Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) (Confirmation of Orders) Bill 2008 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages.

There are no amendments on Report Stage.

Bill received for final consideration.

I move: "That the Bill do now pass."

This is a short Bill to address matters concerning bodies established under the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act 1971. Following the advice of the Attorney General in regard to the Health (Corporate Bodies) Act 1961 and the subsequent passing of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2007, the Attorney General advised that the possible unconstitutionality of section 3 of the 1961 Act in regard to health-related bodies also extended to local government bodies established under section 3 of the 1971 Act. This arises as the 1971 Act contains similar provisions found in the 1961 Act.

It is not a question of any of seven existing corporate bodies concerned having no legal basis. I assure the House that all 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 establishment 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 any doubt to exist in this matter. Enactment of the Bill is desirable to confirm the establishment orders of the seven existing bodies in primary legislation.

The Bill clarifies the areas covered by the Limerick northside and southside regeneration agencies and provides for two additional appointments to the board of each agency, one a staff member of FÁS and the other a member from the local community or local business community. The publication of this short Bill follows advice from the Attorney General to ensure there is no uncertainty attaching to the seven existing bodies established under the 1971 Act and follows the same provisions contained in the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2007, which the House agreed last December. The Bill was agreed without dissent by the Seanad and also by this House on Second and Committee Stages. No amendments were tabled in either House. Consequently, I respectfully ask the House to agree to the passing of the Bill.

I take this opportunity to congratulate Deputy Finneran on his recent appointment as Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with special responsibility for housing. I wish him well and thank his predecessor, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, for his kindness and courtesy on all occasions and in particular, during Question Time. The Minister of State has responsibility for housing, a serious and important issue for families particularly those suffering negative equity and those on waiting lists for local authority housing. He and his Department are challenged with the responsibility of bringing forth proposals to deal with these matters. Members on this side of the House will be exhorting the Minister to do so.

On the Bill, I indicated on Second Stage that there are various ways, other than through the use of ministerial orders or regulation, of bringing in orders as provided for in this legislation and in the context of primary legislation. Some Departments have already encountered difficulties in respect of backdating and validating decisions already made; they have been challenged in the courts. I have no problem with this belt and braces approach adopted by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

I welcome the establishment of the two regeneration companies in Limerick city and the boundary changes being executed through this legislation to ensure appropriate authorities are in place to deal with housing regeneration, in particular, in Moyross. I have no difficulty in allowing the legislation to proceed.

I thank Deputy Hogan for his kind remarks. Like me, Deputy Hogan has come through the local authority system. We both have an interest in the issue of local authority housing be it affordable or otherwise. I look forward to interacting with Deputy Hogan and all Members of the House on the provision of housing, an important issue for many people. Indeed, the purchase of a home is an important issue for any person or couple starting out in life.

I congratulate Deputy Finneran on his appointment and welcome his kind words in respect of working co-operatively with Members of the House.

This issue arose as a result of an anomaly identified in legislation last December by my party leader, Deputy Eamon Gilmore. As I understand it, the purpose of the Bill is to prevent a constitutional challenge being brought before the House in respect of the current standing of the organisations, agencies and groups covered by the Bill.

When the Minister of State's predecessor last spoke on the issue in this Chamber and in the Seanad he said that the Bill is a short document which provides that the Minister should have the authority to establish bodies to provide services to 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 each of the 34 major authorities. There is a strong degree of logic to this.

However, a concern not addressed by the previous Minister of State relates to the tabling of parliamentary questions by Members. Increasingly and, in particular, in respect of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Members receive responses to the effect that the matter raised is one for the Environmental Protection Authority or National Roads Authority. I wonder if we are creating the same difficulty by way of this legislation and whether we will hit a roadblock when we table questions in respect of the housing agencies, Dublin Transport Authority and Dockland groups.

Will these agencies by accountable to the Minister not alone by means of annual report but directly? Will they be accountable to this House? Also, will they be accountable to Members of the House through parliamentary questions? These are valid questions. They are issues on which the Minister of State should be clear.

Will these groups and agencies be monitored in terms of costs and operations? For example, the Local Government Management Services Board established in 1999 employed 19 staff at an annual cost to the Exchequer of €1.9 million. When this was last checked, the board had 30 staff at an annual cost of more than €10 million. In 1999, the Local 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. In many other agencies, staff levels and costs are increasing. However, this may not necessarily be a bad thing. What must be examined is what are the performance indicators of these rising costs. Is the public getting a return on this? I make this comment in the context of the Green Paper on local government being published and these agencies needing to incorporate themselves and blend in with the new structure for local government which will be put in place.

It is also an acknowledged fact that the legislation before us is crisis driven as a result of the anomaly I pointed out earlier. It is hybrid legislation and needs to be examined. I will return to the simple point I made earlier about accountability through a parliamentary question. On a previous occasion when the Bill was discussed, Deputy Hogan spoke about primary and secondary legislation. I do not know whether this matter has been cleared up since then.

The Labour Party will not oppose this Bill. All of these agencies are established to serve the public and provide a better means of local government. How does the Minister of State see these organisations working alongside and concurrently with the proposed reform of local government? How does he see these organisations and agencies being accountable to the House by means of parliamentary question?

I thank the Deputy for his questions. The basis for this Bill is the advice of the Attorney General. It is pre-emptive to stave off what happened in health. I always hope the House is the premier place where information is available to Members. This is my reading of the situation and I hope it will be the case.

I cannot give exact answers to all of the Deputy's questions on my first full day in the job. However, I am conscious of what he stated and I will refer to his concern with regard to the growth in the cost of the Local Government Management Services Board. The work of the board has expanded, in particular with regard to the promotion of the partnership process and the performance of the verification process. Half of the annual expenditure paid to local authorities is to promote the partnership process in each local authority.

The growth in the volume of employment legislation, in particular with regard to health and safety, requires additional expertise to advise the local authority sector, which is a major employer with more than 35,000 people. A review is in progress on the Local Government Management Services Board and the corporate services board. Perhaps we will have information on this in the near future.

I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, all the best. He was a good Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance and the Public Service and had interesting views on housing.

In the context of this Bill, no doubt the Minister of State will be aware that €10 million was allocated in the 2008 budget for the initial costs of the regeneration project in Limerick. I hope Limerick will have a friend in the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran. I hope the fact that we now have a Minister and Minister of State from Limerick city augurs well for the Government's commitment to delivering on the funding to allow the regeneration project bear fruit.

The regeneration project is great for Limerick and people have high expectations driven by the Government. Mr. Brendan Kenny is doing fantastic work in Limerick as the CEO of both regeneration agencies. However, it is extremely important that if one is going on a long journey one stops along the way to refuel. It is no good providing initial money if further funding is not provided. I hope next year's budget will put in place multi-annual funding for the regeneration project.

The Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O'Dea, and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power, are both from Limerick. Irish Aid is being decentralised to Limerick and we will have full decentralisation with 127 jobs. I expect the Government to live up to its commitment for the regeneration areas in Limerick and I hope the fact we have a Minister and Minister of State in the constituency means that the commitment will be honoured.

I thank the Deputy for his contribution and for his best wishes. Limerick Northside Regeneration Agency and Limerick Southside Regeneration Agency are jointly funded by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In 2007, they were allocated a sum of €1.13 million which was made available to the agencies for initial costs of establishment, salaries and works in the areas concerned.

In 2008, the allocation to support the regeneration programme was €15 million. This will primarily cover costs incurred by the agencies and Limerick County Council on a number of fronts and will possibly include projects such as CCTV and public lighting, with a view to increasing personal security in the areas, improving levels of service in terms of estate maintenance and securing and demolishing unoccupied properties.

Overall, the regeneration project will require funding from a large number of sources, such as from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for housing infrastructure, along with funding for Garda numbers, education projects and transport. We appreciate the need for continuous funding. I am giving the Deputy the information on what we have for 2008 which is that €15 million is available for the projects.

Has the Government committed to continue funding this project? It is a ten or 15 year project.

Yes, indeed. The Government is committed to it. It is a novel scheme in some ways and I know all Deputies, public representatives, community groups and gardaí from the area have shown their support for it. We all hope it will be a success.

I welcome the Minister of State's commitment to long-term funding and I look forward to seeing it in a tangible and practical way throughout the regeneration areas in Limerick.

Question put and agreed to.