Amendment No. 1 is in the name of the Minister. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 form a composite proposal and amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are related. Is it agreed to take amendments Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5 together? Agreed.
Local Government (Dublin) Bill, 1993: Report Stage.
Wexford): I move amendment No. 1:
In page 8, line 17, to delete "general".
The effect of amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 4 is to limit somewhat the general regulatory powers contained in section 3. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 will remove the reference to regulations being made for the general or for any particular purpose of the Act. Amendment No. 4 removes the power for regulations to provide for the giving of directions and amendment No. 5 limits to three years the powers in subsection (7) to make regulations for the removal of difficulties — that is to meet misgivings expressed on Committee Stage. The views of both sides as to the regulatory powers have been fully aired on Second Stage and again on Committee Stage. The amendments go some way towards meeting the concerns expressed. There has been a very full debate on this issue and the need for regulatory powers has to be accepted. The section, as it is proposed to be amended, will meet these needs.
I wish to express my disappointment that the Minister is not present to deal with the Report Stage of this important Bill. That is not a reflection on the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, for whom I have the highest regard, but, in fairness, the Minister took this Bill on Committee Stage when we had two very long days debate. A great deal of the business we will be discussing now by way of amendment arises directly from that debate. While I have no doubt that the Minister of State is adequately briefed on what occurred on Committee Stage, it will be very difficult for him to have the same grasp and feeling for the debate and the views of members and to be in a position to respond to them.
The Minister's amendments watered down some of the provisions for the making of regulations under the Bill but they still leave the Minister for the Environment with very wide powers. In particular, I would like to hear the Minister's response to amendment No. 5. This puts a time limit of three years on the period within which regulations can be made after the establishment day. The issue I wish to raise, which got a considerable airing on Committee Stage, relates to the transfer of houses, buildings and land from Dublin Corporation in the main to what is to be known as South Dublin County Council. Dublin Corporation built houses on land it owns in the former county council area; it still owns land in the county council area. Section 35 and the Third Schedule provide for the transfer of those lands and dwellings to Dublin County Council. As I understand it, it provides an arrangement whereby a transfer scheme has to be prepared within a year of this Bill coming into effect.
What concerns me about amendment No. 5 is the three year time limit on the making of regulations. In setting down a three year time limit, the Minister was probably responding to the concerns expressed in the House that regulations could be made at some time in the future and that there was a wish that this be fenced off. At the same time, I see this being in conflict with the Third Schedule which provides for the making of the transfer scheme within a year. Is it proposed that the transfer of buildings and lands to the county council will now take up to three years or longer if the Minister makes regulations which provide for an even longer period of transfer? I am worried about that and I wonder if this was anticipated when preparing the amendment.
Am I in order in requesting a copy of the list of amendments that will be grouped together on the Report Stage debate as it makes for more orderly progress?
I will arrange that for the Deputy.
Thank you, Sir. Are we now discussing amendments Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5 together?
That is correct.
The amendments the Minister is bringing forward today improve the generality and the broad nature of this section. I accept that, in terms of detail, implementation dates and technical levels of operation, proceeding by way of secondary legislation through orders and regulations, such as are before us in this section are necessary. I have rarely come across legislation that has such broad power of regulation vested in the Minister to do effectively whatever he likes, whenever he likes, however he likes to be sure that any difficulty that arises now or in the future is ironed out. Should any issue manifest itself as needing attention through the operation of this Bill, by way of regulation or order the Minister can proceed without any reference to either House.
The amendments before us row back from the original proposals in section 3. My biggest difficulty with this section, and with these types of proposals — I have said this before but I am making little progess in terms of having action taken on the matters I referred to, so I will repeat it — relates to the resolution to annul a provision before this House. Effectively, we cannot get Government time to debate an annulling resolution. I would ask the Minister to look at this point.
I felt if we could have a real debate on any regulation laid before either House of the Oireachtas, particularly the few where concerns arise in certain sectors, and could have an input to the final decision we would accept the concept of secondary legislation far more comfortably. Last year I understand that over 200 statutory instruments were laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas, of which one was challenged. I tabled an annulment resolution in relation to access to freedom of environmental information regulations but the Government would not provide Government time to debate the concerns of the Opposition on that issue. The best we could negotiate through our respective Whips was statements on access to environmental information regulation in this House on a Friday morning but the Government would not tolerate a vote.
I find it strange that the Government will not tolerate a vote on these issues particularly with its 35 seat majority. What is it afraid of? It cannot be afraid it will not get its own way. However by so doing it would at least give some semblance of democracy to an issue that may cause concern. Last year one out of 200 regulations caused concern to the Opposition. Immediately the defence would be that to debate every regulation in Government time we would be here seven days a week for the next three years. However, if the ratio of the regulations that cause concern is 1:200, I think the Government has little to fear.
If the Minister could undertake to pursue our concerns and accept the principle of having annulment resolutions debated in Government time, we would be more comfortable in extending even general powers of legislation by regulation to the Government. The principle is accepted that all the minutiae or logistical problems cannot be debated but the converse is also true; when there are genuine concerns we must have access to full debate in Government time. That is the assurance I require from the Minister.
I will not be opposing this group of amendments because they tighten up the section. It is, however, a general section and the procedure for dealing with annulling resolutions in relation to regulations laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas are still far from satisfactory. My concerns have not been taken care of. I am not happy with the section but I accept that the Minister's amendments tighten it up somewhat.
I am a bit reluctant to make my point in the absence of the Minister whom I understand is unavoidably abroad and it is unfair to ask the Minister of State to respond to it, but it is important that it be put on the record. If the Minister is here tomorrow, before the Bill is passed, I would like him to deal with it. The point relates to the fact that inevitably the reorganisation concerned will cost a not insignificant amount of money. The Minister has agreed in private discussions that a very good job has been done in giving effect to the extensive preparatory work that has been necessary in order to permit the three new councils to be incorporated as and from 1 January, if that is the agreed date when the Bill is finally passed. All that preparatory work has a cost associated with it. In the explanatory memorandum the Minister acknowledges the cost associated with it. It states:
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.
It is true that the cost is marginal in the context of overall expenditure if one takes the budgets of the three combined councils and the old Dublin County Council, but it is not an insignificant amount of money. Before the Bill is passed, will the Minister indicate to the House whether he intends that this exceptional cost will be discharged? When the previous Bill was put through the House if we had said that the complex business of setting up three new local authorities would have proceeded with such speed and so few hiccups, people would not have believed us. An exceptional job has been done in terms of trade union negotiations, staff being located etc. A professional expert job has been done and the Minister has acknowledged this.
If this Bill is enacted and I anticipate it will, the three new councils will be ready to go, in effect they are up and running since many of the functions have already been devolved. I would like to know if that will be possible, and if not, would the Minister of State assure us that the Minister will deal with this point tomorrow because, at a time when resources are so scarce, it is a matter of considerable concern to the existing council and to the new councils that they should be reimbursed for the necessary reasonable expenditure in bringing the process so far.
In amendment No. 5 the Minister proposes to insert "but no regulations shall be made under this subsection after the expiration of 3 years after the establishment day". If we look at section 35 of the Bill and the Third Schedule, which is a major issue as far as the new councils are concerned, these sections deal with the provisions for the transfer of dwellings and lands to the local authorities for the area. Over the years Dublin Corporation assembled a significant land bank in the county and built a very large number of dwellings in the county, almost 8,000 of which are still tenant dwellings and the remainder would be tenant purchased dwellings. At this stage, in excess of 750,000 dwellings are still rented to tenants of Dublin Corporation which is the housing authority and therefore different from the administrative authority which is the county council. This has led to inordinate problems in the county over the last number of years. In the Bill it is prescribed that this will be dealt with within a period of one year.
The Minister's amendment gives cause for concern here of the transfer of dwellings and lands proves to be more difficult than this legislation anticipates. Dublin Corporation did many things right. Given the housing situation during the sixties, it was a considerable achievement that it managed to construct so many dwellings and housed so many people who were in desperate need of housing; it tackled the housing crisis which dated from the days of the old Dublin Housing Action Committee.
Due credit should be given for that, but the negative side of the legacy the new councils inherit is that, inevitably there has been a lack of accountability by Dublin Corporation to the people in those new areas through their elected representatives, in other words through representatives from each of the parties elected to a local authority that is not the housing authority. Members from every party elected to Dublin County Council are not members of the City Council which is the housing authority.
The bulk of local authority housing in my constituency in most of west Dublin which is most acutely affected and in areas represented by Deputies Owen and Gilmore, where there is a problem but not to the same extent, is affected by that phenomenon and I am afraid the track record is not good. There are terrible problems arising from the absence of estates management and any kind of hands-on management by Dublin Corporation. It has been proved that the corporation is incapable of responding to the needs of tenants in the county areas for varying reasons. It is understandable that officials of Dublin Corporation would be more responsive to certain issues, such as the renovation of the Ballymun flats or the maintenance problems in Darndale or Finglas, which can be raised in its chamber.
Nevetheless, the cumulative effect of this neglect has been felt in large housing estates in west Dublin. For example, in one area of my constituency of west Tallaght there are approximately 4,000 public sector housing units. The response of Dublin Corporation over the past number of years when it comes to carrying out maintenance work on these houses leaves a great deal to be desired. There does not appear to have been any coherant tenanting policy and many people believe that areas in the county have been used as dumping grounds for tenants who were causing trouble in the city. Corporation officials, under siege from elected members in the city, housed these tenants in constituencies in west Dublin causing mayhem for the families in the surrounding areas.
I agree with the provisions in the legislation that give effect to the transfer of those dwellings to the local authorities in that area, but how quickly will that be done and what is the import of amendment No. 5 in that regard? The legislation states that it will be done within one year but what will happen where the manager of the principal authority draws up a schedule which is ultimately put to the Minister and there is foot-dragging at City Hall? In fairness, without this legislation there would be no movement on the part of City Hall. City Hall is happy with the inherited position where people on its housing list can be located in the country. We must bear in mind that those houses were built from capital funds, and the same can be said of the land banks. Therefore, the proprietorial approach adopted by City Hall is out of order. The fact that we have taken the Bill early means we are deprived of the input of the Dublin city councillors but, hopefully, we will have their input during the debate.
I would like the Minister to reassure us that amendment No. 5 will not have any implications for the speedy transfer of properties and dwellings to the new local authorities being constituted under this legislation. The fact that there will be three new county councils in the area of county Dublin is neither here nor there as far as many of the people to whom I refer are concerned. However, they are concerned that the housing authority for their area will be the local authority and that, through their elected representatives, they can make that authority accountable for the problems in their estates. Such problems may arise from the carelessness of tenanting policies where families with a bad track record in other parts of the city — such as drug related problems — are housed in the county area giving rise to many social problems.
Response maintenance must be dealt with effectively; that has not been the case up to now. The general upkeep and maintenance of estates must be tackled by the new local authorities. Those are the bread and butter issues about which the citizens in those local authority estates are concerned, and not the abstract concept of local democracy, that the new councils will be more relevant to their needs, less remote and so on. That may be true, but that is not their primary concern. They want to be able to complain and get a response when their back door is warped, when water is seeping into their homes, when a tap is leaking and water is coming through a ceiling, a window is broken by a passing stone thrower, etc. The tenants want those matters dealt with immediately, and not as they have not been up to now.
That is the kernel of the legislation from the point of view of councillors in all parties represented on Dublin County Council. Will the Minister assure us that, in the event of the provision for the transfer of those dwellings and properties not functioning as smoothly as he anticipates, he will take the necessary action to ensure there is no foot dragging on the part of City Hall to delay this sensible transfer of responsibility and vesting of ownership of properties in the local authority for the area concerned?
(Wexford): The regulatory powers simply allow for the implementation and operation of the new county councils established by the Bill and for the necessary consequential and supplementary provisions to be made in this regard or in relation to other legal codes directly affected by this legislation. This Bill cannot deal with everything; the regulations simply allow for any necessary supplementary provision to be made. The legislation has implications for a number of other Acts listed under the heading “Acts Referred To” on pages 3 and 4. It is possible that some matter may arise which has not been dealt with specifically by the legislation, for example, where another enactment needs to be adjusted slightly to enable it to continue to operate following the establishment of three new county councils. It is reasonable, therefore, that the Oireachtas, having determined the principle and much of the detail for the establishment of the new councils, would enable the Minister to implement any other adjustments necessary to ensure that the Act operates fully.
There is nothing unusual in that approach. It simply allows the reorganisation process to be implemented. Clearly, it would not be possible for legislation to deal with every minute detail of the transfers to which I referred until the local authorities have worked out a detailed picture of the implications. It is understandable that at that stage regulations could be made to allow the transfers proceed and to make any detailed provisions which may be identified as necessary to enable that take place. At present I do not know, and neither do the local authorities, the precise arrangements which may need to be made. That will only become clear when a complete and comprehensive picture of all the properties is assembled and the future arrangements are worked out by the local authorities in regard to the operation of the housing system, for example, in the light of transfers.
Deputy Doyle referred to regulations and the need to have a debate on them. In general, debates on regulations in housing debates go far beyond the capacity of this legislation. That is a matter for the House to consider under Standing Orders and I am sure the Deputy will take up the matter with the Whips. Deputy Rabbitte referred to the cost of reorganisation. On Committee Stage the Minister undertook to consider that matter sympathetically to see what can be done in respect of once-off start-up costs associated with the reorganisation process. I will raise the Deputy's concerns with the Minister.
The schemes which will provide for the transfer of properties by local authorities under the Third Schedule — Deputy Gilmore raised this issue — will set out a time frame. It will not therefore be a matter for the Minister except in cases where there is a failure to respond. That is the only case where he might intervene.