Local Government (Reorganisation) Bill, 1985: Second Stage.

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.

It has taken until the last line of the Minister's speech to finally extract the date of the local elections. It has been very unfair to the Government and the whole system of local democracy to have dallied so long in making this important decision. With less than three months to June, the Government have shown themselves very indecisive in this matter. It was time for them to dispel the continued doubts as to whether they were considering a further postponement. One can only come to the conclusion that they were entertaining such thoughts when they decided to leave the fixing of the date of the local elections to such a late stage.

We welcome the announcement and are anxious that everything possible be done to facilitate the holding of these elections. We recognise that the matters contained in this Bill will, of necessity, have had to be passed into law by the Houses of the Oireachtas well in advance of the date now announced, in order to enable these elections to take place. It is very remiss of the Minister and his Government to have delayed so long in this matter. Many of the orders to be made under this Bill cannot come into force until the Bill is passed, with seven weeks' sitting of the Dáil before the election date arrives.

The Bill before the House cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered as implementing major reforms of the local government system. It deals solely with electoral matters and makes no reference to the functions carried out by local authorities or the method of financing them in the future and omits reference to the need for restructuring the operation of second tier local government, which contradicts the claims that this Bill has something to do with making the system more responsive to the needs of local communities. It is hard to believe that this Bill contains the results of the Government studies of the local government system over a period of two years. Speech after speech from successive Coalition Ministers of the Environment promised us major reforms in the system, aimed at strengthening and expanding the role of local government. The Minister for Energy when Minister for the Environment, the then Minister of State, Deputy Quinn, and the present Minister, Deputy Kavanagh and his Minister of State, Deputy F. O'Brien all laid great emphasis on the extensive reviews being undertaken in the Department, which would result in legislation being enacted to establish the radically reformed system in time for elections to be held under the new system. Even the 1984 elections were postponed to enable this wonderfully reformed system to brought in before the elections in June 1985. Those people genuinely interested in seeing the system radically overhauled are bitterly disappointed with this Bill. It contains none of the promised reforms in functions and financing and ignores the needs of all urban dwellers outside the county borough areas of Dublin and Galway.

It now transpires that the Government ignored the areas really in need of reform and concentrated their energies on seeing how best they could adjust the local government system to their own advantage. The much vaunted proposals for reform turn out to be a cynical exercise in electoral area alterations to suit Fine Gael and Labour candidates. In all the submissions which have been made, all the seminars which have been held and articles which have been written about how our local government system should be reformed to make it more meaningful, more responsive to local needs, few, if any, suggestions were made about the need to alter electoral boundaries. Yet this is what is happening. This is what we are being offered as worth while reform. About the only good thing that can be said about the Bill is that at least it is a start and I suppose we should be glad of that from a legislatively lazy Government.

It is clear that the only purposes of the Bill are to give legislative effect to the new boundaries decided on by the Government for the four new county authorities in Dublin and to determine the number of members to be elected to these authorities and all the other county councils and county boroughs. The Bill gives the Minister the power to make orders changing the boundaries of local authorities and electoral areas and to decide the number of members to be elected in each of the local authorities.

This Bill is principally an enabling one and does not propose the alterations in electoral areas recommended by the boundary commissions. Local government reform, we maintain, requires fundamental changes in the present role of local authorities and requires far-reaching proposals in regard to the functions which they perform, in the method of financing to give them financial independence and security and also a need for reform of the structures in a two tier system.

I am referring to the need for adequate second tier structures to be provided for all the towns which have been developing over the past 30 years. No reference whatsoever was made to the reforming of structures in that area. The Government have dealt with this whole question of local government reform in a very cavalier fashion. The system of local government has been suffering at the hands of this Coalition Government for the past two and a half years. They have seriously undermined the financing of local authorities and have left them in a position where they are struggling under serious handicap to try to maintain the level of services which they were able to provide so readily a few short years ago. Many of them have had to undergo massive redundancies of their permanent staff and their level of services has suffered very severely.

In justifying my claim that the Government have been dealing with the local government system in a very cavalier fashion, I must also point to the postponement of the local elections last year. Now it seems that they were postponed for no good reason. Up to this time the Government have continued to withhold information about whether a further postponement was intended. Now they propose changing all the electoral areas just three months before the election date, without consultation and without time for proper representations to have been made, studied and considered.

Despite the boundary commissions' work, we will still end up with inequality of representation throughout the country, with boundary extensions still being required for Cork and Limerick and Galway County Council and borough council still in the dark on how compensation is going to be paid. We will end up with Gaeltacht areas being denied any special recognition in our local government system and remaining divided by electoral area boundaries. We will remain with a situation in which councillors who have given loyal service to their communities over the years will find themselves cut off electorally from those communities with only a few weeks left before election date. That is the greatest disservice that the Minister, and the Government, have done to local democracy and to councillors who have given voluntarily of their time, energy, knowledge and experience over the years working with their local communities and helping to make local government effective and efficient under terrible constraints.

Some of those councillors, because of the dilatoriness of the Minister, now find that their entire electoral area is to be changed with only a few weeks left to election date. That is a disgrace. It was a dreadful way for the Minister to treat those councillors. In December 1983 the Minister postponed the local elections with a promise to reform. I put it to the Minister that it would have been just as easy for him in January 1984 to have published the terms of reference and appoint the boundary commissions as it was to do so in January 1985. I suggest that there was no good reason why the Minister wasted one year. There was no reason why he should deny councillors the opportunity to take into consideration the changes to be made one year ahead of the change. Some councillors have discovered that the changes being made will affect them in a dramatic way and they have but a few weeks to consider what action they should take.

I am aware that some councillors have found that 90 per cent of their electoral area has been taken away from them, based on the areas where they live. One cannot deny that results of that type will come out of any electoral boundary area revisions but it was unfair to have left it so late and not to give any opportunity to the councillors so affected to acquaint themselves with the needs and problems of the new areas where they will be asking a different community to support them.

Is the Deputy suggesting that 90 per cent has been taken away? Only 10 per cent has been taken away at most.

I shall give the Minister an example. The town of Oughterard was in the electoral area of Galway. That town which has a big population and some of the rural areas that surround it which have a low population have been changed to another electoral area. When one looks at the new electoral area one finds that one must travel almost 20 miles before one comes up against any heavily populated area. There is nothing but bog, lakes and mountains for a distance of 15 or 20 miles from Oughterard back towards the coast where the community live. A councillor living in Oughterard who had worked from there through the Galway electoral area now finds that because of the switch he has to turn his face to where he had his back to try to work up support in four or five weeks. That is only one instance of how areas have been changed. I am sure the Minister has been made aware by Members of the effect of some of the changes. Some of the changes were ridiculous.

I am not saying that there would not have been anomalies for some individuals because it would not have been possible or right to design electoral areas to suit individuals. The only complaint I have is that by delaying so long the Minister has acted very unfairly to some councillors and has shown very little respect for the work they are doing. The Minister has very little interest in them and has dealt with them in a cavalier fashion.

If there was any real concern for local democracy or a true appreciation of the role local governments should play in developing the country, community leaders would be loud in condemning the Government for their delay in introducing reforms. The Government have got every encouragement from this side of the House to get on with this work. Our co-operation is assured in the whole area of local government reform. We will not delay the passage of the Bill but we are urging the Minister to come forward with proposals for real reform. The Minister is aware that we have published our thoughts on this matter. We have shown that we are prepared to follow the path of radical change and reform in the local democratic system. There is no political reason for the Minister to hesitate in stepping out into that area. We have shown the way forward by publishing our proposals. We have stated that it is our intention to make major reforms when we return to office and we have indicated the direction that reform should go. There is no excuse for the Government being dilatory in proceeding with this work. I have assured the Minister before that any proposals would get a ready response from us and I repeat that assurance.

We have a full commitment to developing the local government system and we will co-operate with the Minister, if he requires our co-operation, in helping to bring forward reforms. However, our pleas and urgings have fallen on deaf ears so far. What we have seen is a pathetic attempt, an excuse, to show that a step has been taken along the road. A lot of time has been wasted and that indicates a lack of interest on the part of the Government in this area.

The whole bone of contention in support of our argument that the Minister has been dilatory is easily confirmed when one looks at the date the electoral area boundary commissions were to make their report. Their work, therefore, was of necessity very rushed and did not allow for adequate consultation with local auathorities about the most suitable changes. Consequently, many of the agreed submissions made by local authorities have been ignored. In most cases no consultation took place with local authorities. If the Minister doubts that I shall for the sake of the record, outline what the commission stated. For instance, in the case of Limerick the commission complained that they were unable to recommend a specific boundary change as the time available to them was too short. Under the heading, City Boundaries,Limerick, the County and County Borough Electoral Area Boundaries Commission Report states:

Because of the clear disagreement between Limerick County Council and Limerick Corporation the commission was unable in the time available to recommend a specific boundary change but recommends that a thorough-going review of all options for the area be put in hands as early as possible to provide the necessary basis for a decision.

The commission recognised that there is a need for boundary changes in regard to Limerick city but complain that they were given inadequate machinery with which to carry out their task of making recommendations in that area because of the time factors imposed on them by the Government.

The Deputy should read that again and he will then see the reasons for it.

The strange thing about the lack of time is that one of the members of the commission was a civil servant in the Minister's Department. In effect, he was complaining about his Minister and the work done in his Department, that they had not advanced their work earlier and made greater progress. That is an indication of shoddy work and a lack of commitment. Lack of commitment clearly emerges from the whole thing. However, we will continue to crack the whip over the Minister and urge him to get on with the job of reform. We will continue to criticise the Minister until we can see positive proposals coming forward for the Bill.

Changing and fiddling around with electoral areas is too closely associated with possible electoral advantage to one side or the other and by any stretch of the imagination it cannot be deemed to be a contribution of any kind to major necessary reforms. The commission reported that they could not receive oral submissions in regard to electoral areas changes due to the time constraint. At page eight they state:

The Commission received and considered a total of 97 written submissions, the majority of them relating to the review of electoral areas. Because of the time constraint, the Commission was unable to receive oral submissions on this aspect of its work.

At page nine they complain:

Because of the short period of time allowed to the Commission by its terms of reference to complete its work, it concluded that sufficient time would not be available to receive oral submissions except from the local authorities concerned in relation to the extension of city boundaries.

At page 11 they state their regret once more about the time constraint.

The commission have had to claim that they could not fulfil the tasks given to them because they were not appointed on time or given sufficient time in which to carry out the work. Therefore, we have a rushed report which ignores many of the areas urgently in need of change. They had to come forward with these recommendations without the advantage of consultations with the people who were making submissions, such as interested citizens. It seems an extraordinary situation.

In bringing forward a report of this kind the commission showed evidence appointed, mid-January, and that they were only given until the end of February that the esteemed personages who comprised the commission, headed by a judge, had not time adequately to consider fully all of the matters put before them. Because the commission did not have time, they must have been to some extent influenced by the information put before them by the officials of the Department who have as their political head the Labour Minister for the Environment. We are entitled to come to the conclusion that the work contained in this document is more a reflection of the thoughts of the political head, and the civil servants responding to them, rather than the thoughts of people who should have assisted the commission.

The Deputy is entirely wrong to assume that. It is an unfair assumption.

I have experience of revision of electoral areas and the information required and I am satisfied that many of the thoughts we read in this report are similar to those prepared by the Civil Service before the commission ever began their work.

The commission felt inhibited by their terms of reference. Many local authorities made agreed submissions but these submissions were ignored. For instance, the local authorities in Dublin had a submission which would have been agreed by the various political parties participating in the council meetings. That would have been very valuable because the submissions would have been agreed across the board, and it is not often one would get that in matters as sensitive as this where electoral reputations and careers might be at stake. Any such agreements should have been accepted and should have formed a major part of the recommendations to the Minister.

Again, at page 11, the commission refer to a submission sent in by County Wexford. I will read it:

In submissions relating to County Wexford, the Commission was urged to recommend an increase in the total membership of the county council. It was indicated that the county, with a population of 99,081, has a council membership of 21, which is among the lowest in the country, and an average of 4,718 persons per councillor, one of the highest in the country. It was suggested that the Commission should recommend an additional councillor for each of the four electoral areas in the county without any alteration in boundaries. The Commission noted that the councillor-population ratio in each of the electoral areas in the county is already within satisfactory limits. Within its terms of reference, the Commission could recommend boundary changes and/or propose an increase in membership only for the purpose of bringing about equality of representation within a local authority. It considered that, as equality of representation already existed in the case of Wexford, it was precluded from recommending an increase in membership for that county.

A real need was identified, there was an across the political divide response, a submission was made but it was ignored. Due to the lack of time, it was not possible for the commission to enter into discussions with Wexford County Council. Anyway, because of the way the terms of reference were drawn up they were inhibited from responding to that request. Again there is evidence that the terms of reference were not adequate. Wexford loses because of it. This is an indication that there can be lack of equality of representation throughout the county.

Later, on page 11, the following reference to County Clare appears:

As indicated, the terms of reference did not permit the transfer of a seat from one electoral area to another. Had this been permissible, the disproportion in certain cases could have been remedied without alteration of boundary or an increase in the number of members. For example, the imbalance in County Clare could have been made good by transferring one member each from Ennistymon, Kilrush and Milltownmalbay to the Ennis electoral area, which would then be sub-divided. As it is, the Commission's recommendations involve increasing the membership by one and splitting the existing Ennis electoral area five ways. Similarly, the imbalance in Limerick County Borough could have been made good by transferring a member from the No. 4 electoral area to the No. 1 electoral area, rendering boundary changes (including a transfer across the Shannon) unnecessary.

In other words, the established Ennis electoral area has been decimated because the terms of reference were drawn up in a way that did not allow the commission to respond and to take into account established communities and the traditional electoral areas. The commission appreciate that what they are proposing is an electoral monstrosity without a logical basis and without electoral efficiency. However, the commission had to make the best they could of it because of the imperfect terms of reference.

It is a matter of great regret that the Government should have given the job to two commissions, ask them to make recommendations but at the same time the Government did not make any reference to the existence of Gaeltacht areas. That is a very serious omission and must be an indication of the Government's thinking in regard to the Irish language and to areas in which the majority of the people speak the language daily. This shows a complete disinterest in the preservation of those Gaeltacht communities. That is a great tragedy. The commission again said they were constrained by the terms of reference. They were unable to respond to genuine cases by many organisations, from some local authorities and individuals to overcome the electoral division of Gaeltacht areas. I quote from page 9 of theCounty and County Borough Electoral Area Boundaries Commission Report dated 28 February 1985:

The Commission received a group of submissions relating to the Gaeltacht areas. Among the suggestions made was that, within the counties concerned, the Gaeltacht should form one or more than one electoral area separate from English speaking districts. The Commission considered that implementation of this suggestion would involve major changes in the counties concerned which would be outside the scope of its terms of reference.

I have never known a Government commission to make so many complaints about how inhibited they were in doing the job they saw needed to be done and could not do because of the very restricted terms of reference. It is a sad reflection on the Government that it never occurred to them or to their Minister for the Gaeltacht, who has special responsibilities in this area and who sat at the Cabinet table where these terms or reference were finalised or to any member around the table, that they should have sought to correct the divisions of the Gaeltachtaí as evidenced by the existing electoral areas. That was not new. A great deal of work was done on this and the result of that work is available to the Minister in his Department. The work of Comhairle na Gaeilge on the recommendations which they made is to be highly commended. Those recommendations are in file in the Minister's Department and his officials are well acquainted with them, as I know from my experience. However, it was a lost opportunity and the Gaeltacht areas will suffer because the opportunity has not been availed of and must wait until some other day. A sad aspect of that was that one of the local authorities made a strong submission recommending that their Gaeltacht areas should be all contained in one electoral area. That submission was turned down by the Government.

Debate adjourned.