to ask questions about what the purposes of local government are and address those questions more generally. Both forms of local government are excessively bureaucratic in so far as there is very little devolved decision-making for the officials. People have a myriad body of papers or rules by which they can judge. There is very little discretion. This makes the point that if these be the inner features of local government there are other ways and other criteria by which we should judge it.
I wondered as I read the Minister's speech what had happened to all those arguments that had been put forward so bravely sometimes with a great acerbic wish and, indeed, sometimes towards the concluding part of his contribution with a kind of an eccentricity of rage by the likes of Tom Barrington.
The debate about local government has gone on for a long time. It reached its high point curiously in the sixties. I looked at the old issues of Administration. I remember looking back to see what people had said about local government. There were enthusiastic seminars even in the days when Neil Blaney was Minister. People read papers about the role of the TD, the manager, the representative and so on. What happened? Let us be in no doubt whatsoever about it. From the seventies two major things emerged. The people were trying in their own way to debate the working of the managerial system. It had been in existence then for a period of years. They had had about a decade of it. They were looking back very valuably in a review as to how it had worked out. Equally changes were taking place because emigration was slowing down and people were migrating into the towns and cities. We had an inner stream of migration.
The other debates that went on at that time were ones about the concept of the region. The other one that was taking  place is that down on the ground as the fruit of the Muintir na Tire movement different local councils were formed. An important point emerged immediately here. The county councils wanted none of this development. County councils by and large did not want to lose their functions downwards to community councils and they did not want to lose their functions upwards either, towards particular regions. It raises the question as to the function and the role of the county councillor in the community. County councillors felt threatened by most of the attempts to devolve, or in fact to integrate upwards, different representative functions. In relation to the functions of county councillors there was a disappointing response to some of the recommendations that were made in the sixties. If I recall correctly, some county councils wrote back to the central authority saying that they wanted to give up a number of functions that they had. Some Senator from that area will correct me if I am wrong, but I think Monaghan County Council, for example, wanted to hand back the whole function of testing of cars, the question of drivers' licences and so on. I recall one county council enthusiastically asking for more functions. Local government was in deep trouble at that stage. I have no doubt at all about that. In the seventies there was a financial crisis.
To summarise all of what I have said, Irish local government began with a flare of enthusiasm and then some native weaknesses began to show themselves. We had the introduction of a unique innovative feature, the managerial electoral balance. Then we had a debate on reform of local government which went nowhere. It simply petered out. I am in no doubt whatsoever that in the last ten years in particular we were in a crisis of local government. People are now asking all the old questions again. It is very important that the Minister when replying makes it very clear that this set of phases are not a sequence, they are not to be interpreted sequentially. The question of finances is one of the greatest urgency.
 Another point I would like to make is that, as this House indicates, local government is incredibly important in so far as it is a training ground for the national Assembly. I have always asked the question what effect this has had on the Dáil and Seanad. People bring with them a conception of the representative which many of them have learned at local level. The number of representatives in both Houses of the Oireachtas who have experience of local government has never fallen short of 60 per cent. Equally all one needs to do is look at the concern with which Ministers and Ministers of State show in holding on to their local authority positions after they have been elevated — an important word — to high office. Why do they hold on? It raises the point that our local authority system and our national system are under particular constraints within PR which create internal competition between parties and thus to remove yourself to the realms of high office is to have your correctly ambitious peers hope one day that they will aspire to pass you out on the way. Someone humorously commenting once on a very effective Minister said he remembered all the people on the way up because he knew he would meet them on the way down. People have been up and down that ladder, from high office back to local authority again. The practices of local authority representatives are sometimes distorted by these structural imbalances. It is because they are excluded from participating effectively in local authority decision making, in the design of plans and in the drafting of options, that they find themselves falling back on the representative function.
We had a very extensive debate in 1981 — Senator Killilea was present — as to the role of the councillor in the new circumstances in which we found ourselves. I remember one councillor saying very simply, “All we want to do is to be able to do our little jobs here on a Monday”. They found out there was no money available for these little jobs. I raise the point as to why the basic institutional framework of local government, including this  unique principle I mentioned, the managerial representative balance, is not being examined. I find it somewhat disappointing that people coming up with the options are all following on with this fallacy, what I call the heresy of geography. Representation is not about geography and the question, if you extend it beyond geography, of setting up representative units is only one element to local government. This is being made more simple than it is.
I note, in all my years in local authority, the exclusion of a social and economic contribution to the planning process. I began as a local representative in two local authorities at a time when the planning function was very much a matter of drawing a line along a road, looking at the provision of sewerage and services and so forth, in which there was very little enthusiasm for accepting things like the journey to work, as a criterion, the commuter pattern of cities and towns, the structure of local communities, where people shopped, the age structure, whether or not people sent their children to school. It took quite a struggle to build any recognition of the social contribution and the social dimension into the planning process.
In case people think I am hung up totally on urban areas, there was equally an absence of the social provision in relation to the rural area. We had incredible requirements in that when people built new houses they would destroy their old ones. We had insensitivity in relation to the question, for example, of one generation when moving house wanting to keep the other house near by for elderly parents. It took us well into the seventies to realise that special provision had to be made in the planning process for things which are now trendily referred to as “granny flats”. Old people have become senior citizens and so on. I have my own cynicism about that. It reminds me of the time in the 19th century when “sweat” became “perspiration”. But I am not interested in that language. I am making the point that in rural and urban areas there has been a slow struggle to establish  an adequate social dimension in the planning process and in economic dimensions.
When we were debating with Galway County Council the whole question of what we regarded as the welcome establishment of the new status for the city, we made the case for using social, commercial and economic criteria in designing areas. I hope I do not sound arrogant, but Senator Killilea will understand that I have never bothered at all about the shape of constituencies. I am in the unique position where to make submissions is almost to secure their opposite. That has been my experience in the Labour Party. There is now a very distinguished former Minister for Local Government who managed to achieve the opposite to what I suggested was a natural structure for West Galway, which caused me some wry amusement.
There is a case for looking beyond heads when establishing boundaries. There is an argument for the market town. It is accepted now in planning for the most part that the predominant criterion should be the interactional pattern of an area. Account should be taken of the sum of interactions in an area: that is if people go to Mass in an area, if they stop, send their children to school, if they go to work and so forth, it is not a matter of counting all the heads in order to get a figure that will come as near as possible to giving a unit of representation. That is crude and old fashioned and not accepted by adequate planners now. It is like the notepaper in local authorities.
A shower of hucksters took over parts of the economy in the sixties and seventies with a dash to them. They were so badly qualified that they needed to have their names in enormously high letters at the top of their notepaper. All one need do is look at the contrast between the different sections of the State. I remember coming into this House and looking at the bottom of a box of carbon paper and the date on it was 1934. I often wonder about the whole ambience of the State, centrally and locally, as to why it is not modernising itself in relation to its basic procedures. I am very much in  favour of the State. I am not involved in the cranky eccentric brigade who are going around trying to bring us back to caves and have private enterprise where people more or less represent the survival of the fittest. That is ignorant trash and should be called that far more often. The people who say this really devote less attention towards structuring their arguments in that regard.
Mr. M. Higgins: Before we adjourned I had been mentioning what I felt were problems close to the heart of local government reform. It is obvious from the examples I quoted that we are at a crisis in local government. I hesitate to use that phrase because it has been used so often. Perhaps when the Minister is replying he will comment directly on the question I raised of the report on subnational structures. There appears to be a certain lethargy, even in public representatives themselves, in relation to local government reform.
I had hinted at two aspects of this: a distrust of sub-county structures such as community councils and so on and, equally, a distrust of regional structures. This surfaced, and I want to be very explicit on it, in the county response to the 1971 proposals. I feel a great deal was lost by the early seventies in response to those basic reports on local government reform. What happened was that as one went through the second half of the seventies with the disappearance of the revenue base and then the allocation of a compensatory amount and in the 1980s  the placing of a ceiling on that amount, financial considerations predominated.
My position is a very simple one. I am not using the financial considerations to drive out every other consideration. I have to say that I believe the failure to answer the problems created by financial structures are correctly being given primacy by members of local authorities. To take up, perhaps less colourfully and less dramatically than Senator Killilea, the problems of the county that I share with him, I believe there were at least four areas in which in every deputation on which we went to Ministers, in different administrations — I mention this because I can stick to the very spirit of the Bill in this because we are not talking about the particulars of a particular county — there were structural features in the county's relationship, on the one hand its services and on the other hand the Government Departments to which it had accountability, which are revealed in its submission.
The first of these was that the financial base upon which allocations were made to Galway County Council, in so far as the criterion came in at a particular time, tended to blunt differences between counties. Thus, the fact that County Galway, with its, for example, high proportion of older people; the dispersal of the people who are clients of its services; the whole question of its roads; its historic, social and economic features and so on, were not taken into account in what came to be a general principle by which allocations were made to counties. Again and again I recall, over the 11 years I have been on Galway County Council, appeals to different Ministers to look at that again.
The second feature was the growing imbalance between statutory responsibility and provision. Local authorities were acquiring more and more obligations and functions which were being given by way of the State. Equally, at the same time, both in substance and in form the provision did not match the new situation that arose. What I mean by “in substance” is that the provision often for the discharge of obligation was not always made. What I mean by “in form” is  that when it was made it was often late, cumbersome and delivered in an administratively unnecessary complex way.
One of the classic examples of this has been the administration of higher education grants by local authorities in which one has the spectacle — I have seen it frequently in my time in Galway County Council — of students protesting at the delay in receiving their grants and the county council speaking about the delay in receiving its allocation. Thus you had the consumers of a State provision protesting at the people who are the agencies for the delivery of the particular provision.
Equally I think that the whole question of financing local authorities should be looked at. I have neither the time nor the inclination to go into it in detail now, and I would not like to take from the rights of other Members of the House to contribute to this Bill on Second Stage, because Second Stage affords them their opportunity to respond to the broad principles of the Bill. I feel that this whole question about the allocation of funds from the centre to the different local authorities should be looked at.
There is the question equally of the problems that have arisen, very particulary in my own county between the local authority and the regional health authority. I am a member of both. I am a member of the Western Health Board and of Galway County Council and of the corporation. Quite frankly I feel that this question of social welfare assistance, the criterion by which an adjustment was made by the State seems, on all the evidence that I have seen, not to take account of the circumstances. First, it was inequitable. Even within its own principles it was inequitable, but on the basis and structure of it, it did not take into account the high demand there was on Galway County Council. I remember being on delegations which asked for some kind of harmonisation between the transfers between different agencies to be worked out. We were always told that this was a matter for the Cabinet. I regret that the Cabinet have not had the will to straighten out this problem.
 I want to applaud the Department of the Environment and its officials. In a way it binds together some of what I said earlier. There is no area by which you can test democracy better than by the manner in which the local authorities have provided, or have not provided, for the needs of the travelling people. I have watched very carefully the response of my fellow elected members to pressure in response to this problem. I know that often the unspoken feeling of many an elected representative was that they would like the Minister to take over this function so that they would not have to carry what was the reaction of perhaps a local community to a halting site or to the housing of members of the travelling people. Equally, I know many elected members who would have liked the manager to have this function so that they could throw up their hands in mock horror to local residents' associations and groups and say, “It was not we who made the decision; it was the manager”.
This, to my mind, is one of the great tests of democracy. If people have not the courage to take a decision in the wider interests of the community and very often in protection of minority interests, well then they are damaging very deeply the case for more devolved responsibility. If I was asked out of my 11 years to select two ways in which the case for devolved local government has been damaged, I would cite that as one. I would cite the other one as the abuse of the powers of the section 4 procedure under the 1955 Act. I would say that those two and the publicity that they have generated have really called into question the broader view of councillors.
It comes back again to the question as to the mind of the councillor. I have admired many people who, as Senator Killilea and several other speakers have mentioned, give of their time and competence and give away a great deal of their private life to serve local authorities. I feel equally that their efforts are very often wasted. I have written about this elsewhere. I believe quite frankly that the phenomenon of the stroke has  been a destructive principle in local representation. In many ways the worst times of local authorities are the days in which you find people trying to be the first with the good news and the most effective at blocking the bad news. This kind of, effectively, a brokerage version of politics has now become a matter of some comment.
There are different ways of looking at it and it raises again the question of the manager. What is the relationship between the manager and the local representative? Is it that the manager sits back and makes some concessions, letting the councillors get on with their little jobs and providing them with a ready response by way of a letter, while he gets on with the business of running the local state, that is the county? Is it the view that the administrative end of things are the people with the professional competence and that the representative people are the people without the professional competence who need to be saved from themselves on occasion? Indeed, I recall occasions on which the elected representatives were saved from the worst consequences of their actions. Whatever way you look at it, the fact is that we should examine this whole question about the kind of way we are working, who is exercising power, about what, in what way, what affects whom? It raises other questions about the consumption of services.
I go along to the corporation every second Monday night for its ordinary meeting and to its special ones again and again and again. I have an impression from my 11 years experience that the elected council members are the people who receive grievances at the grassroots level. They come along and these are replied to in a way that is somewhat bureaucratic and often technical. I do not see that as the sole role of the councillor. I see the role of the councillor as shaping decisions, eliciting options and addressing questions quite categorically.
I want to be as positive as I can in this regard. I want to just question why there is nothing in the speech, in any of the  phases, to have a more effective complaints procedure for the clients of local authorities. The Minister should look at the whole question of the handling of grievances and complaints by members of the public, grievances in relation to participation in decisions that affect them and even the whole structure of local authorities. Maybe I have missed it but I am not sure where it is in this programme for reform. If you look at its different levels, local government is about the people. We have to talk about the participation of the people in the decisions that affect them. They are not the passive consumers of decisions by either elected or executive people. You must ask yourself to what extent they are being encouraged to know, to understand, to participate in the decisions that affect them. They come along, for example, frequently out of fear, and object to a halting site and, to their great discredit, I have seen local politicians, one after the other, fall before that kind of appalling pressure. It is disgraceful.
I have watched a kind of sordid local politics often develop where people deprived of effective participation in real local government set up a model of local government that is less than the contribution that people have to offer and that lessens those who are involved. I am in favour of more citizen participation, more access by the citizen. The meeting of, for example, statutory requirements by way of notice is a formalism. We are all aware of the little advertisement in Irish in an obscure newspaper to satisfy planning requirements. That kind of formal compliance with a requirement that the public be made aware of planning and be made aware of the decision is a dishonest practice.
We are invited across the way to Buswells regularly to meet semi-State bodies who are putting on exhibitions of their work with videos and with exhibition displays and all the rest of it. I cannot ever recall being invited to something like that by a local authority. Some local authorities are exceptions. For example, Dublin Corporation have, in the person of Noel Carroll, somebody who answers  complaints against Dublin Corporation. He is on the radio practically every week. We have nobody in the Seanad or in the Dáil — it is one of the great failures — to answer disgraceful descriptions of what is our life and our work in both of these Houses, an omission to which we should have addressed ourselves ages ago.
It is a Parliament that has two Chambers and a large number of public representatives and it has nobody to represent it, to answer unfair criticisms of both Houses. It would be highly unfair for somebody to stand up and say that is the function of yourself or of the Ceann Comhairle. It is not. It is a professional function that should be taken on. Equally in this whole issue of the relationship of local authorities to the public, the public relations function is an important one, not to distort information but to communicate information.
In relation to the question of the councillors themselves it is not a happy situation at the present time. The manager again is the most important one. Lest there be the slightest misunderstanding about this, I have been looking at the managerial tradition in Ireland and I admire the marvellous contribution that individual managers have made to the evolution of local government. Let there be no question about that. What I am arguing about is the concept of the managerial elected balance and I am arguing there about matters. Let us say in an average post that comes to the local authority member, the manager is the person who captains the team, who takes new communications from the different Departments of State and they become the content of a very large brown envelope that arrives with precision at the local authority member's door. That is not good enough. It is not an effective invitation to the elected member to participate. It is, to my mind, often too complex, it is often very stale, the language is redundant and old, the forms of communication are backward, and so on.
Then there is the question of the relationship of the local authorities to the central State. That is a very unbalanced  relationship. I want to say what the real destructive feature of it is. Perhaps one of the points which I have omitted in the past but which I mentioned today, is that local authorities have really spent most of their energies picking up the tabs for the irresponsible actions of private individuals.
I would invite anyone to look at the background to this Bill which reforms local government in Dublin. I would ask them to imagine what the position in Dublin city would be if we did not have the minimal controls that we have. Where has the initiative been from private individuals, groups, sectors and corporations to be responsible about the environment? It has been the State that has had to bring in legislation to force private people to behave in a moderately responsible way in relation to the environment. Equally in relation to the development of commercial buildings, it has been the State that had to intervene to stop the widespread destruction of parts of Dublin.
In many ways what the local government is involved in is a unique contradiction. It is a fumbling towards a process of planning in an atmosphere that not only is unplanned but is hostile to planning. Looking at the background to planning and local government over several decades you find people, for example, not putting the world “plan” in their documents. The public service have a tradition of using the word “programme”. This goes back to the old Catholic notion of the principle of subsidiarity because at one time someone said that the State will be the father and mother of us all. People did not want to put down the word “plan” because it was regarded as excessive State interference.
The problem in this country is not that the State has intervened too much, it is that it has had to intervene in so many areas where there was no concept of private responsibility. When we look at the manner in which streams have been polluted, houses have been destroyed, monstrosities built, no respect for any kind of environment, we ask what kind of society  would it have been if there was this unrestrained individual quality?
In all my time on two local authorities we spent our time trying to stop people destroying the environment and building the most appalling houses in the most dreadful places and so forth. It was the regulations that ensured compliance. In a curious way, because the State and local state were achieving a little, they sometimes capitulated to the environment in which they found themselves. Thus local authorities, for example, found themselves often polluting the environment; not always following high standards in the retention of housing, in restoration and so forth.
If things were left to market forces unhampered by any policy interferences, industrial production, commerce, banking, insurance, shipping and, indeed almost all those economic activities which in a developing economy tend to give a bigger than average return — and in addition, science, art, literature, education and higher culture generally — would cluster in certain localities and regions, leaving the rest of the country more or less in a backwater. Occasionally these favoured localities and regions offer particularly good natural conditions for the economic activities concentrated there: in rather more cases they did so at the time when they started to gain a competitive advantage. Within broad limits the power of attraction today of a centre has its origin mainly in the historical accident that something was once started there, and not in a number of other places where it could equally well or better have been started, and that the start met with success. Thereafter the ever increasing internal and external economies — interpreted in the widest sense of the word to include, for instance, a working population  trained in various crafts, easy communications, the feeling of growth and elbow room and the spirit of new enterprise — fortified and sustained their continuous growth at the expense of other localities and regions where instead relative stagnation or regression become the pattern.... Capital movements tend to have a similar effect of increasing inequality. In the centres of expansion increased demand will spur investment, which in its turn will increase incomes and demand and cause a second round investment, and so on.... Studies in many countries have shown how the banking system, if not regulated to act differently, tends to become an instrument for siphoning off the savings from the poorer regions to the richer and more progressive ones where returns on capital are high and secure.
Mr. M. Higgins: I am quoting from Professor Gunnar Myrdal's document prepared in June 1970 entitled: “British Labour Party Document on Regional Policy”. The point he was making there was that if you left everything to the free market you would get concentrations of investment, concentrations of activity, in a haphazard way more or less in response to the profit motive. So, therefore, of course, local government is affected by the atmosphere in which it finds itself and sometimes we do not realise that.
I want to get to the meat of the Bill in that regard and to stick closely to it and to say I think we are encountering a major contradiction here. You need to have a more positive attitude towards overall planning if your local government, and particularly the planned functions within it, are to have any function. Let us be practical about it. Just think of our discussion over the last several years in relation to housing, for example, without services, the provision, for example, of services after housing provision. I remember fighting a battle in my own local authority, Galway Corporation, as to whether  the local authority should or should not be involved in the provision of shopping facilities. We had this argument, an argument that has gone on within local government. In some local authorities the interpretation depends very much indeed on the attitude of the executive of the day. The argument is whether the local authority should be narrowly involved in relation to the provision of traditional things like housing or whether it should be involved in the provision of other services. Every now and again you would have somebody surfacing and saying something like this: “Well this is something the private market will supply”. This is a kind of crazy notion, that the local authority should plan the shape of all classes of housing and provide housing for certain classes and then step back and let the market supply shops and other facilities and so on, for people for whom they have accepted an obligation in another dimension. It makes no sense at all.
The late Seán Lemass addressed this question once in speaking to a gathering of local councillors and he suggested that all the local councils should become development corporations, his idea being that you should try to integrate some kind of local government planning with other types of commercial and service provision. It died a quick death because it was easier to go on with your old inherited legacy of the 19th century tradition that had grown out of the poor law atmosphere and the grand juries and all the rest of it. I see these ghosts everywhere. One day I expect to meet members of the grand jury walking out of a cupboard somewhere. The fact is that we have not managed to move ourselves in our conception of the functions of local government, in its external relationship into the modern century.
The concluding points I want to make are in relation to the internal organisation of local government. I have said already that I believe it is time to examine again the whole structure of authority, to examine the hierarchical organisation of bodies both centrally and locally. It is time to look at the whole system and its  flexibility. I will give a typical example and I want to repeat it so that somehow or another people will attack me on it, from boredom if nothing else, and that is in relation to our attitude to personnel staffing in dealing with human problems.
The person who goes to a housing department but receives no house, who does not satisfy the criteria, needs ten times the attention of the person who qualifies. The present attitude very often is that the people who are qualified are asked to remain on, details are taken from them and their case is processed. The people who do not qualify are easily removed from the queue by saying; “I am sorry, you have not filled in a form,” or, “I am sorry, there is not a medical report in yet,” or, “I am sorry, we are not allocating single people's flats yet,” or something like that. We need to look at the interface between the consumers of our services and the people who are providing them and I really wonder about that. I think that the most senior, most experienced person should be the person meeting the public and I think that within the public service it should be a reward to be at the point where the public are consuming the services. I question the wisdom of putting inexperienced people at the point where the personnel meet the public. I really question as well the whole way in which services are administered. I am saying this as someone who admires the Irish public service because when all this claptrap is over about people who want to replace State provision by voluntary provision, the one thing that State provision gives you is accountability. It has always been there and I admire the public service for that but the administrative practices are dated and old and inefficient and they are also wrong. There is this notion that we are providing this for so-and-so. We are not making progress like that, even in relation to our concept of housing.
Local elected representatives are dealing with thousands of petitioners. We are all being asked to set up shrines at weekends to which people make pilgrimages with their individual cases. The  majority of councillors have their time wasted, in fact, by having to process each case one after the other, then in fact they need to be released into some kind of conception of addressing the housing problem. It is a deadly sin to suggest in an Irish local authority that you would one day eliminate the backlog of housing, the idea being that you would have upset some balance in humanity. They say: “We are making good progress. We are keeping the list at a certain figure”. The idea that you would anticipate need or be forward-looking about that is regarded as cuckoo talk.
I am not offering any of this as a distraction from the primary question of making adequate finance available. I do not want to see the financial aspect regarded as phase 5. There is no incentive to local authority members to come forward and participate in more democratic structures if they are going to listen to the manager reading out that in relation to our statutory requirement, in relation to our provision this year, we are going to be 2 per cent less than last year and so on and you spend all your energies looking at cuts here, there and everywhere. It is all daft and inefficient. To allow people on half time to qualify for social welfare is regarded as somehow so complex that it cannot be done. I do not accept that it cannot be solved at all. I think that is a kind of cracked notion. We are all wearing ourselves down on these endless delegations about different things. When you look at these four or five points that have been at the core of the Galway County Council case to the different Ministers for the Environment, they are either true or they are untrue. You tell the people: “You were on about that last year and the year before, five years ago and ten years ago”. If it is true, why not answer their case by some kind of reform? The argument is that this is beyond the competence of any one Minister, it is a matter for the Cabinet. It is singularly unconvincing. Now I realise as well as that, and I just want to make it as a concession to my own sanity, that our  local government system shares the situation that there is often little scope for action. What I mean by that is that I have seen people in national politics go out into the highways and the by-ways and offer policies of one kind or another only to find after an election people coming along and saying that unfortunately the money is not there. Then you find people insulting the intelligence of representatives and the electorate by telling the members of their parliamentary parties to go down the country and say that the money is not there and that if we did not do this we would not be able to pay the teachers, the nurses and the Garda etc. You have them coming back and saying “I was in a pub on Saturday night and I told them the guards and teachers and nurses would not be paid and no one would collect anything in the streets unless we did this.” That is the rigmarole people are going on with. I do not listen with much credibility to the people who give me lectures on democracy, who go on with that kind of claptrap, which is a perfectly respectable word now in the Oxford Dictionary due to the prevalence of the phenomenon.
The fact is that we need to reform local government fundamentally. I am in favour of assisting the Minister in discussing in any ways this whole question of the more general reforms. I hope it is appreciated that I am trying to be positive. I see dangers in the breaking of the different elements of reform into some kind of sequential order. Yes, we need to reduce boundaries based on population, but we also need to delineate real human communities. Yes, we need to look at the balance of greater powers. Equally we need to look at the decision-making process. Yes, we need to give efficiency and accountability, but we also have to take account of adequate financial provision.
I am not moved by what Senator Killilea said. Anyone who suggests that you can change the status of Galway county, for example, and give it an increased status and extend its boundary and imagine that the compensation involved  is only a matter for adjustment between the two local authorities and that if they do not agree you can have an arbitration process and in turn that the Minister might intervene, is absolutely daft. The fact is that the county and the other unit in reconstituting themselves have expenses and costs that are not simply additive. I would just lend my voice to those across here who have said that you really need to make special provision for the adjustment.
While I say that, I believe the question was raised in the other House as to whether we should have a lord mayor or not in Galway city. I do not want to make a big matter of this, but I have always been worried about our commitment to republicanism in its best sense. I regarded the citizens of Ireland, along with myself, as somewhat reluctant republicans. There was a period in the year when all the chains in the country changed necks. All over the country lords mayor, Mayors, chairmen of borough councils, county councils were all swapping chains. The importance attached to this symbol was most interesting. When I was Mayor of the city I remember people asking me if I had brought the chain. They would probably attribute more importance to it than to my wife. Equally if you went and did not bring the chain and brought your wife, you would nearly be asked to go home and leave the wife at home and come back with the chain. It had a very symbolic importance.
On other occasions when we would be discussing going to something, maybe to express our grief or to share some joy, people would ask if we would be wearing robes, a query which seemed to invest it with an importance far greater than we would when wearing robes. The notion of the reluctant republicans swanning around the place in robes, chains and bits of fur is a curious kind of comment on the society we have. Having got rid of the oppressor who left us all this paraphernalia of offices and so on it seems we ran into them with such enthusiasm that it made us look absurd. I am not getting into a tizzy as to whether or not we will  have “his lordship” or “her ladyship” back again in Ireland. I can assure you I am not being partisan about my use of the word “republican” because may I tell you that the larger party with whom my party share Government and members of my own party have themselves been totally transmogrified by the effects of these chains and robes that I mentioned. I knew persons who once they were described as “first citizen” their psyche was damaged forever. They never recovered from the distinction.
We need to ask what we really feel in the 20th century. We need to ask ourselves how our citizens are affected by power; how do we want to exercise that power and administer it well. I want to make it a plea to the Minister and to extract a commitment from him that he will look at the work of Tom Barrington and Desmond Roche and the other distinguished commentators who now constitute a tradition. They have argued that the two great principles, for example, were the management of consensus in Barrington's case and the exercise of professionalism across the Irish public administration.
I think that there is an enormous amount of talent within the executive side of Irish local government that has been stifled by ancient procedures. I think that we are burying talent centrally and locally. We should give these people the discretion and the capacity and the scope to exercise their talent.
I have spoken about the new kind of accountability needed. These are all the broader areas of reform. I do not think that we need to start looking for how to send things off to the local areas. Let us not be imagining that we have to be looking for things to send off. That notion is rather like asking does anyone feel an itch to move to some backward area, or that we are physically transporting filing cabinets and the people who put papers into them off to some obscure part of the country.
Decentralisation means the decentralisation of decision-making, the relocation of crucial decision makers and the building generically on the capacity  within local community. There is a clear case there in the education function. That should be with the local authority. I am terrified that you might take phase one to be followed by phases two, three, four and five. I have said everything that I need to say about phase five, in the financial world not being at the end of the ladder. It is urgent now and it is urgent all over the country.
There is a need for radical reform. Let me conclude by giving an example of the kind of reform that we have been muddling with. County councils are by and large a little hostile to community councils because they really feel that their own function as brokers for information might be slightly disturbed; equally hostile in relation to regionalism. We need to think again about regionalism. The regions need to be examined. In constructing a region, just look at what we have done. There are tourist regions that are not the same as medical regions and none is the same as an IDA region. You can have the same place in three or four different regions for different purposes, all because people have pencilitis within different Departments. You get a big heavy pencil and go around county boundaries and decide that that is a region. That notion is all daft. A region is defined in terms of its interactional basis. There is an economic basis for a region. There is a social basis for a region. It can be a planning region. It can satisfy certain requirements.
I feel that we should not have written off the regional approach. I would like it to be incorporated in any future reform. I would say this very particularly in the context of the European Community. A region is going to have more and more significance — not less — as the European Community develops and it will give weak counties the chance to be represented in a stronger way in particular funds at European level.
I will end by thanking the Minister for at least coming forward with this legislation which is a beginning. I would urge him to be brave. I would urge him to take more risk in changing things. As  somebody has said, when the atmosphere of death is around the house you need not quibble too much about the medicine. That is an appropriate description to give of local Government. Things are very bad. Not only are they bad financially and are they administratively archaic and are they very often now unaccountable, but the confidence of the public has been eroded in local government as it is in national Government — Senator Killilea was making the point that people very often are inclined to mock local representatives.
I have often thought about the facilities available to local councillors. They have no rooms, for example, in the local authority places where they meet. They rarely have facilities for making a telephone call. They have very few concessions. If you believe in representation, in accountability and in efficiency then it should extend towards making the process of representation a proper one. I remember going to a meeting of local representatives and listening to an argument as to whether or not the manager had power to give them notepaper. In the seventies and eighties I began to wonder where was the new Republic headed. It reminded me of the box of carbon paper dated 1934 that I got out of the stores here and it sufficed me for two Dála and half the duration of a new Seanad. As we head into new local elections I think we all should try to lend our efforts towards reforms that are not superficial, that are not simply moderate ones reconstituting new boundaries. All of us will be glad to represent people who come from different districts.
Senator Killilea is a robust electoral figure; he will have survived within many different boundaries. I am not worried either that an election is attacking my constituency. We do not want local election reform reduced to applied electoral geography. It is more than that.
Mr. M. Higgins: We want to hear about decision making, new financial  structures and new accountancy structures, and the fact that the planning process will not be a requirement under the law — there is an example — but that it would be a rolling process, that the engineers would go out into a district and take the submissions for that district in one part of the year and then move on to another one, involve all the local people and help to eliminate the grievances about planning by this process. That is how people do it in the commercial world. Why should we be backward in our procedures? I urge the Minister to shake out anybody suggesting any lethargy to him in this regard and give them courage to make the reforms that I speak about. He will be thanked for it.
Mr. Lynch: Last year when the Minister was moving a motion in the Seanad to defer the local government elections for 12 months he gave an undertaking that when the local elections would take place in 1985 they would be held in an atmosphere where major local government reforms would have been enacted by both Houses of the Oireachtas. If this Bill we are discussing today is the end product of the Minister's and the Government's 12 months of so-called local government reform surely the elected members and aspiring members of local authorities must feel disillusioned. If, in his reply to the debate, the Minister gives further assurances and further promises that reform will continue on an ongoing basis, I suggest to the Minister, as I did 12 months ago, that if developments in this area are to continue at the present rate of progress it will be many years before proper local government reform is enacted or implemented.
I would remind the Minister too, that while speaking on the Bill postponing those local elections in 1984 I suggested to him that proper local government reform and restructuring would take very many years to implement. In his reply he gave an assurance that reforms would be implemented by the time the 1985 local government elections would take place. It is clear, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, that the  main reason for postponing the local elections in 1984 was the fact that the Government were in for a hiding to nothing had the elections taken place. There is no doubt that they are still in for a hiding to nothing in 1985 when they take place.
The whole system of local government is more insecure than ever it has been before. It has been bad for years and has been getting worse for years but it is in the worst and most appalling state at this time. I have been 18 years a member of a local authority. Senator Higgins is quite right when he says that the system is over-centralised. The Minister or the Department or the Government should have made some move at least to try to transfer some of the functions from central Government to local government. We have a system operating at present whereby duplication in the operation of grant and loan systems could be eradicated overnight by some form of decentralisation. Take, for instance, somebody building a new house. It is inspected for the granting of planning permission; it is inspected for loan approval; it is inspected by the local authority; it is inspected at the various stages when further loans are being sought and allowed and it has to be reinspected by a Department official for the payment or nonpayment of a grant to determine if the house is grant size or not. In some cases we have inspectors driving from Dublin to County Meath — which is not so far — or driving from Dublin to County Donegal and back to carry out inspections on a development that has already been inspected many times by a local authority. Surely that does not make sense. It is a waste of public money. These are the areas I had hoped the Minister would be looking into and trying to do something about them.
The present system of financing local authorities, we all agree, is most unsatisfactory. There is far too great a dependence on annual arbitrary State grants. The imposition of extra taxation in the form of local service charges is resented by the public. No corresponding reduction in central taxation is being applied. There is urgent need for an independent  source of revenue for local authorities which would have full statutory support and it is in this area that I feel the local authorities have been completely let down by the Minister for the Environment and the Department of the Environment.
There is no use telling a local authority they are short £2 million: “impose further water and refuse charges”— I think we will be charging for fresh air soon —“to get that money”. Each year the shortfall is growing and the services are becoming fewer. I believe also that the Minister and the Department should place more faith in their public representatives in local authorities and in the manager and staff of the authorities by allowing them to develop schemes without having this continuous consultation with the Department for approval at every stage of the development.
If Meath County Council — and I have been a member of that council for the past 18 years — decide to commence a housing, water or sewerage scheme in any particular area with approval from the Department I think they should be allowed to design the scheme, submit it for tender and get the work started. What happens under the present system is this to-ing and fro-ing with the Department for approval of every type of scheme every local authority tries to implement. There are at least 12 months involved in this to-ing and fro-ing. I firmly believe that if people are elected to a local authority and a manager has been appointed — most local authorities have a good, sound reliable staff — they are the people that know the local scene together with the public representatives and they should be given autonomy to go ahead and implement schemes at their will. They could and should be subject to departmental scrutiny. There is not enough faith being shown in the elected members — it is not being shown to them — of local authorities and the system as it is.
In 1982 a water scheme was sanctioned for Kells-Oldcastle and £2 million was provided. The Kells part of the scheme  is finalised but to date not one inch of pipeline has been laid to Oldcastle. The plans for this scheme in Oldcastle are almost finalised. I am anxious to know how long it will take the Department and the Minister — a man for whom I have the highest regard — to give formal approval to get the scheme off the ground and bring relief to the people in Oldcastle who have been afflicted with one of the most inadequate water supplies in the country for the past 40 years. These people should not be expected to pay water rates — they are compelled to pay water rates and they are compelled to pay them under threat of disconnection. If they are disconnected they are obliged to pay £100 for reconnection, plus payment of any arrears. People have a genuine quibble in an area such as this. A sewerage scheme right beside me in Clonmellon, County Westmeath, was sanctioned in 1982. To date a tender has not been finalised for that scheme; yet the money was provided. I know there were problems with the contractor but surely in a scheme for a small village, if local authorities cannot find a contractor to carry out the scheme the Department should give that money to the local authority and let them do it directly themselves. Had that been done the scheme would have been completed by now. I hope the Minister will give some assurance that both these schemes will be implemented this year.
The continuing policy of the Government of allowing serious shortfalls in the allocation of the rates support grant and the imposition of extra service charges to make up those shortalls has sunk the whole area of local government in disillusionment and despair. I am speaking from personal experience. The inability of local authorities to maintain roads and services and maintain an adequate staff, due to lack of finance, is leading to a stage where inevitably services will be minimal and nil in many instances and in many areas for several months of the year unless drastic action is taken.
Under the present system a local authority in their financial year get a block grant. In a reply to a question in the Dáil the Minister for Finance of the day said  to me that we were the councillors and we should determine where the money should be spent. Yet, when a circular letter came from the Department allocating money for roads we were told where this money should be spent, how much of the block grant was to go to arterial roads and how much we could utilise ourselves, a few hundred thousand pounds for county roads maintenance. We may forget about county roads development because Meath County Council have not removed one dangerous bend in a county road or a lane for the last eight years due to lack of finance.
I live in an area in north Meath and right beside me is the so-called underdeveloped county of Cavan where major roadworks financed through the Social Fund have taken place recently and I can assure you that when I drive out through the narrow roads in north Meath to get onto that good Cavan road on my way to Dublin it makes some of our main roads look like boreens. That is the system we want to get away from and do something positive on local authorities, not just to maintain what we have but to improve what we have. At the moment we are talking about millions and millions of pounds in providing by-passes and ring roads which are, of course, necessary, but we should maintain a balance because while we are providing these ring roads and by-passes costing hundreds of millions of pounds, at the same time we are allowing our county roads to fall to pieces. Local authority representatives feel very sore and very disillusioned that this is allowed to happen.
Regarding the electoral boundary changes, I was a little perplexed when I looked through the Bill and could not find county changes in it. I am given to understand that it will be done by ministerial order. I wish to draw to the Minister's attention the boundary changes in County Meath which have transferred the district electoral division of Athboy, Reynoldstown, Mantry, Rathmore and part of the district electoral division of Kelltown at present contained in the county area of Navan. The total population of all these areas is 4,036.  They have been changed from the Navan to the Ceanannus Mór county electoral area.
This change poses a very serious question in so far as the Gaeltacht area of Baile Ghib, Gibstown, has been split in two in this revision with part of it in the Navan electoral area and part of it in the Kells electoral area. I live in the Kells electoral area and I would welcome these cultured people into our electoral area. I would be delighted to have them but it is wrong that a community which was settled in County Meath from parts of Mayo, Galway, Cork and Kerry almost 50 years ago should suffer under an electoral revision for which the terms of reference to the boundary commission stated that special care should be taken not to divide, if at all possible, any community of people. It is socially wrong that this should be allowed to happen. I suggest that the boundary line north of the river Blackwater and east of the Owenroe river be drawn with a view to leaving the entire Gaeltacht area in the Navan electoral area where it happens that a few hundred voters have been moved in by placing Kelltown in the Kells electoral area. It is socially wrong, socially unjust and at this stage all I can do is appeal to the Minister to look into this and respond to my appeal to keep intact that community which was settled at least 50 years ago and keep alive the culture and the language in that area which has been vital to the county and has added great stimulus to it. To split them up at this time into two electoral areas is socially wrong and socially unjust and I would appeal to the Minister to leave that community intact as it should be.
Mr. Daly: I welcome this Bill which will give legal effect to the boundary changes. It is an important Bill though most people will regard it as only the initial stages of local government reform which is a very involved question. If we look at the functions of local government, and examine how effective they have been since their inception, we will know  that local government has not been effective. The whole structure is totally outdated and unworkable because of the demands being made by the public and the lack of funds to carry out the work. There is no use in people preaching that we have not got services while at the same time they do not want to pay for the services. There has been a great deal of noise from the Opposition about reform. This is not reform. My good friend, Senator Killilea said that he did not believe in the boundary commission, that he thought they were wrong and that they were not fair. After all, it was Senator Killilea's own party who initiated the boundary commissions.
Mr. Daly: I am glad that there is somebody in their party who admits the party are not always right. The local authorities are like other bodies. If you have not got socks you cannot pull them up; if you have no money you cannot run the show. We initiated the removal of the rates and we brought them down on a gradual basis and then Senator Killilea's party went in and abolished them. When there were no rates the revenue was not there and then when there was not the revenue the local authority had to find finance. When they looked for local charges for water, for instance, political parties in this country — admittedly they are a minority — kicked up a row and advised the people not to pay these charges. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot have your loaf and eat it.
One thing that came across from both sides of this House, and which I am very glad of, is the unselfish, dedicated service given by councillors. This has not received recognition and has not been appreciated by all Governments down the years. The least that these people should get is their out of pocket expenses. As Senator Killilea said, he did not expect them to get a big salary, all he wanted for them was to be compensated for their loss of time for the days they were giving  the service. Also, their postage is a very big item — you cannot post four letters for £1 because they are 26p each — and the cost of telephone service is heavy. One could not give councillors a blank cheque for a telephone and say, “Go ahead and call the world on it”, but what they are entitled to is the cost of the telephone rental. If they had free telephone rental, not for their own convenience but for the convenience of the people who would have to contact them these people at least would not have to be driving miles out the country or miles into town to their local representative to get them to assist them in whatever problems they had. They could do that by means of the telephone which some councillors have at their own expense. Some of them have no telephone because they cannot afford one. Whether they can afford it or not is not the question. The question is that they should not have to provide that service for the people out of their own pocket. You have people in the councils working without any salary. If everyone in this country was prepared to work without a salary you would have no unemployment and you would not have enough people to put into the jobs where they were working for nothing.
Senator O'Toole complained about Mayo, and I was a bit surprised. The Senator spoke about Mayo, the disadvantaged county it is, that they did not have the services and said that they were a very highly rated county. Mayo has one of the biggest airports in the country. That is something that very few counties have.
Mr. Daly: They have an international airport. I do not think they will have any problem there if this airport is the success which I hope it will be, even though I have certain reservations about it. I think they may find at a later date that they have higher rates than they have now.
Another thing we heard the Opposition complaining about is local government and local government reform. This  is something that has been going on for so many years. The Opposition will have to admit that they were in government for 36 years and that is three years longer than Our Lord was on earth and they had the chances to do this. Why did they not do it? I appealed on a number of occasions to different Ministers for Local Government under different Governments. I had an ongoing correspondence with Deputy Ray Burke who was the then Minister for Local Government asking him to give the concessions to the councillors that everybody had spoken in favour of here. I started that initially with Mr. Jimmy Tully when he was Minister and went on to Deputies Liam Kavanagh, Ruairí Quinn and Fergus O'Brien. All the correspondence is there. There is a big file covering these representations. That was sent to all Governments but nothing has happened up to now.
The Minister is now restructuring and reorganising — and I know this is in stages — and I hope that he will give recognition to these unpaid, dedicated people on councils at least and give them their out of pocket expenses for postage and telephone rental. I hope the Minister will do that because at least the Minister has an advantage that I have not got because he was for many years a member of a local authority.
When I appeal for this support for the members of the local authorities it is not a vested interest. There is no axe-grinding on my own behalf because, unfortunately, I am not a member of a local authority. I never stood for local authority elections because in my part of the country and in our party we have more candidates, nearly, than we have electors and we do not have any problem about candidates.
There is not much more I can add. Most of the things have already been said. I will conclude by appealing to the Minister to do something about postage and expenses. I think Senator Killilea mentioned notepaper in the councils. Some councils would not give them notepaper. In some counties the councils have notepaper printed by the local authorities  with their coat of arms and their county council office address on it and they have rooms for the councillors. In other places they have nothing for them. If it can be done in one county I do not know why it cannot be done in all counties. I suppose it comes back to the fact that the members of the councils, both men and women, are too gentle and do not push themselves hard enough, but if they did push hard enough they may get these things. However, I will leave it in the capable hands of the Minister to do something about it.
Mr. Harte: First of all, I apologise to the House for this brief delay while I was vacating the Chair. Normally the position would be that there would be more Senators in the House. Particularly I apologise to the Minister for any confusion that might have entered the situation.
I agree with Senator Lynch that the local authorities are in a very, very bad state indeed. I would also bring to his mind that there is a thing called “cause and effect”. I must also admit to him that in the first instance this Bill certainly will not remove the effects of those causes. I do not think the Bill was introduced for that purpose. It is not intended to remedy those effects. The Minister has, in fact, told us in his Second Stage speech that this Bill is merely a part of the whole process of dealing with reorganisation. It will, in fact, need the introduction of major legislation in this House to cover the question of saving in the democratic structures of local government.
I do not think it would be possible for me or for any of my colleagues in the Labour Party to agree totally with this Bill if it were not for the fact that it is part of this ongoing process. We look forward to major legislation that will reintroduce a higher level of democracy into the local structures. It is on the basis of the whole situation that the Labour Party Senators support the Bill, knowing well that the effects that have arisen through bad handling by both the central Government and local authorities over the years have led to deterioration in the functioning of the structures of local  government. The introduction of major legislation is something that requires a long period of time. The situation cannot be remedied overnight and certainly could not be remedied by the introduction of a Bill that deals in the main with the changing of boundaries and with giving some other authority control.
We should remind ourselves of what local government is all about. In all civilised countries throughout the world they have their system of local government. The position fundamentally — I am not telling the House anything it does not know but it is as well to get it on the record — is that the sovereign authority confers upon the minor grades of government a duty and that duty is to give effect to its ordinances. It gives them the power to administer, within certain limits, the public affairs of the community over which they preside. There is obviously a variation from place to place, not in spirit but in a way suited to the opinions of the community in the different countries.
That is the basis on which I know local government and local democracy to function. Obviously, there is a limit to the rights that can be given. There is a limit to the legal right to exercise powers. If there was not, the encroachment on to the domain of the supreme authority would be inevitable. Therefore the equilibrium between local and central Government must be constantly maintained. In effect, there must be a harmony between the sovereign authority and the authority that it confers on the minor or local government institutions. By means of these institutions, our towns and boroughs are the necessary consequences of the populations collected together in particular areas. They afford the readiest means to run good local government. What has been happening in Ireland down through the years through local political behaviour on the one hand and the neglect, or lack of surveillance of the powers that are extended to local government by central Government on the other hand, is that there has been an erosion of democracy.
I would like to quote the facts of the  abolition of rates that Senator Daly mentioned a minute ago and the abolition of the road tax etc. and the consequences arising from that. I do not say it in a political way. I say it in an objective and realistic way. If you start to interfere with the powers of authority of local government then you erode or assist in the erosion of the local democracy that was bestowed on people. I can understand a Government having the right to protect themselves from encroachment. I can understand that they have to keep the balance right. On the other hand, if the central authority go too far into the realm of the local authority, that is an encroachment. It invalidates the central authority's claim to be a total democracy because, inevitably, in bringing about situations like that, the central authority are engaging in political expediency and considering what they can actually realise for the party.
If you take powers away from the local authority and at the same time tell them that you want to see them functioning well for the population, that you want to see a good administration, to involve the people from the parish right up to the centre of that local authority and give them a better way of life etc. and a say in the decision-making process, it is shortsighted then to start interfering with that process.
The interference is not because local democracy or the local institutions are a threat to the central authority or to State authority. It is, when you look at it, just political expediency. It needlessly takes away powers from the local authority and in the final analysis it is a flight from reality. I do not think we would be in the area of pressure groups now in relation to water rates etc. if some expedient action had not been taken to abolish local rates. It would not matter who abolished them. The same argument would obtain. In fact we in the Coalition were in the process of phasing out domestic rates. It might be a little bit less harmful to do it that way, but if you phase out the domestic rates and so on from local government it amounts to the same process of eroding the local democracy you are  there to protect. You are not in fact keeping the balance between the two authorities. One way or the other, you are into the same process. The only difference is that the effects of one would probably take longer to come about whereas the other has almost an overnight effect. We can now all look back and see that one could not do away with domestic rates in the way they were done away with or do away with the road tax without serious effects.
We are now dealing with the whole question of domestic rates and charges all over again in a different guise. The question of the road tax is a bit of a joke. Political expediency brought about a quicker return to the need for charges. When the sovereign Government sets up local government to administer the collection of these charges they should endeavour to simplify those institutions, not by expediency but using tried and tested principles. That should be the practical object of the exercise when dealing with the reform of local government. This should be the object of statesmen and legislatures. Had these authorities not been interfered with, the peoples' patriotism would have solved the problem. But at the moment they are questioning the whole process of government. We would not be in the mess we are in now and at each other's throats over the whole question of interference, intrigue and expediency. I do not have to spell it out. Everybody knows we just have to take a look at ourselves to see what has happened to us by undue and unnecessary interference. We have been over testing the patriotism of our people.
Unfortunately, again without being political, we are at it again. We have statements promising to wipe out charges, but on examination you will find that, in fact, the charges still exist under a different guise. The question of the central Exchequer, which pays about 65 per cent of the cost, taking on more of the cost represents another erosion of democracy. The people themselves many years ago had great pride in their local organisations. Our own behaviour at both local and governmental levels has  cast doubt in their minds about the whole process of government. We naturally would stand up particularly for those who were elected to local government. We would be selective about the question of the legislation.
The first thing that comes to their minds is to look at the drawing of the boundaries and what is necessary and desirable in order to bring about reorganisation in such a way that local democracy will be improved and simplified. If we were real advocates of local government reform we would be seeking to establish a graduated system in which every citizen with the slightest capacity for public affairs should be able to take his share of local administration. It should go from the parish to the central power of local government and right up to the central sovereign power.
People are liable to make the comment, if not in the House then to themselves, that that is the ideal. I do not think there is anything ideal about making a plea to stop the intrigue of which we all have been guilty. Had it not been present we would not be in the terrible mess we are in now with regard to the question of providing local services. I do not think our behaviour has made it possible for many of the people we represent to understand the full scope of local authorities in the sense of the development of the interests of the locality they represent. This understanding would obtain to the present day except for the interference and self-interest.
I agree with many of the speakers here even though I am critical of them just looking at a boundary. I agree with them that the people who understand local interests are the local concerned people. Since the local authority system is meant to be a system of local independence, it is natural that they are the best qualified people. They can express the views of the people. It is one thing expressing the view of what should happen for the people and it is another thing giving effect to it and subjugating your own personal interests to the needs of the community. Unfortunately, the opposite is the position. Being human, it is understandable that we can  get into the area of deals etc. at local authority level, but overall there is not much excuse for intelligent people, who know in the final analysis that what they will bring about is an erosion of democracy, behaving as they do.
The central Government, as I said earlier on, is not innocent in this area. It is really necessary in this process of legislation to understand that we have to preserve the unity between the sovereign and the local authority. We must not do this in an expedient way; we must do it in a politically realistic way. We in the Labour Party would look at local government as being something of a co-operative movement and a co-operative enterprise. After all, that is what local authorities are meant to be. They are meant to be a local co-operative with the local citizens being the shareholders. The dividend that they should get out of it is a good community, improved health and general happiness for the community. This initial part of the total legislation that is going to deal with reorganisation has been criticised. It is sad when an independent commission dealing with some matter is subject to suggestions that they allow themselves to be manipulated. I do not think that serves any useful purpose for any Government, whether it is the existing one or one to follow. Had it been done in another way and had it been confined to dealing merely with the question of changing boundaries, then I could understand the accusations being levelled and probably might lend support to them. It is like sending someone to negotiate for you and then telling them you do not trust them once they come out of those negotiations. It is not a very direct analogy and possibly not the best analogy but at the moment it is the only one that I can think of. That is exactly what it seems like to me. Intelligent people do not behave like that.
This Bill is the beginning of a process and I hope that the process will lead to the type of democracy to which the people are entitled at local level. I hope when we get the major legislation before us that we can honestly stand up and say: “Here is legislation that protects local government from the invasion or the encroachment of central Government” and that over the years it will be allowed to develop in its own way within certain limits. Obviously there have to be limits, as I said earlier. We look on local government as a co-operative but in co-operatives there are directors. The only fee a director of local government gets is the confidence and trust of the shareholders, the happiness of the community and so on.
We have to face up to the fact and be honest with ourselves that the principles of action have changed. As I said — and I cannot say it often enough — it is not confined to the local authorities, central Government has been at the centre of it. It is not that they did not understand. The reason is political expediency and, on the other hand, neglect.
Another thing, of course, is that the people in the local authorities and in central Government sometimes are preoccupied with their own particular interests. Naturally the danger that exists is that the power and authority that should be balanced between local and central Government very often does not exist. We trust that this legislation in its final stages, when it is passed through the whole process of phasing in the various changes, will bring about the type of democracy that is necessary and essential. It is sad to think that people can seek political office for the patronage it can afford them. In the long run what suffers — and we witness it all around us everyday in our lives — is the dignity, the efficiency and the economy of the public service. It suffers through the behaviour of us, the legislators.
It is time to call a halt to the whole nonsense of not letting local authorities be what they are supposed to be. Local authorities should be allowed deal with the whole question of looking after a collection of the population in specific areas with an equilibrium of power with central authority. As I said earlier, if this was the only legislation certain the Labour Party people would be in much trouble, as indeed would many of the  Fine Gael people who have been pressing from backbenches to go down the road with it. Because it is not on its own, we have got to say that the total package when it comes out will satisfy, not the philosophy of the Labour Party, but will satisfy the needs and the desires as outlined in Labour Party policy. It will satisfy also, I am sure, many backbench people in Fine Gael who are inclined towards the full pressure of a proper democracy in local structures.
Mr. Harte: I have said a few words about the other side of the House. I will probably come back to it before the end of the day. If we legislate wrongly this would be a major problem. With our imagination we would only get confused. The confusion will naturally need more expedience and the expedience will again destroy the whole question of democracy. The Bill is a starting point.
To deal with Senator O'Toole's point, I said earlier that I was not having a political go at the Fianna Fáil people but I did mention that we are all in our own way guilty of the state into which local government has got through interference, intrigue and self-interest. I levelled that at all of us and not only at the Fianna Fáil Party. I have no doubt there are very many of the Fianna Fáil local government people who would want the same sort of structures democratically operated in the interests of the local community and not to have their democracy eroded by that over-indulgence from the central authority. But unfortunately there has been an encroachment from central Government and the evidence is all around us.
There is an overriding need to associate the individual more and more closely with the taking of decisions affecting the environment. That is very desirable. I am sure the bulk of the people would want that. It is not possible, on the one had, to get into the political arena and the political in-fighting and at the same time be objective when it comes to the question of involving the individual in the  decision-making process. The more one gets involved in the in-fighting and takes a total political look at every situation the more danger there is of removing the individual from that decision-making process. The more local people contribute to local government the more democratic it becomes. I have one small reservation and I would just like to make the point before the next legislation comes along. This Bill is all right but I am not too sure that in following legislation we might get too much into the two tier system. If authorities of a first and second tier nature grow up too strongly there is the danger of removing the individual and his family even further from the decision-making process. I am a little concerned about that even though I am confident that that point of view will not be overlooked when the next legislation is being brought in.
Local government without local democracy is just meaningless. The councillors are elected to make the decisions and to make them in consultation with and on behalf of the people they represent in accordance with the powers they have. Something many of us are inclined to forget is that it is meaningless and misdirected to get into an area where democracy is eroded locally because in the final analysis one finishes up with all sorts of pressure groups and selfish motives being advanced. People become cynical about the whole process of government whether it be local or central.
The question of a large authority gives me cause for concern, for the very same reason, the question of local democracy. I am inclined to believe that the larger the authority the more remote they are from those they are meant to serve. I want to draw the attention of the House to the question of dealing with the whole area of local democracy which is being undermined by inaccuracy and vagueness of status. Again I say this without any political bias. The Fianna Fáil Party have recently issued a statement on local authority finance which contains the following. They give an undertaking to repeal  the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Act, 1983, which provides for charges for services. They give a promise to promote legislation to reform local government financing by (1) providing guaranteed statutory contributions for local authorities each year from the Exchequer; (2) local authorities having power to make a limited charge to provide finance for a local amenity or service, the charge to be imposed by elected members; (3) charges must be related specifically to the cost and use of a particular service; (4) the charge will supplement and not substitute for Government grants. They make a claim that central government grants have increased by only 1 per cent in 1985 as compared to a 5 per cent increase for Government Departments. Obviously these statements have to be answered, not in a political way but in order to put the record straight about them and to give emphasis, from my point of view, as to why we get into this area of assisting in the erosion of democracy in local institutions that we are elected to protect.
It is quite clear that it is totally misleading for Fianna Fáil to suggest that the Government are starving local authorities of funds. The reality of it is that the total amount of money the Government will give to local authorities in 1985 to finance their activities in road grants, housing, sanitary services and so on will be £730 million. That is an increase of £69 million or 10.5 per cent over 1984. This compares very favourably with the figures for inflation of 6 per cent and for an increase in the Government Departments of 5 per cent which was mentioned by Fianna Fáil. It must be admitted that it has not been possible to increase grants, for example, the rates support grants, as much as the Government would have liked. That is because of the financial problems they have encountered. I do not think there is need for any of us to feel defensive about the record of the Government in providing finances for local authorities up to and including 1985. I do not think this kind of thing helps the people who are elected locally to puddle about with what  they are really interested in, local democracy. I do not think it helps to throw out a heap of figures when no evidence is given of where the money comes from.
It is extremely doubtful that any guaranteed statutory contribution which Fianna Fáil might introduce will result in more money for local authorities. Even if it was introduced could we say that they could produce the guaranteed figure? I doubt very much if they could. Reading the statement by Fianna Fáil there would still be charges for local service. Because of the vagueness of it, it is very likely that they would be at the same level at the very least. They say the charges would be strictly limited but no details are given. One must assume they would be at the same level. They are entitled to make criticisms. In making criticisms of that nature and tying them in with what I have said about the way local authorities should function and what in fact the basis of local authorities are, I do not think it helps the local representatives when you embark on that action. It is quite right if you can establish the fact that there are sufficient funds there to do certain things, that you can spell out the figures which can be allocated.
When talking about local government reform and what you would do in that reform you cannot afford to indulge in the luxury of the safety of generalisations. It is too serious for the people at local level whom we represent. Whether or not you agree with water charges is irrelevant in that context. Already, over the years we have been in some cases oblivious to the needs of simplifying and improving local authorities. We have also been neglectful in the sense that when there was money in the kitty we did not use it sufficiently. Consequently things started to develop as a result of political expediency and the whole process of industrial democracy suffered.
This legislation before us today cannot be looked at in isolation even though we have to vote on the Bill separately. It has to be looked at in the overall context of an objective view taken by the Department of the Environment and by the  Minister for the Environment to reinstitute democracy in the local institutions and to do it in a phased way. I trust that when the other legislation comes forward, which I hope will be a major legislation, we will find contained within it the basis on which the local people can take back the real interest that they had so many years ago, before we all interfered with it through intrigue, political expediency and neglect.
Mr. Burke: I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution on this Bill. One must be amazed at certain comments we have heard in the debate from the Opposition side in so far as we were castigated just a few weeks ago about the speed and undue haste in which certain legislation was going through. On the other hand they complain that this is insufficient and that we should have more legislation and rush it through prior to the local election date of 20 June.
Mr. Burke: The situation where many of the boundaries have been changed has been welcomed in some quarters and complained about in others depending on particular interests. When people see the possibility of an election either increased or diminished it is only natural that they would complain along those lines. I welcome in particular the section of the Bill that deals with the elevation of Galway city from corporation status to the status of a county borough. In the other House the Opposition spokesperson for the Environment, Deputy Robert Molloy, suggested that the title of Mayor of Galway should also be elevated to the title of Lord Mayor. One wonders at the sincerity of such a proposal in view of the fact that that comes from a member of the Republican Party as they claim to be. It is seeking to have something which was normally done by royal charter encompassed in this Bill. One wonders whether  the person in question has intentions of becoming Lord Mayor of that first county borough——
Mr. Burke: ——following next June's elections. I can understand Senator Killilea's confusion and anxiety in the matters of the elevation of Galway city and the division of the boundaries when one sees that he has not decided which way to go. No matter which way Senator Killilea goes at present——
Mr. Burke: I understand Senator Killilea's anxiety in so far as no matter which way he goes, whether he goes back to the Tuam area, which he formerly represented as a junior Minister, in which case he will step on somebody's toes, or if he continues to stay within the west Galway area, he will also stand on somebody else's toes, I can see his dilemma and I sympathise with him. I hope it turns out all right for him eventually and that he will retain his seat in one area or the other.
Mr. Burke: With regard to the question of local authorities, I see this Bill as the first step in a progression of reforms for local authority which is very much needed. Councillors throughout the country have felt a degree of frustration over the last few years. This has been growing continuously, not just over the last two or three years when all the ills and dark clouds have gathered over local authorities but it has been ongoing for many years, indeed long before the decision was taken to remove the rates from  agricultural land. The reason for the problems was that local government was no longer local in the sense that decisions could be made but there was a gradual erosion and a taking back of the powers into the area of central Government. If this reform and the Bills that will be before the House are to have any meaning it will be necessary for a fair degree of decentralisation of the powers of local authorities. People will have to be very careful when decentralisation is introduced because if decentralisation means that local authorities are to take upon themselves the responsibility of the laws in a particular area, it is inevitable that there will be inconsistencies within those laws throughout the country. I do not think any Government Department could allow for such variation within local authorities. While decentralisation is necessary in some ways, it is important that a balance is maintained as between one council and another. We know that at present the planning laws are not necessarily interpreted in the same way in every county. That is particularly so along the west coast where areas of high amenity and scenic beauty are taken into account in the matter of planning permission. While that possibility is there, there will certainly be bad planning in some parts of the country.
I am not blaming one county council more that another but if there is room for variation and no overall plan then there is the possibility of bad planning. Galway County Council in particular has been portrayed in some sections of the media as being notorious for the use of section 4 with regard to planning decisions. In recent times section 4 decisions are being queried by the county managers in so far as he now will not implement certain section 4s passed democratically by the county council. There I believe is another instance where the management of local authorities, namely, the county managers, are claiming to themselves far greater powers than they have had in the past, or certainly if they had them in the past they were restrained from using  them. I see no great divergence between the elected representatives' power in that case and the managerial power. It was regrettable too that the function of manager was increased with regard to local government charges. The decision should have been left to the democratically elected members. It seems that that is now reserved as a managerial function. It is another effort, maybe not intentional, to deprive local authority members of a function they previously had.
While I am on the Galway scene I want to praise Galway Corporation and Galway County Council. They met and agreed jointly on the areas which were to be taken in by the new borough council. That was unique. If we look at the history of other cities which were expanding there was great hassle and tension between local corporations, borough councils and county councils. The hassle did not arise on the Galway scene and there was a reasonable degree of local agreement which was passed on and accepted by the Minister. A lot of the agreement on that occasion was on the basis that there would be adequate compensation for lands taken in. With the boundary extensions for Galway county borough, a lot of the revenue of Galway County Council has been lost to the borough council. It is essential that the Government should recognise that and adequately compensate the council for their loss.
Regarding the question of management, it is regrettable that the decision to elevate Galway to a county borough was not followed the whole way, making the manager of the borough a separate entity. The managerial function should have been given to a separate person instead of the umbrella, the county manager now being manager of the county council area and also the county borough. I hope that in the very near future that situation will be rectified. While the present arrangement might lead to harmonious relationships in some instances what I propose would give a greater recognition to each local authority and a greater opportunity for separate development.
 Many Members have mentioned the question of efficiency in local authorities. Any of us particularly from the county council areas will know that the cost for county councils of doing particular types of work has increased greatly by comparison with the cost for which that work could be done privately or under contract. I do not see the county council or local authority ever performing the function of social employers. In some areas the councils have the expertise, the personnel etc. to do certain types of work but in some cases work should be made available by open tender. There is no comparison between the cost of providing a private group water scheme and a local authority group water scheme. The private scheme wins out in every aspect — efficiency, cost and the speed with which it is carried out. I hope the Minister in the forthcoming legislation will look very seriously at this. The options should be there for open contracting out as in all other areas in the public service where, for instance, buildings are let out under tender. Better value would be got for a lot of the expenditure at local government level.
Representation on local authorities has been looked at, increased in certain areas and decreased in other areas. A question that should be looked into in the forthcoming legislation is representation on committees. It has been referred to on various occasions by other people.
Mr. Burke: I hope the Minister will decide to have the proportional representation system. It would remove a lot of hassle from local authorities and it would enhance local authorities in the eyes of the public. When the AGMs of various councils and committees throughout the country are held the eyes of the public and the media are cast on the doings and the antics of all parties. No party can claim exemption. I am certainly not seeking to claim exemption as Senator Killilea might like me to do. I hope the Minister will see to it that proportional representation is accorded to the elected members of the councils. Seeing that local authorities have to do with the local community it is important that a certain number of places, outside the general council, on the ordinary committees, should be reserved, as of right, for various community interests on a local basis. For the first time certain groups which never had representation before have had representation on certain committees of Galway County Council.
Mr. Burke: ——that a good job has been done in the meantime and that people were reasonable in the allocation of places to various bodies, as never was the case when a Fianna Fáil monopoly ruled in Galway County Council for 50 years. I was proud to be one of those who  broke that monopoly with my colleagues in Galway County Council.
Mr. Burke: The Senator was not to be seen when they were here either. Senator Lynch said that charges should be flatrated throughout the country. If an area or a county is classed as poor or disadvantaged with not many people in the rate-paying category, the Government should balance that out. There certainly is a great inequity in the contributions that certain councils have had to make. Many times in this House over the last month or two the inequity that exists in the contribution that Galway County Council have to pay by way of supplementary welfare allowance to the health board has been mentioned. It is a most peculiar and damaging thing that one statutory body, the health board, have to seek their contribution from Galway County Council through the courts.
I hope the Minister, in the legislation that is to follow, will make sure that the statutory demands placed on councils will be taken out of that scene and put where they rightfully belong, in the hands of the Government. Responsibility for supplementary welfare allowance should lie with the Department of Social Welfare, not the council or the health board. The council have no say in it good, bad or indifferent except to foot the bill. Such a situation of rubber stamping is bad for local democracy and it must be bad for the local authority.
Vast amounts of finance are being put into the development of the national primary routes. When the basic structure of a route is there and is good it is annoying for the local community to see millions of pounds literally dumped into the side of the hard shoulders while county roads  have to go unattended for many years. Many councillors and many local communities are amazed that the direction cannot be changed so that the local council can spend some of the available finance on the county roads section to improve them rather than putting all the money into hard shoulders along the national routeways. It certainly has baffled most people, especially when there is such a need for the improvement of the county roads.
Senator Lynch mentioned the situation in which there is a continuing wastage of resources because small functions at local level could be carried out by the local authorities and at present they are held in the Department of the Environment. I speak of such things as the approval and inspection for grants. I cannot understand why at present we have two structures of grants. The local authority take responsibility for the new and very welcome £5,000 grant for a local authority tenant who gives up a council house and builds or purchases a new house. The county council have responsibility for that and at the same time the inspection and approval of the house for the ordinary new house grant is carried out by central Government. Where there seems to be a waste of finance, which is so scarce at present, on administration, it should be rectified. The administration of the Housing Finance Agency was given over successfully to the county councils. The Minister can see that the expertise is there in the local authorities to be utilised. The Minister can see that those things can work if they are decentralised.
Finally, when the finances from the land tax start to come into the coffers of the local authorities, the Minister must look at the cost of collecting rates at present by rate collectors. It is reckoned that where they still exist they are costing more than the amount they collect. I hope the Minister will have as a priority the abolition of the work of the rate collectors as we now know them. The word “redundant” is too strong a word in so far as their function has outlived itself in this case. I cannot see why people who have to pay rates cannot pay directly into  the council on demand as most other things can be done so readily and so easily. When the land tax comes I hope rate collectors will be abolished. It is not that anybody will cry over them from the experiences they had in the past but I believe they are serving no function whatever in this day and age with the methods of communication and transfer of finance that are available. They were necessary in the past in so far as the finance that had to be collected was not so readily available and it had to be done on a person to person basis. Now those finances are available and there are ready and easy channels that can be used for the transfer of the finances into the local authorities. I would hope that the method of collection of the land tax will be direct to the county councils and that no such structures will have to be created once the proper assessment has been done and adjustment of the land area.
I am sure there are other Senators who want to make contributions but I welcome this Bill as a first step towards the reorganisation of local authorities which will give back to the local authorities and the members of local authorities more democratic decisions which can be made locally and, more important than anything else, bring back credibility to local authorities among the public at large. I hope the June elections will not be boycotted as the European elections were in the sense that there was complete apathy. I hope this Bill will be seen by the public at large as a first step along the road to reorganisation so that local authorities will be meaningful from here on in and the public will on 20 June have the opportunity to show that, regardless of the political party they support, they still have confidence in local government structures.
Mr. Browne: Nuair a toghadh mé mar bhall dén Chomhairle Chontae sé bliana ó shin bhí a fhios agam ag an am sin, fiú amháin, nach mbeadh cumhacht ró-mhór agam, ach anois tar éis sé bliana a chaitheamh mar bhall den chomhairle chontae tá mé cinnte nach bhfuil. Déarfainn gurb é an príomh fáth leis sin ná nach  bhfuil go leor airgid againn agus nach féidir linn airgead a bhailiú dúinn féin.
The absence of the power, to raise money locally takes away from the power of local authorities. We hear all kinds of speeches about returning power and democracy to the local scene. Without control over money we have no power because in the long run we have to react to what is allowed to us if the Government decide to give £3 million or £13 million or £30 million, that decides what the county councils will do. Having the power to raise finance can cause difficulty also because in the long run it is easier to oppose charges than to support them. If councillors had the opportunity of raising money locally and the local people could see that the money was being spent locally, the reaction might not be nearly as bad as it is at the moment because people who are paying normal taxes feel that they are paying local taxes as well. Their main taxes are going to Dublin. They do not know what is happening to them. Nobody ever feels that that revenue comes back to their own county. They feel it is going to some other place, whereas local taxes that could be raised by the council could be spent by the council and the people would feel much happier.
There are so many things I find at local level that could be improved and they have been mentioned by many. One thing that has been raised at our council several times is long term planning where a council decide on a major sewerage scheme, for example, involving inquiries, the preparation of plans and so on, costing thousands of pounds. Working on an overdraft they borrow more and then after maybe two years some of the money begins to come back. I know that the Department cannot work on plans that do not exist but it is felt very strongly in Carlow County Council that we waste too much money paying interest on borrowed money while we are waiting to get money back on schemes that have been sent to the Department. They are not actually held up in the Department but simply by the process that is there it takes so long to get the scheme under way.
 One speaker has mentioned the roads. The county roads are the roads that benefit the natives. The vast majority of people in the county are travelling over county roads and they are the roads that are bad. It is very hard to explain to people that you cannot switch funds. Many people ask why we are spending it all on the national primary roads. Maybe the Government have their own reasons for having to do that but certainly at local level the county roads need to be looked after. The people feel neglected. They feel we are only catering for the tourist or the commercial traveller or the people who are going from one end of the country to the other, that we want to get them there in the quickest possible time. I would certainly like the council to be able to decide where the priorities lay and what was really necessary in the county.
The electoral commission have just brought in their report and some people were worried about it. It was anything but politically motivated by the Government because it chopped my head off very clearly and left me stranded. The one worry I have about the electoral commission's findings is that they have stretched many of the districts. They have joined pieces in with areas that are very far away. That is going to make it very difficult for county councillors many of whom will have to travel very long distances. Without going over and over what has been said already it is time that councillors were looked after from an expense point of view because otherwise nobody will want to stand for county council elections.
Mr. Browne: RTE has made a great skit of county councillors and we are all regarded as gombeen men. We would need to look after ourselves and the Government should make sure that people are not so encumbered with expenses that they will fail to be able to attend meetings in their own districts. TDs and Senators have an advantage. At least we are paid for our official duties. Some of the areas have been made very  big now and some areas have been joined with places that bear no relation whatever to them. This will prevent people from entering local politics. Whatever should stop people from entering local politics it should not be that they would lose money. I spoke to one man in my own county who lost his seat the last time. He said: “Thanks be to God. It was costing me a fortune.” You are not going to be paid as much as you think you deserve but nowadays people expect phone calls to be made. People do not come in any longer and say: “I will be back in a month's time. They want to come back the following day. On television they can see all kinds of results coming in from the world in a few minutes and they are not going to sit around while you write a letter in longhand and wait for a month for a reply. That is no good to them. We will have to grapple with that and while it is not in this Bill, for the sake of democracy we should look after it because we are only going to cut our own throats. We will have an opportunity later of discussing what we would like to do as regards the payments councils make. They have been mentioned. I will not develop them now because I know a long speech at this stage would be as welcome as a snow shower. There are payments for courthouses, and all these things. The councils ask time and time again: “Why should we pay for them?” They are only giving out money that they have not got.
I would like to see democracy evolving in such a way that county councils have the power and they will have the power if they can raise the money and if they have the courage to raise the money. That is an important part also. Until we have that we are only there as a rubber stamp that reacts to what the manager and the county engineer say. They say we are doing something and we approve of it. In the long run we cannot say: “No, we want to put money into this” because more often than not we cannot switch the money.
Mr. O'Leary: I would like to make a brief contribution on the question of  local government reorganisation. In the many contributions that have been made by Senators on the Second Stage of this Bill, a number of areas have been identified as being of crucial importance to the future of local government. Between 1967 and 1977 it was my privilege to be a member of the Cork Corporation and during that period of time I gained an insight into the workings of local government. I was fortunate also that I gained that insight both before and after the decision to abolish domestic rates because that was a watershed in the control which local government had over its own resources.
Based on my experience there is no comparison between the contribution which councils can make now compared with what they could have made in the past. The abolition of a local form of taxation has meant diminution of the powers of the members to an alarming extent and it is something that I do not welcome. I am familiar of course with the inequities of the rateable valuation system but the time has come for other forms of local taxation to be substituted for rates and substituted for other forms of general taxation. It is very important that even if other forms of local taxation are being introduced, whether they be land tax or whatever else they might be, there should not be additional taxation but they should be matched by a corresponding reduction in the general level of taxation on a central basis. In other words, if you are going to have a local charge it should be matched by a reduction in terms of the rate in the pound at which that would be charged, or income tax or some other corresponding adjustment. That is a very important thing which unfortunately is not adequately covered by this Bill.
I am aware that the Minister said that this by way of the first stage of a continuing process of local government re-organisation. I recognise that and I do not object to the Bill but the Minister and the Government could have gone considerably further in seeking to bring forward and to hurry along the reorganisation. In that regard I would  have been much happier if the local elections had been held last year and the local government reorganisation had taken place gradually over the period of five years which follows. That probably would not have been realistic in the Dublin area. I must give the Minister that. Dramatic changes were needed in the Dublin area but certainly in the rest of the country local government elections could have been held and I was in favour of that at that time.
It is important that there should be a proper devolution of authority down through the county councils to deal with the areas which they are traditionally expert at dealing with. This, of course, applies equally to the county boroughs, the roads and the sanitary services, the housing and general community-type services which I might mention as including things like fire brigades and library services.
It is important that the local authorities should be able to raise sufficient finance directly or indirectly to give a proper service to people in that regard. The conclusion must be inevitably drawn that the maintenance of roads gets a lower priority now than it used in the past. That is not a good thing. I do not want to say it is the fault of this Government or the previous Government but it is a general trend and it is not a good trend. Money is part of it, as Senator Killilea said, but there are other reasons of course. When the money became scarce a greater percentage of the money was being spent on administrative expenses and less and less spent on actually filling the holes in the road, on materials. It is not just a question of less money; it is also a matter of the management of the money which is available. We cannot say that because there is less money available we can automatically excuse any short-comings on behalf of the local authorities. That is not the way these things work. All other types of services have had less money to manage with. Local authorities, by and large, have not managed it as well as other types of services in changing their budget.
We know the controversy there has  been with regard to things like health services but, by and large, the health services have managed better than local authorities in cutting their cloth according to their measure. I know they have difficulties and problems but I can see that changes have taken place; overmanning has been tackled. The same thing has not worked in local authorities in my experience.
I understand of course also, and I did mention it earlier and I do not intend to keep the House long, that a fundamental re-organisation in the Dublin area was indeed necessary and I recognise that it was quite impossible to hold the local elections in the Dublin area last year. I would have been very happy if the local elections had been held in the rest of the country. I do think that the proposed structure in this Bill is quite good and the way in which the Government are going about it is quite good. Important decisions have still to be taken in the Dublin area with regard to the level of authority which will be given to the metropolitan authorities in the time to come.
There is no doubt about it in planning a conurbation as substantial as Dublin you need an overview of the sanitary services and of the road structure. That over-view is not necessary with regard to some of the other services which are being provided. It is very important that that top tier of local government would be carefully examined. The way in which this is being worked as this Bill is drafted, will enable the Minister to super-impose such an overall structure, be it a very small structure, for that strategic type of thought in the Dublin area when that becomes necessary at the next stage of the re-organisation of local government.
It is very important in the Dublin area also that the other services, the community-orientated services like the maintenance of houses, the library services, the operation of fire services etc. should be actually controlled at a low level. I think the Minister is recognising that and I welcome his proposals to date and look forward to his proposals in that regard in future. It is a first step. This is a response  and the structure in the Dublin area has certainly some promise in that regard.
It is also very good that the report of the commission has formed the basis of the local authority areas. I recognise that there are certain Members who do not feel that that was objective enough and I am not getting involved in that really, but I would point out to the Minister that local politicians — and it might be Senator Killilea of this occasion; it might be me on the next occasion — are sensitive with regard to where boundaries are drawn. It is——
Mr. O'Leary: I know that, but it is a political issue where a boundary is going to be drawn; that is the point I am making. There are county councils all over the country who are re-assessing their position as a result of these proposals. In some cases they are re-assessing them with smiles on their faces and in other cases they are re-assessing them without smiles on their faces. But they are re-assessing their positions and it is a political decision. If that is so, it is obvious that some Members, some practising politicians, are going to be dissatisfied with the result and we have seen the outcome of that, whether it be an individual member of a council or a whole council. They are going to have a duty and a right to make their dissatisfaction known in a public forum like this and in other public forums throughout the country. In those circumstances is it appropriate that the commission should be headed by a judge? I have brought this up on other occasions. I am not detracting in any way from the excellent  work which was done by both judges in this case but I wonder, where you know the result is going to be the subject of a political controversy, is it right that a judge should be involved in the actual process?
Mr. O'Leary: I believe in the separation of the judicial system from the political system. Therefore, recognising that by appointing a judge you are doing something and taking it outside the political forum, it should be possible to have perhaps a permanent electoral commission or something of that nature which would do the thing on a continuing basis.
Mr. O'Leary: Yes. A person could do another job, he might be involved in planning or do some other job in addition to work for the electoral commission. In Britain nowadays they have that and they have it in other countries. For instance, Canada has such a permanent organisation. I have mentioned that before with regard to other tasks which from time to time we have given to members of the Judiciary. It is something that I am not happy with and I have expressed my dissatisfaction before.
I would like to speak parochially now about the situation in Cork Corporation and the immediate area surrounding Cork city. We are reaching a very important stage in the development of Cork city and county and the greater Cork area. There have been some very positive developments in the Cork area with regard to strategic planning and I would like to pay tribute to the co-operation which has existed between the Cork County Council and Cork Corporation in this regard.
The LUTS plan has given rise to quite a significant amount of strategic development in the Cork area which will do nothing but good for the area in general. But that was a once-off exercise and it is not something which is continuing. We see the problems which are arising as a result  of the further decisions that must be taken arising out of this strategic plan. Now there is a classic situation in the Douglas area of Cork city, which is actually referred to in the commission's report. Cork Corporation were in favour of incorporating that into the Cork Corporation area; the county council were against it.
There are substantial proposals for development in that area which will have significant effect on the city centre. The city of Cork is becoming a waste land of derelict space and the inner suburbs are becoming the exclusive residences of the elderly, and the younger people are living in the dormitory towns. This is a very significant development. I think it arises as a result of a bad attitude we have towards the provision of housing for our newly-married people. Instead of giving people equal incentives to buy new or secondhand houses, we give them additional incentives to buy new houses. That has led to a situation where the vibrant growth in the Cork area is all outside the borough boundary. The demand is for shopping facilities outside the borough boundary and the result of that is a declining amount of economic activity in the city centre area. The city centre area is absolutely vital to the health of any conurbation and, as a person who is involved in the Cork area and indeed owns property both outside and inside the city and therefore can be accused of having a vested interest one way or the other, I think it is very important that the balance would be got right because the waste space of a city is dependent on a viable city centre and indeed the moral health and the strategic health of a city are very much dependent on maintaining a viable city centre.
In so far as this Bill fails to tackle the problems of expanding the borough boundary in cases where there was not agreement between local authorities, I think it is a bit of a “cop-out”. I think the Minister should have considered that matter further and I was quite disappointed with the change which was made on Committee Stage in Dáil Éireann to take out of the Bill the power of the  Minister to change by order in due course the borough boundaries of Cork and other areas — perhaps it was Limerick; there was one other area involved. I think that was a bad move and I think it was a bad amendment to the Bill and I will have more to say on that on Committee Stage.
I think it is important when you are dealing with the local government reorganisation that recognition be given to the fact that the old boundaries of a city or a town are not necessarily the same as the economic boundaries of that city or town. In so far as local government reorganisation is necessary it should try to match the boundaries to the new economic reality and I understand that that is being done by consensus in the Galway area. If you do not do that, you will have tension between the local authorities in the area and you will have problems arising as a result of these tensions.
If the local authorities — and I am not ascribing blame to one or the other — are not willing to co-operate heads must be banged together by the Minister. That is what the Minister is there for. I would urge upon the Minister, in so far as possible, to pursue the question of agreement between the city and county authorities in the Cork area and any other area where it is an issue. Only by doing that will the Minister set the framework for proceeding to the second, third, fourth and fifth phases of his reorganisation. I wish the Minister a long stay in his present job so that he can complete that very important task.
|Last Updated: 14/09/2010 06:07:54||Page of 8|