I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The Government have undertaken a major programme for reform in local government. This Bill is the first in a series which will be introduced to give effect to these reforms. It may be helpful to the House if, before dealing in more detail with the provisions of this Bill, I give some account of the overall programme of which it is part.
The need for modernising and improving the local government system has been widely recognised for many years by various Governments. A White Paper on the subject was published 13 years ago. There have been several statements and commitments since then. Very little has however come of these approaches and the system continues to work on with various deficiencies diagonsed — deficiencies in organisation, in functions, in procedures and in financing. The stage has now been reached where any further delay in tackling the whole question of local government reform would be indefensible.
The whole situation has been reviewed and fresh consultations have been held with representative local government bodies. In the light of these steps the Government have prepared their reform programme and intend to press ahead with it vigorously.
The local government system is there to serve the needs of society. It is remarkable that there has been no major organisational change in the system in this century despite the fundamental changes in society itself and in the way in which society lives, thinks and works. Yet these social changes have deep implications for the workings of the local government system and its relationship to the public it serves. Major changes have resulted from the developmental process, including urbanisation and, notably, the massive expansion of the capital city into the surrounding countryside. Within cities and major areas there are important issues of planning, renewal and development in which the local authorities have a major and a critical part to play; indeed they are shaping, for better or for worse, the urban environment of the future. The growth of traffic, of recreation and of tourism, are other major areas of change making demands on the local government system.
The functions of the system have been extended in various ways to meet some of these needs. This applies particularly to planning, housing, roads and environmental control but organisational change has not kept pace.
In the large urban complexes, and in Dublin in particular, there is a special need for the co-ordination of planning and development, and for co-operation in providing services. In many places town populations have outgrown their boundaries to a serious extent. Despite the changes that have taken place in local authority functions, there is the feeling that local Government is somehow removed from the real needs and current preoccupations of the people who elect local councils. This can be seen as part of the reason for the system not commanding the position it should command as part of the democratic system of government. The growth of voluntary associations throughout the country with a variety of objectives is in itself to be welcomed. But the fact that these groups are found to be so widely necessary and that they exist in most cases without links with the local government system and, indeed, in many cases are in some antipathy with that system, is a signal which we must take account of. It indicates the need to make local government more relevant and more accessible to people, and more responsive to their needs. This calls for changes of organisation, of functions and of attitudes.
Another major aim must be to make local government as efficient as possible. There are very practical reasons for this in that local authorities between capital and current spending are now responsible for some £1,400 million of expenditure each year. This is a significant element in the total public financing requirement.
Local authorities are also among the principal agencies providing employment throughout the country — often in areas where little other employment may be available. These factors — the level of spending and of employment — taken with the key importance of local authority infrastructure mean that the system is playing a major role in the economy of the country. The system must be seen to be operating efficiently and providing a good return in terms of value for money. The Government are intent on making any change which may be necessary to achieve this aim.
A programme of reform has been developed which will be implemented in stages and which is intended to revitalise the local government system, to attune it to the needs of today so that we have a system capable of meeting the challenges, difficulties and opportunities of the late 20th century.
Briefly the reform programme will cover the following:
First: The initial phase of fundamental reorganisation of local government in Dublin plus electoral reform throughout the country. These and certain other matters are covered in the Bill now before the House.
Secondly: The completion of the reorganisation in Dublin, including the transfer of functions to new councils and the setting up of a metropolitan council as a co-ordinating body, will be the subject of a further Bill.
Thirdly: Additional legislation is in preparation to effect reforms and improvements in the organisation and procedures of local authorities. This will cover such matters as the adjustment of urban boundaries, the setting up of new town councils, extended functions for local authorities in certain social and economic spheres, improved co-ordination and agency arrangements between authorities, a better provision for local authority recognition and support of certain local bodies and a variety of adjustments in relation to procedures, by-law making and so on.
Fourthly: An examination is being conducted urgently of a means of effecting a substantive devolution of functions from the centre to the local authorities so that any necessary statutory provisions may be included in the legislative programme I have outlined. Changes in this area will have to be effected soon so as to avoid duplication or confusion of roles. Where complete devolution is not feasible, agency arrangements between central bodies and local authorities may be possible.
Certain important functions of my own Department are being included in this review, but the Government are looking at a wide range of public services in search of devolution possibilities.
People should be able to look to their local authorities more than at present for information, advice and assistance in areas of economic and social interest. In many cases these are areas in which local authorities have little or no say at the moment. Also, local authorities should have the right of making their voices heard when decisions affecting their areas are being made by various bodies at national and regional level and with this in mind the Government are intent on developing a more complete system of local self-government.
Fifthly: No amount of change in organisation or functions will bear fruit unless there is an adequate finance system. There are two points to be made about this. The Government have recognised the need for change following the removal of domestic rates and the collapse of the agricultural valuation system and have made provision for a land tax from which the proceeds will accrue to local authorities. Other approaches to see how local revenues might be supplemented and how local authorities might be made more financially self-sufficient are under examination. Studies in this area have been undertaken by the National Economic and Social Council and by the Commission on Taxation and I am hopeful that we will get useful advice and suggestions from these sources.
The other point is that local authorities cannot expect to escape the severe financial constraints which apply in the public sector generally at present. This means that there are severe limits to the additional resources that can be made available to local authorities in the short term. This harsh reality of the moment does not remove the need to search for a better financing system on the lines I have described. It would, of course, be the aim that there should be a suitable financial adjustment in respect of any new functions that might be developed on local authorities in consequence of the initiatives to which I have referred.
Finally the reform programme will include an examination of the regional level of Government, including the role of the regional development organisations, and the relationship between the various bodies existing at this intermediate level outside the representative system. In the meantime the regional development organisation will continue to serve local authorities and other interests as they are doing at present.
The Bill then is not, and could not be, a comprehensive measure covering all aspects of local government reform. It is a first stage. It deals essentially with matters which are necessary or desirable to have in place before the local elections in June. The other changes to which I have referred will be the subject of an ongoing programme of local government reform and in due course the necessary legislation to give effect to various aspects of this programme will come before this House.
The matters covered by the present Bill are: the adjustment of Dublin city boundary involving some areas being added to the city and some to the county; the setting up, for electoral purposes, of three new counties covering the territory of the existing Dublin County Council and of Dún Laoghaire Corporation, and to which elections will be held in June; and powers designed to enable effect to be given to the recommendations of the two electoral commissions recently published.
The Bill makes provision also for the extension of the Galway City boundary and for upgrading of that city to the status of county borough. The Bill includes some other particular provisions which I will come to. Much of the volume of the Bill is taken up with the definition in legal terminology of the new boundaries in Dublin and with matters consequential on the adjustment of the Dublin city and county boundaries.
In deciding on the reorganisation of local government in Dublin, the Government had a number of different options to consider and evaluate in the light of the work which has been going on in this matter intermittently for some years. One of the options would involve the replacement of the existing three councils - the city council, the county council and the Dún Laoghaire Borough Council —by one overall council, a sort of greater Dublin council. This overall council would have responsibility for services over the whole of the metropolitan area and might have committees at local level. The option has certain attractions in that it would facilitate co-ordination in planning and development and in the provision of services. It would also command resources on a scale which would favour adequate expertise being provided and economies of scale being achieved. In the Government's view, however, a single council with responsibility for the whole of the Dublin area would be too large and unwieldy a body and too far removed from the people it served. Neither would it be well suited to the evolution of the system along the lines I outlined earlier — namely, towards being more closely responsive to the needs of the people who are represented by it. An overall council on the scale implied could also create imbalance in relation to local government units in urban and rural areas elsewhere.
Another option would involve the setting up of a number of borough councils covering the whole of the city and county, each with responsibility for the normal local government functions in an area of some 100,000 people or so. This was not favoured because of the fragmentation which would be involved and the additional problems of co-ordination which would arise. It would also be a more expensive system. There would be need also to provide under this option for a directly elected metropolitan council, with its own expensive administration with powers overlapping those of the mainline authorities.
Another possibility examined was that the city area might be reduced so as to correspond more closely to the concept of an inner city authority, with a number of county or borough councils covering the rest of the metropolitan area. Again, there would have been serious problems of demarcation and co-ordination. Hundreds of thousands of people who associate themselves closely with the city would have found themselves excluded from that area and attached to new units of local government in the county. The Government decided against this option as well.
The Government decision, as announced, is that there should be four mainline local authorities in Dublin comprising the existing Dublin Corporation, subject to boundary adjustments, and three new county councils covering the rest of the metropolitan area and replacing, after a transitional phase, the existing Dublin County Council and the existing Dún Laoghaire Corporation. Provision will also be made for a metropolitan council to be nominated by the four mainline authorities to consider matters of overall interest and to act as a co-ordinating influence in relation to services and programmes that will require to be approached on a metropolitan basis.
The Bill sets out the changes proposed in the city county boundary and the boundaries for the new county areas. The changes proposed in the boundary between Dublin city and county will be made definitively under powers proposed in the Bill before the local elections are held. This means that by then the corporation will be responsible for the areas being taken into the city, and the county council for the areas being excluded. The three new county areas, on the other hand, are being established at this juncture for electoral purposes only. The replacement of Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire Borough Council by three new county councils is a fundamental change involving complex matters to be settled in regard to transfer of functions, property, resources, staff and so on. All of these will take time to work out — consultations with the local authorities have already begun — and will require further legislation to bring into effect. In the meantime, the three new county councils will be elected in June. There will be no direct elections then to the existing Dublin County Council or to Dún Laoghaire Corporation and those bodies will carry on with the members elected for the three councils serving on them until the transfer to the three new county councils is effected. These members will then assume operational responsibilities in the three new counties and the existing county council and borough corporation will be phased out.
The changes in the city-county boundary will mean, between the gains and the losses, a net addition of some 18,000 in the city population. The changes, however, are not designed to increase or diminish the city but to rationalise the existing boundaries and to iron out some inconsistencies that have developed since the last boundary change took place in 1953. I will consider these changes in more detail later.
The boundaries for the three new county areas have been fixed by reference to major geographical features, namely the Liffey and the watershed which divides South Dublin naturally into east and west sectors. The Dublin North County will be known as Dublin-Fingal and will comprise the territory north of the adjusted boundary and of the River Liffey, except for the small part of Lucan which lies north of the river and which will be included with the rest of that centre for administrative purposes.
The two counties south of the adjusted city boundary and of the line of the Liffey will be divided by a line which will proceed from the Dodder, and the city boundary, at Woodside Drive, by the boundaries of the Castle Golf Club and of Marley Park, to Rockbrook and then by the Pine Forest Road to Glendoo Mountain and the junction with the Wicklow county boundary. This line follows townland boundaries or other natural or physical features which facilitate the north/south direction of the division. The county to the east of this line will be known as Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown and to the west Dublin-Belgard. Dublin-Fingal will have 24 members: Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown will have 28 and Dublin-Belgard will have 26. This gives a total of 78 members in place of the combined membership of 51 at present in Dublin County Council and in Dún Laoghaire Corporation. This increase, I might mention, is fully justified by reference to the level of representation available in other counties.
The Bill also enables effect to be given to the recommendations of the Dublin Electoral Area Boundaries Commission in the city area and in the new county areas, subject to two minor adjustments in the proposed city boundary at the Santry by-pass extension and at Cherry Orchard. These adjustments are designed to provide a more logical line of division between city and county at these points and do not materially affect the recommendations of the commission in regard to electoral area divisions.
In accordance with their terms of reference, the commission have also made recommendations on this division of Dublin city into six districts and of each of the new county areas into two districts. These units are envisaged as a basis for future devolution and/or local representation within the reorganised system. This role of the new districts will be taken up in the further legislation which I have already referred to.
The Government have also decided, as announced, to implement the recommendations of the County and County Borough Electoral Area Boundaries Commission in regard to changes in electoral areas in counties and in county boroughs outside Dublin. A number of the provisions in the Bill are designed to enable this to be done. The commission were asked to recommend changes which would bring about a more consistent relationship between population and membership within the various areas.
There will be an overall increase of 13 in the membership of seven county councils.
The Government have decided that Galway should be made a county borough, equal in status to Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford. This is in recognition of the distinctive history of the city, as celebrated in the quincentennial year. The decision is also justified by the size of the city and by its major importance as a social and economic centre in the west of the country. This means that Galway city will become a separate administrative county. Again, there are considerable complexities as regards the future relationship between the city and the county and it will take some future time to sort out these matters. In the meantime the way will be prepared in that the city population will vote as a separate entity in the June elections without linkage with Galway County Council membership.
The way will be further prepared for the enhancement of the status of Galway by giving effect to the recommendation of the commission that the city boundary should be extended to take in a number of surrounding townlands. The membership of the Galway Borough Council will be increased from 12 to 15. I would like to avail of this opportunity to commend both Galway Borough Council and Galway County Council on reaching agreement about the adjustment in the city boundary and, in particular, the very positive approach of the latter body. There was no corresponding agreement in regard to the adjustment of the boundaries of Cork city or of Limerick city and accordingly the commission were not in a position to recommend adjustments in those cases. I will be bringing in an amendment on Committee Stage to delete the reference to Cork and Limerick from section 19. The question of those adjustments will now fall to be taken up as part of the general review of urban boundaries, which I have already referred to, and for which a boundary commission will be set up at a later stage.
While speaking of the commissions, I would like to avail of this opportunity to thank both bodies — the chairmen, Judge Murphy and Judge Carroll, the members and the staff concerned — all of whom I know worked hard to complete the assignments in the short time allowed. Inevitably in assignments of this kind the recommendations will not find universal approval on all points. However, the commissions have met their assignments effectively and impartially and within the time allowed, and I am glad to acknowledge this and to record my appreciation.
I will now outline in more detail the specific provisions included in the Bill. Part I of the Bill contains standard provisions relating to title, definitions and orders.
Part II relates to the upgrading of Galway to county borough status. Section 5 provides that on a day to be appointed by the Minister the borough of Galway will cease to be part of the county and will become an administrative county of itself called the County Borough of Galway. As I mentioned earlier some time will be required to allow for the necessary arrangements to be made between city and county to ensure a smooth transition, without disruption of services. Consultations between my Department and both authorities are under way.
Section 5 (4) provides that the borough electorate will not be entitled to vote at the June elections to Galway County Council. This is because Galway Borough is to become a county borough. Section 6 provides for an increase of three to 15 in the membership of the borough council and that number will be elected at the June elections. When the borough becomes a county borough the title of the council will change to the city council.
The effect of section 7 is to apply the management system to the county borough. By virtue of subsection (5) there will be a single manager for city and county. This arrangement may however be terminated by agreement of the councils of both city and county; it may not however be terminated while the present manager continues to hold office. It is important that joint management should apply for the initial stages to ensure that the separation of city and county is dealt with in a co-ordinated manner and that any practical difficulties arising can be readily sorted out.
Section 8 enables any further necessary provisions to give effect to the establishment of the county borough to be made by order. By virtue of section 3 such an order would require the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas.
I would next like to refer again to the report of the County and County Borough Electroal Area Boundaries Commission in relation to Galway. The commission have recommended that the boundary of the borough should be extended and the proposed extension has been agreed by both the borough council and the county council; an additional 5,000 persons will be added to the borough.
Sections 19 and 20 in Part IV deal with boundary alterations and provide a legislative basis to implement the commission's recommendations in regard to Galway. As soon as possible after the enactment of this Bill, I would propose to make an order under section 19 extending the boundary of the borough so that the boundary alteration will have effect for the purpose of the June elections. The commission also recommended that adequate provision should be made for the payment of compensation to the county council in respect of the boundary alteration. Section 19 enables provision to be made for the payment of compensation and the order to be made under that section will include appropriate arrangements in this regard.
The next Part of the Bill — Part III — provides for changes in the Dublin area. As I have already stated, these changes represent a first step and further legislation will be required. It will simplify matters if I deal first with the city.
The purpose of section 10 is to effect the alteration of the boundary between Dublin city and county for all purposes. Detailed descriptions of the altered areas are set out in the First Schedule to the Bill. A map showing these areas has been prepared and a copy has been placed in the Oireachtas Library. The major areas being transferred from the county to the city are the areas which constitute the northern environs of the city, including Donaghmede, Darndale, Coolock, Santry and Ballymun, the Ashtown area and an area between Clondalkin Industrial Estate and Cherry Orchard Park. The other areas are an area adjacent to Cappagh Avenue and the Northway Estate and parts of Crumlin/ Walkinstown and the Beech Hill area north of Belfield. The major areas being transferred from the city to the county are the areas comprising Baldoyle, Bayside, Sutton, Howth and an area at Rathfarnham. Also to be included in the county are parts of Kimmage, Templeogue, Belfield and a small area south of Elm Park Golf Course. The Second Schedule to the Bill contains consequential provisions which will apply as a result of the alteration of the boundary between Dublin city and county. They generally follow the lines of similar provisions made in the past in relation to boundary alterations and include, in particular, provision for the phasing-in over a five-year period, of the liability of ratepayers in the areas excluded from the city.
Section 11 provides for an increase of seven to 52 in the membership of Dublin City Council. These members will be elected for the altered city area and on the basis of the electoral areas recommended for the city by the Dublin Electoral Area Boundaries Commission.
I turn next to the provisions relating to County Dublin. As I mentioned previously, the Government have decided that County Dublin, including the area comprised in the Borough of Dún Laoghaire, should be divided into three counties with a county council for each of the three areas. However, it would not be possible to have three new county councils fully operative immediately following the June elections. This would necessitate the abolition of the existing county council and Dún Laoghaire Borough Corporation; their replacement by the three new county councils; various complex property and financial adjustments; staff transfers; revised arrangements for the operation of various services and other arrangements to deal with the many other matters arising. Clearly it would be impossible for this comprehensive programme of activity to be completed before June.
However, rather than defer reorganisation in the Dublin area, the Government decided to press ahead and establish the new county areas of Dublin-Fingal, Dublin-Belgard and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown for the purposes of the June elections. For these purposes they will be known as electoral counties. It is important that the public should begin to identify with these counties and for that reason elections are being held in June to councils for each of the electoral counties. Section 12 provides for the establishment of the three electoral counties and the Third Schedule details the boundaries of the counties. Section 13 provides for the establishment and election of a council for each of the electoral counties and specifies the membership. The alternative to this approach would have been to hold elections to the existing county council and Dún Laoghaire Borough Council and then abolish them and hold further elections to the new authorities when definitive legislation dealing with all aspects of local government reorganisation in the Dublin area has been prepared. This would yet again long finger the need for change and could, indeed, result in no change at the end of the day.
As I have said, section 13 provides that councils will be elected for each of the electoral counties. Section 16 provides that all of the elected members — 78 in total — for the three electoral counties will serve on and act as the existing Dublin County Council. While this may be somewhat unusual, the alternative was, as I have said, to defer reorganisation again. Also the arrangement will facilitate an orderly transition from the existing to the new bodies.
In regard to Dún Laoghaire, section 16 provides for similar arrangements to apply. In this case I will make an order specifying those electoral areas which correspond as nearly as possible to the existing borough and the persons elected for those areas will, in addition to serving on the county council, also serve on and act as the borough council pending its replacement.
I will be introducing further legislation to invest the three councils elected in June with all the powers of county councils and to provide for the transfer of assets, liabilities, staff, and so on from the existing authorities to the three new county councils. For the interim period, Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire Corporation will continue in being and will continue to perform their existing functions. Section 29 provides for the continuation of the county council and Dún Laoghaire Corporation.
I apologise to Deputies, incidentally, for the fact that on page 5 of the Explanatory Memorandum section 28 should read section 29 and section 29 should read section 28.
I would like to stress that the June elections to the councils for the three electoral counties will be on the basis of the electoral areas recommended by the Dublin Electoral Area Boundaries Commission. Section 14 provides the necessary statutory power to divide the electoral counties into county electoral areas. Section 15 contains provisions relating to the register of electors, returning officer and costs of the elections to the three councils.
Section 17 is a standard provision providing for the preparation of official maps of the electoral counties. The boundaries of the electoral counties are described in the Third Schedule.
Section 18 contains supplemental provisions in regard to the alteration of the city/county boundary effected by section 10 and would enable the Minister by regulations to continue in force in those areas any enactments, regulations, rules, bylaws and other instruments which had effect in those areas prior to the alteration of the boundaries. The section would provide a convenient means of continuing, on a temporary or longterm basis, the application of statutory requirements in the areas affected by the boundary alteration where this is considered necessary — for example, regulations under the Road Traffic Acts in relation to speed limits.
In dealing with Part II of the Bill, which relates to Galway, I have already referred to section 19 which will enable the boundary of the borough to be extended prior to the June elections. Section 19 is a consequential provision which requires the Minister, prior to the elections, to make any consequential adjustments to electoral areas arising from the boundary extension. These will be made on the basis of the recommendations of the County and County Borough Electoral Area Boundaries Commission.
Section 21 enables the Minister to alter on a once-off basis, prior to the June elections, the number of members of a county council, of a county borough other than Dublin and of Galway Borough Council. This was to enable any recommendations of the commission in regard to membership to be implemented. In the event the commission have recommended alterations in the number of members in the case of eight county councils and this section will enable these recommendations to be implemented.
Sections 22 and 23 are provisions which will enable any necessary adjustments to be made to the register of electors and to polling districts arising from the revision of electoral areas recommended by the commission.
Section 24 will enable the Minister to make by order, which by virtue of section 3 must be approved by both Houses, any further provisions necessary to enable this Act to have full effect.
Section 25 enables the Minister to alter the quorum of a local authority to take account of any alteration in the number of members of the authority. Section 26 is a technical provision designed to ensure that the number of members of the Dublin Committee of Agriculture will remain as it is at the moment: 32 members. By law the number of members of a committee is four times the number of county electoral areas.
Most Deputies will be aware of the procedures which currently apply to the appointments by local authorities to health boards. The effect of section 27 and the Fourth Schedule is to apply these procedures to appointments by local authorities to the bodies mentioned in that section.
Section 28 will extend the boundary of County Cork to include the Whiddy Island oil terminal, as recommended by the Costelloe tribunal of inquiry. It will also enable the Minister to alter the maritime boundaries of any county or county borough. I have already dealt with section 29 in the context of the changes affecting County Dublin. Deputies will appreciate that many of the provisions of the Bill are of a complex nature and they can be gone into more fully on Committee Stage. I look forward therefore to the debate on this Bill and to hearing the views in relation to the provisions of the Bill of the many Members of this House who have served as members of local authorities.
I have mentioned that the central provisions of the Bill relate to measures which will need to be in place for the local elections, notably the adjustment of the Dublin and Galway boundaries, the setting up of three new counties in Dublin, and changes in electoral areas and in council membership elsewhere. These changes will have to be incorporated in the 1985 registers of electors and in polling schemes under powers being provided in the Bill. Reasonable time must be allowed for the necessary adjustments to be made at local level if the arrangements for the local elections are to proceed smoothly. To fit in with this time-scale it will be necessary that the Bill be enacted before Easter. I now announce for the information of the House that the local elections will take place on Thursday, 20 June 1985.
This is an important Bill and I have no wish to inhibit discussion, but I think it necessary to mention that there is this time factor to be kept in mind.