I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
We had a debate last night and in some ways this is a continuation of that debate and I want to use it, if I can, to explain some of the substance of the Bill. Some of the issues that are highlighted here could be the subject of the wider debate and the consultation process that we expect to happen in the next six months in advance of a Bill, hopefully this one, finally being agreed.
I will begin by looking at the structures and then set out the responsibilities. Deputy Catherine Martin will set the wider scene. The Title of the Bill is the Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill. We seek to have a mayor of Dublin not a lord mayor. It is a small detail but it is appropriate to have a mayor of Dublin in the same way as there is a mayor of New York and London. We do not need to attach the title “lord” to it. Whether Dublin City Council continues to use that title in its own mayoral office is a matter for the council. It is a mayor for all the people and that is the title whoever would win the office would have.
Most Members present yesterday seemed to broadly agree with the concept of having a mayor and from what I heard in the contributions, most would agree with the structure we have put in place in that we are not seeking to dismantle the existing four council structure in Dublin. We seek to use the structure and, as Deputy Lahart said yesterday, bring them together to co-operate rather than just compete with each other. We propose to set up a regional authority for Dublin composed of the cathaoirleach of each local authority, the lord mayor from Dublin City Council and 11 other members who would make up a regional authority of 15 members who would work with the elected mayor in terms of the overall management of the city, providing co-ordination and the various responsibilities we want to give this office.
Some might argue that perhaps there should be greater or less representation or that the structure should be different. I would be interested to hear ideas. The Bill is easily amended to provide for variations. I believe a team of 15 is about right. Most of us who work in politics recognise that if one goes much beyond that in size one gets a different breaking down of groups and it does not work as easily in meetings. There is a reason we have a Cabinet of 15 in the Executive. I think it is the appropriate number and it allows representation from the councils, including their cathaoirligh, to provide the connection and co-ordination that we seek.
The other advantage of this way of introducing the mayoral office and the regional authority is that we believe it could be done without putting an additional burden on the taxpayer. We all know that one cannot present an Opposition Bill which has major financial implications for the State. The structure we set out in the Bill does not do that and that is the reason we are able to present the Bill. The Bill provides a staff of six to work in the office and a chief executive officer to work with the directly-elected mayor and it allows for the possibility of bringing in additional services and staff but the process involves using the existing administrative resources in the Dublin local authority system in order to cover the costs. The answer to the question of whether we are not just creating another layer of bureaucracy and adding huge additional costs is “no”.
I wish to highlight four areas where we believe a directly-elected mayor could have real responsibility. First, the Bill allows for the establishment of a greater Dublin transport authority, which would work in conjunction with the National Transport Authority to provide strategic oversight in terms of the regional planning of transport within the city. Any Dubliner knows we face a real crisis in the city. We can see it with traffic volumes growing by at least 5% or 6% per annum with major transport infrastructure, such as the M50, now gridlocking and no prospect of providing additional capacity on the road network. We failed to deliver significant public transport projects in time and there has been a lack of funding by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, or any attention from him to the immediate need we have for investment in bus, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. There is a clear need to have an office that has real power to pull the various agencies together and to get them working in a co-ordinated way.
From a previous existence as a cycling campaigner working in the Dublin Transportation Office, my experience is that what hindered progress in terms of transport planning in the city was the lack of co-ordination, agency rivalry and fighting between Dublin Bus, the then Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, and the various councils. A co-ordinating body in transport is needed and someone who is responsible for that to make sure people do work together, think long term and deliver the sort of connected transport thinking in the city that has not been the case in my lifetime and is not the case currently.
The second area of responsibility in which we wish to give real power to the mayor is in the area of housing. The critical powers the mayor would have are in the setting and development of a regional spatial plan for the city. The mayor would have a power of direction over the four councils, which is essential so that they do not repeat what happened previously, namely, competition between the four local authorities for rates and development levies which did not provide for the co-ordinated development of the city. Such a power, which we provide for in the Bill, is badly needed.
There was an unintended consequence from an initial good idea in that when it was decided to deal with extreme poverty in the city centre it was decided to clear the slums that existed in Dublin in the early part of the 20th century and we started to move the city out. The unintended consequence is that we never stopped. Dublin continues to spread further and further out, whereby we are creating a doughnut city. That type of sprawl can no longer occur. We must start bringing life back into the centre of the city because if we do not the transport system will not work. Another factor is that quality of life will disimprove because people will have such long commutes that they will spend most of their time either on a train or in a car rather than spending time with their family or at work. Housing is the second key area in which a mayor can take the initiative and bring housing back into the centre, combined with a high-quality environment, which is what people are looking for now as we move back into city centres.
The third area of responsibility for a directly elected mayor is waste. Anyone who has been involved on Dublin City Council in particular would welcome that. In recent years we have seen that the power has been vested in an unaccountable management which completed ignored the wishes expressed by democratically elected members of the city council over the past 15 to 20 years. As a result, we have ended up with a very large incinerator in the centre of the city which is out of date and does not serve us well. We want to give the mayor power rather than the managers having power over the waste system, which is what exists at present with no accountability either to this House or to any of the councils.
Perhaps most importantly, we set out in the Bill the need for the establishment of a regional development board which would take into account not just the Cathaoirligh of the four councils but also representatives from the city from the economic community, development agencies, trade unions and those from an environmental and arts and cultural background so that we start pushing economic and cultural development of our city in a co-ordinated way. We are already good at this as a city. We are a successful city. There is no doubt that Dublin has prospered in the past 20 or 30 years because we have a strong sense of cultural identity and have developed a tech industry, a financial services industry and a very significant tourism industry, but everyone who works in those industries will recognise that an opportunity has been missed to really hone and get the development of the city right by having a clear vision around what sort of digital, cultural and enterprise strategies we want to promote.
I was involved in Dublin's bid to become European City of Culture, which was won by Galway - fair play to it. I thought it was a disgrace that Dublin did not qualify for the final round. I do not understand how that came to pass because the work that was being done on the bid was exemplary. The reason it was exemplary and why the city council was doing a really good job was because it was bottom up. It engaged the citizens. It was not top down. That sort of approach is the one we want to apply with our Bill. Yes, we want to give the mayor powers but we want to do so to give the people of Dublin the power to be able to see and set out the development of our city and to have someone they can call to and hold to account if this is not happening. That is what this extensive Bill allows for.