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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 22 Apr 1999

Vol. 503 No. 5

Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Bill, 1999 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time." The main purpose of the Bill is to provide for a statutory scheme for the disclosure of election expenditure by candidates, political parties and third parties at local elections. In addition, candidates will be required to disclose the sources of funds used to meet election expenses including the disclosure of any donation over £500 received by them in connection with the election. The Bill removes the disqualification for membership of a local authority of chairpersons of Oireachtas Committees and also makes provision for research into electronic methods of recording and counting votes using the ballot papers from the European and local elections to be held in June this year.

The question of commencing section 72 of the Electoral Act, 1997, under which the Minister may make regulations to provide for a scheme of disclosure of donations and election expenses comparable to that which operates at Dáil, European and presidential elections has been given detailed consideration. However, it has been decided that the arrangements envisaged under that section would not be appropriate for local elections for reasons which I wish to outline.

Local elections differ from Dáil and other elections in a number of major respects, most notably in terms of scale. At the local elections in June of this year, there will probably be over 3,500 candidates. This compares to 484 in the 1997 general election and 52 in the 1994 European elections. Similarly in relation to constituencies, there are 268 local electoral areas compared to 42 Dáil and four European Parliament constituencies.

There are also major population differences. The population of local electoral areas varies greatly, but the average is around 13,500 with some areas having a population of little more than 1,000. This compares with Dáil constituencies where population ranges from 62,000 to 115,000 and European Parliament constituencies which have populations ranging from 668,000 to over one million. Finally, due to the smaller size of constituencies and the local nature of the elections, extensive expenditure would not be necessary and expenditure by each candidate would be lower than at a Dáil election.

If section 72 was commenced and regulations made under it, the size and complexity of the administrative undertaking would become even clearer. For example, each candidate would have to appoint an election agent; about 3,500 election agents would have to make election expenditure statements to the Public Offices Commission within 56 days of the election in respect of elected members and unsuccessful candidates; expenditure limits would have to be set either for all candidates for election to each local authority or different limits would have to be set for candidates for different classes of local authorities. If different limits of expenditure were set for candidates in different areas, the question of equality of treatment would arise; 1,627 elected members would have to make donation statements to the Public Offices Commission by 31 January 2000 and every year thereafter; and about 1,900 unsuccessful candidates would have to submit donation statements to the Public Offices Commission within 56 days of the election.

Not surprisingly, given what I have outlined, the Public Offices Commission would need extra staff and resources to carry out the extra work involved at a cost of about £300,000. Another major feature of a section 72 scheme would be its central focus – all documentation would have to be brought to Dublin rather than remaining in the relevant locality. I think it is clear, therefore, that a scheme under section 72 would not be appropriate for local elections and the Bill provides for an alternative which can meet the objectives of the Electoral Act, 1997, through a less bureaucratic and local arrangement.

The Bill provides that each candidate will submit an income and expenditure statement to the local authority for which he or she is a candidate for election. Details of any donation over £500 received to fund election expenditure will also have to be disclosed. Political parties, likewise, will submit a statement of total expenditure by their headquarters in local elections to a specified local authority in the Dublin area. Expenditure by a political party at local electoral area level will have to be disclosed by a designated person of the political party to the local authority concerned. Thus, there will be two levels of disclosure for political parties and one for candidates.

I would like to point out that political parties are already obliged to disclose donations over the specified limit received during a local election in their annual donation statements. For this purpose, parties are deemed to include any branch of the party, candidate of the party at a local election, member of the party who is a Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas or member of a local authority or representative in the European Parliament or any officer, member, or agent of the party or of a branch or subsidiary organisation. Members of the Oireachtas who stand as candidates at the local elections will have to furnish statements to a local authority. There may be some duplication in this situation but it should not be too onerous on any individual. If a Member of the Oireachtas who is a candidate at the local elections was excluded from submitting an expenditure statement to a local authority, there would not be a complete picture of expenditure at the election and this could give rise to concern that some candidates were not being treated the same as others.

An important feature of the scheme proposed in the Bill is its local focus. All documentation will be kept locally for inspection by local people. It would run counter to the major programme of local government reform which is under way if the documentation, for example, was stored centrally in Dublin. Why should the public in Bantry or Buncrana have to travel to Dublin to inspect the relevant records?

Before I outline some of the main elements of the Bill, I would like to briefly mention existing provisions and some current developments in relation to conflict of interest and ethics at local authority level. I am very conscious of the need for a new ethical framework for local authorities which is both robust and workable and which takes account of the recent legislative changes within this area. As members are aware, ethical provisions have been in operation in the local government planning service since the enactment of the Planning Act, 1976. That Act applies to both members and officials of local authorities in so far as any planning, land acquisition and disposal functions or any dealings or interests in land are concerned. The provisions involve registration of interests, a public register of interests, declarations at meetings along with penalties for non-compliance, etc. However, it is now time to widen and strengthen its scope.

The major local government Bill in preparation in my Department provides an ideal opportunity for a review and preparation of an ethical framework for the local government service. This review will include the widening of ethical provisions to all local government activities and not just the planning area. It will take account of the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, and the work of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service on the draft standards in public office proposals. It will also take account of similar legislation in other jurisdictions. Additional areas to be considered include provision of a code of conduct, the widening of existing disclosures and annual declaration provisions. For these reasons, it is not proposed that elected members of local authorities should furnish annual donation statements under the terms of the Bill.

The local government Bill will also provide for the elimination of the dual local authority/Oireachtas mandate from a future date. In the interim, pending the coming into effect of this general disqualification, it is proposed to remove the current disqualification applying to the chairs of Oireachtas committees and joint committees for the local elections in June 1999. Such persons will then be free to stand for election.

Regarding the main sections of the Bill, section 6 contains the definition of election expenses and is based on section 31 of the Electoral Act, 1997, which applies to Dáil and European Parliament elections. Election expenses are defined as any expenditure incurred in connection with a local election to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the interests of a political party or the election of any candidate or to present or oppose the policies of a party or candidate. The section provides that certain expenditure will be deemed not to constitute election expenses. These exceptions are the same as those which apply at Dáil and European elections and details of them can be found in the Bill and in the explanatory and financial memorandum.

An expenditure limit for candidates at the local elections is not being proposed. Such a limit would make the scheme very bureaucratic for candidates and political parties and would add to its cost. Because of the smaller scale of individual local election areas compared to other elections, expenditure should not be as extensive. The general principle of disclosure contained in the 1997 Act is maintained and all candidates will also have to disclose the sources of funding used to meet election expenditure. It is intended to analyse expenditure at the elections and this data will be useful to see if an expenditure limit is necessary in future, especially if different limits should be set for candidates and political parties contesting elections in differently sized authorities. Most EU countries do not have election expenditure limits for local elections.

The most frequently asked question is the period in which election expenses incurred have to be declared. Section 6(3) states that the period commences on the date of the polling day order and ends on polling day. This is generally four weeks before polling day which will be 11 June next. However, election expenses incurred before the date of the polling day order for use during the election period must be included in the election expenses statement. This section also provides that third parties who have no connection with political parties or candidates and who intend incurring election expenses either at a national level or at local electoral level will have to register with a local authority and make an election expenses statement after the election.

Section 7 requires a political party, other than a political party registered to contest elections in part of the State, which proposes to present candidates at a local election to appoint a national agent. He or she will only be responsible for national expenditure because it would not be possible for such a person to keep track of local expenditure without an army of staff in party headquarters. Section 8 provides that each political party will be obliged to appoint a designated person who will be responsible for furnishing a statement of election expenses incurred by a political party at local electoral area level.

Section 13 provides for the furnishing of the statements in prescribed forms by national agents, designated persons, candidates and third parties within 90 days of polling day. There is also provision that, where a candidate or third party dies before the submission of a statement, it will not be necessary for the personal representatives of that person to submit a statement.

An essential element of the scheme in the Bill is openness, and section 14 provides that election expenses statements received from designated persons, candidates and third parties for expenditure at local level must be given to the elected members of the local authority concerned. The statements by political parties and third parties for expenditure at national level will be available for inspection at a local authority in the Dublin area, and I acknowledge the co-operation of Dublin Corporation in this regard which has agreed to act as the specified local authority. Section 18 obliges a local authority to register and acknowledge every statement it receives. Section 19 requires an authority to publish a notice in a newspaper circulating in its functional area stating the time and place the statements can be inspected. The notice will also include the names of those who have not furnished statements.

Section 18 also provides that a local authority will issue guidelines to candidates and political parties on matters covered in the Bill. This should assist candidates and others in understanding the Bill's requirements. I would like to see the guidelines issuing to candidates and others as early as possible and my Department will issue draft guidelines to local authorities as soon as the Bill is enacted.

Disqualification, offences and penalties under the Bill are contained in sections 20 and 21. The penalties for non-compliance or furnishing false or misleading statements by a national agent, designated person or third party are the same as those which apply at Dáil or European elections. A different regime is proposed for unsuccessful and elected candidates. Where an unsuccessful candidate fails to furnish a statement of election expenses or a statutory declaration within the specified period, the person shall be disqualified from membership of a local authority during the remainder of the term of office of members of local authority elected at that election.

Where a member of a local authority fails to furnish a statement of election expenses or a statutory declaration within the specified period, the member shall be automatically suspended from membership of the authority for seven days commencing on the expiry of the time specified. If at the end of such seven days the member has not complied with the requirements of section 13, he or she shall be disqualified from membership of a local authority during the period of the remainder of the term of office of members of a local authority elected at that election. So that there is no misunderstanding of the position of elected members, I will ask local authorities to issue a notice at the first meeting of the new councils to remind them of the provisions of the Bill.

Section 24 provides for the necessary amendment of section 6 of the Local Government Act, 1994, to remove the disqualification applying to the chairs of Oireachtas committees and joint committees for the June local elections.

Section 25, the final section, makes provision for research into the feasibility of introducing electronic methods of recording and counting votes under the present PR-STV election system. This provision will not introduce electronic voting and counting at elections, which would require separate legislation. Counted ballot papers can only be inspected by obtaining a High Court order when the court hears a petition questioning an election. Counted ballot papers are normally destroyed six months after an election. The section makes provision for the use of counted ballot papers to assist in the examination of the feasibility of introducing electronic voting and counting. This is necessary to test the equipment to be used for electronic voting, including any minor changes in the counting rules necessary, and to establish the effects of such changes. Extraction of data from the counted ballot papers will be restricted to this purpose and the ballot papers will be destroyed in the normal way once the information is recorded.

The scheme proposed in the Bill is a local one appropriate to local elections. It will be less costly, less bureaucratic and simpler to operate than the scheme for Dáil and European Parliament elections. Crucially, it will embody the principles of the Electoral Act, 1997; all expenditure will be disclosed and candidates will have to dis close the sources of funding used to meet election expenses together with any donation over £500 received. The obligation on political parties to disclose donations, as currently provided for under Part IV of the Electoral Act, 1997, will continue. This Bill is a sensible, workable and comprehensive approach to the disclosure of donations and expenditure in respect of local elections. I commend it to the House.

Mr. Hayes

I thank the Minister's officials for briefing me and Deputy Gilmore when the Bill was first published. Following the suggestion made by Deputy Gilmore on the Order of Business, I recommend the Minister and his officials brief us on the legislation to enact a constitutional referendum and the wording of that referendum before it comes before the Dáil, That would be important.

My party is in favour of the maximum disclosure in terms of election expenses and donations to all candidates and we support the Bill in that respect. However, we believe the Bill to be seriously flawed in a number of respects. For that reason we will abstain on the question whether the Bill should be submitted to the select committee. If it is submitted we will introduce substantial amendments on Committee and Report Stages to make it more effective and transparent.

We all recognise this is a difficult time for politics, both locally and nationally, in view of the revelations occurring on a daily basis in Dublin Castle. We must ensure that the political system we have in place at local level, in the Dáil and at the European level is above board and beyond reproach. That is why the principles enacted in the Ethics in Public Office Act and the Electoral Acts will, in the long run, be to the benefit of politics. We need maximum disclosure, not a minimalist response. I am afraid that many of the provisions in this Bill are minimalist in nature. Politics needs to be opened up. In view of this, we should not create different levels of disclosure and different levels of expenditure because this creates suspicion, which is not good for politics.

The Government has a nerve introducing legislation of this kind seven or eight weeks before the local elections. Last year the Government postponed the local elections until the holding of the European elections this June. Since it knew this type of legislation would have to be enacted before the local elections, why has it taken two years for the legislation to be presented to the Oireachtas? It means that, seven weeks before the elections, the Bill must be railroaded through the House within a few weeks. That is not the way to do business and the Government's approach is disrespectful to the House. This kind of legislation needs detailed consideration and it is important that this be done. However, we will not have an opportunity to do this and the Government stands indicted on that count.

Fine Gael believes there needs to be a consistent approach to the mechanisms of declarations between local, European and national elections. We are opposed to the idea that, in terms of what is proposed under this legislation, all the information should exist at local level. While this should be substantially improved, we welcome the provisions on disclosure which are a central part of the legislation and should allay public concern about the levels of funding received by candidates and parties at elections.

When the Bill was before the Seanad the Government dropped the ball on this issue when it decided to help the electoral considerations of Deputy Healy-Rae from the Kerry South constituency who is chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government. The position of committee chairmen was not mentioned until it was quietly inserted in the Bill when it was before the Seanad. The motivation of the Government must be questioned when it stitches into the legislation a provision that will be used by Deputy Healy-Rae, and perhaps others, despite the consensus reached in the House some years ago that committee chairmen should not be members of local authorities.

We believe that much of the information being sought by way of this legislation should be kept at the level of the Public Offices Commission, which is relatively new to the world of politics. However, we are beginning to recognise its role and to become used to its functions within the political system. It is wrong to keep two separate levels, one for statements by local election candidates at local level and another for statements at Public Offices Commission level for national and European elections.

The Minister said that information would be kept locally and the county secretary will have the responsibility to gather information from local election candidates. Could this lead to conflict for county secretaries and managers who are senior officials within the local government system? The idea behind the Public Offices Commission was to create an independent body charged with the responsibility of gathering donation statements on a regular basis. By giving this responsibility to senior management figures within the local government system are we burdening them with a function that should not be within their domain? I ask the Minister to comment on this in his reply.

The Minister said he could not envisage a situation where the Public Offices Commission would have to deal with these kinds of donation statements because it would impose additional expenditure of £300,000 and would lead to a vastly increased number of staff in the commission. That is nonsense. If the Government considers that the commission is doing its job correctly in terms of national elections it should be given the same functions for local elections. This would lead to increasing expertise and knowledge within that body.

The Minister repeated the ludicrous argument he made in the Seanad regarding the Buncrana to Dublin line. His argument is that people will not travel to Dublin to see the donation statements of local election candidates. Why was the same argument not used in terms of Dáil elections when the Government implemented the Public Offices Commission? If people in Buncrana are interested in ascertaining the donation statements of local election candidates should they not also have the right to the same facility in respect of their general election candidates? Are people in Cahirciveen, or wherever, expected to travel to Dublin to ascertain the donation statements of their Dáil candidates in an age of e-mail, telephone and facsimile communication? The information should be kept by the Public Offices Commission. This would mean that people could get information on the declaration and donation statements of a local election candidate by telephone, e-mail or facsimile.

Why are we creating this two tiered approach between local and national elections? It is not good enough. The argument in favour of it must be faced down. If Dáil election candidates can make their declaration statements to the Public Offices Commission so should local election candidates. The Minister maintained this was in the context of giving more powers and functions to local government. However that is ludicrous because it puts more work on the local government system when there is a well functioning independent body in place, the Public Offices Commission. The Government must think again about this argument.

My party's central disagreement with the Bill concerns the absence of expenditure limits. That is wrong. Most political parties and people involved in politics realise that capping election expenditure is a good thing. We are all sick and tired of the continuous fund-raising which goes on behind political parties. Much of that fund-raising is wasteful expenditure on elections. The level of expenditure set for general elections and European elections is perfectly adequate and will reduce the burden on fund-raising for political parties. Why, therefore, has the Government not continued with that consistent principle in this legislation? The Minister claims it is unworkable. I do not accept that.

We are all beginning to get used to the capping of expenditure at general elections. We have had particular knowledge of this by way of by-elections in this Dáil already. It is a normal part of our political procedure and it is good for politics. Why, when it comes to local elections, has this area been overlooked? We all know that a small minority of local election candidates spend considerable sums of money at local elections and do not get many votes for their trouble, but to have this problematic principle in the Bill where there is one set of standards for general elections and European elections and another for local elections is not good enough. I ask the Government to think again on that issue.

With regard to the donations statements, the Minister is also wrong to limit the requirement in the Bill for statements on donations over £500 to local election candidates to the course of the election. Every member of a local authority and public official should have to declare on an annual basis whether they received donations over £500 from various sources. It would require all councillors to fill out forms which Members of the Dáil have had to complete over recent years. That is not an onerous task. I do not know why the Government has dodged this issue. We could have a situation where an individual gives £4,000 or £3,000 to a candidate before a local election campaign starts but he or she would not have to declare it because the Bill applies only to the three or four weeks of the campaign.

It is also wrong that significant moneys may be given to councillors outside the scope of a local election and need not be declared. That seems bizarre. I do not accept the Minister's argument that this is just unworkable administratively and could not be put into effect. We will have to revisit that issue in particular. People expect that local politicians, like national politicians, should have to make declarations on donations they receive. If people have nothing to hide, they would not be afraid to make a donation statement. It is also madness that Members of the Dáil who stand for local election must make double declarations. That must be overcome on Committee Stage. As a Member of the Dáil, I make an annual statement but it does not make sense that I should have to make another statement if I stand for local election.

How effective is the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1976, which requires all officials and members of local authorities to declare an interest or significant sums of money which they would have received from various parties when they are taking a decision? Have there been many examples of local councillors declaring an interest before they vote one way or the other on various issues which come before local government?

I also think it is wrong for the disclosures Bill and the ethics standards Bill, to which the Minister referred, to come at separate times. I would have thought it more sensible that we would have dealt with the ethical issues connected to local government at the same time as we were talking about the issue of disclosures.

There is a level of public disquiet about certain named officials who have been operating in the world of planning and at senior management levels of local government. We have a responsibility to revisit the prevailing legislation related to disclosures by county managers, senior planners and senior management people within local government. If there is a law for politicians, the same law should apply to senior management figures in local government who on a regular basis must make important decisions affecting huge sums of money and great change within local government. I wonder is there the same level of disclosure by senior management figures within local government. I do not think so. In light of what has come out of the tribunals in Dublin Castle to date, that entire area must be revisited. It is wrong that senior public service officials do not have to make regular disclosures in the same way that politicians must do so. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dan Wallace, who was a distinguished member of Cork Corporation for many years, would know that significant powers exist within the management systems of local government. I would be interested in hearing his observations on when he proposes to make amendments in that regard.

Earlier I described this legislation and the way in which it was stitched up in the Seanad as an attempt to appease Deputy Healy-Rae. Yesterday I heard the views of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, on the dual mandate at a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government. He referred to the fact that he wants to abolish the dual mandate but I seriously question whether this House has a right to deny a Member of the Dáil, or any citizen of the Republic, from standing for local elections. Is it constitutional? I ask the Minister to continue to discuss this matter with the Attorney General's office. When that constitutional litmus test is put to it, the Government will be seen not to be on the right road in this area. If the Fianna Fáil Party or other parties want to abolish the dual mandate, let them take that position at a policy level within their parties and more luck to them, but I believe legislation to abolish the dual mandate would be unconstitutional. Ultimately it is a matter for the Irish people to decide for themselves whether they want to elect a Dáil Deputy as a councillor. That is their prerogative I wonder about the constitutional implications of Minister Dempsey's repeated statements in this regard.

While the Minister's views on this subject are well known, he is putting off the abolition of the dual mandate to another time. If he believes so much in this, why did he not introduce the necessary legislation in the past two years? Does the Minister have certain placating reasons for not implementing this? We must find out.

With regard to third parties, on Committee Stage we need to get a good deal more clarity from the Government as to whether the scheme proposed in the legislation is workable. For example, I recently took a firm decision, as did the Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy Flood, Deputy Rabbitte, and the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, to back proposals for a methadone addiction centre in my constituency. As one would expect, we were pilloried and local protest meetings were held. At the end of one of those, a gentleman told me he would fervently canvass against me and that he would distribute leaflets to this effect because I was in favour of the location of the addiction centre in Tallaght. I told him he was entitled to do so. Under this legis lation does that person with a bee in his bonnet about me and perhaps other TDs require a certificate from the local authority before he can distribute leaflets in Tallaght saying what an awful politician I am? We are on a slippery slope in this regard. I know there is no expenditure limit and I presume I could respond immediately to his 1,000 leaflets asking people not to vote for me. However, who will police this? Will that person be taken to court? Are we giving unimaginable power to local authorities?

There are more cases now than ever where groups or individuals will campaign against a politician because they do not agree with him or her. How can we possibly monitor this? We need to look again at the section which deals with third parties. Is it constitutional to put a limit on the right of people to oppose candidates or political parties? The gentleman who said he was going to canvass against me and distribute leaflets has every right to do so. However, will this legislation curtail his right?

What about the implications for newspapers? While the legislation covers newspapers, periodicals and magazines, will newspapers, particularly local ones, be more circumspect in taking a neutral position on local elections than they ought to be? Will they require a certificate from a local authority before they declare for one candidate or party in local elections? How will this be policed?

I wish to speak about the provisions at the end of the Bill for the introduction of electronic voting. I am aware from recent demonstrations that the Minister is using these elections as a dry run. Where will this dry run take place? I understand the ballot papers from local elections will be used. Where will this superficial count take place? Will it be in the Department of the Environment and Local Government? What will happen to the papers, which I understand are to be kept secret? On a related matter which has been highlighted in the media in the past number of weeks, how long does the Department of the Environment and Local Government hold ballot papers? I presume the same will apply to electronic voting.

Is it correct that if this measure is enacted nationally, in terms of the distribution of surpluses, the pure PR-STV form could be enacted in local, general and European elections? At the moment we have an imperfect system under which if one candidate has a surplus only a certain number of ballot papers in that pile are taken into account. The Seanad system is a perfect form because it takes all ballot papers into account. Will electronic voting allow the perfect form of PR-STV to be implemented?

This Bill needs to be looked at again on Committee Stage. My party is in favour of the maximum disclosure in local elections and we will not frustrate the passing of the Bill. However, we want the Bill to be more comprehensive and to provide for more accountability.

This Government has been in office for almost two years. The programme for Government which heralded the election of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat Government contains a section which deals with local government. It proclaims that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in Government are committed to the restoration of real decision making and power to local authorities and local people. It goes on to list a series of aspirations – improving efficiency throughout the system, enhancing the concept of customer service in local government, removing the democratic deficit by restoring real power to the elected members and facilitating a new partnership with the community and voluntary sector.

Given these lofty aspirations we all had reason to expect this Government would have flooded this House with legislation to reform local government in the two years in which it has been in office. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government seemed to indicate on a number of occasions that this might happen. He has made a succession of declaratory speeches at meetings with various local government bodies – the General Council of County Councils, the Association of Municipal Authorities and the Local Authority Members' Association – telling them about his extensive plans to reform local government. He even took the theme on tour. One must wonder whether his extensive visitation of local authorities was about the reform of local government or something else.

After two years of talk about local government reform – we saw another example at yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government where the Minister treated us to his thoughts, aspirations and long-term wishes for local government – this is the first local government legislation produced by this Government which has appeared on the Order Paper. It is very defective legislation, as Deputy Hayes said, and I will deal with it later.

We will hear about local government ad nauseam for the next six or seven weeks. Local government is 100 years old today and it shows its age. There is probably no aspect of the governmental and administrative system which requires modernisation, change and reform more than the centenarian local government system. There is hardly any significant interest in local government – elected members, staff, various associated organisations and certainly the long suffering public who must deal with a very outdated system – which does not wish to have it reformed.

The intention of this House was that local government would be reformed before the next local elections. The local government elections to city and county councils, which were due three years ago, were postponed so that legislation could be introduced to reform local government and that when elections took place they would be to newly reformed bodies. That has not happened.

There are 26 year old people in this country who have never had the opportunity to vote for the members of their city or county council, to cast a vote for the people who make critical decisions about how land is zoned, the environment is planned, waste is dealt with, where roads are built, traffic management and all the other services and functions performed by local government. People in their mid to late twenties have never had the opportunity to vote for the people who make these decisions because we were waiting for the holy grail of local government reform, which has not happened.

We are now going to proceed, according to the Minister, with local elections on 11 June to elect members to the old unreformed local councils and, perhaps a couple of weeks before those elections, the Bill on local government reform will be presented in a way which suggests it is the Fianna Fáil manifesto for the local elections. We are going to have all kinds of reform of local government, with quality service and the end of the dual mandate, except where it counts, which is in reality. Before every local election we get a flurry of interest on the part of the Government about reforming local government but as soon as the polls close at 9 p.m., it is forgotten about for another period of years.

It is an absurdity that the Bill which is intended to reform local government will not be enacted until after the local elections. It is not the only legislation impacting on local government which is delayed by the Government. For example, a Bill was promised to reform the appointment of vocational education committees, all of which will be appointed by local councils before the middle of July, following the local elections. We were supposed to have statutory representation for parents and teachers on vocational education committees. That legislation will now not be produced until after the local elections and after the vocational education committees have been appointed under the old system. We were supposed to have a planning Bill, which would have major implications for the councils elected on 11 June. The public is entitled to know, at the very least, what powers the people whom they elect on 11 June will have in relation to planning, not least because of the degree of public concern which exists at present, some of it emanating from the revelations in the planning tribunal in Dublin Castle.

Yesterday the Minister for the Environment and Local Government told a committee that social housing is a cornerstone of local government. There are 130 pieces of legislation on the Government's legislative programme but there is not a single Bill to deal with any aspect of the housing crisis affecting many families at present. There is no legislation to tighten up landlord and tenant law, to provide for affordable housing or to deal with the gazumping of house prices and the profiteering which is taking place in that area but there are plenty of declarations about what the Government is going to do about social hous ing, much of which seems to be repeated at very considerable length by what appears to be a highly uncritical press as far as this Department and area of public policy are concerned.

We have also had the debacle about regionalisation. We now have layers in different regions dealing with different functions. On top of that, the Government is going to lay down group regions to correspond to its wish to maximise EU funds rather than basing it on any real sense of regionalisation.

This Government, which will talk very loudly and extensively over the next number of weeks about local government reform, has done nothing to reform the system of local government in the two years it has been in office. It is interesting to compare the inactivity of the Government in reforming the local government system of this State with the performance of the UK Government which, in the same period, has managed to introduce huge constitutional and governmental changes, with the establishment of assemblies in Scotland and Wales, the elected body in Northern Ireland and the arrangements for the election of a Mayor of London. In that two year period, while this Government has been doing nothing to reform local government and the Minister has been visiting councils all over the country talking about local government reform, the government of the neighbouring state has got on with the job and shown what can be done by a government that is serious about conducting its business.

The only piece of legislation dealing with local government with which we are left is this one, which admittedly provides for the declaration of expenditure incurred and donations contributed, essentially in the month before the local elections, but which provides for no limit on the amount a candidate may expend in the local election campaign. The Minister of State said in his speech that this is in keeping with the principles of the Electoral Act, 1977, which it is not. The Electoral Act, 1997, and the various legislation enacted by the previous Government to deal with the declaration of electoral expenditure and donations and the capping of electoral expenditure, was a package which provided for, first, limits on the amount an individual candidate or party could spend in an election so that we would have fair elections and, second, a declaration from where that money was coming and what was being spent so that there would be public transparency.

To introduce one element of that package in relation to the local elections without the other is really trying to make a bird fly on one wing or applaud with one hand. It does not make sense to have the declarations of donations and expenditure without having a cap on expenditure as well. It is a nonsense for this State to have a regime where there will be a cap on the amount spent by candidates for the European Parliament or the Dáil but no limit on the amount spent by candidates for urban councils, town commissions or county councils. It is for that reason I am pro posing, on behalf of the Labour Party, a Second Stage amendment to the Bill.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all the words after "that" and to substitute the following:

"Dáil Éireann,

deploring the failure of the Bill to provide any limit on the amount that a candidate may spend in the local elections;

noting that this will now create an anomalous situation in which there are strict limits on the amounts that candidates may spend seeking election to Dáil Éireann or to the European Parliament but none on those seeking election to a local authority;

declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill".

The reason we are given for the lack of a cap on expenditure does not stand up. The Minister says it is for administrative reasons because it will create too bureaucratic a system, with all local candidates having to make declarations of the amount they spend over the limit. That does not make sense. The procedure which would control the limit on expenditure is already provided for in the Bill. Every candidate in the local election will have to make a declaration of the amount they get and the amount they spend. Not only will every candidate have to do that, but every party will have to do so. As Deputy Hayes pointed out, not only will every party have to do that but so will every residents' association which sends a circular to the 200 or 300 houses in its membership, naming the councillors who were of help to it in a rezoning controversy or any other local issue and seeking support for those councillors. They will also have to make a declaration of the amount they spend.

Where is the difficulty in including a provision which states that there shall be a limit on the amount a candidate may spend? One can control the limit by reference to the declaration of expenditure which candidates will be required to make. This is not an administrative difficulty but a political decision by the Government to provide a regime for these local elections which is manifestly unfair and will provide an unfair advantage to wealthy candidates or to candidates who have wealthy backers.

It is particularly serious that this is happening in local government. While we have limits for spending in Dáil elections, there are few issues that come before the House and which are decided upon by direct vote of the House, as distinct from governmental decisions, which impact on the financial well-being or otherwise of individual citizens or companies in the way they do in local government. The inquiries in Dublin Castle, for example, particularly the Flood Tribunal, deal with matters that pertain at local government level, such as planning permission and rezoning of land, which are capable of turning small farmers into multi-millionaires if they own land in the vicinity of a large expanding urban conurbation.

Developers can make huge sums of money from decisions made by local authorities. We have seen press reports and heard stories recently about developers. I recall one story, which was not denied by the principals involved, where a developer provided £0.5 million to a consultant to pursue planning permission for a development and associated matters. There is nothing in this Bill to prevent a developer funding to the gills a candidate or a number of candidates in a local election who will pursue their material, financial and beneficial interests once they are elected to the council.

This is particularly serious in local elections. We all know from political experience that the poll in local elections is significantly lower than that in a general election. The potential, therefore, to distort the outcome of a local election by having a candidate or a group of candidates who are highly resourced, have access to considerable amounts of money and who can spend that to the benefit of their favoured candidates is building into the local election system an unfairness which is not tolerable in a democracy.

This Bill is making the local elections on 11 June unfair before the first vote is cast. The concept of local democracy is to allow citizens at local level to elect people whom they know and who live among them to sit on their local councils and to govern their local areas. It should not be possible to have a regime whereby one candidate, if he is based in a community which does not have resources, is at a disadvantage compared to another candidate who has huge amounts of money to spend on the campaign. That is an unfair election. This needs to be put right before these elections are held on 11 June.

I propose that the House does not give this Bill a Second Reading in the absence of a cap on expenditure. If the House votes to give the Bill a Second Reading, then I will propose on Committee Stage that limits on a scaled basis, depending on the size of the local authority and the electoral area, be put in place for the local elections on 11 June.

The decision to omit the cap on spending is not an administrative decision but a political one. The political agenda the Government is pursuing was inadvertently dropped by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government when he spoke on Committee Stage in the Seanad. When my colleague, Senator Gallagher, asked the Minister what was the point in having limits on spending in Dáil elections and not in local elections, the Minister replied that it was his intention to remove the limits on spending in Dáil elections as well in the next Electoral Bill. Has this Government, particularly the largest party in it, not learned anything from the tribunals, investigations and public concern about the relationship between money, politics, property, planning and the other matters under investigation at present?

I am concerned about some of the exemptions in this Bill which should be explained on Committee Stage. Section 6(1)(b)(iii), for example, states that "the reasonable living expenses of a candidate or any person or persons working on behalf of the candidate on a voluntary basis" will not be included for expenditure in this Bill. Does this mean, for example, that if a well resourced candidate pays subsistence to and buys meals for an army of people that is not included in election expenses?

We need some explanation of section 6(1)(b)(v) which deals with the non-inclusion of resources which might be available to a candidate either through membership of this House, the European Parliament or a political party. The principle which must be followed in the conduct of local elections is that every candidate, irrespective of whether he is a member of a big or small political party or none or whether he is a Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas, should be able to contest the local elections on an even basis.

I agree with Deputy Hayes about the loophole in the Bill which only confines the declaration of donations and expenditure to the period between the declaration and the conduct of the poll. That must be widened to ensure that donations given to a local election candidate or to a member of a local authority at any time over the limit of £500 are capable of being declared in the same way as they are capable of being declared by a Member of the Oireachtas.

I also agree with Deputy Hayes about the section which will put this requirement on people and bodies who are not candidates or political parties but who express and circulate material either in support of or in opposition to candidates in a local election. I can recall immediately residents' associations which for the information of their members may wish to indicate which candidates or councillors in an outgoing council voted in a particular way on controversial matters. They are perfectly entitled to do that. That is part of our system of public accountability. Will that be considered to be the circulation of material in favour or in opposition to particular candidates?

If residents' associations in my constituency around Stepaside, Rathmichael, Shankill or any of the other areas which were concerned about the protection of green belt areas circulate material indicating that certain members of Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council voted for the rezoning of this land from green belt to housing or whatever, will they be required to make a declaration? Will that be considered to be material which is circulated in opposition to particular candidates? There are other examples also. Where does this leave the newspapers and freedom the of press? Is freedom of the press only of concern to large monopoly newspaper owners? Does it not apply also to the freedom of citizens or groups of citizens to publish and circu late material which is of public interest and expressing public opinions?

If the Independent group of newspapers were to do a repeat of what it did at the last General Election where it editorialised in all its publications for at least a week in advance of the General Election in support of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat combination in opposition to the three parties in the outgoing Government and offer the advice that the electorate should vote in a particular way, will it be required under this legislation to make a declaration on the cost of publishing it?

I refer to the little provision which was slipped in on Committee Stage in the Seanad which will allow Oireachtas chairpersons to contest the local elections. I have no hard opposition to Oireachtas chairpersons contesting the local elections. However, I have to comment on the sly, political underhand method used to facilitate Deputy Healy-Rea and possibly other Members who are Oireachtas chairpersons and who may wish to contest the local elections. It would have been far preferable if the Government had stated clearly to this House, the other House and the public that it had a political problem which it wished to address and that it was proposing to do so by way of legislation rather than this pretence since we are not proceeding with the dual mandate legislation until 2004. If we are going that far why do we not allow Senators and TDs to be chairpersons of local authorities? A similar argument could be made for the lifting of that provision.

I am disappointed that half a dozen weeks before the local elections a Government which has been in office for two years and has talked us to boredom about local government reform, has not produced local government reform legislation. At the last minute it introduced defective legislation, which gives the pretence that it will provide for an open regime in local authorities, which is riddled with loopholes and does not contain the essential provision required in legislation of this kind, to put a limit on the amount that individual candidates may spend in the local elections.

This Bill should not be given a Second Reading. Either it should be thrown out at Second Stage or the Government should come back with proper legislation or, alternatively, the Minister should give a commitment to amend it to provide for limits on spending to ensure fair elections on 11 June rather than a manifestly unfair electoral regime under this Bill.

We are living in the age of openness, transparency and accountability. As we approach the end of this century and the end of this millennium it is reasonable to reflect on the changes which have taken place in the last 100 years. The changes which have taken place in the past ten years have been remarkable.

Our adoption of openness, transparency and accountability has profound implications for politics, the Judiciary, the churches and so on. I wel come this change to a totally open, transparent and accountable system. In the political arena we have introduced the Ethics in Public Office, Act, to allow for a registration of interests and the Electoral Act, 1997, to allow for disclosure of donations and expenditure with regard to elections etc. We have decisively adopted the principle of disclosure. This Bill is another step in that process and I welcome it.

Much discussion has already taken place on the need to put in an expenditure limit for candidates and parties. That would have been desirable but I accept the Minister's comments that this can be impractical for a number of reasons. For example, it would involve massive bureaucracy. Given that there are 268 electoral areas consisting of 75 single areas with memberships of between nine and 12 members and populations of 1,095 to 19,056, county councils and county boroughs which are divided into 193 local electoral areas with membership of three to seven members and population ranges from 3,992 to 63,173, there is a difficulty in treating all candidates equally. This would not be easy for local elections. Clearly a single limit would not be equal for all candidates. Alternatively one could attempt to devise different limits for different size electoral areas or different authorities and for each local electoral area within a county. Even if it were decided to have expenditure limits, the actual limits would have to be decided. It is a complicated task and should be kept under review.

The Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government recently produced a report on local government reform which states:

The sub-committee recognises that issues of ethics in public office require some consideration. The sub-committee notes the existing requirements in relation to declaration of Members' interests in planning matters.

The sub-committee also recognises the generally high standards which exist in this area. The sub-committee felt that consideration should be given to a proximate extension of the Ethics in Public Office Act and Electoral Acts to members and officials in local government.

I subscribe to that view.

The existing provisions in relation to the Planning Acts and councillors are inadequate. For example, a councillor who is a member of a local authority in Dublin but adjacent to another local authority would not have to declare an interest under the existing system. This is unsatisfactory and I would welcome an extension of the Ethics in Public Office Act and the registration of interests generally to local authorities as outlined in the report I mentioned.

There has been much talk about the dual mandate. The Minister is on record as saying that it will be abolished before the elections which are due to be held in 2004. This will be included in legislation which is due to be published shortly.

Never. Someone else will deal with it.

A provision under which Oireachtas Members will not be permitted to chair local authorities will come into effect in 1999. The position in relation to Oireachtas chairpersons going forward for election to a local authority is dealt with in this Bill and it will facilitate that move. The report on local government reform dealt with this matter well. It states:

Regarding the issue of the dual mandate, the sub-committee felt that the exclusion of Oireachtas Members from local government should only take place in the context of the dual mandate having been replaced by appropriate procedures for communications and access for Deputies and Senators to local authority documentation and processes, including the right to have representations answered, delegations met and documents and reports received. Provision should be made to allow Deputies and Senators attend and be allowed to contribute to local authority meetings at the discretion of the chairman.

The report continued:

The sub-committee also felt that, in the interim, partial restrictions on the functions of Oireachtas Members on local authorities, restrictions on accepting certain positions, etc, are entirely unacceptable.

I subscribe to that point. If the dual mandate is to be abolished as suggested by the Minister, in the interim all members of local authorities should be treated equally. Arbitrary rules should not be placed on some local authority members because they are Members of the Oireachtas and not on others.

Deputy Hayes said that the Fine Gael Party is not in favour of abolishing the dual mandate for constitutional reasons. This is an interesting point which can be clarified. However, in the interests of modernising Government generally and local government in particular, this side believes that the dual mandate will have to be abolished in due course. The current position is similar to a person saying, "Make me good, but not just yet." However, there is now a definite commitment to take that course and I understand the legislation will be published shortly.

The Bill also allows experimentation in relation to electronic voting mechanisms. This is long overdue. We live in an age of electronics and information technology. One only has to consider how business is conducted in the House and the procedures used for divisions to understand the merits of the provision. The bells ring for eight minutes and Deputies must physically come to the House and walk through the division lobbies where the details are recorded by hand by the various clerks assigned to this work. It is a cumbersome and archaic procedure and there must be a better way to do it through some form of electronic voting mechanism.

The system used for counting ballot papers in elections is also archaic. A culture has built up around it. The counting of ballot papers is often left until the day after polling and there are media reports about first count results being due around lunchtime and teatime. It is all very civilised and the tally men are to the fore. If the system is to be changed, this mechanism of determining results in advance will also be changed. However, we must accept that this system is outdated. I welcome the initial steps which have been taken to introduce some form of electronic voting and a new system for the counting of votes because we are behind the times in that regard. I welcome the Bill's provisions which will start the process of investigating alternative systems.

The Minister gave a firm commitment that a constitutional referendum will be held on the view that local government is an integral part of Government and to give constitutional recognition to the role of local authorities. I welcome this move. It is a good idea to hold a constitutional referendum on the same day as the local elections. This will increase awareness among the electorate of the local and European elections. The discussions taking place in the context of the referendum will encourage the electorate to turn out on polling day. I welcome the move to include this provision in the Constitution. Local government has been forgotten and the tremendous role played by councillors in the political system often is not recognised.

I do not intend seeking election to the Seanad and I am not offering the standard platitudes of Seanad candidates in praising councillors. However, the role of councillors deserves constitutional recognition and I welcome the fact that legislation in that regard will be published shortly. Will the Minister clarify whether the Referendum Commission will have to put the arguments for and against this proposal? It would be difficult to come up with arguments against inserting a provision relating to the role of local government in the Constitution. Will the Minister clarify whether changes are necessary to the mandate of the Referendum Commission in that regard?

Even at this stage, a low turnout for the forthcoming local and European elections can be predicted. I do not know why that is the case. Many theories have been put forward but I will not deal in detail with them. Any reason offered for a low turnout can be controversial. We all have a duty to mobilise the electorate to turn out on 11 June for the local elections.

Local authorities are failing to tackle the litter problem in the streets and countryside. Darndale estate in my local electoral area has many social problems. Much has been done to alleviate those problems but the litter in that estate is appalling. The responsibility for dealing with that falls to the local authority but the job is not being done by the cleansing division of Dublin Corporation. We cannot tolerate that anymore. There must be value for money. Resources are being spent but the job is not being done. That is only one area. This is happening in every street and in every part of the countryside. In the forthcoming reform of local government, we must focus on what is supposed to be done by local authorities. That is an example of where they are not doing their job. We must ask why. Perhaps if the balance of power is tilted away from management towards councillors there would be a chance that what we are supposed to do will be done.

The Minister put on the record that he subscribes to the idea of a directly elected mayor. This has been discussed by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Local Government, although a clear consensus has not emerged. We are moving towards the position where local authorities should have directly elected chairpersons and mayors. There has been constitutional reform and reform of local government in the UK which provides for the election by the people of a lord mayor of London. A person elected by the people would have a strong mandate to govern, would be accountable and would have a moral authority to govern. It would redress the balance between management and elected members and that would be desirable. In the interests of modernisation we should proceed along those lines and given the reforms we are putting in place that is inevitable. People in the existing system do not like change because they know how it works. If we set a target date for the introduction of major reform, we would all work toward that end.

I congratulate the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and the Minister of State for the reforms which have been put in place. I disagree with Deputy Gilmore when he says that no reform took place. The financing of local government, a thorn in the side for many years, has now been decisively dealt with. Local government now has the finances and resources to carry out its functions – this Government dealt with that. The forthcoming local government Bill will herald many new reforms which will be in place for implementation by the local authorities elected in June. The strategic policy committees and area based committees brought forward by the last administration are now being established. New proposals have been brought forward for the integration of the local development agencies with the local authorities. State agencies operating in certain local authority areas will be brought into the local government planning system. I welcome the consultations undertaken by the Minister with local authority members.

This is the centenary year for local government, a very exciting year with all the major changes planned. I welcome the principle of disclosure in this Bill and all that it means for transparency and accountability.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation. It is a unique day to do so – the day when the local authorities will celebrate the centenary of their first meeting with a meeting this evening. I read the minutes of the meeting in question and many things have happened since.

Before the local elections in 1991, as many dual mandate members will recall, the boundaries of all towns were extended to allow the urban district council town commissioners to be elected by the people they would represent. Those elected in 1995 were to be given the opportunity to represent those people. From these benches the current Minister talked ad nauseam about the reforms he would introduce to give those bodies and individual members the power to represent their towns. In Navan the elected representatives represent one third of the population who elected them. The position is similar in Kells and in Trim. It is interesting that the Minister, who hails from there, was an elected representative and chairman of both bodies, yet two years on there has not been any reform to deal with what was anticipated would happen at that time. Extending the boundaries and giving people an opportunity to elect representatives was a good idea at the time but we in this House have failed to deal with that issue. I am annoyed about that because on the doorsteps we are giving people false hope that, for the first time, their local representatives will have the opportunity to negotiate on their behalf.

It would be wrong of me not to mention my annoyance about a perception of events that have unfolded over the past year and a half. I am annoyed that senior figures in some local authorities have sufficient power to advise a council not to rezone land because it cannot be serviced when behind the scenes they are putting pressure on councillors to draw on section 4 to rezone the land or section 26 in terms of material contravention. I have given serious thought to that since the various disclosures came to light. That practice has done a great deal of harm to local politics. I take serious exception to a senior official of a local authority using his or her power to influence certain decisions or put pressure on local authority members.

Is it any wonder we have a housing crisis when one considers the pressure put on people not to rezone land? A year and half ago, Meath County Council rezoned almost 1,000 acres in the town of Navan on the basis that it could be serviced and that approval for the infrastructure was granted by the Department of the Environment in 1995, 1996 and 1997. More importantly, the level of demand was the deciding factor in terms of whether the land was made available for housing. Part of the problem of the lack of available land for housing is the effect of councillors preventing the rezoning of land. If there was enough land available, the market would find its own level. I have no doubt that will happen over the next 12 months due to some of the decisions that have been taken.

It is important to recognise that we must rezone more land than will be built on over the next five years to reduce the level of demand. That has not happened in Meath, Louth, Wicklow, Kildare or in the greater Dublin area where over one-third of the total population resides. The majority of local representatives, either at urban or county council level, have been responsible over the years. I have been a member of the Meath local authority for almost 25 years and none of the members I dealt with in that time, regardless of their political persuasion, did anything other than work on behalf of the people they represented in the best interests of the county. Mistakes were made but in general much good work was done.

Another factor which has contributed to the increased price of housing is the lack of understanding on the part of planning officials to allow people build in rural areas. I come from an area of north Meath in which, according to the last census, there are 17 parishes with a reduction in the population from the previous census. That tells me that I am not doing my job effectively as a local authority representative in convincing the powers that be that we want people to live in these parishes. We want to keep the schools open and the football clubs in operation. In encouraging people to live in our towns we have contributed to the increased demand for housing for people who do not have the luxury of owning land. That problem is escalating and no one, either in this House or elsewhere, will say it is a contributing factor to the demand for housing because people living in parishes where there is a reduction in the population who have their own land have been refused planning permission. I am talking about an area that is only an hour and ten minutes from the capital city if the traffic is light, although I spent 25 minutes sitting in traffic in O'Connell Street this morning.

The Minister had an opportunity over the past year and a half to debate the reform proposals at length in this Houses and in committee and allow us have a major input into the proposed changes. Instead, we must ask people to re-elect us on the basis that we will tell them about the changes when they come into effect.

I listened with interest to Deputy Haughey say he was in favour of direct elections for the positions of Lord Mayor and the chairmen of councils. The Minister has focused on many issues but particularly on the interest of the councillor or the representative. This is another nice idea which will allow 30, 40 or 50 people to be elected around the country for a specific period and the Minister will be able to say this is wonderful reform. Much more reform is required before the Minister can have direct elections to the chair of my council. The people I represent want greater change than that proposed by the Minister. His proposal is a sop to elected representatives in his party and others lucky enough to be elected. That is not the kind of local government reform which is required.

The nature of local authority funding has changed over the past few years. Deputy Haughey commented on how well local authorities are being funded. Given the hundreds of thousands of new vehicles sold over the past few years, generating a large amount of VRT, is it not right that people's money is going to their local authorities to be spent improving roads which have been neglected for 15 years? While Minister for the Environment, Deputy Michael Smith once stated that he did not have money to fix the potholes in Navan and the people had to repair them themselves.

The present Minister is repairing them.

That was not so long ago. It was not until Deputy John Bruton became Taoiseach that we put together a five year plan to start the ball rolling. The Minister has not had time to introduce proper reforms because he is busy having his photograph taken all over the country and at every available opportunity to publicise the money being provided and the plans being put in place. However, the local government reform Bill has still not been produced.

What is happening here is similar to what happened to a Bill I introduced 14 months ago concerning supervisors in the security industry. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, promised a Bill by October. To which October was the Minister referring? That Bill is as far away as ever.

When we talk about reform we should talk about a commitment to real reform and not just discuss what councillors may or may not get. The dual mandate has been a major issue. However, the Minister's backbenchers said that the proposal was not on so he ran away from it and postponed a decision until 2004 when someone else can deal with it.

It is becoming more difficult to get people to run for local elections as a result of the changes in the running of authorities and the involvement of local groups on SPCs which has led to an increase in the number of meetings. How does one approach reform? One can either end the dual mandate, and I have no problem with that, or one can pay local authority members. This is the way forward. It would be a positive step as it would compensate those who have to take time off work to attend meetings. There is pressure on local councillors and it is becoming more difficult for them to take time off work because they often lose money. That is no way to run a system which is over-stretched. As a result, many people who would make excellent public representatives will not make the effort to get involved in local politics.

I do not understand why the Bill did not stipulate a cap on expenditure. It is a lame excuse to claim that it would cost £300,000 to check the returns. If £500,000 or £1 million is needed in some part of the country it will be found some where. If we want to be realistic about ethics in public life and proposed changes concerning disclosure of expenditure in general, local and European elections, I cannot understand why the Department could not come up with a formula based on the population in each constituency and stipulate allowable expenditure. This could easily be done if the will exists.

During the last local government elections some people spent between £10,000 to £20,000. We are not prohibiting people from doing so. However, what if a candidate owns a printing company and can produce as much literature as they wish? Such people have an advantage over other candidates. This is one of the greatest disadvantages faced by some candidates.

It is unacceptable that we have not introduced a scale. It makes no sense for the Minister or the Minister of State to claim that it would be impossible to implement such a system. We are depending on them to run a Department responsible for spending hundreds of millions of pounds.

It is fitting that we are afforded this opportunity to discuss local government, albeit the question of funding, expenditure and the disclosure of donations. This is the centenary of the establishment of local government and I wish to pay tribute to the thousands of councillors of all parties and of none who have rendered sterling service to this country, their local authorities and their communities over the past 100 years.

I pay particular tribute to councillors who have decided not to stand for re-election. It is a pity that the allowance they are being given as a token of appreciation for their work is being referred to as "a scrappage scheme". However, we cannot blame people for lampooning such issues. These councillors have rendered a great service which should be acknowledged.

I was elected to Dublin Corporation in 1985 and had the privilege of serving with such people as the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, Deputy Quinn, Deputies Jim and Gay Mitchell, Deputy Richard Bruton and Deputy Haughey. They were all earnest and diligent workers on behalf of the city.

A former Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Jim Tunney, also rendered enormous service to this city. Some of those I mentioned have represented the city as Lord Mayor and brought their unique vision of the city and local government to bear. I also pay tribute to city managers. I am most familiar with Frank Feely and John Fitzgerald but I also know other managers in the Dublin region. A forward surge has occurred in the development of the Dublin region through partnership between officials and elected representatives. It is too easy to criticise people for what they have not done; people do their best.

Local government has been bedevilled by a stop-go approach to reform. I recall that a former Minister for the Environment wanted to take O'Connell Street out of Dublin Corporation's jurisdiction and hand it over to a quango. I am glad that decision was subsequently reversed by a Fianna Fáil Minister. There have been occasions in recent years when quangos – some of them set up for good reasons – have eroded the functions of local government and assigned unto themselves functions which more properly belong in the local government structure.

The present Minister was the first during my tenure in Dublin Corporation to come and listen to the elected representatives and I pay tribute to him for that. Representatives of all parties gave him a rough time on issues such as housing, traffic and the environment but he was well on top of his brief and responded by providing us with funding mechanisms. We should not forget that the greatest reform in local government in recent years has occurred in regard to funding, with local authorities being allowed to raise some of their own finance. We, in Dublin Corporation, are not satisfied with the amount of money we have and need a lot more. However, we are in a happier position than we have been for many years and have undertaken a number of important initiatives. They would not have been possible without the support of the Minister and the Ministers of State.

The integrated area plans are being viewed with a great deal of interest. The O'Connell Street plan is up and running as is the HARP plan in the historic Smithfield area. There are also plans for the Liberties, the Coombe, Kilmainham, Inchicore and, of course, the rebuilding of Ballymun, which is the biggest house building project in the history of the State involving over 2,000 new houses. That represents real local government reform. Lest it appear that nothing at all has been happening, the measures contained in the Towards Better Local Government document which was issued some time ago are being implemented on an incremental basis. I pay tribute to the previous Minister for the work he did in that regard.

Dublin Corporation has set up its six strategic policy committees which are meeting on a regular basis. We are particularly privileged to have organisations such as An Taisce, the Irish Road Hauliers Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the City Centre Business Association working with us in real partnership on the strategic policy committees. Those bodies have a wealth of wisdom and a depth of expertise which councillors, with the best will in the world, do not have. Deputy Farrelly pointed out rightly that the amount of work councillors are now called upon to do necessitates assistance from other bodies. We will have a much better system of local government when the strategic policy committees are totally up and running after the local government elections.

In Dublin, we are almost ready to set up area-based committees – local committees which will result in the delivery of services much closer to the customer. The Finglas ward, which I represent, will be twinned with the Ballymun/Whitehall ward and local area man agers will be recruited to deliver services at local level. This devolutionary initiative has hit something of a rocky spot on the industrial relations front and that is regrettable. I hope that trade unions and management at national and local level will get together before 11 June to resolve any outstanding difficulties in the interests of local communities and the country as a whole.

In the meantime, radical initiatives have been taken by the manager and councillors of Dublin Corporation. For example, the first regional office has been set up in Ballymun and officials are delivering services there. Over £1 million is being spent on the building of a dedicated office in Ballyfermot where services will be delivered to the local community by people who are familiar with it and who understand the concept of partnership and subsidiarity. Subsidiarity aims to provide services as close as possible to the consumer at the most effective level. I am pleased that a regional office will be opening in my ward in the next two months. I pay tribute to Mr. Dave Kenny and his staff for the work they have being doing in recent months. They are working out of the boots of their cars morning, noon and night. In the past week alone, five meetings have been held to discuss local issues with local people. That is what local government reform is all about.

One could be led to believe from listening to Deputy Gilmore's earlier comments that he had never been near a Department. As I recall, he was a Minister of State in the previous Government. He came up through the local government system and had an opportunity to make a significant input but I cannot recall any radical changes occurring during his tenure in office.

It is easy to complain about what is not happening. Deputy Gilmore complained about the vocational education committees. Indeed, many stones have been thrown at vocational education committees over the years. I am a current member of a VEC and was privileged to be Chairman of the City of Dublin VEC for a number of years. I found that educational interests were pre-eminent across all parties. There is parent representation on the committee since 1991 and students have been represented since the establishment of the Dublin Institute of Technology some 20 years ago.

It is important to copperfasten those principles. They are probably pinned down in the Education Act, 1998, in any event. I would be disappointed if the principle of partnership which is key to that Act is not carried through in the setting up of the vocational education committees. I believe the difficulty will arise in deciding whether one needs one VEC for the entire Dublin area or separate ones for each local authority area. I am open to suggestions in that regard. I am not certain we should be setting up additional bureaucracies when the view of the previous and current Ministers is that we could benefit from some rationalisation of the VEC structure.

It is easy to overlook the role played by the regional authorities. I am a member of the Dublin Regional Authority, a very small organisation staffed by three or four people who engage other contract staff. When it comes to preparing position papers it is second to none. It can take much of the credit for the origination of thinking on the strategic planning guidelines which have recently become part of Government policy and which were launched recently by the Minister, Deputy Dempsey.

Highlighting the needs of parts of the Dublin region in the context of regionalisation has largely been done by officials of the regional authority and its members. This is a matter of real reform and the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We have made a fair degree of progress and can be proud of what we have done.

I understand why it was decided not to cap expenditure. I would have been happy if a cap were imposed, but the Minister put forward practical and good reasons as to why it was not possible. I hope a mechanism will be developed following this first experience to limit in some way the amount of expenditure. Deputy Hayes mentioned that in the Dublin area canvassing has been going on apace for the past number of months. How will the expenditure incurred in this context be reflected in returns? I do not want officials of local authorities or the Public Offices Commission endlessly and needlessly tied up examining every return of every candidate, even those who only receive 100 votes. However, in the long-term it would be preferable if there was a limitation on expenditure.

Electronic voting has been mentioned. We are at the leading edge of technology and it is time we examined electronic voting. Perhaps the sentimentalists amongst us might ask what will happen the tally men and women and how many radio and television presenters will be made redundant, but we should try to develop a system whereby electronic voting becomes the norm.

It is wise that after 2004 the dual mandate will be ended. However, in the meantime it is important that the local government and national legislative systems are not seen to be crossing over as at present. In many cases Members spend an inordinate amount of time on issues germane to local authorities and do not have enough time to devote to legislation – I have probably fallen into that trap. The establishment of Comhairle by the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs and the provision of a legislative base for the network of citizens advice centres throughout the country is a good initiative. Citizens need to be able to call to offices where they can have their concerns mediated, rather than always having to call councillors or Deputies to advance their entitlements. The question of a dual mandate should be clarified by 2004.

The direct election of chairs of local authorities, mayors and lord mayors would directly engage the citizens of a local authority area in a meaningful way. There are difficulties with regard to who might be eligible for election. I would have no problem if, as somebody said to me, Mr. Brendan O'Carroll decided to run and was elected lord mayor. I would see nothing particularly wrong with this or with the election of anybody else. The principle of allowing the electorate of a region to elect their chairperson or mayor is good.

An important issue in the Dublin area relates to the boundary between the city and local authority areas. There has never been a satisfactory clarification of the relationship between, for example, Dublin Corporation and Fingal County Council. There is ongoing interaction between both authorities on landfill sites, for example. Dunsink tiphead is in my area for all intents and purposes but is in the administrative area of Fingal County Council. It proved enormously difficult to have any real input into how it might develop and be wound down. It was only with the intervention of the European Commission that the issue was finally settled.

The interests of the Finglas community will be very germane to how the Dunsink regional park, as it may be, is developed. I pay tribute to the Fingal county manager and some of his officials who are very open to the notion of discussions with people from Finglas about facilities as basic as football pitches, bowling greens, land for pony and horse clubs, etc. However, a formalised mechanism is necessary. While some Members might not agree, my view has always been that the M50 ought to form the northern boundary of the Dublin Corporation and Fingal County Council areas. The matter should be revisited.

The power to make by-laws which are enforceable in terms of the reform of local government has concerned members of Dublin Corporation and others. The Department of the Environment and Local Government must examine how the by-laws interface with local government legislation in general. Dublin Corporation is in the process of introducing by-laws to prohibit drinking in public places. Similar by-laws have been introduced by local authorities in Cobh and Cork and they are common in different areas in Northern Ireland. However, we are not at all certain how enforceable these by-laws will be. The by-laws implementing the Control of Horses Act, which was passed by the House – I commend the members of the previous Government who brought the legislation into force – are proving difficult and need to be tightened. The same can be said about by-laws concerning the control of dogs legislation.

For good reasons area based partnerships and drug task forces were set up in areas of high unemployment and with high levels of drug abuse throughout the country.There were probably good reasons for doing it at the time, but there seems to be a difficulty in allowing local authority members or any elected members to be participants. It is not uniform. Some of the partnerships in the Dublin area have recently asked that councillors be represented on their boards. One asked for six, another asked for three. There is no uniformity and that needs to be addressed. Dublin Corporation asked that the partnerships be represented on one of its strategic policy committees. We are still waiting for representation.

I compliment the Minister on introducing the Bill, which is a good first step. I understand why this line is being taken and look forward to its successful implementation.

I wish to share five minutes of my time with Deputy Joe Higgins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Perhaps the Leas-Cheann Comhairle would be kind enough to interrupt me at that stage, that is if we have time to finish our speeches without some cataclysmic or climactic development, such as the sky falling in. The Pope is this afternoon meeting the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, who is an Orangeman, and the two are being brought together by the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mr. Gorbachev. Such a development should at least be marked by something like the sky falling in.

In my first election in this State, in a comment I made which received some publicity at the time, I referred to the cynicism I encountered on the doorsteps of Dublin West about politicians and the political process. I said this cynicism was more dangerous to our political institutions than were the efforts of the Provisional IRA using the bomb and the bullet to political institutions in the North. Some people thought I exaggerated the amount of cynicism I described and I wondered when the electorate complained to me if they were exaggerating their fears and misgivings. Almost ten years later, it turns out they underestimated what was happening as far as politicians, business people, the Church, the legal profession and almost every stratum of society were concerned. What will be next? Will it be journalism? In what other section of society will exposures take place? I sometimes quote the Frenchman, De'Lambert, who said political office is like a high mountain, only eagles and reptiles reach the top. I disagree fundamentally with that quotation, as most sensible people would, but I understand what he means and I understand the increasing cynicism among the electorate. We must do our best to diminish that and restore the confidence of the public not only in politics but in other bastions of society. We must make people believe there is a basic integrity in public life.

I oppose the dual mandate, and it ought to be abolished. Deputy Haughey misquoted Deputy Hayes when he alleged he said it would be unconstitutional and that he was against the abolition of the dual mandate for that reason. Deputy Hayes did not say that. He questioned whether it would be constitutional and that is as far as he went.

He said he believed it was unconstitutional.

He questioned if it might be unconstitutional and that is as far as he went. I checked that with him since he made his speech. Being a member of a local authority is a full-time job for many councillors. I sometimes wonder how they survive and raise families without being paid and only receive a councillor's expenses. I am in favour of paying councillors. I want it to be a full-time job where required. That is the case in Dublin and councillors there ought to be paid for doing that full-time job. Some councillors seem more interested in national than local affairs. There is no doubt there are some who, the moment they are elected to a council, see the magic letters "TD" after their names. Some of them neglect the job they were elected to do and to fulfil the ordinary functions of a councillor because of their pursuit of national issues. They are aiming at other things and should not be allowed do that.

Even in the ten years I have lived in Dublin, there has been a dramatic expansion in the work of councillors. In my constituency developments have taken place around Lucan and in Dublin 15, the greater Blanchardstown area, with thousands of houses built, traffic jams every morning, colossal litter in some areas and other ancillary problems. I have been told there has been more housing development in my constituency than in any other part of the European Union. Most of my constituents would believe that as they try to leave their housing estates in the morning and to return in the evening, These developments have placed tremendous additional responsibilities on councillors. They should be paid for doing a full-time job.

There should be a cap on expenditure for local government elections. It is illogical that there is a cap on Dáil and European elections but not on local elections. Corruption is more likely in local government than in Dáil or European elections. The incentives and opportunities exist at that level which are not open to Members of the House. A planning decision can mean millions of pounds and that amount of money relies on the votes of councillors and-or the recommendations of council officials. The challenge is obvious. It is illogical to say we are concerned about these matters and not impose a cap on expenditure in local government elections. In many instances colossal amounts of money are being spent to get people elected to councils. It is being spent not only during the election campaign but between elections. For example, An Post is paid to deliver expensive glossy literature while professional firms are engaged to drop leaflets. In addition, there is expensive advertising in so called free newspapers. God only knows what else goes on.

I fought my first election in 1989. According to evidence submitted to the planning tribunal, at least £30,000 was handed over to one individual allegedly for the purposes of fighting an election. The person concerned admitted in this House that this was just one of the donations that was received. At the time I spent £3,000 to £4,000, which I thought amounted to a fortune. What is being spent on elections now? It must be capped.

I have no doubt that some councillors are in too close a relationship with developers. Given the smaller number of electors involved in council elections, the expenditure of large sums of money has an inordinate effect on the election outcome. This must be watched very carefully. Expenditure should be capped.

Unequal expenditure undermines democracy. It is unfair if one candidate has apparently unlimited resources while another is an ordinary working class man who has no such resources. Candidates for election are supposed to start on an equal footing with regard to this aspect. Otherwise there is an abuse of democracy and a possible undermining of the democratic process.

I do not accept the reasons outlined by the Minister for not having a cap on expenditure. It appears a decision was taken not to have a cap and subsequent attempts were made to excuse and justify this. References to expenditure and other matters are excuses. We are told about the great trouble, inconvenience and expenditure that would result from a cap on expenditure in local government elections. However, there is great trouble, inconvenience and expenditure in democracy and in running elections. If that is the logic of the Government's argument why not abolish elections and save money? I will return to this subject later and I will vote in favour of a cap on expenditure.

(Dublin-West): Táim buíoch den Teachta Currie. It is not good enough that this Bill is presented at the eleventh hour relative to the holding of the local elections on 11 June. There has been not one, but two postponements of these elections. It is eight years since the people had the opportunity to pass judgment on the councillors they elected in 1991 or replace them with new councillors who, on many issues, might be more sensitive to their wishes.

There has been blatant, undemocratic manoeuvring about the holding of local elections and I have no doubt the postponement of these elections under cover of the reform of local government was done to save councillors who had acted blatantly against promises they made in the 1991 elections from the wrath of the electorate. This was most notoriously in evidence in the Dublin area over the introduction of water charges.

The introduction of the Bill a few weeks before the holding of elections amounts to a dereliction of duty by the Government. It suggests that the Government is not taking local government in all its aspects seriously.

The failure of the Bill to specify a control on the amounts that can be spent by candidates is a major anomaly. It cannot be defended by the Government and is especially inexplicable in view of the controversies that have engulfed local government, especially in view of the recent controversies and allegations of corruption in local government planning, especially with regard to the rezoning of land.

Decisions by elected members of local government have made millionaires of many people. Some of us who fought against the tide of never ending and unjustified rezonings and who had deep suspicions that money was passed under the counter to secure the votes to rezone find it incomprehensible that people can effectively buy their way into local government through the forthcoming elections.

In 1991 I watched as a candidate for the local elections in the Dublin-West constituency spent at least £30,000. The electorate had the good sense to reject the candidate. However, one can see the possibilities in such a system. It must be rectified.

I would have been happy if, at the eleventh hour, the Government had utilised the Bill to rectify a number of issues relating to local government. Some have been alluded to by speakers. The way local government deals with its present and future workers must be looked at. For example, some 150 wardens have been treated shamefully by Dublin Corporation and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Following agreement with their union that they would transfer from the Department to the corporation they have been told that the corporation only wants 30 wardens.

The Deputy is wandering from the substance of the Bill.

(Dublin-West): I have not wandered as far as did previous speakers. Only 30 have been taken on as traffic wardens after interview while the remainder were told that jobs would be invented for them in Dublin Corporation. This disdainful treatment should not be allowed by local authorities. It is shameful and scandalous. An opportunity to implement an imaginative solution to Dublin's traffic problem has been lost. On the question of expenditure controls, I was astounded to hear a previous speaker blaming councillors who opposed unjustified land rezonings for the housing crisis when it is speculators who are to blame. Those same speculators will be further facilitated by the failure of the Government to include controls on the amount of money spent by people standing for the local elections. Those speculators can finance candidates or seek election themselves to secure decisions at the local authority by which they can amass riches.

Debate adjourned.