Friday, 17 May 1991
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Costello: I welcome the Minister to the House. A man from the west is always welcome here, however I am afraid I cannot give the same categoric and absolute welcome to the legislation he brings to the House. I am sure he has heard that before so he will not be surprised.
The Minister says the Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation to come before this House in recent years. There is no great humility in that statement, but time will tell if it is. It should be one of the most important pieces of legislation to come before this House because we have been waiting so long for the reform of local government. In the Fianna Fáil manifesto of 1985 there was a commitment to local government reform and the Minister has had four years in Government to ensure that that commitment was honoured. The Bill should have been introduced in a more coherent way. One would have expected a more generous timespan. It has been introduced in the last few days in order to meet the local elections deadline and if it is not passed by 17 May it will not be in  place for the forthcoming local elections. That is not the way to go about introducing major legislation. This last minute timing is to be deplored. Effectively we have a guillotine on the debate and we have no choice but to rush it through without a proper opportunity to tease it out and explore its implications. This has enormous implications. The debate in this House ran from 6 p.m. yesterday until midnight and today it will conclude at 8 p.m. which is not enough time to tease out this very important Bill to any degree.
The Minister said reform and modernisation of the local government system has been one of the Government's highest priorities. It may very well have been, but this legislation has come into this House at such short notice that there is no sign of that. The Minister went on to say that this is also a task of considerable depth and complexity. Naturally we would have liked to have had the opportunity of addressing in equal depth what he proposes. He said, “We need only reflect briefly on the range of services, the extent of resources and the volume of employment involved in the local government sector to appreciate that any change in the system must be prudently formulated and implemented with the utmost care and thoroughness.” I agree whole heartedly and that is why I must deplore so strongly the manner in which this Bill is going through this House, particularly at such short notice.
To put the Bill into context brings us back to the original Local Government Act, 1898. That was a major development. Local councils were established so that local people could, for the first time, have an input into Government and this meant Irish people could have a direct input into Government. It is strange that we have not had a reform of local government legislation for over 90 years. It is a sort of a déja vu situation — so much of our major legislation goes back to the beginning of this century or to the previous century and was formulated in different times, under a different jurisdiction — and we bring with us all that heavy handed colonial baggage that was  established for a more bureaucratic system with a more bureaucratic Civil Service and a totally different ethos. I find it unacceptable that if I should look for a copy of the Local Government Act, 1898, the only way I can get it is to apply to Her Majesty's Government in Britain or in Northern Ireland because that Act is not published here. That is the position so far as other legislation is concerned. Our country is governed by some legislation that was introduced by those who governed us, but we still have not seen fit to reformulate the legislation in keeping with the character and ethos of our own country. Perhaps we might move towards very substantial law reform in this and a number of other areas.
In his speech the Minister said there have been changes in the functions of local authorities and developments have taken place over the years in this area. From time to time new areas have been covered, others have been neglected or have been allowed to fall away. The one thing that is common throughout is that there has been no substantial development in terms of organisation or structural developments in this area. The powers of local authorities have been eroded and nothing has been put in their place. City and county managers have taken over many of the essential functions of local authorities. This took place prior to the war, during the thirties and forties. As a result the power is no longer devolved to the people who have been elected by the public but rests with the managers. Therefore, it is bureaucratic power rather than a true democratic power.
The second major area where the powers of local authorities have been eroded is in financing. This more than anything else has emasculated local authorities in recent years. This was the direct consequence of the 1977 election when the Fianna Fáil Party swept home with a 20 seat majority on their promise to abolish local rates. They acknowledged that this would take away the funding of local authorities but said they would put in place substantial Exchequer funding  which would equal what was taken away. This was a wonderful promise but it was never implemented in practice — local funding was taken from local authorities but no central Government funding was put in its place. Without funding from the Exchequer local authorities were not able to fulfil the range of functions they had exercised prior to 1977. This is evident from what has been happening in recent times. While the Governments of the early eighties, particularly the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government, managed to provide funding from the Exchequer, this funding has not been forthcoming since 1987. As a result local authorities have been starved of funding for the essential services they are duty bound to provide to the community.
The Government's housing policy has been bankrupt. In 1986, prior to Fianna Fáil coming into power, 1,556 houses were built in Dublin. In 1987 this was reduced to 460; in 1988 it was further reduced to 159 and in 1989 only six local authority houses were built in Dublin. How can anyone imagine from those statistics that the local authorities are providing a housing service? The local authorities are very anxious to provide housing but the necessary funding to do this is not forthcoming from the Government. In the space of four years the actual Government allocation for public housing fell from £250 million in 1985 to £21 million in 1989. This is certainly not the way to do business in terms of providing local authority housing. The level of maintenance carried out by local authorities is at an all time low. I see evidence of this every day in flat complexes——
Mr. Costello: Housing is essential. Maintenance is another essential area which must be financed by local authorities. We cannot allow the stock of local authority houses built in this city to be run down. We have now reached the stage where necessary repairs are not being carried out because local authorities do not have the personnel to do this work or the resources to provide the equipment. As a result the existing housing stock is falling into disrepair.
I want to refer to libraries, another essential service provided by the local authorities. Because of the a lack of staff libraries are being closed earlier during weekdays and are not opened at all at weekends. This service is of greater necessity now to people. For example, as a teacher I am aware of the tremendous amount of project work involved in the new junior certificate. Teachers are sending pupils to libraries to research projects. However, the necessary materials for this work are not being put in place in libraries. This area needs to be developed but, unfortunately, the opposite is happening.
I want to refer to the emergency services. If there is a fire at evening time or during the night, if a gas main bursts or there is flooding, there is no one in City Hall to answer an emergency call. Playgrounds have been closed down in the city centre and public amenities generally are at a very low ebb because of a lack of financing for local authorities. While the local authority in Dublin have plans to introduce major reforms such as road widening, road building, etc, and have purchased property over a long period of time, very often they are unable to implement these plans due to a lack of funding. As a result the local authority are a slum landlord. Unfortunately, the Derelict Sites Bill did not address this problem.
I want to refer to section 4 motions, the scandal of the century. Much of the Dublin area, particularly the green areas  on the outskirts of the city, have been turned into a wasteland of unregulated and environmentally dangerous developments. I think we all agree on the need for root and branch reform of local government. By this I mean reform of the structures, organisation and means of resourcing local authorities so that there can be an underpinning of finance. If there is no root and branch reform we will be talking about something which will never be delivered. We must ensure that it is the local authorities, who are elected by the people and who represent their local communities, and not the Minister who are in charge of local government.
We must also ensure that we do not have an anomalous system of double taxation. At present people in Cork are being jailed because of their opposition to water charges while there are no such charges in Dublin city. This means we have a two-tier system where one tier is regarded as more unjust than the other. We need to have a standard system so that people will have respect for the manner in which local authorities are elected, administered and financed.
The Minister is seeking consensus on this Bill. Of course, this is the proper way of going about it. We need to have consensus on major reforming legislation. Unfortunately, some of the problems in this area were created by the Minister's party as a result of the steps they took in the late seventies. Therefore, there is a particular onus on the Minister to ensure that reform is introduced in this area. My party are aware of the need to have as much consensus as possible on the Bill. However, it will be very difficult to get consensus on the Bill because of the manner in which it has been introduced.
The suggestion has been made throughout the debate that this is an enabling Bill. The Bill provides a framework, but it will not implement reform. There is no reference to finance and the structures which will be put in place. Therefore, we are only talking about one-third of the major reforms required. The Minister in his speech said: “The first  requirement is to get the structures, systems, functions and operations of local authorities right. To attempt any financial adjustments in advance of this would quite simply be a case of putting the cart before the horse”. I could not possibly agree with that. It is a load of rubbish. There is no question of putting the cart before the horse. The introduction of the legislation and the provision of the finance should be done in tandem. One does not first put in place legislation that may or may not be followed by other legislation and not talk about finance because it will be dealt with later. That is not the way to proceed. Further legislation may or may not be forthcoming; the Government may not even be in power. Judging by recent developments one never knows what will happen. The proper and responsible way to proceed is to ensure that every structural change introduced, every new function given to local authorities is underpinned with the necessary finances to implement it.
The Minister says this is not a financial provisions measure. Why not? How can the Minister put it that way and expect reasonable people and seasoned legislators in this House to accept his word on it? Resources must be provided for in the legislation. Without the finance the legislation is powerless. Power is given through the resources. If the plans are not funded, if there is no provision for staff in the plans then the plans are not capable of being implemented.
The Oireachtas has seen fit to enact several important pieces of legislation conferring significant powers and responsibilities on local authorities. There have been, or are currently in preparation Bills dealing with air pollution, water pollution, housing, roads, planning, urban renewal and derelict sites, and regulations made to give effect to various EC directives have also added considerably to local functions.
There is a problem about all of these. We discussed the Derelict Sites Bill, and no  money and no extra staff were put in place. We are discussing the Environmental Agency Bill and we have the same problems there. The major problem we have focussed on is that new agencies do not get the resources. That is the fatal flaw and that is the problem in relation to this legislation.
Mr. Costello: There is not one provision in the 52 sections of this Bill under which one penny will be made available to implement its proposals. I would be delighted to hear the Minister's response to that. He cannot but accept that there will be a degree of scepticism abroad when that is the position.
Sections 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 deal with the devolution of power. It seems that that is very much a mirage rather than a reality. It is imaginary that the powers and functions of the local authorities are going to be devolved, as it is put very finely in the opening lines in section 5 (1) which states that a local authority may represent the interests of the local community in such a manner as it thinks appropriate. The function of the local authority is to represent the interests of the local community, but Members should note the wording —“a local authority may represent”. Surely it should be that a local authority must represent the interests of the local community. Is that not their only function? They do not have a discretion, or should not have a discretion in the matter. That is the reason we have the expensive business of electing councillors to local authorities, that we set up a structure, that we have buildings, committee meetings, expenses, chairpeople, mayors and the whole paraphernalia. Local authorities should represent the community, but in the Bill it is left as a discretionary matter. I hope the Minister will accept an amendment to that provision. No duty or liability is imposed on a local authority in any of the sections following. All the provisions carry the word “may”; that the local  authority, subject to the provisions of a section, may do this or may do that.
The Minister used many fine words and eloquent phrases when he spoke of the need to democratise, to transfer power to the people, but immediately he is introducing a discretionary provision and does not impose an obligation or a liability.
Secondly, the legislation is very much hamstrung by the fact that in all of these areas, as well as leaving it as loose as that, the Minister is entitled to come back and may order what he will in relation to these functions supposedly being devolved to the local authority. There will be a second tier of imposition under which the local authority can be hamstrung by the Minister or, indeed, by the Government. According to section 6 the Minister has to get the consent of the Minister for Finance. The provision of finance should be part and parcel of the legislation but now we have the Minister for Finance as a further broker in this matter. The Minister for the Environment may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, prescribe matters in respect of which a local authority shall not exercise the powers conferred by this section.
A local authority shall not, by virtue of this section, undertake or provide assistance for the undertaking of any activity that would prejudice or duplicate activity arising from the performance of a statutory function by any person in the functional area of the authority or that would, having regard to the activities or proposed activities of that person in relation to the area, involve wasteful or unnecessary expenditure by the local authority.
Surely it is the function of the local authority to decide what is important in terms of functional development in their area? Does that provision mean that the Minister, or the Minister for Finance, can decide if a proposed development of an industrial nature, of a tourism nature, or any nature is the best value for the  community? Surely the powers should rest with the local authority. That is what they are there for and that is what we mean by devolving power to local authorities. Otherwise the Minister is saying one thing and doing another. The Minister cannot expect us to come in like sheep to this House and give a stamp of approval, an imprimatur, to legislation that is so constrictive and open to being used in a way that is contrary to what the Minister said in his introductory speech.
Therefore everything a local authority may decide to do is subject to those conditions. What is the first condition? Subsection (1) (a) states: “the resources, wherever originating, that are available or likely to be available to it for the purpose of such performance...” Subsection (1) (e) refers to the policies and objectives of the Government or any Minister of the Government in so far as they may affect or relate to its functions. Surely the policies and objectives of the Government are not matters that should tie down a local authority. The Government may have all sorts of objectives, but a local authority has the objective of providing for and representing their local community. If they are to be bound by what any Government or Minister has as an objective at a particular time, does this mean that they will have to write to the Minister for Justice and say: “We were thinking about doing some work in relation to building a swimming pool, a sewerage system or something of that nature and the approval of the Minister for Justice has to be received because we do not know what the Minister for Justice thinks about it”? These are unnecessary curtailments on the exercise of the local authorities' function.
While the Minister specified the general framework in the functions, he did not take on board the report of the Advisory Expert Committee which specified in  greater detail the areas that the local authority should address and what functions would be devolved to the local authority. These were: individual housing grants, group water schemes, driver testing, foreshore licences, non-national heritage parks, controls for safety at work, aspects of education, health, social welfare, tourism, transport and traffic, police and courts, consumer protection and social employment schemes. The report recommended that these be transferred in stages from central Government to local government. The Minister makes a general reference to areas that maybe the function of a local authority — social, economic, environmental, recreational, cultural, community and general development — but he does not specify in any great detail. That type of detail would contribute to ensuring that local authorities operate more coherently. Interpretation within that context may vary enormously from area to area.
Let me talk about education, for example. The Vocational Education Committee are neither very standardised nor very representational; there are no parents nor teachers represented on the VECs and the VECs vary enormously from one county to another. For example, in Sligo there is a VEC representing only a single vocational school. In the other area, the secondary sector there is no element of local authority because traditionally that was developed by the nuns, priests and brothers. Now the brothers have almost gone from the system, the nuns are in short supply and so are the priests. We are left with individual stand alone schools throughout the country with good, representative boards of management, teachers, parents and trusty representatives, but they are not co-ordinated; there is no structure to coordinate them. They are standing alone, in isolation, little islands, and as this decade goes by the situation will worsen. Is this not an area that a local authority could address? It has been addressed in practically every other country in the world, but there is no provision for an extension of local authority co-ordination  or structural involvement in the functions specified here. That needs careful consideration now when changes are being considered. I ask the Minister to examine this area. It may not be possible to do anything about it under this legislation — although proper to it — but it could be taken account of in the preparation of the promised Bills.
We spoke yesterday about the prisons, the Garda and the courts. Is there any reason these could not be brought under the control of the local authority? The system at present is very badly administered and perhaps if these functions were devolved to the local authority an improvement would be effected.
The Fianna Fáil election manifesto said in relation to local authorities that Fianna Fáil would ensure that each local authority would gain the maximum benefit from EC regional funding and would introduce procedures whereby local authorities could make direct applications for regional funding and receive such funds directly from the Community. As the Minister knows, the opposite position was adopted by the Government. When the EC offered funding it was not accepted because it was to be made available in the context of being administered by the local communities and that was not acceptable to the Government. This is the contradition between what is proposed here and the reality. The proposal is in vague terms and really there is no desire to implement local authority reform.
Fianna Fáil in their election manifesto, stated that they would raise the annual housing output to 30,000 including 6,000 local authority houses per year; that the 50,000 unemployed building workers and their families and the 35,000 families waiting for homes could look with confidence to Fianna Fáil to meet their needs. I am afraid the figures I quoted in relation to local authority housing are a sad reflection on that declaration when only about 200 houses are to be built this year in the entire country. Approximately 25,000 people throughout the country are on the housing list and this is the Government's response. Where is the provision in this  new Bill to ensure that local authorities have the powers and the funding to build new houses?
The Fianna Fáil election manifesto stated that Fianna Fáil viewed with concern the rapid deterioration of the county road system which represents 80 per cent of the public road network, that a special five year programme to assist local authorities to deal with the problem would be drawn up for the maintenance of county roads and that Fianna Fáil believed that the preservation of the investment of over 60 years in county roads was essential.
Mr. Costello: We were here last night until 12 o'clock and Senator O'Cuív agreed with Senator O'Foighil that the potholes in Galway were the worst in the country. That is a Senator from Senator Fallon's own party.
Mr. Costello: Senator Ryan says they are not the worst potholes in the country.  Obviously he has had some experience in North Tipperary. Occasionally when I manage to get down to Sligo these days I get experience too.
These were some of the promises and we are seeing what the delivery has been. I want to underline the dire need to ensure that local authorities can fulfil the functions for which they are established. They can do that only if the funding is put there to underpin them.
The advisory committee made a number of recommendations. I would like to see them incorporated in the Bill, for example, Ireland should ratify the European Charter of Local Self-Government. Why has that not been implemented? Is there some fear of having an international charter ratified in Ireland? If constitutional recognition were given to local government then there would be an implied responsibility to ensure that they were properly resourced and that local elections would not be capable of being postponed except in an emergency. The local elections have been postponed for a year to allow the introduction of this legislation which is very much a damp squib. We had expected substantial legislation because of the postponement. I would like to quote the view of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce regarding the resourcing of this legislation:
Adequate resources of local authorities are essential if they are to become engines of economic development. At present local authorities are under-resourced and this places an undue burden on the commercial rate is——
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Costello, I have to remind you that this Bill is not about funding or about resources as you are describing them. It is about reform in certain areas of the functions of local authorities.
Mr. Costello: The Chamber of Commerce said that, unfortunately the Bill does not tackle the question of finances and that is what they felt should be tackled. It is clear that local financing must be put on a sound footing if independent and participatory local government is to be achieved. They are interwined so there is no way one can address this without addressing the finances.
Mr. Costello: Section 12 provides that the Minister may by order do this, that and the other in relation to county boundaries and the number of personnel who may sit on a local authority. I would have thought the time was right to ensure that an independent commission would be established to divide the local authority  areas and to decide on the number of members who should represent any local authority. I would have thought that existing legislation should not continue to preserve those powers but that we should be talking about dispensing with those powers; providing for a High Court judge and an independent commission to deal with it.
When the reorganisation report has been submitted to the Minister, he may, having considered it, direct that another report be jointly prepared by any one or more of the area managers in respect of or taking account of specified matters.
In relation to preparing for the establishment of the proposed councils by the Minister the work may be done by the council but the Minister will inspect it and he may order another report. Even that extra stage is so restricted by ministerial prerogative that nobody ever knows if we will ever reach it. Section 24 (2) states:
The Minister, having considered the reorganisation report and any reports under this section may, after consultation with the Minister for Finance, by regulations make such provision as appears to him to be necessary or expedient for the purposes of or to give full effect to or to facilitate —
In this legislation there are no guarantees, restructuring is promised and financing is promised but there is so much ministerial red tape and possible regulations, subject to finance, subject to the Minister for the Environment, that we do not know whether we are coming or going. One could speak for hours on this Bill but I will not speak for much longer. There is a great deal of sound and fury in the Bill and in the Minister's speech. I am afraid it signifies——
Mr. Costello: The reason it is so necessary to have local government reform is because of what happened in 1977. This Bill is not the big bang the Minister suggested when he said it was one of the most important items of legislation to come before the House in recent years. It should have been the most important legislation but my fear is that it is a very small whimper. Because of the lack of resources, the limitation on the devolution of powers and the whole question of how the local authorities will operate, we may find ourselves with less local power so that the whole purpose of the Bill to devolve the power to the local authorities will be frustrated. It is a shame that all the time has been spent in preparing this legislation and at the very last minute it comes before us. It is as though there was a great need to rush it through. We will find that nothing will happen as a result.
Mr. Fallon: Unlike Senator Costello, who has never in his life sat in a council chamber, I speak with 24 years of experience and I am proud to do so. In my 24 years as a member of Athlone UDC and Westmeath County Council reform of local government has been discussed on numerous occasions as being a matter of importance for the whole local government system. It is very important for our villages, our towns, our cities, our communities and our residents associations. If one looked at the range of services in a county council annual estimate, one would see clearly the extent of the resources and the volume of employment in the whole local government system. In my own county of Westmeath there is a staff of approximately 450 who have good, secure employment. This is a very  important aspect of the whole local government system.
Local government touches the lives of all our citizens in the areas of housing, roads, planning, water, sewerage, swimming pools, libraries, car parks, municipal playgrounds, open spaces and so on; the list is endless. We must give local government reorganisation systems a top priority. Other Ministers and other Governments talked about it but this Minister and this Government have taken positive action and have introduced this legislation. The Minister likes to call it phase one of what will be an ongoing exercise for meaningful reform.
During my time as a member of the UDC and Westmeath County Council many changes have taken place and many new activities have been taken on board by the various county councils, urban councils and local authorities. Going back a number of years we had a Minister known as the Minister for Local Government but that title has changed and he is now Minister for the Environment. We now talk about environment matters as if they have been part and parcel of the scene for a long time. That is not the case because it has only been in the last ten or 12 years, or thereabouts, that environment matters have surfaced as being important. We have to think about the water we drink and the air we breathe. We have legislation on air and water pollution and so on. Environment matters have become enormously important.
On the other side of the coin, responsibility for the health services has been removed from local authorities, for good reason. Health services are vital to this nation. I can recall my early days on the council going through the estimates for the county hospital in Mullingar and for the district hospital in Athlone. Responsibility for hospitals now lies with the eight health boards. Responsibility for the maintenance of courthouses has also been taken from local authorities. I cannot understand Senator Costello's rationale in this regard. For years local authority members of all parties have been asking what the maintenance of  courthouses had to do with local authorities. Why should the ratepayers of Westmeath, Sligo, Dublin or wherever, have to pay for what is a Department of Justice function, the maintenance of courthouses? This Minister has now made a decision to take responsibility for this area from local authorities; about time. I cannot understand why Senator Costello is trying, even at this late stage, to have that decision reversed. It baffles me but it highlights the Senator's ignorance of the local government system.
Mr. Fallon: Anyone who looks at all the local government legislation introduced over the past number of years will see they have had a major impact on our lives. Extra powers have been given to the local authorities in the areas of urban renewal, water pollution, planning, derelict sites and so on. The list is endless. Huge changes have taken place in the whole area of local government. Local authorities are doing an effective job and are working well. Reform is needed but not because the local authorities are doing a bad job. They are providing a huge range of services and they play a valuable social and community role which at the same time greatly enhancing the quality of our lives. It is a fact of life that we take the services provided by local authorities for granted. People never stop to think where the water in the taps comes from. They never stop to think of all the facilities and services provided by local authorities.
The infrastructure essential to economic development is provided by the local authority in many cases. They help to improve the economy and create jobs. They have contributed greatly providing land for development. Were it not for local authorities many industrial estates would not have been built and many thousands of jobs would not have been created. Local authorities have helped  in a very positive and practical way by providing land and helping to build industrial estates. Most authorities now have their own county development team who play a role providing jobs.
Senator Costello seemed to suggest, as did other Senators, that to hand over millions of pounds is the answer to all our problems. Many people argue that more finance would be needed for local government reform and somewhere along the line money will be provided but local authorities should be given an opportunity to acquire their own resources. The Minister is handling this matter the right way. You have to put down a foundation, or improve your foundation as in this case, before you start to build. The first requirement surely must be to get the structures, functions and operations of the local authorities right. To concentrate on the finances at this stage would be wrong. As I said, you must first put down a proper foundation for the structures, functions and so on and move on from there.
The Government have indicated that this process has started. They have asked councils to streamline their estimates, which they are doing, they want to ensure the restoration of finances, at local and national level, in a more disciplined way, and again there is evidence that this is happening not just in local authorities but in health boards. We want better value for money. With the reorganisation of structures and the proper operation of local authorities, money can be saved.
There is no simple formula for complete local government reform. The Minister has indicated that complete reform would take a lot of time, dialogue, energy and effort. At the end of the day the local authority must have the capacity to promote the best interests and development of their own area. Local government must clearly be made relevant and close to the people. Community participation in the work of local authorities must be fostered and encouraged at every opportunity. Local government more than any Government Department relates most closely to the daily lives of our people. The Minister  has indicated that additional legislation will be needed to complete the reform programme and I accept that. It will take time. Obviously we must wait for the results of the fiscal study, the consolidation and modernisation of the general code of local government law and the setting up of local government structures at sub-county level. I certainly welcome these proposals.
I am pleased that all the reports confirm that the county borough will continue to be the primary unit of local government. Eight regional authorities will be established, and I have no difficulty with that. I am a member of a health board comprising three counties: Offaly, Laois and Longford. We get on well as a team and the system works very well. We work with other counties and they help us. There is no reason that this system cannot be set up in the area of local government. I know the regional authorities will be different from the health boards because they will not have a budget of their own, but nonetheless the need for regional structures becomes apparent when one considers the range of services which are organised regionally.
Recently a major development in Athlone was completed, including the provision of a relief road and a bridge, at a cost of £37 million, and both West-meath County Council and Roscommon County Council were involved. There was a good co-operative spirit and both councils worked well as a team. We now have an excellent example of what many people would say is the finest engineering feat in the country in recent years. I was interested to hear Senator Ó Foighil say a fortnight ago that we should not have spent money on this road but that we should have used it to fill potholes. I do not accept that for a moment. That bridge and that road in Athlone will be very beneficial to the industries of Roscommon, to his own county of Galway and possibly, to a lesser extent, Mayo. It now takes only six minutes to go through Athlone where previously on a wet Friday or Saturday afternoon it would have taken an hour or more. Surely this  is beneficial to the people and the industries of County Galway. He should remember this. It is more important to them than it is to me, a citizen of Athlone. Regional structures can be important. I gave the example of what two counties can do by acting together and getting important work done well. I note and indeed regret that Ministers and Ministers of State will be excluded from membership of local authorities. Many Ministers of State will be sorry about this, because they have always been totally committed to and had a great love for the local government system.
Section 28 provides for the establishment of an independent boundary advisory committee to review local authority boundaries and also, I understand, local electoral boundaries or other local government matters that might be referred to them. This is very important and I support that.
The role and the status of the elected members of local authorities is basic to the democratic system of local government. The Minister touched on this and suggested that the powers of the elected members are, in law, founded primarily on the concept of reserved functions. The Minister then went on to talk about the exclusive prerogatives of elected members as distinct from the executive functions exercised by the county managers. I share the Minister's view that councillors have a lot of power. The Minister talked about all the extra powers available to him and he specified a considerable number of important powers and functions that are being reserved to the elected members. Section 5 refers to representational functions of local authorities. Section 6 refers to activities to promote the interests of local communities. Section 29 refers to decisions in relation to the alterations of boundaries and the establishment of committees, which is very important. The local authorities are comprised of responsible people who will know where and when a committee should be established, and they will act wisely. I have no doubt about that.
Section 41 (2) provides a new general  power for the Minister to declare official reserved functions by order. That is very important. The explanatory memorandum states that section 41 gives statutory recognition to the general policy-making role of local authority members and empowers the Minister to declare by order that specified additional functions of local authorities will be reserved functions for the purposes of the City and County Management Acts.
Local county councillors and local public representatives generally, are the unpaid servants of local communities. They do not object to that. By seeking election that is exactly what they seek to be. During my time in the local authority the role of county councillors, the town commissioners and urban councillors has changed. The problems of roads, housing, health and other issues like that preoccupied the minds of councillors and representations came fast and furious in those areas. In recent years there have been different types of problems, so that one would almost need to be a social worker, or a local ombudsman, as many of them are to deal with so many different problems. The reserved functions already tend to correspond with the policy making aspects of the Bill and there are specific powers to impose various requirements on the manager.
The Minister touched on the fact that the policy-making role of members not being spelt out clearly and succinctly in law has caused the role and status of the elected members to be understated. I agree totally with that. From time to time the elected members have given away some of their powers and many of them are not sufficiently aware of the full extent of the powers vested in them. I hope this Bill will help to further educate members as to their powers.
Section 42 provides for the payment of an allowance for reasonable expenses to the chairman of a local authority. The decision to pay an allowance will be a reserved function and the chairman is deemed to include the mayor or lord mayor. I agree with this. There is a view held that elected members should be  paid. I was a councillor for 14 years before I became a Senator, but I disagree with this view. To pay an elected councillor could be the start of the destruction of the local democratic system as we know it. If we eliminate the voluntary role of the elected member of a local authority, we destroy the system. That must not be allowed happen. The voluntary role must never be diminished and it would be——
Mr. Fallon: ——very serious for local democracy if that happened. That does not mean our members should not be allowed travel to conferences, seminars and so on. I totally and passionately believe that they are entitled to that. Expenses paid to elected members have often been criticised, but the elected members are as much a board of directors as the board of directors of a company. The expenses paid to councillors is usually less than one quarter of 1 per cent of the total budget for the county. It is a miniscule amount, yet the media are forever trying to make a mountain out of a molehill as far as expenses are concerned. If members of the council go on a seminar or to a conference in Ireland, the UK or elsewhere, I say why not? It is no longer a story for the national or local papers. Officials travel to these seminars and there is never a word about it. They are entitled to go, and they are entitled to be paid.
We, as local authority members, pride ourselves in spelling out our business to the nation, to the world. We invite the press to our meetings and they report as they like. The local press might find it very hard to fill their columns but for the county councils, urban councils, town commissioners and borough councils. They have given them a lot of stories over the years. Yet, the papers are all too willing to unfairly criticise us when anything goes wrong. Councils and their  business are open and democratic, and long may they be that way. I passionately believe councillors are entitled to expenses but the system should not be abused. If it is abused by a small number of councillors, it is something I would not condone.
This Bill is phase 1 of an ongoing process. I regret very much that all the other parties did not take part in this exercise. We have been talking about local government reform for so long and they had an opportunity to have an input into this Bill. That they did not do so is regrettable. The Bill will enable the implementation of various reforms on an ongoing basis and it will provide for immediate implementation of some measures. The Bill constitutes the initial legislative segment of the local government reform programme. I look forward to seeing further legislation which will be required to bring it to completion.
Mr. McDonald: I welcome the idea of reform of local government but I must express regret that the debate on this legislation is a little restricted. This kind of legislation should really have been introduced in this Chamber because it is ideally suited to take a long and steady look at the kind of local administration and local government which would be desirable. Senator Fallon said that he spent 24 odd years a member of a local authority. I served for 34 interesting and fruitful years in seeing the infrastructures and the facilities in my own county built up from the fifties to a few years ago. Unfortunately local authorities have gone sharply into decline because of being starved of cash by the Department of the Environment. This stems from the Fianna Fáil Government election programme in 1977 when as part of stroke politics for the general election that year, they decided to drop the rating system and car taxation without putting anything in their place.
Mr. McDonald: In retrospect that was a mistake and it gives me no pleasure to  go back to its roots; I hope we will not have a recurrence of that problem because it has been very frustrating. When a member of a local authority makes a representation to the secretary or manager of an engineering department, he or she gets a sterotype reply to the effect that because of cutbacks, finance is not available to provide the service in question or to carry out repairs.
Does the introduction of this Bill herald an end to that glib answer, the great excuse that local authority officials have used for the past five or six years? Have we come to the end of this charade? Can we administer local services, serve the local communities and build up the infrastructures and the services especially to facilitate the evolvement of industry and commerce? We must do that to survive and to maintain, after 1 January 1993, an atmosphere of open competition.
I regret that we do not have time to go into detail on this very important legislation, the reform of local government, or perhaps more aptly, local administration, because for a long number of years we have not had genuine local government in the counties. Most of the worthwhile functions and inputs have been hijacked by management and by the administration, which is a pity, because the Minister must surely be aware from his long experience that local knowledge and input are important. I hope that the Minister will provide the necessary facilities for members of local authorities to make a genuine input to infrastructural development in relation to savings and other matters. It is frustrating to be a member of a local authority or any other body and to have a feeling that the time one spends in concentrating on the problems or the development of an area is not appreciated. There must be a response and I hope that there will be greater respect for members of local authorities.
Senator Fallon said he was not in favour of paying members of local authorities and I concur with that view. When I first became a member of Laois County Council in the mid-fifties the travel expenses amounted to 19s 6d per meeting  and after 30 years that has gone up to £21 or £22 for seven hours. It is not over generous, nevertheless a small percentage of the community is prepared to serve. It is quite clear that the central coffers do not have the wherewithal to pay for the services, we must be prepared to share the care. There must be a sufficient number of people within every community prepared to share voluntarily the care, and to have a perception of the kind of society and environment in which we would like to live and to pass their philosopy on to the next generation, which is also important.
Through this Bill I hope the Minister will spearhead an era as far as local administration is concerned, in which councillors will be expected to have a greater input, in which their local knowledge will be utilised and in which the wishes and the experience of members of local authorities will be utilised so that the councils will be given an opportunity to identify their priorities for development or improvement. The administration now take it on themselves and sometimes reinforce their own views by saying the Department of the Environment insist on A, B and C and that there is no use looking for sanction for a project. That is wrong because individual members opt voluntarily to serve on local authorities as councillors, and their views should be respected; we must accept that since they live in the community they are most sensitive to the demands and the aspirations of that community. We must be conscious of their needs if we are to survive and to progress in an environment which will change next January.
It is regrettable, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, that there is no section dealing in this comprehensive legislation with the financing of local authorities. Since the change in the financing in 1977 nothing significant has replaced them. We were promised that the service charges which were the main issue in fighting the last local elections would be abolished although in my county they have been increased each year. On the other hand the greatest segment of the population,  in the greater Dublin area, are not asked to pay service charges; there is inequality there.
The local authority of which I am a member only had sufficient finance last year to build six rural cottages and they are finding it difficult to ensure that roads, particularly county roads, are passable. On the other hand, one gets the impression as they drive through the city and county of Dublin that they have money for everything, including the planting of trees. We cannot afford to buy a shovel of gravel or sand to fill a pothole let alone plant a tree.
People are not treated equally when finance is being made available. I am also of the view that rural local authorities are being neglected and abandoned. We are not in a position to build houses as the vote for housing has been almost done away with. As I said, we are also finding it difficult to maintain the roads to ensure they are passable. I hope the Minister will give the House an assurance that the cutbacks have come to an end and that we can look forward to making progress from now on.
I had hoped that under this Bill the Minister would have entrusted greater responsibilities to local authorities. I am of the view that public representatives must be prepared to accept extra powers and responsibilities and, above all else, they must be prepared to say no. That has been one of the deficiencies of the system down through the years.
With regard to section 4 motions I have only signed four or five such motions in my career in Laois County Council as I do not believe in them. Section 4 motions should only be used to protect the rights of the public and not to give to some individuals an advantage. Legislation should only be introduced for the common good and in a democracy like ours there should be no question of legislating for an individual. Perhaps many cogent arguments could be made against that view but that is a view I have held for many years. This problem needs to be addressed and we should consider introducing a system to ensure that  members of local authorities who are voluntary agents, are not subjected to pressure from individual or small sections of the community. Local government of necessity must work to the benefit of the population as a whole.
With regard to the travelling community, we should compliment the Department of the Environment who have made available more money than was called down by any local council for the provision of halting sites and housing. It is a scandal and a matter of regret that there are still over 1,100 travelling families living on the side of the road. I support the provision of halting sites as a first step in moving travelling families towards normal housing. That was a good policy decision. Some people who mean well have adopted an xenophobic attitude and do not want itinerant encampments, halting sites or hard stands near their homes. There is a need to educate people and, as a Christian society, we should tackle this problem and try to resolve it once and for all.
I would now like to refer to the plan for social housing which I welcome and note that the local authorities will have an input. I had the pleasure of listening to the Minister when he launched the scheme some months ago. As a person who has devoted considerable time to this issue, I have one reservation. The Department have increased the limit from £20,000 to £22,000 this year, even though I had expected them to increase it to £22,500 last year. The problem, however, is that it costs in excess of £32,500, excluding the cost of the site, to provide a house. Some years ago it would have been quite easy to raise 10 per cent or 20 per cent of the cost of a project such as this but voluntary fund raisers are now finding it extremely difficult to compete with the national lottery, the National Rehabilitation Board and some of the other better and well organised fund raisers.
I hope the Minister bears this in mind when preparing the Estimates because some of the health boards are not in a position to offer capitation grants. It is unfair, therefore, to expect voluntary  organisations to collect substantial sums of money to cover the acquisition costs as well as the cost of maintenance work on an ongoing basis. There is a duty on every person who claims to be Irish and Christian to share the burden.
I subscribe to the Minister's policy on voluntary housing, but with one reservation. Leaving housing for the disadvantaged or disabled aside, it is going too far to expect the local community to raise funds for ordinary housing. I think the Minister is being too optimistic and believe that we will find it very difficult to provide adequate housing if we have to depend on voluntary bodies to raise finance. There is an increasing demand for housing. As I said, unfortunately, we had only sufficient funding to build six rural cottages last year. Furthermore, due to the cutbacks the number of our road staff has been reduced from 300 to fewer than 100.
Section 5 contains some reforms but I hope the Minister will explain the principle on which the section is based. Can we expect to receive extra funds to carry out the activities envisaged? Subsection (2) (c) states that local authorities may “promote, organise or assist the carrying out of research, surveys or studies with respect to the local community” to seek to promote, organise or assist in carrying out research, surveys or studies with respect to the local community.
Last year we had a problem with a dump. In our estimates for the previous year we provided about £7,000 for surveys and consultants' fees. At the end of the year the council had spent over £100,000 on consultants' fees on this one problem; and it was not solved. I would like to ask the Minister if there will be an extra allocation to implement the very desirable projects a local authority could do, on the advice of an active and imaginative development officer within the scope of sections 5 and 6. Will there be a special allocation to facilitate that, or is it just an enabling provision for local authorities to follow up themselves?
I would like to ask the Minister a question in relation to section 40. We have  set up an ad hoc committee with members from counties Kilkenny, Carlow and Laois to deal specifically with mining. We have never discussed anything other than coal mining and trying to revive the coal mining industry. Nevertheless there is scope for greater expansion. From reading this Bill it would appear that the Minister envisages only two authorities cooperating, perhaps an urban council and a county council in the same administrative area. The occasional large development and complicated planning application call for the professional and scientific expertise that one would not need to have readily available on a county council. From that point of view, it would be of tremendous advantage to have an arrangement to co-operate. I compliment the Minister on section 40. I do not know what exactly the Minister envisages. I am not altogether in support of regionalisation. I do not think regional bodies are doing anything that the ordinary councils are not capable of doing. In my experience the nearer the ordinary individual is to the decision makers the better chance he has of getting a good hearing. For many years we have had joint burial boards, joint drainage boards and the mining committee. Can we now set up permanent boards? The existing boards, I presume, will stay but can we set up a board specifically to deal with mining and planning applications, and what great effect will it have on the administration? I must admit there has always been very close co-operation on the committee between councillors and the management especially where there are joint problems. Will the Minister deal with that issue in his reply?
Does the Minister propose to issue the regulations or will it be necessary for a council to ask that regulations be issued to enable them proceed under some of those sections? What will be the modus operandi?
I am in favour of section 42. It would appear the Minister is going to set the scale of remuneration for the council chairman or the mayors. That may not be a bad thing but again, I do not see  autonomy being devolved to the local authorities because they must act under ministerial directions. According to section 51 (6), the Minister will publish the travelling expenses of members.
Mr. McDonald: I am glad of that. I do not think it is of great interest other than the press are inclined to describe our attendance at public conferences as junkets. There should be greater participation by local authority members. I would like local authority members divided into subcommittees and members concentrating on specialising on particular sectors of administration. It is always useful to look over the hedge into the neighbouring county and see how the administration are dealing with such mundane problems as the management and control of central dumps. There is always a difference between the administration and management of one place and another. It is good to be able to pick up a good idea and pass it on.
Since the last local government Bill we have seen the demise of the county committees of agriculture, the General Council of Committees of Agriculture and, indeed, the demise of the county health advisory committees. They were a loss. We need a very active local administrative structure if counties are to progress and maintain the services for the people in their area.
This Bill is something like the curate's egg; good and bad. There are points in the Bill that I am not clear about perhaps because I have not had the opportunity of hearing the Minister's explanation. I look forward to hearing his reply on Committee Stage. In my experience what was most in need of reform and improvement from a local democratic point of view has in the main not been tackled. That is a great pity. Local democracy is a delicate  flower; we need to work to ensure it continues to serve the public and the country. There is much in the Bill I hope we will be able to put to good use. The main need of local administration at present is greater financial resources and councillors need to take greater responsibility not just to raise the finance but to spend. If we expect to have the power to spend the money, we must have an input on how to raise the money as well.
Mr. McMahon: On a point of order, as I understand the Order of Business, the Second Stage debate is to conclude at 1 p.m. May I inquire how many speakers are offering and if it will be possible to share the time between the speakers offering now?
Acting Chairman (Mr. Howard): The remaining speakers on my list are Senator Farrell, whom I have just called, Senator McMahon and Senator Conroy. The Minister may wish to have time to reply to the debate also. There are 50 minutes remaining.
Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn): If there is any time remaining for the Minister he will be happy to respond to some points made. If Senators wish to pursue the issue of time, that is their prerogative. I am sure Senator Farrell  does not intend to speak until 1 p.m. Of course, this is none of my business and I should not be intervening.
Acting Chairman: May I point out that there be a gentleman's agreement between the Senators on the allocation of time. As I said, if an Independent Senator wishes to offer he shall be entitled to speak. Perhaps we could have a gentleman's agreement between the three Senators that they will take, say, ten minutes each.
I congratulate the Minister on the introduction of this Bill. We have been talking about the need for reform of local government for more than 20 years. However, all we did was talk. Questions were asked at every council meeting about what the Minister was doing in regard to local government reform. In  fairness to the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, when he undertakes to do something he does it, he does not just talk about doing something. As we know, action speaks louder than words. Many people complained about the speedy and efficient way he brought this comprehensive Bill before us. These people are all talk but they do not put forward any proposals. They are like the fellow in the old saying who sheared the pig — when he finished there was a lot of squealing but no wool. This is what the Opposition have been doing.
Local democracy has its roots in the local government system. We must have an effective and strong system of local government if local democracy is to flourish. Our present system of local government is outdated and out of tune with modern requirements. This system which was put in place almost 100 years ago, with piecemeal running repairs since, needs a major overhaul, which is what is proposed in this Bill.
Those of us who have made local government work in council chambers are under no illusion about the extent of the overhaul needed. Some people with a rather superficial knowledge of the subject have condemned the Bill. They argue that total and comprehensive reform should be introduced in one fell swoop. That would be a major mistake and would mean that we would have to wait for years until the perfect formula was constructed. In reality, this would be a recipe for doing nothing. It is much better to tackle this mammoth task piece by piece. By adopting this pragmatic approach we can build a new system of local government. There is a precedent for adopting such an approach. In 1963 a major piece of pioneering legislation on planning was enacted. It was recognised at the time that amendments would be necessary in the light of experience. However, it is a matter of satisfaction that 30 years later most of that legislation has stood the test of time. As the need arose, that legislation has been amended. If the Government decided in 1963 to wait for all the perfect solutions to planning we would  probably still be waiting in 1991 for planning legislation. Consequently, I support the decision to start now on the rebuilding process of the reform of local government.
Much reference has been made to finances. This seems to be the issue which is bandied about most. I should like to remind those who complain about the payment of local charges that if we had rates today the average charge per household would be between £800 and £1,000. Yet some people are refusing to pay £30 or £40 per year for a water system, refuse collection service or sewerage system. What would such people do if they had to pay £800 or £1,000 in rates? They should be realistic. The people who are shouting loudest about how local authorities lost their powers when the rates were removed are the very people who refused to put an additional two old pennies in the pound on the rates to help run their counties. It is ridiculous for local authorities to say they want power back and how they should be allowed to raise finances locally when they refuse to impose such charges.
I was a member of a committee which dealt with local government reform and I am pleased that many of the proposals contained in our submission are reflected in the Bill. I welcome in particular the introduction of the principle of general competence, as the old ultra vires rule was too often a barrier to initiative. I remember a case which involved local councillors who decided they should have their own headed notepaper. The local government auditor asked them which rule gave them the authority to do this. Three months of official time was wasted by councillors going through the Acts and regulations to see if they had the authority to do this because of the threat of a surcharge over a few sheets of notepaper. As far as I know, it was the sensible Minister of the day who put paid to this argument. The stupidity of the rule can be seen from this case where a few sheets of notepaper could not be given to county councillors because it was not provided for in the Act. This new competence provision will enable councillors  to do the things they believe should be done without having to look over their shoulders or worry if a surcharge will be imposed on them or the local government auditor will haul them over the coals for it, thus wasting more time.
I welcome the provisions in Part IV which will put committees of local authorities on a more formal basis. Those of us who operate the committee system appreciate the fruitful and constructive work which can be achieved by such a system. Under the old ultra vires rule, questions were raised about the general purposes meetings held by councils. As we all know, much beneficial work is done at committee meetings. Since my council set up a committee system we rarely have to attend a public meeting after 1 p.m. any day as all the nitty gritty points we cannot raise at council meetings are thrashed out in confidence at committee meetings. We can get answers from the officials and so get on with the work. This provision will enable us to continue this system without any doubts or worries.
I wish to refer to the highly publicised section 4 motions which affect planning control. Despite all the controversy about these motions, the vast majority of councils used their power and discretion in a responsible manner. In some cases differences arose between the elected members on the one hand and the county manager and his staff on the other. However, I am glad to be able to say that decisions made by the county manager did not give rise to any rancour or problems — we respected each other's powers and views. In Sligo we had a very good system for dealing with section 4 motions long before the Bill was thought of. We had a planning committee at which we discussed planning matters. If there was a problem all the members went out to inspect the site and if there was a unanimous decision that planning permission should be granted, it was not brought up at the meeting. If the manager said he could not agree, then a section 4 motion was put in. If it was a Fianna Fáil man who was interested in getting the planning permission, a Fine Gael member  had to second it and vice versa. There had to be an across-the-board vote. We did allow people to rescind the decision but if there were votes against it, then that was it.
Mr. Farrell: Chairmen of county councils know that when we did go abroad to meet our emigrants and so on, one had to pay for presents and so on out of one's pocket. One had to make the presentation on behalf of one's county, but the county council had nothing to do with it. At least now when a chairman is going abroad he can draw from a fund and bring something with him so that he can represent his county in a proper and fitting manner.
There is one category I would like to see included for housing, namely, the alcoholics in our society. There are many alcoholics in the 45 to 60 age bracket and they want to apply for ordinary housing but they are unable to do so. I am a nondrinker but I work with these people; they are dear to my heart and I try to help them as much as I can. Many of them live alone and we find it very hard to house them. While we do give them demountable houses and so on it is not the answer. The answer is four concrete walls and a roof over their heads. I know it is something that is dear to the Minister's own heart, too, that nobody would be badly housed.
I congratulate the Minister on the housing scheme he introduced a while ago. I took a long walk around Cabra the other evening and I was amazed at the way housing has improved since people have bought their own houses. One can see aluminium windows, painted doors, well-kept lawns and so on. Out of about  48 houses which I passed, there was only one lawn with was not well maintained. All the others were beautifully landscaped. That was not the case a few years ago. I see the same in my own town. The Minister will be remembered as the man who gave people their own homes and he will be remembered for this Bill. It is important legislation. For the first time in many years the Minister is addressing the problem and I know the local authorities will be given the powers they deserve.
Mr. Norris: In deference to the fact that this Bill principally affects and is of interest to other Members who wish to have as much time as possible, I will speak very briefly. The Minister will be aware that most of the arguments have already been made in the other Houses and also last night and today in this House.
I would like to say, in preface, that some extreme views have been taken of this Bill which I do not share. I found it slightly disillusioning to listen to the wireless and hear people who had apparently not made themselves fully acquainted with what the legislation contained making some comments I would regard as a little injudicious. However, I will leave it to more competent people to deal with that because it is important that we get on. I have a couple of amendments down and I hope to be here this afternoon to move them.
I would like to address a couple of points. One is the matter of section 4 planning permissions, which I believe are a scandal. I have always believed that. Even if there is only a very small number, the circumstances in which they are moved often give very serious cause for concern. I am embarrassed that so many of them relate to my own area of Dublin. It is a shame. This morning there is a story in The Irish Times. It may not directly apply to section 4 but it is a major rezoning which appears to be irresponsible in terms of the planning impact on the area of Tallaght. I am concerned  about section 4 motions. There are abuses inside councils.
However, I also have to say that local democracy is extremely important and if the country is to function properly there must be as much authority devolved to local people as possible. It is a very important element in our democracy and must be treated as such. For that reason I am a little concerned about the preponderance of people who are Members of the Oireachtas and local authorities. I say this — and I will be honest about it — because I did consider running in one of the Dublin electoral districts. I was approached by a group of people who suggested I would be a good councillor. The issues are ones that are very close to my heart, issues of planning. One can also tackle things such as drug abuse, the preservation of part of our heritage, the motorway proposals which I have opposed in many instances and so on. I thought about it very carefully and I had very good backing. I found it a very attractive proposal. However, on reflection, I believe I have more than sufficient to do by being a lecturer in the University of Dublin and also being a Member of this House, and my first responsibility and my first loyalty is to this House. I came to the conclusion I could not possibly honourably occupy the two positions.
I am speaking for myself. I do not wish to make comments on other individual cases but it was my conclusion that it would be dishonourable for me to seek election, particularly if I had a good chance of getting in and squeezing out somebody who is occupying himself or herself only at local government level. This is particularly true if somebody is a Member of the Oireachtas and is a member of a local authority in the deep south, or in the far west or in the north of the country, because the travelling involved must be quite a taxing burden on people. I would have to point out that on occasions the business of the House clearly must be affected. For example, we never meet on Mondays, and that is because county council meetings take place on Mondays. It is a pity that the  local tail should wag the dog of the Oireachtas.
Having said that, I would have to say honestly I am not completely pure in this regard. I did consider running for a seat. I considered it actively and I think it is a good thing that people who have something to give to their local community should give it through the local authority. One of the other deciding factors was that when my group of advisers looked at the constituencies I would be likely to take they suggested to me that the one in which I live would be less likely to return me than the one in which I was brought up — Dublin 1 as against Dublin 4. That also caused me to hesitate because I think it is important that as far as possible people should reflect local interests with which they are familiar.
It would be wrong of me to absorb any more time of the House. I know there are other people who wish to come in who are members of local authorities and will be seeking election this time. Therefore, I will reserve further comments to the general progress of the Bill.
I welcome the Minister to the House, as I see the Bill as giving more power to the Minister, but I do not mean that in a complimentary way. I am amazed at some of the contributions from the Fianna Fáil side of the House particularly. I wonder if some of the people on this side of the House read the Bill. As a serving member of the General Council of County Councils I must been listening to Fianna Fáil councillors over the years calling for reorganisation of local government to give them more power. I cannot find that in this Bill. It is less power for the local authorities and the councillors and more power to the Minister.
I would like to deal with the Dublin scene. We have three district committees and the Minister proposes that we will have three committee districts. He is playing around with words. We have Fingal District Committee — and he now  proposes to call it Fingal Committee District. I do not know what change that is going to bring about. However, he proposes to give a manager to that committee area and the other two. It is not very clear what powers that manager will have but the amount of work he will be able to do is very clear because there is no provision for funding, good, bad or indifferent in the Bill. The Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown local authority area have their own premises but the Bill makes no provision for premises for the Fingal Committee District or the South Dublin Committee District. There is no provision in the Bill to provide them with funding even to set up the committees. I remind the Minister that in 1953, when he may not have been interested in politics, the boundaries in Dublin were changed, causing absolute havoc at official level and it took years to sort that out. I cannot see the changes proposed in this Bill being made in my time because no time is specified and little or no provision is made for its achievement.
As far as the entire Dublin area is concerned this Bill is a charade, something that obviously was prompted for political reasons and for reasons of power. I am of the opinion that Fianna Fáil did not want a local election this year. The Minister can still postpone the elections for the year. He has that power and I urge him to use it, then to sit down and have a reasonable look at what he is proposing here and come up with a Bill which will provide for worthwhile reorganisation of local authorities throughout the country, particularly in the Dublin area which seems to be the Cinderella of the Department of the Environment. I do not think any Minister for the Environment — or Local Government in the past — unless he was a Dublin man understood the Dublin scene, and the present Minister certainly does not understand. With all due respect to him, he may know the west like the back of his hand, but when it comes to Dublin he is creating havoc. Since he has not yet made an order to hold the local elections on 27 June — he simply announced the date — he has the power to postpone  them. I would not be surprised if many of the people now contemplating seeking election were to withdraw. If they read this Bill they will not be as enthusiastic as they may have been.
Mr. McMahon: The Minister is going into the highways and byways looking for candidates too, going to the football fields and bringing people in who are not members of his party. Let him not start on that because I can give him an answer.
Mr. McMahon: I do not want to name people who are not here to speak for themselves but I have heard the Minister has gone to the football fields and to local womens' committees seeking candidates for the local elections — and many of these people are not even party members.
Mr. McMahon: Be that as it may, I would seriously put it to the Minister that he should consider postponing the elections for a further year since he has that power. I cannot see how these three committee districts are to be set up with a county manager who has little or no power to do anything. The great problem in County Dublin is not that we needed a manager, we have three assistant managers operating in the county at the moment. We have one with general responsibility of running the county — his title is assistant city and county manager who must refer to the city and county manager, and as I read this Bill, that office will continue. There will be three county managers and whether they are called county managers or, as of now, assistant city and county managers makes no difference. They will still have to refer to the city and county manager. I have not read any change in this Bill.
I see the city and county manager as  the overall head in the Dublin area and he will have assistant city and county managers. At the moment he has six: one was recently appointed to fill the vacancy in Dún Laoghaire and we have one in the county and the others have responsibility in planning, housing and so on. There is little change there. I would see this as a change for the worse. At the moment at least we are getting some things done but the picture is not so rosy in the county, as Councillor McDonald said.
We have planted about 400 trees in County Dublin in the last three years but we felled many thousands of trees in the same period. The county is being “detreed” which is a great pity and we do not have the money to provide replacements. This is a very sensitive area for me because I am very concerned at the loss of trees in the county. When we held the Presidency of the EC we made great play of being a green Presidency. Had reference been made to what is happening in County Dublin I do not think we would have been so vociferous.
The three proposed committee districts if set up will be at a disadvantage compared with the committees operating now. What is in existence at present should be allowed to stand until something better can be put in place.
I do not know how the interim arrangement — as it has been called — will operate because as of now we will be electing now members to Dublin County Council on 27 June. According to the Minister, the committees may be set up as soon as possible. “As soon as possible” means following consultation with unions, having consulted officials, when you have found a premises and a means of funding. Otherwise, what is the point in setting up committee districts if these things cannot be achieved? I appeal to the Minister to put his hand on his heart and have a serious look at the Dublin scene.
Mr. McMahon: Even if he were to go ahead with the elections in other counties which would not be similarly affected, the  Minister should now consider postponing the election in Dublin for 12 months. Whatever committee is set up, be it of Ministers or whatever, they should have a look at the position. But, for heaven's sake, ask people who are used to the Dublin scene and have been operating in the Dublin area, to advise on how the Dublin scene should be reorganised.
Mr. McMahon: The Minister should have a second look at the Bill and see what mess he will leave behind in the Dublin county area. The extraordinary thing about this Bill is that the city is being left alone. This Bill talks about the reorganisation of local government but the reorganisation that is taking place will be in the county not in the city.
There is absolutely no mention of funding in the Bill, no mention of how local authorities are to be funded. In relation to funding, I want to give the Minister a few figures I came across recently in the county area. Small businesses and commercial firms in the county are now being squeezed out of business simply because the Dublin County Council do not have the necessary funding from central Government. We have a situation in the county where the Government have given permission to the valuation office to revalue premises on an annual basis. This very week, premises in my area are being revalued for the second time in three years.
Mr. McMahon: I spoke this morning to a gentleman who operates a small family business. His rates this year are £1,700; next year he will be required to pay £2,800. I do not know what percentage  increase that is but it is an increase of £1,100. That is not the largest increase, some rates have been increased by 400 per cent. I have a list here showing details of rates in one small town in my area. I will give it to the Minister and I will put on the record of the House some of the figures we are talking about. Many of these premises had been valued upwards three years ago and are now being revalued for the second time. The sum for one small premises valued three years ago at £32 will now be increased to £65. Another premises which was valued at £40 three years ago will be increased to £120. A further premises which was valued at £44 is now being increased to £120. If Senator Honan had those increases in Clare she would be complaining. I am now aware of people in Dublin county who have been put of business——
Mr. McMahon: The rate in the £ has been increased this year by 3 per cent but to these people the increase is 90 per cent. Is there any justification for that increase? If some of these businessmen were to take this to the courts, the Government would have a problem on their hands. The sooner it is done the better. The Minister in this House last week gave us a long list of his achievements in his four or four and a half years in office. One of those boasts was that he designated an area in Tallaght to be tax free and this resulted in the building of the Tallaght Town Centre. That is true. He should cross the main street of Tallaght where the dividing line is and see what he has done to the small businesses there where a number of them have now closed down.
An Cathaoirleach: Before Senator Conroy makes his point of order, I would like to say that the Senator has departed absolutely and totally from a Second  Stage contribution. The Senator may need advice to ensure that he can be restored to dealing with Second Stage and not about last week's business in particular.
Professor Conroy: On a point of order, we did, I understand, have an agreement — I think it was initiated, with great respect, by Senator McMahon — regarding time. I do not want to interrupt the flow of eloquence from my fellow member of Dublin County Council but I do think, a Chathaoirligh, we have an agreement and perhaps Senator McMahon would be prepared to honour it.
Mr. McMahon: There is one other point I would like to deal with which may not be as hard on the Minister as the last few points. This point has been referred to by a number of speakers, not least by the last speaker, and that is the exclusion of Ministers and Ministers of State from local authorities. I would not be as hard on that rule as the Minister or many colleagues. A valuable contribution can be made by Ministers of State. It may not be appropriate for Ministers to sit on local authorities but they should not be excluded on the day they are selected to  be a Minister because that Government may not last too long.
Mr. McMahon: The part of the county which that person represents could be denied a good public representative who would not have a part to play if his Government for example, as in the case of the 1981 Government — lasted for only a brief period. I would ask the Minister to consider allowing a period of, say, six or 12 months to remain on the local authority but not necessarily to attend meetings. Ministers of State should be allowed to remain on local authorities if they so wish; in other words, leave the status quo until a better way is found. My experience is that Ministers of State have a knowledge of what is happening in Government and can make an even more valuable contribution to the local authority than those of us who have never been Ministers or may never be Ministers. On the other hand, it should be a requirement for a Minister to have served on a local authority. That is more important. Many Ministers have never come through the system of politics, in other words they have never served their time in the real politics of this country. Local government should be close to the people, but this Bill does not provide for that.
Professor Conroy: I welcome the Bill. It is a necessary Bill which lays the foundation for orderly and very much needed development on local authorities. There is an old saying, Members are familiar with, that all politics are local politics. At last we have a Minister prepared to put through a Bill which was very much overdue. Those of us who were elected six years ago to Dublin County Council were told it would be temporary and that we would be sitting on more than one body within six months. Six years later we are still in this interim position. That is a scandal. I am very glad we have a Minister who is prepared to deal with the matter rather than just turn a blind eye to it.
 Much of this Bill relates to Dublin County Council. Provisions relating to that body take up almost 25 per cent of the Bill. The Bill is all important because it lays the foundation for the development of local involvement on local authorities. It puts local involvement on a better basis than existed hitherto and leaves the way open for further developments over the coming years. It has sorted out what was very much an inappropriate, complex, difficult, out-of-date series of arrangements. It is a very welcome and necessary Bill.
There is always conflict between central authority and local control. A lot of lip service has been paid in the past to local involvement. It should be possible under the Bill to much more clearly define the powers of local authorities. Those powers are far greater than some of us on local authorities fully realise. One of the great things the Minister has done is to alter the position as regards ultra vires. That is an absolutely crucial change if there is to be any serious development of local authorities. On that basis alone this Bill justifies its existence.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Honan, and also with Senator McMahon, in relation to service on local authorities. It would be a sad day if Ministers, Ministers of State and others were appointed to such office without having served some time on a local authority. I say that as a person who was elected to the Seanad without having served on a local authority. I thought I knew a little about grassroots politics, the importance of local issues and the basic fundamentals of politics but the reality is that I knew nothing. It is only when I was elected to a local authority that I began to learn. That is where it all really begins.
Professor Conroy: I disagree totally with Senator Norris' remarks. It can be very important for a Deputy or a Senator to be a member of a local authority. We talk much about keeping in touch with the people, and the best possible way to do this is to become involved in local government. One is much closer to the people than when one is sitting in either the Dáil or the Seanad. A Minister who has been through the mill of serving on a local authority and dealing with all the crucial issues affecting people is likely to be a better Minister than one who just reads about their proceedings. Effectively one might as well be reading out of a text book. I note with some concern the suggestion that Ministers, and Ministers of State, should not be members of local authorities. It would be a pity if that was the case and I am glad the Minister resisted the temptation to suggest that either Senators or Deputies should not be members of local authorities.
There has been a certain amount of criticism, or implied criticism, particularly of Dublin County Council, on the question of section 4 motions. I serve on Dún Laoghaire Corporation and also on Dublin County Council. We are in a fortunate position in some ways in Dún Laoghaire Corporation in that our area is basically a settled, residential one, it is long established. We have introduced only about three section 4 motions in the six years that I have served on Dún Laoghaire Corporation. Had I served on that corporation only I too might have found it easy to criticise Dublin County Council for the number of section 4 motions introduced there, which often run into double figures at any one meeting. Having also served on Dublin County Council — my name was attached to very few, if any, section 4 motions on the council — I have great sympathy with my colleagues from the western and northern parts of County Dublin in  relation to section 4 motions. Because this is an area that is so rapidly evolving it is very hard when drawing up development plans to keep up with the realities on the ground. Let us cast our minds back to six years ago when we talked about new satellite towns. There has been a total population change and many other changes since. The Minister has done the right thing in deciding on the one hand to retain the section 4 motions and, on the other hand, to ensure that the decision should be by a large majority of all the members of the council. That is an excellent move and I congratulate the Minister on having the courage and the wisdom to proceed on that basis.
I am slightly concerned about the figures for the actual district electoral area because — I hope this will not happen — a good deal of pressure could be put on the individual councillors in a local area, even though, for the overall good of the country, a measure might be necessary. Let us hope that does not happen. I am a little concerned about the constant propaganda against section 4 motions. It has been a little over done.
Professor Conroy: That is very true and we should not forget that. In my closing minutes I will deal with Dublin. I share some of the concerns which Senator McMahon expressed but I would take a different view. He has said that there might not be candidates because of the present situation. I was elected on the basis that I would serve either on Dublin County Council or on Dún Laoghaire Corporation, that I would not serve on both with duplicating meetings. As  Senator McMahon knows, an enormous number of meetings of Dublin County Council duplicate with those of Dún Laoghaire Corporation. One of my colleagues worked it out at an average of 37 hours of meetings per week, which is totally unheard of on most councils. If I thought that problem was going to continue for a further five, six or seven years, I would find it very difficult to go ahead.
Professor Conroy: The basis has been laid by which the Minister will at long last be able to sort out the problems of Dublin County Council by dividing it, as it should be divided, into a north council, a west council and a council based in Dún Laoghaire. Until that is done the state of affairs in Dublin County Council really verges on scandal. I am glad the Minister has been prepared to face up to that position and deal with it. I look forward to the setting up of three efficient, effective and sensible councils based on the north of the city, the west and Dún Laoghaire. It is high time that was done and it is very necessary.
I would also agree with Senator McMahon's point in relation to Dublin city and county. It is high time that relationship was appropriately altered. In this Bill the opportunity is there for the Minister to alter it.
Cassidy, Donie. Farrell, Willie.
Haughey, Seán F.
Fallon, Sean. Kiely, Rory.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Ryan, Eoin David.
Ó Foighil, Pól.
Ross, Shane P.N.
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