"That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
This Bill provides for the establishment of three new county councils — Fingal, South Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown — to replace the existing Dublin County Council, Dún Laoghaire Corporation, and Dean's Grange Joint Burial Board. It represents the culmination of a legislative process which began in 1985. The new county councils will be the first since the system of county councils was established in 1898. We are making history here today and we would like to continue to do so.
The Bill also deals with a large number of matters, many of a detailed, technical nature, arising from the establishment of the new authorities and the dissolution of the existing bodies, including adjustments to other statutory codes and provisions to rationalise and improve local authority operations in Dublin in a number of service areas.
The 1991 census showed Dublin county, which stretches from Balbriggan to Bray and westwards to the Kildare and Meath borders, to have a population of almost 547,000. At the start of the century almost the entire county was essentially rural. Subsequent changes in local authority structures basically involved the city boundaries extending outwards in pursuit of population growth into the county. During this century the population in the Dublin area has more than doubled, with growth being especially marked — involving an increase of more than half a million over 50 years — between the thirties and the early eighties. This growth in overall population has been accompanied by redistribution on a massive scale with population loss at the centre and population gain in the surrounding county.
As in most European cities, for much of the first half of this century a majority of the population of Dublin lived in the inner city, that is roughly within one to two kilometres of the centre at O'Connell Bridge. Over a quarter of a million people lived in this area during the thirties, many of them in highly congested and very poor accommodation.
From the thirties onwards a combination of factors acted to promote growth in the county. On the one hand, a programme of local authority house building at suburban locations allowed for slum clearance in inner city areas. On the other, a rise in private car ownership, particularly from the fifties on, accelerated a trend for people to move outward to new suburbs and beyond to surrounding towns and villages. New industrial and commercial enterprises also began to locate in the country.
Over the years there have been many proposals for reorganisation of the local government structures in the Dublin area to adapt to changing patterns of social, economic and population distribution. There were inquiries in 1880, 1926 and 1938; a White Paper in 1971 and a policy statement in 1985. A number of enactments to implement boundary changes were passed in the first half of the century as the city boundary was moved outwards. In particular, the Local Government (Dublin) Act, 1930, provided for boundary alterations, together with the creation of Dún Laoghaire Borough and the introduction of the management system in Dublin. The most recent legislation was the Local Government (Reorganisation) Act, 1985, and the Local Government Act, 1991.
The 1985 Act increased the membership of the city council and of the county council, made adjustments to the boundary between city and county and divided the county into three areas used for the purposes of the 1985 local elections. These areas, which were known as electoral counties, are essentially the same as those for which the new county councils are now being established. Under the 1985 Act the total membership elected on the basis of the electoral counties — 78 persons in all — formed the membership of Dublin County Council pending further legislation which was intended to formally establish the three new county councils and dissolve the existing bodies.
The Local Government Act, 1991, provided, inter alia, for a structured and progressive statutory framework to carry forward the reorganisation process. In particular it required Dublin County Council to establish an “area committee” for each electoral county and to delegate functions to them: it provided for the appointment of three area managers; required the new area managers to prepare jointly, following consultation with the area committees and Dublin Corporation, a “reorganisation report” setting out arrangements to be made in preparation for the transition to the new councils, and to submit the report to the Minister for the Environment; provided that all Dublin authorities could make submissions to the Minister in relation to the report and provided that the Minister for the Environment could then by regulations make arrangements allowing for the making of necessary preparations.
The Reorganisation report was duly published in July 1992 and set out the general arrangements to give effect to the reorganisation process. Broadly speaking it proposed that the three councils would operate as autonomous local authorities each providing its own services, but certain services such as sewage treatment, waste disposal and water production would continue to be provided on the wider Dublin area basis. The Dublin (Preparations for Reorganisation) Regulations, 1993, made by me required the area managers to prepare schemes, in general accord with the reorganisation report, which would have effect on and from the establishment of the new councils. These schemes deal with the many practical arrangements to be made in preparation for the new councils. For example, the allocation of assets and liabilities; the performance of functions by one authority on behalf of another; staff assignment to the new councils, etc. These arrangements are well in train and are, I understand, on target for a 1 January 1994 start up, thus clearing the way for the establishment of the new county councils provided for in the Bill.
The proposal to establish three new county councils is designed to ensure more relevant and accessible local government structures with a a sharper focus and operational capability to serve their areas. However, any proposals for reorganisation in Dublin must address the issue of co-ordination of major local authority services. In this context not only are important provisions included in the Bill — which I will come to in a moment — but relevant action is being taken at the regional level to ensure the desired result. An order under section 43 of the Local Government Act, 1991, for the establishment of regional authorities will be made by me shortly. The three new counties and the city will constitute a single Dublin region; this has been the case for Structural Fund purposes for some years past. The surrounding counties of Kildare, Meath and Wicklow will constitute the mid-west region. The purpose of regional authorities will be to promote the co-ordination of public, including local authority, services and the order establishing them will provide for a significant role in relation to the review and co-ordination of development plans.
Over and above the regional authority framework, section 32 of the Bill requires the three new councils and Dublin Corporation to co-operate, to have due regard to the needs of the overall Dublin region in their policies and programmes and enjoins the managers to ensure that necessary procedures are in place to facilitate this. Under that section, the four authorities must also have regard to any strategy, study or other statement of the Dublin or Mid-East Regional Authority or any joint statement of those bodies. Taken together, the provisions of the Bill and the operation of the regional authorities will ensure that necessary co-ordination proceeds on an ongoing basis as regards local authority services and functions affecting the Dublin area as a whole. This brings me to the detailed provisions of the Bill.
Part I contains standard provisions relating to short title, interpretation and repeals. Section 3 deals with orders and regulations and section 5 deals with the construction of enactments. Section 6 deals with implementation of the Act by local authorities, including actions by local authorities in anticipation of its commencement and also provision for directions to ensure that necessary steps are taken to give full effect to the provisions of the Bill.
Part II deals with the establishment of the proposed county councils. Section 7 provides for the establishment day, that is, the day on which the new county councils are to be established and on which the existing bodies are dissolved. It is the intention to fix 1 January 1994 as the establishment day. Section 8 provides for boundary alterations to the city-county boundary and for boundary alterations between the electoral counties. I stress that these boundary alterations were all recommended in the reorganisation report to which I already referred. All these adjustments will take effect on the establishment day. Section 9 provides for the abolition of, inter alia, the administrative County of Dublin and the Borough of Dún Laoghaire and for the establishment of the three new administrative counties.
The Irish and English titles of the new counties are set out in section 9, as is a procedure for the alteration of the name of any of the counties. I should mention here that the question of the names of the new counties was raised in the reorganisation report but without any resolution of the matter — hence the provision referred to which will permit a change in name in future to be promoted by the relevant county council. Section 10 provides for the preparation by the Commissioner of Valuation of official maps showing the boundaries of the new counties following from the changes effected by section 8.
Section 11 provides for the establishment of the new councils. Each council will consist of a cathaoirleach and councillors and will have all the powers normally vested in county councils. For example, the new councils will be housing authorities, rating authorities, planning authorities, etc. Section 12 provides that the members of the area committees will become the first members of the new councils and the chairman of each committee will become the first cathaoirleach of the corresponding council. Section 13 makes necessary provision for management of the new councils and section 14 is a technical measure which allows for expenditure by the new councils in the short period between the establishment day and the adoption of their estimates later in January 1994.
Part III deals with the dissolution of Dublin County Council, Dún Laoghaire Corporation and Dean's Grange Joint Burial Board and makes necessary consequential provisions.
Section 15 deals with the dissolutions and sections 16 and 17, together with the Second Schedule, deal with consequential arrangements, including transfers of staff. I have already referred to the statutory reorganisation report. The report sets out the arrangements to be made in preparation for the transition to the new authorities and the 1993 regulations provide for schemes to be prepared by the area managers for transfer of assets, liabilities, etc. and for staff designations in accordance with these arrangements. It is these schemes and designations, together with the provisions of the Bill, which will determine the detailed allocation of property, equipment, contracts, etc. and the assignment of staff to the new councils, and which will effect their formal transfer.
Part IV of the Bill provides for consequential adjustments to a number of statutory codes, ministerial responsibility for which rests with other members of the Government. In general the provisions of this Part relate to public bodies to which the local authorities to be dissolved make appointments or to statutory provisions which use the administrative areas of the dissolved bodies in defining their area of application. The explanatory memorandum outlines the various arrangements proposed and the codes which are affected.
Part V of the Bill deals with a number of miscellaneous matters relating to the local authorities in the Dublin area. Section 32, to which I already referred, places a statutory duty on the principal authorities to have regard to the metropolitan interest and provides for the necessary arrangements designed to support this objective. Section 33 confers power on the new councils to repair branch water pipes, a power which incidentally, has been available to Dublin Corporation and Dún Laoghaire Corporation but not to Dublin County Council.
Section 34 deals with responsibility for water supply in parts of the county of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. Under the Dublin Corporation Waterworks Act, 1861, Dublin Corporation is responsible for the supply of water to certain areas outside the city known as the "extra-municipal areas". This is clearly unsatisfactory and the new county council will assume responsibility for this function.
Section 35 and the Third Schedule rationalise responsibility for certain dwellings and land in the Dublin area. Over the past 20 years Dublin Corporation has engaged in large scale house construction in the county area. This has resulted in a situation where now there are almost 7,500 rented houses in the county owned by the corporation. Equally, but on a much smaller scale, there are county council houses in the corporation area. The reorganisation report highlighted this, together with the related issue of corporation land in the county, as matters that required attention and specifically recommend a transfer of ownership of houses to the local authority in whose area they are located. Section 35 and the Third Schedule, therefore, should be seen against this background and as representing an attempt to come to terms with a difficult problem in a way that will be seen to be fair to all the parties concerned. The explanatory memorandum sets out how these provisions will operate in practice. There will be difficult issues to be addressed by the managers in consultation with the elected members but I am sure that, with goodwill from all sides, the best all round arrangements will be worked out. I might add here that it is my intention that this process will be brought to a satisfactory conclusion without delay.
Section 36 will rationalise responsibility for certain Liffey bridges and harbour walls, while section 37 is a technical amendment to section 63 of the Local Government (Dublin) Act, 1930, in relation to the form of notice served for the payment of rates.
Section 38 will enable the transfer of fire staff from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to Dublin Corporation where an appropriate agreement is made between the two authorities for the performance of fire authority functions.
Section 39 contains provisions relating to the application of certain enactments in relation to the former borough area. It is purely a temporary contingency provision which will cease to have effect two years after the establishment day.
The First Schedule sets out repeals. In the main these effect amendments to various enactments arising from the establishment of the three new counties and the dissolution of the existing bodies; various obsolete provisions are also being repealed. The Second Schedule provides for matters consequential on the dissolutions of Dublin County Council, Dún Laoghaire Corporation and Dean's Grange Joint Burial Board and the matters concerned are listed in the explanatory memorandum. Finally, the Third Schedule sets out the arrangements to give effect to the transfer of houses and land pursuant to section 35 which I have mentioned previously.
I have every hope and confidence that the arrangements proposed in the Bill, with the action proposed at regional level, will significantly enhance the local government system in our capital city by, on the one hand, making it more local, democratic and accountable and on the other, by ensuring that issues with metropolitan-wide significance are looked at in that way, and by having structures which facilitate and encourage such an approach.
I would also like to put on the record of the House my appreciation to all of those who have been involved in the reorganisation process in the Dublin area, from the elected members to the managers, and to local authority officials who have co-operated fully in the transition process and without whose goodwill and hard work the process could not have been brought to the satisfactory stage now reached.
In commending the Bill to the House I look forward to the contributions from all sides and I hope we will be able to conclude our work here in time to meet the establishment deadline. I trust that will not put too great an onus on my colleagues who have to facilitate those developments through the House.