I like to thank Deputies who contributed to the Second Reading of the Bill. In particular, I would like to thank them for the positive tone of their contributions. I welcome the fact that the provisions of the Bill have been welcomed generally.
As indicated in the Minister's speech, the intent of the Bill is quite simple and indeed has been approved in principle by the Dáil in the context of the 1985 Reorganisation Act and the 1991 Local Government Act. It is the establishment of three new county councils to replace Dublin County Council, Dún Laoghaire Corporation and Deansgrange Joint Burial Board. Given this situation, the Bill is perhaps surprisingly complex and long. This results from the many consequential technical amendments to other statutory provisions, together with a number of improvements being effected which are designed to rationalise local authority operations in certain service areas. On the detailed provisions of the Bill, I have noted that a number of amendments can be expected on Committee Stage and they will be dealt with in due course.
I would like to refer to some of the specific points raised on the Bill. Deputy Doyle and other speakers referred to the abolition of Dublin County Council and that the concept of County Dublin would disappear. All children learn that there are 26 counties in the State. They are what might be termed the geographical counties and they are a strong concept in the minds of all Irish people. However, for local government purposes the State is divided into what are called administrative counties. Those are counties for which a county council is elected. There are 27 of those; County Tipperary has two county councils. In addition, there are five county boroughs, Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford, and each of those constitute an administrative county which has its own city council. Therefore, there are 32 local government divisions — 27 counties and five county boroughs — which elect county or city councils and which by law are termed administrative counties. Following this Bill the administrative county of Dublin will be replaced by three new administrative counties, Fingal, South Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. Then there will be a total of 34 administrative counties — 29 counties and five county boroughs — in the State. Only time will tell if in future years those three new local government counties will develop an identity which will supersede the existing geographical county of Dublin. For the immediate future it is safe to assume they will continue to be a single area, the geographical county of Dublin comprising the county borough and the three new counties.
A suggestion was made that the accumulated revenue deficits of Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire Corporation should be written off rather than their being transferred to the new authorities. Between the two existing authorities the accumulated revenue deficit at the end of 1992 was more than £21 million. Translated into simple language, the suggestion is to ask the Government to provide £21 million in Exchequer funds to wipe the slate clean. I regret that, given the many financial problems and demands facing the Government, solutions like this are simply not on.
However, while Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire Corporation have incurred substantial deficits, those deficits are only one side of the issue and to get a fuller picture one must also consider the extent of debtors on the books of both authorities in respect of the very substantial sums owed to the authorities under a variety of headings. In the case of Dublin County Council, its debtors amount to a realistic figure of £18 million and the sum for Dún Laoghaire Corporation is approximately £3 million. Those assets will also transfer to the new councils and every effort must be made to collect those outstanding sums.
I am not in a position to write off the debts owed to the councils by individuals and companies, using taxpayers' money. Even if I were in a position to do so, one could imagine the response from every other local authority if this were done. All of this serves to remind the councils that budgetary discipline is a fundamental requirement of any council's financial operations and it will be essential for the new councils, from day one, to put in place sound financial systems.
The local authorities considered the question of the names of the new counties. For example, Deputy Walsh indicated that the south Dublin area committee gave considerable time to this issue. No area committee made proposals to change the names of the new counties, nor did Dublin County Council or Dún Laoghaire Corporation in their formal submission to the Minister in relation to the reorganisation report. This is a matter which should be left to the councils to decide and the Bill provides for this. It is not a matter for the national Parliament to intervene and impose solutions on local people. For the first time ever, a procedure involving public consultations is set out for the new councils to promote a change in the name of their counties. This is as it should be as a local issue is best decided by local people.
The question of co-ordination was referred to by a number of Deputies. There will be four principal authorities for the Dublin area; the three new county councils and Dublin Corporation. To ensure proper co-ordination between the local authorities on an ongoing basis and in a properly structured manner, the Bill requires their managers to put in place appropriate procedures for consultation and co-operation. This will involve consultation and co-operation at official level, regular meetings and other practical arrangements worked out locally to ensure the new statutory duties introduced by the Bill are complied with. In this regard the Bill imposes a statutory duty on the local authorities in performing their functions, at official or elected member level, to have regard to the metropolitan interest. By virtue of this provision, in performing any statutory function which may have an impact on the metropolitan area, in relation to waste disposal, roads, major planning applications or other matters, the relevant local authority must take the metropolitan interest into account. This is designed to ensure that local authorities will not operate in isolation and without reference to the overall Dublin area.
The regional authorities will be in a position to formulate a regional framework which will form a necessary backdrop for local authority operations to be undertaken by reference to the overall metropolitan interest. The Minister will shortly make an order under the Local Government Act, 1991, to establish regional authorities. Their role will be to promote the co-ordination of public services generally in their regions, including local authority services. Dublin city and three new counties will constitute the Dublin region, and the surrounding counties of Kildare, Meath and Wicklow will form and mid-east region. The new authorities will be well placed to view local problems, needs and priorities from the broader regional perspective. They will also be able to provide a regional focus and voice where these are lacking at present.
The Bill specifically requires the individual Dublin local authorities to have regard to any reports, submissions or joint submissions made by the Dublin and mid-east regional authorities. In this regard I would expect both of these authorities to co-operate closely with a view to devising an appropriate framework for Dublin and the surrounding areas. Taken together, the provisions of the Bill and the operation of the regional authorities will ensure co-ordination on an ongoing basis and within the regional dimension. This will apply in relation to local authority services and functions affecting the Dublin area as a whole, including the review and co-ordination of development plans.
The principle of the transfer of houses and land to the local authority in whose area they are located has been welcomed by most speakers in the course of this debate. Several Deputies spoke of a need to expedite the transfer process. I welcome this generally positive response from Members of all sides to the proposals for the transfer of local authority dwellings and lands. Deputies' concerns tended to centre on the future operation of the housing system when the ownership arrangements have been rationalised under the transfer schemes.
Some 7,500 rented dwellings are owned by Dublin Corporation and located in the county council area. Speakers referred to the unsatisfactory position in that the tenants involved are not represented at local level by members of the authority which provided their dwellings. There is a general perception among these tenants that because the county councillors who represent them have no say in the allocation of resources by the corporation who manages and maintains the houses, the management and maintenance of the dwellings has suffered. The corporation and the council have separate maintenance depots which militates against effective use of resources and the tenants generally perceive that they are remote from the services of the corporation. Equally there are county council houses, but a much smaller number, located in the city area where the same issues arise.
The reorganisation report on the establishment of three new county authorities in the Dublin area recommended that ownership of the local authority housing stock should be transferred to the local authority in whose area it is located. In the absence of a single housing authority for the Dublin area as a whole, the report of the Lord Mayor's Commission on Housing also recommended a transfer of full responsibility for the corporation housing stock in the county area to the new county councils. Such a transfer would secure a more rational, cost effective and democratically accountable local authority housing management and maintenance system in the Dublin area. At a time when three new county councils are being established it is important to establish clear responsibilities for the provision of services, and indeed that local communities are clearly aware as to who is responsible for what. Discussion on this matter brings to mind the provisions of section 32 which require the local authority to have regard to the overall metropolitan area and its inhabitants. Local authorities cannot operate in isolation from one another but must work together for the benefit of all, it is on this basis that I see the transfer process proceeding.
Essentially the approach taken in the Bill has been to provide a framework which will ensure that the question of the transfers for which there is general support is tackled without further delay in a way that will allow all the issues, including those raised in the House, to be worked out by the authorities immediately affected. I have every confidence in the ability of these authorities to negotiate and develop transfer schemes that will effectively deal with and accommodate their respective interests. The Bill ensures that this process will involve not alone the managers but the elected members of both transferor and transferee authorities.
Deputies will have observed that I have avoided advocating or attempting to impose any set of solutions lest it might unduly influence the authorities' deliberations. The issues involved should be worked out by those in the best position to do so, and this is the principle followed in the Bill. The central point is that the Bill allows the local authorities the flexibility to consider the many issues which arise and to work out the most appropriate transfer arrangements, taking an all round view of the implications of the transfers for all the authorities. We must also remember that what is involved here is a transfer from one public body to another. The public is concerned with the actual service provided and, as I have said, the transfers to be effected by the Bill are designed to improve and rationalise the operation of the system.
There was a reference to the implications of the transfers for Dublin Corporation's capacity to meet housing needs. The question has been asked as to how and where housing applicants in the city will be catered for in the new circumstances where the corporation will no longer have houses or lands in the county. The vast majority of the corporation's approved housing applicants wish to remain in the city. Therefore, the corporation should ideally not build in the county again, but should concentrate on developing a strategy to carry out its housing programmes within its own boundaries. In this context I emphasise that housing provision by local authorities should not be concentrated solely on new building but should achieve a judicious mix of new houses and the purchase of existing private houses, including those in need of refurbishment. While there may be some cost implications for the corporation in providing housing exclusively in the city area as opposed to green field sites in the county, small infill developments in the city can be widely beneficial. By making a significant contribution to urban renewal it increases the population in the inner city area, makes better use of existing services and helps to regenerate the many run-down areas that are still all too evident. The corporation's housing activities will have the potential to act as a catalyst for other initiatives such as shops, private housing and so on in areas that are at present badly in need of redevelopment.
Needless to say the overriding principle to the transfers of houses to the authority in whose area the houses are situated is that the position of people currently on the housing waiting list of any of the Dublin authorities should not be adversely affected. I am aware that Dublin Cororation was able to avail of 270 casual vacancies last year from its housing stock in the county. While the transfers could have significant implications for the corporation's future housing operations, the proposals in the Bill are structured to allow proposals to be developed by the authorities that take account of these issues. The corporation may find it necessary to retain a capacity to avail of casual vacancies in the county area, and the provisions of the Bill allow schemes to provide for this. Equally, the question of houses provided for occupation by persons designated by the corporation could also be considered. None of these options is closed off and indeed they are recognised in the Bill.
Again, I thank Members for their contributions to the Bill and I commend the Bill to the House.