Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 24 Mar 1987

Vol. 371 No. 2

Private Members' Business. - Implementation of Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission Act, 1986: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann having approved and passed the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission Act, 1986, calls on the Government to implement the Act immediately.

For many years various bodies, organisations and individuals have bemoaned the continuous rundown of the centre of our capital city. There have been calls on various public bodies to take action to redress that seemingly relentless process whereby the centre of Dublin became tawdrier and more run-down. However, it was not until last year that the Government addressed themselves to the problem in a particular way and that the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission Bill was introduced. The purpose of the Bill was to establish a single function authority for a finite lifetime of three years which would assume all the powers and the responsibilities of the local authority, Dublin Corporation, and the responsibilities of the Dublin Transportation Authority as well as a number of responsibilities of the Garda Síochána. They were to address, in a co-ordinated way, the variety of problems of the central core of Dublin. They were assigned responsibility for the area running from the top of Grafton Street, through Westmoreland Street to the Parnell Monument at the end of O'Connell Street, together with a number of smaller streets converging on that central spine.

The Government announced their commitment to allocate a budget of £10 million over the three year lifetime of the commission as well as a subvention from Dublin Corporation representing the amount which the corporation would otherwise have spent on the maintenance of that area. It was felt necessary to establish the commission because, as I already said, of the run-down nature of the centre of Dublin and the clutter of street furniture which was not in keeping with the demands of the area. Regrettably, street furniture is often poorly maintained because flagstones in O'Connell Street are broken, removed and replaced by ugly and ill-fitting tarmacadam. There is a proliferation of litter and dirt and tawdry plastic signs adorn the frontage of many otherwise architecturally pleasing buildings. This has happened to such an extent that one can only reflect on the degree of architectural vandalism which was allowed to take place over a succession of years and which has blighted the centre of our capital city.

Very high levels of traffic are funnelled through and, in many cases, virtually directed to flow through O'Connell Street, that single most important artery, with virtually no consideration given to the needs of pedestrians. We felt that the way in which this might best be addressed was by the establishment of a single function authority which would be given all the responsibilities for the central spine of Dublin city so that they could identify and build on what was best in the area. We wanted to provide the area with matching, tasteful street furniture and to ensure that the architectural features of buildings would be highlighted. We also wanted to ensure that advertising not in keeping with the general character of the street and which is very often in place without planning permission would be removed. Indeed even in cases where such permission had been granted but where the commission felt the displays not to be in keeping with the area the commission should have power to seek their removal on foot of compensation.

The commission were also charged with building new features in the streets, especially in O'Connell Street. They were charged with the task of making the pedestrian predominant instead of traffic being king. They were to carry out extensive planting of shrubs and flowers made up of different colours for every season in the year. They were to consider the question of maximising the areas which could be pedestrianised in a permanent way. This was to apply to Grafton Street on a 24 hour, seven day week basis, instead of the stop-start position which has existed for so many years. They were to encourage the restortion and cleaning of facades of buildings, to identify and develop the importance of the central mall in O'Connell Street which was the original intention of its architect. They were to encourage the absolute concept of security for the pedestrian in that central area by having an increased Garda presence and a number of Garda kiosks. In short, they were to endeavour to restore to the centre of Dublin some of the grandeur which rightfully belonged to it in the past and which, unfortunately, it cannot claim today. Yet, the essence of that grandeur, the scale of the buildings and the streets means that the essentials of that style and grandeur are still present.

It was felt that establishing a single function authority whose sole purpose would be to identify all that was best, to concentrate on what was best and to remove which was worst, would add to the original design and lead to a centre of our capital city of which we could all be justifiably proud. As I said, the commission were given a finite lifetime of three years so that they could address their collective mind to the task in hand and, having identified the need, would then get on with the job.

There were a number of reasons for choosing a three year period. It meant that the responsibility for continuing maintenance of the central area would revert to Dublin Corporation during the lifetime of the present elected corporation. It also meant that the second of the three years of the commission's existence would coincide with the celebration in Dublin of the city's millenium. Indeed, one could hardly speculate on a more appropriate time to commence this work than to have had a substantial amount carried out in time to have the centre of Dublin, as the proud capital celebrates its millenium, looking its best. It should be designed in such a way as to maximise the usage and enjoyment for the individual pedestrian in the central area.

The proposal to establish the commission was, it is fair to say, widely and warmly welcomed not just, to my surprise, by Dublin but by people from every part of the country. One thing it brought home to me very forcefully as we went along discussing this proposal was that, while Dubliners feel that the centre of Dublin represents a very special place for them, so too do most people from virtually every other part of the country. For them the capital city represents a very special place and is identified with Ireland in a special way. Consequently, the appearance, maintenance and upkeep of the central part of the capital city is a very important aspect for people from all parts of the country. Therefore, the concept of trying to have central Dublin appear at its best appeals to all of those who have the interest of Dublin and of the country at heart.

The proposals when published were welcomed by a variety of bodies, by An Taisce, Dublin Chamber of Commerce, Bord Fáilte, the Dublin Eastern Tourism Organisation, the City Centre Business Association, individual business houses and traders in the area and especially by individuals, as I have said, individuals not just living in Dublin but individuals generally from whatever part of the country.

For some extraordinary reason which I have never been able to fathom, the then Opposition were the only organisation who expressed their opposition to the concept and they manifested that opposition in the most practical way available to a political party — by voting against it. The single organisation, whether business, cultural, tourism or political who opposed the concept of the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission in an outright fashion were the then Opposition, the party who are now in Government. During the long debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas as the Bill passed with difficulty through those Houses I was never able to establish the reason for that opposition. When the Bill was first published in June the Government at the time made every effort and endeavoured to be as accommodating as possible to encourage the Opposition to allow that Bill to become law before the summer recess so that the commission might commence work during last summer. Despite every effort at that time by the Government the Opposition refused outright to allow the Bill time for discussion in the House and intimated that were the Bill to be introduced and discussion to be insisted on by the Government they would withdraw all co-operation in relation to all other measures which needed to be passed before the summer recess. Therefore, for that unidentified and as yet unidentifiable reason to oppose, the establishment of the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission was delayed by over six months. The Bill was eventually introduced into the Seanad in September and into this House in November of last year. During its passage at that time I have to say that it was attacked by speaker after speaker from Fianna Fáil, very many of them Deputies representing the greater Dublin area but eventually Deputies ranging from as far afield as those whose affinity would be more with the Lee than the Liffey. That culminated eventually here in the House in the Opposition party at the time voting against the final passage of the Bill, obviously unsuccessfully because the Bill became law and was put into effect. I could never fathom why the degree and depth of the opposition was so great because in previous times and other circumstances Fianna Fáil had favoured the concept of single function authorities and I would have thought would have continued in their belief that if there is from time to time a problem to be addressed which can be addressed and resolved within a set period of time and where the spotlight needs to be on having the job carried out very carefully, it can often better be done by a single function authority than by asking a multi-discipline, multi-functional authority to carry out that special task in addition to all of their other functions and statutory requirements. That was the attitude adopted by Fianna Fáil in previous years. It took a sharp U-turn last year when the metropolitan streets commission proposal was published. Why I do not know.

That continuing threat by Fianna Fáil over the future of the commission naturally caused a degree of apprehension for many people but I was interested to note immediately post the election result that Deputy Bertie Ahern indicated as Lord Mayor of Dublin that he felt it unlikely that the Government would interfere with the metropolitan streets commission, although he intimated that they might very well decide to change or amend their terms of reference. However about a week later Deputy Raphael Burke indicated, according to the newspapers, that the metropolitan streets commission had been established by the Oireachtas and derived their authority from the Oireachtas and he did not see that there would be any intention on the Government's part of interfering either with the functions of the commission or of the Custom House Dock Authority who had also been established by the previous Government.

I would have thought that that was as it should be because the problem of urban renewal, urban regeneration, the attempt to breathe life back into city centres is now being addressed, and in many instances has been addressed for many years, right across Europe. If there was anything to be said about what we were doing it could only be that the attempt to address this sensitive and important problem was far too belated in this country in comparison with many of our neighbours. The experience of many countries has shown that there is nothing clearer than that if Government do not give great attention and allocate resources to regenerating life in city centres those cities will die. They will become faceless, nameless places, inhabited only from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and will become virtually no-go areas outside normal office hours. Indeed, as time goes on they will become less and less attractive even as office centres as they will by then have already become dead commercial centres. If we want living, viable city centres, of all the cities surely the one we would most want populated, vibrant, active and alive should be the centre of our capital city. Action to address that problem is long overdue.

The metropolitan streets commission have been in existence for something less than two months and their record in that short time means that they have shown by their work and by the imagination they have displayed since their inauguration the enormous potential they have. The streets commission have already met with the traders and business people of the area they cover. They have had discussions with Dublin Corporation and the Dublin Transport Authority and as lately as today we read in the newspapers of some of their proposals regarding the refurbishment and regeneration of O'Connell Street.

The Chairman of the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission indicated that it is their intention that a considerable amount of the work which they plan will be carried out by the middle of next year in order that that work will coincide, as I mentioned earlier, with the Dublin Millennium. For this worthwhile body as they commence their task, with their aim of having an important scheme prepared and of having much of the work put in place by June of next year, with the full support of the various bodies who have an interest in the area, from tourism to business and commercial interests, with the full support of the ordinary individual living in or visiting Dublin, there remains just one cloud, one shadow, one threat over their future and their success. That threat would appear to be the potential vindictiveness of the Government. There is a tradition in Irish politics, a tradition long honoured by a variety of Governments, that whatever is put in place by one Government, and especially whatever is put in place on foot of a statute enacted by the Oireachtas, is not interfered with or removed by that Government's successor. It would be dangerous in the extreme if that tradition were to be broken.

We have examples in neighbouring countries not too far away where in the recent past a variety of industries found themselves either within public ownership or outside of public ownership depending on the ideology of the Government of the day. That is not good for any country or for any industry or grouping. The tradition which has been adhered to for a very long time in this country is one which should be continued.

For the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission to succeed in their task, in their objectives and in what we set out for them in the legislation which was adopted by the Houses of the Oireachtas they require co-operation and support from many different sources. They require co-operation support and goodwill from the traders in the area. They require the same from Dublin Corporation, from the Dublin Transport Authority and from the various other public bodies such as the ESB, Bord Telecom and all the other people who use the streets to deliver their services. The commission require co-operation from the Garda Síochána and from the general public. Most of all for the commission to be successful they require the full co-operation and support of the elected Government. I would have thought that was the least they might expect as they exist on foot of a decision taken by the Oireachtas.

A number of us believed that support might not be as readily forthcoming as the tradition of succession would demand. It is for that reason that this motion was tabled. It is the first motion in Private Members' Time and was tabled as a test. The test has been made. The Government have been tried and have been found wanting by the nature of the amendment they introduced to the motion. We find this amendment totally unacceptable. When we made the decision to establish the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission and to make £10 million available to them over three years, as well as the allocation from Dublin Corporation towards maintenance and running costs, we did that in the full knowledge of the budgetary constraints which apply for this year and which are likely to apply for the ensuing two years. It is fair to say that at the time we made that decision, during 1986, no group of people in the country were better in a position than the Government of the day to understand the budgetary constraints for this year and for 1988 and 1989. Despite those constraints we recognised the importance of the need for the establishment of this commission and for the allocation of a reasonable amount of funding to them.

In that respect we allocated in the Book of Estimates which was published earlier this year a sum of £3.4 million to the commission to be spent in 1987. The commission were established bearing in mind the budgetary constraints and yet we suspected that the support that might be given to them might not be as wholehearted from the incoming Government as it was from the outgoing Government. For that reason the motion was tabled to test the Government and the amendment is the result of the test. The amendment is ominous for the future of the commission. It appears to reiterate the threat that was enunciated during the debates in the Oireachtas and to undermine the work of the commission by indicating the possible removal of that most vital artery from the success of the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission — adequate funding.

As I said, the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission have made clear their objective of having as much as possible in place by the middle of next year to coincide with the Dublin Millennium. If there were to be any attempt now to interfere with their funding for this year or to starve them of funding for 1988, clearly that objective would be impossible to attain. Without in any way seeking to rescind the legislation or to amend it, the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission in the attainment of their objectives effectively can be thwarted if the Government are prepared to be vindictive enough to interfere with the moneys already allocated to them for 1987 or to starve them of cash for next year. I would not have thought that would have been electorally popular. The City Centre Business Association have already indicated that there would be a very violent reaction indeed from those organisations which have welcomed the establishment of the commission were that to be done. Although the reason has not been spelt out in detail it is quite clear from the reception given to this measure from the time it was published to the time of its delayed debate some four or five months later and to the attempt to vote it down in the Dáil, that Fianna Fáil are totally opposed to this measure. One would have to ask again why? One would have to fear again when reading the Government amendment that that opposition, that threat to the future of the commission is once again implicit in that Government amendment. I want to say clearly that the Government had better realise that they will not have the support of this party for any diminution in the allocation of funding for the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission as published in the Book of Estimates for this year. Neither may they expect to have our support for that Estimate for 1988 if it provides less than adequate funding and less than the funding which would bring the commission on target to have delivered to it over the three years of its lifetime the full capital sum of £10 million as was promised.

As I said, there was no group in the country better in a position than we in the springtime of last year, and more lately when we were preparing the Estimtes for this year, to understand the nature and depth of the budgetary constraints upon Government. Yet we felt that the allocation of that £10 million was the minimum which was necessary to make the type of impact which I explained at the outset, an impact which would be not only necessary but long overdue — an impact which even in business or economic terms will have an enormous spin off in beneficial effect upon the commercial life and activity of the centre of Dublin and indeed upon the tourism potential of the city and especially the city centre.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I take the opportunity of congratulating you on your appointment.

It is nice to see the unfortunate Dubliners doing well occasionally. Because of the outright opposition of the Government party when in opposition and because of the prevaricating tone of the remarks made by some of the Government party when in Opposition of the election, we decided to choose this motion as the first to be discussed in Private Members' Time because it was to be the test. The Government might not have failed the test had they not entered an amendment but they tabled the amendment with all the capacity for effectively removing the potential of the streets commission to achieve its objective and once again reiterated the implicit opposition of the Fianna Fáil Party to the concept of the streets commission. That means that the Government have been tried and found wanting. I want to indicate again to the House on behalf of my party that any attempt to reduce the potential of the streets commission to achieve its stated objectives and the objectives laid down for it by statute will meet with the outright opposition of this party. That opposition will be carried out on behalf not just of the people of Dublin but of the people of Ireland and of all those who have the best wishes and best interests of the centre of Dublin at heart.

Ba mhaith liom ar dtús comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leat as ucht tú bheith ceaptha mar Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Tá súil agam go mbeidh tréimhse fada buan agat agus tá mé cinnte go bhfaighidh tú tacaíocht ó gach taobh den Teach san méid oibre atá le déanamh agat. Tá taithí fhorleathan agat agus tá an taithí sin ag teastail go géar sa Teach seo. Gura fada buan tú.

Go raibh maith agat.

I move amendment No. 1:

To add to the motion the following words:

"having full regard to the constraints imposed by the budgetary situation."

While Deputy Boland goes into considerable detail as to the way in which this commission legislation was framed and shows by the way in which he has addressed the matter this evening his personal commitment to that commission — I do not take from him in that — I should like him to try to understand that there are those of us who share in the regard that he has for the capital city. It happens to be my capital city, too, and indeed it is looked upon by all citizens of the State as their city. It is not simply the preserve of any one Deputy or group of Deputies of the House. We all fully understand and appreciate the importance of the capital city to the lifestyle and international standing of the community at large. Of course, it has a very great bearing on all the economic life in the country, both internally and externally, and the vast majority of the tourists who are attracted to our country come through the capital city. It has a very great importance. I perceived in the Deputy's tone that perhaps he might not regard people like myself from another part of the country as having the same love and understanding of the importance of the capital city to this State as a whole. He is perhaps too pessimistic about that matter, but he can rest assured that while I am Minister for the Environment I see and recognise the importance which the capital city has. It will be my intention to make sure that everything possible is done to enhance that capital city so that this House and the citizens of this State can be proud of it.

I have always felt that there was a great need in so far as the total appearance of the city was concerned. We do not drive to Leinster House in some blinkered way from other parts of the country and not take notice of the level of the difficulty of the run-down condition of the city and suddenly appear here and flit away at the weekend and be glad to be rid of it. There are occasions when that might be the case, but the Deputy can rest assured that in so far as the appearance of this city is concerned it is a matter of ongoing and continual discussion amongst all Deputies of the House. I can share with Deputy Boland the fact that over the past number of years certainly the city has become run down to a very large degree. The centre of the city is the place where one notices that most.

I am disappointed that Deputy Boland should use some of the terminology that he used this evening in so far as this issue is concerned. To refer to the potential vindictiveness of the Fianna Fáil Government in dealing with this matter is unfair and untrue. He will find very little vindictiveness in this Minister. It is not my style. I would sincerely hope that the same could be said of all my colleagues in Government although I cannot speak for them. Certainly I hope to ensure an open ministry in my term of office as I hope Deputy Boland will find. I am sorry the Deputy thinks that somehow the Government are taking a vindictive stand in this matter.

I found it difficult to understand why the Deputy moved the motion. He gave as the reason that he wanted it to be some kind of test of the sincerity of the Government on a particular matter. I did not see it like that. I have to say I saw it as a blatant act of political expediency, seeking to embarrass the Government on their first day of public appearance in this Chamber. That is not worthy of the Deputy. The motion could be addressed only in the way in which it has been responded to here by the amendment. Deputy Boland knows that full well. It would be wrong and irresponsible of me, and of the Government as well, to come in here in advance of a budget to be announced next week and divulge individual items or suggest how they might be addressed in the revamped Book of Estimates. That was made quite clear by the Taoiseach here today when he spoke of the original Book of Estimates and the fact that there will be changes which will be outlined in great detail on Tuesday next, that is, pluses, minuses, additions, subtractions and so on. It would have been preferable had Deputy Boland not introduced this motion at this time because, as I see it, it is provocative and inappropriate. I cannot seek to pre-empt the decisions that will be announced in the budget. It is unfair of the Deputy to put me under that pressure. Therefore, I do not see it as any kind of test of a political nature. I see it purely in the way I have described.

So much for the stated support we were to expect from the major Opposition party in dealing with the difficult decisions to be taken for the coming year. All those difficult decisions are being considered at present and were considered at a meeting of the Government today, on Sunday last and at meetings all last week. Everything must be taken into account — all matters right down to the subhead with the least amount of money allocated to it. Deputy Boland knows that. I cannot — and it would be wrong of me to do so — divulge what will be the final outcome of those discussions. I will not pre-empt the decisions to be taken by the Government in the final budget because some of those decisions have not yet been taken and discussions have not yet been completed.

Most Members of the House are aware that the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission are a statutory body established under the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission Act, 1986, which became law on 27 November 1986. The commission were established on 1 February 1987 under an order made by my predecessor, Deputy Boland, on 16 January 1987. Under the provisions of the Act the commission must be dissolved within a period of three years from that date. The commission consist of a chairman and six ordinary members, all of whom are appointed by the Minister for the Environment.

The area of responsibility of the commission is the Dublin metropolitan central area. That consists of that part of Dublin city centre running from Parnell Street, through O'Connell Street, West-moreland Street, D'Olier Street, College Green to Grafton Street, including some of the adjoining streets. In respect of that area it is the general duty of the commission to secure, by every practicable means, an improvement in the level of civic amenity and in the general standard of civic design with special reference to the convenience and safety of pedestrians and the general appearance of streets and buildings, including standards of design, maintenance and cleanliness, the regulation of traffic, parking and the provision of further civic amenities.

As a first step the commission are required to prepare an improvement scheme, or schemes, for the metropolitan central area in consultation with Dublin Corporation and the Dublin Transport Authority. The commission must have regard to the development plan drawn up by Dublin Corporation under the planning Acts and also make arrangements for submissions by interested persons. Such improvement schemes will be required to detail measures regarding buildings, advertisements, roads, paths, street furniture, trees and many of the other things mentioned by Deputy Boland in his contribution which the commission consider will have to be implemented in fulfilment of their obligations. Improvement schemes, when drafted, must be submitted for approval to me as Minister for the Environment. At the same time a copy must be sent to Dublin Corporation. The Minister is obliged to consider any objections to the scheme proposed by Dublin Corporation within one month of its submission. Once an improvement scheme is approved the commission will have considerable powers of a planning nature designed to enable them to secure compliance with and implementation of the scheme. The commission will have power to require property owners to remove or alter any structure and to provide suitable replacements, if appropriate. Property owners could also be required to discontinue any use of and to remove, alter, repair or tidy any advertisement or advertisement structures. Those are important powers with obvious implications in the area of compensation.

Under the provisions of section 10 of the Act the commission have general powers to carry out works of amenity development and environmental improvement in order to encourage people at work, shopping or otherwise to use the facilities provided in the area. These powers would allow the commission, among other things, to provide street furniture, floral decoration and other amenity facilities.

In addition to the powers, duties and functions I have just mentioned the Act provides for the transfer from Dublin Corporation and the Dublin Transport Authority of the following powers: the full range of powers of Dublin Corporation in relation to the construction, maintenance and improvement of public roads, the various traffic management functions of the Dublin Transport Authority in relation to taxis, bus stops, control of pedestrians, traffic and parking, traffic signs, the co-ordination of road openings, and the powers of Dublin Corporation in relation to the prevention and control of litter and the removal of house and trade refuse. These additional powers, which are both extensive and onerous, have not yet become vested in the commission. However, my predecessor, Deputy Boland, as one of his last acts in office, made an order on 9 March bringing the sections of the Act which transferred these powers to the commission into operation with effect from 1 June next.

In summary that is the technical position regarding the Act. I am aware that the commission have had a number of meetings and that a chief executive officer appointed by my predecessor has taken up office recently. A process of consultation with various interest groups likely to be affected has already been begun by the commission. However, as is only to be expected the commission have not yet submitted any improvement schemes to me for approval. To help them in this task of preparing improvement schemes the commission have the assistance of a professional consultant, also nominated for that purpose by my predecessor in office. It will be seen that my predecessor was very busy in this matter.

At this stage there is little more to be said about the implementation of the Act. The commission have been established and are operational. I am not aware that any proposals from the commission are before me and to my knowledge they are certainly not held up in the Department. Neither am I aware that any specific decisions are required of me at this stage under the Act. I am sure that the motion in the name of Deputy Fergus O'Brien was not put forward merely for the purpose of eliciting that information. Having left the Custom House within the last few weeks I have no doubt that Deputy O'Brien and Deputy Boland are fully informed about the operations of the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission and the stage reached in implementing the Act. We are thankful to Deputy Boland for informing us that the motion was put down in this way as a political test of the Government's intentions. The only political test of any consequence is the one which took place some weeks ago, which was resolved by the people of Ireland and which established me here instead of Deputy Boland.


I was in the House on a famous occasion when Deputy Cooney said "a win is a win anyway".

That is true, too.

The purpose of the motion is to test the consistency of the Fianna Fáil Party in this matter. I did not like the way in which Deputy Boland couched that test and the threatening manner he used in saying that if we did not comply with what he wanted in the way he wanted there would not be support and co-operation forthcoming from the Fine Gael benches. I do not know if Deputy Boland has the full leave of his new party chief to make statements like that but if what he says is a fact there is a decided shift in what was the stated objective and aim of the former Leader of the Fine Gael Party, in that support was promised to the Fianna Fáil Government in carrying out their functions in the best interests of the country and in the economic policies necessary to implement a proper fiscal policy. Maybe that was political clap-trap to accommodate the political environment at the time and maybe now because there has been a change in the leadership, a new set of ground rules are to be applied. We do not know that but we await further outpourings of Fine Gael wisdom as to how they will implement the stated position of the former Leader of their party.

The popular image of the commission was aided by the substantial publicity campaign mounted by Deputy Boland especially in the run-up to the General Election. The Deputy was active — he has been an active man all his life — and one must readily admit that he was particularly active in respect of this legislation despite the fact that he had difficulty in convincing a lot of his own people about the need for this legislation. Fair play to Deputy Boland, he got over the hurdles and into the finish; he got it on the book.

The Minister should take a lesson from him in determination.

Over the big jumps, too.

While I do not wish to get involved in idle banter, Deputy Boland was always one for jumping fences and he has knocked a few in his time.

The Minister should not go along on that line or we might find ourselves back in Cheltenham.

Others cast a cold eye on the former Minister's approach to setting up the commission apart from the members of Dublin Corporation and some Deputies on the Fianna Fáil side. Some on the other side of the House had very clear misgivings about the measure and they stated their objections. I am at a loss to understand why Deputy Boland was not familiar with some of the contributions made as to why there was some opposition to the measure which was introduced. I am sure he remembers the suggestion that this was just another layer of bureaucracy where an extra layer was not required and is aware that it was stated in the House during the debate on the matter that people had misgivings about the taking away of responsibilities and powers from the corporation. The Deputy is also aware that there were many in Dublin Corporation, including some of his own supporters and elected friends, who thought that in some way it was a vote of no confidence in Dublin Corporation in having this commission placed on top of them suggesting that they were unable to do their job properly. These things were stated here and some people went as far as to say that what the Minister was suggesting was slightly antidemocratic. When reading the contributions to that debate one gets a clearer picture, in hindsight, of the thrust of the opposition to that commission. I can well understand why some of the Deputy's colleagues in the corporation and other might have had misgivings about the legislation at the time, which was taking away some of their powers. They probably felt that the commission were pinching the best ideas of the corporation and the corporation were seeking funding at the time to do many of the things that Deputy Boland rightly says are so urgently needed to improve Dublin city centre. It is obvious from the contributions that Dublin Corporation already had plans. This is obvious when one reads Deputy Ahern's contribution at column 691 of the Official Report for 29 October 1986. I quote:

The corporation are engaged on a number of activities designed to improve the general environment of the city centre area. One of the most important of these is the pedestrianisation of streets, the special treatment of the street/pavement surfaces, the critical examination of items of street furniture and their renewal or replacement as necessary. The tasteful treatment of streets in this fashion will have a spinover effect into adjoining areas, and, it is hoped, will likely encourage owners of premises fronting on to them to take a special interest in their immediate environment and to reflect this by way of improvement in the treatment of their own frontages, sympathetic material in shop fronts and sign writing, window displays, floral displays in window boxes etc.

It is almost verbatim what Deputy Boland stated about the vital requirements necessary to enhance the centre of Dublin. I agree with it but it would appear from reading this contribution of 29 October 1986 that Dublin Corporation had well advanced plans in this matter. Perhaps in that submission lie the answers to some of the questions posed earlier by Deputy Boland.

Many people at that time said that the commission might be unworkable or might not work satisfactorily because of the great powers it would need to draw to itself from many other interested groups and that it might be unworkable in relation to traffic, refuse and planning. There was a lot of reference to that in the debate at the time and many said that perhaps Deputy Boland should have paid more attention to the corporation's needs and requirements to fund their stated objectives and for which their plan had been drawn up.

The purpose of my amendment here tonight is not to rake over old coals but to focus the attention of the House on the real issues which face us not just in implementing the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission Act but in implementing all other legislation and programmes. I would have hoped that such a reminder would not be necessary. It certainly should not have been necessary to Deputy Boland, barely two weeks into the Government's term of office, and only a week before the budget. I am sorry Deputy Boland found it necessary to put down this motion at this time because it made it necessary for me to put down my amendment in these terms. I will not read out any provisions relating to the budget a week in advance of that budget. It is unfortunate that a reminder of this kind is necessary. Since taking office two weeks ago the Government have been working against the clock in an attempt to review all aspects of public finances and all items of public expenditure to ensure that all the resources available to the country are used to the best advantage and that confidence and growth in the economy are restored.

It is not news to Deputy Boland and everybody else that the economic situation has deteriorated since 1 January 1987. There can hardly be a Member in the House who is not aware of the long hours that have been, and still are, spent formulating the budget to be presented next week. Long Government meetings are nothing new to Deputy Boland.

That is for sure.

Dare I say it? I presume he was present at most of those meetings and probably sat through some of the longest Government meetings ever held in this State. Our Government meetings were an essential part of the work involved in the review of all existing spending programmes and a review of the various expenditure commitments undertaken by the former Government.

When questioned by the Opposition today the Taoiseach stated the position as regards the abridged Book of Estimates and it was made quite clear that there would have to be movements in both directions, plus and minus, and that they will be put on the record next Tuesday. One would have thought Deputy Boland would have waited until that matter had been disposed of before going on one of his political quests to test the sincerity of the Fianna Fáil Administration.

The financial implications of the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission cannot be excluded from a necessary review of the kind we are undertaking into the economic situation, it would be inappropriate if we did that; because every single item is on the board. As I said, it is the Government's objective to examine critically every item of expenditure to see how each will fit into our overall approach of generating confidence and growth in the economy. The Estimate figures published by the previous Government included a provision of £3.4 million from Exchequer funds for the operation of the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission in 1987. This is approximately one third of the £10 million budget envisaged for the commission in their three years of operation under the Act. The provision for capital expenditure was £3 million and the balance of £400,000 was for current expenditure. The question to be asked is whether the country and the taxpayers can afford expenditure of this order in the current financial position. This is not admitting that this sum is in or out. I am putting it to Deputy Boland that all expenditure on all subheads, irrespective of size, must be looked at. Whatever the reason for the slippage — and there are a number of them — the Government are faced with the unenviable task of finding the additional sums needed. No item of expenditure can be excluded from a review in a situation of this kind. As I said, the Government have decided to withdraw certain allocations of funds already notified to local authorities following decisions made by the previous Government. I had to put a stop not just on this but on other matters as well until all economic matters are settled.

Allocations for expenditure on roads and amenity grants had also to be withdrawn pending completion of the review in the budgetary context, no more and no less and that is what the amendment says. I would have thought it reasonable to expect that a Government who would have to preside over expenditure for nine months of this year would not have had their hands tied by having all allocations suddenly disposed of under an Estimate which had not been agreed in this House and which did not have a budget or a Finance Bill to back them up. Surely it is not too much to expect that a Government would have available to them the spending of the money they were providing in their Estimates?

The Dublin Streets Commission legislation was devised, presented and passed in this House but I have had a number of representations claiming that there had not been full consultation with the corporation. How can the commission work to everybody's satisfaction when they need the co-operation and support not just of the corporation but of a whole range of other agencies?

All these matters are on the table and everything Deputy Boland said will be taken into account when considering the functioning and financing of the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission. At this stage, however, all these issues are subservient to the central consideration which is the state of the public finances and the preparation of the budget. I regret greatly that Deputy Boland moved this motion at this time. I regret also some of the excessive language he used. I ask that he be generous so far as the voting on this item is concerned and that he understand that the matter is not being disposed of and that the commission are not being disbanded, if that is the word to use. The matter is before the Government and until the budgetary position is settled I can go no further.

I would like to associate myself with the words of congratulation addressed to you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle by my party leader, Deputy O'Malley, earlier this evening. I also wish to be associated with the good wishes he expressed to the Minister on his appointment to his very important portfolio.

The subject matter of this resolution is, in my view, one which has deficiencies of certain kinds. The most important deficiency is that it failed to grapple with the real causes of urban decay in Dublin and was seen as a short-term interim measure to put right what had taken place through decay, disrepair and bad development in Dublin over 50 to 100 years. My first objection to this Bill, although my party supported it when it was first brought before this House, is one which is not fundamental but which could, in the fullness of time, seek to be properly amended, that is, it is temporary in nature. I do not believe it is possible to accomplish within three years the programme of work the Bill intended the commission to carry out. I do not believe for one minute that the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commissioners could accomplish anything but a tiny fraction of the work which it was envisaged they would undertake.

My second objection to this legislation is that if fails to address the problem which has arisen in the Dublin area in particular, but in all other urban areas too, from the inadequancies of the local government planning and development code. The various Acts brought in since 1963 to control and codify the law relating to planning have made no real distinction between urban and rural planning and have, as their basic characteristic, adopted the approach of negative planning, that is, that one could do with one's land what one wanted as long as it conformed with certain minimum criteria. I submit that that is a fundamental fault of our planning laws which has contributed to urban decay.

Urban property, streets and buildings cannot be expected to come into existence on a harmonious basis if they are left to market forces, struggling against legal, geographical and social complexities. Anybody who examines the history of urban planning in Dublin will come to the immediate conclusion that what we treasure most in Dublin arose not out of the actions of any elected bodies, such as the corporation, but out of the actions of non-elected bodies. The most attractive portions of this city were created either by the Wide Street Commissioners, 18th century and 19th century bodies, or alternatively by the great building estates and the grand landlords such as the Pembroke estate and Gardiner on the north side of the city.

The common feature to all the planning undertaken both by those estates and the Wide Street Commissioners is that they were done on the basis of a positive planning approach, where the person who took the ultimate decision as to how those areas might be laid out was somebody who had a positive view of how the streetscape in every case should appear. It is an important point to make that until such time as positive urban planning is applied to Dublin rather than the negative urban planning law we have now, there will be no improvement in the streetscapes of Dublin and there will be no general improvement in the wellbeing of the capital city.

The suggestion made this evening by the Minister is that his predecessor rushed the enactment and implementation of this legislation for cynical purposes. Anybody who was in any way alert to the circumstances in which the Metropolitan Streets Commissioners came into being and came to be established as a set of persons given their appointments would have to take into account the undoubted tensions between Dublin Corporation on the one hand and those who proposed the Bill on the other. It is not an unduly cynical view to express that if the political complexion of Dublin Corporation had been otherwise this Bill would not have come into being. The extent of the opposition to this Bill from the members of the Fianna Fáil Party at whatever level reflects more the fact that they at a particular time had a particular strength in Dublin Corporation and they felt that this Bill was in some way calculated to take away from the effectiveness of the corporation.

It is my belief that the major blame for urban blight in Dublin lies at the doorstep of the corporation. I do not say that with any disrespect for the members of the corporation because in the main they are unpaid people trying to do their best but the laws they are asked to operate and the structures which they have inherited from their predecessors leave them with no positive role in planning how Dublin should look and leave them also in control of traffic engineers and similar groups of expert servants whose view of what a city is and how a city can be conserved differs dramatically from the view of the ordinary person, not to mention the conservationists. If one looks not very far from this House at streets which have effectively been rebuilt during the lifetime of the 1963 local government planning and development code one could not but draw the conclusion that streets such as Cuffe Street have no thematic unity, have no consistency of construction or style and are evidence of complete confusion, haphazardness and an ugliness which is soul destroying to the people who have to live on those streets and to those who have to pass through those streets each day.

I ask the Members of this House to consider whether with very few exceptions the thrust and effect of the corporation's intervention in the affairs of this city and in its conservation have not been in the vast majority of cases negative and destructive. That is a great pity but it is one which is understandable. Looking through any of the great cities in Europe I would also invite the Members of the House to draw the conclusion that they have never been planned, laid out or conserved solely by representative bodies. There have always been bodies or individuals with extensive powers of a non-representative kind at the back of every worthwhile renewal project in Europe. Haussmann in Paris is an example of the kind of powers which an individual needed to transform a city into a beautiful one and to make sure it had certain characteristics and standards of architecture which made it attractive to the eye.

Therefore, the conclusion to which I am driven is that in order to plan a beautiful city you cannot entrust the function of conservation and the function of positive planning in terms of deciding how a streetscape should appear to a body who have a multiplicity of roles which include road widening, drainage, cleaning and all the various functions which Dublin Corporation are required to carry out and who have a multiplicity of demands upon their purpose. A fund has to be made available for the purpose of positive urban planning and it has to be entrusted to a group of people whose sole function is to engage in urban planning and who are not distracted by the other functions of representational politics which characterise Dublin Corporation today.

I believe that process is a long term one, just as the Wide Street Commissioners of the 19th century were in power for many years. It is also the case that in the latter years of the 20th century it is extremely naive to believe that a period of three years which involves, as the Minister told the House earlier, complex consultative processes could be expected to encompass the dramatic and far-reaching changes which are needed in order to make Dublin a beautiful city again.

I also believe that there are many good reasons for believing that our planning laws are, first, misunderstood and, secondly, inadequate to deal with the realities of our inner city problems. They are misunderstood in this sense. One of the Deputies for the Labour Party today spoke about an apparent and mistaken view of the Constitution which, in the view of the Deputy, stands in the way of mediating property rights with the common good.

It is my opinion that the Constitution does not prevent any worthwhile redrawing of our planning laws so that they can control in a far reaching way the manner in which urban land is used by its owners, the use to which it can be put and the way it can be developed. The recent Supreme Court decision, referred to by the Deputy, did not have the effect he suggested. On the contrary, it underlined the inadequacies of our planning laws and brought into focus the question of whether our planning laws with their very generous compensation procedures are not unconstitutional by reason of their generosity and arbitrary nature.

There is no reason to believe that Dublin Corporation have the power or the will to bring about urban renewal on a sufficiently wide scale. The Derelict Sites Act, 1961, was introduced to enable local authorities to prevent dereliction in the centre of their cities. It is remarkable that the Act is virtually unused in Dublin. Instances of its use have yet to come to my attention and I dare say those involved in the administration of the law at any level have rarely seen that Act used by local authorities to prevent dereliction in their area. The question arises: what powers do the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission need to enable them to ensure there is a change in the way our city is planned? I suggest that the commission should at least have been given the power to acquire property, to put together packages of land with clear title. One of the advantages of the Wide Street Commissioners was that they could acquire land, simplify its title and dispose of it by way of building lease or outright sale to people who were obliged to build in conformity with a street plan. That is how streets like Talbot Street, Henry Street, Grafton Street, Pearse Street and Capel Street came into existence. In those cases an agency intervened to buy up land compulsorily and transform it into simplified building lots that were given to those who had the will and the means to develop in accordance with a positive plan.

The only occasion when positive planning was attempted here was in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War in relation to O'Connell Street. That street was rebuilt to a very high uniform standard and it had great appeal until much of it was destroyed and vandalised by developers and shopkeepers who had low standards of taste. An architect was appointed to supervise the standards and streetscapes after the Civil War. Positive planning in that case was successful.

The powers given to the commissioners in the Act under discussion seem on the face of them to be concerned with small items such as the external appearance of buildings, street furniture, street surfaces and so on. However important they may be they cannot and should not be seen as a substitute for what is genuinely needed, a programme of urban renewal. Likewise, any person who believes that one can widen a road and tear down all the houses on it leaving it as an ugly scar in a city without any responsibility for rebuilding it and turning it into an artery of shops, houses and offices is gravely mistaken.

If one looks at the area of Dublin with which I am most familiar, the area between the canal and St. Patrick's Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral, one will see the amount of damage the corporation's road widening plans have done to the streets, the communities in the area and the concept of the city. It is self-evident that the corporation are one of the biggest agents of urban destruction. Therefore, it is proper that a specialised urban renewal agency should be established and that it should be given far reaching powers.

It is not the practice to interrupt any Deputy who is making a maiden speech but in congratulating the Deputy on his I should like to advise him that the order of the House is that the Deputy will continue until 8.30 p.m. when the debate will be adjourned and he will have six minutes tomorrow evening.

I shall conclude my contribution tonight. The Minister drew attention to the reservations expressed by some Members when the legislation was going through the House in regard to what was seen as the undemocratic nature of the powers given to the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commissioners. In my view those powers are necessary. They may appear undemocratic but they are the only practical powers which can be given to a positive urban renewal agency. They are inadequate as to their extent and duration. What is needed is a transformation of the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commissioners into a positive planning agency of a permanent kind with powers not merely to deal with superficial matters but to acquire sites and promote building in the city to a standard and design which is consistent with urban renewal.

Whatever the controversy that surrounded the conception of the Act and the pressures and tensions that now appear to characterise its birth this type of body is an essential part of urban renewal. Unless the planning code is altered and an urban renewal commission with far reaching powers is established, distinct from the local authority, all our best efforts at urban renewal will be a failure.

Debate adjourned.