Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Local Government Reform.

8.

asked the Minister for the Environment whether he will outline the Government's policy regarding the reform of local government; and whether it is envisaged that legislation will be introduced in the near future in this regard.

18.

asked the Minister for the Environment whether any consideration has been given, at any level, to the possibility of postponing the next local elections for one or two years.

40.

asked the Minister for the Environment if it is intended to hold the local government elections on schedule next year; if it is intended to reform local government structures in the Dublin area prior to that; if, in particular, it is intended to proceed with the earlier proposal to divide Dublin County Council into three area councils and establish a Greater Dublin Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 18 and 40 together. The postponment of the 1990 local elections has not been considered. On the question of local government reform I am committed to an overhaul of the existing local government system so as to make it more efficient, cost effective and relevant to the needs of local communities. This requires a package of measures devised and implemented on a comprehensive and integrated basis so as to secure a renewed local government system capable of facing into the demands and challenges of the last decade of the 20th century. This will require a major legislative programme. Work in my Department on the finalisation of a comprehensive programme for the overall reform of local government, including local authority structures, functions, powers, finance and legislative reform, is now well advanced and details will be announced as soon as possible. The question of changes in the local government system in County Dublin, taking account of the special needs of the Dublin region, is a matter which falls to be considered in this overall context and the structures proposed by the previous Government are being examined in that light.

Can the Minister give us any indication of the principles of his thinking with regard to existing local authorities, whether he sees them being enlarged or reduced in size? Can I seek to elicit from the Minister when precisely we might see legislation dealing with the areas referred to in the question?

I would like to see it reasonably soon.

Before summer?

A lot of work has gone into it and the Deputy will be aware of the enormous number of reports, commissioned reports and everything else which have built up in the Department over the years — I am sure the Deputy will remember that from his own time there. A considerable amount of work has been done. Exhaustive studies have been carried out in all kinds of areas concerned with structures, functions, procedures, devolution of powers, law reform and the question of finance, especially with regard to Dublin. I cannot say today when it might be possible to introduce it, but we have been under considerable pressure in the legislative area. At present we have five Bills before the House and we would like to clear them as soon as possible to get on with other necessary work.

May I remind the Minister that two years ago he announced he was giving urgent attention to the reform of local government and little has happened since? Is it his intention to simply publish a Bill during 1989 to introduce a reformed local government system, or is it his intention to publish a further White Paper or Green Paper containing an insight into his thinking regarding what reforms are required?

I had not contemplated a White Paper in this regard. I accept the criticism that there has been some slippage in regard to having the matter processed to finality but this was simply because of the other priority demands on the time of my Department. I wanted to get the matters I thought of as priority into the House——

That is true of the Electoral Bill.

There is an Electoral Bill before the Seanad and the House at present which I understand, is being disposed of. All that priority legislative work accounted for some of the slippage in dealing with this matter. It has been ongoing for a long number of years, and I suppose it was the item that was easiest to leave aside for a while. I regard this as an urgent matter and it has my full support.

In view of the fact that the Minister does not envisage any further White Papers being issued in the matter, does he then accept, in broad terms, the work of the previous Government and their recommendations? In particular, would he indicate whether he would support the idea in principle of Dublin being reorganised into three areas of local administration? Would he agree that there is an urgent need particularly for that major conurbation to be rationalised more effectively than with the current structures?

I agree with the Deputy that this important matter must be attended to. I should not like to think that I would be proceeding hocus pocus with what the previous Government had in mind. Of course, there were some very useful suggestions in their attitude towards reform. It is a pity they did not finalise the matter because I am back trying to redo the whole thing. The Deputy can rest assured that the matters to which he has referred as having importance are agreed by me as being important.