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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 22 May 1984

Vol. 350 No. 8

Local Elections (Specification of Local Election Year) Order, 1984: Motion (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Dáil Éireann confirms the following Order:
Local Elections (Specification of Local Election Year) Order, 1984, a copy of which Order was laid before Dáil Éireann on the 13th day of January, 1984.
—(Minister for the Environment).

During my contribution to the previous motion to impose the guillotine I said that the postponement of the local elections, due to take place next month, is a bad step, which has been taken for political reasons. The Government have said that the reason is the need for local government reform. We know that is necessary but it is not a sufficient reason for postponing the local elections indefinitely. We were promised local government reform two and a half years ago but so far we have not been given an indication that it has been discussed at Cabinet level. We have not seen any evidence that it has been and therefore we must accept that the proposal to postpone the elections has been for political reasons.

This decision was not taken by the Government until very late in the day after it had become obvious there had been disagreement and confusion in the Cabinet as to whether the elections should be held. It has been accepted that in order to bring out the electorate for the European elections some sort of bonus should be offered to them, such as the holding of the local elections on the same day. On the last occasion it was felt that the local elections should be held on the same day as the European elections in order to stimulate interest in the latter. Though the two will not be held simultaneously on this occasion I do not think the electorate will need much encouragement, because of the performance of the Government leading up to the European elections — I think that performance will mean that the electorate will come out in large numbers and the local elections have been postponed in the hope that that will not be so.

Membership of the Seanad is controlled largely by county councils who, in themselves, are very important bodies. The work of county councillors has been understated in recent years. They are unpaid, many of them are part-time only politicians, and they deserve great credit for the work they do and for the interest they have shown in performing their duties. For that reason alone the postponement of the local elections is a backward step which deprives the electorate of their right to decide representation at local level.

As a member of Dublin Corporation I can say there is great criticism of the Coalition parties because of the way they have controlled and monopolised completely the important office of Lord Mayor in Dublin. We know what Labour and Fine Gael have been doing in this respect. In 1979, 42 per cent or 43 per cent of the people in Dublin voted for Fianna Fáil candidates and since 1979 those people have not seen their choices selected as Lords Mayor in the city council. We have seen the Labour Party holding the mayoralty in two of those years. I have no hang-ups about it but I should like to see democracy in action. We all talk about upholding democratic rights but as far as Labour and Fine Gael are concerned in Dublin democracy is something talked about but not practised.

Therefore, it is not very difficult to appreciate and understand the cynicism of the people outside. I would not like to think that such cynicism is at such a seriously high level that democracy as we know it could be in danger in the future. The major political parties, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour have a serious responsibility to let the public see that we are democratic and that we continue to carry out our functions in accordance with the wishes of the electorate. Therefore, the electorate are entitled to have the local elections carried out. We know that political convenience is the reason for postponement — the present climate is not good from the point of view of the Coalition parties. I do not pay any attention to polls one way or another but one cannot turn a deaf ear to expressions of views by the public.

In 1979 we went to the people to elect county councils, corporations and urban councils for a five-year period. That necessarily meant that we would hold the next local elections in 1984. Now we are not being told when they will be held. It has been suggested that 1986 will be the date. I notice that the Minister of State is sitting alone over there.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

Dublin Corporation have been controlled for the past four years by the Coalition parties and like most other local authorities they are in a very bad way financially. Most authorities are on the verge of bankruptcy. During the past two years inflation has been running at rates between 10 per cent to 16 per cent and the increases in revenue granted to local authorities by the Government have been totally insignificant and unrealistic. This year they will be receiving an increase of only 0.8 per cent. What job can any local authority do with the type of funds being made available? Each city and county manager is being told that it is up to him to raise additional revenue by way of local charges etc.

Last year we had the imposition of a water charge of between £30 and £50, depending on the valuation of a house. It has been a total disaster. Eighteen months after the introduction of these rates fewer than 50 per cent of people have paid and a very large percentage of the remainder are adamant that they will not pay the imposed rates under any circumstances. One must agree with the logic of their argument. When rates were abolished in 1977, additional taxation was imposed to make up the required funds for local authorities and this was increased each year. From 1977 to 1980 or 1981 the annual increases to local authorities were in the region of 11 or 12 per cent. Whilst that may not have been sufficient to allow local authorities to do all the work they wished, nevertheless it was sufficient to enable them to carry out all essential functions. Since then the increases granted by the Minister have been very small and meaningless. The increase this year of 0.8 per cent is an insult to all local authorities and it would have been better for the Minister to tell them that the money was not available to give any increase.

The onus is being placed once more on the public to make up the required funds. Where is this money to come from? Are we talking in terms of further charges for services such as garbage collection, library fees and the imposition of various other fees thought up by Government and management? The imposition of any new charges will be a fiasco and the system will be unworkable, as in the case of the water charges.

Local authorities are responsible for many services within their areas. They are required to meet some charges which I believe should be met from central funds. The health boards are one area where charges are increasing very much year after year. It is virtually impossible for a city manager or city treasurer to carry out his duties as imposed by statute. I pay a very high tribute to the City Manager and his officers in Dublin Corporation. Despite ever-reducing funds, within their disposable means they have done a very good job for the city and in the areas of community and environment they have done extremely well, as the Minister of State will appreciate. In those circumstances, it is grievously wrong that these authorities should be put under such financial stress.

We must examine the political background to the decision of the Government to postpone the local elections. There was not total agreement, I understand, within the Cabinet. The Taoiseach is understood to be on record as being very adamant that the elections should take place, but he was over-ruled by the vast majority of the Cabinet, particularly the members of the Labour Party who under no circumstances wanted to face the electorate on two fronts next month. From a political point of view, one cannot blame them. The Labour Party have been steadily going down since they went into Coalition in 1982. They have let their supporters down very badly, totally reneged on Labour policy and the Labour Ministers have been given areas of responsibility which have been dealt with most reprehensibly from the public viewpoint. Environment and Health, to name two, are areas which have suffered severe cutbacks and in which there has been a total collapse under this Government. Rather than seeing some small progress in this area, we have seen retrogresion and in the area of health and social welfare the cutbacks have been of such ferocity that once again the population are moving back into the poverty of the forties.

The Deputy should be referring to the postponing of the local elections and not giving a general budget debate speech.

I know that some of this is unpalatable to the Minister.

No, the Deputy is not being relevant.

I am speaking about the background as to why the Government are postponing the local elections. I have said that there were political reasons for this and those are the reasons. The Minister knows as well as I that if he were to go to the electorate next month in a local election, he would be annihilated. The Minister knows that.

After the battle in the Deputy's party last week, we know what would happen.

Deputy Brady might get a mild surprise.

I can assure the Deputy that we would not be.

Deputy Dowling is weakening. He was very definite before.

At least he said that we might, but I can assure him that we shall not get a mild surprise.

No interruptions, please.

It is a dying kick.

Deputy Brady might get a surprise.

The Deputy knows what is going to happen to him next month. If the Deputy is going before the electorate on a local election platform, I am sorry for him.

The Deputy did not do that remarkably well, given the opportunity.

That was the Deputy's home ground. I thought Gemma had all that wrapped up.

Acting Chairman

I would ask Deputy Byrne not to interrupt.

That is the political background to the reason for postponing the local elections. The Government know that they would be set on a suicidal course if the local elections went ahead. We have been told that the postponement is because of local Government reform but that is not the reason. We are all for reform, but why has it taken so long? Since they came into office the Coalition Government have talked about reform, which was one of their main platforms before the last election. The impression given then was that the backroom boys, of Fine Gael in particular, had already worked out their plans and done their homework in this respect. Where have those plans been since 1982? A discussion has not even taken place on that subject. A decision was taken to postpone the local elections indefinitely. We are not told that they will take place in 1985.

The Opposition have been told.

Is the Minister now telling us that the local elections will take place next year?

We told the Opposition that they were being postponed for one year, not indefinitely.

Is that for sure?

Acting Chairman

Deputy, I want no interruptions.

Is the Minister now telling the House that the local elections will definitely take place in 1985?

We are postponing the elections, yes, for one year. I did not say indefinitely.

The Government said they were postponing them indefinitely. Now we have it on record that the local elections will take place in 1985.

That is no record already.

Acting Chairman

No further interruptions, please. Deputy Brady, please continue.

If the political climate is not right — if the Coalition are still in office, that is——

The Deputy's party are not very democratic, throwing and showing people out.

The Minister's defence has become very weak.

I have doubts that the present Government will be in office in 1985. We are faced with the Euro-elections on June 14. I am sure that there will be a very big turn-out for these elections because the public are very disenchanted with the performance—or non-performance — of this Government. They are just waiting for the opportunity — which, indeed, they took in the Dublin Central by-election some months ago — and very shortly after the results of that by-election, the Government decided finally and definitely to postpone the local elections for 1984. The Government just could not postpone the Euro elections but if they had had the possibility of doing so, I have no doubt that the Euro-elections would not be held either. As far as staying in office is concerned, democracy does not matter. The Government want to stay in office hoping that the political climate will improve.

We had sufficient evidence of that last week. The Deputy should not mention democracy. He does not even know what it means.

The Government hope that oil will be found off the Waterford coast and they will then be in a position to do this and that. They can then run to the country in the hope that the people will have forgotten the bad days and will put them back into office. That is a desperate measure and it will not work. The Government's performance has been so bad since coming into office that the public will never forgive them and will not forget for a very long time. The Deputies opposite talk about divisions and so forth. There are no divisions on this side of the House. The divisions are on the Government's side of the House. Why has Deputy Kelly not put his signature to the Forum Report? Does he not agree with it?

Acting Chairman

Deputy, I feel that you are moving away from the debate.

We did not throw Deputy Kelly out of the party for exercising his right.

We are talking about one of the potholes in the Coalition Government.

I am being tempted, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

It will take more than tarmacadam to fill that pothole.

The financial situation of most local authorities is very serious. Local elections are absolutely necessary in order to give real teeth to the local authorities and the councillors so elected in an endeavour to take on more power as far as local authorities are concerned. The guillotine motion has already been passed, which was putting in the real jackboot. It was a very undemocratic decision to postpone the elections. The public have a democratic right to decide who will govern them and who will not. The Government are only putting off the ill-fated day by putting off the elections for one or two years or whatever time it may be. I ask even at this late stage, if the Government are so confident that they will succeed, to decide that the local elections should take place. We must have democracy and see it work. We must at all times let the people decide who rules, whether at national or international level.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle——

Acting Chairman

I am sorry, the Deputy has already contributed to the debate.

I have not.

Acting Chairman

He contributed before.

I do not think so.

Acting Chairman

We shall check. Would the Deputy please bear with me for a moment?

You must have got the wrong name.

I call for a quorum.

I shall reply, I am on my feet.

We are entitled to a quorum in the House.

I was on my feet.

Chair, Chair.

I asked for a quorum before the Minister of State stood up. We are entitled to a quorum.

I was on my feet.

The Minister of State was not.

I was on my feet to reply.

Acting Chairman

The Deputy has asked for a quorum.

Can I have that rechecked? I do not believe that is the case.

It has been reported to me that a quorum was called for before the Minister of State intervened.

I was on my feet. As soon as I stood up the quorum was called for.

My report from the occupant of the Chair, which I must accept, is that the Minister of State had not been called on to speak when the quorum was called. It does not make a lot of difference.

That is the report I got.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is a scandalous decision by the Government to postpone the local elections for 12 months and to give the spurious reason of local government reform. The reality is that we are not talking about merely postponing the local elections for 12 months but a two-year period will be involved. There is no doubt that the Government are afraid to face the people. They would not face them at all if it were not for their commitments with the European scene. I also have no doubt that the people will make a judgment on the performance of the Government on 14 June. Despite this mechanism for avoiding the local government elections the Government will be shown exactly what the people think of their performance since their election to office in December 1982.

The reason given by the Minister and the Government for the postponement of the local elections is that they want to investigate the possibility of local government reform. When I was Minister for the Environment I addressed the smallest local authority in the Dublin region, the Balbriggan Town Commissioners. I took the opportunity to request presentations from the other local authorities in the greater Dublin area and from interested parties such as community councils, resident associations, the political parties and others who would have some views about the future from the of local government in Dublin. During my period in the Custom House various proposals were made. There are strong rumours about the shape of Dublin of the future, which is being decided at the moment in the Custom House. There is a suggestion that Dublin will be divided into three areas, taking in Blanchardstown as one local authority area, Clondalkin-Tallaght, together with the city, will go into another area and that the south and Dún Laoghaire will go into a third local authority area with some sort of a coordinating body. That is only one of the rumours about how Dublin is to be carved up by this administration. I agree that there is need to take a look at local government services in the Dublin region. There is need for a greater recognition of local government for such areas as Tallaght, Blanchardstown and Clondalkin, area which are now bigger than some of the largest towns throughout the country. For example, without committing myself to any particular structure, perhaps the possibility might be considered of giving urban council status for the town of Tallaght, for the new town of Clondalkin and also for the Blanchardstown area. These ideas were put forward when I was in the Department.

The need for local government reorganisation in the Dublin region is not a sufficient argument for the postponement of national local elections. We hear much about local government reform in the area of finance. Local government has evolved over many years and it is my view that it will be impossible to have radical reform carried out under a Coalition Government. Further, I do not think it would be in the best interests of local government to carry it out in the two-year cycle suggested by this administration. I say two years because what we are debating today——

What is the Deputy suggesting?

Deputy Owen has contributed twice since I started to speak but she has her own views about local government. Does she think it is in her best interest or in my best interest to entertain the press with details about North County Dublin? It is well known that she is not too keen on representing her constituents in the area of Dublin that contains the Ballymun flats or the city fringe area because she feels much more comfortable with some of her other electors. However, I do not think it is in the best interests of Parliament that the internal divisions in North County Dublin should be debated across the floor of the House.

It is not in order.

However, if Deputy Owen wants to do that I am sure the future Commissioner for Europe would be delighted to come in and contribute also, that is, if he gets the status of Commissioner.

I ask the Deputy to come back to the business before the House.

Reluctantly, because nothing gives me greater pleasure than to discuss the internal politics of North County Dublin with Deputy Owen. However, I do not think that will be of help to the House in this debate. The Government have used the spurious excuse of local government reform but I do not think it can be done in 12 months. Neither am I sure it is a good idea to carry out this great eruption on a national scale over two years. I am afraid that in carrying out the reform they will have structures approximately the size of the health boards and all of us are familiar with what happened in that area. The Eastern Health Board takes in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow and that is too large an area. I am afraid that in the decisions being made now in the Custom House local government structures will cover large administrative areas for the sake of bureaucratic convenience with little regard for the needs of the people. I accept there is need for reform but it should evolve rather than come about by means of disruption which will happen as a result of the activities of those now in the Custom House.

My real complaint is the way the Government have used the excuse of reform in order to postpone local government elections. The reality is that they have been advised by their backbenchers and councillors not to have the elections because of the failure of the Government in many areas. There is the reality of more than 200,000 people unemployed and the Government have failed to give any hope to young people who are now at school. They have failed to look after the agricultural sector and the construction industry and they have not continued with the infrastructural development works that were carried out in our last term of office. This administration are afraid to face the people. I take the example of the construction industry. Incidentally, Deputy Owen is leaving us. She does not want to hear about the various developments in North County Dublin that have been stopped since the election of this Government. For example, the schemes in Lusk, Skerries and in Rolestown have not been continued. I am sorry the Deputy is leaving the House because I know that for her local government is a very sensitive subject. Like many other decisions in the county council, the Deputy leaves when things are said that she does not like to hear.

I ask the Deputy again to get back to the business before the Houses——

I will do so reluctantly.

I wish to point out that it is disorderly for Deputy Owen to speak when she is outside the confines of the House.

For the record I should like to say that even though I disagree totally with everything she stands for Deputy Owen is an admirable and honourable constituency colleague.

One would never think that.

As far as the construction industry is concerned——

The Deputy will have to relate his remarks about the construction industry to the business before the House.

The reason given by this Government for postponing the local elections is local government reform. I am saying the Government are afraid to put their deputies and councillors before the people for election to local authorities. Most of the newer Fine Gael Deputies came through the local government structure and they know the reception they will get when they stand for re-election because of the bad performance by the Government. With regard to the construction industry——

A passing reference to the construction industry is permitted but a debate on it would not be in order.

This Government have not given sufficient funds to local authorities and they are afraid to put forward their candidates for election. When I was in the Custom House I sanctioned a sewerage scheme for the Kinsealy-Feltrim area, another for Rolestown, another for New Barn-Killsallaghan, another for Lusk and a further schemes in Skerries.

They were all in the Deputy's constituency.

I will refer to those five schemes. Recently I received a letter from the management of the local authority when I questioned why the schemes had not gone ahead. I was informed that, despite the fact that they were sanctioned and ready to go ahead, the local authority were not allowed to proceed because funds were not available in the county council to service the loans even though the money was sanctioned by the Department. What is happening in my constituency is also happening in other parts of the country. This Government have totally failed local government throughout the country. In failing local government they have, because of its importance to the construction industry, also failed that industry. Those five schemes I have mentioned and the spin-off involved — for example, we could have proceeded with a housing scheme in Rolestown and developed further in the Feltrim-Kinsealy area — would have provided jobs in the construction industry. There are thousands of men unemployed in the construction industry, large firms——

This would be more in order on the Estimate for the Department of the Environment.

The Government have postponed the local elections because of their failure in local government administration and to look after the needs of the people and not for the spurious reason which they give with regard to local government reform.

I should like to set the record straight in regard to one matter. Deputy Shatter said that Fianna Fáil proposed to introduce water charges. In the Coalition budget of 1982 it was estimated that a sum of £12 million would be collected by way of water rates and so in. A Fianna Fáil Government took office in March and that element of the Coalition budget was never implemented. Therefore, it was the Coalition Government which introduced legislation for the imposition of charges.

This generalisation is not in order.

It is particular and not generalisation.

It is worse if it is particular because it refers to the Estimates.

The Government are afraid to face the people because they know they are going to be defeated. I predict that the election will be postponed for two years because of the advice of their own backbenchers who are afraid to face the electorate in a local election.

I am speaking on this motion more in sorrow than in anger in the sense that it was not originally my intention to speak and I hoped it could have been disposed of after a sensible debate of possibly a couple of days. The point is well worth making, as was made previously by the Minister of State when speaking on the other motion with which we dealt today, that on 13 previous occasions Governments have postponed local government elections for a variety of different reasons. There is nothing new about that. Presumably the Opposition of the day in a caricature fashion stood up and yelled that the Government were frightened to face the electorate. It is tempting to say that when a Government postpone local government elections, although the statutory provisions for local government in effect permit the Government to postpone elections for two years.

I regret that these elections have been postponed, although I accepted the valid reasons for doing so. As a member of Dublin County Council, elected in 1979, I would like to have gone to the electorate in June and to have been re-elected for a period of five years. I should also like to have seen my colleagues re-elected. I am not afraid to face the electorate, as Deputy Burke suggested. Fianna Fáil can thank their lucky stars that they are not facing the electorate in June in a local government election as well as in a by-election and a Euro-election because I have no doubt that, in the light of the events that occurred last week, many of those people who might have supported Fianna Fáil candidates if those events had not occurred——

The Deputy will get his answer in Dublin.

Even hardened Fianna Fáil supporters cannot believe what happened last week and are aghast at the effects it will have on the democratic process.

What about the divisions in the Deputy's party?

I have no doubt that those local authorities in which the Fine Gael Party either on their own or in conjunction with the Labour Party, hold the majority of seats would retain their seats in local elections. The public are not convinced by the bluster that goes on here when Deputies who should know better waffle about the iniquities of water rates, as Deputy Barrett did. We cannot go into details of water rates or the construction industry, but Deputy Burke knows that in the last election campaign in 1982 all parties talked about the possibility of introducing local charges. People are aware that in the election manifesto produced in November 1982 by the Fianna Fáil Party there was a specific commitment to introduce local charges. Why do Deputies demean the processes of this House and try to "con" the electorate by making spurious allegations about issues such as this? We should be honest and tell people what our individual party policies are. Why do we adopt an attitude that if we say something often enough, whether truthful or untruthful, the majority of people will believe it? I do not understand that attitude.

The main reason given for postponing local government elections — and the only valid reason — is that work is now being carried out on the preparation of extensive legislation to reform the local government system. That is the only basis upon which I support the postponement of local government elections. I welcome the fact that the work is now being done. Successive Governments of different political persuasions have for too long ignored the need for radical overhaul of the local government system. At times of local government elections politicans on all sides of the House have spoken lyrically for too long about the need to reform local government and made promises in that regard. Despite all that has been said, no comprehensive legislation was introduced for decades to reform the local government system. We are still relying on a system we inherited from the British. In Dublin, depending on which side of the road they live people can find themselves within the bailiwick of Dublin Corporation or Dublin County Council, and as a result, have varied and different entitlements.

The entire local government structure as it applies to Dublin city and county needs to be reformed. It is astonishing that it has not been reformed. The present structure do not provide an efficient and proper local government administration within the county and city of Dublin and makes no provision for the satellite towns such as Tallaght. It is ironic that in Greystones they have their own local government system, while Tallaght has not even got town commissioners to give it the recognition due to it.

I do not want to take up the time of the House in going over old ground. Deputies have given detailed testimony of the need to reform the local government system. Many of them made eloquent and articulate contributions on the details of the reforms that are required. I hope the legislation to provide those reforms will be produced in the not too distant future and passed through the House——

The Deputy does not believe a word of that.

——so that this time next year we will be starting the campaign for the local government elections. If that is the case, it will be seen to have been a genuine reason for postponing the local government elections, unlike the reasons given previously by Fianna Fáil administrations when local government elections were postponed for pure political expediency.

There is no point in my repeating everything that has been said about the need for local government reform. That is recognised on all sides. What is required now is action. Realistically there is no great need for Members on the other side of the House to speak for three or four hours tonight and tomorrow about the need for local government reform. Deputies on the other side of the House are aware — but they will pretend otherwise — that the filibuster tactics being engaged in by them make no contribution at all to the democratic process, and do nothing to enhance the standing of this Parliament as a relevant and democratic institution tackling and dealing with the immediate problems which are confronting us all. The type of filibuster being conducted in the House undermines the democratic process. This type of time wasting undermines the respect people have for this House as a relevant legislative body.

I deeply regret the fact that we are still embroiled in this debate with people on the opposite side of the House trying to score cheap and irrelevant party political points. If Fianna Fáil were in Government I accept that we would probably succumb to the temptation to make similar cheap cracks at the Government and suggest that they were afraid to face the electorate. That argument does not hold water in the context of two elections taking place on 14 June, the Euro-elections and the by-election in Laois-Offaly. The electorate will have a chance to express their views on the performance of the Government in a general way. Whereas the hope is that the Euro-elections will be fought on European issues and the functions of the European Parliament, I have no doubt that in determining the manner in which they will vote the people will take other considerations into account.

A filibuster of this nature does nothing to uphold respect for this House. The suggestion made earlier by Deputy Ahern, that Members on this side of the House should keep quite while Members on the opposite side of the House gave forth their opinions on this issues, was understandable in the context of the events of last week, when it appeared that the view in the Fianna Fáil Party is that everybody should say the same things, everybody should think alike——

That is not relevant.

—— and in public nobody should say anything in any way different from what a colleague had said or in particular, what the leader had said. It is even more extraordinary to try to extend that principle to members of other parties within the parliamentary process.

I hope we can bring this debate to a conclusion, not because I am afraid of an election and not because there is anything relevant left to be said. Nobody can now make an original contribution to this motion which would contribute one whit to tackling the problems we should be tackling as legislators. This debate will waffle itself away to some sort of conclusion at 12.30 tomorrow morning when every person who still happens to be a member of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party, as opposed to one person who was excluded last week, will have made a comment. It might be interesting to hear one or two Deputies whom we rarely see in this House, if for no other reason than to confirm that they are still operating as legislators.

I see no reason why we should continue with a filibuster of this nature with Deputies running into the House to repeat the same old things as their colleagues have said. If Fianna Fáil are truly a unified party and they are all expressing the same view, I cannot understand why everybody in that party who has not yet spoken has to repeat what has been said already by their party colleagues. Perhaps if they fail to repeat it there might be a suggestion that they hold a different view, and we know that can be very dangerous in that political organisation.

As a member of a local authority my preference would have been to face the electorate this year in the local government elections. I have no fear about doing so. In the context of the Government's commitment to reforming the local government structures, and particularly in Dublin, the area with which I am most directly concerned, I welcome the fact that in the not too distant future we will have comprehensive reforming legislation to replace the anachronistic and outdated local government system we inherited from the British.

That type of reform should have been introduced many years ago. It is no shame to say that all political parties are to be blamed for the fact that these reforms were not introduced long ago. I hope that by this time next year we will have the legislation passed and we will be on the road to a local government election campaign with people seeking election to newly formed and newly established local authorities which have relevance to the modern daily needs of local government within the country generally.

I should like to respond to the suggestion that some Fianna Fáil backbenchers might be intimidated in some way. I was elected to this House some 20 years ago. I have always considered it a great privilege to represent the consitutunecy of Dún Laoghaire in the Fianna Fáil interest for that period of time. One of the reasons I will continue to do so is that I stood up in this House without fear or favour and expressed a point of view without having to look over my shoulder, and without the aid of the unecessary observations made by Deputy Shatter in that respect.

If I believed that the Government were in the process of reforming local government in Dublin city and county and the Dún Laoghaire Borough areas I would support the proposition before us. I do not believe that that is a reality. It is my belief — I will apologise to the House if it is unfounded — that the Government, seeing the way the electoral weather vane is blowing have funked the local elections. They are hiding behind a suggestion that in some way they are reforming local government. If the Government introduce a sincere and genuine reform package so be it but it is my view that they will introduce a half-hearted, halfbaked package which will be presented as the be-all and end-all as far as their promises are concerned. Once more we will be propagandised into believing that they have discharged their promises.

I understand that this democratic Government tomorrow will lower the guillotion on the debate. That means that the debate is being curtailed. It is extraordinary that Members like Deputy Shatter, for whom I have a respect, should make allegations that in some way we are abusing the time to discuss this fundamental matter. The debate effectively is about the negation of democracy at local level. I have been a Member for a long time and I have seen many things happen here but this is one of the most serious matters to come before the House in my time. It is all right to say that Fianna Fáil took similar action in the past but if they did so it was a bad precedent. The House should not be guided by bad precedents. However, we are considering the present and the immediate future. To suggest that the European elections and the by-election in Laois-Offaly are a substitute for the local elections is a false argument and will be proved to be so.

In the Borough of Dún Laoghaire, which I represent, we have a most unusual situation in that of the 15 councillors only three are from Fianna Fáil. Seven members are from Fine Gael and five from the Labour Party. Effectively, the Coalition have a massive built-in majority of 12 to three. The Cathaoirleach of that body over the last 25 years has been either a member of the Fine Gael or Labour Parties. So much for the concept of power-sharing. Fianna Fáil have been excluded from the chair of Dún Laoghaire Corporation for many years. We saw an opportunity this year of at least increasing the number of Fianna Fáil councillors there but the people of the area are being denied the opportunity to exercise their mandate in regard to local government.

There are many issues to be dealth with in that area. There is a serious housing problem and a difficulty in regard to amenities. The future of Dún Laoghaire harbour is also a controversial issue. In our local election programme we would have proposed a harbour authority to combine all the facilities, including the right of the local yacht clubs to continue there. I should like to record my appreciation of the membership of the local yacht clubs. There is an element creeping into that locality which suggests that the yacht clubs are in some ways over-abusing their restricted amenities. The George, the National and the Royal clubs are as much entitled to the amenities at Dún Laoghaire as anybody else. The National Yacht Club have produced a comprehensive plan for the extension of the amenities of the harbour in a most unselfish fashion and have also proposed a marina. That is the type of development we would support.

There are tremendous possibilities for a harbour authority in Dún Laoghaire and we would have fought the local election with that as one of the issues. We support the concept of a harbour authority enshrining all local interests. The amenities in the harbour in Dún Laoghaire must be seen in a classless fashion. We have two of the best promenades in Europe, in the West Pier and East Pier. The Dún Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club on Sunday last opened a magnificient extension to their premises. I was involved in the extension of the motor yacht park on the West Pier. The harbour is under-utilised. I can visualise a big fishing fleet being moored there. Up to some years ago there was a thriving fleet operating from the Coal Quay but that has almost disappeared. Fianna Fáil's massive plan for that area could have been tested had the local elections been held on 14 June but the local people have been deprived of the opportunity of adjudicating on it.

There are many other local issues that could have been debated in the course of the campaign such as the attitude of the electorate to water charges and local charges generally. What may have been produced in the past by any political party is of little concern to me. What is important is the plan Fianna Fáil would have produced for Dún Laoghaire. We would have been protesting strongly at the introduction of the water charges. Our small team of local councillors courageously in the face of the Coalition junta voted against the introduction of water charges. The people do not have any doubt about how we stand in regard to them. We have also taken a stand in rejecting the inequitous house property tax and described it as a direct attack on the right of people to own their own homes. We have highlighted that the home is fundamental to the individual. It is a constitutional right although the courts took a different view. I understand that the case, having been rejected by the High Court, is before the Supreme Court on appeal. For that reason it would be improper for me to develop the point further.

Fianna Fáil believe that they could have swung the Coalition majority into one for their party if given the opportunity next month. We are being treated to the fairy tale that this package of reform necessitates the postponing of the local elections for one year. We do not believe that proposition. The reality is different. The Government will in due course announce that they have not had sufficient time to carry out these reforms. We may find that they will ask for a further postponement of the local elections. They may postpone them until such time as the gurus in the Coalition decide that the time is propitious, in electoral terms, to test the water.

These are some reasons why I, from the backbenches of the Fianna Fáil Party, in the context of the Dún Laoghaire Borough constituency, protest in the strongest possible fashion at the Government's proposal to abandon the local elections. We wanted the local election. The Government did not want the local elections. The people gave the Government the majority, the Government exercised the majority and refused to accede to the majority will in that context. These are some of the problems confronting us. We reject the proposal before the House and we reject the suggestion that we are somehow filibustering this debate. This democratic Government decided to guillotine the debate tomorrow at 12.30 p.m. and in an barupt fashion bring an end to the democratic process. That attitude prevails in relation to the abandonment of the proposal to hold the local elections on 14 June.

Like Deputy Andrews I want to address a few observations to the House on the postponement of the local elections and I want to take up a few of the issues and the spurious, inconsistent and contradictory arguments put forward by Deputy Shatter. I mean no disrespect to him, but sometimes he reminds me of a bee who likes to sing and then move out of the way before somebody strikes. I regret that Deputy Shatter has left the House after making what to me were stinging remarks that were totally out of context in this debate. It is only right that the record be put straight in relation to some of these remarks, particularly as they were directed to local government and had little or nothing to do with the debate here.

We are faced in this House with a decision by the Government to postpone the local elections for one year, we are told, and we are given the reason that local government needs reform. This Government in a very conscientious and just manner are to set about bringing this reforms to a conclusion or to a stage that would enable them to launch the local elections next year. The credibility of this has been dealt with by a number of speakers on this side and I want to deal with it again. Of course, everybody on this side of the House agrees with the need for reform of local authorities. Most people who have had any dealings in any capacity, as Deputy, councillor, or both, with local authorities, committees, decisions and with confusion as to jurisdiction — which I experience daily in my constituency — are aware of the acute need for reform. I would go along with any Government, as do all Deputies here, in that we acknowledge the need for reforms, but a number of questions arise in relation to this.

The first question I want to put to the Government is how they can seriously and sincerely tell us on this side that they are postponing the local elections for one year because in that time they will have undertaken and completed the enormous task of the reform of the local authorities. I do not believe for a minute that that is realistic or sincere or intended to be sincere. As Deputy Andrews and others have said, this is clearly and blatantly a decision by the Government to funk the local authority elections, to opt out from the wrath of the electorate. Unfortunately, they must face the electorate in the European elections and the by-election. We are convinced that we have enough evidence over the past few weeks to suggest that, should the Government have decided to take the local elections this year, in many places they would have been very seriously eroded in terms of strength. Nobody in any organisation or agency or the media would disagree with that. The evidence pouring in through opinion polls and other sources points out clearly that the Government would face a very serious and rejecting decision from the electorate in local authority areas this time around if they had had the courage to take them on. Obviously they lack that courage. They have shown moral cowardice in this instance.

I see a number of underlying reasons why the Government should postpone the local elections. Primarily, at present they enjoy a majority in many local authority areas, and that is fair enough. They took that on the basis of the circumstances of 1979. They also enjoy a majority on the General Council of County Councils and the General Council of County Committees. Because they are unable to grapple with the national issues in a convincing way they know that those majorities will be taken from them should they give the electorate an opportunity to decide. It seems to be an attitude of "what we have we told". That reminds me of other countries and other decisions taken in the past in relation to problems in Ireland. The Government have been seriously irresponsible in this instance. I reject out of hand the argument put forward that it is in the best interests of local democracy.

One of the first steps the Government took in relation to local democracy by way of introducing a water charge was to give unto the county and city managers the managerial function which enabled a county or city manager anywhere in the country to overrule decisions by local councillors. The Government came into office on the back of a campaign which talked about liberal reform and greater democracy. I do not know how anybody who knows anything about democracy would tell us that this decision was democratic or how it could promote democracy, locally or nationally. Very unfairly the Government threw on to the laps of county managers the decision they were unable to deal with themselves.

This has a more serious aspect. The people have their say at local election time. This gives them the opportunity to thrust on to people locally identifiable the power at local level to exercise those functions and to implement decisions. With one fell swoop this Government decided to withdraw that. This is a clear negation of local democracy, a denial of the right of the electorate who in 1979 voted in councillors in every county and local authority area. I am convinced that the Government are acutely aware of the hazards that this decision has presented them with, therefore they decided that no opportunity would be given to the electorate in June 1984 to tell them clearly that they think about them.

To come back to the reasons the Government have given for the postponement of the local elections, namely reform of local authorities, everybody in this House and most local representatives throughout the country would agree with the need for reform. The decisions of the Government are totally inadequate in terms of financial provision to deal with the very serious problems. There is considerable confusion about functions, areas of discrimination, and the allocation of very limited funds. As public representatives we hear daily of unemployment problems that have arisen as a result of local authority decisions. Daily, too, we are requested by people who have lost their jobs to make representations to Government to allow for transfer of funds from the Department of Social Welfare to environmental and local authority schemes. If the Government were serious in their approach to problems within local authorities, and if they were serious in their approach to national problems, they would take up that case seriously. I am not the first to voice this opinion. Public representatives both here and elsewhere have brought it to the attention of Government but their calls seem to have fallen on deaf ears. I am not convinced that some years would be involved in implementing the change. The transfer of funds could take place expeditiously if there were the necessary goodwill and commitment on the part of the Government to such transfer, but obviously that is not the case.

There are some who will say that there are no jobs in local authorities and that consequently there is no work in these bodies. Any Deputy or councillor representing the greater Dublin region, for instance, is acutely aware of the very high level of unemployment in the area and of the need for jobs in local authorities. We are all aware, too, of the need for renewal of the city and of the need for a followup to the process that we in Government started by way of urban renewal in Dublin.

There is enormous potential for reform of local government by way of involving and engaging other Departments. Such reform would be far more meaningful than the reform talked of in some of the statements and attitudes that have emanated from the other side of the House. If we are to tackle the whole question of local authorities we must tackle it at all levels and not only in terms of houses in the greater Dublin region. We must tackle, too, the question of the environment and of urban problems in general.

Of course, we must tackle also the problem of infrastructure. It was interesting to note a recent statistic which revealed that it is normal practice for roads in urban and rural areas to be resurfaced every nine years. I understand now that resurfacing is likely to take place as infrequently as every 27 years. A country which needs the most rapid possible development of its infrastructure cannot tolerate much longer that sort of situation. We should be very seriously setting out to ensure that our infrastructure is kept to the highest possible standard and is developed further so as to allow for industrial expansion.

I am very concerned about recent decisions which seem to underpin the decision of the Government to postpone the local elections. I am very concerned about the whole matter of managerial function. It has in a very frightening way undermined local democracy. It is interesting to hear Deputy Shatter refer to events taking place or about to take place in the best interest of democracy and to hear him allege that Deputies on this side of the House are trying to filibuster in regard to the local elections or that we are opposing for the sake of opposing. Perhaps if the Deputy were honest and sincere with himself in relation to what is happening he would acknowledge that the decision of the Government is undemocratic. I would equate the circumstances that many local authorities find themselves in by way of committee and general meetings with the situation of that long-established and honoured body, the ICA, to whom I do not intend any disrespect in making this remark. The ICA create a social atmosphere for their members and keep a benevolent eye on their cares. The real power that local authorities could yield by way of decisions, of policy and so on seems to be gone. This year we have witnessed in many instances local authorities trying to arrive at decisions regarding their estimates while councillors who are in the majority, whether they are made up of the three main political parties or otherwise, are overruled by county and city managers. It is clear that the voice of councillors is not being heard. I submit that Deputy Shatter's references to the absence of democracy are indeed relevant in the context of his party's decision.

A case put forward by speakers on the other side and again by the Deputy, to whom unfortunately I must refer in order to set the record straight since he made a number of allegations that are totally unfounded, is that our attitude is to camouflage the difficulties that we were experiencing as a party in facing the electorate. We are prepared at any minute, on the basis of a change of attitude on the part of the Minister, to face the electorate at local elections in the same way as we are prepared to face them in the European elections and in the by-election. The virtues of credibility, sincerity, integrity and democracy are being left aside so far as the Government are concerned. One wonders what the reaction of the electorate will be when they discover that liberal reforms and the improvements in the democratic process are being thrown out the window. I am convinced that the answer will be given clearly on June 14.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

(Dún Laoghaire): Tell us about the parliamentary party meeting.

What about some heating? It is very cold in the House.

Earlier I was walking a tight rope regarding order when I spoke on the previous motion. I am very interested in local government reform. I hope the Minister will share his views on this with the House. Do the Government intend bringing out a White or Green Paper?

I will reply to that later. We had enough coloured papers in our day.

We brought out a few ourselves on local government reform. There is need for public discussion of this matter. Discussion papers should be published rather than having the ordinary type of legislation.

We need a greater Dublin council in Dublin city. We want something like town commissioners or small local councils in areas such as Tallaght, Kimmage and Crumlin. The Minister of State will probably agree that a small local authority for inner city areas would be valuable. There are many dedicated people in those areas who give a lot to their communities but because of the size of local authority areas it is difficult for them to win an election. Smaller electoral areas would be worthwhile.

We could have small councils consisting of seven or eight people. People would participate in what was happening in their own backyard. A greater Dublin council could incorporate other areas. I am very fortunate that my local authority area is within my Dáil constituency. The Minister of State not only has the same constituency as I have but he represents a local authority area which is just as big as his constituency. That makes it difficult if one wishes to be a member of both bodies. Deputies, if they so wish, should be members of local authorities. I have been a Member of the House for 20 years. I know that my work in Dublin Corporation complements my work in the Dáil. I can usefully contribute to debates such as this one on local government reform.

Politicians are very interested in local government reform and the sooner we know the Government's thoughts on this the better. It is a shame that the elections will be postponed while this reform takes place. We cannot have major local government reform carried out in a short while. It would take five years to have major local government reform. It will be a long process. Perhaps the Minister of State will tell us how soon after the plans are published it is intended to introduce this. Can he give an indication of their thinking in relation to Dublin city, Limerick city, Galway city, Cork city and the urban councils? Will they be integrated or merged? Will some areas have greater councils? Take an area like Bluebell-Inchicore. That area could have a small local authority of its own. These look nice on paper but one must cost them and see how they will be administered. What additional local taxation would be necessary? I am against local taxation where it is levied on peoples not on the basis of their income but as a poll tax. My views on the rating system are well know but, for the record, I am absolutely against the reintroduction of rates. I hope no Government will attempt to reintroduce them. The people do not want them. They have made that abundantly clear. With all the polls we hear about, I wish one of these companies would devote their attention to whether people would prefer a system of local taxation based on the old scheme of rates or whether they would prefer local authorities to be financed from the central Exchequer. This is very important because people complain about the lack of services but when they are asked to pay for them it is a different story. When we were at a public meeting a few weeks ago the Minister and I were under severe attack because of the water rates.

I have dealt with the main points which I consider to be important. However, it is a little like talking in a dark room because I do not know yet what the Government have in mind. I urge them to release some information about what they are planning as soon as possible so that we will be able to make a constructive contribution. The majority of people in this House are also members of local authorities or have been members of local authorities. I am referring in particular to my own party. We have something good to contribute to local government reform and we should not have to make our contributions too quickly. We should not have a Bill rushed through the Dáil in 36 hours without letting Members look at the Government's proposals.

I welcome the opportunity of saying a few words on this motion. My first reaction was that I was disappointed the elections were not being held this year. Many Deputies feel the Government are running away from the elections. We all know the elections were postponed previously by a Fianna Fáil Government. The European elections were held in 1979 and the local elections were held on the same day. One of the conditions laid down by my party was that candidates would not be entitled to run for both elections. That gives an indication of how seriously we view these elections.

There are many issues which could be debated in a local election this year but obviously the most important is the financing of local authorities. Other speakers referred to the fact that we have got only 0.8 per cent of an increase this year over last year in respect of the grant for rates and land, but there are other points which should be highlighted. There seems to be a new stipulation on the money local authorities have received. When the Minister gives a road grant to a local authority he adds that all payments made this year will be included in the actual road grant, even though that money could relate to the previous year. This is very serious. I am sure almost every local authority has a carry-over from the previous year.

Galway County Council thought they were getting a total allocation of £4.1 million, but they got only £3.2 million, £500,000 less than last year. I am sure other local authorities are in the same position. We in Galway County Council took a decision that the county manager would get an overdraft of £500,000 to bring us up to £3.7 million this year. Even then we find ourselves in a very difficult situation. We will have 100 redundancies and all council workers will be laid off for 17 weeks. This is the first time in the history of Galway County Council that we have had redundancies and lay-offs.

There are other points which could be made, particularly the powers given to the county manager. If we talk about reform this is an area which should be debated at some length. We are all in favour of reform and giving power to the local authorities to look at ways of financing because we know they are facing very difficult times, but what is the point in talking about reform and ways of financing the local authorities when we give the county manager rather than the elected county councillors power to introduce service charges.

What efforts have been made to reform the local authorities so far? What efforts are being made in 1984? In 1983 we had the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act which removed the statutory requirements on the Minister to provide grants equal to the amounts the local authorities would have got from rates. Another Act was passed giving powers to the county manager to introduce charges. Those Acts are doing the opposite to reforming local authorities; they are taking power from the local authorities and the elected members to make those decisions.

A number of speakers said they do not fear going to the polls and that Fine Gael and Labour local authority representatives are confident they will win back their seats. Fine Gael and Labour had a majority in Galway County Council, with the help of two Provisional Sinn Féin councillors. The irony of the situation was that the Fine Gael and Labour Ministers were not prepared to meet those elected representatives. Again, I see a number of contradictions in the attitude the Government are adopting. Not alone would a Fianna Fáil member like to have the issues to which I referred regarding financing debated but also those of road grants and unemployment. Obviously also Fianna Fáil members in Galway would like to gain a majority in the local authority there, which opportunity is being denied elected councillors and prospective candidates this year.

I see the problem as a reluctance on the part of the Government to face the issues. Why not have reform and at the same time allow the local elections to proceed? In any serious attempt at reform there should have been seminars held and questionnaires issued to county councillors on the aspects of reform they should like to see implemented. Indeed, being a county councillor today has become a very expensive job. I know from talking to my colleagues in Galway County Council they are concerned that there is no money now available for such things as postage and telephone calls, which facilities would render their lives somewhat easier. It is difficult for people to give so much of their time to helping constituents in their electoral areas when all they receive is an allowance for travelling and subsistence. All the county councillors I know are hard working people and feel very frustrated that they do not have even limited postal and telephone facilities. However, such facilities are provided by some local authorities. Bearing in mind current cut-backs one cannot really contend that it is up to each local authority to provide for themselves. Some local authorities like mine have been very badly hit; Wexford is another example. Some guidelines must be laid down by the Department so that local authorities would be helped in that way. The suggestions made here can be looked at without the Government having to postpone these local elections for a year or possibly even two years. If they are to be postponed for two years then the Government should say so now rather than leading us on for another two years saying there will be reform with perhaps very little to show at the end of the day.

Another matter I should like to see investigated in the course of any such reform is the payments local authorities are obliged to make in statutory demands. The situation in County Galway is that £2 million is owed to the Western Health Board while there have been very heavy demands lodged by the Office of Public Works and ACOT, causing a very great drain on local authority resources, particularly at a time when 100 people are to be made redundant. For example, it seems ridiculous also that local authorities must still maintain court-houses. It should be noted that the fines collected do not go to Galway County Council but rather to the Department of Justice, which is hardly just. There is a lot of this type of interference by central Government placing statutory demands on local authorities, allowing them no say at all.

The Chair does not think that a detailed discussion of proposed reform would be in order. It would be all right to make general reference but certainly not to have a detailed discussion item by item.

I mentioned that merely as a passing reference in order to highlight the financial problems of local authorities. The Government should state clearly what is the position, whether it will be a one year or two year postponement of local elections. Elected representatives should know this. When the Government talk about local government reform they should state clearly also what will be the input of local authorities, which will be most important. If there is not an in-depth study carried out of what will be local authorities' input then the postponement of these local elections will prove to have been a waste of time.

I congratulate the Minister on his initiative in postponing the local elections for at least 12 months. It is a well known fact that local government is in need of much reform. Having had the privilege of being a local councillor since 1967 I realise fully the responsibilities of local authorities. I am a firm believer in more autonomy being given to local administrations in the running of affairs in their areas. Speaking as a councillor in Cork county, which constitutes one-eighth of the entire area of this State, I am only too well aware of the serious obligations of local authorities. Cork County Council, the largest body in this State apart from Dáil Éireann, has 46 members, each of whom is of the opinion that for far too long local government has not received its fair share of the national cake. For example, millions of pounds have been paid in taxes on lorries, motor cars, tractors and so on, a lot of which never finds its way back to the county from which it was collected. Since becoming a member of Cork County Council I have found it most frustrating that a county of such huge dimensions has not received its rightful share, of the national cake over the years. It is about time that local government was updated and upgraded, ensuring that each county receives its rightful share. There should not be any favouritism when funds are being allocated. All councils should get their rights and fair shares. County Cork is 140 miles long and the constituency I represent forms part of the county council area but there is not one mile of national primary road in that constituency.

A discussion on roads would be relevant to a debate on the Estimate and it might be highly relevant when the proposed local government reform legislation comes to the House, but neither is relevant on this motion.

I think I have a right to state the importance of giving more power to councils——

That is a general statement which I hope the Deputy will not draw out.

When tenders are accepted by county managers they have to be sent up here to be rubber stamped on instructions from the Minister.

That will be appropriate to the discussion on the reform legislation when we come to deal with it.

Why did the Deputy run away from the holding of elections on holidays?

The Deputy may not interrupt.

On at least three occasions in the last few years his party saw fit to postpone local elections but did not introduce one piece of legislation of benefit to local authorities. They postponed local elections for their own selfish and greedy reasons. We can stand over the reason why the present Minister postponed the elections for 12 months. Until proper legislation is introduced to enable local authorities to put their own house in order I would not mind if the local elections were postponed for another 12 months. I will not take any heed of criticism from across the House because when they postponed the elections they did it for their selfish party reasons.

I am talking about 1983.

We should not have any clouding of the issue. The present Minister will not follow the example of previous Ministers. The European elections are of such paramount importance that they should not be confused with local government elections. Our representation in the European Parliament is of vital importance to our national economy and I firmly believe both elections should not be held simultaneously. Anybody with commonsense would agree with me. Everybody knows we are at the crossroads in Europe and there is no turning back. Therefore, the two elections should not be held at the same time.

You are holding a referendum.

It was the Fianna Fáil constitutional formulation that denied votes——

There will be two votes on the same day.

Deputy Lyons and his Party want to deny English citizens the right to vote here. Deputies across the House and their sons and daughters and uncles and cousins all got the vote in Great Britain after only four or five months' residence.

This is totally irrelevant. The referendum is not before the House.

It was brought in——

On a point of order, it is being implied that the referendum is to give votes. It is not for that purpose.

That is not a point of order.

Deputy Sheehan is misleading. The referendum is not to give votes but freedom to change the Constitution.

Fianna Fáil instructed county councils to abolish rates.

This does not arise on the motion.

There is a clear indication that local authorities must be given more power to help to keep the country going and I am sure the Minister will see to it that proper power will be given to local authorities. Fianna Fáil in their time eroded such powers.

What about the 1983 Act?

By the use of the rubber stamp they eroded the powers of the county councils.

The 1983 Act took the powers from the members and gave them to the managers.

I hope the Minister will take the matters I have been speaking about into consideration. Take ACOT.

That certainly does not arise either on the motion or on an Estimate.

County committees of agriculture play a leading role and I am against the creation of huge central bodies. It is most important for the future of local government to maintain the status quo. dWe have 27 county councils and they are working very well. If the powers of these councils are eroded or taken away it will be the death knell of democracy. Regional bodies are not working satisfactorily. They are too big and cumbersome and are not giving the necessary service to the people. For years I have been critical of the move to cut out the small man. The present policy in regard to local government has outlived its usefulness and is not in line with the policy which must be adopted if we are to improve local government. This matter is vitally important and I know that our Minister will tackle it properly. It has been shunned by many Ministers over the years.

My friends on the other side of the House are laughing when they state that the two elections should be held on the one day. Do they want electors to be faced with three sets of voting papers? In one constituency they would be getting four sets of papers.

The Deputy must be glad I reminded him of the second one.

What about the Laois-Offaly by-election? The Government will get a hiding there.

Deputy O'Keeffe should wait until he is a member of a local authority.

I will keep him informed in the meantime.

The voting issues should not be clouded by the bringing together of too many different matters. It has been shown that the best elections are those which are not over-crowded with issues.

What about Laois-Offaly?

It would be ridiculous to say that the Laois-Offaly election should have been fought months ago when it could quite easily be held with the forthcoming election.


The party opposite had plenty of nerve trouble last weekend. Nerves showed their ugly head in the Fianna Fáil Party.

It does not arise on this matter.

I am answering the Deputy as best I can.

The Deputy will have to remain in order.

What did my friends opposite do when they postponed the local elections on three occasions in the past 20 years? They did not improve local government but eroded the rights of public representatives.

There were no potholes in our time.

The 1954 and 1983 Acts took away the powers.

They stated when they were in power that they would dig holes in the road to create jobs if there were no potholes there.

We do not have to dig them now.

That was in 1978 and many potholes were created between 1977 and 1981. There was no money to fill them in because of the policies of the Fianna Fáil administration.

I welcome the opportunity of speaking on this motion. I very much regret the postponement of the local elections. It is a course of action which should not have been undertaken. The official excuse for the postponement is the necessity for carrying out local government reform. Nobody will deny that there is a great need for reform in many areas of local government.

Deputy Sheehan's argument that the postponement of the elections is justified because Fianna Fáil did the same thing on a couple of occasions in the past does not hold water. Times have changed and it is at least a decade since the local elections were last postponed. Much has happened since and every year events seem to move faster, facing us with situations which we did not anticipate or expect to confront. It is pointless to attempt to justify the postponement on the basis that a previous Government did the same thing in other times. The postponement of these elections is damaging to democracy, especially in recessionary times when there is so much unemployment, as well as the attendant frustration, discontent and outright anger towards those who are held to be responsible. The same would apply to any Government.

Most people are inclined to blame the Government for their everyday circumstances. This is particularly so of the young who find it so difficult to get employment and will find it impossible to do so if present Government policies continue in operation.

Debate adjourned.