Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) (Confirmation of Orders) Bill 2008 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

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.

I propose to share time with Deputy Noonan.

Article 15.2.1° of the Constitution states: "The sole and exclusive power of making laws for the State is hereby vested in the Oireachtas: no other legislative authority has power to make laws for the State." Consistent with this article and the case-law that has developed around it, legislation has traditionally been categorised as either being primary legislation, Acts, or secondary legislation, statutory instruments. There are a number of features which distinguish primary legislation from secondary legislation. The main differences are as follows: a statutory instrument is made by a Minister, usually acting alone, and is not subject to any form of legislative process; an Act must remain within the bounds of the Constitution whereas a statutory instrument must remain within the bounds of its parent Act; statutory instruments tend to deal with procedural and less substantive matters than Acts; and a statutory instrument cannot create an offence.

What we are dealing with in this Bill is a kind of cross-breed of legislation which treads dangerously on the line separating primary legislation from secondary legislation. Mistakes have been identified by three Departments and they must be remedied as the relevant provisions are regarded as being legally unsound. The European Communities Act 1972 allows for the making of statutory instruments which have statutory effect if they are required by our membership of the EU. This marked the first significant blurring of the lines between primary and secondary legislation. In isolation, perhaps that aspect of the European Communities Act was justifiable and tolerable. However, in recent years we have come to see that the approach taken in the 1972 Act has increasingly been replicated. Examples of this are section 6 of the Diplomatic Relations and Immunities (Amendment) Act 2006, section 3 of the Stamp Duties Consolidation Act 1999, section 2 of the Immigration Act 1999, and section 5 of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2007, upon which this Bill is modelled. We should tread very carefully in adopting this approach any further.

I have taken the opportunity of obtaining some legal advice on the manner in which the Government is seeking to enact this legislation and to see which Departments are the most culpable in blurring the lines of which I have just spoken. The approach may be permissible in a constitutional sense, but that does not make it right. The approach being adopted in this Bill has been the subject of some judicial comment. In a recent case, Leontjava and Changv. DPP, Ms Justice Finlay-Geoghegan in the High Court did not think much of section 2 of the Immigration Act 1999, which sought to confer statutory effect on orders made under section 5 of the Aliens Act 1935. The Minister should note what she said: “There does not appear to me to be anything in the Constitution which authorises or permits the Oireachtas to determine that a provision which is ... secondary legislation should henceforth be treated in the legal order of the State as if it were an Act of the Oireachtas.” Ms Justice Finlay-Geoghegan went on to say: “The only provisions which may be treated as a ‘law’ within the meaning of Article 15 and have the legal status attributable to such a law are laws which have been made by the Oireachtas pursuant to their exclusive law making powers i.e. provisions which are contained in a Bill, passed or deemed to be passed by both Houses, signed by the President and promulgated as a law.” Surely those words from a learned member of the Bench should cause the Minister to question the approach he is taking with this Bill.

The Minister might also consider the consequences of this approach as highlighted more recently by the Supreme Court in the case of Quinnv. Ireland. That case focused on section 4(1)(a) of the European Communities Act 1972, which conferred statutory effect on regulations made under the 1972 Act. The question to be resolved was whether, if statutory effect were conferred on regulations, those regulations could only be amended by an Act. The answer of the Supreme Court to this question was a resounding “Yes”. Ms Justice Denham stated:

It has the same status as an Act of the Oireachtas. Therefore the method by which it may be amended requires to be considered from the perspective of this statutory status. As a consequence of having such status, such regulations may only be amended by the Oireachtas.

It can thus be said that conferring secondary legislation with statutory effect is a mere convenience for the Minister because in solving one problem, he is creating another, as this new cross-breed of statutory instruments can themselves only be amended by an Act.

Another question which arises as a result of this new breed of legislation is whether it is covered by the terms of the Interpretation Act 2005. It seems not, because that Act applies to Acts made by the Oireachtas and statutory instruments which have been made under an Act. This new type of legislation appears to fall between the two. It also seems to fall outside the terms of the Statutory Instruments Act 1947. I ask the Minister to clarify whether he will be bringing forward amendments to the Interpretation Act and a new statutory instruments Act arising from the course of action he is taking today.

As far as the Oireachtas and the law-making process are concerned, we are being brought down a certain road and we now see the problems associated with the need to bring in this legislation to cover the Departments of Health and Children, Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and Social and Family Affairs. This is not the right way to go, based on the legal advice to which I have just referred and the decisions and the interpretations that have been put on these matters, particularly with regard to the European Communities Act 2007, which broadens considerably the circumstances in which Ministers can introduce substantive laws in the form of statutory instruments. In so doing, the role of this House in making laws is sidelined.

We have seen many decisions based on political expediency over the past week, but this has been a core value of Fianna Fáil for a long time. It seems the Minister, Deputy Gormley, is delighted to espouse the same values by sponsoring this Bill. The explanatory memorandum states that — presumably back in December 2007 — the Attorney General, following advice from senior counsel, was of the view that there was a legal issue concerning orders made under the Health (Corporate Bodies) Act 1961. If that was the case, why was the need for this Bill not identified then? Are we going to see another Bill in six months to correct matters and implement the Attorney General's advice on some other issue? The question of why the Minister has not sought to enact the orders in the form of an Act, instead of this legislative fiction, must be asked. The Minister is trying to create an artificial category of legislation which will at best be of questionable status when it is tested.

Another fact worth noting is that this is the second Bill we have debated that tries to tidy up a legislative mess created by historical inappropriate use of statutory instruments. The first was the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007, which came from the Department of Health and Children, one of only three Departments responsible for drafting their own statutory instruments. This Bill, which emanates from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, is another of these three Government Departments. The fact that there is a need for this type of legislation should cause those at the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to rethink the current policy of refusing to draft statutory instruments for these Departments.

I now turn to the individual provisions of the Bill. Section 3(1) of the Bill confers statutory effect on "every order under section 3 of the Act of 1971 made before the passing of this Act". A question thus arises as to whether the statutory effect in question is being conferred on the orders in their as-made, original forms or in their amended forms. If the intent is that statutory effect is to be conferred on orders in their amended forms, that is not provided for in section 3. Given the exceptional nature of what the Minister is trying to achieve here, he must be more explicit and precise. The courts will not infer such an intent and in this instance he will find that section 2 of the Interpretation Act 2005 is of no assistance to him.

Section 3(2) seeks to retrospectively validate actions which would otherwise have been invalid or possibly even unlawful. The House is entitled to be cautious about instances of legislating with retrospective effect. I recall vividly that the former Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, when speaking about the Redundancy Payments Acts as they were amended in 2001 arising from social partnership talks, was able to quote advice from the Attorney General that one could not retrospectively pay out redundancy payments to workers in Castlecomer who were made redundant due the closure of Comerama — an issue with which the Acting Chairman will be familiar — because there was a material cost to the Exchequer and that in fact it would be illegal to do so. Yet we have before us an overarching Bill which is doing precisely that. It retrospectively confirms decisions that were made long ago with no difficulty whatsoever.

Section 3(2) is regarded as necessary given that the various agencies have been operating on the understanding that their establishment and authority was soundly based. That confirms what I have just said. Section 3(3) is what is known as a constitutional saving provision. If all legislation enjoys the presumption of constitutionality, I would argue that this provision is unnecessary. Former Chief Justice Keane said as much in the case of Grealishv DPP, so I wonder what value this provision adds to the Bill. Either subsections (1) and (2) are constitutional or they are not. Why does the Minister want to have an each way bet on the issue? Even if subsections (1) and (2) are unconstitutional, I am advised that subsection (3) will not save the problem.

Regarding section 3(4), it would have been far better if this provision had been in the form of a textual amendment. As I understand it, this non-textual approach is at variance with the Government's White Paper on Regulating Better and its policy of statute law restatement.

On the Bill's Second Stage debate in the Seanad, the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, said that in regard to the Health Act 1961 and the subsequent passage of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2007, the Attorney General advised about the possible unconstitutionality of section 3 of the 1961 Act in respect of health-related bodies. That also extended to local government bodies established under section 3 of the 1971 Act. This situation arises as the latter Act contains similar provisions to those found in the 1961 Act. That is what the Minister of State said in the Upper House. If section 3 of the 1961 Act and section 23 of the 1971 Act are to be viewed as possibly being unconstitutional, what does the Minister of State and the Attorney General have to say about other similarly worded provisions in other Acts? It has been brought to my attention that provisions, such as section 22 of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1999, section 54(1) of the Education Act 1998, and section 16 of the Fire Service Act 1981, would also fall into the category of being possibly unconstitutional. All those provisions allow a Minister to establish a statutory body by order rather than by primary legislation. Will we have to see emergency legislation coming before the House again in order to patch up such loopholes?

The Bill is short and may seem innocuous but it has far-reaching implications in terms of how the Oireachtas does its business. It also has far-reaching implications as to how we address problems that have arisen in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and the Office of the Attorney General, which may not always have the benefit of being teased out in this House on Second Stage, Committee Stage or Report Stage. The value of bringing primary legislation here ensures that issues concerning statutory instruments are not just acted upon unilaterally by the Minister but also has the benefit of being well scrutinised in the Oireachtas. I value that role which gives us an opportunity to tease out legislative matters, thus getting better legislation as a result.

The agencies affected by this Bill have done great work. It is important that their existence and actions are soundly based in law. It is through no fault of the agencies that this mess has arisen. While I support the work of those agencies, I cannot support this sort of legislation. If the Minister wants to remedy this situation it should be done properly by enacting the full terms of the defective orders in the form of a Bill, not in this artificial, short-cut and questionable way.

I welcome this Bill and I appreciate the advice of the Attorney General, which deems it necessary to underpin the establishment of certain agencies with new legislation. Our party's spokesperson on the environment, Deputy Phil Hogan, has dealt with the generality of the Bill, so I will confine my remarks to the extension of the remit of the regeneration agencies, established on the north and south side of Limerick, to include St. Mary's Park and Ballinacurra Weston, as proposed in section 5.

A number of large city council estates in Limerick have been socially and economically deprived for many years. In recent years, due principally to the widespread drugs trade, these estates have been reduced to a state of lawlessness, which has endangered the lives of residents, including children. The criminality which has been fuelled and funded by the drugs trade, has been brought to a totally unacceptable level by the widespread use of firearms, including the use of automatic weapons. The lawlessness and criminality have been further fuelled by the feud between certain Limerick families. The details of this ongoing feud have been well recited in the media, so I do not need to elaborate.

The regeneration agencies, provided for in section 5, arise from the report of Mr. John Fitzgerald, the former Dublin city manager, who was asked by the Government to examine the areas in question and bring forward recommendations. I fully support the recommendations of the Fitzgerald report and I hope they will all be implemented in full in the shortest possible time, so that areas and communities such as Southill, Moyross, Ballinacurra Weston and St. Mary's Park are regenerated both socially and economically, and that residents may again live a safe and fulfilling life, and raise their families in peace and harmony.

The agencies have already commenced their work and have been prompt in doing so. The newly appointed director, Mr. Brendan Kenny, has already established good relationships with local residents and with political and civic leaders. There are some problems, however, with the powers of the agencies. Limerick City Council will continue as the housing authority for the city. Given that the regeneration agencies are charged with knocking down the existing houses and the rebuilding of new houses for these communities, the fact that Limerick City Council continues to be the housing agency is, in my view, anomalous.

The regeneration agencies intend to construct new houses for residents, which they will organise on a small cluster basis within the footprint or proximate to the existing estates. The chief executive of the agency has said, however, that he will exclude families with criminal records from the new houses. He claims the project will not succeed if these families are rehoused in the new housing clusters and is emphatic that without Garda clearance they will not be rehoused.

It is unclear to whom the responsibility for rehousing these families will devolve. Presumably, Limerick City Council, as the housing authority, will shoulder the burden. The uncertainty about this issue is already undermining confidence in the agencies, especially in private housing estates in the city and suburbs where residents fear the city council will rehouse these criminal families in their neighbourhoods, through house purchase or through the supplementary rent scheme.

This is a serious issue and I would like the Minister of State or the Minister, Deputy Gormley, to pay personal attention to it. I saw a regeneration project start in Southill some years ago and in the last ten years some €6.5 million was spent on it. Quite frankly, if one went down to the banks of the Shannon and skimmed that amount in euro coins across the water, one would have obtained more value for money. That is because the €6.5 million that was put into O'Malley Park did not last candlelight time since all the houses were wrecked and burned out. We could go down the same road here unless this is handled very carefully.

Mr. Brendan Kenny has been well received in Limerick. I heard him on the "Today with Pat Kenny" radio programme. Pat Kenny asked him how many criminal families he was talking about. He replied that there were 30 families on the north side and 30 families on the south side that he would be excluding from rehousing. He was then asked how many people were in each family and he said the wider family would be about ten people. Therefore we are talking about 600 people who will not be rehoused by the regeneration agencies. These are the families that the Garda Síochána will certify are involved in criminal activity, so they will be excluded from the tenancies. That is the policy position at present.

A Tipperary man facetiously e-mailed Pat Kenny to say that there were not 600 bad men in the worst days of the wild west, so what hope is there for Limerick. One can joke about the situation and there is a lot of black humour about these issues. At the moment, however, every residents' association in middle class, private housing estates in Limerick is afraid that if the agencies do not rehouse the criminal families, the housing authority will have to do so. Since the housing authority has no building programme, they can only rehouse people by the acquisition of private houses in these estates. It is a serious issue and has the potential to take away much of the support that is there for the regeneration agencies. I am not sure what the solution is but the Minister's Department must define the housing authority for Limerick city. Will the regeneration agencies or the city council be responsible? If both are involved, what are the demarcation lines?

Mr. John Fitzgerald made many recommendations and they were all excellent, in my view. He said that the success of the regeneration project depends on restoring law and order to the areas in question. The social and economic recommendations will not work if this is not done. We have seen in recent times that very little progress has been made. The public is familiar with the ongoing saga of family feuding in Limerick and the frustration of ordinary, law-abiding citizens. I believe the Government must get a grip on this situation as nobody else has the power and influence to do so. To date, the Government and the authorities have been reactive rather than proactive.

I respectfully suggest that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform consider the measures I propose because, if he did so, he might reach first base on Mr. John Fitzgerald's list of recommendations for the regeneration agencies. He might also restore law and order, which is a prerequisite to other objectives.

The Fitzgerald report recommended 100 additional gardaí for Limerick and when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform visited the area last week, he said 80 of them had been appointed. That afternoon, a spokesman from the Garda press office in Garda headquarters said 60 extra gardaí had been appointed. Whichever of these figures, presented on the same day, is correct, 100 gardaí have not been appointed and this number must be reached immediately.

Gardaí must be deployed to community policing duties and to combat gangland crime, but the additional gardaí have not been deployed in such a fashion; many are on traffic duty and ordinary Garda activities. The extra gardaí were introduced for a specific purpose but have not been deployed to fulfil that purpose. Deployment is difficult because, for example, there were two murders in Limerick last week and 120 gardaí dealt with the ensuing investigations. The Garda district covering the city and county consists of slightly fewer than 600 gardaí of all ranks and removing 120 disrupts everything else. When a murder occurs, community gardaí are removed from their posts to cover the investigation, which leaves a lack of gardaí in the communities. Extra gardaí are needed and more attention must be paid to how they are deployed.

Many new, inexperienced gardaí from Templemore are entering the city and should be advised and led by experienced sergeants. There was a commitment that this would be done and one initiative saw the sergeant from Patrick's Well transferred to the city, but Patrick's Well is only down the road and the area has its own problems. The sergeant from Ardnacrusha was also transferred to the city and these moves were presented as a beefing-up at the supervisory level of the Garda in Limerick, which is nonsense.

We need a Garda assistant commissioner appointed to lead the Garda in Limerick because, under the current structure, the assistant commissioner is in Cork. Requests for extra resources and policy direction requiring guidance further up the line must be directed to Cork in the first instance. The gardaí in Limerick need a clear chain of command with a direct relationship with the Garda Commissioner. This can only be done if an assistant commissioner is based in Limerick. I believe the current chief superintendent would be an ideal candidate for the job, but that is not the issue. The issue is that when resources or initiative are required promptly, the request must be able to travel up and down the line to Garda headquarters very quickly.

A small, permanent unit of the emergency response unit should be established in Limerick. It has been introduced on a number of occasions from Dublin and Cork but in such cases it was merely reacting to events that had already occurred. This is largely a public relations exercise. There should be a small emergency response unit in Limerick all the time to support the Garda force there. For example, when gardaí enter a difficult part of the city searching for firearms they need backup. It would not be practical, in such circumstances, to send a request to Cork that would be forwarded to Dublin, eventually resulting in the emergency response unit, ERU, arriving three weeks later, after another horrific murder has occurred. It is necessary to have local resources for quick responses.

There should be a sub-office of the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, in Limerick. The CAB works on the basis of pooling information from Revenue, the Department of Social and Family Affairs, the Garda and other agencies. If an officer of CAB, based permanently in Limerick, was in constant contact with senior gardaí and Revenue representatives, the criminal families could be targeted and it would be possible to follow the money trail. Ultimately, all of this gangland crime is fuelled by the drugs trade, which is lucrative. CAB has not had a major success relating to Limerick criminals in recent years.

The courts must be more active as many people question the leniency of sentences given; it is felt that they do not act as a deterrent. Murder carries a mandatory life sentence but, in practice, a convicted person may serve less than ten years. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform cannot interfere or direct judges to sentence in a particular way but he has the power to consult with the presidents of the different courts. I believe he should consult the Presidents of the High, Circuit and District Courts to ask them to bring their judges together to discuss uniformity of sentencing policy and whether sentencing, in addition to its other functions, acts as a deterrent any longer. The judges could also address the matter of when a mandatory life sentence should be given. In the case of gangland murders, I feel judges should accompany a sentence with a recommendation that at least 20 years be served. Such a strong recommendation from the courts would be one way to address the problem and ensure a criminal is not back on the streets in eight or nine years.

The mayhem and murder of gangland activities are fuelled by drugs and any residents of Limerick will know the families involved. We knew their grandfathers, who were ordinary, decent criminals. We knew their fathers, who engaged in breaking and entering, and went back and forth to court, picking up six month sentences here and there. What has changed is the amount of money generated by the drugs trade; this has turned these people into very serious criminals with access to resources like automatic weapons and with the money to pay people to commit contract murders and intimidate witnesses. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform must attack the underlying cause of these problems, the drugs trade. The problem does not apply only to Limerick because the gangs there have been so successful in the drugs trade that their footprints are now far outside the area. They are part of a network that supplies drugs nationally and this is a serious issue.

It is time to go after the godfathers. We all heard in the news last week that the families of the victims of the Omagh bombing are taking a civil action against the people they think are responsible. Mr. Michael McKevitt, reputed to be the leader of the Real IRA, was one of the people named in the action and he is currently serving 20 years in prison because he was convicted under section 6 of the Offences Against the State Act 1998. The specific offence was that he organised terrorist activities. I feel the Minister could enact legislation to enshrine a similar offence relating to organising gangland activities. This would be equally successful because the intelligence information provided to the courts by a chief superintendent of the Garda would carry serious weight, as it did in the McKevitt conviction. I strongly advocate that the Minister and the law officers in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform set about this task, enact legislation that hits the godfathers and have a specific offence of organising ganland criminality and gangland activity.

I wish to share time with Deputy Jan O'Sullivan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Bill before the House seems to be an issue of national Government concerning itself with the operation rather than the strategic direction of local government functions. The particular issue that has arisen is an anomaly in legislation relating to the co-location project of this Government. It was spotted by my party leader last December and brought before the House. The purpose of the Bill is to prevent a constitutional challenge being brought that would question the standing of the corporate bodies set out in the Bill. Those bodies are the Local Government Computer Services Board, Dublin Transportation Office, Local Government Management Services Board, Affordable Homes Partnership, Irish Water Safety, Limerick Northside Regeneration Agency and Limerick Southside Regeneration Agency.

There is more to it than that and there are matters that have to be brought before the House today. When the Minister of State spoke in the Seanad some weeks ago and today in the House he laid out once more the rationale for the Bill. He said:

The Bill is a short document but nevertheless important. ...it is considered that the Minister should have authority to establish bodies to provide services to local authorities where there is a specific purpose and it would be more practical and economical to provide the service by a single body rather than each of the 34 major authorities acting separately at much greater cost.

While that lays out the rationale to some extent it raises further questions. As a new TD, one of the difficulties I encounter on a regular basis is when I table parliamentary questions to the Minister's office, the Minister does not respond to same but says it is a matter for the EPA or the NRA. If I table questions in regard to the Affordable Homes Partnership, the Local Government Management Services board or any of the agencies listed will I get the same response? Are we creating a legislative process that will further remove the functions of these agencies not only from local government but from national Government in terms of accountability?

There is much debate here about the need for joined-up thinking. Given that housing estates, roadwork programmes and waterwork programmes all run separately while concurrent development is taking place, are we creating a further fragmentation here today? Perhaps the Minister of State would clarify that issue because this is a fundamental function of the operation of these bodies.

Cost factors must also be looked at since a number of these bodies have grown exponentially since their creation. For example, the Local Government Management Services Board was established in 1999 and employed 19 staff at an annual cost to the Exchequer of €1.9 million. When last checked, the board had 30 staff at an annual cost of almost €10 million. In 1999 the Local Government Computer Services Board employed 93 staff at an annual cost to the Exchequer of €5.8 million. When last examined in 2007 it employed 96 staff at an annual cost of €15 million. Are we creating these agencies to assist local government in the delivery of functions such as affordable housing or creating alternative structures which are competing with local authorities?

I wish to refer to the context in which these agencies will work in the future. A local government reform project is under way — the Government made a commitment that it would be delivered within the first six months of coming into office, which was December 2007, but it still has to come before the House. There is an issue as to how these agencies will operate under the local government reform process. Reform in itself is not actually an outcome, the HSE is a case in point where further bureaucracy and further administrational tiers were be put in place. This is another question that must be looked at in terms of the Bill.

If we are to believe that local government operates on the basis that its end product is to create better services for local groups and bodies we need to look at the operation of these agencies and corporate bodies in terms of this goal and how they assist in the achievement and betterment of local services.

Earlier I mentioned the EPA, which last year was given legislative powers to take action against local authorities. Last week the EPA gave its report on water levels and water quality services across the country. Some 34 different water services in County Cork, my area, failed the test, showing cryptosporidium, aluminium and many other substances in the water. The HSE has suggested there may be health and safety issues with these water systems. On the last occasion the Minister took Question Time, there were reports on housing inspections and housing standards. A whole raft of funding and legislation has been put in place. When we look at how the local authorities are carrying out this function, we find that at one end of the country no inspection is taking place. Some local authorities have conducted just one inspection and while others have carried out inspections, they have not taken legal action. This creates the broader context in which the Bill needs to be considered. How does it ultimately improve the operation of day-to-day local government practices and delivery of services?

We are in a position where legislation is crisis-driven to fix an anomaly that arose from the Government's speed and haste in introducing the co-location model. It was found that statutory structures were questionable under the Constitution and certainly questionable in regard to how they were set up.

As Deputy Hogan indicated earlier, this is a matter of primary or secondary legislation and the issue of retrospection needs further examination. In essence, it is hybrid legislation and certainly needs to be further examined and, possibly, amended particularly in terms of how it fits into the long-term plan for local government reform, in terms of accountability to this House and local authorities and how costs are measures and controlled — I indicated earlier that the cost of these agencies has grown exponentially in the short period since their creation — and ultimately in how these agencies lead to the betterment of local government and create a model in which local government reform can take place and allow for the betterment of the local delivery of services.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Ciarán Lynch, for sharing time with me. This issue is of particular importance to Deputies from Limerick. I support my colleague, Deputy Lynch, in his general concern about distancing more bodies from responsibility through the Minister. As spokesperson on health I experience this on a daily basis in regard to health questions and issues in the health area where they are constantly handed over by the Minister to the HSE and we have to await a written response at a much later date. I would not like to see that happening in any other aspect of Government because we need clear and public accountability. That is sorely lacking at present in regard to the health services.

I wish to deal specifically with section 5 of the Bill which relates to the Limerick northside and southside regeneration agencies. We already had the statutory instruments in the House in regard to those agencies following the Fitzgerald report. One of the purposes of this legislation is to extend the geographic area covered by the Limerick Northside Regeneration Agency and Limerick Southside Regeneration Agency, to add representation on the boards of the agencies from the areas and to clarify the areas covered.

Like Deputy Noonan, I support the Fitzgerald report and want to see it implemented as soon as possible. I have had a positive experience with Mr. Brendan Kenny, the head of these agencies, and the people who work with him. Mr. Kenny is open and amenable to meeting public representatives and community groups. Unlike many who work in the public service, he meets groups in the evening and listens to what they say. I commend him on the work so far.

We need an all-Government approach if we are to be successful in the regeneration of these areas of Limerick and Limerick as a whole. This activity is having an effect on the entire city and hinterland. In calling for an all-Government approach, through the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Killeen, I want to ensure that we do not leave it all to the regeneration agencies and the local authorities.

I refer to one area that is prominent in the vision documents published by the regeneration agencies, education and building the social fabric of these areas. We have all stated that this element is as important as the physical fabric. This is illustrated by the point Deputy Noonan made about the houses refurbished some years ago on the southside. These are among the worst in the housing estate. Despite the regeneration of the houses, unfortunately the people were not regenerated, if that is not an awful term to use about people. The supports were not set up and the whole issue went back to scratch. Social support is vital.

I have made representations on behalf of the post-primary school that caters for the majority of young people in one of these areas — I will not pinpoint the school. It made a detailed submission to the regeneration board and received a good reception and empathy. However, the school was told the regeneration board did not have the money to implement education proposals. These included strengthening the welfare board to ensure children go to school, special educational needs support for those from troubled backgrounds with special learning needs, strengthening the school completion programme, retention of teachers and library facilities and book rental. Many of these are practical for a school that caters for children with difficult backgrounds. Many schools throughout the country cherry-pick the children who have no problems but this school is open to all children in its catchment area. It does its best but it needs extra support to give these children a chance. They will turn into the crime lords of tomorrow unless they have such support. Many of them are out of school.

Many people have seen the story of a young 14 year old running around with a gun, although it was not from the area to which I refer. There are many such cases, of young people on the streets and breaking into houses, and they will become the criminals of tomorrow. We must intervene while they are in school, but we cannot do so unless the money is provided. We are told that these proposals are being considered by the Department of Education and Science but the money must be provided to this school and others in the area to ensure those children do not have the same experiences as those in court. Other proposals were not specific to the school and include proposals for an all-weather pitch, a swimming pool and other sporting and recreational facilities. It is vital such support is provided if we are to be successful.

Support for families is also important. Deputy Noonan referred to the importance of the courts in ensuring that appropriate sentences are imposed. We need follow-up from the court. I raised the Children Act with the Taoiseach, asking if it was fully implemented. The section that deals with parents being brought into court, where young people have offended, is in law but I see no evidence of parents being brought into court and made legally responsible for ensuring the children are at home in bed at night, when they should be. We have much legislation but it is not being implemented. ASBOs were not popular across the board but they are an instrument that can be used. I see no evidence of their use in these areas.

We need systems whereby we can show those who are causing trouble that the State is serious about not permitting this behaviour. We must also show that it is serious about supporting young people who live in those areas and who wish to put their lives on a more straight, honest and valuable course. I hold clinics in three of the areas concerned and meet people every week. It is extraordinarily difficult for good parents living in these housing estates to bring up youngsters. Boys either get picked on because they are considered too soft if they are not involved in anti-social behaviour or they get involved at the fringes and get dragged in. It is extremely difficult to bring up a decent child, particularly boys, if the necessary support is not provided. The evidence suggests they have not been receiving this support.

It is vital that this works at all levels, not just the physical restructuring or the Garda and law and order aspect. The other pillar, the social pillar, is more important in the long term. In the short term, people are crying out for more gardaí but in the long term we must provide funding. I call on the Minister of State, who is familiar with education, to ensure the educational provisions, and social provisions such as social workers, are supplied by the Government.

Regarding law and order, there are a number of specific proposals. I support Deputy Noonan's call to increase the number of gardaí as promised. These people should be experienced. We need CCTV where necessary and useful. It is in place in Moyross, where it works well, but not in St. Mary's Park. Residents have suggested that CCTV could be used as evidence to convict people of criminal behaviour. Local authorities must be financed to provide simple things such as public lighting. If Limerick City Council does not have the money to provide lighting in these housing estates, it should be provided as a specific allocation in the context of regeneration. It is easy for people to get away with crime against neighbours if they are not visible. It is a practical step that makes a major difference and makes people safer in their homes when they and others can be seen.

The Labour Party has made proposals to place the witness protection programme on a statutory basis. The programme is not very effective and few people choose to undergo the programme. It is difficult to implement and is not successful. Were it on a statutory provision, it would be strengthened. The Labour Party has made proposals in respect of surveillance to make it easier for the Garda to know who is committing crime. The Garda knows, as we do, who many of the people in question are, but a strengthened power of surveillance is required to get convictions. While I am suggesting these extra legislative measures, it is a question of providing resources and implementing legislation on the Statute Book.

I welcome the new areas to be included in the regeneration programme, Ballinacurra Weston and St. Mary's Park. The latter has been focused on recently. They are both old urban communities with old houses and generational families who have settled and want to stay. They are the best neighbourhoods in which one could grow up in terms of being taken care of if one has a problem. If a person is elderly, neighbours would pop in to check on him or her, which would not occur in many wealthier areas. However, these communities are beginning to break up because people are frightened and want to move out. Elderly people who have lived there all of their lives are asking whether they can get out. This situation is wrong and we must ensure that the areas get the protection they need as soon as possible to allow families to stay. I stress the urgency of the situation. If the communities break up and people move to other parts of Limerick, it will be difficult to rebuild the existing community spirit. We must support the area's sporting clubs and community organisations, of which there are a myriad. Those brass bands, soccer clubs, GAA clubs, rugby clubs, senior citizens' organisations and so on must be supported.

While there is considerable hope in Limerick as regards regeneration, there is an element of scepticism in that this might be a one-year wonder with much fanfare but few follow-up supports. I make this plea in the Chamber and my colleagues from Limerick will make similar comments. We must all pull together on this matter and forget about political differences to ensure we make the regeneration programme work.

I echo the sentiments of my colleagues, Deputies Noonan and Jan O'Sullivan, in welcoming the Limerick north-side and south-side regeneration projects. The House is discussing a technical amendment to section 5, but I will address the north-side and south-side specifically. As Deputy Jan O'Sullivan stated, there is considerable hope, but an element of apprehension on a number of levels. A long-term Government commitment to the project, which will last from five years to ten years, is desired. We have much to learn from the Comptroller and Auditor General's recently published report on the Ballymun regeneration project to ensure the projects in Limerick succeed. The Ballymun report referred to the need to provide education and social services in tandem with bricks and mortar. There is a danger that the Government will highlight the more visible bricks and mortar aspect ahead of the vital education and social services aspect.

Mr. Brendan Kenny has done an excellent job in Limerick and has been welcome. Following the Fitzgerald report, he has had many interactions with the regeneration areas. However, one must consider the matter from the overall viewpoint and be objective. I was critical of an aspect of Mr. John Fitzgerald's report when it was produced, namely, that there was no consultation with people living in the areas adjoining the regeneration areas. It is welcome that this necessary measure is now being taken.

The report stated that a policing structure headed by a superintendent and involving a minimum of 100 gardaí should be established and dedicated to the regeneration areas exclusively. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, commented when I raised this issue during last night's Adjournment debate on gangland crime in Limerick and elsewhere. He told the House that 70 extra gardaí have been deployed to Limerick, but it was not given a breakdown of their locations. It is understood that 20 gardaí were assigned traffic duty. Through the report, Mr. Fitzgerald put a structure in place to ensure the 100 extra gardaí were deployed to the regeneration areas specifically. I would expect the Government to honour this commitment and I ask the Minister to deliver on it as a matter of urgency. Resources are vital. The 100 gardaí are required to allow the Garda to get on with its work. Gardaí in Limerick have done a tremendous job, but they cannot deal with the regeneration properly until the crime issue is addressed, as Mr. Fitzgerald stated in his report.

The question yet to be addressed is where the criminal elements living in the regeneration areas will be housed. Innocent, decent and honest people are entitled to have those areas regenerated, but not only the bricks and mortar must be changed. Criminal elements must be dealt with. In last night's debate, I hoped the Minister would take on board my straightforward proposals to tackle gangs. If someone is suspected of involvement in gangland activity, the Garda must be able to go to court and obtain an exclusion order to curtail the person from entering certain areas. The Garda must also be allowed to seek powers of surveillance. Judges must implement the mandatory minimum sentence of ten years for the illegal possession of firearms instead of applying more lenient sentences. A life sentence for murder must be a genuine deterrent and a minimum of 25 years must be served. If a person is caught in possession of an illegal firearm, it is critical that bail should not be granted. Many criminals commit further offences while on bail.

Everyone wants the regeneration projects to work because they are important to Limerick and the areas' inhabitants. We must get the fundamentals correct. Reverting to the Fitzgerald report, I ask the Minister of State to ask his colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to ensure the deployment of the additional 100 gardaí — it is not necessarily a question of 30 gardaí in addition to the 70 gardaí already deployed — and the employment of a superintendent to head a specific unit in Limerick to deal with the regeneration areas, to which a total of 100 gardaí should be deployed.

I will make two points in response to Deputy Jan O'Sullivan's comments on social services and education. It is vital that these be addressed on a multi-agency basis.

Deputies from all sides have received representations on the issue of people who are being housed through the HSE in various parts of the city. At present, the problem is that the rules applying to those who are housed by a local authority are not being applied to those who are being housed through the rent subsidy scheme operated by the HSE. People who are housed by a local authority are obliged to undertake a pre-tenancy course and obtain Garda clearance. Consequently, when such people are housed, they are aware of the obligations to which they must live up. At present, the position in respect of the HSE is too loose. People who wish to obtain housing through rent subsidies automatically are obliged to get onto the housing waiting lists of one of the local authorities. However, the system then falls down because, thereafter, they effectively can be housed by a landlord. People in Limerick are worried that criminal elements are being housed throughout the city without any clearance.

I greatly welcome Brendan Kenny's intention to seek Garda clearance in respect of rehousing. People should not have anything to fear in this regard as it would be voluntary. People will be obliged to go to their local Garda station to obtain clearance before being rehoused. As a general rule, however, the Government must contemplate the introduction of consistency in the manner in which people are housed, either directly by a local authority or on an interim basis through the HSE's rent subsidy scheme. Addressing this issue will be critical.

Regrettably, the murders of Mark Moloney and James Cronin took place recently in Limerick. It is sad for their families that they have lost two sons and I express my sympathy to both families. A way to deal with gangland crime must be found. Moreover, an appalling incident arose last week in which a 14 year old appeared in court in Limerick for possession of a sawn-off shotgun. As Chief Superintendent Willie Keane of Limerick stated, some children who have not received proper parenting consider the gang to be their family. This constitutes a sad reflection on society.

Furthermore, in 2004, out of a sample of 400 children appearing before the Children's Court, 86% were not attending school. According to the Garda Síochána, some children must commit four offences before appearing before the Children's Court. In April 2007, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who was then Minister of State with responsibility for children, promised that he would provide additional judges to the Children's Courts to speed up the process. However, although this is essential, it has not been done. The requisite resources must be devoted to this issue. Parental supervision orders that are used to ensure parental responsibility must be imposed in greater numbers by the Children's Courts. It is vital to hold parents accountable.

In the context of Limerick, a perception exists that its regeneration pertains to bricks and mortar, which would be a terrible mistake. Bricks and mortar should be the last element of such a regeneration. Its first measure should be to deal with the issue of crime in the areas concerned as outlined in the John Fitzgerald report. This is the reason 100 additional gardaí, together with a superintendent, are required to establish a dedicated unit to work in such areas. Furthermore, social structures must be put in place through the HSE and the Departments of Social and Family Affairs and Education and Science. Regeneration will work when these structures work in harmony, after the houses have been built and the areas' physical regeneration has been completed. However, these constitute the key elements that must be put in place.

Many children who become involved in crime have low levels of literacy and come from dysfunctional families. In Limerick alone at present, there is a two and a half year waiting list for a child to be seen by the child and adolescent mental health services in Limerick. As is the case nationally, the availability of the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, in Limerick is limited. Part of the problem in respect of child and adolescent mental health services is that the HSE has placed an embargo on the appointment of psychiatrists. This embargo must be lifted for the areas in question. The Government pays lip service to regeneration and states that it will deal with regeneration, social services and education. However, Government backbenchers can be seen blaming the HSE at will in this regard.

This reverts to Deputy Ciarán Lynch's original point that there is a great risk that State bodies will become nothing more than shields or screens for Ministers and will allow them to state they have no responsibility for a particular issue. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, is responsible for the success or otherwise of the regeneration areas in Limerick. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is responsible for the Government's delivery or otherwise of 100 gardaí to Limerick. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Martin Cullen, is responsible for putting the services on the ground. The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, is responsible for making available to the schools the National Educational Psychological Service.

The Government cannot run away from its obligations and responsibilities in this regard. The key to the success of the regeneration projects is that the Government should make available the resources. One hears rumours that the Government wishes the projects to be self-financing, which is a great buzzword. Amid fanfare in the last budget, it gave a welcome €10 million to establish the regeneration bodies. However, the value of land has dropped and the regeneration projects have not been costed fully. One cannot take all the glory for starting up regeneration projects unless one is willing to fund them and the Government cannot suddenly turn around and blame various bodies for taking bad decisions.

The regeneration project is, literally, a regeneration. The Government must engage and work with the local communities across the entire area affected, including Moyross, Southill, St. Mary's Park and Ballinacurra Weston. Terrific people live in all the aforementioned areas. They contain terrific community activists and organisations that need support and funding. The key to this project is to bring on board such groups. They are worried because the regeneration project was launched amid great fanfare a short time ago and they seek reassurance that it will be delivered on the ground. One hundred additional gardaí should be placedin situ in the regeneration areas, together with the appointment of a superintendent to deal with that specific issue. Second, gangland crime must be brought under control immediately. I have suggested measures regarding the amending legislation, namely, the criminal justice miscellaneous provisions Bill and my colleague, Deputy Durkan, also has raised the issue in recent days.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Cowen, was being somewhat disingenuous this morning when he asked the reason Deputies repeatedly brought up issues in the knowledge they would receive the same reply. The only reason we are raising these issues is because they should have been addressed long ago. They are a major priority and, as the Opposition, we are here to hold the Government to account.

Specific legislation needs to be introduced on gangland crime. Provision should be made for gardaí to seek exclusion orders on criminals, a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years should be introduced for illegal possession of firearms, life sentences must mean 25 years at a minimum and people found in possession of illegal firearms should not get bail.

Mr. John Fitzgerald, who did an excellent job on producing the report on regeneration, recommended that a branch of the Criminal Assets Bureau should be established in Limerick. That should be a priority because we need local gardaí and Revenue officials who know the area if we are to pursue criminals. I am aware that CAB is doing work in that regard from its Dublin offices but Limerick warrants the establishment of a separate branch because drugs are at the root of much of the city's crime. Chief Superintendent Willie Keane was correct in saying the problems run deeper than that but in many cases the motivation is greed or money.

We have to ensure the area is safe and that younger children get a proper education so they do not leave school at the age of nine or ten. Learning difficulties need to be addressed, parents should be held responsible for their children's involvement in anti-social behaviour and the Government must put the necessary funding in place. I welcome the establishment of the area regeneration agencies for north and south Limerick as well as the €10 million in funding offered by the Government. However, much more funding will be required in the years to come. I call on the Minister of State to ensure that his colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, deploys the 100 gardaí who are needed as a matter of urgency to put the issue of crime to rest in Limerick so that regeneration can progress and people are allowed to live in safe and harmonious environments.

As nobody has offered to speak on the Government side, I call Deputy Durkan.

This subject resonates in all constituencies, not only Limerick. I am glad, however, that we are debating measures to address the problems obtaining in that city.

A plethora of legislation remains on our agenda which has not been progressed for the past two years. The previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was famous for proposing legislation to combat lawlessness and disorder. He spoke about legislating on a daily basis and even introduced several Bills.

Where is he now?

He has made a career change.

He is making money.

The measures that have been introduced in this regard are not working and the issues raised by Deputy O'Donnell are valid. Regardless of who is in Government in the coming years, the choice will be between addressing the issues in a timely manner or doing nothing and seeing what happens. The reason Opposition Members have to raise the same questions on a daily basis is because nothing is being done to address them.

I have seen the quality of local authority housing deteriorate over the past 20 years. Housing used to be built to a high standard but what will be the condition of the recently built duplex apartments and other types of nonsense in a few years time? If people do not have a reasonable quality of accommodation, problems will ensue. I do not know how to address the disrespect in certain housing estates for any kind of authority, which is particularly acute in the greater Dublin area. No efforts are being made to address this issue and nothing changes from day to day. There are countless examples of people moving out of estates, not all of which are owned by local authorities, in order to find safer environments for their children. That is a sad reflection on society, this House and local authorities.

We will not improve the situation merely by creating another quango to direct and co-ordinate services. The Department of Health and Children abolished the health boards, which were democratic and transparent, and replaced them with a massive quango from which even the Minister for Health and Children cannot get answers. That appalling scenario developed in front of our very noses. We even increased staffing levels by 33% over the past five years.

I do not know how this will proceed but I will make some suggestions on how to address the problems faced in estates. We do not have sufficient gardaí on the beat and increasing their numbers by four or five in a population centre of 25,000 ignores reality. It is a waste of time to say the numbers of garda have increased if they are not on the ground. More gardaí should ride motorbikes because the traditional method of policing with squad cars does not work. While on holidays in at least two European countries over the past couple of years, I observed police on mopeds. These are effective in terms of entering narrow alleys and being able to reach several places within minutes. Nothing has been done in that regard in Ireland because we do not seem to understand how to deploy the force to the best of its ability.

Gardaí should be stationed in the middle of the housing estates that are causing problems. At present, the organised gougers behind anti-social behaviour, which is how problems start, are able to disappear as soon as a squad car arrives only to resume their activities as soon as it turns the corner. These activities can be as simple as kicking the doors or breaking the windows of old age pensioners. Additional mobile patrols are also needed. I acknowledge that bicycles are useful but they are not as effective as motorbikes. They allow gardaí to reach places more quickly but they are not the answer.

The local authorities seem to be totally incapable of dealing with anti-social behaviour. Why can they not do something about it? People come to me every weekend to complain that their next-door neighbour is the neighbour from hell. I might hear the same complaint from the person living on the other side of that neighbour. In such a case I write to the local authority. In one case I have sent ten letters to the local authority on behalf of the complainants and have asked repeatedly whether it might think about exercising its duty of care towards its tenants which it housed beside the individual in question. The local authorities have a duty of care but shirk their responsibilities and avoid the issue in the hope it will go away. The old attitude remains: "We don't have extra houses. They will have to wait their turn. There are 3,000 people on the list." That is of no use to the unfortunate person who has to put up with a neighbour from hell. The Acting Chairman will know about such neighbours because they exist in his constituency also.

They travel in packs.

Could the local authorities find it in their inner recesses to respond in some way to genuine complaints? They are treating evildoers and those who obey the rules equally.

Another development has taken place in regard to local authority housing in the past five or ten years. There is a reluctance on the part of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to become involved in house building. It shirks its responsibilities and hands them over to voluntary organisations which cherrypick from the housing list. Ultimately, those left on the list are housed together in one area and we have seen the social problems which result. The Department can either address this issue or suffer the consequences. There will be more areas like Moyross and other parts of Limerick as time passes, unless this issue is dealt with. The Department has ultimate responsibility. If anyone thinks I am talking rubbish, I ask that a senior official of the Department visit housing estates where there are such problems. They would then know them at first hand and at an earlier stage and be in a better position to intervene and introduce corrective measures to protect citizens who are minding their own business.

My final point is not directly related to the Bill. We have reached a point where ordinary legal methods of dealing with crime and criminals are insufficient and no longer work. Criminals do not give a damn what legislation is introduced. They are carrying out their nefarious activities with impunity and with total disregard and contempt for the law and the rest of society. For their own protection, they will have to be detained and taken off the streets. There is no other way to deal with this problem. If the Minister of State or anybody else thinks it will be dealt with by any other means, I tell them to wait and see. It has already got out of hand. I have heard references to negotiation and mediation. I know then that people are thinking about other conflicts in this country but the circumstances, origins and issues were different — everything was different.

Those on the other side of the House should take account of the way we are sliding and try to address it as a matter of urgency. Otherwise, we will wake up some morning to a repeat of the Veronica Guerin tragedy which happened almost 12 years ago. If something similar happens, everybody will wake up and say the time has come to tilt the law in favour of law-abiding citizens and reject those who set out to break it on a regular basis.

I thank the Members who contributed to the debate for their constructive comments. I will try to respond separately in regard to the two separate provisions in the Bill, first, in regard to the attempt to address the perceived deficiencies in section 3 of the 1971 Act, and, second, on the issues raised concerning Limerick regeneration.

Deputy Phil Hogan raised a number of concerns. There is a number of informed points to be made in this regard. In the 1960s and 1970s, when the original Act and the health Act were enacted, the constitutional view on Article 15 had not developed to the extent it now has, and there had not been the same number of High Court and Supreme Court cases on which to base a judgment of the sort being made with regard to this Bill and these bodies. It is very important to state that, whatever the difficulty, if it exists, there has not been an adverse finding in regard to the establishment of any of these bodies or, indeed, in regard to section 3 of the 1971 Act. This Bill arises because of the advice of the Attorney General that it is sensible and appropriate to take this action. If there is a difficulty, it is not in regard to the functions of the bodies but perhaps due to a deficiency in the wording of the 1971 Act, which is the focus on this occasion.

It may well transpire that this is an interim measure to address a perceived doubt which has arisen because of the Attorney General's advice and matters that have been brought to our attention. The Government, including the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and the Department, believe it is prudent to address a deficiency which has been brought to our attention, even if it is only a potential deficiency. In the event that the review which is under way judges that it is necessary, further legislation will be brought forward to address whatever shortcomings show up in the review.

Deputy Hogan also stated there may well be a series of Acts with similar defects, and he asked why these were not addressed at the same time as the health Act. The principal reason in most cases is that people were not aware it needed to be done. If other legislation requires similar treatment and is brought to the attention of the relevant Minister, an interim Bill of this sort, or whatever is required to address the issue, would be brought forward.

Deputy Hogan also queried the statutory effect of a retrospective provision and he gave the example of redundancy payments to workers in the Comerama case. One of the differences in this case is that the provisions of this Bill do not propose a change in the current operation of the bodies concerned. In fact, it is a confirmation of what is provided for in the order setting up the bodies arising from section 3 of the 1971 Act. It is not the creation of something new.

The Deputy had concerns about section 3(3) on the basis that it might be unnecessary since it restates the constitutional position. This is an interesting argument and one we have visited and revisited on many occasions in the House. Sometimes Members on the Opposition side propose amendments which, in their view, would strengthen the provisions of a Bill and these are frequently rejected by the Minister on the basis that they are superfluous or unnecessary. A practice has arisen whereby the provision in section 3(3) appears in many pieces of legislation, and this is continued in this Bill. It is an issue that can be teased out further on Committee Stage if the Deputy is so disposed.

My understanding is that the provisions in section 3(4) are designed to protect the superannuation and other rights of the staff of the bodies which still exist and in some cases of the employees of bodies which formerly existed. Deputy Ciarán Lynch inquired about the functions of the agencies and whether the enactment of this Bill would remove the agencies further from answerability to the Dáil. The answer is "No". All the legislation will do is confirm the legality of the bodies in question in the event of any doubt about them, which I hope will not be the case.

Deputy Lynch raised a number of interesting questions, some of which were raised also in the Seanad debate about the cost of the various bodies and the kind of services they provide. He gave examples in the case of two bodies, one of which is the Local Government Management Services Board where there has been an increase in personnel from 19 to 30 and an increase in costs. The work of that board has changed dramatically, mostly in regard to its promotion of the social partnership process and also, importantly, in the performance verification process. I understand that approximately half of the annual budget of the board is passed on to local authorities to enable them to develop the partnership process in each of their own authorities.

The increases have also come about against a background of a considerable body of legislation which was not in place up to 2000. A good example is the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 which caused a considerable amount of additional work for local authorities. It is also fair to say that in the event that the board did not exist, the only real alternative available to the 34 major local authorities, and perhaps some of the town authorities, would be to have their own staff do the work. I do not think anybody would suggest it would be desirable for each local authority to have its own Local Government Management Services Board trying to carry out all the staff dealings that are required, or trying to provide computer services to all of the local authorities. I suspect a minimum of two or three people per local authority would be required, which when multiplied by 34 would automatically put one into the low hundreds and perhaps even more people would be required. On the basis of the information available, it seems that the value for money element of providing these bodies at national level on behalf of local authorities has a significant amount to recommend it.

Deputy Lynch also spoke, as did virtually all speakers, about the Health Service Executive. He believed it added further bureaucracy and additional layers. This is not an area for which I have responsibility. It is a matter for the Minister in the Department of Health and Children to address. However, I accept this is a very real issue for everybody in the House.

Deputy Lynch referred also to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and its legislative powers to prosecute local authorities. Perhaps that example more than most others illustrates why it would be highly undesirable for the Minister to have a direct role in the EPA for example, taking account of its remit as a body which has a high level of responsibility.

Most of the other speakers referred to issues relating to Limerick. Obviously the three Limerick Members displayed an intimate knowledge of the challenges which some of the communities in Limerick face. Deputy Noonan made an important point based on his understanding that the CEO of the regeneration agency has indicated that it is not intended to house any of the criminal families in the new housing clusters. That throws up the kind of difficulty he mentioned for people in other communities who are clearly concerned that if approximately 600 people — the 60 families multiplied by ten — are to be housed somewhere, that there is a considerable risk that they will be housed nearer to them.

It is my understanding that not just the Limerick city authority, but all of the agencies which have responsibility across a range of areas in Limerick city are represented on the regeneration board. I believe there will continue to be an engagement with all the bodies as the regeneration project moves forward. That being the case, one would expect that the concerns coming from the various agencies will be brought forward and addressed at management level.

This important question was raised in varying degrees by the other speakers from Limerick. I will bring to the attention of the relevant Ministers all the issues that have been raised, some of which are the responsibility of the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe. I will also make sure the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, is aware of the concerns raised, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, regarding justice issues, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, regarding health issues and the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, on education issues. My feeling is that they are already aware of them but it is always instructive to listen to Members from a particular constituency talk about the challenges that are the reality on the ground and the responses to them.

Deputy O'Donnell encapsulated it very well when he said there was a mix of hope and apprehension. When one comes from the perspective of the Limerick city constituency, one has a better knowledge than Members from other areas. That said, Deputy Durkan made a fair point that we all have some experience of difficulties, as undoubtedly has the Acting Chairman, Deputy O'Connor. However, this is a very specific issue and a considerable amount of money is being committed to it over an even longer period than indicated by Deputy O'Donnell.

If only for the reason that a significant amount of taxpayers' money will be expended, we need to get it right. A far more pressing reason is the quality of life — economic and social — of the people of those areas in Limerick city and, as Deputy O'Donnell said, their immediate neighbours who might have been consulted a little earlier and more thoroughly. At least that is being done now and it is an exercise in trying to establish a much better quality of life for people.

I accept there is a risk that mistakes will be made along the way. It is most important that the agencies and the regeneration bodies are open to hearing the views of the communities involved. It is also important that the views of the elected representatives at both city council level and Oireachtas level are taken on board as advice given in situations like this is always given for the very best reasons and with the intention of being helpful and supportive. How the rehousing of the criminal families is addressed is an issue that cannot be avoided and I will certainly raise it with my colleagues.

Deputies Noonan, Jan O'Sullivan and O'Donnell also raised the immediate policing issue. Deputy Noonan made a valid point on the necessity to wipe out the drugs trade which ultimately is what puts the money in the pockets of these people to provide them with the kind of equipment they have to carry out the terrible damage they inflict. His proposal on taking out the godfathers will be of interest to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

I was very taken by the approach of Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. She referred to the fact that this is a long-term project and that while immediate measures are required to be introduced, she outlined, along with Deputy O'Donnell, the long-term supports that the education system will need. I will be very disappointed if the school which made its presentation to the regeneration agencies got as negative a response as Deputy Jan O'Sullivan thought, especially in view of the fact that the Department of Education and Science and its agencies are represented on the board. Each of the Deputies said the 100 extra gardaí ought to be one of the immediate steps taken. While law and order issues are to the fore, there are many other issues relating to long-term intervention that will cost a great deal of money in the short term but unless that expenditure is made the process will not be successful.

All three Deputies referred to the previous unsuccessful regeneration attempt in O'Malley Park where much money was spent but only the bricks and mortar element was addressed. If that is the only element that is addressed on this occasion, I am sure they are correct that the project cannot be as successful as it might be otherwise. I accept that the success of the Ballymun regeneration project, from which lessons can be learned, can be of benefit to Limerick. The social services and education element have to be centrally involved in the process on an ongoing basis.

I will pass on the point made by Deputy O'Donnell who referred to the requirement of local authority tenants which is not extended to those on rent subsidy which is of some importance in this regard. Deputy Durkan made a point that nearly all of us suspect has some validity. In some cases the expenditure of time and effort that goes into trying to address problems does not meet with success. He also revisited the Health Service Executive versus health boards debate which is not relevant in this context but is important in the long term. In addition, he made a number of interesting and valid points about the nature of effective policing, such as the placing of a Garda station in the middle of an estate where there are difficulties, the provision of motorcycles, etc. The point he made about tackling anti-social behaviour, especially in the context of a local authority estate, is one we have not successfully addressed. The problem is not confined to Limerick, nor is it confined to big towns and cities. It can equally, or perhaps more so, be a difficulty in a small local authority estate in a small town or village. We have not dealt with this problem effectively heretofore.

The Deputy also pointed out that, in his view, the voluntary agencies cherry-pick their tenants and leave the local authority with much more difficult tenants to deal with. This reflects Deputy Michael Noonan's point on the possibility of providing housing in the regeneration project only to those who do not have criminal records and who have obtained certification of suitability from the Garda Síochána. Even if such a requirement were introduced, the city council would be left to deal with the accommodation requirements of a large number of people. A model will have to be found, not only in Limerick but at national level, to address the type of difficulties these people create. Perhaps we need to take action immediately, not necessarily by expending much more money but perhaps by deploying existing resources more imaginatively and directly and with more force that has been the case previously. This is an interesting part of the debate on the legislation.

The two regeneration bodies were established initially under the 1971 Act and are properly constructed and established under the legislation before us. If Second Stage is passed, Committee Stage will be taken in the committee rooms and I will welcome amendments tabled by the Opposition. Deputy Phil Hogan will be used to dealing with me from my time in another Department. I will give Opposition amendments thorough, fair and equitable examination and accept them if they have merit. I welcome interaction with Opposition Deputies and their commitment to play a constructive role in the passing of this legislation, however small or unimportant it may appear. Constructive input from Deputies from all sides is welcome, particularly if they bring slightly different perspectives to the table. I look forward to Committee Stage and thank speakers for their constructive comments.

Question put and declared carried.