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

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

This legislation which has far reaching implications for local government in the Dublin area also contains some messages for those of us who live on the periphery of that region. Indeed, it contains a particular message for members of local authorities and local authority administrators throughout the rest of the country. I should quickly make the point that local government is operating in a totally different environment today as compared with the position 100 years ago. In this regard I compliment those who drew up the original Local Government Acts in so far as they stood the test of time. They were calculated to strike a balance in the system. Indeed, this legislation lasted well beyond its sellby date.

During the past 25 years due to pressure from the people, in many cases for good reasons, we began to tamper with the system to such an extent that some aspects are now unworkable. In particular I would like to deal with the question of local government financing. In this regard the position has changed dramatically since the first Local Government Acts were put in place and the first local authorities were set up in the sense that local authorities no longer have the power to raise a large proportion of the finance required. Consequently, they are subject to restrictions in regard to the ways in which they can spend this money.

A number of other speakers have referred to this matter. All I can say is that it would be far better if the local authorities were able to raise revenue. For example, they could be entitled to receive a percentage of VAT receipts or income tax collected within their functional area. However, that would present us with a difficulty in the sense that public representatives would not be directly involved in the difficult task of levying various taxes. As we are aware, if the responsibility for this task rests with some other institution or body, that institution or body will spend the finance raised in whatever way they see fit.

I am glad my constituency colleague in County Kildare, the Minister of State, is sitting opposite me. We have had this argument on many occasions in the past. It is fortuitous that we are speaking on this Bill at this time, given that the local authorities are in the process of preparing their estimates, which are discussed at this time of year. The Minister of State in the past believed that local charges should be abolished. For a long time I have believed that if we abolish them we will lose many services. There is only one way to resolve the problem, that is, the Minister of State should ensure that a sum of money is included in his Department's Estimates for Kildare County Council to enable it to do what he has always wanted it to do. I know the Minister of State would be upset if he did not get an opportunity to outline clearly what his intentions are in this area. Constituents in the counties of Kildare, Wicklow and Meath are equally anxious to know what his intentions are.

They are good intentions.

I have no doubt they are good intentions, but I hope the passage of time has not in any way watered down the Minister's very good intentions. I hope the expression "watered down" is not unfortunate in the context of water charges and that the fact he is sitting on the far side of the House now does not alter the fine aspirations the Minister espoused when he sat on this side of the House. It is likely he will be asked that in the next couple of weeks by councils like Kildare County Council and I know he would like to be informed in advance. The necessary financial preparations that must be made in such circumstances take some considerable time and I would not like to spring that upon the Minister of the Department later.

I want to refer now to the far reaching burdens placed on the local authorities by central Government. I refer to the various Acts of the Oireachtas which have to be implemented by the local authorities and which in many cases impose financial burdens on them. A multiplicity of such legislation means that the already meagre finances of local authorities are further stretched and the ability of the members of local authorities to provide the services required by their constituents is consequently restricted.

There are around 240 or 250 Acts of the Oireachtas which put a financial burden on local authorities, who have inadequate, if any, recompense. The Motorways Act is a problem in that lighting for motorways is the responsibility of the local authorities which have had to design such motorways with lighting etc. to international standards. That costs huge sums of money; and these motorways are there to serve the commuter population and not necessarily the people who live or work in a local area. This has already been referred to by Deputy Power on the other side of the House. In Kildare County Council we have a colossal electricity bill in respect of lighting of motorways, most of which are not for our own benefit.

The Abattoirs Act is a serious cause of contention. I know the Minister is conversant with that legislation as we were both sitting on this side of the House when the original Bill was passed. We pointed out the dangers of the erosion of the financial resources of local authorities through lack of sufficient funding for a veterinary officer. We anticipated what would happen, and it has happened. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry is not concerned; he was Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture at that time. The fact that this legislation seriously affects the local authorities' capacity to fulfil their normal financial obligations does not impinge on the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. This Act imposes an obligation on the local authorities but gives them to chance to recoup their losses.

These are just two of a multitude of financial burdens on the local authorities following the passing of legislation by the Oireachtas. Considerable sums of money are spent implementing legislation which could have been spent on other worthwhile projects.

The question of local authority members' responsibilities in regard to rezoning of land has been raised here. The amount of attention such an issue can generate is amazing. Many people have been preoccupied with it over a long time. It is regularly suggested that the elected members of local authorities are not competent to carry out this work. I do not know why this is so because, after all, the members of the local authority were elected to perform this task. They do their best. Sometimes they make mistakes; they go too far or they do not go far enough. Be that as it may, their job is to carry out their task given to them by the electorate and they have done a reasonably good job.

Other speakers have referred to the rate support grant, which impacts on all local authorities and, at the risk of being parochial, paticularly on Kildare County Council. I do not have to tell the Minister the absolute necessity of updating the rate support grants in line with current valuations, particularly in areas that have been subject to considerable development over the last 15 or 20 years, so that they now fall far short of their share of rate support payments since the abolition of domestic rates. It is clear there is now a vast gap between the local authorities that were not subjected to much development and those like Kildare, Wicklow, Meath and Dublin County Council itself which were.

I hope this legislation will act as an inspiration to the Minister and the Government in arriving at a means of resolving this problem for the future. If that problem is not addressed now the people who live in the outer ring of the greater Dublin area, particularly in the newly developed areas, will have a quality of life in terms of services etc. that falls far short of what was available under the old local authority system ten, 15 or 20 years ago. Many speakers have pointed to the need for facilities and amenities to support growing and devloping populations. I can only underline the importance of that and say that it is absolutely necessary to address the problem in the near future. Otherwise we will have to spend large sums of money to provide infrastructure that should have been provided years ago.

It is useful to talk about the Dublin area and Dublin County Council, because what Dublin County Council is experiencing today will be experienced by those of us who live in the outer ring of the greater Dublin area and we should learn from the mistakes that were made. We should provide the services and amenities now when it is cheaper to do so rather than attempting to do it in retrospect when serious damage has been done to society.

I am not making any allegations against anybody. I recall that members of my local authority area were blamed for rezoning land in a town that should never have been rezoned, but those local authority members were not responsible for the rezoning. That decision was made by ministerial order or by way of an appeal to An Bord Pleanála. The boundary changes in the area were forced on those local authority members. In many cases rezoning took place without any input from members of local authorities and decisions in that regard were made over their heads. In the past, very few amenities were provided in rezoned areas for outdoor recreational pursuits such as football and other sports. There was only a limited provision in respect of indoor facilities. In developing communities it is vital to ensure that adequate open space is provided to allow the local community make its own financial contribution into the amenity facilities.

Greater amounts of money must be spent today on providing services and facilities that should have been provided when areas were developed 20 to 30 years ago. That is a sad reflection. Ironically, this expense is not incurred as a result of a lack of foresight on the part of members of local authorities, because they were not involved in the development plans, but on the part of those who made decisions in respect of the development. I hope we have learned from reviews of county development plans that adequate provision must be provided for recreational facilities which will cater for the projected population of areas designated for rezoning. Those facilities must be provided at the development stage and not later.

I am sure those who live on the periphery of the Dublin area will be surprised that Dublin County Council will be replaced by a number of local authorities. This is a major change. We will have to wait and see whether the change is good or bad. The change should improve matters because the more consultative the process one engages in the better and the more refined is the outcome.

Local government has not kept in step with the many different demands of society. Society requires a local authority system to which it can respond and the system must respond to society. If that two way process does not exist there is a danger that the public may become disillusioned with the local authority system. The public may perceive that the system imposes burdens on them but does not give much in turn. Local authorities provide a wide range of vital services which people take for granted, such as libraries, higher education grants, fire services, emergency services and so on. Local government should evolve in line with the community in which it is situated and, if it does not, it will lose touch with the local community and become dangerously irrelevant.

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.

Question put and agreed to.