Local Government (Dublin) Bill, 1993: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

Before the Adjournment of the debate I was dealing with how Dublin Corporation, as the housing authority for almost 8,000 rented houses in Dublin county, has functioned effectively as an absentee landlord. That figure does not include the additional number of houses purchased under various tenant purchase schemes and so on. I was making the point to highlight the central importance of the measures of this Bill for the transfer of these dwellings, and other properties including lands, from Dublin Corporation to the appropriate new local authority.

It is imperative that the Minister ensures that the mechanisms envisaged by the Bill to cause these dwellings and lands to be vested in the new authorities cannot be obstructed by foot dragging by City Hall. I acknowledge the validity of the arguments made by Deputies who are members of Dublin Corporation that regard must be had to their housing list and there is a lead in period envisaged in the Bill.

I am confident that a sensible negotiated accommodation on the housing list between the three new authorities and the City Council can be achieved. However, there must be no delay in the new authorities assuming managerial responsibility for the administration of housing. The original planning errors, such as the enormous concentration of so many thousand local authority houses in certain areas, have been exacerbated by the effect of subsequent housing policies, such as the so-called £5,000 grant scheme in the mid-eighties which deprived these enormous estates of their usual community leadership and increased the concentration of unemployed in those estates. Sensible tenant purchase schemes to encourage tenants to buy their houses encourage greater community stability and upkeep. In this regard I welcome the current scheme.

Tenant purchase schemes in very large local authority estates in places such as Tallaght and Clondalkin are necessary after the years of failure by Dublin Corporation to manage and maintain these estates and to pursue sensitive tenant policies, not least on casual vacancies. The Minister of State has dealt with this subject on a number of occasions and I support the thrust of his comments in the past. I hope that with the impetus of this legislation we will be able to deal with this matter. The years of no democratic accountability by Dublin Corporation to the people through their elected representatives have taken a terrible toll on those vast estates. The legacy of neglect which the new authorities must now tackle as a matter of urgency must be taken into account by the Minister when the consideration, if any, for the transfer of the houses is being decided. There will be an additional, severe net burden on the new authorities, especially on the inappropriately named South Dublin County Council.

I would also remind the House that these dwellings were built in the first instance from housing capital funds. I accept that in the matter of the transfer of lands a somewhat different approach may be required in agreeing the consideration. However, it is important that the Minister's Department monitor very closely the transactions contemplated by Dublin Corporation in the months ahead in respect of property disposal and ensure that the spirit of the legislation is observed.

Overall, the case has been well made that the Bill is about local government reorganisation as distinct from local government reform. Not even in his introductory speech did the Minister betray any hint of his philosophical approach to local government reform nor did he advert to the critical question of local government financing. I hope he will not be so reticent on Committee Stage.

Finally, I would like to deal with the question of local government financing as it relates to the question of reorganisation. The explanatory memorandum states "that there will be some initial cost for the three new county councils in the start-up phase but this should be marginal in the context of overall expenditure". I would like to think when we deal with the nitty gritty on Committee Stage that the Minister will be disposed to acknowledge that there will be and have been initial costs for the existing Dublin County Council in setting up the three new local authorities. I should remind him — I think he accepts this — that spectacular progress has been made. When people were told that the deadline was 1 January 1994 they did not believe that this could be done in view of staffing problems, the need to acquire new buildings and to negotiate agreements with the trade unions. Yet this has been achieved with minimum disruption. In that respect a good job has been done. I hope the Minister acknowledges this in a practical fashion, given that the costs incurred have not been marginal; rather they have been significant in ensuring that the three new authorities will be up and running by 1 January 1994.

This Bill, which provides for the establishment of three new county councils in Dublin — Fingal, South Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown — must be welcomed. Indeed, I welcome it wholeheartedly. According to the 1991 Census — the Minister referred to this — the population of the area administered by the county council is 547,000, which represents a substantial increase on the figure for the previous ten years.

This is an historic occasion and I would like to think that it marks a new beginning for local government in the greater Dublin area. Nothing similar has happened in the history of the State. Indeed, these are the first councils to be established since the local authority system was put in place in 1898.

I should admit that I have a vested interest in this Bill. I have been a member of Dublin County Council since 1983 and I would like to see a new structure put in place to ensure that local government, which impinges on the day to day lives of the general public, is held more accountable and becomes more relevant in meeting the needs of ordinary people. According to recent opinion polls the public believe that their opinions and views are not heeded by the council and they do not trust their councillors to take their views into account, particularly when it comes to the question of planning. This is a serious matter and it must be addressed. Provision must be made for greater community participation and involvement in the process of local government. That is the cry of people on the streets, not only of the residents' associations but also of those seeking improvements. That is not to say, and I would be the first to admit this, that the Bill meets all these objectives. However, it is a start and must be built on.

At present I am the chairperson of the Fingal Area Committee. If the Bill is not drastically altered during its passage through the Oireachtas I will be the first cathaoirleach of the first Fingal County Council. That would be both an honour and a challenge.

In 1985 phase I of the long overdue Dublin local government reorganisation commenced. Provision was made in the legislation for changes in the existing boundaries and the establishment of three new area committees. In addition, the membership of Dublin County Council was increased from 36 to 78 members.

The headquarters of Dublin County Council is in Upper O'Connell Street. This location may have been convenient in the past, but for a population of 547,000 people in County Dublin it is of no relevance. How could a farmer in the furthest part of my own constituency in Balscadden, a council tenant in Mulhuddart or a housewife in Ballybrack identify with a headquarters in O'Connell Street or, more important, the staff of the council? I hope this aspect will be addressed with the move to the new locations in Swords, Tallaght and Dún Laoghaire and the provisions of the much needed sub-offices in Blanchardstown.

Much media attention has been given of late to the performance of councillors but, in fairness, there has not been a proper balance. Little account has been taken of the conditions in which they carry out their day to day business on behalf of the people. In Dublin County Council, for example, 78 elected councillors have been obliged to transact their public business in a council chamber which is totally inadequate and really only big enough, for perhaps 40 members. If the fire and safety officers were to inspect the chamber when a full county council meeting is in operation, they would close it down. It is accepted that the general public should be able to see and hear the transaction of the business of the council. There are two rows of seats in that building providing accommodation for ten. It was totally unsatisfactory to witness the general public queuing outside the chamber waiting for someone to vacate a seat during the recent planning meetings of Dublin County Council. Similar accommodation is available for members of the press, but those who work on a daily basis in the council also require proper facilities. I hope this will be addressed in the new councils.

The 1991 Local Government Act provided for the appointment of three area managers who took up their appointments in Dublin County Council in September 1991. Since then major reorganisation has taken place in the council. The staff of over 3,000 have been asked to accept changes in work practices including increased flexibility and, for the majority of the staff, major disturbance given that they will be obliged to change their work location. The negotiations have been difficult in such a situation one would not have expected negotiations to be easy — but, hopefully, the outstanding issues will be resolved quickly. In view of the unprecedented changes in Dublin County Council as a result of this Bill and the previous 1991 Bill, I wish to compliment all the staff from the management down. Without their commitment we would not be where we are today.

The last section of the Bill refers specifically to the financial implications. The State, the Department and the general public have done exceedingly well in that there has been little or no cost to the Exchequer to date. However, there will now be initial once off costs and I want the Minister to acknowledge this and take on board what has been said here by Members of this House and by the management of Dublin County Council. I refer specifically to the Fingal area where there will be additional costs for the setting up and staffing of a computer area to facilitate new computer developments, without which it would not have been possible to meet the Minister's target. It is also true that outside assistance was required in the form of a consultant's report.

There was much debate about the location of the new headquarters. That has been decided upon and it is to be in Swords. We in Fingal will not be as fortunate as our counterparts in south Dublin and in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. The latter have their own building and south Dublin people have the benefit of an urban renewal designation on their site which has been very helpful to the council. The Minister refers to the release of office accommodation which the transfer of staff will bring about. However, this may not be disposed of as quickly as we would like, given the system of leases and the state of the property market at present. The cost of the Swords headquarters could come to anything up to £10 million, with repayments and interest amounting to £1.2 million a year. That is a huge imposition on the new Fingal Council and there are major difficulties and problems in that area. The commercial rate is vitally important for the day to day operations of the council. Based on 1992 figures or estimates, the commercial rate for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown is £14.8 million, for Dublin south it is £16.5 million but for Fingal it is £11.4 million, the lowest commercial rate of the three. I would ask the Minister to look favourably on these once off payments and leave the door open to facilitate the type of discussions and negotiations required between his Department and the new managers. I ask the Minister also to give a commitment that in this first year of operation from 1 January onwards the new Fingal area council will not lose out as a result of difficulties with the commercial rate bases. If it loses out in the first year that will cause major problems in the future.

The general public will welcome the establishment of the new councils, particularly in relation to planning. From 1 January next rezonings, section 4 motions, material contraventions and development plan decisions will be decided solely by councillors in the new council areas. The Fingal Council comprises 24 councillors and they will have to answer to the public and live with the consequences of their decisions. That is as it should be and that is the wish of the public. Media reports highlighted that the County Dublin development plan process is nearing an end. Major controversial rezonings were pushed through in many areas against the wishes of local councillors, planners, engineers, residents and community groups. In my area of Fingal decisions on rezoning were made in respect of the areas of Donabate, Portrane, Swords, River Valley, Malahide, Portmarnock and Dublin Airport, which is such a sensitive area now. In the Swords area decisions on rezoning were pushed through, but the road and sewerage infrastructure was inadequate to support development. The green belt area between Swords and Malahide was decimated by 25 per cent. There was further erosion of the green belt area between Portmarnock and Malahide against the expressed wishes of local residents. Against the wishes of the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Aer Rianta and local residents, rezoning proposals to build a hotel in the way of a flight path were made. Proposed rezoning for industrial purposes of the planned second terminal required for the future expansion of the airport and the taxi way for aircraft were also made. Those examples highlight the scale of the proposed rezonings. Regarding controversial rezonings, will the Minister for the Environment exercise his discretionary powers under section 22 (3) of the Planning Act to direct Dublin County Council not to pursue those proposed rezonings? There are also planned rezonings of the areas of Rathingle delineated on map 6 and Brackenstown delineated on map 3.31 in the Swords area.

I wish to refer to local authority dwellings and land acquired for housing owned by Dublin Corporation but located in the area of a different authority. The provisions of this Bill should not be cast aside because of financial, managerial or political considerations in Dublin Corporation. If development of local authority estates — for example Blanchardstown and Mulhuddart — is to take place, those areas must be under the control of Dublin County Council. Difficulty in this area arose as a result of a decisions taken by Dublin Corporation a number of years ago to relocate inner city dwellers in a green belt area without developing necessary facilities — for example, roads and shops — and creating jobs. Such developments represent bad planning by Dublin Corporation, but I hope those problems will be addressed. I hope this Bill will allow people in the greater Dublin area, particularly the area under the responsibility of Dublin Councy Council, an opportunity to become involved in the planning process. I welcome the Bill.

I welcome the Bill. By any standards the changes proposed in the Bill will make history. If the Bill is passed, I, along with Deputy Ryan and other colleagues who had the honour to be members of Dublin County Council, will also have the honour of being members of the first Dublin County Councils, I as a member of the first Dublin South County Council. The county councils served our people well for the past number of years. It is inevitable that this type of transition must take place. There has been great expansion in the County Dublin area during the past 20 to 30 years. I remember when the Dublin area was effectively one constituency, which stretched from the area I now have the honour to represent — Walkinstown and Perrystown — to Deputy Ryan's constituency on the borders of County Louth. The Dublin area is now represented by a large number of TDs. I recall some of those people who represented the large population of approximately 0.5 million people who live in that large area — for example, the late Seán Dunne, Mr. Justin Keating, the late Paddy Burke, Mr. T. F. O'Higgins former Chief Justice and Larry McMahon.

Dublin Country Council comprises 78 members; it is unwieldy and unsatisfactory. As Deputy Ryan said, the chamber in which it transacts its business is unsatisfactory. There is a series of pillars in the middle of the chamber which blocks the view of members opposite. Some people might consider this an advantage, but it is useful to view the opposite side and note what their body language indicates. To some degree meetings tend to be chaotic. The chamber is much smaller than the Seanad Chamber, yet the number of members of Dublin Country Council exceeds that of Seanad Éireann by 18.

My colleague, Deputy Broughan, made a fine speech yesterday which derives from his sense of place and what is best for Dublin. I would not agree with all aspects of his speech, but it was a fine expression of a sense of place that relates to the old Dublin. We are now dealing with the new Dublin. Approximately one-third of my area of Dublin South Central is in the Dublin County Council area and will be part of the new South Dublin Council. The remaining two-thirds of my constituency is in the Dublin Corporation area and I have the honour to represent areas as old as Rialto, Dolphins Barn and those as new as the Orwell Estate and St. Annes.

When talking about these changes it is appropriate to put on record the fact that they were initiated in 1986 by my colleague in the Labour Party, Deputy Liam Kavanagh, when Minister for the Environment. It was he who set the ball rolling and it has worked its way to this final proposition which is before us today.

I wish to refer to specific provisions in the Bill. I welcome the changes relating to responsibility for water supply from the mains to the households in the Dublin County Council area. This may seem a rather technical and obscure matter, but in the Dublin County Council area the household is responsible for repairing and maintaining the water supply. In an area such as Whitehall Road in my constituency if the water supply is damaged by traffic responsibility for repairs, which may cost thousands of pounds, rests with the householder. This arrangement proved very unsatisfactory. It was difficult to explain these matters to the public, particularly since Dublin Corporation is empowered to deal with all such problems in its area. The same applies in the Dún Laoghaire area.

While this may seem a trivial point to some householders, in County Dublin, it represents a very important and worthwhile change. I vividly recall receiving representations from a constituent who experienced problems when the road across from her house had to be dug up to replace a waterpipe. This lady told me that in order to pay for the work she would have to cancel her holidays. Such was the enormity of the problem for people unfortunate enough to live in these areas. I welcome the change in the law in that regard.

A number of my colleagues on Dublin County Council referred to the difficulties that arise due to the fact that Dublin Corporation owns houses in the Dublin County Council area. That represents an enormous democratic deficit because, as a number of speakers have said, people who reside in Dublin Corporation housing located in the county council area must exercise their votes for the county council. They vote for members of Dublin County Council in the hope that they will exert pressure on Dublin Corporation on their behalf. This is totally unsatisfactory and I welcome the provision dealing with this matter. Like Deputy Ryan, I hope it will not be put on the long finger and that real action will be taken in this regard. I accept some of the points made by my colleague, Deputy Tommy Broughan, yesterday in relation to ownership of land purchased by Dublin Corporation. That problem also must be dealt with.

In the event of changes being made, staff concerns were bound to arise. These concerns were inevitable and to a large extent they have been addressed. I hope the matter is dealt with to everybody's satisfaction. Bearing in mind that some people will be inconvenienced, I hope that they will be appropriately compensated.

Sections 23 and 24 deal with the appointment of the coroner and sheriff and these appointments remain unchanged. In relation to the chief veterinary officer, it is proposed that this person, who previously covered an area with a population of 200,000, will cover an area with a population of more than half a million people. The Minister should consider the implications of that change. This office is being downgraded while the professional services provided by other officeholders such as the coroner and the sheriff remain unchanged. I am puzzled why we are making fish of one and flesh of the other. I would welcome the Minister's comments on this matter. It should be considered with a view to resolving the difficulties referred to in the initial report which laid the framework for this legislation.

Many of the problems experienced by Dublin County Council in latter times relate to security. I constantly receive representations from people asking me to request Dublin County Council to build a wall, erect a fence or close lanes in an attempt to deal with the worsening security problem in Dublin. These responses are totally inadequate because in many cases the problem is simply being pushed to some other area. Householders are very concerned about this problem and the county council spends a large amount of money trying to deal with it.

Problems recently arose as a result of Halloween festivities. I accept that this matter is not directly relevant to the Bill, but the county council should be given greater powers and resources to deal with bonfires at this time of year. I received a large number of representations, particularly from elderly people living alone, who were scared that as a result of bonfires their houses would be burned. Dublin County Council worked all day last Sunday trying to cope with this problem and in many cases, if they did not believe there was an immediate risk to overhead cable or houses, they simply let the fires burn.

There are enormous problems in relation to traffic control in Dublin. I am glad the Dublin Transportation Initiative is proceeding with its proposals, and I hope that results in a resolution of the problem. There is still a lack of information on the availability and cost of installing ramps and bollards. This is an ongoing problem for people who represent County Dublin.

Public representatives constantly receive representations asking them to try to eliminate rat-running. Of course, it should be remembered that the elimination of rat-running in one area merely leads to the problem being transferred to another area. I am happy to say that this matter is being dealt with. It is important that the public realises the cost of installing these ramps. If I remember correctly, two sets of ramps have been installed in each electoral area in Dublin. Having regard to the scale of the problem, this is a trival response. I think the residents of 200-300 housing estates have requested the installation of ramps in their estates. These ramps cost in the region of £30,000. This explains why so few ramps have been installed in housing estates.

A number of Deputies referred to planning. This is one of the very desirable aspects of the proposed changes. I have no desire to be involved in making decisions on the zoning and rezoning of areas in County Dublin which are miles away from me. In many ways these areas are like another world. It may be Deputy Sargent's world, but it is not my world. As far as I can gather, Balbriggan and Bray are excellent areas, but I do not think public representatives from the Terenure electoral ward should be involved in making decisions on zoning and rezoning in those areas. People who live miles away from these areas should not be concerned about such issues.

Deputy Ryan referred to the criticisms recently levelled against councils. I agree with him that this criticism is not merited. However, it is part of the wider criticism of politicians in general. Politicians are easy meat nowadays — it is easy to pick on them and point out their flaws. Regardless of whether we are politicians, captains of industry or ordinary men and women, none of us is perfect. It is possible for a society to become too engrossed in nit-picking and making petty criticisms of politicians. I want to ask people who engage in this type of activity: with what do you propose to replace politicians? What will replace the political process when it has been downgraded and respect removed from it? The democratic process has severe limitations but when it is compared with the other alternatives — for example, tinpot dictators — I think most people in a civilised world would be in favour of it. I am not saying for one minute that there is no need for reform of the democratic process — there is a need for reform — but we need to be careful about becoming trapped in a destructive situation. I was pleased to see articles on this subject by Dr. Garret FitzGerald in last Saturday's The Irish Times and by Roy Jenkins in one of the British newspapers. I am glad a debate has begun on this issue, which badly needs to be addressed. If the case in favour of the democratic process if not put we may well fall down a slippery slope which will not be in anyone's long term interests.

I wish to refer to the proposed changes in terms of their implications for organisations such as the GAA. Far be it from me to start telling the GAA what it should do, but I wonder if a case could be made for the organisation of future hurling and football matches around the concept of the four new counties — in other words, the Dublin Corporation area, the South Dublin area, the Fingal area and the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area. Consideration might be given to this suggestion. It is very difficult to organise GAA matches on a County Dublin basis, where almost one-third of the population of the county resides. My suggestion would give the less skilled inter-county players and opportunity to play for their county, an opportunity they would not otherwise have under the present system. As I said, that is merely a suggestion; I would not dream of telling the GAA what to do.

(Wexford): It would be a dangerous thing to do.

I would be afraid to do it.

The Deputy will cheer for Clare anyhow.

Ba mhaith liom roinnt mo chuid ama a tabhairt don Aire Stáit ag an Roinn Airgeadais, an Theachta Eithne Fitzgerald.

The debate on this technical Bill gives us an opportunity to outline our views on the local government system, which is far from ideal. Having worked on the Dublin County Council development plan, I believe there are many imperfections in the present local government system. Unfortunately, in many ways the Bill is a missed opportunity to afford greater powers to local authorities. Under this Bill areas such as Dún Laoghaire, which have been autonomous for a long time, are to be subsumed into a greater authority.

There is a lack of consistency in the Bill in terms of the division of power. While the organisation of the vocational education committee on a county basis is perhaps being done for good reasons, it seems to be different from the general thrust of the Bill which is to create three separate authorities. Obviously, this Bill can only do a limited amount, but I should like it to do more.

I am concerned that many powers will still be left in the hands of the Minister after the enactment of the Bill. While the Bill may be regarded as dealing with the reorganisation of structures, to all intents and purposes it deals with the reorganisation of powers. At the end of the day the Minister will still have the greatest power. I question whether some of the Minister's responsibilities in the Bill could be transferred to another Minister. For example, I am not sure if court houses should come within the scope of the Bill and I hope the Department of Justice has its own public works section to deal with courthouses. However, that is a different matter.

I question whether consideration has been given in the Bill to the development of Dublin city, which is quite large even by European standards. I recently read statistics of population which showed that Amsterdam, which has the name of being a major and integrated city, is much smaller than Dublin.

The powers of local authorities are so weak that I am tempted to call this a Disneyland Bill. Local government in Ireland is a misnomer in many ways. The Minister holds so much power and this was brought home to me this morning when I accompanied a deputation from the Balbriggan Town Commissioners to Dublin County Council. The repeated answer to many of the queries raised at that meeting was that the Minister has yet to decide. In regard to whether a non-primary road can be build, it was stated that the Minister has to decide. In regard to whether a sewerage treatment plant is to be built, it was stated that the Minister had to decide. In regard to the allocation of funds for housing, we were told again, the Minister has to decide. It would appear that all the areas of responsibility in local government rest solely with the Minister and that is far from what local government should be about.

During discussions on the county development plan I have found myself at times being thankful that the Minister retains some power but there is a flaw in legislation in regard to local government when developers are allowed to dictate the pace at which an area is developed through rezoning proposals. That has occurred throughout County Dublin and has been well documented and reported in the media.

If the Minister is serious about the development of County Dublin — I take his word for it that he is — his reference to intervention in the crucial county development plan is vital. However, I fear the Minister's comments will go no further than mere reference, which has been very eloquent and passionate. He said that public money will not be available for bad rezoning proposals but nonetheless such proposals are being voted through for the most precarious of reasons. A stark example was an area called Robswall, a green belt between Portmarnock and Malahide, where the proposal was considered to be meritorious because of an offer of money and facilities to local sports clubs. The decision was not taken on planning grounds and considering that it involves the county development plan, one would think that planning would have been the critical factor. However, it has been admitted by those who support the proposal that they are doing so because it will benefit the individuals and the clubs concerned.

It is difficult to understand how on the one hand a Garda investigation is called for by the Minister to investigate allegations of individuals receiving payment of money to influence their decision when voting while, on the other hand, a group of individuals, albeit constituted as a club, can receive money which in turn influences the councillors because they feel they cannot overlook the needs of the club and that is considered to be legitimate. This needs explanation because there is a great similarity in terms of money being paid over in both cases.

Are lessons being learned from such cases? The Minister must legislate to involve the officials and those who are qualified in this area and he should spend time examining the criteria.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 4.45 p.m. until 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 9 November 1993.