Local Government Reform: Motion.

Wednesday, 23 May 2001

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 166 No. 16

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Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan A. Coogan  Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan  I move:

That Seanad Éireann condemns the Government:

(a)for its failure to implement a strategy for better local government,

(b)reneging on its commitment to introduce on behalf of local government elected members, a salary-pension scheme commensurate with their contribution to society, and

(c)further condemns this Government for its failure to devolve authority and responsibilities to elected members.

This motion has been moved out of pure frustration which has been created by the Minister, who unfortunately is not here. Let me welcome Deputy Dan Wallace, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, to the House tonight. In the unfortunate absence of the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, he is going to bear the brunt of my tongue. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government has made commitments and promises to local authority members in the last few years and has failed to deliver on them. I previously accused him of avoiding coming into the Seanad and he denied it, saying that he had not been invited. He was invited here tonight and he is not here.

This motion relates to something very simple, the commitment to reform local government. This requires first of all reforming it so that it becomes meaningful to the people outside, but it also needs reform so that it becomes meaningful to the elected members. These elected members have made a commitment over the years to this country. They are the ones who underpin local democracy which the Minister himself says he supports as the central pivot of democracy, yet nonetheless he is not supporting it in this House. He brought forward a local government Bill which I believe is gathering dust in the Lower House.

Can I ask the Minister of State, since unfortunately the Minister himself is not here, to remind him of something? At the annual Christmas lunch in the Burlington Hotel of the local authority representative associations, LAMA, the General Council of County Councils and the AMAI the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, said:

[1187] Our reform of local government is dealing with the fundamental issues. We are putting you the elected members back at the centre of the local government system and at the cutting edge of policy and decision making.

Let us look at the history of what he has done with regard to policy and decision making. He is handing over the responsibility for the waste management programme from councillors to managers. That is not enhancing democracy but is reducing it, and is a step in the wrong direction. It is the very opposite to the commitment that he made then. It is worth remembering that in December 1999 he said, “The Bill is taking a little longer than I anticipated.” This is 2001. If it was taking longer than he had anticipated then, what would he call it now that he has not even got it past Second Stage?

The provisions in the Bill are to deal with a number of issues, one of which is the dual mandate, and I believe that this is the one on which the Minister is getting stuck. I know that the Minister has enough support in the Lower House to get the Bill through, including this aspect of it, if he wishes to push it. I think his inaction is due to fear of the four Independents rather than a fear of losing the vote. If he had the guts to do what he is supposed to have done then he would put it through, something he has failed to do.

Another major aspect relates to that of direct election of cathaoirligh and mayors. The truth is that it is only there because it suits the Government. It suits Fianna Fáil because of the numbers game. It is not there to revolutionise local government, and does not give any more responsibility to a mayor or chairman vis-à-vis the manager. He has no more responsibility than if he was elected from among the councillors themselves, as is the case under the present scheme which has worked adequately in the past, and if it was not tampered with would work well in the future. It is democracy at work and the proposal is a ploy.

The third aspect is the payment of local authority members, who are rightly sick and fed up watching what is happening in this House. A salary increase was given to us in the Seanad, and also to Members of the Dáil, while they only got a promise that salaries would be paid to them and that was over two years ago. The Government amendment welcomes us belatedly on board into the salary and pension scheme. I was speaking in favour of this a long time before the Minister ever thought about it, and he does not have the right to claim it as his own.

Some time ago a survey was carried out by the General Council of County Councils where they asked local government members to keep a record of an average week's work. The results averaged out at 19 hours a week, which in anybody's lexicon is two and a half working days. That is not just during the daytime because most of the business that people do in local authorities is carried out in the evenings, on weekends and at night. This is not to say that they themselves [1188] are the only ones working because, as Senator Walsh will say, when he is not at home somebody else is taking the calls for him. Local authority members are supplying a service to the community and if something goes wrong they are the first people to be phoned. If there is a leaking water pipe they are the first to be approached. If a light fails somewhere they are the first to be approached. At the same time, we are refusing to pay them, refusing to give them something which I believe is their right, and I am sure Senator Walsh also believes it.

All we are asking is that this right be recognised and that they are paid as soon as possible. Payment should be backdated not just to last May or to when the Bill was introduced a year ago but to when they were elected, which was the previous June. It is only right that as they are carrying out the work that they should be paid for it. One of the factors we should take into account is the amount of additional work that local authority members are being asked to carry out. The tabulation of hours worked by local authority members does not convey the full picture as these hours are unsocial. Since the survey was carried out a new generation of committees and quangos has been spawned, namely the corporate policy groups and the SPCs which multiply the time involved for members. There are committee meetings, housing committee meetings, ADMs and all of those require members to do more work rather than less. When I put it to the Minister that the SPCs would involve more work, he replied that it would actually mean less, which is not true. Any measurement of the workload of local authority members would show that it has increased by at least 50%, yet the Government refuses to recognise it.

I do not understand why the Government will not move on its own Bill. It is a simple matter. The Minister has the numbers and he is in Government. An attempt is being made to blame the Opposition for the delay in passing the Bill. The Opposition has nothing to do with it. It is a Government Bill. The Government has the numbers to put other Bills through the Oireachtas, so why can it not put this one through? It is a simple request.

I cannot believe the Government amendment before us. Senator Walsh is laughing because he cannot believe it either. I do not know who dreamt up the amendment but it is ridiculous. It must have been churned out by someone in a back room. It was stupid to bring it into the House. I await with curiosity the Minister's defence of this amendment.

I had hoped that the Minister would inform us of a date for Second Stage. The Bill is stuck on Second Stage in the Lower House. I want to know when it will be moved on to Committee Stage. We on this side offered to take it in this House first if that would help. We even offered to move the Bill but, unfortunately, we were prevented from doing so because it contains a financial provision. We have tried to be helpful to [1189] ensure that the Bill is passed. We have adhered to our line on the dual mandate, yet there are people outside accusing the Opposition of holding up the Bill.

I have spoken to several Senators from the opposite side of the Chamber who are embarrassed and feel that it is right to put down this motion to try to ensure that this Bill progresses. If the Minister has to make some modifications to keep his Independents happy, let him do so. There will be other opportunities to introduce legislation. It probably boils down to intransigence on his part. There must be disputes between the Minister and the Whip in the Lower House. We simply request that he recognises the contribution made by members of local government and the commitment they have shown in the past and will show in the future by acknowledging that their role deserves compensation and providing for that compensation.

I appeal to the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Wallace, to go back to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, and tell him that local authority members, even his own people, will not support the Government if he fails to get this Bill through. Even now, many of them are bitter at the Government and I do not blame them. When Deputy Dempsey goes knocking on doors seeking support he will not find his own people behind him unless he adheres to the commitment he made. He made it, let him keep it.

Mr. O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd  Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd  I also welcome the Minister to the House. I reiterate the final comment of Senator Coogan. When Deputy Dempsey knocks on the doors of east Meath, he will get a very hot reception because of his failure to deal with the question of waste management and to introduce a proper system of local government.

Our motion condemns the Government “for its failure to implement a strategy for better local government”. This Government has taken away the powers of elected members to decide on a waste management strategy. This decision was taken in light of a visit by councillors to waste management facilities in Europe. On the very day the councillors were due to decide in favour of an incinerator based on the facility they had visited, it transpired that this incinerator, which had been described as technologically perfect, had been closed down for breaching national regulations by polluting the atmosphere with illegal emissions. Had it been allowed to continue, it would have been responsible for killing people further down the line.

The Minister used his amendment to the Waste Management Bill as a sledgehammer to destroy the power of people at local level and the right of their representatives to say no on matters relating to the environment. Our motion condemns the Government, particularly the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, for its failure in this area.

[1190] Behind every Senator there are at least 300 county councillors. When the Government and Opposition parties travel the country to meet county councillors, we listen to their views. We are their voice in the Oireachtas. The clear message from all the county councillors we have met over the past 12 months is that they are fed up with the shilly-shallying around this Bill and the soft words emanating from the Minister's office to the effect that these moneys will be paid. The reality is, as Senator Coogan said, the Government has failed miserably by declining to bring the Bill before the Oireachtas and by failing to pay county councillors, of all parties and none, for the work they are doing for their communities. Why will he not bring in the Bill and face down the four Independents who are setting the agenda of the Government? County councillors have lost patience. They are extremely angry and upset by the notorious failure of the Government to do its duty and follow through on its Bill.

The Government has neither made local government local nor given it true power. The reality is that county councillors face a plethora of committees, all of which dilute their existing powers. They spend their time chasing ineffectively from one meeting to the next. The truth is that if the Minister wanted to give true power to local government, he would have changed the powers of councillors and county managers by giving the elected representatives of the people the power to overrule county managers. He would have increased their capacity to make decisions and insisted that officials carry out those decisions.

Section 4 was available for county councillors to use in planning. The new section 4 in the Waste Management (Amendment) Act allows the manager to dictate to county councils and gives them more power than ever before. This is an utter negation of local democracy and if the Minister was serious and sincere about doing something for local government, he would have given more power to the elected members and chairmen of local authorities instead of diluting it.

This motion is timely and important. It gives expression to the concerns of the public. From Cork to Donegal, from Mayo to Connemara, from Senator Walsh's constituency to mine, there are billboards and posters about environment issues such as dumps and waste management facilities. The Government has completely failed to deal with environmental issues.

A meeting in Buswell's Hotel on Tuesday brought together 19 community, as opposed to political, groups from 19 counties to show that local communities as well as the Opposition parties are concerned about the failure of the Minister to act. That is further proof, if it were needed, that local government has been a shambles under this Government. It is time the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, resigned.

The amendment to the motion tabled by the Government is a recitation of empty formulas [1191] that would take ten minutes to read never mind understand. The reality is that the Government has failed miserably in its duty. We ask, therefore, that the Minister resign. Before handing in his resignation, which should already be in an envelope somewhere in Leinster House, I ask that he at least introduce the provision to pay public representatives the moneys they deserve. Leaving them in limbo creates increased frustration, as all sides of the House know.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): Information on Dan Wallace  Zoom on Dan Wallace  I am happy to take this matter on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Noel Dempsey, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. As regards the call for his resignation, he will be around for many years to come to continue the good work which he is doing.

This Fine Gael motion is about local government. A major programme of action has been under way to renew our system of local government. It involves not empty rhetoric but concrete action across a whole range of activities, where results have already been delivered or where progress is well in train. This wide-ranging programme of renewal has been driven by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, and the amendment which has been tabled reflects the substantial progress already made.

The motion resonates with tired ritualistic negativity. While Opposition parties can be expected to oppose, most people now expect them to display at least some element of maturity and balance. That is sadly absent here. Indeed they might well be expected to recall some of the real advances for local government which have been effected. Several of them came before this House by way of local government, planning and constitutional Bills. There are none so blind as those who choose not to see.

I am happy however to acknowledge the publication by the previous Administration of the White Paper, Better Local Government, in 1996. Yet until this Government came into office almost four years ago, the issue of local government renewal was largely aspirational. Since then, the Government has worked hard in the drive to renew the system of local government. There are several critical objectives of the renewal programme. Among them are the need to strengthen local democracy, especially through an enhanced role for elected members. Proper resources must be provided. Partnerships with sectoral interests and local communities must be developed. Customer service must be improved and efficiencies in local government must be developed.

Credit is due to the Government for the real progress which has been made and the many initiatives which have been taken. Fine Gael is seemingly unaware of these; it is an ailment which seems to afflict them badly from time to time. Let me remind them.

[1192] Local government is democratically elected, its members are elected by direct vote and its raison d'être is to serve the people. The Government put the issue to the people by way of referendum in 1999. It did this to afford proper recognition to local government and local democracy as an intrinsic, separate and distinct part of our democratic system with a fixed electoral cycle. There can be no more postponements of local elections. For the first time ever local elections are guaranteed. What has been delivered here is not empty waffle but fundamental change.

One of the first priorities of the Government was to put in place a proper funding system to secure the necessary resources for the ambitious programme of local government renewal. The local government fund was established by the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1998. After years of debate, a proper statutorily guaranteed source of funding was made available to local government. It has delivered over 63% more spending to local authorities since 1997 for general purposes allocation. The resources available – estimated at £720 million in 2001 – will help local authorities provide more and better quality services and afford them the certainty and confidence to plan for the future. In addition, a ‘needs and resources' model has been introduced to create a more equitable method of distributing funds to local authorities.

The Government, under the National Development Plan 2000-2006, has delivered the greatest ever capital investment programme to meet the needs of a rapidly growing economy and a modern society. Local authorities are key players in upgrading the essential infrastructure with record investment levels for their services. Almost £700 million will be invested in the national road network this year. That is an increase of £167 million, or 32%, on last year's spend. Investment in non-national roads will reach another record level at some £319 million, an increase of over 21% on the initial 2000 allocations. The greater part of this will go towards accelerating the restoration programme for local and regional roads in county council areas and its success is clear. Investment in social housing has increased by no less than 70% this year and we expect to commence a record 7,000 local authority housing units. This provides clear evidence of priority action by the Government.

Progress is also being made on upgrading the water and waste water treatment infrastructure, on which over £330 million will be spent this year. This is one of the cornerstones of our efforts to protect and enhance the quality of our environment and to upgrade rural water supplies. Moves to end the discharge of untreated effluent along our coasts are well under way.

Strategic policy committees are established in county and city councils to introduce the partnership model to local government by bringing together elected members and local sectoral interests. These will facilitate a timely and focused input by elected members to policy [1193] development in key areas of local authority activity. Along with other reforms, they will help to re-balance the relationship between councillors and management. They will have proper back-up with directors of service, many of whom have just been appointed or are about to take up office shortly. Delays due to industrial relations difficulties have been resolved. Additionally a programme of policy focused seminars for strategic policy committees chairs has been held. These will continue so that the committees receive regular updates and are equipped properly to fulfil their roles.

A further initiative has seen the establishment of county and city development boards. These are already up and running and planning strategically for their areas. They are led by local government with representation from local development, State agencies and the social partners. Directors of community enterprise have been appointed and support staff put in place. Now that the development boards are fully operational, the next challenge is to draw up their strategies for economic, social and cultural development and to implement them successfully. This is a bold experiment where, for the first time, local government is being given the opportunity to influence the planning and delivery of a whole range of locally provided public services in a meaningful way.

Local government exists to serve the public. A wide range of initiatives are well advanced to promote better efficiencies and customer service. Among these are a complete revamp of financial management and accounting systems to provide proper costings, comparability and transparency; an increased emphasis on corporate planning with proper input by the elected council; improved management structures with directors of service and clear accountability; the adoption of service indicators to measure performance across local authorities; the formulation of customer action plans to ensure a focus on service delivery; the better use of information technology and other innovative measures with financial assistance from the centre; and the establishing of one-stop shops, promoted by local authorities with funding provided by the Department, to deliver more integrated public services from a single location. Action in these areas continues apace. The overall aim is to equip local authorities with the requisite tools for a first-class, quality service that is efficient, responsive and attuned to customer needs.

I remind Members that the Planning and Development Act, 2000, will give us a much improved planning system and greatly enhance the policy functions of elected members. Much of the Act – such as the new development plan system, the measures to improve housing supply, the licensing of outdoor events – is already in operation. The Act will be fully commenced later this year.

The Minister is well known for his commitment to revitalise and reinvigorate local government [1194] and to maintain confidence and credibility in local democracy. A central objective of the Local Government Bill, 2000, and the reform process which I have outlined, is to restore the balance in local government and address the democratic deficit. The Local Government Bill is the first attempt by any Government in over a century to consolidate and modernise local government law. It follows directly from the constitutional amendment. It provides an array of mechanisms for the council to maintain a proper overview of local authority business, to develop, make and steer policy and to oversee the executive. The ending of the dual mandate and the introduction of a directly elected cathaoirleach in 2004 are further elements of this overall package which will enhance the role of the elected member, support community involvement and promote efficiency and effectiveness.

For members to become fully involved demands practical supports and those too are being provided. There is provision in the Bill for the introduction, for the first time, of salary and pension arrangements. Continued allowances will be provided for members and cathaoirligh, including an allowance for leas-chathaoirligh. A better administrative back-up will be provided and a comprehensive training and information programme for all councillors will be delivered in consultation with their representative associations. Second Stage of the Bill commenced in the Dáil in March and is scheduled to resume shortly.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  How soon will shortly be?

Mr. D. Wallace: Information on Dan Wallace  Zoom on Dan Wallace  We are all aware that some aspects of the Bill have led to disagreement from certain quarters and that discussions continue. I have no doubt but that an acceptable arrangement can be reached within the broad policy parameters, but let us acknowledge this. Local government is now constitutionally recognised and local elections guaranteed, a proper local government funding system is in place – it was promised and delivered, capital investment is at record levels – visible for all to see, this Minister was the first ever to propose a salary type payment for councillors – more than that, it is provided for in the Local Government Bill and will be delivered. For the first time since the foundation of the State a Bill to revitalise local government is before Parliament and a wide ranging programme to modernise local government and improve efficiencies is well in hands and continues to accelerate.

What has been achieved in the last four years and what is in prospect is nothing less than a new beginning for local government, that is, a local government system which is properly funded, focused on the customer and on the improvement of its services, which is founded on principles of democracy, partnership and community leadership and, above all, which is at the heart of local communities and which places elected members [1195] at its core and backed up by practical supports. The actions taken by the Minister and this Government speak louder than the belated criticisms of Fine Gael. The programme of local government renewal is well on track and will be completed within the lifetime of this Government. This Government is happy to stand by its record. I commend the amended motion to the House.

Mrs. Jackman: Information on Mary Jackman  Zoom on Mary Jackman  I rise disappointed in the sense that it is typical that, once again, we must rely on Fine Gael in Private Members' time to ensure that the local government Bill will progress in the Dáil. As the House will be aware, it reached the Dáil on 8 March because of the specific lobbying of the Senators on this side of the House, week in, week out, until the Leader of the Fianna Fáil group and of the Seanad was embarrassed to have to say that it was not coming. Indeed, I do not expect it to be taken next week either because we have heard nothing in what the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, had to say as regards a date. There has been more lobbying in respect of this Bill than any other in my experience in the Seanad.

Recently I received a letter from the general secretary of LAMA, of which I have been a member since 1985 and on which I served with one of my fellow Senators. There are thousands of councillors and I am sure there are very few, if any, who are not members of LAMA and I am sure they all received this. The following paragraph of the letter, which was sent out of desperation to all councils, sums it up. It states that once again, within the past week, LAMA has had members of its executive speak separately with the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, the Government Chief Whip, the Leader of the Opposition, the Opposition spokespersons and Independent Deputies in a co-ordinated and continuing effort to advance the issue. This shows that this is the most lobbied piece of promised legislation I have ever come across. The letter then states that in the circumstances it was LAMA's opinion that a compromise between the differing viewpoints would be preferable but this now appears to be unlikely. In other words, the compromise has gone out the window. The letter further states:

In this eventuality we are now pressing very strongly that the Bill be re-introduced before the end of May to continue Second Stage in the Dáil and that all stages, in both Houses of the Oireachtas, will be completed prior to the summer recess.

The end of May is just a few days away and the summer recess is only weeks away. Obviously time is becoming increasingly tight for this but nonetheless, from LAMA's viewpoint, “it is not impossible”. That says it all. The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, should be well aware of how LAMA works since he was once its secretary.

[1196] I did say that this Bill has been discussed, debated, refined and amended, according to LAMA, AMAI and the General Council of County Councils, with frustration and anger building up among all parties as to why it has not been enacted. At LAMA's major conference, the Minister made promises, as he does continually, but nothing has happened.

I suppose we must put this in context. When I was cathaoirleach of Limerick County Council in 1998, when we celebrated 100 years of local government, we were reminded by the Minister that the new Bill would provide for a statutory framework for local government and that the legislation on that matter dated from 1898. It is now 2001, three years after the Minister said that he looked forward to putting local government on a statutory footing. It is now 103 years since the previous Act became law.

The White Paper of the rainbow Government, referred to by the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, was published within the short period my party was in Government. It contained a commitment on proper funding and on devolution. I thought there would have been continuity in regard to the 1996 White Paper but in five years nothing has happened.

On the various efforts regarding funding, I know from Limerick County Council's road programme that, despite what was stated here, this year we received less than last year's allocation. We are supposed to be getting all this funding.

Mention was made of equalisation. I acknowledge that there are IT systems in Limerick County Council and there is the programme for information and training for all of us. However, it is interesting that at the environmental SPC meeting I attended last Monday the sectoral representatives expressed the utmost frustration. They said they thought they had come to provide an input to policy and that they had achieved nothing since the last meeting. They wanted to know what is happening. The particular gentleman in question was so frustrated that he said he would not be turning up at any other meetings unless he saw progress. He was a little disappointed to find that members who were not from the voluntary sector had actually left the meeting and he felt that this was the result of frustration. The question, to illustrate the point to the House, had to do with a simple issue. The individual was extremely concerned about the environment. He had done much in his own local community to keep the environment clean and he was interested in waste management and in the implementation of the Litter Act, etc. However, he was gob-smacked when he heard that there were to be only two litter wardens in County Limerick and that if there were to be a third, which the Minister graciously said we could have, Limerick County Council would have to pay for him or her. Therefore, as regards all this gung-ho in the amendment to the motion about funding, I am extremely shocked if one cannot get funding from the Minister to appoint a third litter warden in a [1197] county as large as Limerick, which has huge environs.

I will not even go into the issue of the city and county development boards because it would take too long. On the issue of directly elected mayors, much has been stated about the fact that in principle it sounds like a fine idea but, following investigation, we know it is very appropriate for European countries where there is a distinct difference between national and local government. I do know what will be the brief of these directly elected mayors. I think they will just be concerned with ceremonial duties because, from what I can see, certainly there has been no devolution of powers to them. Following tremendous pressure, the Minister had to concede that someone must spend a period of five years as a local government representative before he or she could be directly elected mayor. It sounds reasonable until one reads the fine print.

As the Minister has the support of my party on the issue of the dual mandate, what is the problem? The Minister says that of course Members of the Oireachtas will receive all possible support within local government when they make representations but I want to know how he will deal with this. Where is the distinction between national and local representation? On the one hand he is talking about the dual mandate and on the other hand he is talking about the links between national and local representation. I would be happy that there would be links but it shows that the Minister is not thinking in terms of a local government structure with full powers separate from national government.

When I hear the words “efficiency and effectiveness” used about local government, all I can think of is that sadly people still think of local authorities in Ballymagash terms. Even though the Minister states that all of these things will be done and that local authorities will give a fantastic service to the general public, the people, like ourselves, know that the problem is not that there is anything wrong with the local government officials in the administration but that they are working long hours, without overtime, particularly in the planning area. There are planners and engineers working until 11 o'clock or 12 o'clock at night in Limerick County Council because they can deal with planning only the day before the decision is made. Therefore, when local authority representatives like me are asked what is the delay with a planning application, one must repeatedly say that the officials have not looked at it yet because they just do not have time.

The position as regards enforcement of planning is shocking. I could list many examples in Limerick where developers, in particular, have got away with blue murder because they know in their hearts and souls there is nobody to come out and enforce the decisions. Will this Bill ensure the necessary funding? There are many people who could deal with enforcement.

[1198] It is a pity I must reduce my comments to a few last points. Members of local authorities do not know when they will get these salaries. Will the Minister say when these salaries will be paid and will they be back dated? There is nothing concrete in what the Minister has told the House. Fine Gael has done its level best. We have put down Private Members' motions and asked for debates on the subject. People will not be willing to serve in local government. PAYE workers do not seem to be willing to serve and perhaps it is, as Senator Coogan stated, because of the long hours put in by local authority members. They put in long hours and work hard at tremendous financial and social expense to themselves. They are doing work equivalent to Members of the Oireachtas, and all without pay.

We have group water schemes, consultative committees, Traveller accommodation consultative committees and corporate policy groups. There are more layers than in a large multinational company and individuals have to undertake a heavy workload. It is time the Minister woke up to the realities of local government. The Local Government Bill should be put before this House or it should be taken in the other House. We need an accurate and definite deadline before the summer recess.

Mr. Walsh: Information on Jim Walsh  Zoom on Jim Walsh  I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Seanad Éireann” and substitute the following:

“commends the Government for the high priority given to local government since June 1997, including securing constitutional recognition and guaranteed local elections once every five years, and on the real and tangible progress which has been made to renew our system of local government and to acknowledge the landmark events of the renewal programme, such as:

The enhancements of the policy making role of the elected members through, for example:–

–the Strategic Policy Committee and corporate policy group structures, and the enhanced policy role of members under the Planning and Development Act, 2000, in relation to issues such as decisions on future development in their areas and the innovative “housing strategy” provisions on affordable and social housing.

The establishment, by way of new legislation, of the local government fund, which has delivered over 63% more general purpose funding to local authorities since 1997; and the introduction of a “needs and resources” model to the allocations process to create a more equitable method of distributing funds.

[1199] The National Development Plan 2000-2006 which provides for the greatest ever capital investment programme by local authorities to upgrade roads, water and other necessary infrastructure and which this year sees an increase of some 34% in funding for such programmes.

The wide range of initiatives currently under way with:

–a comprehensive information and policy-focused training programme for SPC chairs now being extended to all councillors;

–new management structures and directors of dervices now in place or currently being filled to support the SPCs;

–county-city development boards now established, staffed and fully operational – led by local government working with representatives from local development bodies, the State agencies and social partners, ensuring real devolution and local decision making;

–modern financial management systems based on best accounting principles, currently being rolled out to local authorities and to be completed by the end of the year;

–a wide agenda to improve customer service by way of the one-stop shop programme, better corporate planning, customer action plans and service indicators, special funding for service improvement and innovation as well as information technology; and upgraded audit and VFM systems.

The sustainable development ethos which has been introduced into land use planning under the Planning and Development Act, 2000.

The continued progress and role of local authorities in improving the economic, social and physical fabric of our cities, towns and villages through the urban renewal schemes.

The Local Government Bill, 2000, which is designed to underpin the range of initiatives already under way; to enhance the role of the elected members and place them at the heart of local democracy and to provide additional practical supports such as salary-pension arrangements; and other measures to reinforce the distinctive nature of local government as now recognised in our Constitution and as part of the overall programme for the renewal of our local government systems; and

[1200] welcomes the belated support of Opposition parties for the salary-pension arrangements for councillors provided for in the Local Government Bill, 2000.”

I reiterate the welcome to the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, to the House. It is appropriate for a debate on local government that we would have a Minister who has given tremendous local service to Cork Corporation. He is a former Lord Mayor of Cork and is well equipped to understand and appreciate the contribution of local government to society.

The amendment, which was tabled by the Leader, Senator Cassidy, deals comprehensively with many aspects of the motion. I wish to deal with the three specific points put forward in the motion, the first of which is cited as failure to implement the strategy for local government. I have not come across, in my time in local politics, a scenario where a Minister has engaged himself so fully with the consultation process, as has happened in relation to this Bill. The Bill was published in May 2000. Shortly afterwards, the Minister attended a seminar in Tralee which was also attended by almost 40% of the county councillors in the country. He answered all questions arising from the publication of the Bill.

Senator Coogan alluded to the fact that the Bill has stalled on the issue of the dual mandate. Efforts are being made to find a resolution. It is imperative that the Bill is enacted as soon as possible in the interests of local government. It is hoped that it will pass through the Houses of the Oireachtas before the summer recess.

Successive Governments have reduced the remit and influence of local councils. In 1995, a report on competitiveness stated that Ireland has the most centralised system of government anywhere in the world. It alluded to the fact that China was less centralised than Ireland. On a recent visit to China, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they have taken steps to make their regions and districts more politically autonomous. This has released a new dynamic within the Chinese economy and they hope it will supply the economic impetus needed to create employment and opportunities for the population.

The City and County Management Act was introduced for specific reasons and it has now outlived its usefulness. The Local Government Bill will, I hope, dilute the effects of those provisions. The removal of rates on private housing and agricultural land in the 1970s and 1980s had a detrimental effect on the remit and influence of local government. Those of us involved in local government should publicly acknowledge the contribution of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, in providing the necessary funding for local government. I have been involved for more than 20 years at local council level and the Minister's contribution has been exceptional. There has been a 63% increase in funding since 1997 and that is a very significant figure.

[1201] The establishment of other parallel local government systems was to the detriment of the overall system. The Leader groups, the ADLs and the partnership groups, for instance, certainly made a valuable contribution to the local communities. However, they could have been merged into the local government system at an earlier stage and at a much-reduced administrative cost. Some of the local government initiatives taken by Deputy Quinn when he was Minister for Finance were very negative. Councillors could not serve as members of a partnership board and were prohibited from serving as chairs of Leader groups. These measures send the wrong signal. We must try to attract people into the local government system. Any system such as this which is so fundamental, employing more than 30,000 people, spending between £2 billion and £3 billion per year, needs good people with the ability, commitment and capacity to deliver the services and enhance the system. During that era, the thrust was very much in the opposite direction.

Central and managerial control is strangling local government. I hope that when the Bill is finally passed, we will see improvements in that area. The Bill can be used to release the dynamic of local government. In the 80 years of independence, local councils have made an invaluable contribution to the quality of life of the people they serve. The needs of modern society require a more invigorated approach. If councils are given the powers, resources and responsibilities, there are no boundaries to what they can deliver on behalf of their local communities.

The motion cites criticism of the Minister for reneging on the salaries and pensions. If ever there was a misnomer, it is in the word “reneging”. I acknowledge there is a delay but it is very unfair to level this charge at this Minister. He is probably the most aware and responsive Minister ever to hold this portfolio. As a member of the general council, I remember proposals for a councillors' pension fund which would be funded by the councils. It was LAMA which first put forward the proposal for salaries for councillors at a meeting on 11 October 1997. For these proposals to be implemented, they must first be embraced by somebody imbued with the same spirit of local service, and we have found this in the Minister, Deputy Dempsey. He was the right man in the right place. Within the space of three or four years, a Bill was published which includes provisions for the payment of a salary and pension to councillors. The leas-chathaoirleach's allowance is a welcome provision and one that was sought.

I agree with Senators that Oireachtas terms and conditions have been rectified during the currency of this Administration and rightly so. Politicians should be paid appropriately for the work and effort put in. It is important that politicians, so far as possible, should be made financially independent. It is fundamental to our democracy that that be the case. Councillors are the only public servants who are not paid. If those of us [1202] who serve in local government – I have served for 22 years – were to leave in the morning we would have no entitlements to salary, pension, gratuity or any other payment whereas after a short period of four years in the Seanad one is entitled to a pension proportionate to service and also a gratuity. It is untenable that local representatives should continue to be in the invidious position of being the only public servants who are not paid. That will be rectified at the discretion of this Minister who is entitled to be applauded and congratulated rather than criticised. It is not before its time but it is a welcome change.

The increase in funding for national roads, housing and so on has placed the Minister in a position where he will be recognised as having made the most significant changes over a number of decades to the local government system. Much more needs to be done in the area of devolution. We have already suggested to him that as a start he could replicate the system of joint committees in the Houses by having joint local council committees which would hold to account the implementation of public services at local level, in education, policing, health, social welfare and agricultural services. While much remains to be done I am confident that the Minister has the commitment, the interest and the capacity to ensure local government going forward in the future will be more enhanced because of his period in office.

Mr. Connor: Information on John Connor  Zoom on John Connor  I deplore the fact that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, is not present. I do not say that to denigrate the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, who comes to this House frequently and is always helpful. This is an important motion and it is something for which the Minister has been directly criticised. He should have been man enough to come in here and face his critics with their justified criticism of his performance in relation to the Local Government Bill, 2000. While the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, represents the Government the Minister ought to be here.

This is not the first occasion on which the Minister has not shown due respect to this House. He was able to come in here a few weeks ago to take the Planning (Amendment) Bill by which he takes the power from local authority members to decide their own waste management strategy. He issued a series of gratuitous insults against my local authority because of our independence in relation to our input into the regional waste management strategy for the Connacht region. As elected members on our local authority we were perfectly entitled to do that but the Minister did not see it that way. He considered that it was his idea of a waste management plan for the region and that we should accept every iota of it. It was regrettable that I had to engage with him in a way I did not like having to defend my local authority when he made those remarks about four weeks ago.

[1203] I wish to deal with paragraph (b) of the motion. All I can say to the Government is “well done”, because 95% of the wording of the amendment is lifted straight from the Government White Paper of 1996 – Better Local Government. Of course it has been changed at the edges to convey a certain amount of politics.

On the question of how we have treated local authority members, my good friend, Senator Walsh, is chairman of the Local Authority Members' Association, in other words, our trade union, and I am the executive member on behalf of Roscommon local authority. We meet every month and discuss this issue at great length in a non-political and objective manner. The matter has been on the agenda for the past couple of years. The first meeting I attended of the Local Authority Members' Association as an executive member was in Mullingar at its annual general meeting in September 1999. Our guest speaker on that occasion was none other than the Minister, Deputy Dempsey. He promised unequivocally that within a matter of weeks the Bill would be published. He said he could not control parliamentary time but that he hoped to have it passed before the Christmas recess of 1999.

Now half way through 200l, the Bill is stuck in the other House because of disagreements over an aspect with which we on this side agree, that is, the dual mandate. Deputy Healy-Rae, supported by three other Independent Members, cannot agree that the Bill, when enacted, will provide that Members of the Oireachtas cannot be members of local authorities after 2004. The Minister has enough support here already to get the Bill through. The Labour Party and the Green Party have said they will support that section of the legislation and we have no great difficulty with it. Our difficulty would be that it is a nonsense making this radical change without devolving real powers to local authority members. It is a laugh in a sense that one can remove Oireachtas Members from local authorities who very often are the only people who can influence the Department or the Government. Local authority members with no additional statutory powers given to them would, in a sense, be bereft of the power that Oireachtas Members can wield by virtue of their membership of either House.

Local authority members have been badly treated in the manner in which they are compensated for the enormous amount of work they carry out. Much of their work is statutorily provided for. There are many areas in a local authority that cannot function unless local authority members attend their meetings and debate them. There are dozens of statutory functions for which they get no remuneration or recompense.

An attempt was made to deal with expenses to local authority members in 1993. That provided for a set travel allowance per annum plus a postal and telephone allowance which remained in place from 1993 until July 1998 when some small [1204] changes were made to it. An increase of £800 was given in most cases to local authority members who serve on full county councils or on full borough councils. There were some changes, albeit small, in the travel rate which is paid in a lump sum. Another aspect of this is that a member must attend at least 80% of all meetings of the local authority, committees and sub-committees of which he is a member to qualify for the full rate of expenses. There is an annual expense allowance which is divided by 12 and paid monthly to each member.

No provision is made for a member who is ill. Recently a member of my local authority was ill for a long time and missed six meetings. By virtue of that illness that person lost substantially on the recompense received even though continuing the work at home and making telephone calls from the home telephone. Not only is the travel element reduced if a member cannot attend 80% of the meetings but if, owing to illness or for some other reason, he cannot attend 50% of the meetings of the local authority, committees and sub-committees of which he may be a member his postal and telephone allowance is reduced. That is surely very unfair.

Local authority members looked forward to the fact that this would be the first recognition of their work. They feel very frustrated. Because of increases in the cost of running a car, fuel, telephone, offices etc., the salaries and expenses paid to Members of the Oireachtas have been kept in line with those increases. Not alone that, because there is now more money in the economy, we compensate ourselves somewhat better in real terms than we did in 1993. However, local authority members have none of these benefits.

Members of this House were treated generously by the Buckley Commission. By 31 October 2002, the salary of a Member of the Seanad will have been increased by 30%. That will give us a salary that is 75% of a Member of the Lower House. We have also had other substantial increases in our secretarial and office expenses. The Oireachtas will soon be enacting the long-service increment provision for Members of these Houses. Based on my reading of the Buckley report, the Government will introduce a first long-service increment after seven years' service in either House and a second increment after ten years of service.

Bright, intelligent local authority members carry out a huge task for democracy and their community. They are in very close contact with Members of these Houses and they see their work being denigrated and devalued. They are treated with contempt by the Government. A promise was made to them when the then Minister, Deputy Howlin published his White Paper in 1996. This has not seen the light of day and it is no wonder they feel so frustrated. The cursory way the Minister dealt with this in his speech this evening is most disappointing to put it at its kindest. He said:

[1205] We are all aware that some aspects of the Bill have led to disagreement from certain quarters and that discussions continue. I have no doubt but that an acceptable arrangement can be reached within the broad policy parameters.

When will this happen? There is no sign that this Bill will complete Second Stage in the other House before the summer recess and it still has to come here. There could be a long wrangle in the other House during Committee and Report Stages that would take it through the autumn session to Christmas. I believe that we will probably have a general election before the end of this year and if the House dissolves, the Bill falls. We may not see legislation like this again in our political lifetime.

I want the Minister for State to take a message back to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, to let him know that Members on all sides of this House are expressing the anger of local authority members who are his colleagues and mine. They feel very badly let down and devalued. There is nonsense, rhetoric about putting them at the centre of decision-making and redefining their role to give them real authority. This is not backed up with the necessary recompense and improvement in expenses, which they deserve if only to compensate them for the time they spend at local authority functions.

I ask the Minister of State not to see this as a political point-scoring debate. We brought this forward because Members on both sides of the House are under pressure. Senator Walsh, an honest and decent man, is chairman of the local authority members' trade union and he knows this.

Mr. D. Kiely: Information on Daniel Kiely  Zoom on Daniel Kiely  I welcome the Minister for State, Deputy Wallace, to the House. I compliment him and the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, on all the work they have done for local government since 1997. I am surprised at the wording of the motion. I admit there is frustration among members of local authorities that the Bill has not been passed. However, a motion criticising the Government for inactivity is totally unfair. The Government has given proper funding to local authorities and put proper structures in place for the first time.

I have been a member of a local authority for 21 years. Various Governments have promised us structures, but it took this Minister and this Government to put them in place and it is now planning further structures. The Bill is in the other House and I am sure it will be completed in plenty of time. It will give better compensation to the councillors who run the system. They do a tremendous job for local democracy.

A year ago Members of this House said that there was a housing crisis, with people living in hovels, and nothing could be done. All of a sudden under the Planning Act we have a new social housing strategy with the provision for affordable housing introduced by the Government. The establishment of the local government fund has [1206] delivered over 63% more general purpose funding for local authorities since 1997. The Government was criticised for not providing money for infrastructure such as roads, water schemes and sewerage schemes. However, now the money has been provided and we can see work being done throughout the country. To accuse the Government of sitting on its laurels, doing nothing, could not be further from the truth.

The new national plan shows a 34% increase in funding for various programmes. SPCs and the city and county development boards were established. There is a more worthwhile county council with everybody working in the right direction. In the past, if a person wanted to complain about a road, a house, a sewerage scheme or a water scheme, he had to go to maybe 20 different buildings before getting anywhere. Now there is the one stop shop programme, which gives an improved service to the customer using the local service. These were all introduced by this Government.

One of the first priorities of the Government was to introduce a proper funding system that secured the necessary resources for a very ambitions programme for local government. This was established under the Local Government Act, 1998. A sum of £720 million will be spent by local authorities in 2001. It is totally untrue to say that the Government is reneging on its promises to local authorities. I expect that the Bill which is currently before the Dáil will be completed in the near future.

Perhaps local authority members are somewhat annoyed that they have not got what they were promised with regard to salaries and pension rights. My colleague, Senator Walsh, who is the chairman of LAMA, stated earlier that that body was the first to mention the question of salary. As chairman of the General Council of County Councils back in the 1980s, I and my executive committee were the first to promote the idea of pensions for councillors. Both salaries and pensions for local authority members will come to fruition, and rightly so. The Minister is on public record as undertaking to backdate the arrangements when the legislation is enacted. I and my colleagues on this side of the House will press the Minister to backdate it to the date of the last local elections. In view of the commitment already given, I feel sure that the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, will not be found wanting in relation to that further backdating.

Local councillors deserve a proper salary for their work. We on this side of the House will promote that issue vigorously when the Bill comes before the Seanad. Many Senators owe their seats to their local authority experience. There is much discussion about the dual mandate. If the dual mandate is to be abolished, so be it. The workload of local authority members is getting so heavy that they are almost fully occupied already and should be rewarded accordingly.

It was Deputy Michael Smith, during his term as Minister for the Environment and Local [1207] Government, who first introduced some form of reward for urban councillors. Postage and telephone allowances for local authority members were also introduced by Fianna Fáil led Governments and more will be done for them under the present Government. In my 20 years' experience as a local authority member, I have yet to see any input from the other side of the House to alleviate the plight of local authority members, who were starved of funds for many years.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan A. Coogan  Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan  The Senator should read the 1996 Act.

Mr. D. Kiely: Information on Daniel Kiely  Zoom on Daniel Kiely  Yet, now that the proper structures are being put in place and funds being provided, the Government is being criticised and the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, is being criticised for not being here for this debate. That is unfair. The Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, is present. This Government is implementing its proposals and providing proper funding for local authorities.

It is, perhaps, regrettable that the Waste Management (Amendment) Bill had to be put through because of the fact that many local authorities did not face up to their responsibilities and, consequently, those local authorities which were doing their job were also penalised. If the Minister did not take action, refuse would continue to pile up on the streets. When the Bill comes before this House, there will be ample opportunity—

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan A. Coogan  Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan  Did the Senator mention a date for that?

Mr. D. Kiely: Information on Daniel Kiely  Zoom on Daniel Kiely  —to make sure that local authority members are properly rewarded for the work they are doing. I look forward to supporting that.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara  Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara  I thank Senator Kiely for raising the issue of the Waste Management (Amendment) Bill which we debated recently in this House. That encapsulates the manner in which this Government has completely and utterly undermined local government. The Government's amendment includes a long list of so-called achievements, very few of which are due to the current Administration. Most of those matters were brought forward by the previous Government. The Better Local Government policy was formulated by the then Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Brendan Howlin of the Labour Party. The present Minister is simply implementing the ideas of his predecessors. He has implemented very few of his own ideas.

Naturally, the Minister's initiative on salary and pension arrangements for local councillors went down very well. At this stage, local councillors are fed up with hearing of the Minister's so-called commitments on this matter. Many of us [1208] have almost come to the point of believing that it will never happen. It seems to be caught up in the paralysis of indecision, or perhaps in some kind of Bermuda triangle in Kerry South, on the issue of the dual mandate. When the history books are written on the record of this Administration, this Government will be seen, on balance, as one which undermined local government rather than progressing it. That is most regrettable, in view of the huge opportunity which exists.

I acknowledge the progress being made under the Better Local Government strategy, at least in theory. The structures of strategic policy committees, corporate policy groups etc., are long overdue as a management tool. The benefit is already evident in my own local authoirity, even within a short period, but that is only one part of the overall infrastructure which local government needs. There was a clear need to upgrade and reform management systems and to make local government more accountable to the people whom it serves. We still have a long way to go in terms of delivery of service by local authorities but we are on the right road in that regard. Better local government is certainly the way to go.

However, there is a huge deficit and this was evident on the doorsteps to those of us who went before the electorate in the last local elections. The standing of the elected members of local authorities is diminishing by the day. Senator Kiely spoke of the increasing workload of local councillors. I fully agree with him and, indeed, I can attest to it from my own experience. The ability of councillors to take a full role in the process, to act on behalf of the people who elected us and to respond to them, is a hugely important part of the role of a councillor. It is fundamental to ensuring that local government, which is the very cornerstone of our democracy, works properly. We are still very far from making that happen. We have only to observe the cynicism of the electorate when they experience local democracy. In doing their best to be the liaison between the infrastructure of local government and the people, councillors are, in many ways, the meat in the sandwich. There can be such a sense of frustration as to make one wonder if it is possible to achieve anything.

The issue of salary and pension is fundamental for the elected members. As Senators who are elected by local councillors throughout the country, we must take it upon ourselves to raise this issue at every opportunity. I commend the Fine Gael Party for bringing it forward at this stage. This important legislation deserves thorough examination and debate when it comes before this House. I hope that day will be sooner rather than later, because the fundamental issue of salaries and pensions, and a strategy for the future of local democracy is daily more urgent and important. Our democracy is under threat from all sides and unless we start from the ground up, we are at nothing. We need an imaginative, dedicated, committed approach to local government. The introduction of a salary and pension scheme, [1209] which recognises the central role of councillors and their contribution, is fundamental. I support the Fine Gael motion in this respect.

The Government amendment lists what this Government has implemented of strategies introduced by previous Administrations. We have come a long way in recent years but still have a long distance to go in the reform of local government. The process will stop in its tracks if the reform is not continued and this legislation is not brought forward as soon as possible. This Government may run out of time before we have the chance to implement fully this legislation.

At the heart of this is the dual mandate, a politically thorny issue which must be grappled with. If the Government fails to do so, it fails to deal with an issue fundamental to our democracy. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government often states, and has done so in this House, that it is a core issue for him. He is not going to step back from the crunch on it. There is division in the Government on this issue as colleagues disagree with him. It appears to be caught in the Bermuda triangle in Kerry South. It is to be condemned and deplored because the people, who elected us to this House and to local authorities, suffer from the Government's inability to make a political decision and move forward on this fundamental legislation. I support the Opposition motion.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  On neglecting local government and its members, if we had our sins on our foreheads, no one would be holding his head up. The chest and chin of Fine Gael would be inseparable companions.

I support this amendment. It is important and opportune that we in this House debate local government. Its current status should be looked at in depth. An important factor in recent years was the ring-fencing of local government funding. Over the years, local government members called for powers. Funding is power, the power to raise money and to spend it. At Estimates time, the people who called for hundreds of thousands or millions of pounds to be spent were shy when it came to striking a rate. This Minister provided a real funding base for local government, which gives the members real power.

I served as president of the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland ten or 11 years ago and chaired an all-party committee which made recommendations on local government reform, one of which was constitutional recognition. We were not the only group making that recommendation. That recognition has now been given in the Constitution. Strategic policy has been addressed by the Minister through legislation. In 21st century Ireland, it is important to move forward and take a hard look at ourselves. The Minister and the Government have done that in legislation and the measures taken.

Much was said about the Local Government Bill. Like every elected Member here, I appreciate that the local authority member and his role [1210] today is very different from when I entered Westmeath County Council and Mullingar Town Commission, almost 22 years ago. Membership of a county council, a county borough council and, in most cases, membership of a borough or urban district council, is a full-time job.

The Buckley report recognised the workload of Deputies and Senators. Much has been said, inside the House and outside, about the dual mandate. I never supported it as I made clear when I was president of the AMAI. However, I respect the views of those who want to retain it. That is democracy and we are supposed to be living in one where people can express their views. As someone nominated by the AMAI, I am conscious, as the Acting Chairman knows, of the lobbying over the Bill. There is anxiety among local authority members over the proposed salary and pension. I do not doubt it will come. What this Minister starts, he finishes.

Senator Kiely referred to waste management. Members must have powers, but it is important for them to use them. When we brought in paid parking in Mullingar to improve the traffic flow, it was unpopular, but if we had not today Mullingar would be gridlocked. I am glad we made that decision. Many important infrastructural developments for traffic have flowed from it. However, even though the decision was originally unanimous, many members in the chamber, for political reasons with the advent of an election, jumped ship except for my group. I was the chairman of the authority. The people of Mullingar can now see the benefits of the Fianna Fáil supported decision.

There are a number of Acts on the powers of local government, particularly the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955. Changes have come but, as I told the Minister, county managers have too many powers.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  There speaks an ex-councillor.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  When the Senator was there, he did nothing and continues to do so. On development boards, the strategic policy boards, the involvement of local communities, of Leader and so on, I do not know why these should not be a function of local government and administered by it. I have devoted most of my comments to the Local Government Bill. I can assure Members on the other side of the House that this Minister and Government will not be found wanting, and I hope the Senators will not be either.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  This motion tabled by Senator Coogan and my colleagues is timely given the Government's lethargy on this all important matter. The changing role of local government and the enhanced role of the councillor, which has been promised for years, is a matter of primary concern to us all. The motion, like the Bill whenever we get it, is designed to underpin a range of initiatives already under way to enhance the role of elected members and place them at the heart [1211] of local democracy and to provide additional practical supports, such as salary and pension arrangements. Forgive me for not welcoming this long suffering Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, to the House, which I wholeheartedly do. He spent a lot of time in this House today, which is appreciated.

We have had many false dawns in regard to this Bill. Indeed, the Leader has given this House many assurances. One of the first was in late 1999 when he said it would be passed through both Houses by April 2000. He then said it would be passed through both Houses by last Christmas and then that it would be brought in immediately after Christmas. Here we are in May 2001 and the Bill remains undelivered. I sometimes worry about the Leader because he is meant to be the conduit between this House and the Government. I do not know where the breakdown in communications is. I sometimes wonder if the Leader is being given the washroom treatment by the Government. I do not know what is wrong, but he has given a lot of assurances that have not measured up.

Senator Walsh said the Minister has the interest and capacity and I accept that, but he has been thwarted a lot by his own side of the House – probably not in this House but in the other House. I am worried because here we are four years later and the planning system is creaking at the seams.

I welcome the Government's belated speeding up of this Bill which will be very welcome as far as we are concerned. This side of the House has been supportive and has given it encouragement from the outset and I assure Members we will continue to do so. Members on both sides of this House would agree that as part of the enhanced role and the increased workload being imposed on councillors whose function is practically full-time already, there should be due and proper recompense. The time for putting in place a proper salary and pension scheme and improved allowances for members of local authorities is long overdue. It is difficult for us to understand the reasons for the delay in introducing such measures given all the Government promises regarding their delivery. At this juncture nothing further can be done to enhance the role of councillors, improve local authorities and introduce the necessary salary and pension arrangements without the passage of this Bill.

We all have the utmost respect for councillors who have given of their time so dedicatedly over such a long period and without any reward whatsoever. In many instances, they have suffered great loss personally, given the time consuming nature of their role which separates them so much from the families, and financially, through losses in work, businesses, professionally and otherwise, because of their dedication to duty and the long hours they put in to serving their people and communities. I, therefore, plead with the Government to proceed immediately with the passage of the [1212] Bill through the Oireachtas. I urge the Minister to set the salary scale initially at least at £12,000 per annum. That is why I asked Senator Dan Kiely, my learned friend from my county, and others to put a figure on it.

Mr. D. Kiely: Information on Daniel Kiely  Zoom on Daniel Kiely  I proposed 50% of a Senator's salary.

Mr. Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan  Zoom on Paul Coghlan  I would heartily concur with that. I got worried when I heard the Minister of State say a modest salary is envisaged because anything less than that would not be commensurate with the work they do and the pension arrangement which would relate to salary level would be pretty worthless.

The Minister of State said the ending of the dual mandate and the introduction of a directly elected cathaoirleach in 2004 and further elements of this overall package will enhance the role of the elected members, support community involvement and promote efficiency and effectiveness. The Minister of State said the dual mandate will end but the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, recently spoke of the consultative process, for which we thank him, with all the local authority associations and said that during this consultation process many issues have been raised, one of which is the ending of the dual mandate, and that, as we are already aware, this is a matter of ongoing discussion. That is very imprecise. Senator Dan Kiely used the word “if”, so I do not know where it stands. In any event, I look forward to the full implementation of the Bill following its overdue passage through the Oireachtas.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill  Zoom on Máirín Quill  I am glad we are having this debate this evening. The reform of local government is fundamental to a regeneration of respect for democracy because local government touches people's daily lives in the most meaningful way. If people had respect for local government and its practitioners, they would have an enhanced respect for the institutions of State and it is important that happens. There is a great deal of cynicism at the moment and nothing good comes out of that.

We talked about payment for local councillors. A feature of local councillors and local authority members is their very heightened sense of public service and of the giving of public service in a voluntary way. It is a huge value in a community that there are people who are prepared to give their time, talent and energy to public service and to give it without counting the cost or whatever remuneration they get for it. We should not take that for granted. That is a key reason we should proceed with due haste to formulate and put in place some kind of salary structure, even if it is only to recognise our local authority members. We should not continue to take them for granted.

On the Local Government Bill, it would be unfair and a travesty of the truth not to acknowledge that this Minister has tried with might and [1213] main to push the local government reform agenda through. He is very sincere and determined.

Mr. J. Doyle: Information on Joseph Doyle  Zoom on Joseph Doyle  It is sad he cannot do that.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill  Zoom on Máirín Quill  I really want to acknowledge that because it is a fact. The effort to reform local government will finish in a nonsense unless we have the courage, determination and conviction to insist on bringing an end to the dual mandate. Given the complexity of legislation that has to be handled by these Houses, it is not practical or feasible to expect legislators to run around the country looking into potholes or to wonder whether bus stops should be put on one side of the street or the other, dissipating their energies on matters of that nature which properly belong to locally elected representatives with a brief to represent the local interest.

The net result of a system that requires Deputies and Senators to carry on both workloads is the filtering away of the powers of this and the other House. The power is going to the courts and other sources not elected by the people. That is a negation of democracy. There is a high price to be paid for requiring our legislators to attend to all these functions which is one of many reasons we should seek to bring down the curtain on dual mandate. I know a number of women who would like to be elected to this or the other House but could not manage the punishing timetable involved. There are overwhelming reasons for putting an end to the dual mandate system. We should not permit a small number of people to dictate the agenda on this issue. That is a major negation of democracy.

We must work towards directly elected mayors with executive functions for a fixed term of office. The running of cities is a very challenging task. Cities are very complex places to run from a social, transport, environmental and planning point of view. We must elect persons for a sufficiency of time to bring about change and put our cities on a par with other cities in Europe. Such countries have directly elected mayors who have a mandate from the people to carry out essential changes and reforms. One could not change anything in this country as things stand. No matter what is proposed, some genius on the corner of the street is against it. There is only one way to break through that culture. We must put in place a mayor with vision—

Mr. J. Doyle: Information on Joseph Doyle  Zoom on Joseph Doyle  Someone who has the powers to do so. That has been denied him so far.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill  Zoom on Máirín Quill  I am coming to that point.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Farrell): Information on Willie Farrell  Zoom on Willie Farrell  The Senator without interruption, please.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill  Zoom on Máirín Quill  We must elect someone who has the mandate, power, function and finance to make things happen. They are the two areas of the Bill on which I would most like us to make [1214] progress. We would then be talking about real local government.

Mr. J. Doyle: Information on Joseph Doyle  Zoom on Joseph Doyle  There are no powers in the Bill.

Acting Chairman:  Senator Quill, without interruption, please.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill  Zoom on Máirín Quill  I can manage without Hill 16 at my left.

Mr. J. Doyle: Information on Joseph Doyle  Zoom on Joseph Doyle  I was never on it.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill  Zoom on Máirín Quill  I was. I know the difference between Hill 16 and this Chamber.

It is my experience that whatever the intention of the SPCs they are very slow getting off the ground. I am not sure they are making a major difference. We want to be able to evaluate what looks good on paper and what is achieving results on the ground. It is my experience that the SPCs are not amounting to much. Perhaps we should examine them again.

Mr. Caffrey: Information on Ernie Caffrey  Zoom on Ernie Caffrey  I wish to share my time with Senator McDonagh.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Caffrey: Information on Ernie Caffrey  Zoom on Ernie Caffrey  I have been listening to debate on the issue of local government reform for the past 20 years, but no such reform has taken place. The Government has tinkered with local government for many years and has made only cosmetic and academic changes to it. The fundamental change it introduced, giving local government constitutional status, is of academic interest only to councillors. Indeed many of them were happier with the way things were.

Councillors have less power now than they had years ago. If the Government is serious about providing local government with real power it will have to give it real responsibility. It must be allowed to raise money locally. Local government in many other European states is allocated a budget through which it can provide services. Until we go down that road we are going nowhere. The Government is merely tinkering with local government. SPCs are great on paper and in theory but in reality they are not contributing to local government.

I support the abolition of the dual mandate system. It is impossible for local authority members to cope with the many demands made on their time. The Government is to be condemned for its failure to recognise the role being played by local authority members. The Government has promised, for the past two years, to introduce this legislation. It is currently being held up by the four Independent Deputies who have refused to budge on the issue. We will have to have a U-turn by the Minister, intervention by the Taoiseach or a compromise or climb down by the four Independent Deputies before this legislation can be passed by both Houses. I would like to know which of the three options is most likely.

[1215] Councillors believe that the Government is not taking serious regard of their efforts. They are promised a salary and pension on the passing of this Bill, which though only small is a very important part of overall legislation in this area. The Government will meet a great deal of resistance among local authority members if it does not move forward with this legislation.

Mr. McDonagh: Information on Jarlath McDonagh  Zoom on Jarlath McDonagh  The first real test of support for the electorate of this House, the councillors of Ireland, comes before us this evening. What is embraced within the Fine Gael motion is total support for the councillors of Ireland regardless of party and total support for local government. To oppose this motion and table an amendment to it, as has been done by the Government parties, is hypocrisy. It will be very difficult for Senators of the Government parties to face the councillor electorate in the forthcoming Seanad elections.

The councillors of Ireland are, in my opinion, the foot soldiers on the ground who carry the can when Oireachtas Members are away in the capital, away from the electorate. Councillors remain available to the people at all times. Unless they are treated differently, very few people will be putting their names forward come the next local government elections. The time has come for county councillors and local authority members to be properly remunerated for their work. They are involved in county council meetings, SPCs, area committee meetings and so on. It is almost a full-time job. It is too bad that four people – called a yankee in racing parlance – the four Independent Deputies, can hold to ransom the councillors of this country. The Government parties now have the opportunity to support councillors and, accordingly, to support the all-embracing Fine Gael motion before the House. I find it difficult to understand how the Government parties can commend the Government on the high priority given to local government since June 1997 when in the recent Waste Management Bill it denuded the councils of the little power they have left by vesting power in regard to waste management in the county managers, a power they do not want and which puts them in an unenviable position. There is a major difficulty in this area, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government is muzzled by four Independents. The time for change is nigh, otherwise local authority members will remain second class citizens within the context of public representation. I hope change will be introduced soon and then the matter will be rectified but that will only happen then.

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  The debate on this motion presents a golden opportunity to commend the Government on the local government reforms it has introduced which are ongoing and will be completed before a general election is called. To briefly highlight the reforms introduced, local [1216] elections will be held every five years. Development boards were introduced and, for what it is worth, I sit on one of them and that board is working extremely well. We reflect on policy in relation to councillors, local interested bodies and on how best we can help in any area that requires assistance. We moved forward on planning legislation. That was the first time a Government introduced a policy on housing strategy, which provides that 20% of development land will be handed over to the local authority concerned for the purposes of social housing, affordable housing or voluntary housing. I have been a member of a council for a long time and there are many armchair members, so to speak, hurlers on the ditch. This debate presents a golden opportunity to outline what is being done in this area.

One final part of the reform is the implementation of the provisions in the local government Bill. It deals with three key areas, including directly elected mayors. I had a difficulty initially with that proposal, but I must compliment the Minister on the way he went out and about and convinced Members on all sides of the House of the importance of giving power to local councillors and directly electors mayors to get the job done and to remove that power from the county manager, with which everyone who knows about this would agree.

I have concerns about another aspect of that Bill, the proposal to remove the dual mandate. I support its removal as it is physically impossible to be in two places at the one time. I could give examples every week of attending meetings in the council and trying to be here at the same time, but one must make choices. This matter was thrashed out at length and the fact that we have not moved on that is holding up matters. I have confidence in the Minister that the dual mandate will be removed.

A third key area of that Bill relates to a salary for councillors. We will all be canvassing in the next election in the knowledge that councillors will be paid a salary – that is certain. The Minister has given a commitment on that and it is merely a question of getting such a measure through the Dáil, which I am convinced will happen.

I am pleased we have local government reform, we will implement the measures the Minister spoke about and I congratulate him as he is the only Minister who has had responsibility for the environment who has travelled the highways and byways to talk to every councillor who came his way to convince him or her of the necessity to introduce reform of local government. I congratulate him and the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, on the reform they have introduced on all aspects of local government. I believe that in the next few months we will all be singing from the same hymn sheet.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan A. Coogan  Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan  I am a little confused as I do not think we are talking about the same Bill. I have heard members of both Government parties talk [1217] about a Bill in respect of which responsibility has been handed back to the local representatives. That is not provided in that Bill; the opposite is happening.

Mr. Doyle: Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  That is right.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan A. Coogan  Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan  The Senators opposite know that is the case. What strikes me most about this matter is that I know in their heart of hearts they all agree with this motion, but they are mandated to oppose it but the so-called grounds on which they do so do not exist. The provisions in that Bill will not hand responsibility back to the local representatives.

Mr. Callanan: Information on Peter Callanan  Zoom on Peter Callanan  What about the 19 hours councillors spend working a week?

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan A. Coogan  Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan  I do not disagree with the Senator; I spoke to him outside the Chamber about this matter. He said the number of hours the GCC said local authority members work during the week is more than 19 hours – he said it is more than double that figure. He is effectively supporting this motion in saying the work being done by councillors should be remunerated.

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  There is a strategy.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan A. Coogan  Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan  It is not before us but buried somewhere down in the Lower House.

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  The Opposition has no strategy.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan A. Coogan  Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan  The Government should dust it off and give us a positive date for the implementation of such a measure and not tell us, as I heard every time I asked when a Bill to provide for the introduction of this measure would be before us, that it is will introduced in three weeks, four weeks or six weeks. That has been promised for the past two years. Once the Government informed local authority members it intended to remunerate them, it gave them that expectation and those people had a right that that expectation would be met.

The Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, has been sent in here in the Minister's place and we have not heard why the Minister is not here. I looked through the Minister of State's speech and thought I would try to get a specific date for the introduction of this measure following which I and Fianna Fáil Senators will be able to tell councillors we have a date for the introduction of a Bill to provide for this measure.

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  I guarantee the Senator we will have a date.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan A. Coogan  Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan  We have no date for the introduction of a Bill to provide for that. So many dates [1218] have been put forward at this stage, it is getting to be like a TV comedy show.

We tabled this motion because we strongly believe in the reform of local government and our belief in that predates the time of this Government. No Senator opposite should claim this Government introduced local government reform. It did not; it was introduced by the previous Government and the Government before that. However, this Government took the initiative and I always believed the Minister was one who believed in local government.

Mr. Callanan: Information on Peter Callanan  Zoom on Peter Callanan  On a point of order, there was no mention in the White Paper of any salary for councillors.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan A. Coogan  Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan  Nothing has happened in this area in terms of the Local Government Bill or during the past few years. I call on Senators opposite to point out what has happened and to tell me what extra responsibilities local authority members have; the opposite is the case. Local authorities were involved in tourism but that power was taken from them. I could spend the rest of the night talking about local authorities having been gradually denuded of responsibility. I am not saying that is the Government's fault, it is often the fault of the administration behind the Government who do not want local authorities to have responsibility, but the Government falls for that. The truth is, as was said by all speakers, that local authority members are at the coalface of democracy, they take the brunt when things go wrong. For that reason, we call on the Government to recompense them for their work and to reform local government by giving local authority members more responsibility.

Senator Quill talked about the dual mandate. It is in place because it suits the Government, as it believes, on the basis of current percentages, that the dual mandate will result in more Government candidates being elected. That is the basis of it continuing to be in place.

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  That is a cynical view.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan A. Coogan  Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan  What responsibility or authority does that give to the chairperson of local authorities or to elected mayors? It gives them no additional responsibility.

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  That is out of order.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan A. Coogan  Zoom on Fintan A. Coogan  I ask Members opposite to reconsider the motion and to look into their hearts and realise that this motion is correct. It merely requests them to support the moving forward of the Bill. The Members opposite are in Government and they should govern. That is their job.

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  We have done it all; the Opposition has done nothing.

Amendment put.

[1219]

Bohan, Eddie.
Bonner, Enda.
Callanan, Peter.
Chambers, Frank.
Cox, Margaret.
Cregan, John.
Dardis, John.
Farrell, Willie.
Fitzgerald, Liam.
Fitzgerald, Tom.
Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
Gibbons, Jim.
Glennon, Jim.
Glynn, Camillus.
[1220] Kett, Tony.
Kiely, Daniel.
Kiely, Rory.
Lanigan, Mick.
Lydon, Don.
Mooney, Paschal.
Moylan, Pat.
O'Donovan, Denis.
Ó Fearghail, Seán.
Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
Ormonde, Ann.
Quill, Máirín.
Ross, Shane.
Walsh, Jim.

Burke, Paddy.
Caffrey, Ernie.
Coghlan, Paul.
Connor, John.
Coogan, Fintan.
Cosgrave, Liam T.
Cregan, Denis (Dino).
Doyle, Joe.
Hayes, Tom.
Henry, Mary.
Jackman, Mary.
Keogh, Helen.
McDonagh, Jarlath.
Manning, Maurice.
Norris, David.
O'Dowd, Fergus.
O'Meara, Kathleen.
Ridge, Thérèse.
Ryan, Brendan.

Amendment declared carried.

Question put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.”

Bohan, Eddie.
Bonner, Enda.
Callanan, Peter.
Chambers, Frank.
Cox, Margaret.
Cregan, John.
Dardis, John.
Farrell, Willie.
Fitzgerald, Liam.
Fitzgerald, Tom.
Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
Gibbons, Jim.
Glennon, Jim.
Glynn, Camillus.
Kett, Tony.
Kiely, Daniel.
Kiely, Rory.
Lanigan, Mick.
Lydon, Don.
Mooney, Paschal.
Moylan, Pat.
Norris, David.
O'Donovan, Denis.
Ó Fearghail, Seán.
Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
Ormonde, Ann.
Quill, Máirín.
Ross, Shane.
Walsh, Jim.

Burke, Paddy.
Caffrey, Ernie.
Coghlan, Paul.
Connor, John.
Coogan, Fintan.
Cosgrave, Liam T.
Cregan, Denis (Dino).
Doyle, Joe.
Hayes, Tom.
Henry, Mary.
Jackman, Mary.
Keogh, Helen.
McDonagh, Jarlath.
Manning, Maurice.
O'Dowd, Fergus.
O'Meara, Kathleen.
Ridge, Thérèse.
Ryan, Brendan.

Question declared carried.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.26 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 24 May 2001.


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