Local Government Reform Bill 2013: Fifth Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Acting Chairman and the Members who have been very interested in this legislation, Deputy Cowen, Deputy Stanley and Deputy Murphy in particular. I thank them for their contributions to the debate. I hope we will see even further improvements made in the other House and that we can come back to this House in January to resolve those outstanding issues. This Bill has been in gestation for a considerable number of years and I thank the Members for the constructive engagement we have had from all sides of the House, notwithstanding that we have a few more amendments to deal with arising from amendments to which I committed myself in the other House.

I thank my officials also for their patience, and the representative organisations of the local authorities who have engaged fully in these matters over the past year or so in terms of the various changes they proposed regarding these matters. I also thank the Parliamentary Counsel in the Custom House, who was also involved in the drafting of the 2001 Act. We brought him out of retirement to assist us on this matter.

I thank the Minister and his staff for their efforts to acquiesce to some of what was proposed in various amendments on Committee Stage and here again today. I acknowledge the various commitments the Minister has made further to representations from us all. I expect many of those will be addressed on Committee Stage in the Seanad. While we do not agree with the Minister's sentiments regarding the meat of the Bill in the sense that we do not believe the reform he is talking about will effect the sort of change he would like the public to believe will happen, we appreciate and recognise his bona fides in that regard while fundamentally disagreeing with much of what is contained in the Bill.

I reiterate my disappointment that many of the amendments on this Stage were deemed not suitable to be discussed. For example, I had proposed an amendment whereby a regulator would be appointed to oversee how the local government system works, the way it contributes to the State and how it can be adjudicated to be delivering on the ground, especially when we consider the amount of funding that supposedly is to be made available to it by virtue of the property tax, the onerous responsibility that will be on Irish Water to maintain what we believe to be an unbroken system heretofore, the costs associated with the setting up of that body, and the sort of funding that has been allocated to it, not necessarily from the property tax fund but from the central government fund, which was inclusive of the motor tax collected heretofore.

During the course of the debate the Minister said there would be a review after one year by the relevant committee to consider the effectiveness or otherwise of the local authority system further to this Bill having been enacted. I believe that would be better represented with the appointment of a regulator's office, which would report to the Government and to the Dáil on the deliverance on the part of local government as against the commitments made by Government, and specifically this Minister. That is for another day but I would hope the Ceann Comhairle might make available to myself and others the reasons he believes many of those amendments involved a potential cost to the State. A potential saving to the State would have been the appointment of a regulator in that area to ascertain a cost benefit analysis, value for money, etc., which in the long run would be more beneficial. The Ceann Comhairle's office might make available to us more detailed information as to why many of those amendments were adjudicated to have involved a potential cost to the State. It is an open-ended type explanation that requires further clarification for my own sake and the sake of many others here who in the future may be faced with the same dilemma and might have consideration for the Ceann Comhairle's views on these matters in terms of the type of amendments we propose.

I pay tribute again to the Minister and his staff for their efforts in acquiescing, as far as they could, to many of the proposed amendments that were made in good faith by Members on this side of the House. However, I do not agree with the thrust of the Bill and will not be supporting its passage.

In terms of local government legislation this is a substantial Bill. I thank the Minister and the officials for their work in preparing it. There are many areas on which we disagree. At the same time I note the Minister has given a commitment to bring forward some amendments on Committee Stage in the Seanad. They will be welcome because we should always seek to improve on what we have.

Many of us hoped there would be substantial reform following the 2000 legislation but there was very little. It was substantial legislation but it did not lead to any kind of significant devolution, in fact there were further restrictions in terms of the powers and functions of local government in the following years. Since then many of us have lobbied for changes and more devolution. I am a firm advocate of devolving as much power as practicable as close as possible to the people, and I represent a party which advocates this. That is one of the things which is missing.

This State has become even more centralised since Independence. Those in political parties to whom I have spoken over the years - not just councillors but Deputies also - have said it is overly-centralised. Some of the things we see micro-managed are crazy. No system can operate effectively in such circumstances. I gave an example earlier of bus shelters. Why would one discuss a bus shelter in Ballydehob, Borris-in-Ossory or somewhere with someone in Dublin? Many things need to be devolved down.

One of the positives of the legislation, although I am critical of much of it, is that it has enabling mechanisms. There are commitments in the Putting People First document. I hope the Minister and his successors use that to devolve further powers and functions because that is what we want to see. We want to see real power being devolved down to local councillors who are not just there to rubber-stamp things but who are responsible and accountable to the people they represent. That is real democracy but there is a weakness in this country in that regard.

We often talk about the weakness in civic responsibility. Part of the weakness in civic responsibility is that lack of connection at local level to government. One must connect people locally to local government. Although we would argue it is deficient, we must use this Bill. There are some positives in it - unfortunately, not enough - and we will seek to maximise them over the coming years. Hopefully, when the Bill comes back to the House, it will be improved by the amendments the Minister will bring forward in the Seanad. I thank everybody for their help with the Bill.

I acknowledge this is a large Bill. The last time there was a big review of the local government system I was a member of a local authority and would have said what would and would not work. We have the benefit of seeing how it played out. I also acknowledge the work the staff have put into producing the legislation. It comes as no surprise that I have a difficulty with the direction in which the legislation has gone. It is a missed opportunity in terms of the reform agenda for the entire political apparatus of the State. That is my view and I accept the Minister has a completely different one, which is entirely valid. He will, however, accept it is okay for me to have a different opinion from him.

The key issue in terms of the delivery of changes in local government will not only be the institutional arrangements. It will be changes in the culture, which will be difficult to achieve. For example, some of those changes will be driven by how the local authorities are funded from now on. I mention the distribution of resources not only at local level between the centre and the municipal level but between the central government and the local government level through the local government fund in addition to the local property tax. There must be a fair distribution model. The needs and resources model obviously must be looked at in that context. We were told there was some workforce planning underway which will be incredibly important because there is a big mismatch there. One cannot deliver adequate public services if one does not have the people do so.

The Minister mentioned the €600 million, which we did not really get to debate, that will come from the Local Government Fund as opposed to the local property tax. That is a very large amount of money. Change will be driven by the demands of the public for services. They will want to see a relationship between what they pay for and what they get but that will not be evident if the money is withheld at national level. We are going about it the wrong way. In Europe, property taxes are generated and spent locally but that is not the case here.

I look forward to seeing the amendments made in the Seanad when the Bill comes back to us and to the report being done by Fr. Seán Healy because it will be an important element in engaging with the community and voluntary sector, which is a very important one. I welcome the fact the Minister said this will be an ongoing process. Members on this side of the House will hold him to that.

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 75; Níl, 41.

  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • 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.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Ferris, Anne.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • 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.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • 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.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Seán Ó Fearghaíl and Aengus Ó Snodaigh.
Question declared carried.

The Bill will now be sent to the Seanad.