Local Government Reform Bill 2013: Report Stage (Resumed)

Debate resumed on amendment No. 20:
In page 40, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:
"(2) Each municipal district may in respect of that district set the commercial rate based on profits in the previous year. This should be part of the calculation along with valuation.".
- (Deputy Brian Stanley).

I thank Deputy Stanley for his amendment. The approach that I am proposing in the Bill is that, following the restructuring of the local government sector, there will be a single rating authority and a single valuation list, with a single, unified annual rate on valuation on every local authority. The power to determine the annual rate on valuation will rest with the elected members at plenary council level.

One of the key objectives of the reform programme, including the establishment of municipal districts, is to establish a more coherent approach to rates and charges across counties. To accept Deputy Stanley's amendment would be to undermine this approach. Inevitably, one municipal district in Laois would have one commercial rate and another district would have a different one. I do not know what impact this would have on economic development or incentives to attract people to a particular area of a county over another. I appreciate the Deputy's interest in the small business sector and I am sure that it will be reflected when he gets his party's county councillors in Laois to reduce commercial rates in the context of next year's budget.

We always do. We are very sharp on that.

Regarding Deputy Cowen's points, we did not take €600 million out of the local property tax. Seeing as how the total take was €550 million, we could not possibly have done that. The €600 million has come from motor tax, which used to be the Exchequer's means of helping local authorities with their funding. All of the proceeds of the local property tax are going into local authority services. I expect to be able to tell the local authorities what the allocations to their 2014 budgets will be within the next 24 hours.

I will press the amendment. The Minister mentioned rates. County managers and councillors have been exercised about the local government fund this week. As late as this morning, I was contacted by people in local government circles who were concerned that they had not received notification of next year's allocations. They are trying to frame their budgets. They would normally have received notice of allocations by now.

It is normally by the end of November or the first week of December. The point of this amendment relates to the Minister's point, in that there will be small towns with low levels of business and footfall. There may also be other socio-economic issues. The same applies in the cities. We need to make such places more attractive, in turn creating a positive cycle for those areas that are falling behind.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 38; Níl, 75.

  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Troy, Robert.

Níl

  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • White, Alex.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Sandra McLellan and Brian Stanley; Níl, Deputies Joe Carey and Emmet Stagg.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 21 to 26, inclusive, are out of order.

Amendments Nos. 21 to 26, inclusive, not moved.

Amendments. Nos. 27 and 28 are related and may be discussed together. Amendment No. 27 is in the name of Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan who is not present. I call Deputy Catherine Murphy.

I move amendment No. 27:

In page 44, line 13, after “development” to insert “in partnership with the local communities”.

This matter came up on Committee Stage as well, when Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan sought assurances that it would not impact on partnership with local communities. Some very good work has been done there and an input is required from those communities to understand what is needed. Therefore Deputy O'Sullivan was anxious that the Minister's response should be put on the record.

I understand the spirit in which Deputy O'Sullivan tabled these amendments but I wish to draw the attention of the House to some points. As regards amendment No. 27, section 35 of the Bill already provides that representatives of local community interests will in fact be members of the local community development committees or LCDCs. Given their status as members of those committees, I do not see how the amendment would improve that status. I am satisfied therefore that the issue of participation is addressed in section 128B(5) as well, which specifies that the LCDCs shall co-operate and consult with local development bodies.

Similarly, with regard to amendment No. 28, I do not consider it appropriate to broaden the definition for representatives of local community interests provided in section 128A also specifically to include anti-poverty or social inclusion groups. The definition for representatives of community interests, already set out in the Bill, is inclusive in its nature and already provides for community-based groups, social movements and networks, which are clearly inclusive of the groups referred to by the Deputy. I do not think therefore that we would improve the situation by accepting these amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 28 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 29 to 32, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. As Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan is not here, we will go on to the next one.

Does Deputy Murphy want an explanation on it?

I call on Deputy Murphy to move amendment No. 29.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 46, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:

“(c) to implement, or to arrange for the implementation of, the Plan (as the case may be) having been considered and approved by the local

community development projects/structure or local development company,”.

This amendment seeks again to bring local groups into the setting of a community development plan. That is what is being sought.

Amendments Nos. 29 to 31, inclusive, would have the effect of requiring consultation with, or prior approval of, the local community plan by local community development projects, structures or local developments companies. In addition, the committee would have to co-operate and co-ordinate with these projects in the performance of its functions. I am satisfied that the Bill already makes sufficiently strong provision for co-operation by committees with local publicly-funded bodies.

My amendment No. 30 seeks to insert the following wording in page 47, between lines 9 and 10: “(i) to co-ordinate cross Border work tackling social exclusion, including long term unemployment and seeking support for cross-Border, cross-community initiatives.”.

The Minister will be aware that much good work has been done by the Border corridor groups. Partnerships have been formed by councils on either side of the Border from Dundalk to Letterkenny. Good work has been done there by representatives of all parties North and South. Some people from the North who were somewhat reluctant to buy into the partnerships at the start are now fairly well embedded in them.

The Border region suffers from a lot of disadvantages, as the socio-economic indicators show. I think this is a reasonable amendment, so I am asking the Minister to consider allowing it in the spirit of the Bill.

I do not want to be proscriptive or explicit in the list of bodies that must be consulted as regards the LCDCs' point of view. I want to make it as broad as possible and not to exclude anybody. If we go down the road of naming a list of organisations or groups with whom one must consult, one will inevitably omit somebody. Rather than doing that, I intend to bring forward amendments to the published Bill in the Seanad on Committee Stage that will require LCDCs to consult with, amongst others, relevant publicly-funded bodies providing services within the committee's area. I think that will address both Deputies' concerns.

As regards amendment No. 30, I also intend to bring forward amendments on Committee Stage in the Seanad that will provide that the local community plan will focus on tackling disadvantage and social exclusion. Hopefully, that will meet some of the requirements in the spirit of what is intended as part of these amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Does Deputy Stanley wish to move amendment No. 30?

No. I will take what the Minister has said in good faith. I ask him to bear it in mind at a later stage.

Amendments Nos. 30 to 32, inclusive, not moved.

Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 are related and may be discussed together. Does Deputy Murphy wish to move amendment No. 33?

Yes. I move amendment No. 33:

In page 48, between lines 40 and 41, to insert the following:

“(b) The Committee shall submit the Plan for consideration by local community development projects which currently operate by local voluntary

management committees, and the local community development projects’ management committees shall adopt a statement in that regard

indicating approval and/or need for amendments to be considered by the elected council of the local authority.”.

This is the reverse scenario whereby it requires the committee to submit the plan to the local community projects. It is the ultimate in consultation and inclusion. The intention is that the consultation should be a two-way process.

Amendment No. 34 proposes to extend the requirement of regulations concerning engagement with the local community also to include consultation with the local community. I accept the merit of this suggestion and I will bring forward an amendment to that effect on Committee Stage in the Seanad.

In that context, I wish to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 34 not moved.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 52, line 34, after “Schedule 16” to insert the following:

“including the new addition of a relevant body in Schedule 16 titled the North Inner City Community Development Structure Limited”.

This amendment seeks to add the North Inner City Community Development Structure Limited to Schedule 16. We all appreciate that Dublin's north inner city has been one of the most deprived communities in the country. A great deal of work has been done to create a community development structure. This company is the vehicle for that. That is the argument for it to be added to Schedule 16.

The Bill already provides a requirement for certain prescribed bodies to co-operate with LCDCs. In this regard, Schedule 16 lists the partnership companies that currently manage or implement programmes on behalf of my Department. The entity identified in the proposed amendment, namely the North Inner City Community Development Structure Limited, is not a contracted body with my Department and therefore it is not appropriate to include it. However, new bodies can be added to the list of relevant bodies by ministerial order if new arrangements are agreed for the implementation of programmes by bodies other those already listed. I am not therefore ruling out a new entity being created.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 61, after line 44, to insert the following:

“(9) The role of Chief Executive shall be reviewed within one year of the enactment of the Local Government Reform Act 2013 with a view to

maximising recalibration of power to elected members.”.”.

The amendment proposes that the role of the chief executive would be reviewed. I welcome the fact that there will be a major shift in the balance of power between elected councillors and the management of councils. This has been one of the big complaints by councillors. We have had this discussion both in the Chamber and outside it many times in the past two or three years. We are taking that proposed change in good faith, but Sinn Féin is seeking that the role of chief executive shall be reviewed within one year of the enactment of this legislation to see how it is working out and if changes need to be made. When one is doing something new it is a good idea to examine it and benchmark it. A year is a good period to have elapsed before determining how the measure is working out. We should then examine whether further recalibration is required for the powers of county managers vis-à-vis those of elected councillors.

I have no difficulty with providing for reviews of legislation on a regular basis. Under the new Dáil reform measures and as provided for in the legislation, the Minister is required one year following enactment of this Bill to report to a committee on whether the measures laid down therein are working. In that context, I will be happy to do so. I do not want to provide for this in legislation because it is open to a Minister to amend legislation at any particular time. I am giving an undertaking to the House that within a year a review of the legislation, in terms of how it is being implemented on the ground, will be undertaken.

I welcome what the Minister said. I suggest that the Joint Committee on the Environment, Community and the Gaeltacht would be briefed by the AMAI-new entity - we will have to come up with a new name for it - and county managers' association at the end of the year on how, from both points of view, the legislation is working.

Is the amendment being pressed?

On the basis of the Minister's commitment today, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 37 arises out of Committee proceedings while amendments Nos. 38 and 39 are alternatives to amendment No. 37. Amendments 37 to 39, inclusive, may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 62, to delete lines 1 to 41, and in page 63, to delete lines 1 to 23.

I understood from the Minister on Committee Stage that he proposed to delete this section. However, I tabled amendment No. 37 in case he did not. If the Minister proposes to introduce an amendment to the Bill on Committee Stage in the Seanad to amend rather than delete this section, it will be difficult for us to have any meaningful say on the matter at that stage. I will make a decision on the amendment when I have heard what the Minister has to say on this matter.

I recognised on Committee Stage that the provision in relation to representation of political parties and groupings on the corporate policy group, CPG, would be very unwieldy. I propose to delete the entire section by way of an amendment to be introduced on Committee Stage of the Bill in the Seanad. Ultimately, the Bill, as amended, will have to be returned to the Dáil for approval.

I welcome the Minister's commitment that the section will be deleted.

Perhaps for the benefit of the House I should elaborate a little further on the matter. A number of representatives have raised the issue of the inclusion of a non-elected person on the CPG in terms of the leader of the local community development committee, LCDC. I know that the representative organisations and Deputies Barry Cowen, Brian Stanley and Catherine Murphy also expressed concern about this issue. There is a need to ensure that the views of the local community development committee are adequately represented on the council. However, this might be more appropriate to the relevant SPC rather than the CPG.

I welcome that the Minister proposes to delete this section. On that basis, I will withdraw the amendment.

I, too, welcome the Minister's commitment in this regard, which is an acknowledgement of the representations made by ourselves and representative bodies of councillors who were rightly concerned that a non-elected member of the public could be elected at CPG level of the local authority, at which level a great deal of management and day-to-day operational issues are decided, in the absence of any members who, while not privy to that body, are guided by it on policy and functional matters of the local authorities from a financial and other perspectives. I welcome the Minister's decision in this regard.

With regard to the selection of a chairperson of the local development companies, will it be open to any member of the committee to put his or her name forward for that position and thereafter be democratically elected? Am I correct that nomination in this regard does not, as initially indicated on Committee Stage, have to come from within the community sector?

I, too, welcome the Minister's commitment on this matter. Sinn Féin was concerned that membership of the CPG could include a person who had not even received one vote while five or six councillors, who between them may have obtained 10,000 or 15,000 votes, could not attend a CPG meeting.

Amendment No. 38 seeks the inclusion of the words "political grouping and non-aligned councillors". This is not an issue by which Sinn Féin is affected. I will give an example of where it might have an effect. At one stage the majority of councillors on Clonmel town council were from non-aligned groups or not registered members of a political party. I accept it is not possible when a council includes representatives of the hard right and the extremely hard right and so on to accommodate every grouping in the chamber. We all know that in such cases groups of councillors come together and seek to get one of their members elected to the CPG.

I have been a member of a CPG. As a member, one has the inside track in terms of what is going on, or at least some of it. I have also been a member of a council and leader of a group which had no representative on the CPG, which meant we never knew what was going on. Any information we got in this regard was from the newspapers. In fairness, towards the end of my term on the council the county manager at the time put in place a procedure under which we were provided with a monthly written report on what was happening, which was a welcome change. In my experience, membership of local authorities and county councils is usually made up of representatives from three groups, two large parties, a number of smaller parties and a couple of Independents. The Minister needs to do something to reflect this. Perhaps he would spell out his intentions in this regard.

As I said, I propose to delete the section. The corporate policy group, CPG, often developed into a secret society which did not provide necessary or full information to the groups. I looked at this in the context of putting the leaders of the groups on the CPG so that they could report back to the group on a more regular basis. However, having considered the matter further following Second Stage, I felt that this would result in too many representatives on the CPG and, therefore, make it unwieldy. I agree there is a need to find a better channel of communication between what happens in CPG and the political groups in order that people are kept fully informed about what is going on. I hear many complaints from councillors that as ordinary members of the council who are not in any of these privileged positions they do not get information before particular decisions are made. It is a matter for the councils to work out in a more open way.

Deputy Cowen referred to membership of the LCDC and who can become chairperson. The chair, who can be a public representative or community person, will be elected by the members of that group. For the purpose of drawing EU funds the majority of membership must come from within the community. For example, taking into account the new alignment of community and local authorities, if there are 15 members on the LCDC eight of them must come from the community sector. This does not mean that a public representative cannot be elected chairperson.

I am still not clear on what the Minister's intention is in respect of amendment No. 38. Is he saying that he will introduce a provision to deal with the issue? If left up to the local authorities, this will be addressed under the grouping system, which system-----

I am taking that out.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 62, line 18, after “party” to insert “, political grouping and non-aligned councillors”.

I am not clear as to the Minister's intention on this amendment. Is he saying he will include the provision? If it is left to local authorities, it is left to the grouping system which will leave-----

We have discussed this with a previous amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 39 not moved.

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 63, to delete lines 37 and 38, to delete pages 64 and 65, and in page 66, to delete lines 1 to 16.

I am not opposed to the development of service delivery plans. I believe the public should know what is likely to happen in a particular year.

I have the same concern about the range of services or initiatives that will be taken at municipal level where the chief executive is required to consult. Often, the term "consult" is a one-dimensional thing but it must be two-dimensional to really matter. I have concerns about it. Obviously, I am looking to amend a particular part of the section rather than withdraw the whole section.

If it was a question that there was the prospect or mechanism of reviewing it in a year's time to determine whether it is working and if the Minister is prepared to review it to see if it is working effectively, say, 12 months after the local elections, by which time it would be properly in place, then I could live with it on that basis. However, I am rather sceptical about how meaningful the consultation will be and whether it will work in practice. Perhaps it is the doubting Thomas in me.

There is a precedent for a service delivery plan under the old health board system. It worked rather well contrary to what people might have thought about the regional health boards. It was one aspect of it which definitely worked well and I know as much from many years of experience. It was the only time that councillors had a chance to scrutinise exactly where the money was going and the only chance to re-orientate the priorities if a group had a majority on the committee.

I am somewhat surprised that Deputy Murphy might have a problem with this, because it is open and transparent in respect of where money is being allocated and where it is going. The national oversight and audit commission will be able to scrutinise and determine whether it is the appropriate vehicle for implementation. These matters can be reviewed any time. Anyway, if we want to have good quality services provided, now that the people will be paying more at local level, we need to have more openness about where the money is going. That will happen through these service delivery plans. For that reason I believe this is one of the meaty suggestions in the legislation that will give real teeth to local authority members and ensure they are in charge of the budgets rather than the officials.

In theory the Minister is right but in practice we can see how the Local Government Fund works. The Minister made reference to the Local Government Fund rather than the property tax because that will be diverted to Irish Water. The money will be coming out of the Local Government Fund, which is the motor tax fund. It is all put into the one fund and therefore we are unsure which part of it comes out, but the Minister is telling us it will come from the motor tax fund. Basically, a commitment has been given about the extent of what will be delivered to local authorities in the context of the amount of money collected from the property tax. However, we do not know how much will be taken from the Local Government Fund. For example, money has been taken each year from the motor tax fund to go to the Exchequer.

There is a major level of expectation among people about service delivery because they are paying the property tax. They will be looking to see what exactly they are getting for their money. If there is no commitment to give 80% to local authorities, the level of discretion at municipal level will be low. Precisely what the Minister is trying to achieve in terms of service delivery will not be achieved if at least 80% of the property tax does not go to the local areas. It seems that the commitment has been rowed back on. Essentially, that will be the real meat. Rather than a nice plan, the actual delivery of services and the commitment to the delivery of additional services will be the key to whether the changes in local government will be seen as a positive initiative. It is not only about the plan, it is about the money behind it and the philosophy behind where that money comes from.

I genuinely believe that this is an important provision. Deputy Murphy's concerns about this provision are, with all due respect, not well founded. If a local authority is getting more money at local level for the provision of services, the people will demand to know where the money is going. They need authorities to be explicit, more than ever, in respect of what services are being funded from and from where. Through the service plan a local authority also has an opportunity to look at the performance of a given service during the course of the year. Councillors will have an opportunity to ensure that officials will be unable to divert money without approval during the course of the year to some other project without the approval of the councillors. This is a vehicle that gives vast scope for the implementation of essential services. It shows where they are funded and it also shows whether they have achieved the objectives set out at the beginning of the year when they are reviewed at the end of year. I simply do not understand where Deputy Murphy is coming from on this issue.

It is about the money.

The 80% objective is still there from 1 January 2015. Therefore, many local authorities will be winners. Equally, a number of local authorities will continue to require equalisation from the 20% tranche. These are the types of decisions that will be made all the more explicit and transparent through the service delivery plans.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 not moved.

Amendment No. 43 was due to be discussed with amendment No. 42. Deputy Stanley, you can move them all.

Am I moving amendments Nos. 43 and 44?

It is just amendment No. 43. Amendment No. 42 was in the name of Deputy Wallace.

I move amendment number 43:

In page 78, line 6, after “report” to insert “, in writing if requested,”.

It is a simple thing. We are asking that if the chief executive is asked to supply it in writing, he should do so.

These amendments require that reports and reviews required of the chief executive by the elected members be prepared in writing. The current provision provides flexibility for the report from the manager to be in writing, which is the norm. Where a formal request for a report or review is made by the elected members by way of a resolution, it would be expected that an appropriate future agenda of the council would have this item on it and in the circulation of any related papers. There may be occasions where it suits members and the chief executive for a matter to be reported orally or for an initial oral report to be followed by a formal written report. Flexibility in meeting the needs of the elected members is best met by not specifying reports in writing. However, where the elected members consider it necessary to specify a report in writing it would be open to them to include this in the resolution.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment number 44:

In page 78, line 8, after “review” to insert “, in writing if requested,”.

Amendment No. 44 has already been discussed.

Is it possible for me to say a couple of sentences?

The rule is the rule. Are you pressing it?

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment number 45:

In page 80, line 36, after “discussion)” to insert “, receiving 75 per cent support of members present,”.

I am seeking to protect the process in the case where someone is disrupting a council meeting. Sometimes councillors can disrupt council meetings. However, that is not the norm. There may be some problem areas with this. We want to have mechanisms to protect the elected members in order that they can come in and do their business and that the work of the council can be carried out on a monthly basis. The monthly meeting is very important for doing that. Councillors should be able to come in and make their contribution and decisions about their areas. We do not want meetings held by people playing to the gallery or holding up meetings for their own reasons or disrupting the work of the council unnecessarily.

I am also keen to ensure people are not excluded for frivolous reasons. Let us suppose a chair is in bad humour or somewhat cross on a given day and strikes the hammer on the table rashly and orders someone outside the chamber.

This is an effort to protect members and the reason I suggested a figure of 75% is that a three quarters majority, rather than a simple majority, gives some balance in this regard. In other words, the situation should not arise whereby the major group on the council - which may not be one of the dominant parties but could be a combination of a couple of smaller parties - for its own reasons could seek to exclude anyone, because the chairperson will be the man or woman of that group. That is how local government works, as all Members are aware. The situation should not arise whereby the council's cathaoirleach or mayor can exclude someone unfairly. I have suggested a majority of 75%, which strikes the correct balance. When 75% of a council agree that someone is being obstructive, is disrupting the council's business or is preventing the councillors from doing their work, it is time to remove that person. However, I believe specifying a simple majority is a dangerous step to take.

Deputy Stanley is aware that on Committee Stage I reflected on this proposal and indicated that I would bring forward another amendment to change this provision in subsequent Stages of the legislation. Consequently, I will bring forward an amendment in the Seanad, requiring a two thirds majority of those present and voting for passage of the resolution leading to a suspension, rather than the simple majority for which there is provision at present. I take on board the need for reassurance that there would be no risk of using the suspension provision for purely political ends, while still giving sufficient and useable power to the elected members to manage their meetings in a proper manner and to exclude a member only for unacceptable and persistent disruptive behaviour. This is taking place in only a few local authorities but there is no remedy in place under current legislation to deal with it. Consequently, the intention is to put in a provision whereby there must at least be some give and take on both the official side and the elected member side. It is hoped the provision of a two thirds majority will meet Deputy Stanley's requirements.

I will not split the difference between two thirds and three quarters. I welcome the Minister's commitment and while I had thought the Minister would table his amendment on Report Stage, he has given a commitment in the Chamber to which I will hold him. The two thirds majority certainly is a positive move in the right direction and it will enable local authorities to function better. I will withdraw the amendment on the basis of the Minister's commitment. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle should be aware that I am taking note of all the commitments given by the Minister.

They will be there. I usually do what I say.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

While amendments Nos. 46 and 47 are to be discussed together, amendment No. 46 is in the name of Deputy Wallace, who is not present.

Amendment No. 46 not moved.

I move amendment No. 47:

In page 82, to delete lines 31 to 37, and in page 83, to delete lines 1 to 17 and substitute the following:

“ “(4A) (a) In the case of a county council or city and county council, the chief executive shall, prior to the preparation of the draft local authority budget, invite municipal district members for each municipal district in the council’s functional area to make and submit a budgetary submission in respect of their municipal district.

(b) The chief executive shall make all necessary resources available to municipal district members to enable them to prepare a budgetary submission under paragraph (a).

(c) The chief executive shall direct the preparation of a draft budgetary plan for each municipal district following receipt of each budgetary submission under paragraph (a), the provisions of each shall be adhered to unless otherwise directed by the chief executive.

(d) In each case where the chief executive, in preparation of a draft budgetary plan, deviates from consistency with the budgetary submissions received under paragraph (a) he or she shall state the reasons for such deviation.

(e) Following consideration of a draft budgetary plan under this section, the municipal district members may make amendments to the draft budgetary plan.

(f) The making of amendments under paragraph (e) by the municipal district members is a reserved function.

(g) The chief executive shall incorporate the budgetary plan adopted by the municipal district members in preparing the draft local authority budget (in accordance with subsection (2)).”,”.

Essentially, the objective of this amendment is to strengthen the hand of the municipal district. At present, the legislation provides that the chief executive will consult the municipal district, whereas this amendment proposes that resources would be provided to the municipal district to do some of this work itself. Clearly, there is an overall council where it will be necessary to have a fair distribution of resources but if power is to reside at municipal level, it must be seen to be much more proactive about the budgetary process as it affects the area the councillors are elected to represent.

The proposed budget process is intended to clarify the approach to be taken by the chief executive in providing for a general municipal allocation. The Members of the municipal district will be centrally involved in the local authority budget process. The municipal district representatives on the corporate policy group, CPG, will have a direct input in the initial discussion on the framing of the overall local authority budget. Thereafter, the members of the municipal district again will have the opportunity to consider and amend the draft budget, before having a final opportunity in plenary session to discuss and adopt the overall local authority budget. Consequently, I am satisfied the principles of fairness and equity are enhanced and will facilitate the development of a budget that respects both the resources and needs of the local authority as well as the needs of its constituent municipal districts.

On the way it works at present, before the enactment of this legislation, in essence the county manager will take soundings at area level in most cases and will try to include some of the suggestions when framing the budget. I have always thought the very fact that all the resources more or less reside in the control of the county manager, who has the control of and responsibility for the staff, puts the councillors at a disadvantage in respect of the information available. I do not see how this will change, and as for the change in culture in respect of councillors taking responsibility, most of the work must still be undertaken by the officials.

I must ask the Deputy to move her mobile telephone away from the microphone.

No, my mobile telephone is on aircraft mode. It is not as though I am about to take off any time soon but it should not interfere. In essence, I do not see how the culture will change whereby the councillors have almost depended on the county finance officer or the county manager for the information they have got to help frame the budget. I cannot envisage how the new legislation will change that culture. This is the reason I thought that changing the location at which one makes the decision might be a way to achieve this.

While cultural change cannot be enshrined in legislation, one can be definitive about the additional powers one gives to elected members and one can then train them and provide resources to them to ensure they are able to understand and implement those powers. I acknowledge that at times, there are difficulties with certain local elected members, particularly people who are new and who may not be aware of the extent of their powers. This can only come through experience, but proper training, educational and awareness programmes must be put in place on the legislative powers and responsibilities they have. I intend to address this after the local elections with the aim of providing resources to local authorities and members. It will not be a case of engaging in conferences around the country but to be able to have sufficient in-house training and educational seminars for them, established with reputable people on an independent basis, that will provide them with the best advice they can possibly get to enable them to tackle the issues surrounding their responsibilities and to be equipped with the knowledge to be able to take on the other view they might get from officials.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 48 has been ruled out of order as a potential cost to the Exchequer.

Amendment No. 48 not moved.

I move amendment No. 49:

In page 98, line 8, to delete “persons who are members” and substitute “3 members”.

This amendment pertains to regional authorities and I note that under the Putting People First guidelines, the Minister has set out that two members of each local authority will represent that local authority on the regional authority. At present, there are six representatives on such bodies from smaller counties. For example, County Laois has six representatives on the Midland Regional Authority. In this amendment, I am arguing for half that number and the reason I propose three members is my concern that under the grouping system, with which all Members are familiar as all have been obliged to make use of it over the years, putting forward two delegates from the local authority to the regional body has the potential to exclude the third group on the council forever and a day. The Minister suggested to me that one could rely on generosity of spirit but unless one were to hold the council's annual general meeting on Christmas Eve each year, one is unlikely to get that.

One should not be so sure.

One might not even get it on Christmas Eve but my point is that at the council annual general meetings, all Members will have seen cases in which the dominant groupings will have circled such opportunities. I believe the former Minister, Liam Kavanagh, introduced the grouping system in the 1980s, which was a step forward in that at least some divvying out was done in respect of the sharing out of such positions. I believe the present Government parties were in power at the time. While this loosened up matters somewhat, no matter what way one turns the grouping system, inside out or upside down, and I have been obliged to do this many times to try to ensure I was not excluded myself, one still is squeezing out one third of the council membership.

I ask the Minister to reconsider. While regional authorities should not be over-large or unwieldy, he should try to ensure it is not a case of replacing Tweedledum with Tweedledee.

I support the general point that we need to achieve diversity in regional authorities without creating unwieldy large assemblies. A bias would not be desirable either - I do not mean political bias or political parties. I made the point on Committee Stage that diversity is critical if we are to avoid the mistakes we made in the past. A key issue to be dealt with by the regional assemblies is the issue of land use planning. We do not want to repeat ghost estates and building on flood plains and inappropriately zoned land. Those mistakes were part of the reason this country is in the position it finds itself. We cannot repeat those mistakes. A diversity of opinion in the regional assemblies is important. I referred as an example to the mid-east region and the Dublin regional authorities which had joint responsibility for devising the regional strategies following on from the national spatial strategy. In my view to some extent the strategy made a positive change in the culture in our local authority. We need to get the right numbers and diversity in the regional assemblies.

Deputy Stanley will recall the very valuable discussion on this issue on Committee Stage and I indicated there is scope to increase the number of members in the regional authorities without making them unwieldy. At the moment, there are 290 representatives on regional authorities. The policy document recommends that number be reduced to 62. We have in mind a number around 78 representatives. It will not be an arbitrary number of three members per local authority, for example; it will depend on the population to be represented. I plan to have discussions with the representative organisations about how a revision can be undertaken. For example, currently Dublin city with its population has the same number of members as County Leitrim and this does not make sense. This difference must be recognised and I do not mean any disrespect to Leitrim, Longford or Roscommon. The economy and the population of each area has to be taken into account. We are considering a regulatory measure to meet the objectives.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 50 has been ruled out of order.

Amendment No. 50 not moved.

I move amendment No. 51:

In page 116, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

“(6) A regional assembly, upon determination that a development plan prepared by a local authority is inconsistent with the regional spatial and economic strategy applicable in its jurisdiction, shall forthwith instruct a local authority to make such amendments deemed necessary to ensure consistency is achieved in respect of the regional spatial and economic strategy.”.”.

The Minister said on Committee Stage that he was willing to look at the wording, "either in compliance or consistent with", as opposed to "have regard to". There should be a consistency of language throughout the legislation.

We looked at this matter in the spirit of what Deputy Catherine Murphy said on Committee Stage. We discovered the sentiment she wishes to include is already included in the Planning Acts which are updated in this Bill.

There has to be a regard. One cannot say it is contradictory.

It has to be consistent but the consistency is already included in the Planning Acts which are updated in this Bill.

If the Bill is achieving the objective I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 52 to 58, inclusive, are out of order.

Amendments Nos. 52 to 58, inclusive, not moved.

Amendments Nos. 59 and 63 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 59:

In page 119, between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following:

“(viii) further functions that may be devolved from government departments to a directly elected mayor.”.

The plebiscite should be at the discretion of local authorities.

The provision for a plebiscite in Dublin is an important element of empowering locally elected councillors in Dublin together with the electorate to decide on a key element of future governance for the capital city. As such, any proposal will not be my model nor the Government's model for a directly elected mayor but rather it will come from the elected members so that it can be put to the people of Dublin for decision. I will not be prescriptive about what the powers or functions of a directly elected mayor should be, so long as there is a clarity and full information for the Dublin electorate to make an informed choice. It is up to the councils in the four local authorities to agree to a model to put to the people in a plebiscite. I understand the forum of the four authorities convened at my request by the lord mayor is close to finalising its work. I look forward to the proposal for the resolution to be decided by the four authorities being submitted to me, probably before Christmas.

There is an onus on the 130 elected members in Dublin to develop a consensus on the clarity of purpose and role of the directly elected mayor, the functions to be discharged by that post and what mixture of powers of local authorities, central government and national bodies could most efficiently and effectively be discharged by the holder of the position. There will also be need for clarity about the residual powers and functions of themselves as elected members and their councils. This balance must be struck in such a way as to make the prospect of a directly elected mayor attractive to a majority of the Dublin electorate so that the proposal of the councils can pass in a plebiscite next May.

To maximise the prospects for passage of the plebiscite, it will need to be very clear that the model recommended represents a consensus view of the elected members across the four authorities and all political persuasions. If the elected members cannot form a consensus as to the form and function of the directly elected mayor I will not be the referee as to which competing model for the post can be put to the electorate in a plebiscite.

Amendment No. 59 is not necessary because the Bill already addresses the concerns of the Deputy. As I have outlined, a range of functions and governance arrangements must be identified prior to a plebiscite for a directly elected mayor. This requirement is already clearly set out in the Bill. The amendment ignores section 61 which requires the identification of functions for possible transfer to the new office of directly elected mayor including from central Departments. As I have indicated I will not be prescriptive as to what these functions should be, where they should come from, nor will I place limits on the ambition of the elected members in this regard, so long as there is clarity for the electorate as to the costs and other implications of the suggestions advanced for decision in the plebiscite.

On amendment No. 63, the Minister will be required within two years to present a legislative proposal for the directly elected mayor, having regard to the question put to the electorate or else explain to both Houses why this will not be brought forward if that is the decision.

The amendment proposes further functions that may be devolved from central government or public bodies to the directly elected mayor.

What we are talking about here is rolling devolution, which is a term the Minister might remember, in other words, that we would leave the way open to devolve additional powers in the future.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 60 to 62, inclusive, in the name of Deputy Cowen are out of order.

Amendments Nos. 60 to 62, inclusive, not moved.

Amendment No. 63 was discussed earlier with amendment No. 59.

I move amendment No. 63:

In page 121, line 36, to delete “having regard to” and substitute “in line with”.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 64 and 65 in the name of Deputy Cowen are out of order. Amendment No. 66 in the names of Deputies Murphy and Stanley is out of order.

Amendments Nos. 64 to 66, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 67:

In page 178, to delete lines 14 to 21.

This amendment refers to fluoridation. I ask that this particular reference in lines 14 to 21 be deleted. We believe that decision should be left to local authorities, as is the case in other countries. The decision is centralised here and we believe that as we are reforming local authorities we should allow the electors and their representatives in each of the districts and local authority areas to have discretion in that regard. There is a big debate about the issue, which is getting bigger, and I am using this opportunity to highlight it here. It is timely because we are drafting legislation for the new local authorities, and it is time we removed that reference. We must never forget that the corporate body of the council is made up of the elected councillors and in an increasing number of councils the elected councillors want to stop this practice. This is an opportunity to start that process. I know it has implications for the Health Act but we should start moving on this issue.

I support the sentiments expressed by Deputy Stanley. I raised the issue on Committee Stage. I am not sure deleting the words will give us the result we want. I wish it would because it would be a simple way of achieving that. I support the principle in terms of what is being sought. Deputy Stanley is right when he said this is a growing area of concern.

I am aware of Deputy Stanley's view on this matter but the effect of his amendment would not be to in any way change any substantive provision within the Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960 but rather it would create an anomaly in the legislative code where the definition of a sanitary authority would be outdated.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 68 is in the name of Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan. As the Deputy is not present the, amendment cannot be moved.

I think we have already discussed that.

There was a commitment on it earlier.

Amendment No. 68 not moved.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.