I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 34 together.
The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, has led the most significant overhaul in the powers and functions of local authority structures in recent history. He deserves great credit for this and I am keen to support his agenda of devolving functions to local authorities where it is appropriate to do so. The impact of his work is that the councillors who will be elected next week will have significantly more power and influence on local matters.
My Department's principal engagement with local authorities is on roads matters. This year I have given local authorities increased flexibility in the use of grants for regional and local roads. I am supportive of giving further discretion in that area to local authorities in the future. This may be to the extent of allocating a single block roads grant to each local authority or indeed including it in a single overall grant from central government. The merit in such a move would be to give local authorities real choice in deciding what they wanted prioritise in their own county, rather than such decisions being made by me or my successors in the Department's offices in Kildare Street.
In the maritime sector, I have already transferred five harbour authorities to local authorities. The national ports policy recommends that control of the State ports of Drogheda, Dún Laoghaire, Galway, New Ross and Wicklow also be devolved from central to local government led structures. This reflects the regional nature of those bodies and their move in tourism and leisure amenity. I expect to bring proposals to the Government in the coming weeks for legislation to give effect to these recommendations.
Proposals for the rural transport programme will see local authorities having a role for the first time in transport planning. They will carry out strategic transport needs assessment in respect of their functional areas and develop annual transport plans for submission to the National Transport Authority, NTA.
The local area hackney licence, introduced by the NTA in December 2013, is designed to facilitate low-cost entry to the hackney market for transport in rural areas. In applying for a licence, the applicant must submit an analysis of the need for the proposed service carried out by or on behalf of the relevant local authority and confirmation of the need for the services by the relevant local authority.
The role of local authorities in tourism development will be reflected in my forthcoming tourism policy statement. The policy will recognise the roles of local authorities in engaging communities, local enterprise support, providing tourism infrastructure and ensuring an attractive environment. Their role in community engagement underpins the community tourism initiative announced in April. This partnership between Fáilte Ireland, Irish Public Bodies Mutual Insurances Limited and the 34 local authorities, will provide an annual fund of €1 million over the next three years to support up to 700 local community-based events and festivals each year.
I have identified responsibility for local sports partnerships as a function for consideration for devolution to local authorities. Proposals will be submitted to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in the context of establishing Sport Ireland.