Local Elections (Specification of Local Election Year) Order, 1990: Motion (Resumed).

Thursday, 17 May 1990

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 124 No. 19

First Page Previous Page Page of 7 Next Page Last Page

[1929] Debate resumed on the following motion:

That Seanad Éireann confirms the following Order:

Local Elections (Specification of Local Election Year) Order, 1990,

a copy of which Order was laid before Seanad Éireann on the 30th day of April, 1990.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  First, let me join with the speakers earlier in condemning the bombings in London. We all deplore these horrible acts.

When I was speaking yesterday I should have congratulated Senator Fallon, Senator Wright and Senator Fitzgerald on their appointments. Indeed, I join in the compliments paid to Senator Lanigan for his commitment to his House over a long number of years as Leader.

When speaking yesterday I may not have pointed out clearly that we will be opposing this motion. As I stated, I believe it is not a question of local government reform we are discussing but merely the fact that the Government do not want to face up to the local elections. I pointed, when speaking yesterday, to the contribution made by local councillors and elected county councillors over the years to local government and to the people they represented. I also said that if one examined this Government's performance with regard to local government reform over the past three and a half years one could only see powers being continually taken away from local authorities. I also referred to the fact that the regional development organisations were abolished. We saw the committees of agriculture — the ACOT committees — abolished and I believe the reason they were abolished was simply to stem criticism of Government policy.

[1930] Earlier today on two occasions reference was made to the deplorable situation with regard to farming, and the drastic drop in farming incomes, whether it is the dairy farmer, the beef farmer or the sheep farmer. Of course, that is another reason the Government and Fianna Fáil county councillors dread the thoughts of facing the electorate. We had also the abolition of the local health committees. I have no doubt that the Minister here, coming from a rural constituency, knows the commitment and dedication of the members of the county committees of agriculture and ACOT. I am sure he probably served on them. They had the same kind of dedication and commitment as the members of the local health committees but they were silenced simply because they were critical of the funding being made available to the health boards. They were got rid of.

The missed opportunities of the Government giving real powers to local authorities with regard to the distribution of the lottery funding were pointed out. There should be a much and effective and efficient way of distributing that element of the lottery funding that was being made available for amenities. We had, of course, the despicable performance of the Minister with regard to interfering in the business of Dublin County Council on the question of introducing toll roads on the Dublin ring road. As I pointed out, that project was funded by the Irish taxpayers and the EC.

This Government have totally withdrawn funding for local authority housing. I want to put on record that in the year 1983 to 1987 Roscommon County Council each year built upwards of 80 houses but in 1989 they built seven simply because that was all the funding they had. This year they will build 16. The way local authorities have been treated by this coalition Government and by the previous Fianna Fáil Government is a scandal. They have been strangled for finance. I do not seriously believe this Government have any intention of introducing meaningful local government reform. I have no doubt it is needed, but we will not get it from this Government.

[1931] The Minister in speaking yesterday stated that the reason for the postponement of the local elections was to enable a full and urgent review of the local government system and he said that in order that a proper review be carried out it was important that the elections be postponed. I have already pointed to areas where real powers could have been given to local authorities but, unfortunately, the Government missed that opportunity. I have spoken about the three committees of local government which were abolished by this Government. Again, I cannot understand why the regional development organisations, the ACOT committees and the health committees were abolished and now we are talking about local government reform. That is, in my view, a total contradiction. We had the whole question of the manner of Structural Funds and the way the advice from the regions was handled. That was done in a deplorable fashion. I regret very much that the local authorities did not get an opportunity of having meaningful input into that.

The Minister pointed out that the decision to postpone the local elections was not taken lightly. I have no doubt about that, because the junior partner in Government were on record as stating that the local elections would be held. Here again it was obviously a situation where the senior partner in Government made a decision not to hold the elections because of the well-founded fears of the Fianna Fáil county councillors. They were afraid of facing the electorate because of the failure of the Government to fulfil the promises made in the 1985 local elections.

Let me remind Members of some of those promises. We were told there would be greater functions for local authorities. Need I again point out that after three and a half years in Government the Fianna Fáil Party have done absolutely nothing to extend or improve the local authority structure? In fact, what they have done is reduce the powers of local authorities. By eliminating some of the committees and reducing the amount of [1932] funding to local authorities they have merely made them a rubber stamp. I remind the Minister and his colleagues of the abolition of water and service charges. That was “big flag” in 1985. What has happened since? They have all been increased. The funding from central Government has been reduced. That is another reason why the Fianna Fáil councillors around the country are afraid to face the electorate.

We were told of the trend to extend the powers of the county managers. We all know what happened to Dublin County Council. We all know what happened about the committee set up to examine the Structural Funds. In fact, the only individual with a say as to how those Structural Funds were to be decided on was the county manager. We were told of the progressive policy on housing. As I have already pointed out, funding was totally withdrawn. As far sanitary and water services are concerned, whether they be group water schemes or regional water schemes, we know that funding for those has been practically exhausted.

Of course, we were told that we have an effective roads programme. I do not need to point out to this House what happened over the three and a half years with regard to the road programme. Many areas in rural Ireland have no road structure, good, bad or indifferent. The county road structure is collapsing. It has gone beyond the powers of many local authorities to carry out the necessary maintenance to county roads. The Government have sat idly by and allowed this situation to continue. That is the reason why we have this motion before the House today. It is simply because of the fears of Fianna Fáil elected representatives to face the people. The local elections should have been held this year, together with the Presidential election. It could have saved the taxpayer a vast amount of money if both elections were held on the same day. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the Government did not do this, except for one reason that is, that they are afraid to face the electorate.

[1933] In view of the number of Members who wish to speak, I will not detain the House any longer other than to say that I look forward to the forthcoming local elections, whenever they are held, as the first step in the process of getting rid of this ineffective Coalition Government. I am looking forward to a change of Government.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Hussey): Information on Thomas Hussey  Zoom on Thomas Hussey  Thank you for your brevity. If every Senator follows your example perhaps we will have an opportunity to include all those who wish to contribute to the debate.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  I, too, will be as brief as possible in deference to the large number of speakers who want to contribute. Let me preface my remarks by saying that I find it rather unusual that such a genial Senator from Roscommon should be so cutting in his remarks about our Government. It makes me mindful of a parliamentary party meeting which Fine Gael had yesterday when their Leader put the boot in, in other words, told them to get their act together——

Acting Chairman:  We are not concerned here with Fine Gael parliamentary party meetings.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  It is probably as a result of the recriminations at that particular meeting.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  I am glad to note that the Senator is interested in what goes on at our parliamentary meetings.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  Might I open my remarks by indicating to the House that the local elections have been postponed 14 times in all? It is significant that I should point out that of the 14 times they have been postponed, eight were postponed by Fine Gael-Labour Coalitions. Let us clear the pitch and say that it is not an unusual thing for local elections to be postponed.

(Interruptions.)

[1934]Mrs. Honan: Information on Tras Honan  Zoom on Tras Honan  You would not agree to it when Mr. de Valera was standing.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  I do not remember that.

Mrs. Honan: Information on Tras Honan  Zoom on Tras Honan  It is right. I am longer serving, and I remember you would not agree.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  What is also very interesting is that if you can think back to 1973 and 1984, local elections were postponed by Fine Gael and Labour on both of those occasions. Might I remind the Senator that the reason——

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  I was only a young fellow then.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  The reason given for postponing those elections was the need for local government reform. Is it not rather ironic, Senator, that you should stand up here today and say to us that you are going to oppose this motion, given the fact that your party are on record as saying that local government needs to be reformed? Now the opportunity is presented to you——

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  We do not disagree. We do not believe that this Government will carry it out.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  The Senator also mentioned that Fianna Fáil were afraid to go to the polls on this occasion. The facts belie that. He obviously has not taken any regard of recent opinion polls which give Fianna Fáil 50 per cent of the vote——

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  Like the Taoiseach, I do not believe in them.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  His own party, Fine Gael, come up with a miserly 26 per cent. I would say that surely the people who are afraid to go to the polls are Fine Gael. Privately, we know the councillors who are absolutely delighted that they are not going to the polls this year are the Fine Gael councillors all over the country.

[1935] They know what the result of such local elections would be.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  Not true. We look forward to the local elections, whenever they come.

Acting Chairman:  Order, please.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  The other difficulty, of course, that Fine Gael councillors have — and indeed the party in general have — is with leadership. It is like sailing a rudderless ship. They have no concept of which direction they are going in at the moment. We are coming back into the old situation of opposition for opposition sake——

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  The leadership of Fine Gael is not an issue here. We are very proud of our Leader.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  How extraordinary that Fine Gael posture as the party seeking all-party approaches in the Dáil and in Seanad Éireann, and then, when the opportunity presents itself to have a meaningful input into local government reform, they spurn that opportunity. I ask Senator Naughten——

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  It has to be linked to changes in taxation——

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  How can the Senator's party realistically ask this Government to take seriously a call for an all-party approach to extradition when, as a party, they will not become involved in an all-party approach to local government reform?

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  If we get the terms of reference we seek, we will——

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  Local government reform is something that your party members have been calling for for years. I would say to the Senator that the public can see quite clearly that opportunity is now more important than a determined move to reform local government. It also [1936] indicates that the Fine Gael leadership has not got the gumption to involve itself in local government reform in case it has to take tough decisions relative to local government finance.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  Not true, and the Senator knows that.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  You want to stand apart, so that you will not have to take any of the blame when it comes to taking those tough decisions. Let me tell you here this morning that this Government are not afraid to take tough decisions. This Government realise that local government has to be reformed. This Minister is committed to having that done.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on Des Hanafin  Zoom on Des Hanafin  When can we expect a Fine Gael man to lead the Fine Gael Party?

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  There is some worry across the floor about the Fine Gael Party.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  Would it not be extraordinary to ask the Government to hold elections at this time, given the fact that there is concern about local democracy as it exists today. What will happen when the review is completed? Perhaps if there is defranchising of areas and if people are elected under this local government system we may not have a proper system, when the review has taken place. Representatives are elected for five years. Other areas may not have proper representation at the end of this review. Places like Tallaght, which has a population of 80,000, have no local government. My own town of Ballincollig in Cork has a population of 14,000. Carrigaline is another satellite town with a population of 15,000. I contrast that situation with town commissions and urban councils around the country where there are populations of 1,000 to 3,000, and they have local representation. Would it not be appropriate to consider whether towns like this should be brought within the local authority system and be [1937] given a voice in local affairs? It makes me wonder also where is the Tallaght strategy of 12 months ago? I put it to the House that the Fine Gael leadership——

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  Three years ago.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  The policy of opposition for opposition sake has returned. Senator Naughten still has an opportunity to play a meaningful role in this review. He still has an opportunity as a party member to make his submissions to this senior Government committee and group of experts who have been appointed. I would exhort him and his party to do so and not to be whimpering when decisions have, in fact, been made.

It has also been suggested that the Minister for the Environment could have initiated this programme of reform long before now. That loses sight of the situation facing the Minister for the Environment when he came into office in 1987. I need hardly remind Senator Naughten and the House about the famous home improvement scheme we had, whereby the Minister for the Environment allowed grants without any means testing. The situation that faced the Minister, Deputy Flynn, and the Minister of State, Deputy Connolly when they came in——

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  It was a great shame, you will agree.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  ——was that the previous Minister gave grants all over the place but provided no money, and left these two gentlemen with a deficit of £240 million, for which they have had to include a provision in the budget over the last three years.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  Look what we saved on building houses. We brought many houses back into repair.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  They were faced with deficits and debts. It was necessary for both Ministers to take the public finances within their jurisdiction in hand and to sort it out once and for all. I can say here proudly this morning that both of them, [1938] by making judicious decisions, have achieved that.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  By abolishing the grant scheme.

Acting Chairman:  Would the Senator desist from interrupting? The Senator made his contribution without interruption. I would ask him to give the same facility to the speaker in possession.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  The Senator said we abolished grant schemes. It is great to have grant schemes when you provide no money, but this is a responsible Government.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  We provided sites and money.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  That is why we had a deficit of £240 million when we came into Government. That one will not wear. A number of significant decisions have been taken by this Minister relative to local authority financing. The most significant has been the replacement of the loans and the subsidy system by a straightforward capital grant. That resulted in a far more streamlined financial arrangement both for the central administration and for the local authority itself. The Minister has also removed all the statutory demands and extraneous financial burdens which bedevilled the efforts of local authorities to improve their own financial control and management. A typical example of that was the termination of the financial responsibility of local authorities for the provision and maintenance of court houses. This, I am sure Senator Naughten will agree, is what all councillors of all political shades have been calling for for many years. Obviously this decision, which was taken by the Minister, is something we all welcome.

The Minister must also be congratulated on streamlining the staffing arrangements of local authorities over the last numbers of years. Consultation must surely be the order of the day. Given the reticence of the Opposition, the Minister has taken local government reform [1939] and has finally decided to go ahead with it. Surely it is not before time. The legislative procedure under which local government was established dates back to the Acts of 1840, 1854, 1978 and 1898. With the major developments that have taken place and with the major impact that local authorities have on the lives of all the people in this country, the Ministers decision is extremely important.

Given the options open to him, the Minister has set up a special Government committee. He has supplemented it with a team of experts. He has also available to him the advice of a special Oireachtas committee made up of local authority members. What is also important about the Minister's decision is that he wants no procrastination here. He has stated to that group quite clearly that he wants a report on his desk by 30 December. The Minister wants to ensure that decisions are taken at the end of February. He has given a commitment that there will be local elections in June 1991. That is a decision that has to be welcomed.

There are a number of issues that are of concern to councillors all over the country. Senator Naughten has said that the Minister has taken away the powers of local authorities. In many instances the Senator is making my case because he is saying that if certain powers have been taken away and if more powers has to be given to the local authorities, then the only way we can achieve that is through local government reform. Would it not be pointless, therefore, holding elections at this time if we did not proceed with that reform?

This postponement of the local elections and the review that is going ahead will give us an opportunity to look at the managerial function. Councillors from all sides of the political divide are complaining that they have no power and that the manager has to much power. This is an opportunity for the review committee to have a look at that situation and to revise and update it.

Section 4 is a provision that has been gaining headlines in the newspapers for many years. We should get to the root [1940] cause of this problem. Why are section 4s manifesting themselves so much at the moment? I look at county development plans and city development plans. Normally these plans are for five years. In practical terms, if you look at the various areas around the country, these plans are not implemented without a gap of sometimes even up to eight or nine years. The result is that you have a massive population explosion maybe in Dublin, Cork or Limerick. You have an outdated development plan in existence which is not in keeping with the demands that are being placed on the local economy to provide private houses and an industrial framework. This is one of the reasons section 4s are raising their heads at this time. Any review committee that is set up must look at this development plan seriously. It must put a timescale on development plans to ensure that they do not become outmoded during their term. Unless that is done this difficulty of section 4s will continue.

I would like to mention a number of points raised by Senator Naughten. He mentioned local authority housing, water and sewerage and money going into the economy. Might I again refer back to the situation that pertained when the Government came into power in 1987. At that time £8 million was expended on roads by the Coalition Government. Immediately on taking office Fianna Fáil put £15 million into roads and this year, thankfully, we now have injected £72 million into the road sector. That is a massive achievement in a short period.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  Not on the county road surface.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  Anybody looking at our road structure this year will see the major improvement, that will be brought about as a result of the extra finance being made available. Water and sewage were mentioned. I find that extraordinary because Senator Naughten must not have read the Minister's report relating to water and sewage provision over the next ten years. Might I remind the House that the Minister is making available over a ten year [1941] period many millions of pounds to update existing facilities. We have an example of that in Cork where £50 million will be provided to ensure that we get clean water from Cork Harbour. That is the commitment to the environment of the Minister for the Environment and his Minister of State. Nobody can say there was a greater commitment and a greater amount of money put together to eliminate all the problems relating to water and sewage.

Senator Naughten referred to lottery funding and the fact that the money was not given to local authorities. It is quite extraordinary that the Minister allowed the local authorities to examine all the applications for national lottery funding. The option was there for each local authority to put in order of preference——

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  It was not. Will the Senator check the order?

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  It is the old story again. The option was there for the local authority to itemise them in order to merit.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  It was not in the circular from the Department of the Environment.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  No local authority did that. The other matter mentioned was the toll road in Dublin. Senator Naughten said that a toll road was being imposed. I would like to reply to that. The situation is that plinths are being put in place. I believe the decision to put those plinths in place was a judicious one. It does not mean that there will be a toll road there but by putting in the sub-structure and the plinths if it becomes a toll road then the structure is already in place.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  The Senator's colleagues do not agree with that.

Mr. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  If one were to put in the plinths afterwards it would be an enormous expense on the public finances to dig up these structures and put them back into place.

Obviously it is appropriate that the [1942] local elections are to be postponed. I exhort Senator Naughten and his colleagues to become involved in this review, to make submissions to this review body and ensure that we get the best form of local government for the country.

Mrs. Hederman: Information on Carmencita Hederman  Zoom on Carmencita Hederman  As I said a few moments ago. I consider that this debate is one of the most important we have had in this Chamber and indeed the Dáil. I greatly welcome the prospect that there may be meaningful changes and improvements in our local government system.

I have been hearing promises since 1971. We had a Green Paper at that time brought out by the Fianna Fáil Government which threatened to wipe out half the local authorities in Ireland. When we were governed from Westminster there was a fairly tight central Government system control but since this State was founded there has been a continuous effort made to bring about further centralisation. For years I have been listening to promises to reform local government. So far I have seen nothing happen, in fact, things have gone in the opposite direction. I am glad the 1971 proposals did not come to fruition because they seemed to be going in the wrong direction.

We have heard that the decision to postpone the local elections is to bring about a meaningful reform. One speaker said this morning that 14 local government elections have been postponed. That in itself shows the sort of contempt central government have for local government and for local authorities. It appears that local government exists at the whim of the Government; it is there to serve the Government of the day as it suits them. I do not believe that we have yet understood the serious problems and implications facing this country because we do not have local democracy. I suppose I am an eternal optimist but I hope something different will happen this time. I hope the Minister of State and his Department will recognise the serious problem, the serious challenge, the country is facing.

[1943] I would like to say one point in the context of the local government elections. It is an interesting point to note — I do not have the statistics here but everybody knows that what I am saying is correct — that the turnout at local government elections is far higher than for an election for the Dáil or the European Parliament. Understandably people are interested in what goes on at local level.

I have a couple of examples I would like to give. Looking back over 20 years involved in local affairs, and 16 years on the council, two things spring to my mind. We have a cottage in Connemara and I was involved with the introduction of a rural local water scheme. The locals with their local engineer from Galway did a very satisfactory job devising and making plans for that water scheme. There were many ups and downs but a very satisfactory solution seemed to have been thrashed out. It took a long time and we were all the while without water. The scheme had to go to the Department of the Environment; more engineers came from Dublin and started dictating to the local engineers and the local people. At the end of many, many months and very few changes we finally got our water scheme. I said to myself then, what a farce we have here, what a waste of resources, what a crying shame that we have here a system where local government is considered to be inept, incompetent and officials have to come from the Department of the Environment to tell local competent engineers what to do.

We had another funny little incident in our own council Chamber which I would like to relate to the House. I do not know whether Senator Bennett was there at the time. It may have been before her time in the council. We decided to introduce a no smoking regulation in City Hall some years ago. The following month a member lit a cigarette and somebody brought it to the attention of the Lord Mayor. There was a little argument up at the top and an official said to the Lord Mayor “No”. The Lord Mayor then [1944] announced: “That cannot become law until it has been sanctioned by the Minister for the Environment”. We cannot even introduce a no smoking regulation in our own Chamber without the sanction of the Minister for Local Government.

There are many other instances. We cannot introduce speed limits in housing estates. We cannot construct road humps to control road traffic to try to protect the lives of our children and our elderly people. We were five years trying to introduce a residential parking permit scheme, where people in areas around the city of Dublin were crying out for this because it was held up in the Department of the Environment. I am not blaming the Department of the Environment. They are grossly overworked but why will they not shed some of their workload and let local people make decisions? If they make the wrong decisions well and good. Do the Department never make a wrong decision? Are the Department always right? Why should it be that they consider they have some God-given ability always to make the right decisions and local people always to make the wrong decisions?

There has been an enormous contempt by central Government for the ability of local people to regulate local affairs with their local representatives in their own best interests. There have been very serious repercussions on our whole democratic system because local democracy is where people get their first taste of democracy. That is an aspect of the whole situation of which we should be aware. There also has been a very high social cost to be paid. People have become extremely frustrated. I had the fortunate experience last year and for a little while this year of travelling around the country in connection with the promotion of the Tidy Towns Competitions. My batteries are recharged every time I go to meet another local community. It is obvious how much potential, talent, ability and creativity there is around the country and how tragic it is that it does not get the sort of outlet it deserves. We simply do not care about local issues. [1945] Central Government has more important things on its plate.

I suggest to the Minister that we should look at and learn from some of our partners in western Europe. Indeed, probably very soon, we will be learning from our partners in eastern Europe, at the rate they are going and at the extent of stagnation here. All over Europe, and eastern Europe, bureaucratic centralism is at last decaying and people wish to participate in the spirit of the age, the whole spirit of the resurgence of democracy and the determination of people to take their affairs in hand and to be responsible, not as objects but as subjects playing an active and creative part in the development of their locality.

We have a problem with Government. I do not wish to get into a party political argument as to who did this or that. The situation is far too serious for us to take any party political stance. We have here a system of government which simply no longer is capable of serving the country. We are simply badly governed. This has been shown over and over again and now it is reaching crisis proportions. Quite simply, we suffer from acute bureaucratic centralism and all its consequences which are far-ranging. A sort of arteriosclerosis has set in. The whole thing has become grossly overweight. It has got out of control. The issues which need to be dealt with are not being dealt with and are not being faced up to.

The amount which is spent by Government is simply massive. It has been said that £1 spent by a voluntary organisation requires £10 spent by a statutory body to achieve the same objective. I have no doubt that that is true. I saw, in the promotion of the Tidy Towns competition that some of the local authorities have an enlightened policy where they automatically give £200 to every Tidy Towns Committee in their county. That £200 is most profitably spent because enlightened county managers realise that that added to the commitment and the input of local communities can come to quite a considerable amount at the end.

There is congestion at the top. How has it been solved to date? At the moment we [1946] keep talking about cutbacks but cutbacks are no longer the answer. I hope the Department of the Environment and the Minister recognise that. What we need is summed up in the word “subsidiarity”. We need to change our thinking so that we give to local authorities, local groups, the ability to not only decide their own affairs but to implement those decisions. Anything which can be done at a local level should be done at a local level. The State and central Government must try to shed the load which they have, wittingly or unwittingly, taken on so that they can have the opportunity to devote themselves to the issues to which Government should be devoting themselves.

The Council of Europe published a table showing the proportion of GDP spent by 16 local authorities in the member states in 1981. The four at the top were Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Holland. The four at the bottom were Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece. Compared with our European neighbours, our local authorities have very little resources with which to run their affairs. Our problem is that we do not give our citizens the opportunity to take part in the process of government. We have here 115 elected bodies. In Denmark there are about 300; in Norway 450; and there are 750 in the Netherlands. In a small country like Austria there are 2,300 local authorities. Switzerland has 3,400 local authorities and a large country like France has 22 regions, 95 home departments, 325 sub-departments or arrondissements and 3,075 cantons and, wait for it, 36,000 communes. They elect something like half a million councillors. Yet, all we seem to be thinking about all the time if cutting back, cutting down on the number of local representatives. In Denmark two-thirds of the whole business of government is local government. What a change from the situation here.

The next problem we have is the functions which our local authorities are able to perform. They are tied down by bureaucratic rules and are generally, as I said already, treated with contempt by bureaucrats. I find most distasteful, as a member of the Dublin City Council for 16 [1947] years, the attitude of central Government and officials. I am not blaming individuals. They are caught up in the situation. They are caught up in these structures that have been foisted on them in the very same way.

There is no reason to imagine that they like it any more than we do. There is a lack of forward planning, the lack of opportunity to know what sort of funding is coming to us, the lack of response to letters, the dismissal of issues which are extremely important to us. They may be unimportant to Departments who have, understandingly, so many things on their plate but these are the issues which are important to us as the representatives of the people and in my case, the representatives of the people of Dublin, the capital city.

I would like to mention briefly the extraordinary situation we have in the country, the disparity between different parts of the country in relation to the ratio of elected members and the population. In Dublin City there is a population of 10,500 for each councillor elected while in County Leitrim, the ratio is one councillor to 1,250 people. When I stood for my first election to the city council in 1974, I had 63,000 people on my register. It was the largest electorate for a local or a national election.

The situation is quite ludicrous. In Dublin City, we have one councillor for every 10,500 people and we see the vast problems there are in Dublin. It does not make sense. Of course, this could not pertain at national level, this could not pertain for the Dáil elections. Equality there is mandatory and the courts can intervene as they did some years ago. No such restraint exists in relation to local elections. The voting ratios are fixed by ministerial order and gross inequity results. Is anyone seriously concerned about equity or inequality in this country? This is a problem which I hope the Minister will address when he is looking at all these issues.

The most important issue is that we face up to the involvement of communities in local Government structures. [1948] Quite simply put, it is the whole question of giving power to people and of moving away from our intensely centralised, intensely bureaucratised, system to a much more democratic one. I do not believe we can attempt to run the sort of would-be modern society we are talking about with the out-dated structures we have at the moment. We must be prepared to let go of these structures. Otherwise we will be like the nurse holding the little child and not being prepared to let the child take its first faltering footsteps even if it makes mistakes and falls. If this is our attitude to local government we will never make any progress.

Of course, local councils will make mistakes but they must be given the ability, they must be given guidance, encouragement and help, but they must be allowed, in the final analysis, to make their own decisions. We must have councils who can govern. They must be given full powers to deal with important issues, all the local issues, which are their remit

I hope the Government realise it is fairly well accepted that centralised national bureaucracies are utterly unsuited to the management of community services. Some services, admittedly, have to be organised along functional lines, but if we want to deliver services in a sensitive way, to individuals, to families and communities, if we want to do this not only efficiently but in a flexible and humane way, they must be organised on the basis of territory and not only of function. Many have been brave enough to make a lot of noise about the whole matter of the reform of local authorities but I wonder if, in a year from now, if we will see anything meaningful. Will there be any sort of devolution or will it be like the one exciting case we had recently where county councils had devolved to them the exceptional power of being allowed to license dogs?

It will take a strong Government, a determined Government, to break the grip of the bureaucrats in Dublin on these detailed tasks. The Minister and his colleagues in Government should look forward to such a change because it will mean that the Minister, with his talents [1949] and abilities, will be able to undertake the important strategic planning which is so vitally needed in this country instead of being overwhelmed with the day to day minutiae which can perfectly well be dealt with at local level. He would be released to do the genuinely important work which is crying out to be done. I do not think anybody can deny that.

However, I see some light at the end of the tunnel. I believe that there are thinking people in this country who have identified the problems. In the book, Ireland Towards a Sense of Place which formed the basis for a series of lectures in UCC done in conjunction with RTE and edited by Joseph Lee, there is a number of articles by Professor Rigley, Professor Lee and others in which are set out in unambiguous terms the problems facing us on both the economic front and the social front if change does not take place. I really believe there is a lot of discontent with the quality of Government. That is not meant in any personal way. The structures need to be changed.

We have, at county level, identifiable authorities and units. We must look at the range of functions and powers that can be given to them so that they can participate, creatively, in government and provide what is needed for their area. They are the best people to identify those needs. When we come to the regional situation, the muddle seems to be beyond belief. It is impossible to have any idea what the regional divide of the country is. It is constantly changing. We do not know how many regional divides we have or what sort of tasks are appropriate to a region. We have one regional development authority. All the others were abolished. We still have the Shannon Development Authority. They do an extremely creative job. They cover, I understand, only 10 per cent of the country but they have created in the last number of years, 25 per cent of the new jobs. I am aware that the creation of new jobs is one of the Minister's priorities. This is an area we should look at.

We have no concept of regionalisation. The saying “A Europe of the regions” simply means nothing to us. Regional [1950] planning will have to become part of our whole set up. It pulls together all the elements in an area, the central Government's contribution, local government, local communities, the private sector, voluntary bodies etc. They all come together in the region and there is a cross-fertilisation of ideas and a general encouragement, an inspiration to everybody which can only be good.

People like myself, who have been interested in debates and seminars on the Structural Funds, are very much aware of the tension between Ireland and the European Commission with regard to the whole question of regionalisation. We are very happy to take up all the funds that we can possibly get but we do not want to have anything to do with regionalism. This is an attitude the Commission will insist on us changing in the not too distant future.

The question of finance is something which I will not go into in detail but I would like just to touch on it briefly. I suppose in many ways it has been the worst aspect and most scandalously handled of all the depressing things about our Irish local government system. Fine Gael are correct when they say that we cannot look at the financing of local authorities in isolation from the question of overall financing and overall taxation because the two are inextricably bound together. Here again, we must look at the basic argument as to why local government exists. It must be for the democratic defusion of responsibility throughout society and to raise the general level of responsibility. What, of course, has been done in relation to local taxation is precisely the opposite. Local authorities must pay for at least part of what they do. That is a basic requirement. It is the very essence of what local government is all about. If local authorities make decisions they must be involved in the cost.

There is a whole range of ways in which finance can be raised and we should not see it as a case of local authorities having to sit with their begging bowls wondering how much they will get each year at the pleasure of Government. It [1951] has to be put on a sound financial basis. There are endless ways of raising money to finance local authorities and we should look at those in a new and unblinkered fashion. It all depends on our concept of local government, the whole idea of encouraging responsibility among citizens and, indeed, among councillors and local representatives.

The position of councillors who live in the more peripheral parts of the country is more frustrating than for those living in Dublin. We should be looking at how we can make the job of a local councillor more meaningful and more rewarding, and how can we help councillors assist constituents and how we can attract the best people into the local authorities. On my visits around the country and when talking to people about the Tidy Towns Competition, I found that people are prepared to make a commitment. They should not be pushed aside, or kept on the fringe, and politicians should not be fearful of them. They should be brought into the system so that they can make their contribution. We should be helping local councillors to provide leadership in their areas and to create a general climate where those people will be encouraged to make their contribution. Fundamentally, this is all about trying to bring people into government instead of the present system which seems to be concerned with keeping them out.

The role of local authorities in economic development has been disastrously overlooked. Unless we bring about reformed thinking — I do not want to get hung up on details — or adopt a new approach, we will not achieve the sort of economic development which is so vitally necessary. We simply need to challenge the public spirit of local communities. I would go as far as to say we are asking local communities and local authorities to behave in a statesmanlike way at a local level, because the issues are fundamentally important for their areas. It is interesting to see the extent to which local development associations are active, trying to fill the vacuum. As I said before, some local authorities welcome [1952] them, others do not, with disastrous consequences. There are exciting times ahead of us. Profound changes will result from the Single Market and from the dramatic changes in Eastern Europe.

There are very serious ecological problems which concern me and which will not be solved by wielding the big stick. The solutions to those problems must be found locally. We need an infinite number of local solutions if we are to cope with the serious issues of the environment and ecology. “Think globally, act locally”, that is what we need to do, particularly in regard to the environment.

We also face the serious problem of a falling population of young people and, therefore, an increased number of elderly people. This will put dramatic extra pressures on the public service and on the whole area of health. I will not go into the area of local involvement in health. We all know the problem in regard to that. We have huge economic, ecological and cultural problems. Solutions to those problems will only be found if people have effective political power, if local government is strong and can offer a range of solutions and if it has the freedom and financial responsibility to come up with the solutions. The one who decides is the one who must pay.

Recently we have seen the arrival of the Structural Funds. There has been very limited — I said this before but I have great pleasure in repeating it — involvement by local authorities in the drawing up of plans for the Structural Funds. Their involvement has been abysmal, in my view. That is very apparent. If one keeps in touch and attends local conferences, as I do — I am now wearing my hat as a local councillor — one finds all round the country that our colleagues are frustrated, angered and annoyed by the lack of consultation. I do not believe that throwing money at problems will solve them. The £2.7 billion, or whatever we are getting, if used judiciously and in conjunction with local energy, could work wonders. I have great faith in this country and in its ability not only to survive but to thrive and prosper, but that will not be done by throwing money at [1953] problems and hoping that everything will turn out all right. We need that interface between the statutory and the voluntary if it is to survive. I am hopeful that we will be assisted by the European Community because they clearly — I have heard people from the Commission speak on this at seminars — want regionalisation. I hope, indeed, that the Minister's colleague, Commissioner MacSharry, during his term as a Commissioner, will understand the extent to which regionalisation can be important. Other bodies, such as Macra na Feirme, are in the same position. They are crying out for involvement. They believe that the wrong decisions are being taken with regard to a whole range of matters but they feel they are not being brought in or being consulted.

Earlier, I mentioned Professor Lee's contribution. We should be aware of the facts as put forward by dispassionate commentators. He said that: “We cannot avoid the conclusion that we have incomparably the worst record since 1921 of any economy in northern Europe, except the British”. I should like to repeat that because it is one thing I would like the Minister to hear. Perhaps it is painful to listen to, perhaps he does not want to hear it. I suppose we listen only to the things we want to hear. Now, if I may, I will repeat it: We cannot avoid the conclusion that we have incomparably the worst record since 1921 of any economy in northern Europe, except the British.

The economies of Ireland and Britain have been the two economic laggards in the whole of Europe and it is interesting to note that they are the ones who have this very centralised system of Government. We will continue to fail, we will not thrive as a State, unless we address these fundamental problems. I have great faith in the Minister's commitment and ability to approach problems with a fresh mind. I was most impressed on the occasion of the Derelict Sites Bill which, after this motion, is of most interest to me, when the Minister gave unstintingly of his time and his interest. I hope the Minister, his Department and the [1954] Government will grasp this nettle because if they do not grasp it, and grasp it soon, I am afraid a sad situation is facing the country. There is also a need for local authorities, and for the many organisations that represent them — I suppose they are in despair having tried so often — to get involved, and to look for the powers they need. They should not be discussing irrelevant details but get down to the fundamental core of what we are talking about. I call on the people to demand the sort of involvement which they are entitled to expect in governing themselves, because we do live in a democracy. In this way we will give back to the people some of the self-esteem, self-confidence and self-reliance which they need and which is vital if they are to confront this problem which is largely bureaucratic and stems from officialdom.

I will end with a quotation from Al Smith which sums it all up. He said that all the ills of democracy can be solved by more democracy. Sadly, in this country we have seen the ills of democracy and we have taken the other route. We have tried to solve them by having less democracy. I hope that will be the Minister's fundamental thinking in the revision of local government, that we will solve the ills of our democracy if we introduce more democracy.

Mr. Cosgrave: Information on Liam T. Cosgrave  Zoom on Liam T. Cosgrave  On a point of order, as there are only three hours for debate left, may we appeal to Members to keep their contributions to a certain length of time. Obviously there is no regulation but there are many people offering.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Farrell):  Perhaps we could confine speakers to ten or 15 minutes?

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  I will certainly take on board what the two previous speakers have said and I will try and be as brief as I can.

From the Progressive Democrats' point of view, this matter has been the essential driving force for the last number of years. Indeed, the reform of many of our institutions has been to the forefront [1955] of what we have been trying to do. We are facing here today, and in the ongoing process of reform, the question of where local government is to go in future. I have always had a great interest in local government as my father and grandfather were involved in it. It could be said that the atmosphere of local government prevailed in the home and I found it a matter of great interest from a very young age.

In the area of local government it would be wrong to criticise those who are doing a job at county council, corporation, town commissioners' or urban district council level. Those people have given incredible service over the years but the conditions in which they have been trying to work have meant they were not in a position to implement the ideal solutions they would have wanted at local level. Local government is an evolving process. It is not something that can be set in tablets of stone to do us for the next 20, 50 or 100 years. In the world today all processes of business, industry, economics, tourism and so on are evolving at an ever-faster pace. During the last decade that has been brought home, particularly at local government level because it has not been able to maintain the status quo over the last ten years. It has simply floundered and failed to function.

Previous speakers mentioned of local government involvement in other European countries and how the emphasis has changed in those countries. The trend is to give more control, influence, and ultimately more responsibility, to people at local and community level to determine for themselves the type of community in which they want to live, where they want to see funding priorities allocated, developments in environmental, economic, health and education areas and to have some control over determining their own priorities. All this has been steadfastly removed from local government over the years and has become part of centralised bureaucracy.

I was not happy to see the local elections postponed this year. Because the process of reform is of such fundamental [1956] importance and because of the complexity of the type of reform we are seeking, it will be difficult to deliver all that in 12 months. However, now that the process has begun I support it fully and I am anxious to see what will come out of the deliberations of the Cabinet subcommittee and the expertise that will be brought in to assist them.

The message I would give to the Minister, and to those involved in that process is to wipe the slate clean and not come up with an answer just for today or tomorrow but to come up with a forward-looking system of local government that has, as its core, flexibility from a local point of view and from the Government's perspective, on the reins they want to keep on local authorities. Those new structures must be capable of moving forward with changes, must note changes that are occurring elsewhere and be ready to implement them. They should also be prepared to introduce their own changes. Let us bring about new structures of local government that will be suited to conditions at the end of the decade and into the next century. There must be flexibility to create the vision necessary at local government level to allow for the necessary structures that are to be put in place. I worry when I use the word “structures” because they can be very limiting and I do not want to see structures implemented in that light. They should be broad in their definition and in how they can be interpreted by local authorities so that they, in their vision of their own local areas, will have the encouragement and desire to move forward.

I have a tremendous belief in the continuing and growing influence of Europe, on Ireland, or whatever country one cares to mention in Europe today. My view is that it is essential that local authorities in whatever new structures evolve should have a direct connection with Europe. I cannot see why we have to maintain this centralised approach through the Department of Finance, or the Department of the Environment, when local authorities are trying to get things done with European funding. It is totally and [1957] utterly wrong that that structure is in existence. Our European counterparts are giving us that same message.

I have no doubt that the European Parliament will become a much stronger and more influential body in the years ahead and it is important that we allow local communities flexibility within reason. I do not mean every small town or village should have direct access to Europe, but a region like the south-east or the south-west or the midlands should have access to what is happening at European level. Otherwise, those areas and the country will suffer. We will not reap the full benefits that are available to us from Europe. I am not talking about funding, about the hand out mentality or the begging-bowl mentality. I should like to give one example that brought this forcibly home to me lately. I met a man from the European Patents Office and he told me that this year that office needed to employ 300 new graduates, not alone that but they were specifically required from an English speaking country within Europe, and there are only two, Great Britain and Ireland. He told me that because Ireland was not a signatory to the European Patent Convention none of those jobs could be made available to us. I thought that was a staggering indictment of a convention that was signed years ago. During the last Dáil questions were raised by me, and others, as to why there was a hold up in this area. I make the point to illustrate opportunities that exist for graduates and that are there in areas of job creation if we can move forward, adopt structures and give access to people to these opportunities to become part and parcel of our daily lives.

It is interesting to look around the Chamber and see some very youthful faces in the Visitors' Gallery. One can pose the questions: What is their future? What do they want out of this country when they take on the role of leaders of society? Surely this must begin at local level, at community level, where they can see within the context of their own community the needs of their own people; and they will have the opportunity to do something directly about it, [1958] not to be hamstrung or looking to big brother in Dublin or wherever. The more we can give our people the opportunity to enhance their own area the better. The talent is out there. The talent of the young people is phenomenal. While I deeply regret emigration, the vast majority of those people are sought by industry throughout the world for their ability, honesty, integrity and for what they can deliver. Why not foster that in our schools and in our local institutions so that we can develop this. It is not until many of our people leave that they suddenly realise that they are not hamstrung by old myths, that they do not have to wait for somebody else to do something for them. They suddenly realise it is up to themselves. The strange thing is they realise that they have the ability to do almost anything if given the right encouragement.

I see local government, and the development of local communities, very much in this light. If that flexibility and vision were allowed we would attract into local government — I do not mean to say better quality people than before because I have the highest regard for all those who have been members of local authorities — people with better qualifications in specific areas because the demands of local government will require more specialised expertise by the people who will be involved in local authorities. This has to be encouraged. People will not be encouraged into a system of local government if they feel their expertise will be hamstrung at every opportunity.

I would also like to refer to the issue of funding. In my view, we cannot talk about local government unless it has control over its own funding. I am sick and tired of every party running from that issue over the years. We can call it property tax, local government charges or what we like — if somebody comes up with a fancy name I do not mind, I will run with it — but local authorities must be allowed raise funds for their own uses. One can put whatever label one likes on this, but local government will not develop if it is totally tied to central funding. That is my view and my message, [1959] and I want to see it looked at in great detail. The future of local government will be meaningless if local authorities do not have the power to raise their own funding and decide for themselves what they and their communities want to do with that funding. Among the electorate, the mood and the atmosphere exists for these changes. We have taken a tremendous leap forward in the last two to three years changing people's ideas and views on how things should be approached. Now is the time for courage, coupled with reason in these areas, to take that leap forward, to take the time to explain to an electorate that is ready for change and wants to see development. I believe they will run with these very fundamental changes if they see the opportunities.

For instance, should the mayor in local areas be elected directly by the people? I pose that question because I do not think the one year in office in such an important position is sufficient any longer. You cannot simply take office in June and be expected by June 12 months to have implemented all you wanted to do. We should consider whether that term should be for two or three years and whether the mayor should be directly elected by the people to give a fresh focus every three or four years to what the local authority should be doing. There is an opportunity there. We can learn from other countries and we should look at this.

Is it possible that the committee in considering local government reform will touch on the many different groups that exist at local level? I am talking about education, health, tourism, and industry. They could consider what relationship should exist between those groups at local level and how the knowledge and expertise that is there can be brought together. In planning their own separate entities, at times they go in different directions, not because it is meant to happen but because there is no forum for them to come together to look at what may or may not be of benefit to all of them collectively. Will the committee look at this and try to think ahead? I know my [1960] time has been cut but I wish the committee well. I look forward to see their report. My party are playing an active role in this process and I am confident that at the end of this process at long last we will see fundamental changes in local government that will give hope, opportunity and great encouragement to our young people to see a role for themselves in their own communities.

Acting Chairman:  I want to thank the Senator for keeping his speech to 15 minutes. Other Senators did not stay within the time limit. It would be great if all Senators could confine their remarks to 15 minutes. That is only a request.

Mrs. Jackman: Information on Mary Jackman  Zoom on Mary Jackman  If the Chair wishes at the end of 15 minutes, or even less, he can stop me because I will not be facing the clock. First, like other Members of Fine Gael, I am not happy with the postponement of the local elections. Looking back over the records one can see that we had 16 postponements since 1919 which is a sad reflection on upholding the rights of the citizens of Ireland to elect their public representatives at a local level. I am not very confident about the reform package which will be developed between now and next June, although I am inclined to think it will be June 1992, the magic year when so many things are meant to happen — we may be out on the streets, on the byways, bohereens and pothole-ridden roads looking for votes in 1992 rather than in 1991. Hopefully, we will not have to wait that long.

There can be absolutely no reform without financial implications and without the resources to implement reform. Reform hinges on fiscal reform; it is down to the power of the purse. It is interesting to go back to the 1985 local election programme of Fianna Fáil and consider the following policy statement:

It is the aim that local authorities should have opportunities of raising a reasonable proportion of the resources required to meet local needs from local sources. This is essential if they are to measure up to the role implied for them [1961] in the Government's reform programme.

I would like to know how much of that will be implemented. Will it be brought forward again? Will it be put in the context of local charges? Will it be put in the context of property tax? Will it be put in the context of more and more power to central Government in relation to block grants? That is the question I would be asking.

To be honest, as a member of Limerick County Council since 1985, there is no such thing as local government in Ireland with the trappings of local democracy. All decisions are made by central Government. I would like to quote a very eminent man, who I am glad is on the committee for reform, and that is Tom Barrington. His statement about democracy makes it quite clear that within western European we have the most centralised system: we have among the fewest local authorities, the least duties and the smallest degree of discretion in dealing with them. We cannot disregard that comment. As I said, I am glad he is on the committee and I hope he will bring sense to it in relation to the financial implications of funding.

The second point I would like to make is that what we have is not local government but a very elaborate system of local administration. We have 115 local authorities with little or no discretion in deciding how the bulk of the budget is spent. For instance — examples have been given already today — no council can decide to reduce the speed limits, even on roads within a suburban housing estate, except with the approval of the Minister for the Environment; and in the time it take to get that you have more and more accidents in the interim.

Central Government decides what houses are to be built. Houses are not just an economic situation; houses are very much a social aspect. I would consider that the members of Limerick County Council are far more aware of the housing needs in their council area than is any bureaucratic establishment in central Government.

Roads to be constructed will be [1962] decided — and I have yet to know what exactly is the function of the National Roads Authority. I would like clarification on that at some stage by the Minister. There is an authority with no statutory power. It was set up with great aplomb with its chairman and members. I really do not know who is responsible for what as regards the road situation in this country. All I know is that there are 1,812 miles of county roads in County Limerick which is a legacy from colonial times. All I know is that we have irate residents right through the county absolutely screaming for councillors' lives at this stage and thinking we have this magic purse or crock of gold that can actually do something about those roads. I know in my heart and soul that nothing can be done for the 1,812 miles of county roads in Limerick. Certainly the moneys are not coming through. Those people are going to just have to see themselves as being rejected by Government in the sense that they pay their taxes and they are not getting a service. That cannot be blamed on county councillors, but unfortunately it is.

It is interesting that with the drawing up of the National Development Plan, which was an ideal time to actually push for a closer relationship between central and local government, the consultative process there was totally theoretical. We were supposed to have the principle of subsidiarity implemented, with a partnership between the local and the regional. But what we found was an abolition of the nine regional development organisations, which were forums for discussion — they might not have had much power but at least you had regional development discussed — and then the development of seven new magic subregions, the mid-west being one of them, and it was used as a model for the others. I can understand why because of the local structures they have there within SFADCo., which Senator Hederman referred to as being quite to the fore in job creation. I would compliment them on that. We were lucky in the mid-west that we had SFADCo. At the end of the day we had an advisory group drawn from [1963] social partners. You had farming organisations and unions but you had little or no input from local government, which Fianna Fáil councillors fought tooth and nail for at many council meetings, permanently putting forward motions to central Government, to their own party, asking all the time that there be greater representation from councillors not from this sop, which the advisory group was, but from the central one where all the action was. You had your county manager there, but where had you your county chairman or chairwomen, as the case might be? You had him or her sitting on the outside in the so-called democratic peripheral area with little or no input.

This was a marvellous opportunity for greater regional input into policy development and I am inclined to think that a reason for the actual postponement of the local elections was because the European Commission discreetly, and perhaps not discreetly, was putting tremendous pressure on central Government in Ireland to do something about regional structures to administer the funds we should get for the peripheral regions, to implement what President Delors said in his presidential time — and he is a first rate “politician”. He talked about maintaining the fabric of rural Ireland. He knew in his heart and soul that it sounded fine but in fact that statement was absolutely theoretical rather than practical. The moneys, which I am waiting with interest for and which will come hopefully to the mid-west region from the Structural Fund, will, I hope, do something to retain the social fabric of the peripheral county of Limerick.

Limerick Corporation obviously look after the city. My responsibility is the county area. There are great disparities there and great unemployment in the areas. I find it very hard to see how the moneys from the funds can do anything to actually meet with President Delors' statement in relation to retaining the fabric of rural Ireland. The moneys come from Brussels, but I do not think the people in Brussels are very happy with our interpretation of subsidiarity or our [1964] interpretation of regional input. At the end of the day, when we actually looked at the National Development Plan, what was incorporated there was what the Department of Finance and the Government wanted and not necessarily what the people of the regions wanted.

There is one other point I feel very strongly about as regards any reform. I have not heard anybody speaking very much about it. It is the lack of integration in regions. I particularly take the mid-west again. It is only through constant questioning and demands at this stage from Limerick County Council that we have an integration with Shannon Development at our request to achieve integration between the local authority, which provides services for industries coming into the area, and the job creation agency, which is there to link in with us.

That is up and running over quite a number of months and working exceptionally well. I cannot say the same for the IDA, who in our local newspapers will actually announce the creation of jobs through industry in an area and will never even think of telling the local authority in question, with the local authority having had a major input as regards water, sewerage and various other infrastructural needs of the IDA. I think the higher echelons of the IDA do that because they do not consider that the local authorities are even worth consulting. I feel very strongly on that. Even at a local level the lack of integration is appalling. The lack of integration is there because we are the poor relations. We are not even considered as being a statutory body. We are just councillors who come in and out, listen to abuse, get scandalous coverage in local newspapers, because the local reporters do not understand the complexity of an agenda of perhaps 35 motions which have never been explained to them.

This brings me to another point as regards reform. I know the Minister is watching the clock on my behalf. I do not know what time I have left?

Acting Chairman:  There is no official time.

[1965]Mrs. Jackman: Information on Mary Jackman  Zoom on Mary Jackman  Do not encourage me; I might run into 30 minutes. The point about the public relations officer is that that post should be funded and acknowledged as a necessary post for local government in order to get across to the general public that there is goodwill by councillors and officials to actually work towards the betterment of the people in a local authority area. There is considerable debate as to whether that post would be information or public relations. At this stage really we are a Mickey Mouse operation if we do not have a public relations officer. The health boards have taken the initiative and appointed them as have multinationals, small companies and schools. I was a public relations officer myself at one stage with a post of responsibility to promote the school, otherwise we would not get students in. Why are we lagging behind again at what I would consider in an exceptionally important post, the post of a public relations officer to give a good image to the electorate of what we are about? I would love to give a few statistics here. They are quite frightening

I am not in agreement with Senator Hederman as regards the comments in relation to the intense enthusiasm with which the local people go to the polls for local elections. In actual fact reading out the 1985 figures, which are interesting, firstly 20 June was the date, 3,000 candidates stood for 1,633 seats. It will be very interesting to note whether we will have more or fewer in 1991. As an aside, I find it not surprising but sad — I know Senator Honan will agree with me — that the record of women seeking re-election to local authorities is absolutely appalling. I heard this from Tom Barrington himself. Women have a lot to do with their lives and they certainly do not particularly want to be running in and out to obscure fora where there is little or no power. They find that they will not go forward for re-election because the level of frustration is such that they suffer from stress and remove themselves and put their energies in other more interesting and inspiring occupations. That is a sad reflection on this matter. I intend going [1966] for election again, but I would have to examine for what sort of local authority I be seeking to be elected to in 1991.

Mrs. Honan: Information on Tras Honan  Zoom on Tras Honan  We will have all the changes made by then, so you will be fine.

Mrs. Jackman: Information on Mary Jackman  Zoom on Mary Jackman  We shall see. I will believe that when I see the money coming. Money is power and power is money. We must look for a complete restructuring of the taxation system, and I will come to that in a moment. I know Senator Honan would be very interested in seeing the financial aspect of it because that is where the power is, no matter what we do.

To go back to the point I was making, voter turnout was actually 57 per cent, which is exceptionally low. I do not know where Senator Hederman had this magic figure of everybody screaming to vote in their local councillors. They certainly are not, because they see that we are absolutely functionless and that we are absolutely daft to even consider going for election. There is a tremendous sense of sympathy for local councillors because we are considered as the martyrs of the political system. We are questioned as to whether we are even right in the head to take such abuse and to continually go in and out to council meetings, rubber-stamping decisions that are made otherwise.

Could I draw attention to finance? This will sharpen the minds of the Fianna Fáil Senators. Revenue expenditure of local authorities for 1988 was £1,272 million. Now, the receipts. Where did that money come from? One hundred and ninety three million pounds came from rates, and I stress that. Quite honestly, if we did not have Aughinish Alumina in County Limerick we could pack our bags and go because they contribute over £1 million to us on an annual basis without a demand notice having to be sent to them. It is interesting that the company do that. There are various others on the periphery of the city. With our Plassey Technological Park and the 22 new Japanese firms that hopefully will come in perhaps [1967] there will be light at the end of the tunnel. Certainly, it is not going to be coming from ourselves; it is going to be coming from outside multinationals. They are actually keeping Limerick County Council going. That is an extraordinary juxtaposition of local authorities being funded by multinationals. What are we doing about the funding?

We got £193 million from rates and £756 million from State grants. Now where is the power? Seven hundred and fifty six million pounds from State grants and £328 million from other sources. Whether we like it or not the financial facts are staring us in the face: it is the Minister's Department of the Environment that has the power and the money and that will continue to have the power and the money because it is the vested interest of central Government to keep the power with the TDs. The county councillors are just there as the poor relations. The mini-revolt staged by Fianna Fáil county councillors was specifically to say to you “Please, we are there”. I will give you the number so you can see the power of the councillors — I am amazed that they have not staged a major revolt — 440 Fianna Fáil councillors. They should descend on central Government with what I would consider a pacifist approach. I do not expect them to take up the pickaxes from the roads of rural Ireland. I would be into a pacifist solution. They should descend on central Government and say to the Fianna Fáil Government: “Listen, we are there. We want power. We want the money to implement.” They actually had to get their groups initiated in your own constituency, Senator Honan, aided and abetted I am sure, by you.

Mrs. Honan: Information on Tras Honan  Zoom on Tras Honan  Absolutely, and no apologies to anyone.

Mrs. Jackman: Information on Mary Jackman  Zoom on Mary Jackman  I am delighted to see it. I am only complimenting you.

Acting Chairman:  The Senator should address the Chair. She is speaking a very long time.

[1968]Mrs. Jackman: Information on Mary Jackman  Zoom on Mary Jackman  I asked you specifically, Sir, to stop me after 20 minutes.

Acting Chairman:  No, I am not stopping you; I am only trying to stop the cross chat.

Mrs. Jackman: Information on Mary Jackman  Zoom on Mary Jackman  All I am saying is that the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrat Government should not ignore the needs of their county councillors. I know we all got increases in local government but I can honestly say that that was to pacify the Fianna Fáil revolters. That is really the message. Unless local reform is absolutely practical and not financed from central Government, you can forget about major reforms and about appeasing demented councillors from all sides but particularly from the Government side. How much time have I left?

Acting Chairman:  There is no time limit. We requested that you might keep to 15 minutes; you have been speaking for 20 minutes, but we cannot stop you.

Mrs. Jackman: Information on Mary Jackman  Zoom on Mary Jackman  I will finish very briefly by giving a rundown on the Danish system, where their basic idea of local government is the concept of community which we have never addressed here. We absolutely ignore the fact that we have vibrant communities that wish to have an input into local government. They talk about self-government in Denmark, representative democracy and unitary authorities. Those words are not in the vocabulary of local government reform. They talk about the distribution of functions and responsibilities. The word “distribution” is important. They talk in this context about central Government, county authority, principal authority and they have high on their agenda finance and resources. I have not got time to go into how they finance their local authorities but they certainly have moneys locally.

So what am I suggesting as regards local reform, as regards the financial aspect? I stated already that real fiscal reform is the power of the purse. There are several examples of decisions that [1969] cannot be made by county councils which make a laugh of local authority. The reality is: no money, no authority. Could we have a system devised — I am not being negative all the time; I am suggesting the financial aspect of it — where every taxpayer in County Limerick, for example, would have a proportion of his or her income tax diverted automatically to Limerick County Council? Could we have a system where a person paying a locally levied tax would get a credit or refund on PAYE? Could we have greater use of charges for services, with central Government to refund for exemptions, which would be the old aged pensioners, obviously, and waiver systems? Again, could central Government pay for a certain amount per head of population in a county with an index built in to actually compensate sparsely populated counties for the added cost of providing facilities over wider areas? There is lots that could have been taken on board by the Government in relation to financing. I do not know why the Government ran away from the whole financial aspect. It is not an extraordinary thing at all to review the income tax system right through the country as a whole with direct taxation. Sales tax will not work; our population would not support it. Poll tax — we will not go that way.

The last point, which I forgot to mention, is in relation to joint ventures. We seem to have some traumatic reaction to local authorities joint venturing with the commercial world. We live in the real world with joint ventures all over the place and local authorities do not have the stomach to actually involve themselves — by and large, you will have the odd one.

All I can say, in conclusion, is that I am very saddened that I am not here today talking on an all party committee in relation to this subject. The reason is that, unless finance is at the top of the agenda, you can forget it. I know we will be coming back again to reform with finance very high on the agenda.

Mr. Foley: Information on Denis Foley  Zoom on Denis Foley  I welcome the postponement of the local elections. At this [1970] point I would like to congratulate the Minister of State on his excellent statement yesterday. He set out very clearly the reason for the postponement. If I may quote:

The reason for the postponement is a very straightforward one. It is to enable a full and urgent review of the local government system to be carried out in order that a proper review could be finalised and changes put in place. It was essential to take this step of postponing the elections due this June. It is the firm intention of the Government to see to it that the essential changes will be in place in time for the holding of the local elections in June 1991.

Senator Jackman said she is sorry she is not speaking today on an all party basis. That is the fault of her party because every opportunity was given to Fine Gael to take part in this reform of local government.

Mrs. Jackman: Information on Mary Jackman  Zoom on Mary Jackman  Not exactly. I have to ask, through the Chair, to complete the quotation. I said it was impossible——

Acting Chairman:  I cannot allow cross-fire between speeches.

Mr. Foley: Information on Denis Foley  Zoom on Denis Foley  Over the past few weeks I had the pleasure of attending the LAMA Conference and also the Annual Conference of the General Council of County Councils. At both functions I met a large cross section of councillors of different party affiliations and they were all agreed that major reform of local government should take place before the local elections were held. I am satisfied that the decision of the Government to defer the local elections pending the reform of local government will be widely accepted by all with a deep interest in the future of local government. Many of us involved in local government realise that the future depends on major reform. Many local authorities throughout the country are starved of funding and in the proposed reform finance must be the top priority. Here again I think Senator Jackman is [1971] very lucky to be coming from a county such as Limerick where from one multinational alone the county council can get in excess of £1 million. Contrast that with the situation in Kerry where fewer than 12 per cent of the people are contributing to rates, and we would get less than half Limerick get from one major multinational.

For many years the power of local government had been eroded. This, in turn, has led to lack of respect for the institution of local government which, may I add, at this time is at an all time low. We can see there is a lack of trust and confidence in local government. There is a need for change — changes that will be seen to work and that will produce a better and more efficient system of local government. It will have to be seen to respond to the people and to the needs of the people of each local authority area. The local authorities have as their function the job of providing the services on which people depend most — services such as housing, water, sanitation and fire protection. The local authorities are responsible for matters which have a great bearing on the quality of life of the people — the environment, local amenities planning and development. Local authorities play a major role in economic development through the provision of roads, water supplies and all the other essential items of infrastructure. Local authorities are indeed an important sector of the economy by virtue of the significant volume of public expenditure for which they are responsible.

Many efforts have been made by previous Governments to reform local government but they have never materialised for various reasons. It is accepted that local authorities are an integral part of the system of representative government. Through their work programmes and the services and employment which they provide, they play a major part in the social and economic life of the State. The Government are determined that the local reforms to which they are committed will ensure that local authorities [1972] are enabled to fulfil that role to best effect.

Local government does not possess special powers of self-government since all power comes from the State. Local authorities may exercise only those powers expressly granted by central Government. At the same time local government is something more than mere local administration. The element of local representation is a vitally important element of democracy. Local authorities as we know them should (1) operate within a defined geographical area; (2) be elected; and (3) have powers of discretion, especially to raise taxes, and also decide on the level of service being provided. Local authorities should be (a) responsive to local needs; (b) accessible and viable; (c) effective, efficient and economic, (d) an instrument for development and change; (e) a force in fostering community identity and awareness; (f) acceptable by the public; (g) the representative body of the local community, and be seen to work in that light; and (h) large enough and with sufficient resources to carry out the tasks allocated to it. Central Government ideally should determine the framework, both legal and administrative for local authorities but should not be over-concerned with local issues.

I should like to make some points for the Minister's consideration in his proposals for reforming local government. First, the major reason for change should be the continued development of local government; second, proposals for change should deal with needs of the future as well as the problems we have at present; and third, change must seek to solve defined problems. Reform must take into account the question of expenses and subsistance for local councillors. We have now reached the stage where we could very easily not get the right type of person to stand at future local authority elections because it has become most expensive to be a member of a local authority. Here I want to support Senator Jackman, because it must [1973] be a big priority in the reform that subsistence and expenses must be substantially increased, otherwise, there could be two different types of council. One could consist of very wealthy individuals and we could have a bar on ordinary people being in a position to seek re-election or election, as the case may be.

Very often there is no right solution. Therefore we must compromise between different demands and methods and try to pick the most appropriate solution. As human society develops it is only natural to expect that local authorities will also need to change, to adapt to the changing needs of society. Most countries in western Europe have had reviews of local government in recent years. Pressures for change are caused by perceived shortcomings in present structures, law procedure and finance. There is no doubt that finance is going to pay a major part in the reform because, as already pointed out by Senator Jackman — and I support her — channels of funding must be seen to come by way of local authorities. I would like to congratulate the Government on what they have done in regard to roads at this time. I would like to see that extended.

We should be aware of the trap of advocating change for the sake of change itself. No change should be advocated unless there is a clear need shown for it. We should also ask ourselves the two questions: are we using the existing systems as we should and are we aware of the difficulties of becoming familiar with the limitations of a new system? Over the past few years, in anticipation of the reform of local government, many good proposals on reorganisation have been compiled by bodies connected with local government, including the General Council of County Councils, the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland and LAMA and they are worthy of consideration.

The position at local authority level at this moment is that every person involved at this level is afraid to take any initiative. This also applies to the county manager and his officials and the elected members. Why is this? The surcharge threat is [1974] always in the wings. Although it is effective, it should be examined.

I welcome very much the initiative taken by the Minister in undertaking a review with regard to reforming local government. The basic principle that should underline that review should be one of subsidiarity, that is, that all services should be provided at local level where possible. Local government would then be a management of local affairs by local councils. If that principle is adopted local authorities would then act in a more positive way to enhance the economic, social and cultural aspects affecting the local people. The principle would also mean that the demand for more representative structures would be met. Relationships between local authority and central Government should be much more flexible.

In conclusion, I welcome the appointment of a special committee of experts which has been set up to advise the Cabinet subcommittee. No doubt they will make a very valuable contribution. Also available will be the views of a special Oireachtas Committee made up of local authority members. If we are honest we all agree that a change is required, but it must be a change that is seen to work and to provide a better and more efficient system of local government. As I have already stated, it must be flexible and be able to recognise the diversity of needs from locality to locality. Once again I am pleased that this reform is taking place; only good will come out of it. Holding the local elections under the present circumstances would have been a waste of time. I congratulate the Government and the Minister for moving on this reform of local government.

Mr. Cosgrave: Information on Liam T. Cosgrave  Zoom on Liam T. Cosgrave  First, I welcome a debate on this matter. Our party are opposing the postponement of the local elections and I think the review that is going to be carried out is not going to be adequate. The Minister said that the postponement was to enable a full and [1975] urgent review of local government systems to be carried out. It certainly should be urgent, but it is not a full review. I urge, even at this late stage, that other matters be looked at.

I will outline some of the difficulties, particularly in relation to the situation in Dublin. I welcome the Minister to the House and I hope he takes our points in relation to what we hope to see happening. There is a lot of common ground between Members on this side of the House and, I am sure, Members of the Minister's party. Those of us who have had the privilege of serving in this House and at local authority level know that our fellow councillors deserve recognition and respect for the work they do.

Any review of local government must, of necessity, look at the whole thorny question of finance. We have had the ongoing situation of members knowing that there was very little money to carry out what they wished to do. The reason is that not enough money is forthcoming from the Minister's Department. The local authorities are then forced to reduce services and have to try to find additional money through charges. Members must be reminded that many of the problems go back to the time when commercial rates were abolished. While in theory that money was meant to be made up by a block grant from central Government, the reality is that no sufficient money has been provided. It is a bit like giving a housewife a £100 a week to run her house and the following year giving here £90 a week. Something must crack sooner or later.

As we have seen in local authorities, problems have arisen. The Minister must recognise that finance is the nub of this whole problem. If a report is brought in by the commission it can only be an interim report outlining some of the problems and difficulties. Hand-in-hand with that, proposals must be put forward showing how to raise finance. It has to be linked to the whole taxation system. If people are going to be charged for services they should be able to set that charge against their income tax.

[1976] In areas like Dublin or Dún Laoghaire if car tax or property tax are raised I would like to see a portion of that tax go to benefit that area. I am sure my colleague, Senator Conroy, would like to see more money being provided for the area which we both represent. There should be some sort of clawback where thousands or millions of pounds are raised in an area. If the people who pay their car tax saw that a certain amount of money was going back to that area they would be more willing to pay.

I must say to the Minister that while the commission which he has set up has some good people on it I am a bit disappointed because it appears there is nobody on it with a real knowledge of the Dublin situation. In Dublin we have a particular problem. We have the greater Dublin area controlled by Dublin County Council. We also have Dublin Corporation in the city and also have a further 14 member body, Dún Laoghaire Corporation. On Dublin Council there are 78 members. One can only describe as a joke the monthly meetings when the 78 members are present and are faced with an agenda with anything from 20 to 30 section 4 motions. Some of them are relevant. Section 4 motions are useful at times, but they are being put down by members just to skip the queue. There might be a section 4 motion asking the manager to write a letter to a Minister, a Department or some other body so that some member can either get cheap publicity and skip the queue. The sooner the Minister comes forward with proposals in this area the letter.

I am concerned with problems on the south side. Senator Wright would be more concerned with problems on the north side. While I am not saying he would ignoring problems on the south side, he probably has enough to do to look after the north side. Is the Minister going to divide it up into three or four areas with the growth of towns like Tallaght, Lucan, Clondalkin, Rathfarnham, Dundrum, Dún Laoghaire and Bray? The Minister must look at Dublin as a special case. We also have to look at Dublin because of its housing problems [1977] and the other problems of infrastructure. We also must look at County Dublin and how it relates to, say, Wicklow, Kildare, Meath and Louth because areas there are becoming extended towns of Dublin. The Minister must look closely at the Dublin situation and make it more relevant to the members there.

We must also, consider Dún Laoghaire Corporation with its 14 members and the situation that is arising there. It is disappointing that since 1985 and the last local elections no reform has taken place, or even talk of reform. The Minister as a member of a local authority is fully aware of the need for councillors to be able to deal satisfactory with the public, who sometimes get fed up because local authorities are seen to be more and more irrelevant.

I wish the Minister luck in his efforts to bring about the necessary changes. I would say to him he should try to get as much as possible done before the elections are held. However, he cannot act unless there is money there. Has the Minister any idea of when the commission will report? Has he any timescale as to when legislation can be brought forward? What sort of discussions are going to take place vis-à-vis staffing, disturbance and all that type of thing? We are talking about a major reform. It is not going to happen overnight. I ask the Minister, when replying later, to outline his strategy in relation to it. If a report comes in, is there going to be something in relation to money? There is no point talking about grandiose reforms when we can barely fill in a pothole in the road. We have to look at local government and decide that if we are going to reform it we may as well try to do it properly.

Local government reform is a matter for both Houses and all parties. While there may be differing views on aspects of it, between Members on this side and on the other side, I hope all the Members, particularly those who serve on local authorities, will support the concept of reform. We must have meaningful reform. What is being done at the moment will not achieve that. I hope I am [1978] proved wrong. I would ask the Minister to take what I have said on board.

In relation to the Dublin situation, can the Minister indicate at what stage does he envisage the various areas which have been broken up into sub-committees becoming local authorities in themselves? I wish the Minister and his committee well with what they are hoping to do. The commission have a difficult task. If they come forward with meaningful reform I am sure they will have the support of Members on this side of the House.

Mrs. Honan: Information on Tras Honan  Zoom on Tras Honan  I have worried for a long time about local government and the treatment of elected members. Therefore, I warmly welcome this motion to correct some of the wrongs which have been done and to avoid all the power being centralised in Dublin. I welcome Minister Connolly to the House and his address here yesterday. I know it was sincerely meant. Deputy Connolly has served for a long time on a local authority. I hope he will agree with some of the things I am about to say. No doubt he will not agree with more of them.

I often wished that people who would eventually enter Dáil Éireann or Seanad Éireann should be obliged first to serve on a local authority. It is the school that teaches us what may be needed at national level.

I was highly amused yesterday evening by the attitude of some Senators — not the Senators present — on the other side of the House who wanted local government elections to be held this year. The reality is that they no more want local elections than I do. They followed that up by saying that Fianna Fáil county councillors were afraid. I wish to say that I have yet to meet a Fianna Fáil county councillor — and, indeed, I have good friends within the other parties — who is afraid. Power may be taken from them; there may be decisions which they may not be able to make; but afraid, they are not.

Some local authority members are also TDs. They are committed people who serve a constituency at ground level, in [1979] their homes, and at enormous cost at times to themselves. If the opinions of some Fine Gael Senators who have spoken today had been listened to the all-party committee might have been agreed to in the first place. They lost a chance to have a greater input into local government reform than they now have by the decision they made.

I know this is out of order but I am going to say it. I understand that Deputy Alan Shatter and Deputy Brendan Howlin, who has a raised voice a bit like my own, nearly wanted these elections in the morning. They also wanted to tell the new commission how the next elections were to be run. Of course, we are now used to the style of Deputy Shatter and Deputy Howlin.

It makes me cross at times to hear and to read the rubbish about expenses for people serving in local authorities. I presume I am in a position of strength here this morning as I have served nearly 30 years in local government. I come from a family who, this week, have served 70 years between three of us. Therefore, I can talk with some experience about the cost of people serving in local government and about the wrong image created at all times about families and individuals who serve on county councils. At times, all you see is a miserable cheque for a few pounds. That is the way they judge the service our county councils give to this nation. It is sad that that is all they can write about is the few pounds of one cheque in a month, maybe for £15 or £18, in a nation that is governing itself so well. I have to put that on the record. I abhor it. It is wrong. It is regretted if the media has nothing else to do but make a joke of it and zoom in on a miserable cheque. I know from experience what local government has cost us as a family. I have no regrets about anything we put into it, moneywise or as regards dedication or commitment. I will continue to do it. I also know that it represents a major sacrifice, not just for the committee person serving, but for the wife, and the whole family of that person.

I do not do this job with a big head. I [1980] do it because I feel strongly about it. Somebody has to put it on record. I hope they take me up on it. If they want me to go further on it, I will do it in another forum. We are here today to talk about local government reform. I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Connolly, to the Minister, Deputy Flynn, and to the Government to try to reform it. Look further. Do not come in with a rehash of what we have, leaving the power still centred with the bureaucrats. I use the word, “bureaucrats” carefully. I resent that the power is in a certain pocket and that it has been taken from the people who should still have it. Again, I am going to make a comparison.

I remember the late fifties, the forties and the early sixties when my late husband was President of the Municipal Authorities of Ireland and President of the General Council of the County Councils of Ireland. The respect and regard at that time, for a person serving on a local authority, nearly equalled the respect that de Valera carried in Clare, and that is a fair statement. We have better get our act together. I am laying it on the line for the Government and the Commission that is to be set up. There is no use in Ministers all of whom have served on local government — if I have the names right — coming back with a so-called reform for local government when it may not be that at all. I understand, Minister, your Cabinet sub-committee is Minister Molloy, Minister Flynn, Minister Harney, Minister O'Kennedy and Minister Hanlon. All those men and one woman have served on local government. That is the Cabinet sub-committee. I hope that they come back with a reviewed form in place that will give back to the local government of this nation the importance it still should have.

The changing of the name of the Department of Local Government to the Department of the Environment was a mistake. Recent events have shown that it was a mistake. Local government should have been left local government. Power should have been left to Local Government. The money for them to spend should have been left with them. [1981] Do not misunderstand me. I understand also the importance of the word “environment” but I still feel that the Local Government name should have been left with the Department. I said it at the time. Small people, like me, were not listened to. If we had been listened to more, we might have made fewer mistakes.

What was done with local committees? This was referred to here yesterday. I am going to make reference to it again. I do think, because I served on them, that the health committees, the agricultural committees and so on should not have been removed. They were an absolute and direct feed to the Departments. I saw that with health at first hand. We had in Clare an excellent local committee on health. I saw the damage caused when it was removed. I have it on the record of the House. It is no secret. I am a firm believer in saying something when it should be said and where it may well be listened to.

I cannot understand why Fine Gael were afraid to go on the select committee. Their taking part in it could have done nothing but good. I have made reference to that already. Questions have been asked as why things were not done or were done by the Minister's Department. Let us look at the awful mess, in fairness to you and to your Ministers, that you found yourself in in March 1987. There were enormous financial deficits, debts that were never before seen in this nation, uncontrolled debts. We had here today and yesterday the spectacle of people talking about what the Minister, Deputy Flynn and the Minister, Deputy Connolly, had or had not done since they came in. I want to put it on the record here — and it is rarely I pay you tributes and that is why it is more important that you listen to me — this morning that Minister Flynn and Minister Connolly and I have served with many Department of Local Government Ministers, have been two of the best Local Government Ministers we have had in this nation, and I mean that.

I understand that Minister Flynn has also eliminated the weird practice of short-time working and lay-offs that were [1982] taking place in many local authorities. I appeal to Minister Connolly, through the Chair, to bring back to local authorities funding and money. Let us raise money, because that is the only way we can have any possible chance of making decisions. A visible financial structure must be maintained to continue to give our people the services they require and expect of those of us who serve them. A major programme of reform will radically strengthen the local government system. A system of government that recognises the value of local participation in the administration of a wide range and variety of affairs that effect the people of this country must be introduced. I also feel that the retention of county councils and county boroughs as the main units of local government are the natural units. They must be left in place.

People do not object to paying local charges. We, in Clare, have an excellent record of up to 85 or 90 per cent of a return — certainly in the Urban Council of Ennis — and it is excellent in the county also. I feel strongly that some county councils and towns pay freely and without any hassle for the services that are provided properly for them. Other places, like Dublin, get away with no local charges. That is wrong. People do not object to paying local charges if the other money is put in place with the local charge money and they are given the services they require. We have no area in County Clare that gave us trouble on local charges. The people pay without any hiccups and no trouble.

I want to make a direct appeal to the Minister to try to put something in place so that local authorities should have a more direct line into Europe. I have seen at first hand for some time that all people at local authority level by this time have some views or some connections with Europe. We must face up to what is ahead of us. It is not just Dublin or Clare or Limerick or elsewhere. It is the whole European scene. I ask the Minister to relate that back to the quarters it should be related to. I see it as a combination of the local authorities, ourselves and Europe. I see it all as one. I appeal today [1983] that some heart is given back to the people serving in local government today. There is a wrong image of it.

Somebody made a reference here today to Clare County Council. Their age bracket is quite young. Heart, commitment, dedication and time given are extraordinary. They want to continue that, but they must get some lift out of the low ebb they find themselves in. Least of all are they asking for remuneration as such, but they do ask for some power and some say, and at times for their opinions to be listened to. They have charge of housing and building, road transport and safety, water supply and sewerage, environment protection, recreation amenities, agriculture, education and health. God bless us and save us, those are the functions of our local authorities. Those are the functions of the men and women who serve in local government. It has been a respectable place in the past to serve in and it still is. We have great people involved in local government.

I have a horror of experts. The Minister should have called them something else when he put the second layer in place. He should listen to those of us on the ground. Having served for so long in local government, he will be well aware of what I am talking about. He should listen to us with care because we are the people who have constituents calling at our doors on Sundays, Mondays and the other days of the week at all hours. All the Senators who are members of county councils or local authorities are also involved in all the voluntary bodies in the various constituencies. They are involved in everything that is good for this nation; they are involved in the cultural, the educational and the political side of our nation.

This is the most important review that any Government now or in the future will participate in. It is not because of recent hiccups in the Seanad, because we have been disciplined on how many hours we are to be here, that there are so many speakers here participating in the debate today. It is because the Senators who serve on local authorities have such strong views that we have to put them on [1984] record. I ask the Minister to take our comments to his Cabinet colleagues and to the Leader of our party and convey them to the sub-committee of the Cabinet.

I am glad that the opportunity has arisen to postpone the local elections because next time we will be voting persons on to bodies that will have more influence and more power than is the case now. Anyone here or in the other House who thinks that I or any colleague in this House or in any council down the country is afraid of local elections now or in the future had better take another look at us. Making speeches like that, trying to put the fear of God in us for things we are supposed to be either doing or not doing in Government will not deter us from playing our major role in local government in this small but great nation of ours.

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  I would like to compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Connolly, and the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn for having the courage to do what we all know is very necessary. I do not suppose that we on this side of the House are in a position to comment on those Members from the other side of the House who are conspicuous by their absence particularly in the light of what happened last week. Nevertheless, because of the tremendous interest in this subject I am very disappointed that those people do not consider it worth their while to come in to hear the contributions.

As has been said, this motion is designed to postpone for one year the local elections which otherwise would have been held in June this year. There is a precedent for such postponement. It has, as my colleague, Senator O'Keeffe, stated this morning, happened on many occasions, 14 times in all, and on some occasions for two years. The reason given was that local government reform should be carried out. Unfortunately, this never happened.

On this occasion I believe the Government are serious. It is essential that local government be reformed immediately [1985] and that, above all, local democracy be re-developed to ensure that the principles of subsidiarity be re-established. That principle is around since the time of Cicero. We all accept that services are best provided by those at local level, at the point of impact. For sometime now we have allowed the provision of these services to move to Dublin or to one central location thereby taking power away from the local scene, creating cumbersome, slow-moving procedures from which the general public deduced that the public services were negative and being handled by faceless people. I believe it is time to call a halt before local democracy disappears altogether.

Mr. Noel Dillon, the Wexford County Manager, a good friend of mine and of the Minister's, said recently in an excellent paper on local government reform delivered at the General Council of County Councils on 4 May 1990, that reform must assist in creating the framework to enhance the position of local members in the community and that each member has an equal obligation to contribute towards that objective. I recommend to the Minister and to the group of experts to read in detail Mr. Dillon's contribution on that paper. It is an excellent paper and has some tremendous ideas, all of which we would not agree with, but there is food for thought in it.

I know that the views expressed are shared countrywide by the public and most definitely by councillors. There have been many discussions and debates on the subject of local government reform. Never has a subject attracted so much debate at all levels, particularly at local authority level. It is interesting that yesterday and again today it is attracting much attention in the Dáil and in the Seanad. One can conclude that everyone here is very interested in reform and that everyone in local authorities are keen to see immediate changes.

The Opposition, despite this, are calling for elections this year to proceed with the same structures in place, to operate as we did heretofore even though they have in their deliberations at varying fora claimed that reform is necessary. The [1986] hypocrisy of this Opposition is a clear demonstration of how bare their political covert is. I am led to believe that the Fine Gael leadership are looking for blood on this issue. They were offered an all-party committee of reform but they refused. This brings into question the sincerity of the Tallaght strategy, which operated up to the change of Government. They cannot have their loaf and eat it.

The charge was made earlier today by Senator Naughten that no reform will be carried out when the elections are postponed. The Government are serious and their programme for Government over three years and their success over that period could only suggest that reform will be carried out in the foreseeable future. When Fine Gael refused to participate in the all-party committee they showed how negative they had become. The Government set up a committee of experts referred to by the previous speaker, Senator Honan, who will report to the Cabinet sub-Committee. The composition of this group is excellent with T. J. Barrington, former head of the IPA, leading it.

While much thought will be given to reform in this debate today, further debates on the subject should be encouraged by all those who have an input in the Dáil, in this House, in all local and regional authorities and by the public to ensure that the level of reform will be adequate and appropriate for today's demands. The present system has proved itself in the past. It has served the country well but the time has very definitely come for a more streamlined process to bring back the principle of subsidiarity.

I would like to ask all here to take a brief look at the Land Registry office and its performance. I am confident that everyone here and those unfortunate members of the public who have had to endure the delays at the Land Registry for years will know exactly what I am talking about. We know of the young couple who seek a loan from a local authority to build a house for themselves and their family who discover that the loan will not be paid even though, provisionally approved, until the land in [1987] question is transferred and registered in the borrower's name. That process is very slow and in some cases takes up to two years, principally because it is operated centrally.

I believe that such offices and services should be localised. If that were the case the borrower would not have to carry the crippling bridging loan which has caused so much devastation for couples starting their married life. Social welfare is improving but, undoubtedly, should be administered locally to improve efficiency and to save embarrassment for a very weak sector of our community. There are so many layers of bureaucracy between the person who writes the cheque and the receiver that all too often there are undue, unfair and unnecessary delays.

While discussing local government reform we must consider regional authorities. We have heard on many occasions in the past criticism about the health boards. All of us have to join in that criticism because since the disbandment of the local health committees I believe there is savage deterioration in the health services possibly because the information from local level is not coming across to where it matters. My view is that the regional health boards are not adequate for today's needs.

I suggest to the Minister that all of the committees that were abolished under the guise of saving money some years back be reintroduced, not necessarily as they were in the past, because time is moving on and there is need for change. Undoubtedly there is still need for an input at local level particularly on education, health and above all on agriculture.

Senator Honan, mentioned funding as I am sure did everyone else, because this, undoubtedly, is the greatest difficulty faced at this time by local authorities and county councils who, unfortunately, are now regarded by the members and by the general public as no more than rubber stamps. Unless the local authorities have adequate funding and have the decision-making as to where this funding is spent [1988] to provide local services we are at nothing.

The question of charges has been mentioned here. Like County Clare we have a very respectable collection success rate in Wexford. I believe that any services that are provided should be paid for because, as the Minister has said time and again, services will not be provided without money coming from somewhere. If the people avail of the services do not pay for them, the responsibility goes back on to the shoulders of the already overburdened taxpayer. Everybody who receives a service should pay a contribution. We have got to take that further and we have to make it stronger. We cannot accept all the negative arguments there have been against local charges in the past. I agree with Senator Honan — it was something I intended raising — about local authorities having access to the European scene. Many a good project which has been put forward by a local authority lost its effect before it left Dublin. That is a terrible pity. I believe the local authority, whatever the project might be, should be able to have access to Europe itself and have the wherewithal to follow up on the funding for the project concerned. I am sure that, in the long run, would be far more effective for the Government and indeed for the country. I would like the Minister not just to accept the structures we have at present but to look deeply into changes when the reform is about to take place and before the next election, whenever they may take place. We must take a long hard look at the whole system of local government which has operated well in the past but the time has come for change. Will the Minister ensure that that change comes sooner rather than later and that it will be adequate for the nineties and that we would go back to the principle of subsidiarity?

Mr. Finneran: Information on Michael Finneran  Zoom on Michael Finneran  I am glad that the Minister of State, Deputy Connolly, is here with us when we are discussing this order today. It is important that the Minister who is with us has a knowledge of the local authority system and has been a [1989] practitioner of that system. We are very fortunate to have such a man here, who has served in the local authority system and, indeed, who has a great understanding of the situation. I have no doubt that he played a major part in the decision to allow the Government to proceed down the road that many Governments up to now have failed to go.

We have had a lot of promises over the years about local government reform. I remember it being on the election manifesto of a Coalition Government not so long ago. It was a major platform for them at the time. They failed to grasp the nettle. It ramained on the bottom shelf through their period in office and no reform took place. This Government have grasped the nettle. The have decided to start a process of local government reform. I believe it is very opportune. I compliment the Minister and the Government on that decision. Incorporated, of course, in that decision has to be the decision to postpone the local elections. To do otherwise would have been nonsensical.

The Opposition, who have said here today that the local elections have been postponed for ulterior motives or different reasons should indeed look into their hearts and say: “why are we opting out of the system, were we not afforded the opportunity to be involved in local government reform?” Did the Government not on many an occasion in the last six or eight months send invitation after invitation to that same party and say, “We wish to have an all-party committee to look at structures and finance in the local authority system”? The answer came in the negative and, the main Opposition party decided to opt out of the process. I believe they do not have the right to criticise a Government who have taken a decision that Governments over the last 20 years, have failed to take on.

I believe the decision to postpone the local elections was a correct one. It afforded Seanad Éireann, Dáil Éireann, interested bodies and local authority organisations, an opportunity to submit what they consider to be their proposals [1990] and ideas for local government in Ireland over the next 20, 30 or 50 years. This is a critical time. It is a most important time as far as local democracy in Ireland is concerned. Every thought must be considered, every proposal must be weighted and every discussion must be tempered with the belief and understanding that whatever we decide will rest on our shoulders and on our successors for the next 50 years. I believe that local government involves every man, woman and child. It affects their daily lives and surroundings and provides the local services they need and use.

National Government needs to recognise this and to provide a framework of principles on which local democracy can flourish. The principle of national government should safeguard the rights of local authorities, which are closest to the system and give them the opportunity to participate effectively in making decisions affecting their everyday environment. It should embody administrative and financial independence of local authorities and conviction that the degree of self-government enjoyed by local authorities may be regarded as a touchstone of genuine democracy. It should specify the need for a legal foundation for local government, defining the concept and establishing principles governing the nature and the scope of local authority powers. It should have authority regarding their administrative structures and have adequate financial resources at their disposal at levels which do not impair their basic autonomy. The bottomline is that national government should provide a set of structures and finance and local authorities should insist upon them. These need to have constitutional as well as statutory backup.

Present structures are not compatible with local democracy. They exclude the opportunity to raise finance in real terms and have discretion over its spending. While this has been taken as an easy option by some local authorities, many members in recent times have said it denies them taking responsibilities in their functional areas. It leaves them open to a situation where it can be justly [1991] attributed to them that they have neither the will nor the way to be involved in serious financial decisions and that their role can be classified as a rubber stamp. If local authority members feel that they have a role to play in determining future development in their functional area, then they will not alone have to express that but they will have to show willingness and a determination to be masters of their destiny in indicating to Government that they are entitled and are in a position to collect and administer local finances both in the local and national interest and convince the people and the national government of their commitment on that matter.

Local authority members in recent years have found themselves in a situation where their control over expenditure of their own budget is so insignificant that it is an insult to their public and voluntary contribution to the day-to-day running of their local authorities. These views are a combination of personal observation both in Ireland and in Europe and of consultation and contact with interested and involved people. Therefore, I maintain that it is unrealistic to consider finances in the local authority system without interlinking it with clear, defined structures in the same system. When we look at local government reform let us look at local government financing in the context of structures and finance. I believe they go hand in hand.

As a foundation stone for the viable existence of local authorities and the local authority system of the future, I believe the Government should now sign and ratify the European Charter on Local Self-Government. The constitutional and legal foundation for local self-government defines the principle that local self-government shall be recognised in domestic legislation and where practical in the Constitution. The concept of self-government denotes the right and the ability of local authorities, within the limits of the law, to regulate and manage a substantial share of public affairs under their own responsibility and in the interests of the local population. This [1992] should mean that under the concept of local self-government, local authorities have the basic powers and responsibilites prescribed by the Constitution or by Statute. However, this provision should not prevent the attribution to local authorities of powers and responsibilities for specific purposes in accordance with the law.

Local authorities, within the limits of the law, should have full discretion to exercise their initiative with regard to any matter which is not excluded from their competence nor assigned to central Government. Power given to local authorities should be full and it should be exclusive. It should not be possible for them to be undermined or limited by national Government except as provided for by the law. Where powers are delegated to a local authority, they should, in so far as possible, be allowed discretion in adapting their exercise to local conditions.

Local authorities should be able to determine their own internal administration structures, to adapt them to local needs and to ensure effective management without prejudice to central Government. Any central Government supervision over the activities of local government should normally aim only at ensuring a compliance with the law and with constitutional principles. The allocating of responsibilities should cover such matters as roads, water, sewerage, education, sport, tourism, economic development, services, public health and finance. Local authorities should constantly review their performances and aim to ensure that they are in line with the needs of people and the community. Special attention should be paid to ensuring the administration is both economic and efficient and that new priorities and methods are adopted. Modernisation and adaptation should involve keeping a close watch on technical developments and making necessary adjustments, particularly safeguarding against State control or intervention.

While many of the areas I have mentioned are already under the control, to [1993] some extent at least, of the present local authority system, the areas where they have little or no control involve public health, economic development and finance. The time is opportune to take a new look at these. First, let us look at the structures under which public health is administered. The health board system has at this stage lost the confidence of the local population, and indeed in many cases health board members. The health board system has become a rate race of political and geographical pressure to the detriment of the overall regions which they were set up to cater for. A new local authority system should involve control over health matters to a greater degree and absolute control in the community care programme.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  Quite correct.

Mr. Finneran: Information on Michael Finneran  Zoom on Michael Finneran  We agree on some matters, I am glad to see.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  Occasionally, but not regularly.

Mr. Finneran: Information on Michael Finneran  Zoom on Michael Finneran  Finance, or rather the lack of it, still dominates the agenda of local authorities. Local authorities are faced with stark choices. The rate support grant has been cut over the years. Local authorities have to choose between cutting expenditure substantially or trying to increase revenue from local sources. As we all know, the options for raising local income are limited at present. The main sources are service charges and commercial rates. Service charges do not bring in enough money in all cases to make good the shortfall. This is because of the relatively low level of charges in some counties by local authorities and the problems they have encountered in collecting them. It is also not possible to significantly raise the commercial rate because of the potentially damaging effect on business. What are our choices?

One option, as I mentioned earlier, is to cut back services considerably. This is an option taken by some local authorities at present. However, it is not, and cannot be, a long-term solution to our problems. [1994] Local authorities provide essential services which have to be maintained, and indeed improved. We have already begun to look at ways in which we can deliver these services more effectively.

A second option open to local authorities, which I have no doubt it will be discussed in the review, is to introduce some new form of local taxation, that is, the introduction of some form of property tax. If a property tax is introduced it must be fair, progressive, increase the income of local authorities and give local authorities discretion over the amount to be raised. It goes without saying that any such tax cannot be introduced unless there is a corresponding reduction in PAYE. Unless local authorities' financial difficulties are addressed, the infrastructure which is so necessary for economic development will deteriorate.

Apart from cutting expenditure, or introducing a from of property tax, a block grant could be given to local authorities. This would certainly give local authorities discretion over what they can spend their money on. However, if such an option were to be taken, it would have to be on a statutory basis. Otherwise local authorities would, and could, continue to be a soft and vulnerable option when it comes to curtailing public finances. Another option is to contract out services. This is sometimes seen as an attractive option for local authorities. It is not, however, the solution to our problems. If we look at the British local authorities and their experience to date, it is clear that contracting out services has not been nearly as successful as they had expected.

The report of The Commission of Taxation of 1985 concluded that a tax on residential and other property, excluding land, was the most suitable form of local taxation. This amounts, effectively, to the imposition of rates on those properties. They see nothing wrong with the principle of rating, provided the rates are levied on equitable valuations which are revised regularly. That is their opinion.

The net effect of their proposals is that a local property tax should be introduced and that there should be no exemption [1995] thresholds either for income or capital values. A waiver scheme should operate to relieve cases of hardship and payments should be made in instalments. Their recommendations involve the abolition of the national income-related residential property tax first introduced in 1983. The reintroduction of local taxation on the lines they recommend should not be used to increase the share of gross domestic product taken in taxation. To the extent that it increases the resources of local authorities, the amounts payable in grants from central Government should be reduced, thereby allowing a reduction in national taxation.

Local authorities should be entitled within the national economic policy to adequate financial resources of their own, which they may dispose of freely within the framework of their powers. Part, at least, of the financial resources of local authorities should derive from local taxes and charges of which, within the limits of statute, they have the power to determine the rate. The financial systems on which resources available to local authorities are based should be of a sufficiently diversified and buoyant nature to enable them to keep pace, as far as practicable with the real evolution of the cost of carrying out their tasks.

The protection of financially weaker local authorities calls for the institution of financial equalisation procedures or equivalent measures which are designed to correct the effect of unequal distribution of potential resources of finance and of the financial burden they must support. Such procedures or measures should not diminish the discretion local authorities may exercise within their own sphere of responsibility. What I mean by that is that if some local authority is weak and is not in a position to sustain the raising of revenue, then the discretion over expenditure should not be taken from them.

As far as possible, grants to local authorities should not be earmarked for the financing of specific projects. The provision of grants should not remove the [1996] basic freedom of local authorities to exercise policy discretion within their own jurisdiction. For the purpose of borrowing for capital investment, local authorities should have access to the national capital market within the limits of the law. This is imperative if local authorities are to be in a position to avail of new moneys provided from the Regional and Social Funds of the EC under the Single European Act which becomes effective in 1992. Local authorities should be entitled, in exercising their powers, to cooperate within the framework of the law, to from consortia with other local authorities in order to carry out tasks of common interest.

Those are some of the views and proposals I have on the reform of local government. As I have said, they are based on personal contacts both here and in Europe over the past number of years and follow my long involvement with the General Council of County Councils. Indeed I am their representative on the Standing Conference of the Council of Europe and to the European Commission. Time is now opportune for us to put our heads together and set in place structures to give us discretion over our own finances, structures that will be suited to the needs of the next century. The responsibility rests on all of us. At the end of the day we should have a set of structures that can not alone uplift local government and the local authority system but hold it in place and allow it to evolve and develop over the next 50 years.

Dr. Upton: Information on Pat Upton  Zoom on Pat Upton  At the outset, may I say we will be opposing this motion for a variety of reasons. First, we believe it is antidemocratic to postpone the local elections this year. It would have been acceptable to us if it was possible to hold the local elections in conjunction with the Presidential election. We are prepared to acknowledge it would not be wise to hold the local elections along side the World Cup when most people will, understandably, be preoccupied with the progress of the Irish soccer team. However the local elections are being postponed [1997] quite simply because Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats are afraid to face the electorate at this stage because of the likely outcome of the elections. The ultimate reason for their postponement is cowardice.

It is one thing to talk about and welcome democracy in Eastern Europe, it is quite another matter to accept the difficulties and problems of democracy as seen in power changing hands in elections when they are held. An unanswerable case can be made for the holding of the local government elections. The five-year term is up and five years is an adequate length of time for local local authorities to remain in power. We are facing the first round of essentially a step-dancing process which is a two-year routine. Today we are seeing phase one of this two-year routine. In fact, we could say this is act one involving a postponement for one year. Next year we will have a second act which will, broadly speaking be along the same lines.

Mr. McKenna: Information on Tony McKenna  Zoom on Tony McKenna  So the Senator hopes.

Dr. Upton: Information on Pat Upton  Zoom on Pat Upton  I do not have to hope because I am not a member of a local authority.

Mr. McKenna: Information on Tony McKenna  Zoom on Tony McKenna  A lot of the Senator's colleagues will be hoping for it.

Dr. Upton: Information on Pat Upton  Zoom on Pat Upton  I have it all to play for, if we have to get personal about this I would welcome that. We will be facing act two this time next year and the broad outline of it will be a commission working very hard, lots of interesting developments, new proposals, difficulties in getting legislation through and then postponement for another year. Ultimately, all of this is for the purpose of saving the Government parties any embarrassment. Any political analyst could not but come to the conclusion that Fianna Fáil are bound to lose seats and, in the case of the Progressive Democrats it is simply a question of slowing down their progress into oblivion, which seems to be pretty rapid if one is to judge by the opinion polls.

[1998] The whole business of local government is in a crisis. There are sorts of problems. There are constant problems with the water supplies, problems in regard to different services. The library services in Dublin are being decimated and there is chronic under-staffing of the fire brigades. There are problems in relation to the parks. I spend most of my time writing to the superintendents of parks asking them to develop parks, to carry out repairs in them and so on. The reply I get back is pretty standard, they would like to do all this work but, unfortunately, financial resources are not available to provide these facilities for people. Similarly, in relation to refuse collection, tree planting and tree pruning, the allocation has been fairly rigorously pruned. For example, Dublin County Council used provide a service to collect big items of refuse once or twice yearly but that has gone because of the financial restrictions on local government at present.

The whole service is in a state of crisis and nowhere is that crisis to be seen in a more exaggerated form than in relation to housing. There is a growing housing crisis. Everybody must acknowledge that, even those who might not like to do it. At least, they should be graceful enough not to deny its existence if they cannot acknowledge its presence. There are many people who are homeless and I certainly do not want to suggest that people are homeless simply because of lack of housing. I accept that the problem is a good deal wider than that, but availability of housing is an important component of a wider set of reasons why people are homeless. There is the growing problem of homeless children. At present there are of the order of 1,000 children who drift in and out of a state of homelessness. That is all happening at a time when the housing lists get longer and longer. There are approximately 25,000 people on the housing list; and in Dublin alone there are of the order of 5,000 on housing lists. That is a frightening statistic, politicians encounter this problem day in, day out. People go to political advice centres looking for housing and [1999] most of the time there are engaged in a futile exercise. A politican may make representations on a person's behalf but, inevitably, he or she knows there is no solution to the problem for the majority of these people simply because there are no houses available, and there is poor prospect of those houses being provided. A sum of £6 million was made available by the State this year for housing. That will build between 250 and 300 local authority houses. Yesterday somebody was talking about a 32-county Ireland; but if that was the case, there would be ten local authority houses per county.

There is the prospect of local authority houses being purchased by tenants. The difficulty is that it would be necessary to sell about four local authority houses to provide enough money for one new local authority house, working on the assumption that a local authority house would cost approximately £50,000 and the money one could expect to realise from these sales would be of the order of £12,000 to £15,000. In addition, we have the involvement of local authorities in the national lottery. The whole process seems to be like the futile cycles of biochemistry where you start in one position, lots of energy is expended and, despite all, you finish back where you started.

Local authorities spent much of their time submitting applications for lottery funds. They were encouraged to do so but at the same time it has not been possible to put any priority on the applications. Ultimately, the decision rests with the Minister and inevitably, those decisions will go where the most mileage is to be obtained from them. That is a reality of political life.

Mr. McKenna: Information on Tony McKenna  Zoom on Tony McKenna  Is that the Minister's fault? The Minister has to make a decision when no local authority will make it.

Dr. Upton: Information on Pat Upton  Zoom on Pat Upton  It is the Minister who retains for himself the responsibility to make the decision. If the Minister ceded that authority to the local authorities, then I am sure that they would make the [2000] decision. It also would, of course, put a stop to——

Acting Chairman (Mr. Mooney): Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  I am reluctant to interrupt the Senator but I would ask him to address his remarks to the Chair. I appreciate that the Senator was distracted.

Dr. Upton: Information on Pat Upton  Zoom on Pat Upton  The Government have the capacity to vest the final say in relation to the distribution of lottery funds by local authorities and for very good political reasons they have refrained from doing so. The bottom line is that if local authorities were given discretion as to how lottery funds should be distributed then, of course, more of the lottery funds would go to places like Dublin city and county at the expense of counties like Mayo, Longford, Westmeath and so on. That is a political fact.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. Calleary): Information on Seán Calleary  Zoom on Seán Calleary  The Senator should not begrudge us the few pence we get.

Dr. Upton: Information on Pat Upton  Zoom on Pat Upton  I would not begrudge the Minister anything he can get. All I am trying to do is argue that a bigger and fairer share of the funds should be made available to the areas I represent, namely Dublin South-Central, from the Liffey up to Templeogue. In addition, there is the added burden which local authority tenants are facing by way of increased rents. Rents have increased by 10 to 15 per cent in the last year or so — that is considerably greater than the rate of inflation — and does not bear any relationship to the capacity of many of these tenants to pay the amounts they are now being asked to pay.

I am not opposed to local government reform. There is a great need to reform it. What we have seen over the past number of years is a series of events which had the effect of greatly devaluing local government. In the 1977 election campaign in loose terms, there was a proposal to rid the country completely of all local charges. The effects of that are [2001] now being felt. Reform of local government is vitally necessary but when that reform takes place, it would be useful for the experts to have the views of people who have been at the receiving end of the inadequacies of local government, people who have been on housing waiting lists, who have been at the receiving end of a poor refuse collection service, who have been at the receiving end of increasing rents, and so on. Those people have an important contribution to make to this whole process. I hope their views, and their problems, will be addressed and incorporated into any reform that takes place.

I want to refer to service charges and to remind my colleagues on the other side of the House that during the last local elections they made a great virtue of saying that service charges would be abolished. Service charges have increased threefold since the last local elections. The promises made in those days greatly increased the representation the Government parties have on local authorities and it is because of those considerations that they are so reluctant to face the electorate in November. I believe the Government will continue to postpone facing the electorate until the last moment, which will be in 1992.

There is a specific problem in the Dublin area in relation to the rate at which section 4 motions are being pushed through Dublin County Council. They are driving a horse and carriage through any idea of a Dublin county development plan and any sort of proper planning process which are ultimately, very much in the interests of everybody. They have a disastrous effect on the planning of Dublin. In my view, the only real effect of these types of procedures is to make millionaires into billionaires.

Mr. D. Kiely: Information on Daniel Kiely  Zoom on Daniel Kiely  I welcome the motion before the House. There is a great need for it. Before I go into the details I should like to respond to a few points raised by Senator Upton. I compliment him on being honest enough to say that he welcomes the postponement of the elections if the purpose of that postponement is to [2002] introduce reform. I am pleased his party have taken part in the overall restructuring of the committee set up to reform local government. In relation to the service charges, I would remind him that the leader of his party introduced service charges. The pages cannot be turned back on that. Whether he thought they were right at the time remains to be seen. In relation to section 4 motions, it depends on which part of the country one lives in. It is a very useful instrument for us in County Kerry.

The Senator mentioned lottery funds. I would like to see some lottery funds going to the most rural county in Ireland where something in the region of £5.5 million worth of applications came from County Kerry and we will be lucky if we get one project through under the lottery system. That is because the money is not there; it is divided among the entire country.

The postponement of the local elections is a straightforward matter. There is an urgent need for a review of local government; definitely it is in a shambles. This has been going on for some considerable time and every local authority are concerned about the lack of finance. But the local authorities play a major role in relation to economic development, whether through the roads system, the water system, the sewerage systems or whatever the case may be. Much restructuring will have to be done to give some type of autonomy to each local authority enabling them to cut the cloth according to measure in their own county.

We decided in County Kerry some years ago to give water to every citizen there. We got grants from the Government, we put our hands in our pockets in County Kerry and we borrowed the necessary 40 per cent to bring up the shortfall there. That put a lot of financial restraint on us but we were not sorry for what we did because we felt it was a necessity for the people.

Local government here is a very old structure; it dates back to the last century. There was a furore here last week about people from this side of the House being missing. The people on the other [2003] side of the House appear so concerned and genuine about the reform of local government, yet the other side of the House was empty for at least a good half hour this morning without any Senator being present. One would feel that, if they were really concerned and genuine about putting up strong objections to this piece of legislation postponing the local elections, they should be here to defend that.

I want to deal with remarks made by Deputy Alan Shatter, the spokesman on this subject in the Dáil for the Fine Gael Party, on the national radio a month or six weeks ago and again in the Dáil Chamber last Tuesday night, outlining different reasons the local elections were being postponed, the main reason being, he said, that the Fianna Fáil Party were just running away from their obligations, that they felt that it was the wrong time for local elections because they would be lambasted at the polls. The opinion polls were never running as high for the Fianna Fáil Party as they are at the moment. If we were to pick an opportune time to go before the country the time to pick would be when the opinion polls were riding high in our favour.

In 1984, when the Coalition Government postponed the local elections, the reason they gave was that they wanted to reform local government. Senator Maurice Manning, the Leader of the Fine Gael Party here, was honest enough to state publicly that it was an error of judgment at the time, that he felt Fine Gael should have gone to the polls. The reason they gave was that it was to reform local government, but the real reason was that the opinion polls were so low that they felt they would lose a lot of seats. They said that, if they stayed in Government a year longer, things would improve and they would go to the country in 1985. Things actually got worse for them, and they admitted that afterwards.

Senator Maurice Manning was honest about that. If Deputy Shatter was honest about it, he would not be saying that this is the reason Fianna Fáil want to postpone the local elections. We all know [2004] that the Fine Gael organisation and other Opposition groups were saying novenas that the local elections would be postponed because they felt they would get lambasted themselves and that the writing was on the wall for them. The Fianna Fáil organisation was never afraid to go into any type of election, whether it was a general election, local elections or a Presidential election. Our record stands fair and square on that.

I happen to be involved with the General Council of County Councils for the past 11 years. I was involved, in Opposition, in the General Council of County Councils and I was chairman of that body for two years. At the same time there was a Coalition Government in power and I had several meetings, along with the executive of the General Council, with two Ministers in that Government — one a Labour Minister, Deputy Kavanagh and the other a Fine Gael Minister, the then Deputy Boland. They treated the General Council of County Councils at the time with great consideration and respect and I would have to compliment than on that. They promised us in 1985, 1986 and 1987, when I was chairman, reform of local government. They said they had been working on in since 1984. But they did absolutely nothing to introduce this legislation, which was badly needed, because we all know that local government is really in a shambles. It has to be restructured and reformed and some kind of autonomy has to be reintroduced.

A lot has been said here today about the financing of local government and the structuring of local government. That should be left to the committee. At this late stage the Fine Gael Party should get involved in the restructuring. I think they are only looking for a cop-out at the end of the day. If we introduced reform of local government they would be able to point the finger at us and say we introduced this or that type of charge and so forth. If you are honest about it you should face the facts, get involved, get in there — not on behalf of your own party but on behalf of the country. Today people will tell you that local councillors [2005] are going into national issues at local level because their powers are so limited at local level. That is why reform is so badly needed.

I welcome this legislation. I will say here publicly that, if the proper reform is not in place next year and has to be postponed for another year, so be it. Let us do it properly, seeing that it was not done for 100 years and may not be done for 100 years more. Let us do it properly. Nobody is running away from any type of election.

Mrs. Bennett: Information on Olga Bennett  Zoom on Olga Bennett  I have no hesitation in saying that I welcome the decision to defer the local elections, not because of any fear of elections but because I welcome very much the initiative taken by the Minister in undertaking a review with a view to reforming local government.

As a member of the executive of the Municipal Authorities of Ireland, which represent borough councils, urban district councils, urban councils and town commissioners — and, as you are all aware, the representation of this Executive is made up of all political parties — I can say without hesitation that all of the political parties on this executive are in favour of deferring the local elections until there has been local government reform. The minicipal authorities of Ireland have an all-party ad hoc committee working for the last year on their proposals for local government reform. This draft document is now ready. It has been sent to the Minister and all local authorities all over the country for their comments and they are waiting for it to come back to submit it to the Minister at a later stage.

Local government is part of our democratic system. Local authorities have an important influence on national life in a number of key ways. The are responsible for meeting vital social needs in areas such as housing. They provide much of the infrastructure and economic development and much needed employment in all parts of the country. Yet the traditional role of local government in this country has been too restricted for local democracy to achieve its full potential [2006] and much of the vitality has gone out of the system over the last number of years.

The conference of local and regional authorities of the Council of Europe, of which I am also a member representing the municipal authorities of Ireland, has adopted a set of principles in relation to local government. I believe that this charter for local self-government should be used as a basis for reviewing the system of local government in Ireland. The charter includes principles relating to how functions are allocated between central and local level, the financial requirements of an effective system of local government, the administrative supervision of local authorities and local authority boundaries. The Council have sought to have the charter adopted as a Convention by the Committee of Ministers. I would ask the Minister to support the adoption of this charter, particularly in the context of the review of local government.

Irish local authorities have the narrowest range of functions in Europe. We have witnesed a gradual centralisation in the policy area for which local authorities are responsible. As an initial step towards enhancing the role of an elected council, local authorities should be allowed maximum discretion over the programme groups for which they are responsible — for example, housing, water and sanitary services, planning and development, roads, environmental protection and recreational amenity.

As regards finance, it would appear that one of the main motivating forces behind the current request for a local government review is the financial difficulties experienced by central and local government. The manner in which local government is financed is crucial to the system. Most systems of local government have some form of autonomous local finance. This is also set out as a principle in the charter for local self-government.

At this point, I would like to say that we feel in Dublin there is no point in returning to the old style rates on domestic dwellings. We feel it would not be appropriate, fair or practical in the 1990s. [2007] We would like to see some form of finance that is reliable and consistent and we are not waiting — I am talking now about the case in Dublin — until November, until we know what our budget is going to be. I do not think any council can work effectively and plan their budget in that kind of haphazard manner.

I would like to say something with regard to councillors and the power exercised by them. However, the powers may change; the first priority is to ensure that councillors are properly supported and financed to carry out the job they are elected to do. Once and for all, we must accept that some basic facilities are provided for councillors, like a quota of franked envelopes, some kind of telephone allowance, a realistic travel and subsistence allowance — and that to be reviewed regularly — reasonable expense allowances for chairmen and vice-chairmen of local authorities; and each local authority should have facilities for party meetings, group meetings and for telephoning and, most important, for research and library facilities.

All elected councillors on local authorities should be entitled to vote in the Seanad. This is something that not all members of municipal authorities are entitled to and it is something they would like addressed.

Finally, I am very encouraged to hear that the Minister in his speech in the Dáil say that the Government's aim is first and foremost to strengthen local democracy in Ireland and I hope to see that.

Professor Conroy: Information on Richard Conroy  Zoom on Richard Conroy  I promise to be very brief. As I think I am the first Senator on the Government side to speak who also is a member of Dublin County Council, which is our largest legislative body outside this institution, I think it is very important to say a few brief words.

Dublin County Council have a very major role to play in relation to local government generally. The budget of the county council is an enormous one, the number of people employed is considerable and, if there is any area in the country in which the relevance of the [2008] postponement of the local elections for a period of 12 months is germane, it is certainly Dublin County Council.

With Dublin County Council one would have to include also Dún Laoghaire Corporation. Those of us who are members of three districts for Dublin County Council are also de facto members of Dún Laoghaire Corporation which itself is one of the larger urban areas in the entire country. Yet at the moment one has this very anomalous situation in which its members are not elected per se to Dún Laoghaire Corporation but simply elected to Dublin County Council and, by virtue of the districts they happen to be elected for, find themselves members of Dún Laoghaire Corporation. Equally Dún Laoghaire Corporation continues, in a sense, to function as though it were a separate entity; yet in fact it is a subsidiary body of Dublin County Council. You have the rather anomalous situation in which there is a housing meeting or a planning meeting for Dublin County Council and the same thing duplicated all over again for Dún Laoghaire Corporation.

When we were elected as councillors it was on the basis that that county council was in a state of transition. The number of members was increased to 78. We were sure that within a matter of months the then Coalition Government were going to divide Dublin County Council area in what seemed like a very logical manner — that there would be one county council for the north of Dublin, one for the west of Dublin and one for the south of Dublin, which would reasonably, understandably and naturally include Dún Laoghaire Corporation. That just has not happened.

We talked about conditions of councillors here, the conditions of councillors in Dublin County Council and the actual chamber which is a disgrace. There are 78 councillors crammed into a totally inadequate room, in which there is scarcely room for 20 to 30 people. Debates there are frankly a shambles. One has a situation where de facto section 4s take up all of the normal time for the normal [2009] monthly council meetings. That is no criticism of any one councillor, group of councillors or persons on either side of that body. It is the nature of the situation.

The future development of the councils is quite unclear and I am sure one of the things the Government and this body are going to address is what should be the situation as regards Dublin County Council. There are a number of alternatives. On is to say we will go ahead with this division. Certainly, as regards those of us in the south side of County Dublin and in Dún Laoghaire it would be very reasonable to base a new south Dublin or Greater Dún Laoghaire County Council in Dún Laoghaire. We have an adequate chamber there. We have an infrastructure already established. We could run a very effective county council which would relate very directly, as a county council should, to the needs and requirements of the people in that area. That is one way of dealing with it.

If that is not acceptable — and perhaps something similar could be done for west Dublin, based perhaps on Belgard, and something similar for the north County Dublin — then reform of Dublin County Council itself must be carried out, I would have thought, on that basis that it is going to continue as one single county council. If so, the reality of that situation has to be faced up to. It has not been so far. At the moment we have just got one of these interim, temporary situations which are inevitably inadequate. They are disturbing for all the county officials. They do not know whether they are staying on or are going to be moved and, if so, where and under what circumstances. The councillors themselves do not really know the situation, except that it is totally inadequate and unsatisfactory for all concerned.

If there is going to be just one county council for the whole of Dublin, then let us face up to the situation. Let us say we are not going to divide it into three separate county councils, let us face up to the situation and then say we will have a proper infrastructure, a proper set-up for Dublin County Council. I would very strongly urge the Minister to take this on [2010] board. If there is one specific aspect, one specific area of county council reform and local government reform that this commission should look at it is the Dublin County Council and Dún Loaghaire situation. It is crying out for attention.

In general terms, it is an admirable step by the Government to review local government. We talk so much about local representation, decentralisation, democracy, of the need to respond to the actual wants and requirements and knowledge of the people in a given area. There is nobody who knows the requirements and needs of a local area better than the councillors who have been elected and represent that area. I think, quite frankly, that they are treated in a contemptuous manner by central Government. That, unfortunately, has been the tradition over the last 20 or 30 years irrespective of which party have been in power. It badly needs changing and I am delighted to see this Government tackling this problem. If we really believe in what we say about local democracy, if we really believe what we say about people being directly represented and participating in government in the local area, if we really mean what we say about councillors representing these areas and if we really mean what we say about devolution, now is our chance to prove it and to demonstrate it. I am quite sure, on grounds of representation, efficiency and on grounds financial and otherwise, that if we take this opportunity now and restore to local councils certain responsibilities, duties and opportunities which at present they simply do not have, then this Government will have taken a very major and a very necessary step forward.

Another aspect we have to look at in practical terms is actual representation on the councils. It is becoming a situation in which the requirements and demands on a local councillor are such that it is almost becoming a full-time job. We need to look at this. It is becoming a very demanding job, not only in terms of time but in terms of finance. It should not be a question of compensation for travelling expenses or for time lost. Let us have that by all means — it is necessary but [2011] the expenses of a councillor run far beyond that. His or her telephone expenses alone are often a vary major bill. Costs in relation to postage are enormous. There are a whole series of costs.

If this Government continue — they have taken the necessary step now of setting up a commission, an inquiry into local government — to give this important aspect the attention it requires and say, “We will tackle local government; we will give people back an appropriate degree of genuine influence on what happens in their own locality and give them the opportunity to decide that in conjunction with their local councillors rather than having it decided at one of the State offices in Dublin”, then we will have taken a big step forward. If we decide what powers local councillors should have and the appropriate compensation for the time and expense required, then we will have taken another very big step forward. If, as well as that, we sort out the problems of the largest council, which is Dublin County Council, and the totally inappropriate situation which exists there at present, then it will be well worth while postponing the local elections for whatever time is necessary.

Mr. McMahon: Information on Lawrence McMahon  Zoom on Lawrence McMahon  There is certainly a great interest in this House in this motion. That is how it should be, because over a considerable period I got the impression that many Members of the Oireachtas, and particularly in the Lower House, were beginning to lose interest in local government. I welcome a former Member of that House to the Visitor's Gallery, who will probably disagree with a lot of what I say. The important part of our democracy lies in what happens at local level in how our local authorities operate and how they are elected. I believe that the preservation of democracy is in that area.

I will refer briefly to what we have seen happening in Eastern Europe in recent times, how they were denied the opportunity of having their local say. What people could or could not do at local level was handed down from a higher [2012] authority. The less of that that happens the more secure is democracy in any state. The last substantive restructuring of local government took place in 1898, almost 100 years ago. The time is long since past when we should be having an in-depth look at local authorities and how they function. It has been said that the Government have made this order perhaps for their own political interest; but, if that is what we have to clutch on to in order to have retructuring of local government, then I am prepared to go with them.

Only last week I celebrated 25 years as a member of a local authority. I was coopted to Dublin County Council on 10 May 1965. During that time I have seen the powers of a local councillor dwindle and I have heard politicians in the Oireachtas talk, almost for that period, of restructuring local authorities and local government. Each time the pressure was on when we were approaching a local election and each time the Government backed away from it. I believe that, if we were to have the local elections which were due in June of this year, we would be again as far away from restructuring local authorities as we were five years ago. Once the election takes place the pressure is off and the Government have more important business to look after.

I accept much of what my colleagues have said: that, if it did not suit Fianna Fáil to postpone the local elections, they would be held this year. But, even if that is the case and if that is what is pushing us into restructuring local government, I am glad it is coming after my 25 years as a member of a local autority and seeing the powers of that local authority and of local authorities all over the country dwindling to what is almost a farce. This certainly is the case in County Dublin today. An attempt was made a few years ago to reorganise County Dublin. We are now probably the largest local authority in Europe, larger than this House in numbers, with a membership of 78. Many of us are reluctant to even contribute at council meetings because of the numbers and the amount of business [2013] that has to be done. Dublin County Council have now got into the situation where they hold their statutory meeting on the second Monday of each month from 2.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m., and sometimes 10 p.m. on the same day with a break from 5 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. In fact, we had our meeting this week where we dealt with 13 out of a total of 80 or 90 items. Inevitably, we are having a second meeting. It is getting to the stage where we have to have a third meeting to go anywhere near finishing the agenda. I have not seen the agenda for Dublin County Council completed for the last 12 months. I have not checked it, but it may be longer. Even if it is because it is suiting the Government party to postpone the elections, I believe we should go with it. It would be farcical to hold an election for Dublin County Council again to see a further five years of what I and my colleagues on the other side and a number of Members of this House who are also members of that authority, have seen happen. Many people are losing interest in them. I see a great danger to democracy. If we do not have democracy at local level and if we do not hold the interest of the average citizen at that level, what interest are they going to have in the Houses of the Oireachtas? It is extremely important to keep democracy alive so that you have meaningful elections with councillors elected with a meaningful purpose and a job they can do. There is a lot of work to be done over the next 12 months. I do not believe it can be done in 12 months. I hope that a rushed job will not be done on this occasion just to hold the Minister to the promise he gave in the Dáil earlier this week that the local elections would be held in June of 1991. It appears that it will be necessary for a further postponement. I hope if that is necessary that I will be here to see it happen because it is preferable that the local elections should be postponed for as long as necessary, although I believe the Minister can only do it next for a further year without legislation. There can be only two postponements. If it is necessary to postpone it again — and not many of my colleagues [2014] on this side of the House will probably agree with me on that or will be saying it — I would favour that course. With my 25 years' experience on a local authority I want to be honest with everybody. If we do not reorganise our local authorities now and if we do not give them a meaningful purpose we are on a slippery slope. I hope that the younger Members of this House would not live to see the day when we would have anarchy in this country. I view it that seriously. The Minister is not going to get many on this side of the House to go as strongly as that. Although my party has taken a stand on this, if there is a vote later this afternoon you know what I have to do. I firmly believe that the right thing is being done. That may seem a contradiction in politics, but I want to make my position clear. I certainly would not feel that I could honestly stand for a further term on the local authority and go through a further period such as I have come through in the past five years.

I was hoping for an opportunity to go into detail as to where the system is farcical but because of the number of speakers offering I do not want to take up too much time despite the Minister encouraging us to use this as an opportunity to give our views regarding local government reorganisation. I am glad that many Senators have availed of the opportunity to give you and whoever else will be making the decisions the benefit of their views.

The regional development organisations have disappeared. We have seen the agricultural committees disappear in the last five or ten years. We have seen the local health committees disappear where there was a very valuable input from local authorities. We have seen many other powers taken from the local authority, the principal one being that they had no control over their finances or the source of their financing.

An attempt was made a few years ago to reorganise local government in County Dublin. We were given the three area councils, Fingal, Belgard and Dún Laoghaire. In doing that the membership [2015] of Dublin County Council was increased from 36 to 78 today. I do not think I need elaborate, Minister, to you or to any Member of this House as to the unwieldly operation of that county council. We could not fit the members in this Chamber because we do not have sufficient seats to accomodate. Naturally every councillor elected wants to play his part. All of them are regular attenders at the monthly meetings, as I am myself. We just get frustrated in trying to arrive at an item on the agenda and then in trying to get our point of view across when we are restricted to a three minutes' contribution. You could imagine the hell that would break loose if we here in this Chamber were restricted at every meeting to a three minute contribution. I am glad, not for the same reasons as my colleagues on the opposite side, that this order is being made and that we are at long last going to get some democracy and meaningful operation into local government. I hope I am not being too optimistic. No member of a local authority wants an election anyway although that might be an unfair statement to make because most of them are lovers of democracy and they want to see democracy work. I believe we would have the support of most Members of the Oireachtas if there was a necessity for a postponement in a year's time to get the thing right. If we do not get it right this time, or as near to right as we can go, I believed it will be another 100 years, if our citizens are prepared to wait that long, before we get it right.

I have been watching with interest one of the few functions left to local authority members and that is the tolling of roads. Some of my colleagues spoke about it here yesterday evening. I do not know if the Minister elaborated more on it today. I was not in the House to hear his contribution today. I have a great fear that in the reorganising of local authorities this power may be taken from them because it certainly looks attractive to a Government to take the power from the members of the local authorities in the Dublin area. It would appear it can be a [2016] source of revenue that any Government in power would naturally welcome.

I want to fault the present Minister in doing what he has done with regard to road tolls in County Dublin. We have the west link bridge across the River Liffey which was built by a private concern and on which tolls are charged. That is acceptable. I do not think there are many complaints about that. Now there is a proposal to toll every vehicle going on to the city's ring road from the Bray Road to the airport. That will not be acceptable to the citizens of County Dublin. I would like the Government to get that message loud and clear before they get themselves into an embarrassing situation, if they have not already done so. I understand they have negotiated with and invited tenders for the toll franchise on this road. They are in negotiation with an Anglo-French firm, including a merchant bank who are prepared to put up the money for the sections of the road that are now built to repay the Government for the money they have put into it. In the consortium also they have someone with much experience of road tolls in Europe. These people are in discussions with the Minister's Department without the members of the local authority of Dublin County being consulted. Before that firm can be given the franchise it has to go through that local authority unless, of course, the Minister has in mind to take the power of this local government. It would be a sad day we would take from them any of the few powers they have now.

The control of the sources of finance must be returned to the local authorities. There are many ways in which this can be done but I am not going to advance any of them here this afternoon. On another occasion I would not mind putting my ideas before the Minister. I am sure many people have been talking about this and there is no doubt they will come up with some way of returning control of the finances to local authorities.

Since the rates were abolished a few years ago most of the local authority finance is coming from central Government That is really saying to local authorities: [2017]“we will give you the money, but we have control over how you spend it”. Successive Ministers have said that is not the case. It is the case, because central contributions to local authorities have been totally insufficient from the very first year the rates were abolished. Local authorities must get control of their source of revenue. If they do not have that, their greatest power is taken from them. I accept that in passing the rates each year was quite a hassle but if we do not have control over our finance we have lost part of our democracy. Indeed, it is then impossible to provide the services that are required.

The emphasis must be on local authorities. There may, of course, be a need for regional bodies for refuse disposal or for road construction. It is necessary, perhaps, to have regional councils and I have no doubt this will be given every consideration in the reorganising of the local authorities. It is of extreme importance that those elected to local authorities operate locally, and that the local citizens, associations or committees within counties would have a say and not only at election time when they can vote in their own representative. Some of them may not be strong enough to do that.

Indeed, as we know, local authorities are bound up with the political parties or, to put it the other way, political parties are bound up with the local authorities. I do not see us getting away from that, although I wish we could. I wish every member of a local authority could be a person of independent mind, a person who would think locally and be guided by the views of is own locality. Unfortunately, we are involved as political parties in local authorities and I do not think there is any drawing back from that. I do not see anything greatly wrong with it but, at the same time, we are losing something because people cannot operate independently. However, Dublin County Council up to very recently operated that way. Even though we were members of [2018] political parties, we were prepared on most occasions to throw that aside and to voice our opinions or cast our votes independently. I regret to say that this term of Dublin County Council has not operated in that way. It has gone more political. It may be because we do not have sufficient powers. Perhaps we are leaning on our political parties simply because we do not have the power to do locally what the local people want and what we want to see done.

My last words to the Minister are: “For Heaven's sake, realise what you are doing”. He is dealing with a structure that will outlive all of us in this House. I ask him to reflect on how the people in eastern Europe reacted when they were given the opportunity. In the next 12 months he will be considering the reorganisation of local government. If he does not feel able to do it in that time, then no matter how favourable it might seem to his political party, do not hold the elections in 1991 just for the sake of gaining a few Fianna Fáil seats.

Miss Keogh: Information on Helen Catherine Anne Keogh  Zoom on Helen Catherine Anne Keogh  All of us acknowledge the necessity for a complete overhaul of the local government system. What we have seen over the past years or decades is the erosion of local democracy in Ireland with the result of far more power being concentrated in central government which should more properly be the responsibility of local government. The role of councillors as exists at present is neither effective nor efficient, as we have heard today.

As a party, the Progressive Democrats have consistently argued in favour of the need for local government reform, because at present we are one of the most centralised and bureaucratic countries in Europe. The local authorities are at the mercy of the Government of the day for the bulk of their finance, and do not know from one year to the next how much they will get for delivering the many essential services for which they are responsible. It seems to me unfortunate, to say the [2019] least of it, that Fine Gael refuse to participate in an Oireachtas committee drawn from all parties to review the local government system as proposed by the Progressive Democrats in the Programme for Government. This means that we are denied the unique opportunity of examining and making recommendation for change on an agreed basis. There are no great fundamental differences in the publicly expressed views from all sides on the defects in the present system of our local government. We recognise the urgency of the need for reform in this issue and so entered into agreements with our partners in government to review the system with the advice of a panel of independent experts. I am delighted that there is a strong representation of women on that committee. Often women are forgotten about, particularly at local government level.

On the committee of Ministers we have our own Ministers, Deputies Robert Molloy and Mary Harney. We will be putting forward, through this committee, the policies which our party have formulated. We fully recognise the value of local participation in the administration of the wide range of affairs that affect people at local level. We believe in a strong, multipurpose local authority system with directly elected members. There is a commitment to alter the financing of local authorities so that Exchequer revenue collected on a national level will be shared between central and local government. This does not mean new taxes. Councils will be able to plan their expenditure programme, secure in the knowledge that they will have the finance they desire. They should also have the ability to raise moneys to finance any particular projects locally at the discretion of the elected members without any subsequent reduction in the annual allocation, as happens at present.

The second area in need of reform is the functions of the local authorities. There is a whole range of public services [2020] which could be more effectively and efficiently delivered at local level, including new house and improvement grants, group grants, scheme grants, amenity and environmental improvement grants — including those funded from the national lottery — driver testing, land registry and regional, county and non-county road grants in all areas. We should not rule out, in the context of a properly structured and responsive, system of local democracy, a role for elected representatives in the delivery of such essential services as primary education and primary health care.

The third area in need of reform is the structures of local government. The basic structures, as we know them are products of the 19th Century and we could not stress enough the urgency of providing structures that cater for the extensive and dramatic changes that have taken place in our society since that last substantive restructuring in 1989. We believe that the newly structured local government system should be three-tiered with regional, county and district authorities. At the moment what we have is a patchwork of overlapping regional structures covering such matters as economic development, tourism, fisheries, health care, EC Structural Fund planning and many other areas. Most of these regional authorities have different boundaries at present. This is a mish-mash of regional structures which should be rationalised. We envisage elected regional authorities in the local government system as having an overall planning function identifying priorities for future capital investment in each region. The next tier of local government which our party would envisage would be the existing county councils and county boroughs which would remain as the main unit of local government with boundary adjustments in some areas to take account of urban growth.

The third tier would be based on towns with a population of 1,000 along with the natural rural hinterland of each town. This third tier of local government could [2021] be designated as district councils. That would provide the most localised level for a delivery of services to each community. Obviously, special arrangements would be required to meet the needs of Dublin, where there is an urgent need for third tier district councils, possibly based on a population of 100,000. I am taking into account the new towns like Tallaght, Clondalkin, etc. Each council could collect a mayor who would chair all council meetings. We would ask the committee of experts to recommend the boundaries for all new authorities and the services each council would be responsible for.

Despite the difficulties there may be in implementing reform over the period of one year, we are committed to having reforms implemented in time for the local elections of 1991.

Eamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív  Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív  Tá áthas orm deis a fháil labhairt ar an ábhar seo. Nuair a toghadh don Seanad mé rinne mé camchuairt ar fud na tíre chuig comhairleoirí contae na tíre agus is dócha, i gcaitheamh an ama sin, go bhfuair mé tuiscint anmhaith ar chuid de na fadhbanna a bhfuil na comhairleoirí contae ag strácáil leo.

It is a great pleasure to me to speak on this subject. I will try to be as brief as possible. When one examines the range of activities at present handled by the local authorities, the importance to the ordinary person is immediately evident. Local authorities are obviously responsible for such things as roads, housing and services such as sanitary services, water and refuse. It is generally accepted now that over the years for one reason or another the power of the local authority has been eroded. My belief is that we have to go back to a situation where local authorities have power to make decisions but, in turn, are answerable to the electorate for those decisions.

The present system, with an overemphasis on minor decisions being approved by central Government has led to mediocrity and also to local government not being seen to be in the power [2022] of the local elected representatives. What we have at the moment is, maybe, too much accountability and not enough responsibility. It should be possible to detect in your travels around the country those authorities that are acting responsibly and those which are not; those authorities which are making good use of the moneys that are given to them and those that are not.

There has been a great deal of lip-service paid to the principle of subsidiarity, but my understanding of it is that at the end of the day not only do you make as many decisions as you can at as local or as at a devolved a level as possible, but you also leave the people at local level with the responsibility of answering for their actions. To my way of thinking you have the problem where most of finance comes from central government. Central government, therefore, is perceived to be responsible for the standard reply to any lack of services, “we did not get enough money to provide it”. In this review the question of finance will have to be addressed. I regret the decision taken by the Coalition Government in the early eighties to abolish the direct relationship between the rates support grant and the loss of rates to the local authority. That, in my view, was the decision that put the nail in the coffin so far as responsibility and the guaranteed financing of local authorities are concerned.

Mr. McMahon: Information on Lawrence McMahon  Zoom on Lawrence McMahon  The Senator's party took part in the option.

Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív  Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív  I hope, when this question is examined, that a new system of financing will be instituted whereby the local authority will know with some certainty from year to year what type of finance they will have and that the responsibility for the spending that finance will be largely left to their discretion.

On the question of raising local finance, it seems a pity that every time the [2023] question of local finance is raised people seem to think there are only two options, property taxes or service charges. We have to look at this question in a broader way to see if there are other ways to tackle the whole question of local finance.

Another point that has to be looked at — it has been touched on by other Senators — is devolving on an agency basis the running of schemes, etc., so that as well as enhancing their direct powers, they would handle such schemes as housing grants, etc., on a local basis. There is unnecessary duplication here. There is no need for such services to be run from a central bureaucracy.

I welcome the decision to devolve the administration of group water schemes to local authorities. This is a first step in the right direction and is a good example of what could be done. Local authorities have to be given a much greater development role. It is important that they are not just seen as planning, housing, water authorities but that they would have a positive role in the development of urban or rural areas that come under their remit.

I am not in favour of setting up too many structures. At times we have too many but it would be desirable that simple methods of local consultation with various groups based in rural areas, on such things as engineering be set up so that consultation could take place on priority services, roads, etc.

There are two final points I would like to raise briefly. To whom are the staff of local authorities responsible? Who decides the reserve functions, etc. and the question of staffing levels? There is a good case for an investigation to be carried out into the staffing requirements and levels in view of developments in technology and to ensure the better use of these resources which tend to be very expensive. By identifying the correct staffing levels it would be possible over time to work steadily in that direction. The authority of the local authority over [2024] staff should be increased. In my experience the more the responsibility, the more responsibly those in authority act. I have no doubt that if it was perceived that local representatives had authority, and that at the end of the day they would have to answer to their electorate, they would make very wise decisions. I have the utmost confidence in the elected representatives to make the wisest decisions in the interests of the areas they serve.

As a Senator who is not a member of a local authority, I would like to say a brief few words on the question of expenses and allowances. I would hate to see the day that the privilege of being on a local authority would become the prerogative of people who could afford it. There is no doubt that at the moment being a member of a local authority, when all the expenses associated with being a public representative are taken into account, is fairly expensive. If we take the position of being a local representative seriously, we should be willing to commit adequate resources so that these people can do their work efficiently and effectively and this will ensure that that particular role in society will be open to everybody regardless of personal wealth. The present system harps back to Victorian values. I certainly welcome this area being reviewed which is a step in the right direction and I look forward to the debate on these proposals when they come before the House. I also look forward to a revamping and a revitalising of local authorities. The Government have shown their courage by grasping this nettle, and I hope that, at the end of the day, we will be in a position to provide better services and more development for the people we are elected to represent.

Mr. E. Ryan: Information on Eoin Ryan  Zoom on Eoin Ryan  I welcome this motion. It gives us a great opportunity to reform a very outdated local government system. The time has come for us to look at this. I have been a member of a local authority [2025] for the past five years. I do not have the experience of Senator McMahon and I will come to some of the things he said later because they are relevant. Dublin City Council provide a great service in housing, water, sewerage, etc. and do a good job. On the other hand, I see how inefficient they are and how local communities are cut off from developing their areas and getting things done in an efficient manner. The demand for change is loud and clear. That is why I welcome this reform. Local government at the moment is no longer local. It has become centralised and bureaucratic and we wait now for years for permission to come back from central Government to do things on housing, roads and sewerage. It has become very frustrating for everybody concerned especially local authority members. There are disadvantages if we get more power because very often local authority members like to hide behind the Minister and the Department of the Environment and blame it on them. However, the advantages will outweigh the disadvantages. It is time that communities and regions had a chance, as has been said already, to develop themselves and with a radical reform of local government this can come about if we have a strong system of local government with members accountable to the local people. Things can be changed fast and efficiently. This is not happening at the moment.

One of the things I have seen in my somewhat short experience is that local authority members in Ireland are very different from the local authority members in other countries. During the Millennium we had the privilege of having many people from other cities and local authorities in Europe visiting Dublin and the discussions with them were very interesting. In Ireland we are often criticised by the general public that we have far too many Members of the Dáil and Seanad relative to our population. People do not understand that in many of the countries they are talking about there is a much [2026] more sophisticated local government system. People are properly paid and they are not part-time like they are in Ireland. That is one of the areas, as some Members have already pointed out, we have to look at.

Another one — I do not wish to harp on this — is the area of expenses. I believe there are 1,600, local authority members in the country and the vast majority of them are very hard working I do not think the expenses go anywhere near looking after what they spend in the course of their work.

One other aspect of it which I would like to mention is the financial one. I am glad that the Minister has mentioned finance, because I believe the financing of local authorities is the kernel of the whole thing. At the moment we cannot plan in a proper manner, we cannot plan over a few years which is essential. I do not wish to harp on Dublin but I am a local authority member there. Dublin gets its allocation, sometimes only a couple of weeks before we have to do our estimates, which is a ludicrous situation. With a budget of £300 million, we cannot possibly plan for the year ahead. We really need to have an idea over a few years of how much money we will get. I am delighted that finance is seen as the kernel of local authority reform and that it will be tackled in a organised and proper manner.

Senator McMahon mentioned putting off the local elections for a second year. I would agree with this. We should look into postponing the local elections for a second year, if the time is used to reform local authorities properly. I do not believe we should rush this through in a year. We should leave it open and postpone it for a second year if we need the time to do the job properly.

I welcome some of Senator McMahon's comments because, having served for over 25 years on a local authority, has far more experience of the system than I have. I do not wish to be party political about it but Fine Gael lost [2027] a great opportunity in not taking part in the all-party committee on the reform of local government. There are many members in Fine Gael who have experience of serving on local authorities and that experience could be used, as Senator McMahon, pointed out, to do some of the things on which he agrees with the Government. Unfortunately, his experience and the points he made will be lost. They would have been suited to an all-party committee which the Government tried to set up.

There is not a Fine Gael member of a local authority I know of, and I know many, who is not delighted that the local elections have been postponed. Everybody wanted them postponed. Nobody really wants to continue with the present system for another five years. As has already been said, the minute the local elections would have taken place we would have cancelled the reform of local government. I am delighted that we are now grasping this nettle, and we will reform local government.

I welcome this order and I look forward to a very interesting report and Bill. I believe we will see great changes in local government.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  The debate is concluding at 4 o'clock, and I want to give the Minister a chance so I would ask Senator Hanafin to be brief.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on Des Hanafin  Zoom on Des Hanafin  As one who has been involved in local government for a long time, I did want to say something but I will curtail what I have to say now in view of what you have said to me.

Mr. Connolly: Information on Gerard C. Connolly  Zoom on Gerard C. Connolly  There is no problem so far as I am concerned.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on Des Hanafin  Zoom on Des Hanafin  I will do as the Leas-Chathaoirleach asks me. I was first elected on a county council 35 years ago. I was chairman of the county council then at what was a very young age. I am one [2028] of those people who has a great future behind him. However, I was very pleased and honoured to have been chairman at that time of North Tipperary County Council. I carried on a tradition created by my father and it is continued to the present day.

I welcome the reform of local government and I look forward to seeing the details. I feel that more authority should be given to county council members who are very responsible people. County councillors and urban councillors are very close to the views of the people on the ground. They know exactly what is needed by the people and they are not slow at any time to tell us at another level what is required.

I am very glad that the elections are being postponed. They have been postponed many times in the past by different Governments. From our party point of view we need have no fear of contesting elections. Reforms will take place. It is the wish of most councillors of all persuasions that the elections should be postponed. I congratulate the Minister involved here for being his own man and not allowing himself to be threatened in any way by anyone in the matter of holding elections which he did not consider necessary.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. Connolly): Information on Gerard C. Connolly  Zoom on Gerard C. Connolly  I wish to thank all Members for the manner in which the debate has been conducted. I want to thank the Chair and all Members for agreeing to the procedures this morning. I was pleased to be here yesterday evening and today. It has been a very interesting debate. Maybe if what was proposed way back, that an all-party committee have a look at this reform it may have been a better way of doing it. In view of the fact that agreement could not be got then the Government decided on this way to do it now with an expert committee and also with members of the Government.

All members of local authorities give [2029] a very valuable service to our community. Most of them are holding down employment as well and many of them have to forfeit their holidays in the interest of their commitments to local authority matters. There are not too many who will do that. The day or two days a month they take for meetings are taken out of their holidays. After their day's work they have to go to meetings. Most times, they get very little thanks. I want to put it on record here that they do their best to look after all the people in their areas irrespective of party or political affiliations. The problem they all have is finance, there is not enough of it to go around.

In the time available to me, I am not in a position to deal with all matters raised and Senators will appreciate my position in that respect. I want to say a word about the tolls here in Dublin. The decision regarding the imposition of tolls is reserved function of the road authority. In the case of the recently opened section of the ring road between the Naas dual carriageway and the Palmerstown/ Ballydowd dual carriageway, provision was made in the construction of the road for possible future tolling. Toll plinths and ramps were designed and added to a gradient suitable for the queuing of vehicles. This was done for practical reasons — to avoid the serious disruption and additional costs which would be involved in adapting the road for tolling at a later stage. This does not in any way pre-empt or prejudice the formal decision of the members of Dublin County Council on a possible toll scheme at a future date. The decision as to whether tolls should or should not be imposed on this road will fall to be made by the council in accordance with their statutory powers under the 1979 Toll Roads Act. I hope that explains the position.

In regard to the financing of local authorities, I do not wish to pre-empt what the review committees and the Cabinet sub-committee will decide. Many of the [2030] local authorities today have had responsibility for many things but took easy options and did not face up to them. In regard to the lottery grants none of the local authorities who received them and who were asked to pass a judgment on them, earmarked any of them in their areas for special attention. They were all sent up to the Department. They had an option to do that but I know well they did not like to offend anyone, so the easiest way is to land them up to me and the Minister and we take it from there.

The same applies to other things. The development of the privatisation of such services as refuse collection is extraordinary. Before privatisation, one local authority were not able to collect the £15 charge they had imposed. A couple of years ago they decided to privatise the service and people are paying £1 a week, and in some cases £1.50, and they tell me it is a great service. It is privatised now and there is not a word out of anybody. It is almost as if there was some kind of stigma attached to local authorities imposing a charge on anything. The local authority I am talking of were providing a very good service to the people in the collection of garbage but they would not be paid. They were accused of such things as smashing bins.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on Des Hanafin  Zoom on Des Hanafin  The more you pay for it, the greater the regard.

Mr. Connolly: Information on Gerard C. Connolly  Zoom on Gerard C. Connolly  The various matters raised by the Senators will be looked into. I admit that in the Dublin area the local authority seems unwieldy in terms of numbers. Such matters as the role and functions of local authorities and the Managerial Act will come under a review now and we will see what will come out of that. I have my own views on many of these matters because I have been on a local authority for a long number of years and I have seen great changes.

I remember a time when I was on the local authority way back and we took 2p off the rates. At that time £15,000 a year [2031] in Offaly was going to the roads. It was one of the worst decisions we ever made. The people I took the 2p off did not know it was taken off, and with regard to the £15,000 that was to go to the road network they all said it was right to spend the money in that way. I did not win. These are some of the things I learned [2032] and the senior members of my council allowed me to do it, which was worse. Many Senators know them, they are good friends of theirs. Again, I thank Senators for their co-operation and for this most interesting debate. Perhaps my being here has been a help in that report.

Question put.

Bennett, Olga.
Bohan, Eddie.
Byrne, Hugh.
Byrne, Sean.
Conroy, Richard.
Cullen, Martin.
Dardis, John.
Fallon, Sean.
Farrell, Willie.
Finneran, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Tom.
Foley, Denis.
Hanafin, Des.
Honan, Tras.
Hussey, Thomas.
Keogh, Helen.
Kiely, Dan.
Kiely, Rory.
Lydon, Don.
McCarthy, Seán.
McKenna, Tony.
Mooney, Paschal.
Mullooly, Brian.
O'Brien, Francis.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Donovan, Denis A.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
Ryan, Eoin David.
Wright, G.V.

Cosgrave, Liam.
Doyle, Avril.
Hourigan, Richard V.
Howard, Michael.
Jackman, Mary.
Naughten, Liam.
Neville, Daniel.
Ó Foighil, Pól.
O'Reilly, Joe.
Raftery, Tom.
Ross, Shane P.N.
Staunton, Myles.
Upton, Pat.

Question declared carried.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Seán Doherty  Zoom on Seán Doherty  When is it proposed to sit again?

Mr. Fallon: Information on Sean Fallon  Zoom on Sean Fallon  The House will sit again next Wednesday at 2.30 p.m.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Seán Doherty  Zoom on Seán Doherty  I am sure the House would wish me to welcome Mr. Packie Bonner who is in the Visitors Gallery in the company of the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher.


Last Updated: 23/05/2011 13:15:08 First Page Previous Page Page of 7 Next Page Last Page