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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 14 Jun 2001

Vol. 538 No. 2

Local Government Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

The section relating to directly elected mayors and cathaoirligh of county councils will be of little value to the affairs of county councils unless a change is made to the powers granted. There is a need to give them executive functions. I cannot understand the reason we cannot consider extending the powers of directly elected mayors under the present system whereby the mayor or cathaoirleach is elected by members of the county council. Following the election if the powers were extended, it would satisfy the function of mayor far better than electing the person directly from the general electorate. On Committee Stage we should look at this suggestion again. I do not see any demand from the electorate for a directly elected chair and there is no reason for it. The deficit in local democracy can be addressed by changing the role of mayor from a temporary to a permanent position. It can also be addressed by taking powers away from officials and giving them back to the elected members of corporations and county councils, particularly mayors.

The new local government structures, in terms of the strategic policy committees, have exercised the minds of those of us involved in local government. They are, simply, another layer of bureaucracy. I cannot see them functioning as designed and having the necessary backup staff to ensure they function properly and efficiently. It would be far better to focus on the financial deficit within local authorities and ensure moneys required to make projects happen are directed to them rather than through a heavily bureaucratic system. The cost of this bureaucracy at local level in Kilkenny will be in the region of £1 million. Unless we measure this against the demand on the ground for projects to be completed, and give the money, we are not creating an effective and efficient local government system.

Looking at the 246 sections within the Bill, were one to ask any member of the local authority what immediate reform would change the workings of local government forever, they would refer to managers. The managers of every local authority, while they are all good men and women doing a fine job, have too much power.

They deal with everything and local authority members are rubber stamping the decisions already taken in a system dominated by bureaucrats. It is time we reformed local government and, if we are serious about empowering it, gave powers to mayors, chairmen and elected representatives. The manager should not just work in a consultative process but in partnership with and sharing power with the elected representatives. We are creating a situation where the general public is annoyed and frustrated with public representatives because they believe we have the power when we do not, everything is a function of the manager. That is not good enough.

Having said that, I recognise there are many good public officials keeping the local government system going and do not want to take away from them in this contribution. The system does not allow them to follow a positive career path and move from their grade without great disruption. There needs to be a freeing up of the structure to ensure good people are kept in the system. They should be paid more than they are because the private sector is robbing the system of the qualified people serving local government.

I take particular issue with the interview process in local government, where employees of local government at particular levels interview those seeking position in their counties. As a result, there is an internal system of interviewing which does not serve the system properly. We should introduce a new system where an independent company becomes part of the interview process in order that we could get the best people from either the public or private sectors to serve in these positions.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

"Dáil Éireann, in consideration of the deficiencies contained in the Local Government Bill, 2000, namely,

–the flawed proposals to end the dual mandate in the absence of accompanying proposals to

devolve functions which are currently centrally controlled to local authorities together with

appropriate funding; and

–the ill-considered proposals to provide for directly elected mayors without any powers, functions,

majorities or budgets,

does hereby decline to give this Bill a second reading.".

I propose to share my time with Deputies Cosgrave, Hayes and Ring.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am greatly disappointed with and protest in the strongest possible terms at the way in which this Bill is being dealt with. Those of us with a lot of experience at local level went to a lot of trouble researching speeches for Second Stage but we, in Fine Gael, in particular, now find ourselves with five minutes per slot, which is absolutely disgraceful. This Bill was available for the last 12 months but was not brought to the House until it could be rushed through. It is as simple as that and I protest in the strongest possible terms.

I will not have time to say so but I agree with most of what Deputy McGuinness said. Regarding the financing of local government, the abolition of domestic rates in 1977 did more damage to local government than anything done for 50 years beforehand or since. That was the great Fianna Fáil manifesto: free rates and car tax and everything else that went with it. The abolition of agricultural rates was the result of a court case and the abolition of domestic water charges was a little to do with us, as two Governments were involved. When the present Minister took office he said he would change this but he has changed absolutely nothing.

These issues have a major impact on local government resources and their management. Since the abolition of charges local authorities are depending on central government to supplement their incomes for the loss of funding. The growth in the economy in the last ten to 15 years indicates very strongly that the loss in potential revenue from these sources of income has been a major loss to local authorities across the country. The replacement funding, that is, the rate support grant, the equalisation fund and now local government funding, has not kept pace with the potential growth in those funding sources, with minimal increases being applied.

Significant increased costs, both in the provision and operation of services, are being experienced because of the increased and stringent requirements imposed by EU directives and regulations, particularly in the areas of road construction, operation of landfill sites, bridge construction, water quality, water and sewage treatment, etc. Water and sewage treatment are causing local authorities huge problems.

The Department has been instrumental in restricting the main source of discretionary funding by way of capping annual rate increases. Projects are limited by way of specific funding being allocated centrally and such limitations have impacted on the level of services available and the projects are being curtailed.

The Celtic tiger has put an increased strain on local authority financing. All services from the local authority have experienced increased customer numbers and caseloads, while many of the services have no source of local income attached to them. That is important. During the years we have seen the Department time and again put an extra burden on a county council with no finance provided, that is what is causing the awful problems of local government.

Increasing demand for the services of local authorities has led to increases in staff numbers to meet those demands and we will see a significant cost increase due to the increasing staff requirements to maintain services. Every county councillor knows that in the last three months we got a direction from headquarters, the Department, about these staff increases and to establish new structures. Wexford County Council has a bill in the region of £1 million but what the Department has failed to do is to explain where the money is to come from. Every county council is the same. We are to have better local government and various things are to happen but unfortunately very little is happening.

New legislation is being published regularly and will impact on the operation of a local authority, which, in turn, imposes financial pressures. Recent legislation having such an impact includes the Freedom of Information Act, the Prompt Payment of Accounts Act, the waste management, litter and water quality legislation.

As infrastructure within local authorities is expanding through the development of the road, water and sewage networks, so too does the huge cost of routine maintenance and operation which must be funded from the narrowing income sources base which is restricted by cap or linked to inflation.

I echo Deputy D'Arcy's comment that we were not allocated enough time to deal with this Bill which is of supreme importance. Enough time should be allowed for us to discuss it fully.

That said, a radical and imaginative reform of our current structures is required. The introduction of strategic policy committees is a step forward and the manner of their development requires ongoing work. As a long-serving member of a local authority, I have watched the evolution of the SPCs which are working well, particularly in my local authority, Fingal County Council. I see real developments in the field of infrastructure, in issuing grants to local communities and in the housing strategy we just completed, which is working very well. We are blessed in that local authority in that we have an excellent manager who looks to the future, Mr. Soffe, and who is very conscious of Fingal as a new council. He can see it developing far into the future and I compliment him on his foresight.

It is important to ensure the voice of the people is heard and acted upon. My understanding of the democratic system is that the people exercise their vote, providing a mandate for a particular person. Should that person receive sufficient support, then they stand elected to speak and act on behalf of the electorate. It is important that democracy prevails and that ordinary people's views are reflected and that special interest groups are not allowed influence beyond which they merit. Such groups should and must be listened to and should be encouraged to help inform the public, providing education and sharing their specialist knowledge in a way which develops and educates the electorate. It is important that people understand the issues and, through their votes, elect a council that truly reflects the people's views. The councillor must be empowered by knowledge and must be given the support structures within the local authority to interact and communicate with the electors. The proposals exist in this Bill to at least pay a salary to elected councillors, a salary which should not be set at the discretion of a Minister but which should be linked in this Bill to a percentage of a Deputy's salary. It should reflect the years of service of a member of a local authority.

That said, what most local authority members require is adequate office and secretarial services which would allow them to get best value from the time they invest in helping to shape their communities. The Bill addresses new financial management systems. I suggest some changes in the area of finance generation for local authorities. While councils may draw up plans for their areas, they are reliant on the property owner to take up those ideas. There is an opportunity for councils to become more fundamentally involved in the shaping and development of their county.

I am concerned with the issue of commercial rates and how valuation is applied. This is not used in the best interests of business, councils and local communities. County councils must be allowed to construct a rating system to reflect how they wish their county to develop. Special rates relief incentives could be put in place to encourage, for example, the refurbishment of shop fronts to the desired style which a council may wish to promote within a town. Some industries require special assistance, for example, the agri-business industry which adds value to products and is fighting to service the growing supermarket business.

The Bill should establish a requirement and a system to allow local authority members to make declarations of donations each year as a matter of course. The Minister recognises the increasing role of councillors. He should also recognise that their activities must be funded.

Mr. Hayes

Echoing what colleagues have said, it is a disgrace that for such an important Bill Members are offered just five minutes to speak. This Bill has more than 270 sections. I would like the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, to pass on my regards to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, as I understand he is sick. I hope he has a swift recovery.

This is the Minister's Stalingrad. This is the legislation on which he has been working for the past four years. This Minister was going to deliver the knock-out blow to those in the House who wished to retain the dual mandate. He has failed. He should resign as that is the only honourable course of action open to him. I am not surprised that another Fianna Fáil Minister has got it so wrong in relation to local government. In 1977, the rape of local government really took place, when the Government, led by Mr. Lynch, decided to abolish the only genuine source of revenue open to local government – the rates structure.

We will continue to debate this legislation without any adequate form of funding for local government. Until that issue is debated, and it is not included in this legislation, we will continue to have interesting discussions, but those discussions will get us nowhere. Unless the issue of funding is resolved, local government will not have the power it deserves.

It is shameful the way in which this Government has treated the House on the issue of the dual mandate. Yesterday the Minister outlined in public that he will drop the prohibition on the dual mandate. That has not been discussed at Cabinet yet. I was under the illusion that Cabinet confidentiality applied to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government as it does to all Ministers. Obviously, that is not true in this case. He has suffered a humiliating climbdown in his efforts to placate the four Independent Members who support the Government.

I do not want to be unfair to those four Members, but they contribute very little to this House. They do not make a substantial contribution as they rarely speak in the House. When one compares the contributions of my colleague Deputy Ring, who is an active member of a local authority and an active Member of the House, it is evident that he regularly speaks on national legislation. The four Members propping up the current Government do not. It is interesting that they have so little to say about national legislation and this has been the case for the past four years. We are in a pickle at present because the Government has not developed this legislation in year one or year two of holding office. It has nothing to offer.

It is ridiculous that we are to introduce this new electoral system without giving additional powers to the new mayors. Those new mayors will have some small co-ordinating powers but they will not have the power to raise money, or to spend money as those in a mayoral position should be able to do. That is a huge deficit in the Bill. On the issue of funding, in my county substantial sums of money in the county capital account can not be spent because the rules that provide for expenditure of local government funds do not allow flexibility in the way we spend our money. That needs to be looked at in this Bill.

Tallaght, which is a part of my constituency, has a population of 80,000. It is the size of Limerick city, yet it has ten councillors representing 80,000 people. Limerick city has a corporation of about 16 members. This is a bad day for the Government and the Minister should consider his position.

Like other speakers, I am outraged, as one who has been in public life for 22 years, that Members get five minutes to speak on the most important legislation that has come before this House. First, however, I congratulate the Taoiseach, Deputy Healy-Rae, the Tánaiste, Deputy Fox, the Minister for social welfare, Deputy Gildea, and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Blaney, on winning the day.

I will not be dishonest and say I do not welcome this. In Russia, when there was no democracy, people complained that there was a dictatorship. I agree. I was a member of an urban district council, a county council and the Dáil. I made a decision at the last local elections that I was not going to stand for the urban council after 21 years in that office. I loved the urban council and wanted to stay on it, but I could not give the time. I was free to make that decision. Why should a Government deprive an individual of the right to stand for an office. It is outrageous.

It is no wonder that the people voted "No" in last week's referendum on the Nice Treaty. They did so because they are sick and tired of being told how to vote. What do Ministers or the Civil Service know more than the general public? If there was a general election, and I did not like the result, would I have another go the following week? That is not the way democracy works. Democracy is democracy. There is no longer democracy in local government.

I am glad to get the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Managers have taken over. They have too much power. There is no power coming down to the elected representative. That is the aspect of this Bill that should be coming before the Dáil. This is what needs to be discussed and why we want an opportunity to debate this Bill. It is the most important legislation to come through the House in 20 years.

I make no apology for elected representatives and councillors. They do an excellent job in difficult circumstances. It is not easy to be an elected representative at this time in Ireland, whether one is a councillor, a TD or a Minister. One cannot go to Mass on a Sunday, to a football match or anywhere else without being asked to do things for people. That is the way democracy works. When one puts oneself in the front line one must be prepared for that. However, I see no reason councillors should not be paid. What is wrong in this House is that we are afraid to speak the truth. I welcome the fact that the dual mandate will not be abolished. Why should anybody tell me whether I can or cannot stand for the council, the Dáil, the European Parliament or the Presidency? It is the people who decide, that is democracy. If some people do not like that they have a few choices. They can walk out of here this evening and give their resignation note to the Ceann Comhairle, next week we will have a by-election and someone else will be elected. Anyone who does not like the county council can resign from it.

We must take the power from the chief executives of health boards and the county managers and give it to elected representatives. They are the people who go before the interview board every five years and the interview is becoming increasingly difficult. The interview board will decide if they want to elect us, not the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Healy-Rae or anyone else. At the last election one-third of the Members of this House were not returned. I predict that half of the Members of this House will not come back after the next election and it will not be voluntary retirement, they will be retired by the electorate.

We should discuss what powers we can give to elected representatives. Instead, this most important Bill has been guillotined by the Government and we do not have an opportunity to debate it. What are the Government plans to bring power back to the Members and the people? Power should not be given to faceless, unelected individuals. They do not have to stand for election. I would love to see included in this Bill a provision where the county manager and secretary would have to stand for election every five years as is done in America. That is real democracy.

When it comes to Traveller halting sites, every time the question of halting sites is raised at a council meeting the solution is to position them near working-class housing estates. They are not ever built near well-off areas. I welcome halting sites in every local authority housing estate, but only if they are spread around, but that is not what happens. It is always a matter of keeping the small man down. That is why we had the reaction last week in the Treaty of Nice referendum. The vote was not an anti-Europe one. It was anti-health board, anti-council, anti-planning laws and anti-politician. I have made the prediction that 40% of the Members of this House will not be back. The people are waiting. There are too many "yes" men and women. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle tells me my time has expired. but I have a great deal more to say on this. It is outrageous that we are given only five minutes to discuss such an important Bill.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Cooper-Flynn. I must respond to some of the comments of Fine Gael Members. I am struck by their hypocrisy. I was shocked to hear them complaining about the loss of domestic and agri cultural rates, motor tax revenue, domestic water rates and the capping of commercial rates. The clear implication from that is if they had their way they would reintroduce those rates, increase motor tax and lift the cap on commercial rates which would result in enormous annual increases at estimates time.

I was disappointed at their shallow attack on the Minister and the four Independent Deputies who are elected to this House the same as everyone else. It proves the shallowness of the Opposition parties' commitment to support the passage of the Second Stage of this Bill if the Independents did not support the Government. That was a shallow promise and one which the Government could not have relied on. The Government is better off relying on itself and the Independents.

I welcome the Bill, it is a major initiative by the Minister and one which he has worked on for a long time. He has shown his commitment to local government since he took office and has presided over a dramatic increase in funding. The only problem most local authorities have is spending the money allocated to them. Very few can meet the targets of their house building or road works programmes. If their books were examined it would become apparent that there is no lack of available funds. There are sufficient funds being given to local authorities and we must ensure they are spent properly.

I am concerned about the proliferation of committees at local authority level. I was first elected to a local authority at the last council election. I found that Laois County Council elected members to 32 different committees, the vast majority of which I had not ever heard of before, for example drainage boards and burial boards. I could not believe it. Half of those bodies are a farce. They serve no useful purpose and should be integrated into normal council activities. I do not know what they were there for in the first place.

I am giving serious consideration to putting down an amendment at Committee Stage regarding local authority boundaries. I want the Minister to take note of this. Graiguecullen is in the administrative county of Laois and the Dáil constituency of Laoighis-Offaly. The people there have been disenfranchised. They were not entitled to vote in the elections to Laois County Council. They vote in Carlow County Council and Carlow Urban District Council elections under an agreement reached some years ago. Their area is not administered by either of those councils. Their constitutional right to vote for the local authority which administers the area in which they reside has been taken from them. That is due to an anomaly where the electoral boundaries were changed but the administrative boundaries were not. Before the Bill completes its passage through this House I demand that provision be made for electoral boundaries to correspond with the functional boundaries of a local authority. A similar anomaly exists in a town in County Louth which borders County Meath.

I do not want the Minister to respond by saying this can be examined by the new Electoral Boundary Commission. This was referred to in the Electoral Area Boundary Commission report of 1998 which stated "the boundary of County Laois was altered by the Local Government (Boundaries) (Town Elections) Regulations, 1994, to exclude a small part of the electoral division of Graigue Rural in County Laois and to include it within the boundary of County Carlow for electoral purposes." That should not have happened and must now be reversed. The electoral boundaries must be brought back to the administrative functional boundaries. It is disgraceful that those people are disenfranchised and do not have a vote in the local authority area in which they reside. I ask the Minister to put down an amendment. If he does not, I will be forced to do so on behalf of the people of Graiguecullen who live in County Laois. I acknowledge that part of Graiguecullen is in County Carlow but I refer to the part in County Laois.

My single biggest complaint about this Bill regards finances and how the annual budget and estimates procedures will be run. I am pleased to see the annual budget must be published seven days in advance and at the budget meeting – formerly known as the estimates meeting – members shall, by resolution adopt the budget with or without amendments. I am gravely disappointed there is a separate section dealing with the capital programme. The county manager is solely responsible for the programme and elected members have no input to development levies, proceeds from sale of land or where those are reinvested. That is strictly within the remit of the county manager. Under the legislation the situation is made worse because all the manager will need to do is submit a report to members which they may consider – they are not obliged to do so. Council members will have no authority to do anything about such reports and they do not have to adopt or pass comment on them. That is outrageous.

The annual estimates should deal with both capital and revenue expenditure. There is over £20 million in the revenue account of Laois County Council every year and a further £20 million in its capital account and it is outrageous that only the revenue aspect of the council's activities is the estimates meeting. Some of the major decisions that affect the county are arrived at through the capital account process. This provision needs to be amended on Committee Stage.

I have difficulty with managers being the only people who can act in any legal action taken on behalf of councils. There are many instances in which members should be entitled to legal advice. Laois County Council had a number of difficulties with its county development and waste management plans and we were informed that the county manager acts as legal adviser to members. That is unsatisfactory because we are individuals representing the public and should have access to proper legal advice. The decision taken in respect of this matter must be reversed.

On Committee Stage I intend to propose an amendment to remove the proposal from section 182 whereby the Minister's consent is required if land is being disposed of at less than its commercial value. That is impractical because there are many good reasons a council would want to take action of this nature. It should be within the remit of councils to make their own decisions which would be subject to annual audit. I ask that the section to which I refer be deleted on Committee Stage.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Local Government Bill. I have been a member of a county council since September 1996 and, therefore, speak as someone who has experience of working in the local government sector. When I first joined the county council there was a perception among councillors that our main job was to rubber-stamp policy decisions put forward by officials of the council and the county manager. Many were of the opinion that the councillors were ineffective and I am delighted that this perception will be changed as a result of this Bill's introduction. I am surprised that all Members do not fully support many of the provisions it contains.

It was interesting to hear my colleague from County Mayo speak about the importance of the dual mandate, particularly when one considers that on local radio earlier this week he stated that our local county council is ineffective. The Deputy has now stated that it is vital for him to continue to serve as a representative for County Mayo.

It is important for public representatives to be able to sit on local authorities – I do so myself – because it keeps us in close contact with the people. The system that operates in Ireland, when compared to those in Britain and throughout Europe, allows public representatives to be fully aware of what is needed in their constituencies. This makes us more effective in terms of our ability to act on behalf of our constituents at both local and national level.

In the Bill the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, has set about trying to give power back to the democratically elected representatives who are closest to the people. Having served as a member of a local authority, the Minister recognises the important role played by county councillors and urban councillors. He has also dealt with one of the most significant issues in this area, namely, funding for local authorities, and introduced measures in recent years which have enabled local authorities to put in place policies that are in the best interests of communities. In addition, he has provided funding to allow them to do so.

For many years before I became a councillor in 1996, local authorities had been starved of money. Funding was being allocated to other local development initiatives operated by people who had not been elected. This meant that power was being taken away from those who had been democratically elected. Matters will now be set to rights, however, in the light of the additional powers being conferred on the elected members of councils. That is the reason this Bill is so important.

I compliment the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, who set down as one of his priorities when entering office the putting in place of the local government fund. He achieved this through the introduction of legislation in 1998 and the fund is delivering significant additional resources. In 2001, £730 million is being provided for local authorities. In terms of the general purpose needs of local authorities, the fund is delivering almost 64% more than in 1997. That is a true measure of the success of the policies the Minister is implementing at local level.

For a county the size of Mayo, the diameter of which is 140 miles, particularly in terms of promoting better efficiency, new measures are badly needed and they are being provided in the Bill. People in the county are obliged to travel to Castlebar to tax their cars. For many of them, this involves a round trip of 130 or 140 miles. It is simply unacceptable in this age of technological advances that this type of archaic system remains in operation. I welcome the provision in the Bill which will allow for the creation of one-stop-shops. Everyone is in favour of providing services and this mechanism will give us an opportunity to do so, thereby replacing the outrageously outdated system which obtains at present. I welcome the establishment of these pilot programmes which will be of major benefit and make councils much more efficient.

County councils and local authorities are only as good as their members. Many criticise both the level of debate that takes place in local authorities and the nature of some of the items which appear for discussion on their agendas. However, councillors are not provided with the information and training programmes they require, the level of debate that is expected and needed at local level will not be achieved.

An important element of the provisions in the Bill centres on the strategic policy committees. These provide an opportunity for elected members to produce policy in co-operation with local interest groups and have it properly debated at council meetings. I welcome the fact that strategic policy committees are already in place. In my county a number of committees are operational and will begin bringing minutes to the main council meetings in September.

I wish to address a number of issues with which this sizeable Bill deals. I will first comment on Part 3, section 19, which relates to co-options. I welcome the provision which will allow a party which loses a member on a council to nominate a replacement. I was co-opted to Mayo County Council in 1996 and I am delighted that the system was in place at the time. However, I am aware that in other local authority areas throughout the country parties which lost members were not always allowed to co-opt replacements.

I also welcome the fact that under Part 4, section 26, elections will take place every five years. Accountability is the number one priority for local councillors when dealing with members of the community who are entitled to voice their opinions on the effectiveness of the council which represents them. They can only do so if there is a guarantee that elections will not be postponed and that they must be held at five year intervals.

I wish to deal now with the issue of committees and, in particular, the fact that statutory recognition of the strategic policy committees is catered for in section 48. Anyone who tries to argue in the future that county councils are ineffective will have only themselves to blame because it will be the responsibility of members to give the dedication, time and energy required to develop policies at the committees which will be meaningful and of real benefit to the constituencies they represent. I welcome the fact that this is provided for in Part 7.

With regard to the functions of local authorities, the objective for county and town councils to take steps for a more unified and improved customer service for the public is critical, particularly in counties similar in size to Mayo. It is vitally important that we provide a service for the people we represent and make it easy for them to access that service.

On the question of finance, I wish to take up a number of points raised by Deputy Fleming. I agree with his comments in relation to the budget, particularly in terms of the view he expressed about county managers being solely responsible for capital programmes and also for deciding how development levies and proceeds from the sale of lands are spent in council areas. I will support the Deputy's attempt to have this amended on Committee Stage because, in light of the millions of pounds spent by local authorities each year, the only people accountable to the public every five years will be the elected members. It is vital that they be given a say in respect of the operation of the capital and revenue programmes of councils.

I welcome the fact that managers will be obliged to submit reports on capital programmes for three years with draft budgets. They will also be able to submit periodic reports which may specify an authority's financial position. That will only be effective if the council has a say and real clout in how the money will be spent. There can be reports galore, but the democratically elected members need to have the clout to make proposals and changes.

I welcome the fact a local authority will have the power to establish an audit committee when it receives the audit report. We have seen the effectiveness at national level of the Committee of Public Accounts in monitoring how money is spent in the public interest. I welcome the potential for these mini-committees of public accounts to operate at local authority level. It is important local authority members are satisfied the vast funding available to the authorities is spent in the best possible way and that they can justify how it is spent to the electorate to whom they will be answerable every five years.

In Part XIV the manager is responsible for the effective and efficient operation of the local authority for ensuring implementation without undue delay of decisions of the elected council. This has been a matter of great concern to me over the past 12 months in that I find county councils do not have sufficient staff nor are they paying those they have well enough, especially in areas such as engineering and planning, to enable them fulfil that specific task. If properly trained staff are not in place to implement decisions taken by the county council, it becomes ineffective. The salary structure for these professionals in local authorities needs to be examined.

I commend the Bill to the House. This is brave and innovative legislation the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has put forward.

I wish to share time with Deputy Boylan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I wish the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, well. I understand he is sick at present.

When the issue of the Bill was first raised in the House some two years ago, it was felt it was among the most important legislation with which the House would deal. Unfortunately, we became caught up in one item, namely, the dual mandate, and we have been hedging, talking and negotiating since. It has taken much of the gloss from the Bill which is of major importance to local government and the service provided at local level to people.

I can understand the case made for the dual mandate in that a Member of the Oireachtas would also want to be a member of the local authority in his or her area. As a member of Kildare County Council and Athy Urban District Council, I see the value in that. One can see on a daily basis the value of the service delivered to local people by the local authority system.

In debating that system, one word which comes up is service and it is not being provided. Local authorities have many ambitions and many reports have been compiled about them. Taking into account all the reports compiled about them, they have probably been the most discussed topic within the term of office of any Government. Despite that, we still have major problems providing the services the people richly deserve.

If we are to be serious about the development of local authorities and delivering the necessary services, be they housing, water and sewerage or roads, the proper support needs to be in place not only to provide services but to allow councillors do their work. It is of great concern to me that we continue to develop local authorities without putting in place any structure to support the member who is under greater pressure now than he was 15 or 20 years ago. Nowadays we are on strategic policy committees and other committees within the structure of local authorities. We are expected to deliver reports, attend meetings on a regular basis, table motions for council meetings, examine estimates and deliver services without the necessary support to provide them.

If we are serious about local authorities, a staffing system should be put in place to assist the local authority member to fulfil his or her duties. That is not the case at present. We do not have facilities. To my knowledge no local authority has proper rooms where a member can go to do some work, even such as typing a letter. No such rooms exist which would assist local authority members to provide the service to people in their areas. That is the basic necessary commitment and I do not see it anywhere in the Bill. There is nothing which states that we will care and provide for local authority members who find it becoming increasingly difficult to carry out their functions.

As regards planning, my local authority in Kildare should have 15 planners but instead has six. One can imagine the pressure that places on the authority and on the people in the planning section. One can imagine the frustration members of the local authority endure. The authority supplies planning services to Naas and Athy UDCs. It is not possible to do that under the circumstances.

I asked the Minister if it was possible for local authorities to hire people to train them to be planners within the system. I received a negative reply from him stating that, in two years' time, another 75 planners will be available from the universities and that should meet demand. That means, however, that, in the interim, there will be major problems within the system in Kildare because there are not enough planners to meet the demand of one of the fastest developing counties in Ireland. This development is because of the county's proximity to Dublin and the area is rapidly becoming part of the greater Dublin area. Despite this, the planning section in the county council is in disarray because we cannot employ enough planners nor can we seem to employ them on a permanent basis. This causes major problems with development plans.

These plans are behind schedule in Kildare, despite the fact we have as committed staff as one could have. The problem is we do not have enough of them to meet demand. Interviews were held recently to hire more staff, but I understand they will not be employed until September. The problem still exists and is growing because the proper staffing levels are not in place.

This is what is wrong with local authorities. We have not given sufficient impetus to them to match private investment. When a good planner or engineer is hired, he or she is identified by private interests, sounded out to identify his or her qualities and then head hunted. He or she moves on and the local authority is at a loss. We must invest in local authority staff if we are to provide a service to match the demands of local government.

I have spoken on a number of occasions about urban district councils and town commissioners. The town of Newbridge, with a population of 20,000, has a town commission. It should be given its rightful place in local government by the provision of an urban district council which would give it its own housing and planning authority. There are 600 people on the housing list in Newbridge, yet the town depends for housing and planning services on Kildare County Council. We must recognise the extent of development and population growth in many towns and give them a new impetus and the right to make decisions within their own areas. In north Kildare the towns of Leixlip, Celbridge, Maynooth and Kilcock are areas of high population density but they have no impetus to provide the structures which would encourage public responsibility because the centre of responsibility for them is removed from the focus of the townspeople. We are allowing satellite towns to develop with no focus or community involvement. The Bill speaks of town councils but contains nothing positive in this regard. I hope the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, will look again at the provision of urban councils with housing and planning authority for these towns. This would be of major significance in their development. The centre of decision making would not be removed to the county authority as is now the case in County Kildare.

Deputy Ring has spoken of the right of the people to decide who will be their local government or Dáil representatives. The party leaders have expressed their view on the question of the dual mandate. However, in many cases their supporters have been elected to this House because of the work they have done on local authorities. Party leaders might not be so anxious to remove the dual mandate if they reflected on this. I am happy the dual mandate is to remain and that the right to elect their representatives is to remain with the people. It is still within the remit of the people to decide if a person will represent them on an urban or county council or in Dáil Éireann. This may be one of the lessons we learned from last Thursday's vote on the Nice Treaty.

Because of the way it has been handled I am sure many Deputies will want to contribute to the debate on this Bill. We will hear a wider range of Deputies' views during the debate on Committee Stage. I hope we do not have such time constraints then as we have today.

I thank Deputy Wall for sharing his time with me. It is regrettable that I have had to approach the Labour Party to be given a slot to speak on this issue. There has been a clamour from Deputies who are not even members of local authorities to speak on a matter, of which they have no working knowledge. Of course knowledge of a subject never stopped anyone from speaking in this House.

Or the lack of it.

Some seem to be able to speak forever.

I agree with Deputy Wall with regard to the dual mandate for membership of local authorities and Dáil Éireann. The Bill has been signalled for the past two years. It is regrettable that we now find our discussion of it constrained by time. The Bill contains 241 sections but where are the reforms? Reform of the dual mandate was the trumpet which heralded the Bill.

Deputy Boylan does not agree with it.

The proposal has now been dropped and I am delighted. I am a member of a local authority and I am proud of that fact. When the fig leaf of dual mandate reform is removed the Bill is seen to contain nothing of substance. Where is the reform? What was all the talk about? The only reform proposed was the banning of the dual mandate. Now that that has been abandoned the Bill is a damp squib. There is no reform.

Titles are to be changed. We are to have executive directors and directors of services. I have never heard such nonsense. The same people will be dressed up in different uniforms wearing different hats but doing the same jobs. These people should have been left as they are. Our planning engineer is now a director of services, God bless the mark.

I have been a member of a local authority for the past 27 years and recently a member of an urban council. I am very proud of this. Local government is the coalface of democracy. It is where we learn the problems of the people. The people who elect us to local authorities are the people who know us. If they place their trust in us that is an indication of our ability to represent them. We are then entitled to go on to Dáil Éireann to air the views expressed at county council meetings on a weekly basis. Excellent discussions are heard at local authority meetings.

Some members of local authorities have a "them and us" attitude to local authority officials. This is not helpful. Members of local authorities should work with the executive. They are professional people who know their job. I am proud of the rapid strides my county has made in the past decade. We have one of the most outstanding county managers in the country, Mr. Brian Johnston. He has a marvellous executive team around him. We have made strides because we have a team of officials who know their jobs and elected members who work with the authority while being prepared to put their views forward and have reasonable discussions. That will not change, nor do I want it to.

The 241 sections in this Bill are a waste of time. Local government wants more finance but this is not signalled in the Bill. Local authorities are being starved of finance. The Government does not realise this.

Local government finance is up 63% on what the Deputy's party was giving.

It took the rainbow coalition – Fine Gael with the support of our Labour Party friends – to bring about real change and give real finance to local authorities in 1994 and 1995. During the two and a half years of the rainbow coalition there was a 300% increase in funding to local authorities and real work was done.

I used be laughed at when I spoke about money for roads. I might as well have been speaking to people on the street. However, when we got real money the job was done.

Exactly. We got you the real money.

We have the engineers and the people who can do the job if we have the finance.

When we had a health service it was administered by county councils. A great reform many years ago took responsibility for health away from county councils and now we have no health service.

Yes, we have.

It is breaking down in a shambles. That responsibility must be returned to the county councils. That reform was a waste of time and public money. We created an extra layer of executives and administrators. People are in administrative positions who know nothing about health or the needs of the people.

I am delighted the dual mandate proposal has been dropped. It was a fig-leaf from the start and there is no reform behind it. I am proud to be a member of a local authority and I will remain there until the people, not the Minister, decide otherwise. I wish the Minister well. He is a grand fellow, personally, but he was totally wrong in this regard. If he has a headache I am not really surprised. I hope he gets better with a few aspirins.

I am mindful of Deputy Boylan's injunction that Deputies who are not local authority members should not be allowed to contribute to the debate. I find that rather odd. This is the national Parliament and such matters should be debated here. Fortunately or otherwise, depending upon how one looks at it, I am one of those people who came directly into the Dáil without the almost vital rite of passage through a local authority. Having said that, however, I am as entitled as anybody else, including Deputy Boylan, to make known my own views, both on the dual mandate and on the vexed issue of local government reform. Every Member of the House is entitled to express an opinion on that. It is unfortunate, in a sense, that I was not given the opportunity to serve at local authority level before I entered this House. I had a great deal of learning to do and I continue to make great strides in trying to understand the intricate details of the workings of local authorities. As a constituency TD, I am certainly at a disadvantage in not having a full understanding of how the detail of the local authority system works. I do not believe, however, that there is any compelling case to be made for a Member of this House to be also a member of a local authority.

In my maiden speech to the House, I made it clear that I approved of the abolition of the dual mandate. I am an abolitionist in that sense and I fully support the Minister, Deputy Dempsey's, efforts in this. He is right and the principle is correct. The principle has not been destroyed by this debate or by the Bill. The issue will be revisited in time, perhaps under another Government after another general election. It would be only right for the dual mandate issue to be revisited for the proper development of local democracy and local authorities generally.

The dual mandate is wrong and I challenge those who operate under it to reassure me and the voting public that they can do both jobs well. Given the serious reform the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has inaugurated in this Bill, and the reforms that have preceded this legislation, I do not believe one can do both jobs well. If one is serving in this House three days a week, one will inevitably miss local authority meetings of one sort or another, be they full plenary sessions or vital committee meetings where the new special policy committees will be in action, including business and community interests that are now an integrated part of the local authority system.

One cannot do both jobs well. A person would fail his constituents in trying to do both jobs. I understand the vulnerability of my colleagues and Opposition Members who feel that if they were removed from a local authority they would not have a relevance locally and may lose out electorally. That vulnerability arises from a low sense of confidence among people who operate under the dual mandate. TDs can do well for their constituents without necessarily being on a local authority and as time goes on that will become more apparent. Unfortunately, however, because of all sorts of political and other factors – both within my own party and among the Independent Deputies – we will not get rid of the dual mandate for now. I hope that matter will be dealt with in the future and we will arrive at a situation whereby we can pay local authority members properly for the vital work they do. Their work often goes unrecognised.

It is often thought that a Dáil election is a more difficult contest than a local election but I would be the first to admit that I would not like to fight a local election. I consider it a far more difficult a contest than a Dáil election because a huge proportion of the voters one meets on the doorsteps do not go out to vote. It is difficult also because it is more local in nature and it is hard for new candidates to launch themselves.

To state, as Deputy Boylan did, that the Bill contains nothing, now that the abolition of the dual mandate is no longer to be a part of it, is simply not the case. There are wider reforms in the Bill which will have a lasting value for the development of local government. One such reform provides for the election of local mayors and another concerns the special policy committees that will allow all the social forces in a local authority area to play their part in the system of government in a given county. Other reforms will work in the long run.

As regards the dual mandate, the Minister should proceed with his idea of allowing TDs who are not county councillors to have rights of access to information and reports from the local authority. In some local authorities TDs are well served in that regard, even if they are not members of the authority, but in others they are not so well served. The system should be even-handed. It might be helpful in weaning people off the idea of the dual mandate if TDs were given rights of access and representation to be able to attend some local authority meetings and speak in limited circumstances. I hope the Minister will go ahead with those ideas irrespective of the dual mandate. I know it will not go down terribly well with councillors who would feel the TDs were crowding their ground but the Minister now has an opportunity to push ahead with the idea of giving TDs and Senators rights of access to local councils, their officials and the reports they produce.

There is a more important reform issue which is not contained in the Bill but which should be contained in future local government legislation. It applies not just to local government but to the entire State sector. We need an Ombudsman or advocate system on behalf of the public, the constituents, who come to us every day about matters relating to local authorities or social services on a national level. We need such an advocate system which could take a customer-focused approach in championing and vindicating people's rights. So often one finds in politics that people have approached a State office yet they have not found a response apart from a formulaic letter which does not satisfy them when they feel their entitlements have been transgressed.

The delivery of our social services, both locally and nationally, but particularly locally, would be delivered in a better way if we had an advocate-type system in place in every local authority. In that way customers could arrive at a State office if they felt they were not receiving their due entitlements. Somebody could be employed – but not under the management of the local authority – to vindicate their rights in much the same way as the Ombudsman does concerning other State services. This could be a vital addition to the operation of local authorities. It would also inspire more confidence in local bureaucracy.

The issue of directly elected mayors has become a vexed one. I am not entirely happy with what the Minister has done in imposing a restriction of five years' experience in a local authority before one can qualify to become a directly elected mayor. That provision may be open to future constitutional challenge. Is it possible to discriminate between incumbent local authority members and ordinary citizens who may wish to put themselves forward for a position as a directly elected mayor? I would question the validity and long-term usefulness of restricting the qualification of those who wish to run for the office of mayor to those who have experience as an incumbent of a local authority. That argument may run counter to the interests of incumbent local authority councillors but, nonetheless, we are better off with a fully open and transparent system where anybody, no matter who they are, can put his or her name up for election. I suspect the reason for its inclusion in the Bill relates to what I might call the "Dana factor". Let us be honest, there was a certain apprehension among the political class about the arrival of one Dana Rosemary Scallon on the political scene for the European Parliament elections. There was apprehension about the idea that independents, or single issue candidates of one kind or another with ordinary and very extraordinary views, could somehow be elected. At the end of the day, despite the contribution made by single issue candidates, which is often negative, democracy is democracy and it is open to everyone, once they reach the minimum age qualification, to put their names forward for election.

The Minister has tried, in difficult circumstances, to engage in the business of serious reform and this legislation is but one incremental change in the process. It will not lead to an overnight revolution but in the long run if local government is to be reformed in a serious manner, more payments must be provided for councillors for their hard work. The issue of devolving responsibility for budgets and social services to local authorities also needs to be examined. That is where real accountability will be provided.

I wish the Minister for the Environment and Local Government well. This debate is timely. The Bill has been awaited for a long time and I am most disappointed that the issue of the dual mandate is the only aspect of the legislation which has concentrated the minds of all the political parties and political commentators because there are many positive provisions in it which have gone unnoticed. I intend to highlight these on Committee Stage due to the lack of time available to discuss them in-depth now.

I fully endorse direct elections of mayors as it is a positive step. There has been a democratic deficit at local government level for some time. Under the structure of local government since its inception in the 19th century unelected officials have had all the powers. It is time to address this deficiency and shift the balance of power to allow local authority candidates to outline policies during elections and get involved in the strategic policy committees once they are elected to discuss these policies, which could then be implemented by the elected representatives as opposed to always having to depend on city and county managers to bring forward proposals which are discussed ad nauseum by local authority members but ultimately implemented by the managers. If we are serious about providing for directly elected mayors, it is imperative that they should be given stronger powers during the transition phase. Initially, the local government system could be upset if the powers are transferred automatically during a mayor's first term but a continual shift of power over a number of years from the local authority manager to the mayor should be examined.

The restrictions on mayoral elections have been mentioned and I also agree that everybody should be entitled to put their name forward for election. We should be able to trust the public to decide who they want to represent them at city or county council level for five years. If single issue candidates come forward, whether the issue is of national or local importance, it means the previous set of councillors were not addressing something that they should have. If there is a strong feeling among the public regarding an issue, a breakdown in accountability and democracy at local government level is highlighted. This issue should be revisited. Many councillors are concerned that they will not have an opportunity to become mayors. However, they can go through their party's system or stand as independents and let the people be the final arbiters of who will represent them as mayor for a five year term.

We can undertake all the local government reform we wish but the key factor is funding. As time passes, we should examine the development of a system which would allow local authorities to raise their own funds. Both Cork Corporation and Cork County Council, for example, apply service charges. If local authorities are willing to put their heads on the block and vote through charges on the public, a system should be in place to reward them. A penalty system was in place for many years whereby local authorities which raised their own funds were penalised by central government by not getting their fair share of the national cake because these funds were taken into account.

If local authorities are prepared to levy charges, an incentive should be provided by the Government and funding increased for the councils involved in order that if members are willing to pass service charges, the public will see tangible evidence of local taxes being spent in their communities on library services and so on. There is no difficulty explaining to the public the reason funds must be raised locally if the local authority is rewarded by central government and amenities and services are provided on the ground.

I welcome the provision of the one-stop-shop. Local government, similar to central government, is sometimes out of touch with what is happening in the everyday lives of ordinary people. A previous speaker referred to a constituent who had to undertake a round trip of 140 miles to tax his car. That is completely unacceptable. Every large town should have a one-stop-shop where the services of all State agencies, including local authorities and health boards, are available to citizens. In this day and age it should be straightforward to provide all these services in a one-stop-shop. I acknowledge the scheme will be established on a pilot basis but as the shops are established, they will become a hub for citizens to access the services of local government and various State agencies.

I feel strongly about the issue of managers and officials in local authorities. I have not had a bad experience with officials as Cork Corporation is probably one of the more dynamic local authorities and an excellent new city manager has been appointed. In the past the local authority official who had the most impact on the lives of citizens was the manager because he or she decided policy. It was almost impossible to remove a manager who was inefficient, incapable or not up to the job and the local authority was stuck with that person. A mechanism should be in place to provide accountability in this regard.

Cases involving bad local authority engineers are often raised. It is evident as one drives around the country that when one travels from one engineer's division to another there is a tangible difference in the quality of road surfaces, hedgerows and various maintenance works. This is down to one official who is not performing his or her role well. There is no system in place to remove these officials from their duties. This issue must be examined. It is fine to say all local authority officials and civil servants are effective but it is obvious that some are not. As in any other walk of life, some people are not up to the task they are expected to perform.

The issue of capital programmes should also be examined. If accountability is to be ensured, local authority members must be allowed to make a significant input into such programmes. Members currently vote on estimates, development plans, the sale of lands but do not vote on capital programmes. Local authority members should have more of an input into budgetary decisions. We expect the public to elect councillors who will sit on a local authority for five years but do not trust them enough to have a serious input into the financial arrangements of their authority and how moneys are expended. This issue must be addressed. Cork Corporation has come a long way and members are often consulted on issues. When proposals from committees are put before the corporation the managers take the views of members on board. Funds have been set aside for traffic calming and so on about which I feel strongly.

How much time do I have?

I understand that at 3.15 p.m. a Minister or Minister of State will have the right to be called to reply. The Deputy has approximately five minutes.

I intended sharing my time with Deputy Ulick Burke.

By order of the Dáil today the debate concludes at 3.30 p.m. and the Minister will be called to reply at 3.15 p.m.

The guillotine has dropped even sooner. I will do my best to share my time with Deputy Ulick Burke.

When drafting my remarks on this Bill last night, I intended to say that we were debating in the dark with a guillotine hanging over us. However, last night the Government turned on the light and what we saw was not a pretty sight. There is nothing elegant about a political U-turn, even one that was this long coming. This was an inadequate Bill to start with, but with one of its principal innovations now gone, the ending of the dual mandate, it is as forlorn a piece of legislation as was ever placed before the Dáil. This long promised Bill was finally published on 4 May 2000, but it only came before the Dáil on 8 March this year. It was adjourned and is now back over a year since its publication.

The fate of the Bill was the subject of widespread rumour and speculation centred on those Independent Deputies who support the Government but did not support the proposal in the Bill as published to end the dual mandate and disqualify Deputies and Senators from election to local authorities. It was a long year of negotiations between the Government and the Deputies in question and, more importantly perhaps, the Government's backbenchers. I assured the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, that I would support the ending of the dual mandate. He stated he did not have any intention of backing down on the issue. However, the entire Cabinet has now backed down. This is a legislative farce. I understand the Minister is unwell and wish him a speedy recovery. However, the Cabinet is clearly suffering from some form of viral infection and, regrettably, there is no immediately available antibiotic for Jackie Healy-Raeitis. The Cabinet's U-turn was forced not only by the four Independent Deputies who support the Government but also by many Fianna Fáil backbenchers whose grumbling against this measure was less audible, but no less ominous.

Having waited so long for the Bill we now find ourselves debating it with a guillotine hanging over us. This is a ridiculous way to conduct the business of the Dáil on any matter, let alone a Bill which deals with local government, an issue which goes to the heart of democracy. The Second Stage debate on this long, varied and detailed Bill has been restricted to less than a week and many Deputies have clearly not had the opportunity to speak. Given the long wait for publication of the Bill and the undue delay in bringing it before the House, this guillotine is totally unacceptable. As a member of the Select Committee on Environment and Local Government, I protest also at a similarly restricted time for Committee Stage.

I thank Deputy Ó Caoláin for sharing his time with me.

I am totally dissatisfied with the situation in relation to this Bill. On this occasion, as on many others, the Minister has proved to be a total failure. He now lacks credibility because of his failure to defend the Bill he introduced in the Chamber. He has failed to challenge the four Independents who oppose it. It is sad that the four people responsible for this U-turn by the Minister have not appeared in the House to defend their actions. They would prefer to give the media a television sound bite on the plinth. If that is the way the Minister has yielded on this occasion, we deserve what we get as regards local government policy.

The Bill emphasises that elected councils can determine policy and sets out an updated range of mechanisms for its implementation. However, the reality is different from what is stated in the Bill. The role of elected members is nothing more than to rubber stamp decisions. I have been a member of a local authority since 1974 and every year estimates are presented to us. Elected members have the capacity to change approximately 3% of the total expenditure of the local authority. It is futile for us to pretend otherwise. We saw what the Minister did recently in terms of waste management, where he failed miserably. A waste management policy was introduced by him. However, he denied the elected members of various councils the opportunity to have an input into devising a waste management policy. He will now force that policy on them. That is not local government and regrettable.

Tá mise ag teacht isteach in ionad an t-Aire Comhshaoil agus Rialtas Áitiúil, an Teachta Ó Diomasaigh, toisc go bhfuil tinneas air. Beidh sé ar ais i gceann cúpla lá.

I am happy to be here today to conclude the Second Stage of the debate on the Local Government Bill, 2000, which marks another milestone in the Government's ongoing programme for the renewal of our local government system. The diverse and wide-ranging contributions during the debate by Members of the House reflect the importance of local government in our society and show how it impacts in a real way on the daily lives of each one of us. Among the range of issues referred to in the debate were funding, customer service, dual mandate, staffing, co-options, roads, planning, housing, new committee structures, salary for members, management and the need to enhance the role of council, community development, cathaoirleach, titles, meetings, the ombudsman, waste disposal and accounts. This gives a flavour of local government today. It also highlights that local government is integral to our continued economic and social development at all levels, both locally and nationally.

Everyone agrees there is a need for the renewal of local government and the Government's renewal programme aims to move forward in a progressive way to deliver on this objective in a realistic and practical manner. The critical aims of the renewal programme are to strengthen local democracy, particularly through an enhanced role for elected members; to provide proper resources; to develop partnership with sectoral interests and local communities; to improve customer service and to develop efficiencies in local government. Since taking up office the Government has embarked on a major programme of action to achieve these objectives. After decades of reports, studies, analysis and rhetoric on the matter, we are now seeing real actions delivering tangible results. These actions are making a difference and visible not only to those operating within the local government system but also to the communities which local government serves.

What has been achieved in the past four years? A brief snapshot shows that local government is now constitutionally recognised with a fixed electoral cycle and guaranteed local elections and a constitutional provision which provides the cornerstone for the Bill. A proper local government funding system is in place, which is now delivering more than 63% general purpose funding to local authorities, over and above the 1997 figures, and underpinned by modern financial management systems. County and city development boards are up and running and crucially under the democratic leadership of local government. This brings together for the first time at local level the State agencies, local development and social partners in planning for the future.

There is a wide agenda to improve customer service by way of the one-stop-shop programme, better corporate planning, customer action plans and service indicators, special funding for service improvement and innovation as well as information technology and upgraded audit and VFM systems. Local authorities are key players under the national development plan in providing housing, water, roads, waste and other infrastructure necessary to sustain our continued social and economic progress and with funding at record levels. With proper back-up and directors of service now in place strategic policy committees are beginning to operate as intended, allowing members to develop a central role in policy development together with comprehensive train ing and information programmes which are well under way for elected members.

The implementation of modern human resources policies through new management structures in local authorities will strengthen management and staffing capacity and provide clearer accountability and responsibility, as well as opening up better career prospects in local government. Last but not least, is the Local Government Bill which provides the framework within which this programme of action will be carried forward, as well as providing a modern and consolidated code of local government law following from constitutional recognition and repealing enactments dating back almost two centuries.

The local government Bill now before the House is one element of the overall package and must not be considered in isolation or as an end in itself, but rather as an important component of the overall programme. I hope the Bill will be viewed within this wider context as an element in a much broader programme of action, a package of measures designed to encompass the diverse functions of local government as well as the large number and range of authorities. We must consider those involved in the process, 1,600 councillors, 30,000 staff and most importantly the people from whom local government draws its mandate.

The Bill will underpin the range of initiatives I have already outlined and aims to enhance the role of the elected members and place them at the heart of local democracy. As the Minister has indicated previously, he has approached the task of renewing local government as a realist in the light of practical experience and knowledge as a former councillor.

The Bill has been criticised by some opposition spokespersons because it is not radical enough. However, the time has come to separate the theory from the reality. In a somewhat abstract sense there have been calls for radical change in local government, but at a practical level the Minister has not sensed any appetite for radical change. The reaction of some to the dual mandate provision and to the directly elected cathaoirleach would seem to bear this out. Nor have I heard any serious calls to redraw the map of local government as we know it. Quite the contrary.

We might also recall that the actions of Opposition parties when in Government did not deliver the widespread removal of functions from other agencies, which they now loudly proclaim, and their transfer to local government. Fine Gael delivered nothing to local government other than dog licensing. Contrast that with the first experiment ever in this State to provide a lead role for local government through the county and city development boards, in bringing together at local level the State agencies, local development bodies and social partners to formulate and oversee implementation of an agreed strategy for the economic, social and cultural development of each county and city. This is a practical and innovative step forward as opposed to empty rhetoric. The Minister is satisfied the Bill provides a framework to facilitate change in a manner which will allow the people involved to take ownership of the process. This is the key to success. It will allow local government to evolve in new directions and facilitate progressive change. The Minister will bring forward amendments on committee stage largely to take account of suggestions by the local authority associations and other interests; and to reflect other legislation such as the planning and development Act, enacted subsequent to publication of the Bill. As announced last evening, the Minister will also bring to Government, for consideration at its meeting next Tuesday, an amendment to remove the proposed bar on the dual mandate.

Will the Minister inform the House of the text of the proposed amendment which is to be brought to the Government next Tuesday. It is important that the House is in possession of this information before it votes on this Bill at 3.30 p.m.

This would not be the norm. What will be brought before Government will be brought by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government next Tuesday. We will see it at that time and it will be made known as soon as possible thereafter.

The script is out of date.


Under Standing Order 47, can I ask the Minister to give way?

Only if the Minister is agreeable. We must allow the Minister to complete his statement. There can only be one intervention. The Deputy has made his intervention and there cannot be any more.

The Labour Party offered to co-operate with the Government but its offer was not accepted.

Not on the basis of what I heard.

That offer is now withdrawn.

It was withdrawn long before now.


The Minister without interruption now, the Minister must be allowed to conclude.

We have an amendment before the House to be voted on. We must know what we are voting on.

We will come to that.

When we come to the amendment the question will be put.

This is just a delaying tactic, the parties have made up their minds not to vote for the Bill.


There cannot be any more interventions. Deputy Olivia Mitchell is being disorderly.


Deputy Healy-Rae—

The Labour Party's own Deputy Wall spoke in the same fashion.


The Minister without interruption.

We will shortly have an opportunity to debate the detailed provisions of the Bill on Committee Stage so I will confine my comments today to one or two particular issues. Many provisions in the Bill are geared towards enhancing the position of the elected members by allowing them to exercise their rightful role as policy makers. The corporate policy group, or CPG, headed by, and working in conjunction with the directly elected cathaoirleach, will provide a powerful impetus for change in the internal dynamics of local government, overseeing the executive arm and thus addressing the democratic deficit which has arisen over the years. The CPG will have a key role in the preparation of the corporate plan for the life of the council and the annual budget, both of which must be prepared by the manager in consultation with the CPG. The Bill provides for a range of powers for the CPG and the elected council to develop, make and steer policy and oversee the executive.

At this stage, an executive role is not proposed for the CPG or cathaoirleach. However, it is worth mentioning that the recent report on local government in Ireland carried out on behalf of the Council of Europe's, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities commented on the potential for the CPG to evolve into a more executive type board over time. We will consider future developments in this direction in the light of experience gained in the operation of the new arrangements as now provided for in the Bill; and of the developing programme of local government renewal generally. In other words we must walk before we run. The Bill provides the opportunities for local government to engage with local communities and for the CPG with an elected cathaoirleach to occupy a central role both within the system and in bringing together for the common good the various local interests and agencies.

Members also need practical supports in order to carry out their role and maximise their contribution. The comprehensive training and education programme for all councillors, now well advanced, is one such support. In addition, the Bill provides for a salary-type payment and the introduction of pension arrangements for elected members for the first time ever in the history of local government in Ireland. I know this provision has wholehearted support across the political spectrum.

There is no doubt that local government in Ireland is facing huge challenges, higher expectations and greater accountability than ever before. The Government's renewal programme aims to equip it to perform efficiently and effectively in this changing environment. To do this, however, the local government system needs a modern legal framework, and this is the first time since the foundation of the State that any Government has brought forward such legislation. The Bill acknowledges the need for change and provides a practical framework for local government to reshape its operations with full involvement of members, staff and local communities in a more participative and representative democracy. It provides a new ethics code to uphold high standards of integrity and transparency – standards which unfortunately have been damaged by the actions of a very small few.

Few will disagree with me that this legislation is long overdue and that successive Governments down through the years must share responsibility for this. That being said I am happy to acknowledge previous work such as the publication of Better Local Government in 1996. However over the past four years the Minister has delivered real progress across a wide agenda of change. The Bill is the next step and I look forward to its more detailed consideration in the coming weeks.

I am now required to put the following question in accordance with an Order of the Dáil of this day on the amendment to the motion for a second reading in the name of Deputy Olivia Mitchell.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the main question."

Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Ardagh, Seán.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Cullen, Martin.Daly, Valera, Síle.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.

Kelleher, Billy.Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael P.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John J.Martin, Micheál.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Kennedy, Michael.O'Rourke, Mary.Power, Seán.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wallace, Mary.Walsh, Joe.Wright, G. V.


Barnes, Monica.Bell, Michael.Boylan, Andrew.Bradford, Paul.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, Richard.Burke, Ulick.

Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.Crawford, Seymour.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael. Dukes, Alan.


Durkan, Bernard.Enright, Thomas.Farrelly, John.Fitzgerald, Frances.Flanagan, Charles.Gilmore, Éamon.Gregory, Tony.Hayes, Brian.Higgins, Jim.Howlin, Brendan.Kenny, Enda.McCormack, Pádraic.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Jim.

Mitchell, Olivia.Naughten, Denis.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.Owen, Nora.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Rabbitte, Pat.Ring, Michael.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Shortall, Róisín.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Bradford and Stagg.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I declare the Bill read a Second Time in accordance with Standing Order 111(2).