I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Before referring to the Bill, I wish to provide some background information on the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act 1971. The purpose of that Act was to enable the Minister, by order, to establish corporate bodies to provide for the local authorities and-or the Minister such services as are specified in the establishment orders. The immediate need in 1971 was to establish a body to enable the local authority conciliation and arbitration scheme to operate effectively. The Act was framed in general terms so that the powers it conferred could be used to establish bodies to provide other services for local authorities, if that was found to be necessary or desirable.
In the period since the Act came into force, 13 bodies were established under its provisions. Of these, seven remain operative. Some of the bodies established were merged with others or dissolved depending on the demand for the service specified. The initial body established, the Local Government Staff Negotiations Board, still exists but is now known as the Local Government Management Services Board. Due to changing circumstances, the National Road Safety Association, the Fire Prevention Council and the Irish Water Safety Council were merged in 1987 to form the National Safety Council. In the interim, the National Safety Council was merged with the Road Safety Authority, while the Irish water safety corporate body has been re-established.
In general, the bodies were established to provide specified services for local authorities where it was more useful to have a single provider than obliging each local authority to acquire or provide a service. A good example is the Local Government Computer Services Board, which has provided large computer systems and software programmes that can be used by each local authority. The other services generally related to fire, water and road safety. In total, 41 orders were made under the 1971 Act. Apart from the 13 establishment orders, these consist of orders amending the establishment orders, orders revoking various bodies and orders designating bodies for which bodies established under the Act could provide services.
The Bill before the House is short and is designed to address matters concerning bodies established under the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act 1971. Following advice he provided in respect of the Health (Corporate Bodies) Act 1961 and the subsequent passing of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2007 by both Houses of the Oireachtas last December, the Attorney General indicated that the possible unconstitutionality of section 3 of the Act of 1961 regarding health-related bodies also extended to local government bodies established under section 3 of the 1971 Act. This arises because the 1971 Act contains provisions similar to those in the 1961 Act.
It is not a question of any of the corporate bodies involved having no legal basis. I assure the House that all the bodies were properly constituted under the 1971 Act by way of statutory instruments. However, given the advice and recommendations from the Attorney General, the Bill before the House is required to confirm the various orders made for existing corporate bodies. Deputies will appreciate that given the importance of bodies established under the 1971 Act to the local authority service, it would not be appropriate to allow doubt to exist in this matter. Early enactment of the Bill is, therefore, desirable to confirm the establishment orders of the seven existing bodies in primary legislation.
The Bill, apart from the amendments to the Limerick regeneration agencies' establishment orders, involves no policy change and no additional charge on the Exchequer. It clarifies the areas covered by the Limerick Northside Regeneration Agency and Limerick Southside Regeneration Agency and provides for two additional appointments to the boards of each, one from among the staff of FÁS and another from among the local community or business community.
The two bodies in question were established in June 2007 on foot of the findings of the report, Addressing issues of Social Exclusion in Moyross and other disadvantaged areas of Limerick City, compiled by former Dublin city manager, John Fitzgerald, which was delivered in April 2007. The agencies are tasked with driving forward the development of comprehensive measures to tackle issues of social exclusion in Moyross, Southill and adjacent areas. As a result of the need for urgent action in this matter, the agencies were established under the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act 1971. The ambitious work programme of the agencies has in recent times delivered vision documents for Moyross and Southill housing developments and the lands adjacent thereto. These vision documents were launched by President McAleese and will lead, by the summer of this year, to the development of comprehensive master plans for regeneration of the areas concerned.
I wish now to set out the main provisions of the Bill. Sections 1 and 2 are standard technical provisions setting out the definitions used in the Bill and making provision for the payment of expenses incurred in the administration of the Bill out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas. While no direct expenditure in implementing the legislation is anticipated, it is prudent to include this standard provision.
Section 3 confirms the establishment orders made under the 1971 Act for current bodies and provides that these orders have statutory effect as if made in primary legislation. The seven bodies are listed in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill. The Dublin Transportation Office is included because when it was established, it came under the aegis of the Minister. Responsibility for the office was transferred to the Department of Transport in 2002, when the latter also assumed charge of national roads. Section 3(3) provides for the standard provision in legislation of this nature and ensures that the confirming provisions cannot be construed in such a way that they could infringe any person's constitutional rights. Section 3(4) takes account of the provisions of the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004, which provides for certain staff to continue in employment after the age of 65. This is being done because most of the establishment orders predated the 2004 Act and contain provisions concerning retirement at 65 years of age.
Section 4 confirms the validity of acts carried out by dissolved bodies in accordance with the establishment orders of the bodies concerned. Section 4(2), in the same manner as section 3(3), states that if this provision were to conflict with the constitutional right of any person, its operation would be subject to such limitation as is necessary to ensure that it does not so conflict.
Section 5 and the associated Schedule amend the establishment orders for the two Limerick regeneration agencies to provide for the appointment of two additional members to the board of each and to clarify the areas covered by both. Section 6 is a technical provision stating that the Act may be cited as the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) (Confirmation of Orders) Act 2008.
The Bill is short but it is nevertheless important. As regards the future, it is considered that the Minister should have authority to establish bodies to provide services for local authorities where there is a specific purpose and where it would be more practical and economical to provide the service by a single body rather than obliging each of the 34 major authorities to act separately at much greater cost.
The 1971 Act was originally brought forward to permit the establishment of the Local Government Staff Negotiations Board, now the Local Government Management Services Board, to provide industrial relations expertise for the local government system. Prior to its establishment there was no formal central forum to discuss local government pay issues. The wisdom of that move has been demonstrated by the excellent service provided to local government management by the Local Government Management Services Board and its predecessor, the Local Government Staff Negotiations Board. These boards have provided a central centre of excellence in industrial relations, human resources and other management services to local authorities for the past 30 years.
In various constitutional actions relating to whether secondary legislation infringed Article 15.2 of the Constitution, the need for the Government to have a mechanism to establish corporate bodies has been recognised in judgments of the High Court and the Supreme Court. In the judgment relating to the Pigs and Marketing Boardv. Donnelly, Hanna J., it was acknowledged that “the functions of every Government are now so numerous and complex that of necessity a wider sphere has been recognised for subordinate agencies, such as boards and commissions”. However, as stated by the then Chief Justice in the judgment in the City View Press case, the test of the constitutionality of the legal instrument establishing corporate bodies is that it gives effect to principles and policies which are contained in the statute itself. I intend to review the relevant section of the 1971 Act to ascertain what strengthening it requires to meet the constitutionality test or if new legislation is required.
As I stated, the Bill is short. It follows from the advice of the Attorney General to ensure that there is no uncertainty attaching to the seven existing bodies established under the 1971 Act and makes the same provisions as those contained in the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2007, which the House agreed last December. I commend the Bill to the House.