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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 26 Apr 1989

Vol. 389 No. 2

Derelict Sites Bill, 1989: Committee Stage.

Section 1 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, before section 2, to insert the following new section:

"2.— This Act shall come into operation from the day that is three months after the date of the passing of this Act.".

I propose an amendment to section 2 which would replace the existing section in the Bill to read: "This Act shall come into operation from the day that is three months after the date of the passing of this Act." It is acknowledged that there is an urgent need to provide legislation for derelict sites. It is hoped that this Bill, when it is passed through this House, will solve the current problems in this area. The current section 2, in effect, leaves it to the Minister to determine when the Bill or part of the Bill will come into operation. It is not known whether this Bill itself will come into operation in six months, a year or two years or how long it may take regulations, that may be intended by the Minister to be published, to be brought into being to give effect to the Bill.

On our side we take the view that this legislation should become effective as soon as possible. Indeed the Fine Gael Party published a Private Members' Bill some months ago under the the name of my colleague, Deputy John Boland, due to our concern about this issue. We do not believe it is good for this House to pass an entire Statute through the House and then leave the Act passed in abeyance, in a sort of legislative limbo, until the Minister or his Department decide to bring different parts of it into force. It is our view that this Act should come into force as early as possible. We accept it may take some weeks for local authorities to make whatever arrangements are necessary to carry out some of their functions under the Act and the Minister may require some time to deal with any regulations or statutory instruments he intends to make. We would also assume that as the form of the Bill is known in his Department — the Bill has come through his Department — the Minister and his officials have particular regulations in mind to be brought into force by way of statutory instrument.

In the circumstances, we think it is reasonable that section 2 be amended so as to provide that this Act should come into effect within three months after the date of its passing. It is not unusual that such a provision is contained in a Bill. Unfortunately, over the years there has been a precedent whereby this type of provision that the Minister has included in this Bill ultimately has had the effect that some legislation has never been brought into force. There is the notorious example — not from the Minister's Department and it is no fault of this Minister — of the new Mental Treatment Act that was passed in 1980 but was never brought into force. There is still the extraordinary anomaly under the Civil Liability Act, 1961, in which there is a provision whereby local authorities can be sued in certain circumstances in the context of someone suffering an injury as a result of the authority being negligent in their maintenance of pavements but that has never been brought into force. We are not happy with this provision which lays down no maximum period by which the Bill must become operative. We hope the Minister may be able to indicate his support for the amendment we have proposed here.

Perhaps I might take the advantage of the empty Press Gallery to indicate how I think this House might wish to proceed on Committee Stage. There are certain amendments which no doubt the Minister is in a position to either oppose or accept. With all due respect to my learned colleague, which I think is the legal phrase, we should try to make as much progress as is possible on Committee Stage today. The four of us, with one other person, made outrageously slow progress when dealing with similar legislation recently. We were all to blame for that. While I will oppose the Minister on a number of fronts, this is not a front on which I wish to oppose him. The absence of any amendments from the Labour Party may be interpreted as general support on our part for the Bill. Any criticisms we have to make will be made on Report Stage. By way of an introductory remark, I ask Deputies to try to be as concise as possible on Committee Stage. If the Minister is not prepared to accept the Fine Gael amendment, would he be prepared to insert the words "not later than 12 months" or within some other fixed period of time which would meet the objective I think Deputy Shatter has in mind?

I thank Deputy Quinn for his opening remarks. We made tortuously slow progress on what I regard as very important legislation. I am not referring to the legislation by name. Perhaps it had some warts but it was infinitely better to have the legislation on the Statute Book rather than not. As a result, it will not be on the Statute Book for some time. I am pleased that this legislation is getting priority. This is necessary. I made this point before: this legislation should receive the support of everyone in the House. I would like to get the feeling that this is so across the floor of the House at an early stage. If an amendment will improve the Bill, and my advice is that the possibility is that it would, I will concede. If my advice is to the contrary I will oppose, but I will not be opposing for the sake of opposing.

I appreciate what Deputy Shatter is trying to achieve with his amendment. He wants to ensure the speedy implementation of this legislation. I agree with him that there is an urgent need to proceed with this very necessary legislation. Obviously, I would be reluctant to apply the timescale suggested by Deputy Shatter of three months to all local authorities. To do so could lead to difficulties. I am happy to concede that we should enforce this legislation as quickly as possible. In normal circumstances it is the function of the Minister to enforce the legislation as quickly as possible but, as the Deputy rightly said, this does not always happen. As far as this legislation is concerned, I would say that this will happen as I have an interest in it.

Can Deputy Shatter concede that or does he want to press it further? I want to have this legislation implemented as quickly as possible. If I thought difficulties would arise in expediting the legislation I would be a bit more reluctant. I would be happy to agree to a timescale of either six months or 12 months but let me also say that, unless the Deputy is anxious to insert some particular date, I would prefer him to leave it and let me implement it as quickly as possible. If he wishes to press it further, I will have to concede something to him. That is as fair as I can be.

I think we are all in agreement that this is not what one might describe as a party political measure. We all want the best legislation we can get in this area. I take Deputy Quinn's point that there may be some matters he wants to raise on Report Stage. It would be more usual, however, to raise them on Committee Stage. If one wants to give the Minister an opportunity to consider points, one raises them on Committee Stage and not on Report Stage where they cannot be teased out. I have no doubt about the intentions of the Minister in relation to this Bill and I have no doubt that he would not be bringing it before the House unless his intentions were serious. However, I am concerned about the way section 2 is currently phrased.

When we come to deal with some of the later sections some of us may want to advert to the appalling records of one or two local authorities, in particular Dublin Corporation. In the context of contacts between the Department and certain local authorities, there may be much special pleading that, because of their short staffing arrangements and because of the particular problems they face, this Bill should not be brought into force in their areas for some time. It would be of assistance to the Department if a particular date, regardless of the special pleading, on which this Bill will come into force was inserted. I am quite happy to concede that the Minister may need more than three months. That is not a point of principle. I merely wanted to raise this point at this stage. If the Minisiter is prepared to indicate to the House that he will bring in an amendment on Report Stage to amend the section to ensure that the Bill will come into general operation within six months or 12 months after its passage through the House with the Minister retaining the power to bring it into force at an earlier date in particular areas where he deems it appropriate to do so, I will be quite happy not to press the amendment today and to give him time to consider such an approach before Report Stage.

The reason I did not insert a particular date is that I feel that a period of 12 months would be too long. I am not happy about a period of three months either as there may be certain local authorities who may not be able to comply with the deadline.

The Minister could insert the phrase "not later than".

I would be happy to consider that. I will bring in an amendment on Report Stage. I would be rather reluctant to include "not later than 12 months" because, if I were to do so, some would take full advantage of this and I do not want that to happen. I would like the legislation to be implemented as quickly as possible without tying my hands. We are all agreed that there is urgency attaching to this matter and I agree to bring in an amendment on Report Stage.

In using the "not later than" formula it would be open to the Minister to implement the legislation earlier than the particular date specified. As we all know, there is also the possibility which arises in political life that in six or seven months time there may be a reshuffle, a change of Government, and the Minister may have moved to another Department and a colleague of his may have taken over in the Department who may not be as well acquainted with this area as he is. This House needs some assurance that, having done the work and passed this Bill, it will come into operation within a reasonable space of time. On the basis that the Minister will consider this suggestion before Report Stage, I am quite happy not to press this amendment at this stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 2 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 6, subsection (1) (g), lines 4 and 5, to delete "(f) or (g)" and substitute "(e) or (f)".

The purpose of this amendment is to correct a drafting error, no more than that.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 6, subsection (1), to delete lines 6 to 9, and substitute the following:

" `structure' includes any building, dwelling, erection, excavation, or other thing, constructed, erected, or made on, in or under any land, or any part of a structure so defined, and where the context so admits, includes the land on, in, or under which the structure is situate;".

I will be relatively brief. On Second Stage a number of Deputies were anxious to ensure that the definition of "structure" would make reference to dwellings. It was pointed out by my colleague, the former Taoiseach, Deputy FitzGerald, that the definition of "structure" when linked in with some of the other provisions in the Bill seemed somewhat tautological. It is important that we ensure that the definition contains references to dwellings. The definition in the Bill reads rather peculiarly in that it states that "structure" means any building, erection, structure, excavation or other thing, constructed, erected and so on. I take it that we would all assume that "structure" means structure. It could also mean anything other than structure.

What does an erection mean?

That is something on which the Progressive Democrats may have a particular view. I would hope it is not derelict. In the amendment I propose, I deleted the reference to "structure" as meaning structure as it seems that it is a meaningless concept. I simply state that "structure" includes any building, dwelling, erection, excavation and so on. In other words, the word "dwelling" is specifically included. I also agree that a dwelling, by definition, is also a building. If the Department thought it was necessary to say that "structure" means structure it would seem that we should also ensure that no contested legal issue could arise as to whether a reference to a dwelling is included within the definition of a building. We might as well be as explicit as we can and have the definition clear. This amendment does not make any dramatic change. It will clarify for anyone who is interested and concerned what we mean by "structure".

I appreciate that the Deputy is trying to improve on the drafting of the definition of the word "structure". While the revised proposed draft appears to be adequate, I am somewhat reluctant about departing from the original definition in the Bill. This is expressed in identical terms with the definition of "structure" which is set out in section 2 (1) of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, and which has been established in law and in judicial interpretation of land use and issues for some 25 years. It has stood the test of time and has not fallen. If it had obviously the question of it being interpreted in any other way to weaken it would arise. "Dwelling" must be included in normal understanding as being so ascertained over the years. For that reason, I invite the Deputy to allow something that has withstood the test of time to remain a little longer.

The definition in the 1963 Act is equally defective and it has stood the test of time because although judges have looked at it and thought it was rather odd that "structure" meant a structure, they applied a degree of common sense in interpretation. If the 1963 Act got something wrong there is no reason to regard it as laid down in tablets of stone and continue to get it wrong for decades thereafter.

We all know that there are oddities in the planning Bill with which we will be dealing another day. I hope the Minister will accept the amendment in the spirit in which it is intended because, as it is phrased, it will ensure that structures remain structures as they have been defined in the planning Act, but will make it quite explicit that dwellings are included. In a sense this is a definition in a new Bill and there is no absolute certainty that the Judiciary will necessarily apply it in the same way. I hope the Minister will accept that my definition is all inclusive and that it gets over the oddity of simply saying that "structure" means a structure. We might as well get it right instead of repeating the oddities of the past.

I understand Deputy Shatter's desire to get things right, but I cannot understand how a phrase that says "any building, any erection or any structure" could somehow be deemed to exclude the concept of a dwelling.

That is the point.

It is inconceivable as a dwelling surely has to be defined as a building, a structure or an erection. Perhaps the Minister can tell us the difference between a building and an erection?

They are all covered under "structure" and have been interpreted by the courts on many occasions. It is quite clearly understood that "structure" includes dwelling. Why alter something that has been effective and efficient over the years? I appreciate that Deputy Shatter would like to improve the definition, but the advice is that this has stood for over 25 years. Some of the definitions have been very keenly judged over the last 25 years but they have stood up to it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 3, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

I accept that my amendment in which I sought to delete the words "by a State authority" is out of order because it would indirectly result in a charge on the State. I am concerned that the definition of "urban land", the way it is interlinked with later sections of the Bill means in effect that if the local authority have within their area a piece of land or a building owned by a State body or Government Department, that has become derelict, they may not levy any charge or take any action under the Bill. They cannot require such bodies to put their house in order. That is a questionable approach and there is no reason for a Government Department, State authority or body being exempt from application of the provisions of the Bill in this context. They should not be given a free ride to behave as they wish with their property in a way that might be to the detriment of those who have property or to the detriment of the use of neighbouring lands.

The Bill allows the Minister to consult colleagues who have responsibility in Government and State authorities. The point was made on Second Stage that if the Minister for the Environment had to continuously engage in discussions with his ministerial colleagues whose Government Department came under their aegis and had derelict lands, the Bill would never operate. I do not see why this exemption should be in the section.

Another concern which will arise for a more detailed discussion in a later amendment is in the context of the definition of "urban land". Subsection (b) gives rise to considerable concern because it exempts from the definition of "urban land"— the basis on which a levy will be charged — lands that have become derelict as a result of the development objectives in a local government development. In particular, it refers to the practice of reserving the land for roads or parking places. A blight has been imposed on the city of Dublin by Dublin Corporation for decades due to the long-term road widening objectives that successive corporation officials have imposed on the city. They are very often long-term road objectives that will never result in road building.

Dublin Corporation are the body singly responsible for the majority of the dereliction in the city. By their long-term road widening plan, they have created a situation in parts of Dublin where properties in poor condition have been allowed to become derelict by owners because they know that those properties have fallen within the framework of long-term road widening objectives. They have a residual hope that there might be a compulsory purchase order and the moneys they would have to raise to make good those properties make it an uneconomic proposition for them to do so while under the threat of a road widening proposal. Dublin Corporation have been responsible in this area for continuing a practice which is still seen in the current draft development plan that the corporation are dealing with. Some of the less realistic long-term road widening and roads proposals have been removed from that draft plan but we could take up a great deal of the time of the House producing maps from the current draft plan which the corporation are looking at listing areas in the city where the road objectives have no reality at all.

This provision is seriously defective in that it appears in a sense to leave it to the corporation to continue to create dereliction within the city. It would be unjust, where that dereliction has been caused by the corporation, to impose a penalty on the people who own the land. I will be proposing an amendment which will enable the Minister to take steps with a local authority who have unrealistic road widening proposals so as to tackle the problem of dereliction. I invite the Minister, in the context of Report Stage, to look not just at the problem of exempting State authorities but at what is in effect the blanket exemption given to local authorities, in particular Dublin Corporation, to continue to include long-term road widening objectives in development plans from decade to decade that have no reality in being built.

There should be a limit imposed on the extent to which the planners can designate parts of a city or a county in the context of a long-term roads proposal. It is unfair to people who live in the city, to those who own the properties, and it is the cause of planning blight and of dereliction. There are a lot of good things in the Bill which, in many ways, reflect many of the ideas contained in the Fine Gael Private Members' Bill. There is no doubt that the two Bills together reflect work that was being done during the lifetime of the last Government and which is being continued during the lifetime of this Government. Unfortunately the problems in this area are not being tackled. I have no doubt that this problem will continue after the Bill is passed. I can see major disputes arising. In some instances disputes may arise when a local authority try to levy moneys, as provided for in the Bill, on buildings they allege to be derelict. Those against whom they try to levy the moneys will resist payment if they do not fall directly within the areas of the long-term road widening objective on the basis that that objective indirectly impinges on the value of their property to either make it uneconomic to keep it in good repair or prevent a new development taking place to end the problem of dereliction.

I am concerned to highlight that problem in relation to the definition of urban land. Other Members of the House are concerned about it and it was referred to on Second Stage. I cannot table amendments on this issue because I cannot seek to impose a charge on the State in the context of State authorities, and there may be difficulties in regard to local authorities. It is because of that that I invite the Minister to have another look at the definition and at how we are dealing with local authorities that are causing dereliction.

I should like to make two brief points on the section. In principle it is wrong that the State should regularly seek to exempt itself from Bills of this nature. It appears to me to make one law for the private citizen and to seek to apply other standards to the area of responsibility within the general jurisdiction of the State. By the "State" in this case I mean Government Departments, local authorities, health boards, vocational education committees and semi-State bodies. In cases like this they are a serious contributory part of the problem and I should like to ask the Minister to consider the wisdom of incorporating, as he is proposing to do, this easy option for areas under the jurisdiction of the State. It is wrong in principle, possibly is wrong constitutionally, and certainly wrong socially, that a citizen who owns a piece of land should have to operate within a set of more rigorous parameters than the State which is designed to be the servant of the same citizenry. It is wrong and I take issue with it.

Deputy Shatter has correctly pointed to the difficulty of the long-term reservation of land for roads. It is proposed to continue to facilitate local authorities in this respect. I would not be as harsh as Deputy Shatter with regard to local authorities. There are clear reasons why this problem arises and the Minister might usefully invite in three or four of the senior managers of local authorities to discuss the reason why it can take 20 to 25 years to put together a piece of ground for necessary road development or housing development. It is wrong to have a clause in a Bill which exempts pieces of property which are, apparently, designed for the purpose of reserving the land for roads when there is no definition of "reserving". In this case, as I am aware from my experience on my local authority, "reserving" can be purely notional. It can have no support from Government or Government Departments.

In drawing the Minister's attention to those two points I should like to ask him to clear them up. If they are not, and the Bill is passed as it is, I have no doubt that the contribution of local authorities — they are not the biggest offenders although they are significant contributors to the problem — to dereliction, blight and urban decay will continue. The facility exists for them and, apparently, is being continued in the Bill. I hope the Minister addresses those serious issues now or before Report Stage. If I had my way the same law would apply to a local authority as applies to the people who pay the bills for the local authority, the taxpayers.

In fairness to the drafters of the provision one must read the definition in the context of section 24. It could be construed that it is nonsense to have a local authority levy itself. If we accept that local authorities are from time to time going to be the owners of derelict land, as is the case, we have to decide if we are going to ignore that altogether or if we are going to give them some type of incentive to use that land as quickly as possible. By the same definition property developers, private developers, State and other authorities such as semi-State bodies and local authorities, will from time to time be the possessors or acquirers of derelict land. However, we are building into the Bill some degree of carrot and stick to ensure that the period of dereliction is as short as possible. I am sure all Members agree with that objective.

I am not a lawyer but in my view this definition could be construed in some respects to be unconstitutional because it is discriminatory. It makes a clear discrimination in regard to a levy between one kind of landowner and another by virtue of the nature of the owner. The principle of equality before the law, referred to by Deputies Shatter and Keating, is, as I understand it as a legislator, being violated in this instance. It may be that it is being violated because the drafters of the Bill want to avoid the implicit circular transfer. Section 24 gives details of how the levy on urban land will operate. It states that a local authority can levy land in different ways. Subsection (2) states that a derelict sites levy shall be paid by the owner of urban land to the local authority in whose functional area the said land is situated. I concur substantially with Deputy Shatter's analysis that the biggest culprit for the state of land dereliction in Dublin city is the local authority. It makes, to a certain extent, legal and administrative nonsense for the finance department or the property development department of Dublin Corporation to be imposing a levy on the roads section or some other division of the corporation.

On reflection it may not make such a nonsense. If a local authority had to pay a levy on land it was keeping derelict and if that levy was paid to central Government there would be an internal system of pricing and monitoring that would ensure that parcels of land would not be forgotten. That is what is happening at present. The Workers' Party, in the course of their amendment, which was not moved, proposed to delete all State and local authority owned land from the condition. If that occurred the entire purpose of the exercise would be set at nought.

We might as well tear up the rest of the legislation if we are going to exclude public authorities as landowners from the levy. However, there should be some way around this system. I can see from an administrative point of view the kind of nonsense of a local authority levy in itself but perhaps there could be some form of internal pricing — and that is what we are talking about — in real terms that would require a local authority, if they acquired land or went for a CPO, to take on board only that amount of a CPO which they knew they were capable of putting to good use by way of reconstruction and redevelopment. Because there has been no form of pricing, so to speak, or prioritisation in effective terms, what has happened in the past is that local authorities at one section — I am talking about the larger ones — have taken large chunks of land much in advance of their ability to transform that land into the redevelopment structure, road widening or whatever, they wanted to carry out. Whatever other benefits may have accrued in the process of that particular transaction such as making it easier for the administrators, having only one public hearing and so on, people in urban areas have had to suffer the consequences of dereliction and planning blight, of which the local authorities have been a primary cause.

I should like the Minister to look at how he proposes to lean on local authorities to ensure that they do not continue to hold on to derelict land. I know the Minister has that power but I am not necessarily happy that his successor may be as strident in exercising it because it is a very discretionary power and provides that "the Minister may ...". That is totally different from ensuring that once a levy is set on derelict land there is an automatic pricing system. That is really my point. This is a complex legislative matter and I invite the Minister to respond to it now and perhaps he can look at it more substantially between now and Report Stage. If we exclude State-owned and local authority-owned land from this definition, we will have to have much stronger coercive measures in the area of public-owned land which is derelict so that there is not a discretion on the one hand for public-owned land and a mandatory requirement on the other for privately-owned land.

First, I want to apologise for not being here to move my amendment. It is nobody's fault but my own. I should have been here but I was not.

The amendment I proposed to move would have ensured that local authorities would not be excluded from this provision. Under section 4 both local authority and State authority dwellings or land are excluded from the provision. The purpose of the amendment I intended moving was to allow State authority dwellings or land to be excluded but not those of the local authorities. The amendment proposed excluding all words after "the local authority and its functional area" down to line 24 in section 4. I agree with Deputy Quinn that it may seem strange for a local authority to levy themselves but I see no reason for their not doing so. Of course, it would be different for the State authority to do this and it would be rather foolish. There is ample precedent for excluding the State from such provisions, for example, the Planning Acts, on the old ground that, presumably, the king can do no wrong. Nevertheless, the king does terrible wrong, as all kings did, and as the State still does in the planning area. The State does not have to seek planning permission and it can carry out terrible acts in the planning area.

What I am saying is that while there is precedent for the State authority to be excluded from such legislative provisions there is no reason the local authorities should be excluded. Local authorities have to seek planning permission from each other and in the Dublin area Dublin City Council, when they were building houses three years ago, had to seek planning permission from Dublin County Council. There is no reason local authorities should not be included in this provision and levied in whatever way those in the private sector are levied.

In Dublin city, in particular in the inner city areas — the area between the canals — the greatest level of dereliction has been caused by the inner tangent ring road which was planned 30 years ago and which has over the long period consistently created decay, moved forward bits and pieces and caused buildings to be knocked down. Only last year a lovely old pub at the corner of Kevin Street or Cuffe Street was knocked down to make way for the inner tangent ring road and only last autumn one side of Parnell Street was knocked down after years of dereliction. We can see dreadful derelection in King Street where there are railings and weeds where once there were houses and people full of life. There is a huge amount of dereliction in the inner city area, the part of the city people constantly travel through and visit and which is visible at all times to tourists. This area of the city suffers most from dereliction and much of this is due to the inner tangent ring road. When dereliction reaches a certain stage — and, of course, this is part of the plan — all those who have been opposed to the building of roads in that area suddenly agree to the building of a road because they believe anything is better than the dreadful dereliction there. That is exactly what happened in Clanbrassil Street where after years of dereliction in the area people said the road should be built because the area was in such a bad state.

The local authority have a responsibility in this area. I am not saying that local authorities should not build roads, carry out repairs or widen roads, but the decision to build an inner tangent ring road which no matter what resolution was passed by the local authority councillors, could not be changed once it was set down 30 years ago, is an example of the managerial and dictatorial system which exists in local authorities who do not have powers. They simply have power to create public opinion and if we allow them to escape from the provisions in this Bill it will not make any sense to the public.

Apart from the question of levies there are also other provisions in the Bill from which local authorities will be excluded if we exclude them from the provision in this section, so it is important that they should be included in this provision. I ask the Minister to look again at why local authorities should not be included in the Bill. I can understand why a State authority should not be included in this provision. However, some time ago a house in Merrion Square which is in the ownership of the Office of Public Works had weeds growing out of it. If there are problems in that area surely the Minister should deal with them. I agree that the State should not be included in this section but I do not agree that the local authorities should be excluded and I ask the Minister to look again at including the local authorities in the provisions here.

A lot of the arguments are not really appropriate to this section. I take it that they will come up again on a subsequent section. What we are talking about here are definitions. To answer some of the points made, the first thing that has to be said is that the local authorities are not exempt from the provisions of this Bill. There is a general duty on local authorities under section 11 to see to it that any land they have does not fall into dereliction. The one exception is that they will not have to pay the levy. That is the only exemption that exists so far as local authorities are concerned.

Is the Minister suggesting that that is the only language they would understand?

Wait a moment now. The provisions of this Bill will apply to semi-State and to other statutory bodies. There is no exemption there so far as the levy is concerned — and that should be understood — other than for the Minister, and that means Ministers of the Government. Of course, the Minister has a very particular power which was referred to by Deputy Quinn to direct the disposal by local authorities or statutory bodies of their land if they are not keeping it in a non-derelict condition. That is a very exceptional power which is embodied in this legislation. So far as the local authorities are concerned, everything that applies to everybody else is included except the question of paying the levy to themselves. The only reason for that is that it would involve the question of transfers because of the considerable sums of money the State and the Exchequer give to the local authorities in support of their total funding.

I have no doubt that if we were to apply a levy to local authorities which they were to levy against themselves and they were winding it up, and because of that they were getting an enormous sum of money into their coffers, it would immediately be understood by Finance and a clawback would be involved. It would not serve any useful purpose. We are not facilitating local authorities so far as the reservation of land for roads or anything else is concerned. We are only exempting the unfortunate land owner — and that is important — from paying the levy because of reservations which are put in by the local authority. It is not that we are accommodating the local authorities in that regard. Of course, we all appreciate the fact that the precedent is there in these matters so far as the levying of local authorities is concerned and the State is not subject to rating. It never has been and the same would apply so far as the principle of the State paying money to itself is concerned.

It is well to remember — and this is, perhaps, something that has been overlooked in the definitions — so far as derelict land is concerned and, perhaps, this will answer Deputy Mac Giolla, that derelict land owned by one local authority in the administrative area of another local authority is not exempt from the levy. It is only non-leviable if a local authority own land in their own administrative area. That is an important aspect which might be overlooked.

On a point of clarification, does a semi-State body come under the categorisation of a State authority?

Semi-State and statutory bodies are leviable.

Does a State authority include the Army or Government offices?

Or the OPW?

It covers the Ministers of Government or the OPW. It covers an enormous range and covers many of the issues raised by the Deputy. The question of reservations is adequately dealt with in so far as we are not providing any facilitation for local authorities. By and large there is a better understanding of the section.

Accepting what the Minister says, it is right that the definition of land should not result in the local authority levying the owner of land which has become derelict due to the action of the local authority. The point I was trying to make is that we start off with that definition and then go through a plan of the Act. The Bill does not prescribe how to cope with the problem of the local authority who take actions which result in land in private ownership becoming derelict. That might define the problem to a greater extent. I fully accept that section 11 is there. It states:

It is the duty of a local authority to take all reasonable steps .... to ensure any land situate .... does not become or .... continue to become a derelict site.

That is a duty but when land is in private ownership how do you get the local authority to comply with that duty? At a later stage — and it might have been of assistance to the House if we had taken it at this stage and in conjunction with this section — we will come to an amendment which I have proposed to section 13 which is of relevance in this context. If a local authority have long term road widening proposals which will not produce a road in the next ten or 20 years and their long term declared objective is causing dereliction, how do you get the local authority to take a different approach so as not to cause dereliction? It is one thing to say that the landowner will not be levied but the landowner finds there is a blight on his property. He cannot sell it, he cannot develop it and he is tied into it by virtue of the actions of the local authority. I am not sure what this Bill does in the context of section 11 to enable the enforcement of the duty. It is not a question of the Minister requiring the local authority to sell the land because it is not owned by the local authority. It is still in private ownership so that issue does not arise.

The Bill should contain a provision requiring local authorities, once they declare such objectives, to buy the land automatically rather than leaving it as a long term objective to wait until the day dawns when five, ten, 15 or 20 years later either a compulsory notice is served to purchase or the local authority change their mind and remove the long term objective. I do not know if either of these objectives is envisaged. There is certainly nothing in this Bill that would require purchase.

If local authorities were required, within a specified time, to purchase lands for which road objectives were designated it would very rapidly result in local authorities, such as Dublin Corporation, taking a more realistic view as to what lands they so designate. Perhaps we will come back to this matter at a later stage. We are talking about local authorities creating dereliction on lands in private ownership and this Bill contains no teeth to require the local authorities to take a different approach. I am not saying the local authorities should not have long term road widening objectives — they must have for a normal planning system — but those objectives should be based on reality and should not be based on a fantasy as some of them are, certainly within the city of Dublin.

Question put and agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 6, before section 4, to insert the following new section:

"4.—In this section `derelict site' means any land (in this section referred to as `the land in question') which detracts or is likely to detract to a material degree from the amenity, character or appearance of land, buildings or a dwelling or dwellings in the neighbourhood in question because of—

(a) the existence on the land in question of a structure or structures which are in a dilapidated, ruinous or derelict condition, or

(b) the neglected, unsightly or objectionable condition of the land, buildings or dwellings or any other structure or structures on the land in question, or

(c) the presence, deposit or collection on the land in question of any litter, rubbish, debris or waste, except where the presence, deposit or collection of such litter, rubbish, debris or waste results from the exercise of a right conferred by statute or by common law.".

This amendment deals with the concept of derelict sites. There are a number of differences between this section and the original section contained in the Bill. In the context of talking about a derelict site meaning any land which detracts, or is likely to detract, to a material degree from the amenity, character or appearance of land, buildings, or a dwelling or dwellings in the neighbourhood, the specific reference here is to the words "land", "buildings", "a dwelling" or "dwellings". The intent is to ensure that if a property is derelict and that dereliction only impinges on one neighbouring dwelling or a neighbouring building, the concept of derelict site will be said to apply to it. It is also designed to ensure that where a property becomes dilapidated as opposed to being in a ruinous, derelict or dangerous condition, action can be taken in the context of it being regarded as a derelict site. One could persuasively argue that something reaches a dilapidated condition before it reaches a ruinous condition or a dangerous condition. It is proposed accordingly that the word "dilapidate" will add something to the Bill. Reference to a dilapidation was contained in the Private Members' Bill being circulated. I would ask the Minister to give favourable consideration to this amendment.

Section 4 reads:

In this section "derelict site" means any land ... which detracts, or is likely to detract, to a material degree....

It occurs to me that in that context it might be argued that derelict land might only mean land which detracts or can be said to detract from the value of land in the neighbourhood. What I am trying to achieve is that where, for example, there is a broad stretch of street or a widespread area of dereliction, and one has a piece of property or a site at the centre of it, one could not argue that it did not detract from the value of land, because the rest of the place is run-down and derelict.

The thrust of section 4 seems to refer only to the impact of the derelict site on the neighbourhood, the implication being that it is unique in terms of the neighbourhood. In a wide area of dereliction each individual site is objectionable, so I simply want to include a reference which would say that the site if it is neglected, unsightly or in an objectionable condition, regardless of its impact on the area, would be covered by this Bill. At present it appears to suggest that a derelict site is derelict only if it is likely to detract to a material degree from the neighbourhood. Surely it is more than that. There are parts of my own constituency where derelict sites do not detract from the neighbourhood because the whole area is derelict.

The amendments all have the commendable purpose of attempting to improve on the definition of "derelict site"——

On a point of order, are we talking here about amendment No. 8?

Yes. The way in which the amendments are framed suggests that the proposers are largely satisfied with the definition proposed in the Bill but see the possibility of improving on it in a certain marginal way.

One of the concerns in amendment No. 6 is to make it clearer that the reference to structures comprehends the singular as well as the plural. My preliminary reaction is that this is adequately covered by the Interpretation Act. I will see that the parliamentary draftsman is consulted and if necessary I will have an amendment drafted on Report Stage.

The purpose of the rest of the changes suggested by amendment No. 6 is less obvious. The proposers add buildings and dwellings to land, apparently in an attempt to amplify the meaning of the latter, but under section 3 "land" is defined to include any structure. We have already discussed the question of structures, and structure is defined comprehensively to include every conceivable building and without doubt to include dwellings. I do not see how the second set of drafting changes can be necessary. It might only serve to cast doubt on the existing definitions of land and structure.

I am having second thoughts about dilapidation, and I will consider that. It is necessary to refer that back. I support the point of view expressed in relation to dilapidation, and if there is something that has to be adjusted subsequently, I will do so. I will apply the same kind of logic to amendment No. 8.

Amendment No. 7 would posit the neglected, unsightly or objectionable condition of land as a criterion for dereliction on its own, and not necessarily as connected with the neighbourhood and surroundings. I am somewhat reluctant to take this proposal on board. Neglected, unsightly or objectionable are all somewhat subjective concepts and interpreting them in isolation might lead to argument or to litigation. I am very conscious of that in all matters connected with this legislation.

Deputy Quinn referred to it in another context but at the basis of all my discussions with my advisers, we were very conscious of that possibility running right throughout this legislation. That is why I have to be careful about accepting some of the amendments, even though I like the tone in which they are proposed and the ideas behind them. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to take them on board.

The definition as drafted embodies these concepts but subordinated to the more basic criterion of whether a site detracts or is likely to detract to a material degree from the amenity and character of the neighbourhood, my advice is that classification of derelict land based on this more general and flexible criterion is more likely to stand up to a challenge. For that reason I would ask Deputies to appreciate the points made.

I thank the Minister for saying he will give consideration to the two points raised in my proposed amendment. In the context of the Minister so indicating, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 6, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 not moved.

We will now deal with amendment No. 9 in the name of Deputy De Rossa and others. Amendment No. 10 is an alternative and so it can be discussed with No. 9 by agreement. Agreed.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 7, lines 4 to 10, to delete subsection (2), and substitute the following:

"(2) Where it is proposed to make regulations under this Act, a draft of the regulations shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas, and they shall not come into effect until a motion approving of the draft has been passed by each such House.".

A similar section to this appears in many Bills. I have moved similar amendments to other Bills in the past but they have never been accepted by any Minister. The purpose of the amendment is to do away with the procedure used in the Bill which means that regulations are slipped through if people are not very alert so that they can put in a motion of annulment. My alternative wording would mean that the Minister would have to bring the regulation before the House with a motion approving the draft. In that way the House would be aware that a regulation was being issued and the draft would be before them for approval and when approved by each House would become law. The current procedure is that the Minister can make a regulation and if nobody spots it within 21 sitting days of the House, even though it might have been opposed, and nobody has put down a resolution annulling the regulation within 21 sitting days, it goes through automatically. Many regulations go through in this way without the knowledge of many Deputies. It would be far more democratic if a Minister were to bring his regulation before the House in the form of a draft motion for approval. That is what I am proposing.

May we hear the Minister on his amendment No. 10, which is an alternative to Deputy Mac Giolla's amendment No. 9?

Amendment No. 10 reads:

In page 7, subsection (2), line 4, after "Act" to insert", other than a regulation referred to in section 24 (4),".

This amendment is consequential on amendment No. 34. Under amendment No. 34, regulations under section 24 prescribing an increase in derelict sites levy greater than 2 percentage points will have to be approved by affirmative resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas. This is an exception to the general provision under section 5 whereby regulations will be subject only to the annulling resolution within 21 days.

Amendment No. 10 states that this exception is in relation to regulations arising under section 24. In Deputy Mac Giolla's amendment No. 9 he wants to be able to apply the exceptional procedure of affirmative confirmation by the Oireachtas to all regulations made under it. I know of no precedent in any legislation for invoking this procedure across the length and breadth of legislation. The procedure of presenting regulations subject to annulment only is the standard one for regulations of the routine kind. It is only where policy issues of particular importance are concerned, or matters which are tantamount to elaborating on legislation, that the procedure of affirmative confirmation is normally used. I know that Deputy Mac Giolla and his people have been making this connection in all legislation before the House for some considerable time. It has nothing to do with this legislation in isolation from the other legislation before the House. It is the policy of The Workers' Party to pursue this point in all legislation. To date it has been rejected and when you consider what my amendment No. 10 proposes, that is adequate to deal with what we want.

I support the sentiment of the amendment in the name of The Workers' Party Deputies. However, given the appalling record of legislation achievement in enacting the main body of legislation, the idea that we would subject ourselves also to having to bring in every regulation would bring this House to a close. We are still in the Stone Age of taking 20 to 25 minutes to conduct a vote in this House at present. With a more streamlined and modernised Dáil procedure I would support this section in terms of how we would introduce regulations for all types of legislation. Deputy Mac Giolla indicated that this is a standard type of section for which The Workers' Party have consistently proposed an affirmative type of order rather than an annulling order. I recognise that what the Minister is doing in his amendment which we are taking together with Deputy Mac Giolla's is something quite different. He is actually enabling the House to second guess in a sense, or turn down the amount of a levy above 2 per cent which the House may feel is excessive or not sufficient, relative to the circumstances. The House will recall that on Second Stage when we talked about this section in general terms it was a question of how to make an efficiency tax efficient — if I can paraphrase my own phrase. You can get collective opinion but that, conducted behind closed doors, may be deemed to be excessive, arbitary or inadequate. I welcome the Minister's provision. It opens up a debate in which the House can have a full chance to decide whether the amount of money proposed to be levied on whomever is adequate or inadequate. I compliment the Minister and those who drafted the provision. It has got over a certain degree of rigidity in the way in which some people felt that this system might be operated. Time will tell as to how effective it is when it is in operation. I think that it is the right kind of thinking and would encourage it.

I thank Deputy Quinn. It is a start down the road of getting greater involvement by the Chamber in dealing with these matters. This is a good place to start in so far as levies are concerned. It applies to increases from previous years' levies also, which gives the double safeguard to the House if they wish to pursue it. I have my doubts whether it will be as effective in practice as in the preaching of it here in the legislation.

We have amendment No. 9 in the name of Deputy Mac Giolla and other Deputies and amendment No. 10 in the name of the Minister. How stands amendment No. 9 now?

As the Minister is not accepting it, I will withdraw it. I do accept the Minister's amendment.

Amendment No. 9, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 7, subsection (2), line 4, after "Act", to insert ", other than a regulation referred to in section 24 (4),".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 4, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 5 and 6 agreed to.

Amendment No. 11 is in the name of Deputy Keating.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 7, subsection (1) (b), line 25, after "it" to insert "with some person over sixteen years of age".

The purpose of this amendment is to seek to be fair in relation to the delivery of the fairly important service of notice which is dealt with in this section. In subsection (b) line 25, it is stated that notice can be served on the person under this Act by "leaving it at the address at which he ordinarily resides or, in a case in which an address for service has been furnished, at that address." In the case of derelict sites, we may very well be talking about an empty building or a shell, or structure, or dwelling, which may very well be boarded up, vacated and so on. To be fair about it, the notice should be left with some person. That is not unreasonable.

I do not want to inhibit in any way the Bill from succeeding but for somebody in a local authority, say, perhaps working from an out of date register or list of names and addressed to post a notice perhaps into a boarded up window and say that this has therefore been served is irrational and does not conform to any reasonable requirements, in terms of giving a person a chance to enter any kind of defence. It could be tested and challenged and would ultimately not result in what we want done. I suggest that we should insert a phrase that it should be left with some person over 16 years of age, not necessarily related to or part of a family, but that it should be handed to a person. At least that is some indication that the alleged owner of the dwelling or site will actually hear about it. The idea of leaving a notice on the window sill, as you might leave a parking ticket, is less than reasonable.

If they know it is your letterbox, they proceed in the usual way but if they do not they have to find some other method. While I appreciated what you are trying to get at, Deputy, I think the amendment may make it considerably more difficult for the local authority to use section 7 (1) (b), paragraph (b) as it stands contains no requirement to leave a notice with any person but only envisages a notice being left at the ordinary address of the person to whom it is directed. Paragraph (b) assumes that this ordinary address is known to the local authority but if it is not then paragraph (d) must be used instead. By introducing a requirement of first, leaving the notice with the person at that address and second that the person be over 16 years, the amendment introduces considerable scope for counter-claims and argument and that is the one thing that you, Deputy, have rightly said you do not want to come about because of your action. The section as it stands has numerous precedents in environment law and I would prefer not to change it. We are taking our advice from the 1963 Planning Act and others and for that reason I ask you to accept that as being the best way to achieve what you want to achieve. We would minimise the effect if we proceed with what you are asking.

I will not fall out with the Minister but I still think the dice is loaded against the owner. However I would be happy to withdraw my amendment in these circumstances.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 7 agreed to.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.

Before we go into Private Members' time I think it would be appropriate in the light of the Hillsborough tragedy and the experience of many Irish soccer players in the past two weeks to pass a vote congratulating the Republic of Ireland team on what I understand was a superb victory this afternoon. I understand that while we were debating here, they succeeded in beating Spain one - nil and I think we should acknowledge their achievement.

There is no dissent from that.

We all share those sentiments.