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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Vol. 766 No. 2

Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2012: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to bring the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2012 before the Dáil today. The Bill is required to legislatively underpin any new or existing body established under the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act 1971 to 2012, if amended, and to facilitate the Department's agency rationalisation programme by allowing the Minister to dissolve, re-organise and merge State agencies.

Before referring to the Bill in detail, I would like to provide some background information concerning the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act 1971, the purpose of which was to enable the Minister to establish by order corporate bodies to provide to local authorities or to the Minister such services as are specified in the establishment orders. The Act was framed in general terms so that the powers it conferred could if deemed necessary or desirable be used to establish bodies to provide other services for local authorities. It remains the case that the Minister should, with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, have the capability to establish bodies to provide services to local authorities for a specific purpose and where it is more practical, efficient and economical to provide such service through a single body rather than have each of the 34 major local authorities acting separately at much greater cost. This approach is in keeping with the programme for Government commitment to make substantial cuts to the number of State bodies and companies.

Seven of the 13 bodies established under the 1971 Act still exist in law, namely, the Limerick Northside Regeneration Agency, the Limerick Southside Regeneration Agency, the Local Government Management Services Board, the Local Government Computer Services Board, the Affordable Homes Partnership, Irish Water Safety and the Fire Safety Council. Generally, these bodies were established to provide specified services for local authorities with the benefit of having a single expert provider rather than each local authority acquiring or providing the service. For instance, Irish Water Safety has provided water safety advice and water safety inspections to individual local authorities who did not have this specialist knowledge at hand. The Local Government Management Services Board provides shared industrial relations advice and representation services to local authorities.

Members may recall that in 2008 the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) (Amendment) Bill was enacted. This legislation was required to address the possible unconstitutionality of section 3 of the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act 1971. This followed advice of the Attorney General on the Health (Corporate Bodies) Act 1961 and the subsequent passing of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2007 by both Houses of the Oireachtas in December 2007. The Attorney General advised that the possible unconstitutionality of section 3 of the Act of 1961 in terms of health related bodies also extended to local government bodies established under section 3 of the 1971 Act. This arose as the 1971 Act contains similar provisions to those found in the 1961 Act. The 2008 Act confirmed the various establishment orders made for existing corporate bodies.

Article 15.2 of Bunreacht na hÉireann explicitly confers on the Oireachtas the "sole and exclusive power of making laws for the State". In various constitutional challenges over the years concerning 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 Supreme Court. In his judgment in the Pigs and Marketing Board v. Donnelly, Hanna J. it his 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 was stated by the then Chief Justice in the judgment in the Cityview 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”. O’Higgins C.J. laid down the test to be applied in the case of Cityview Press v AnCo when he stated:

The giving of powers to a designated Minister or subordinate body to make regulations or orders under a particular statute has been a feature of legislation for many years. The practice has obvious attractions in view of the complex, intricate and ever changing situations which confront both the Legislature and the Executive in a modern State ..... The ultimate responsibility rests with the Courts to ensure the constitutional safeguards remain, and that the exclusive authority of the National Parliament in the field of law-making is not eroded by a delegation of power which is neither contemplated nor permitted by the Constitution. In discharging that responsibility, the courts will have regard to where and by what authority the law in question purports to have been made. In the view of this Court, the test is whether that which is challenged as an unauthorised delegation of parliamentary power is more than a mere giving effect to principles and policies which are contained in the statute itself.

This Bill is required, inter alia, to address the legal uncertainty surrounding bodies established under the 1971 Act. The difficulties with the 1971 Act arose as a result of a possible disconnect between the powers conveyed on the Minister to establish bodies under and the clear principles and policies contained in the 1971 Act to guide the Minister in that regard. The intention behind the amendments contained in this Bill in respect of section 3 of the 1971 Act is to set out the principles and policies, in primary legislation, which the Minister shall have regard to in his consideration of the requirement to establish any bodies by way of statutory instrument.It is important to note that the Bill is not being pursued in order for the Minister to increase the number of State bodies under the Departments aegis. On the contrary, it is required to give full effect to the Department’s State agency rationalisation programme.

This Bill is intended to facilitate better management of the bodies and activities included in the Bill to allow the Minister, by order, to provide for the organisation and functions of the bodies individually and collectively as may be necessary in the context of tighter funding allocations and achieving greater efficiencies. This is in keeping with the Government's public sector reform plan announced on 17 November 2011. The plan announced an expanded programme of State agency rationalisation within the Department, which will rationalise 21 such bodies into 12.

The seven remaining bodies established under the 1971 Act will be dissolved, merged or subsumed into other public bodies as part of the rationalisation programme. In this regard, the Local Government Management Services Board and the Local Government Computer Services Board are already merged in an operational sense and now operate on a joint administrative basis pending the establishment of the merged body, namely, the Local Government Management Agency, on a statutory basis. The Local Government Computer Services Board and the Local Government Management Services Board provide services to local authorities, including, ICT applications development and support, ICT research, ICT hosting services, enhanced network services, collection of public-facing charges on a shared basis for local authorities, human resource best practice, industrial relations advice and professional representation, research and policy and procurement. These services have continued to be provided by the new Local Government Management Agency. This Bill will give the agency the required statutory footing. The Local Government Management Agency will also take on residual functions from An Chomhairle Leabharlanna. Under this Bill, An Chomhairle will be dissolved as part of the Department's agency rationalisation programme. I will discuss An Chomhairle in greater detail later.

The Affordable Homes Partnership will be dissolved and its functions, as well as those of the Centre for Housing Research and the National Building Agency, have been merged into the Interim Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency, IHSCA. The Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency is currently operating on an administrative basis and will be given statutory underpinning through this Bill.

The Affordable Homes Partnership was established in 2005 to co-ordinate and promote the delivery of affordable housing in the greater Dublin area. The Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency works with the Department and with local authorities and approved housing bodies in the delivery of housing and housing services. The agency brings together under one body a broad range of support and advisory services in respect of housing and other construction-related matters. While this Bill allows for the establishment of the Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency, further and more complex legislation will be required to define its roles and functions.

The Fire Services Council was established in June 1983 and provided a central training programme for local authority fire service officers, providing courses and seminars that complemented training organised locally by individual fire authorities. The council's term of office expired on 30 June 2009 and no new appointments were made to it after that date. The Minister did not re-appoint the council and announced that its work would be absorbed into the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management. The national directorate was established on 22 June 2009. It operates under the aegis of the local government division of the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. The mandate of the national directorate is to create an effective model of integrated leadership, development support and oversight by central Government of local authority's provision of consistently effective, safe, and value-for-money fire and emergency services in Ireland.

The national directorate is a tripartite structure with a management board, a consultative committee and the fire services and emergency management section of the Department. The three components operate as interdependent elements of a functioning national directorate. The management board provides for integration of different strands of service management. It will propose priorities, support policy-making and oversee consistent implementation of the nationally determined priorities and policies.

The consultative committee provides a forum for representation of and consultation with stakeholder interests. The directorate is headed by a national director and is structured around four core business units: an emergency management-civil protection team; a fire safety and development team; an administration team; and a fire service operations team. The establishment of the national directorate was in keeping with the desire to reduce the number of agencies while providing appropriate political accountability.

The Limerick Regeneration agencies were established in June 2007, with a term of operation for five years, to 14 June 2012. The agencies were established to secure the social and economic regeneration of four areas of Limerick city. This Bill will dissolve the two regeneration agencies whose functions will be taken over by the new office for regeneration which has been established in Limerick city. A new interim director for regeneration has been appointed to oversee the transition of functions from the Limerick Regeneration agencies and Limerick City Council and to progress the implementation plans and projects.

The Government decided on 28 June 2011 to establish a single new Limerick local authority to replace the existing city and county councils, with effect from the 2014 local elections. It also approved the implementation of dual management arrangements, whereby the same person would act as manager for Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council in the period leading up to the full merger, at which point the same person would become the manager for the new unified authority. The post of manager was advertised recently. The regeneration office has initially been set up with administrative support from Limerick City Council but will report directly to the manager designate of the new unitary authority.

Irish Water Safety is relatively small, with a staff of six, but there is a large amount of volunteerism in the area of water safety. Its role is to educate people in water safety best practices. It develops public awareness campaigns to promote necessary attitudes, rescue skills and behaviour to prevent drownings and water-related accidents.

I realise I am short of time, a Cheann Comhairle, but will refer briefly to An Chomhairle Leabharlanna. The Bill does not only deal with agency rationalisation in respect of bodies established under the Local Government (Services (Corporate Bodies) Act 1971, but also deals with the dissolution of An Chomhairle Leabharlanna, the Library Council, which was established by the Public Libraries Act 1947. The functions of the council, as set out in section 79 of the Local Government Act 2001, include a number of functions I will not read into the record because of the shortage of time. In addition, in 2008, An Chomhairle Leabharlanna was given statutory responsibility for the operation of the public lending remuneration scheme under the Copyright and Related Rights (Amendment) Act, 2007. As part of the Department’s rationalisation programme, An Chomhairle Leabharlanna will be dissolved, with some residual functions transferring to the local government management agency.

As can be seen, the Bill will facilitate very significant mergers of State bodies under the Department's aegis. The Local Government Management Agency will not only amalgamate the Local Government Management Services Board and the Local Government Computer Services Board, but will also amalgamate the residual functions of An Chomhairle Leabharlanna.

If the Minister of State has something she particularly wants to say, there is just over a minute left.

I will refer briefly to the sections of the Bill. Section 1 contains the usual provisions while sections 2 and 3 are standard technical provisions. Although no direct expenditure in implementing the Act is anticipated, it is prudent to include these standard provisions. Section 4 is an amendment of section 2 of the Act of 1971 and deletes the reference to "health board" as an authority to which this Act applies. Section 5 inserts an important amendment to section 3 of the 1971 Act to deal with the link between the policies and principles of primary legislation with bodies established by statutory instrument under the 1971 Act. Section 3 provided for "the Establishment of bodies to provide certain services". This reference to the services a body can provide is too vague and more clarity is required. The Minister will still be able to establish bodies, with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, to assist him in his functions, or the local authorities in their functions, similar to the 1971 Act.

There is a great deal more text in my script. I presume the Deputies opposite have it but I will not have time to go through all of the measures.

We can arrange that it is included in the Official Report of the House.

That is fine. I will conclude, going through to section 12. I will refer briefly to the amendments I will introduce tomorrow. These will enable dual management arrangements to operate in Limerick and Tipperary and will specifically allow for the appointment of a single manager to both sets of authorities, pending their full merger in 2014. This will ensure there is clear and cohesive leadership of the reorganisation process in both areas. In this context, I am examining the findings of the local government committee in respect of arrangements in Waterford. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, will report to Government on the matter as soon as he has completed these deliberations.

The wider local government reform proposals the Minister will bring to Government shortly will reflect other work in progress in regard to various aspects of local government, including the merger and restructuring processes to which I have referred.

In addition to the amendments before the House, more substantive legislation will be required to implement the merger of the two authorities in both counties, the establishment of new unitary authorities and the transfer of functions, assets, liabilities, staff, etc., from the existing councils to the successor authorities. The wider policy proposals to which I referred may also give rise to the need for legislation depending on the final shape of those proposals and decisions taken by Government.

I look forward to engaging with Members of the House when we come to the further Stages of the Bill, which I commend to the House.

Deputy Niall Collins has 15 minutes. I do not mean to be awkward but this was what the Dáil ordered this morning, for some reason.

It is not a problem. If the Minister of State wishes for more time we can facilitate that.

I appreciate that but I presume it was intended to include the four spokespersons by 7.30 p.m.

I thank the Minister of State for her very informative opening statement in regard to what is contained in the Bill. I read the explanatory memorandum at the outset and the way it was written was quite technical. However, the Minister of State has explained it succinctly, in layperson's terminology.

My party will support the main thrust of the Bill because it is a set of housekeeping measures that are badly required. One of the issues that struck me when I was a member of the Committee of Public Accounts in the previous Dáil was the number of agencies and sub-agencies within local authorities right across the public sector. They are more commonly known as quangos.

There is such a long way to go with local government reform and there must be a starting point somewhere. In her contribution, the Minister of State mentioned the local government efficiency review which was published in July 2010. I have it to hand and was looking at it earlier today. It cited 106 recommendations, culminating in savings of approximately €511 million. There is a great deal of implementation to be done to address the substantive recommendations in the report. We could do with a further debate in regard to the timeline for the delivery of many of the report's recommendations. I know a group is sitting to work on the implementation of the recommendations. It would be nice to hear how it is getting on with its task and what type of timeline it envisages for the achievement or delivery of many of the good recommendations in the report.

I would like to address some of the specific issues that are dealt with in the Bill before the House. We do not have any particular concerns about them. Some of the bodies to be abolished served useful purposes at certain points in time and made valuable contributions to the country and to society over the years. I refer particularly to Irish Water Safety and An Chomhairle Leabharlanna. As practising constituency representatives, we all come across the issue of libraries from time to time. Libraries make a significant contribution to all sections of society. It is important to emphasise that although An Chomhairle Leabharlanna is being abolished, the merit that is to be garnered from the functions of the library service is not being diminished or diluted in any way. When I speak to people associated with the delivery of the library service in my part of the country, they tell me there has been a significant increase in the number of users of that service, particularly during the recent times the country has been going through.

I wish to speak about some of the bigger-ticket items that are contained in this legislation. The Minister of State mentioned the two Limerick Regeneration agencies. We will probably hear more about them when we debate the amalgamation of the two local authorities in County Limerick. It is fair to say that the two agencies have had a relatively chequered history as they have delivered their remit over the last five years. It is good that they will be subsumed into the new local authority in Limerick. The decisions that are taken by the two regeneration agencies, which have such vast potential, budgets and implications for society and for societal issues in Limerick city and the greater Limerick area, affect areas of County Limerick, north Tipperary and County Clare. It is right that the two agencies will be more directly responsible to the new unitary authority that is proposed to come into being after the 2014 local elections.

On the issue of holding people to account, it is important for our directly elected local public representatives to have more responsibility and more of a direct say. A feature of the establishment of detached State agencies in the local government sector and elsewhere in the public service is that they have largely become unaccountable to public representatives. That has led to a diminution in the role and responsibilities of public representatives, which is not a good thing. If local government reform is to have real and meaningful effect, the role of the public representative has to be enhanced. The powers, the decision-making functions and the collective authority of the members of a council should be enhanced. We need to have a real debate on the financing of local government. We might differ on the application of the Government's water agenda, the levying of the household charge and the potential for property taxes, but we should agree that if there is to be real and meaningful local government reform, we need to consider allowing local authorities to spend those revenues that are generated and collected in their areas. Ultimately, we will have to consider giving local authorities the power to strike their own water and property rates, similar to what happens with commercial rates, if those charges are to be pursued. That would give real decision-making powers to members of local authorities and would make them more accountable to their local electorates.

Those of us who have participated on the margins of recent local elections in this country will be aware that such elections are now being fought on national issues. Real and meaningful debate and engagement on what the relevant authority in an area will do over its five-year term following the election is rare. If we allow those who are elected to local authorities to become more accountable for their own budgets, we will move in the right direction towards real and meaningful local government. The local government budgetary process goes largely unquestioned and unchecked by local authority members. A phoney debate on the commercial rate, which balances the books at the end of the day, takes place every year when local authorities consider their estimates and budgets. There is much more detail to be considered within the budgetary process. I appreciate that the corporate policy subgroups within local authorities have to meet on a number of occasions as part of that process. Having spoken to local authority members throughout the country and received feedback from their conferences, I understand that in many cases no meaningful engagement takes place during the financial and budgetary process. If local authority members were made more responsible for their own local budgets, it would reflect well on democracy. It would make them more accountable and make local communities more aware of the workings of local government and the impact of the policies of the councillors they elect.

I suppose the decision to merge the two local authorities in County Limerick was a compromise that was reached following the debate on the possibility of a boundary extension. The Minister of State and I are familiar with that. I support the decision, in general, because it represents value. The premise and foundation for the decision is to deliver value for money. That is a good thing to do. We know that similar measures will be implemented in counties Tipperary and Waterford. It was recommended that other local authority areas should be merged as single authorities as well. That agenda needs to be driven on post haste. I suggest the job in Limerick has only been half done, however. The part of the University of Limerick campus in County Clare and the urban housing estates on the County Clare side of Limerick city are parts of the city, in effect. My view and that of my party is that they should be incorporated into the Limerick city area. As a representative of the area, the Minister of State is aware that people in those localities voted in the Limerick East constituency until recent times and now vote in the new Limerick City constituency. We know they are part of the extended Limerick city. On that basis, we will table an amendment to provide that the areas in question should be included in the new Limerick local authority administrative area. I have spoken to people in Limerick city, including senior officials in Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council and people associated with the ongoing Denis Brosnan project, who feel the job has only been half-done. The political will should exist to identify those areas as parts of Limerick city. Now is the time to do it right. We will discuss the amendment we have tabled on that basis on Committee Stage.

We should not rush this important Bill through the Oireachtas. It gives far too much power to the Ministers for the Environment, Community and Local Government and Public Expenditure and Reform.

Sections 4 to 8 of this Bill allow these Ministers to facilitate the reorganisation, merger or abolition of State agencies and some local authorities. The Bill can allow for the establishment of ten joint local authorities across 20 county and city councils, affecting 1.25 million people living in counties Waterford, Mayo, Roscommon, Galway, Sligo, Leitrim, Tipperary, Carlow, Kilkenny, Cavan, Monaghan, Longford, Westmeath and my own constituency of Laois-Offaly.

We support reform. As a councillor until relatively recently, I could see the huge need for reform of local government services. However, reform must be achieved through consultation and agreement. Power must be devolved to local councils and communities, not taken away and centralised. Having spoken to councillors in Waterford, Limerick, north Tipperary and south Tipperary, I can honestly say the Minister has failed to win the argument for the so-called reforms that are planned. All that is happening is that boundaries are being moved, reducing the number of elected councillors and, unfortunately, centralising power. This is happening through this Bill but also through other processes such as the establishment of Irish Water. We want to see power being devolved to local level because we believe power and decision making should be vested in local councils and the community. The Bill does the opposite. It allows two Ministers to make far-reaching decisions about agencies, boards and local authorities.

We have put forward amendments in a genuine attempt to reverse some of those tendencies. Having spoken to city and county councillors, I am convinced more than ever of the folly of some of what is contained in the Bill. Interestingly, opposition to the amalgamation of city and county councils in many areas is cross-party. In the case of Limerick, the proposed amalgamation of the city and county councils was originally supposed to make a saving of €20 million, according to Mr. Denis Brosnan, but, as time has moved on, that figure has been reduced to closer to €3 million.

A fear is that the needs of Limerick city itself might be overlooked. The problems facing the city are complex and deep-rooted. While some progress has been made, there are still substantial problems which require focus and a partnership approach and, therefore, gardaí, political representatives, councillors and, most importantly, the community must all be involved on an equal footing. The Government's proposal to merge the two bodies and bring them under a single local authority will serve to weaken the position of the city and its complex problems could remain unsolved.

The Bill proposes to dissolve both Limerick Regeneration boards. Limerick Regeneration has had a chequered past and some would see it as a bit of a disaster. In any case, it has failed to deliver. The big announcement five years ago set out what needed to be done but what we have seen is 1,000 houses demolished and only 34 built, which is a disgrace. I know the Minister of State, Deputy O'Sullivan, has taken a particular interest in this issue since coming into office and, hopefully, there will be improvements. It is unacceptable that people are forced to live in the conditions that are the reality in parts of Limerick city, with vacant houses beside them and so on. The fear now is that moving regeneration back into one big local authority with two different sets of needs for city and county will cause it to lose its focus. While we are not against change, we will oppose this part of the Bill.

The people of Limerick do not need more regeneration boards. They need regeneration to refocus and involve the local community, which it has failed to do so far. Limerick needs the regeneration project to deliver on its promises. A swift move into one big Limerick council will not deliver for the people of either the county or the city.

The story of Waterford is much the same, with cross-party and business community opposition to the proposal to amalgamate the city and county councils. Indeed, the mayor of Waterford, one of the Minister of State's Labour Party colleagues, opposes amalgamation and the city and county managers are also opposed. Those who care to engage with elected councillors in Waterford will understand the fear that as power shifts to a single seat of power in the city, there will be a further loss of resources. Political power will gravitate towards Waterford's urban areas, in particular Waterford city. There are significantly different needs in the city and the county. The towns and fishing villages along the coast have suffered huge emigration and rural depopulation. The amalgamation will do nothing to deal with those specific problems and may make the situation worse. Sinn Féin councillors in the area have in a constructive way proposed the sharing of resources between both local authority services without losing separate structures, focuses and identities, and we support the idea of sharing resources on that basis.

In the case of north and south Tipperary, there is no cross-party support for the Government position and I am told by councillors that no consultation has taken place. In fact, it is an item for debate on the agenda for next Monday's meeting of North Tipperary County Council. To date, there has been no detailed debate in either the north or south of the county. The local authorities are being asked to sign off on proposals that are devoid of any detail. Both local authorities are in different economic regions at present, and I know of no plans to amend that. The councillors I spoke to were unaware that this House was even debating this legislation.

In the case of Limerick, there was at least an attempt to dress it up as a saving of €20 million, although that has now changed. In the case of the Tipperary experiment, however, there will be no savings at all because, given the Croke Park agreement, the staff remain in place while new buildings will have to be sought to facilitate the integration. In fact, this could turn out to be more expensive. The Government's policy of amalgamating local authorities is generally based on an "economies of scale" argument. In other words, local authorities serving a greater number of people result in lower per capita costs for local services. It is important to note this argument has been disputed by many commentators, who state that amalgamation does not necessarily result in greater efficiencies. For example, as the level of demand for services increases, the challenges, complexities and costs involved in delivery of these services may also increase. In addition, the high costs involved in the amalgamation need to be factored in.

I suggest to the Minister of State in a constructive way that I recently spoke to colleagues in the North, where the cost of amalgamating councils and reducing their number from 26 to 15 has proved a massive task and is one of the factors holding up the reform of public administration there. I flag that not to put a spanner in the works. We welcome that the Minister of State's party often refers to what is going on in the North, and I am simply pointing out the pitfalls in this regard.

The Government claims to be committed to fundamentally reorganising local governance structures to allow for the delegation of much greater decision-making powers to local communities, giving them more control over areas such as transport, traffic, economic development and so on, but the Bill flies in the face of this commitment. It is a top-down approach, with decisions being made at central government level and little debate or consultation with local councillors. We propose that there should be a plebiscite on the amalgamations in Waterford, Limerick and Tipperary. Let the Government put it to the people and let those affected decide.

Section 8 of the Bill proposes to dissolve the Fire Services Council, which was set up following the Stardust tragedy. The proposed new structure, under the National Directorate of Fire and Emergency Services Management, appears to be a top-heavy body and appears to include some of the political appointees from the previous structure. It allows for only two representatives of the full-time fire-fighters and two representing those who are retained or part-time fire-fighters, with no apparent proper representation of the public. I welcome the arrival in the Chamber of the Minister, Deputy Hogan. The proposed new fire body will have no county or city councillors' representative on the board, a point I wish to highlight. Will it be just a bureaucratic structure which does not reflect the needs of communities?

The Farrell Grant Sparks report initiated by a previous Minister, Noel Dempsey, proposed a national authority - a new democratic structure overseeing the national standard and national procurement policy. However, this has been ignored. It appears this Bill will replace one quango with another.

The Bill also proposes that the functions being performed by An Chomhairle Leabharlanna will be subsumed into a new libraries development function within the local government management agency. The Minister predicts that the dissolution of An Chomhairle Leabharlanna, could result in savings, in terms of annual operating costs, in the region of €1 million and could yield a further once-off windfall to the State through the disposal of its headquarter buildings in Dublin's city centre. This is naive in the current circumstances due to the collapse in property prices. This proposal should be carefully examined. We spoke to An Chomhairle Leabharlanna about its proposed dissolution and it did not seem to know much about it. It referred our query to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the person to whom we spoke there was supposed to get somebody to respond to our call, but despite two attempts on our part to make contact, the Department has not got in touch with our office. One wonders whether the Minister is running part of the Civil Service or the secret service. We were trying to be open with it.

Deputy Stanley would know all about the secret service.

I never had to deal with the secret service. The Government claims that the intention of this Bill is to eliminate waste and increase efficiency by allowing for one or more bodies, such as the local government management services board, to act as a single provider of specified services rather than each of the 34 local authorities providing or acquiring these services separately.

The Government's statement on public service reform in November last year sets out the rationale for reducing the total number of State bodies or agencies in existence and sets out each Department's target in that regard for 2012. It states that a new and expanded programme of State agency rationalisation will rationalise 48 such bodies by the end of 2012, with a further 46 to be critically reviewed by June 2012. These measures will deliver enhanced service efficiencies, together with ensuring a more focused and democratically accountable public service. We would support that if it could be done. However, shockingly, no regulatory impact analysis has been carried out on this Bill. As a result, there are no figures available with regard to the overall savings which may be made as a result of the specific changes proposed in the Bill. There is significant spin in the Bill, but there is no detail. This has been the hallmark of legislation from the Department to date. In the case of the septic tank Bill, we got very little or no detail of the financial implications or the supports that would be provided. In the case of the household charge, we got no detail on the number of homes that would have to pay it and in the case of water metering, we got no detail on who would be metered. Now we are being asked to vote for this Bill, but no impact analysis has been done to explain it. This is a flaw in the legislation.

In conclusion, Sinn Féin proposes that if its amendments are not accepted, the Bill should be opposed, as it gives too much power to two Ministers, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, to reorganise, merge or abolish agencies without any consultation with the Oireachtas, relevant agencies or local authorities and representatives of local government bodies.

I will share my time with Deputy Mattie McGrath.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

As the word "miscellaneous" in the Bill's Title indicates, many issues are covered in the Bill. However, the issue on which I want to focus is the proposed merger of councils on foot of the recommendations of the local government review group. If I had never been a councillor and was just a member of the public listening to the plan to merge councils, I would probably think this was a good idea. The logic would be that judging by what one reads in the newspapers about councils and about them never doing any good, the fewer of them there are the better. However, having been a county councillor I would see that as flawed logic. It sounds logical to reduce the number of councils and cut costs, but without real reform, this will make little or no difference.

For example, if one merges north and south Tipperary councils or Roscommon and Mayo councils, all one is doing is the equivalent of joining the half of two rotten apples together on the basis that one will get one wonderful pristine apple. One will not get that. All one will get is two halves of an apple that will rot more quickly. That will not solve any problems. Real local government reform means creating an environment where accountability becomes the core guiding principle. The Minister would probably agree with that, but I would be wary as to whether he will ever do anything to achieve it. I urge him to prove me wrong and hope he does so.

I look forward to the Deputy's support.

In order to get real accountability, we need massive change. An indication that this change will not occur came from a Deputy on the Government side earlier in the year when he reminded us that while there is plenty of talk about local government reform, Members seem to forget that the consequence of that is that we will have less power in this House. So what? That is not what this is about. It is not about me or the Minister being almighty or powerful. It is about going about and bringing about reform the right way. If this means that we no longer have power over local issues, so be it. In fact, I say "hurrah" to that. Our job here is to cross the t's and dot the i's on legislation. However, under the current system we are pulled and dragged between local and national government and, either way, this does not work out.

I met a business group from Roscommon on Monday night on the issue of what could be done about rates. I had to tell the group the truth, that under the current system it would be highly unlikely that there would be any significant reduction in rates. One of the main reasons for that is because the council is told how to spend the major part of the moneys it gets. With regard to the remainder, on which the council can make a decision, councillors run off with their tails between their legs if threatened by the county manager that unless they vote a certain way on the budget, X, Y or Z will happen. Under the current system, unless councillors are very brave, or very politically naive as some might call me for trying to stand up to the county manager, they will be hit. Therefore, there will be no accountability until we reform that system.

Let us suppose the Minister wants to save money in the long run and a suggestion is made that places like Mayo and Roscommon should merge. That would potentially save money, but there are other ways to save the money. In my own county, there are 26 county councillors - far too many for a population of 58,000. I suggest that six or seven county councillors would be sufficient for County Roscommon. This would save €1 million immediately. These county councillors should be given real power and they should be connected to area offices all around the county. I also suggest that there should be a directly elected mayor or that a mayor should be selected from those six or seven councillors who would be given real power. This would mean that the next time somebody went to his or her county councillor because the council was not doing something right, the councillor would have the power to make the area engineer do what was necessary, rather than for the councillor to sit back and say there was not much he or she could do about it and that he or she would not do anything for the complainant.

In my area of Castlerea there are seven councillors. If somebody rings one of these councillors, that councillor might go to the area office, but generally gets no result and nothing gets done. The person might then ring another councillor and so on until all seven councillors have been rung. Each of the councillors - as I said, it is a waste of money having so many in that size of an area - wastes the area engineer's time traipsing in and out of the office. Eventually, the issue ends up at county council level where it might receive attention and get done. Perhaps the local Deputy will be brought into the issue, wasting more of the area engineer's time. If, however, the area engineer knew that the elected person had real power - someone democratically elected of whom the people were conscious and whom they knew had real power rather than some corrupt person who would ruin it all - we would have a proper improvement to the system.

I said it previously and will say it again, when I was mayor of the council I was excited about the idea of perhaps being able to do something about the rates that year. However, as Members probably already know, I was told I was not allowed to look at the figures. If the Minister amalgamates Mayo and Roscommon, but does not change anything else, we will still have the same problems and the same waste. I was confronted with a leak that ran like a bath for 11 years and the person with whom I was supposed to interface as the people's representative told me I am paid to think from the shoulders down.

Amalgamation of local authorities will not change anything unless councillors are given real power. I understand the dangers involved but I trust people to make the right decision. If they know those they elect will have a real influence over their lives, or that electing the wrong person can ruin their lives, they will think twice before they vote and we will get real change.

I get excited about the idea of local government change around the country. Approximately €70 million passes through the coffers of my county council every year. What could be done with that money? The council is proposing to construct a new headquarters costing €20 million. Even though many of the councillors believe, for ideological and practical reasons, it is a stupid project, none has opposed it because they know they will get the a lashing from the executive if they complain. If we had real power at local level we could spend the €20 million that is supposedly coming from Exchequer on real projects. At present we do not have that power, however. Amalgamation will solve nothing.

The councillors are proving it.

I am delighted that the Minister is here for the debate and is in a jovial mood.

I expected him to be out canvassing but I am told he is not allowed onto the doorsteps. He is being kept away because the Government wants the referendum to pass.

He was correct to call this a miscellaneous provisions Bill given that he lacked the courage to bring the real Bill or to deal with his own county. He is attacking my county instead. We will meet his county in September and, please God, it will be a fair game and may the best team win. Lar is back, by the way.

You will not be there.

Of course I will be there. It is all in the interest of sport.

Through the Chair.

I know the Ceann Comhairle will protect me from the big Minister. The Taoiseach picked an interesting combination for local government reform. He has the nice, meek and softly spoken Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, and then he has Big Phil the enforcer - the Minister, Deputy Hogan - to do the heavy lifting. The plan backfired, however, and it has been abandoned until after the referendum. This Bill is being teased and tickled but nothing is happening.

I am in favour of cost savings and economies of scale but I am not in favour of the bully boy tactics that are being implemented in my county. Tipperary is being hurled together. The Ceann Comhairle will know all about Tipperary because his good wife comes from the middle part of the premier county. It is proud horse racing country.

The Minister, Deputy Hogan, appointed two former senior civil servants, who I imagine are on fine pensions, to make recommendations on the amalgamation. The county manager for North Tipperary County Council, Mr. McGrath, was also appointed, as was the acting county manager for South Tipperary County Council. The manager for north Tipperary was appointed as chair. That was totally unfair and immoral. We now find out we are losing this and that service in south Tipperary. The Minister is out to destroy south Tipperary but we fought off Cromwell and we will fight off the Minister. Cromwell came to Clonmel and we hunted him. The Minister is not out of the woods yet for his attack on South Tipperary County Council. I do not know why he is trying to bulldoze the two councils together and give all the services to north Tipperary. Why was he unable to appoint an impartial chair or find two people other than retired civil servants who should be out playing golf? They were probably paying golf when they were supposed to be working but now they are working and getting paid again. It is rotten and disgraceful.

Why will the Minister not amalgamate Kilkenny? Carlow and Kilkenny were mentioned by the group but he steered away from that.

Tipperary is the only county that is split.

The Minister will be split after this.

We are putting it together. Is Deputy McGrath for the reunification of Tipperary?

I am against it.

He is against the unification of Tipperary.

Of course I am. I am happy the way I am. This is not going to save money. As he cannot decide on a central headquarters he has decided to have two headquarters. It is a cop-out and a farce and it will not save any money.

He announced in his local newspaper that he spent €1 million on hanging offices for Kilkenny County Council over the top of the Ard Ri in Waterford. I have the Kilkenny People sent to me on the odd occasion to inform me about what is happening in Kilkenny. One could almost fall over the river into the city. It is part of Waterford city but the Minister had the audacity to give €1 million to Kilkenny officials in order to rent a building in a shopping centre for office accommodation. He is destroying Tipperary and Limerick. He is showing a blatant disregard for public money. It is a horrible abuse of power and I resent it. He has been found out by his own colleagues. I do not see many of them this evening. His director of elections does not want him next or near the campaign. I just left him in the Shelbourne Hotel.

What side of the fence is Deputy McGrath straddling?

Please do not enter into the argument.

He is not being allowed to go near the voters because of all the penal taxes he imposed on them. Why did he give €1 million to Kilkenny? No other Minister did that. Kilkenny County Council never had offices in Waterford city.

I am afraid that is not in the Bill.

It is part of what is happening. That is why he called it a miscellaneous provisions Bill. He did not bring in the proper Bill because he it would expose him. I beg the Ceann Comhairle's indulgence. It makes a farce of his claims to be making savings. On 31 March it was reported in the newspaper that €1 million was being provided for offices in Waterford city for Kilkenny County Council. The people of Waterford do not want to deal with Kilkenny County Council. They do not like Kilkenny in the hurling either but that is sport. They are Waterford people. They live in a city. It is like Athlone or my own town of Clonmel.

They are like Kilkenny people.

I am not listening. I will keep speaking because the Ceann Comhairle will look after me.

I know you will.

I will listen to the Minister any day. The Minister's bully boy tactics are a shameful betrayal of his powers. He is embarrassing all town councils. That will not bring savings. Reform is needed but he should not come in here with these proposals I do not know how many years after he was last a Minister. He had to resign and then he came back and got another shot at it.

A Cheann Comhairle -----

They are the facts.

Deputy Mattie McGrath wants the country to fail.

Bí ciúin, I am speaking. Deputy Buttimer will have an opportunity to speak. The Minister is back in office and I meet his colleagues. He is a great man. He has water charges and septic tank charges. He has done the lot but everything was put on the back burner until the referendum is over. The people are not eejits.

Does Deputy Mattie McGrath want the country to fail?

Thank God, they are not that foolish.

The people know what is going on and they do not like it. The people of Carlow-Kilkenny do not like it either. Why can he open a competition for a dual manager for Limerick and possibly Waterford city and county while studiously avoiding the amalgamation of Carlow and Kilkenny, which was also recommended? It is blatant arrogance, nepotism and cronyism. He is blatantly looking after his own county.

He is supposed to be in charge of reorganising the constituencies. I do not trust him with this task. I hate to say that because I like him as a person. It will be the biggest gerrymander since Jim Tully. If the rumours I hear from his colleagues are true, Jim Tully will pale into insignificance in comparison. He meets them to tell them what he intends to do with Deputies from Tipperary and elsewhere. He will deal with them in the long grass if he cannot get them in the short grass. He can laugh and joke with his officials but they might collude.

I am laughing at the Deputy.

When they retire he might appoint them to other positions. It is scandalous for retired officials to come down to Tipperary. I do not know where they are from. They might be good officials. I will not take that away from them but they know nothing about Tipperary. Where Tipperary leads, Ireland follows according to the old adage. Beidh lá eile ag an bPaorach. The Minister should make haste slowly and back off on this situation. Do not attempt to unite Tipperary. We were united at one stage but we separated and we are doing fine because we are a resilient people. We will come back. How is it fair or impartial for a county manager from north Tipperary to chair a three member board?

Disgraceful comments.

Debate adjourned.