Local Government (Restoration of Town Councils) Bill 2018: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to restore town councils for the purposes of local government, and to provide for related matters.

The town council tier of local government was abolished by the previous Administration, of which I was a member, and it was a mistake. I acknowledged that while we were in government and I made a speech to the Labour Party at conference to that effect. While there may have been compelling administrative reasons to consolidate local government at the time, the breaking of that tier focusing on urban centres was a mistake. I ask Deputies across the House, therefore, to support the proposal in the Bill to reintroduce town councils now.

I have travelled extensively throughout the country and I have seen the compelling arguments for the reintroduction of an urban focus in the traditional towns which had boroughs, like my own in Wexford or those Drogheda, Clonmel and Sligo. There is a disconnect between the larger areas which now constitute districts, sometimes known as municipal districts, and such towns. In my own area of Wexford, the district constitutes a quarter of the county. Citizens in towns no longer have the ready access to the same number of councillors or to what used to be the town hall, and we must restore that.

The Bill is straightforward. If enacted, it will authorise the Local Government Commission to review all towns with populations greater than 5,000 and designate them as towns with councils of nine members. For the larger towns with populations greater than 25,000, I suggest in the Bill that we establish councils of 15 members, but I am open to suggestions from other Members across the House in that regard. This will result in the restoration of an urban focus and the promotion of towns. When I was in Killarney, for example, I was spoken to passionately and asked to see if I could bring back the town's mayoralty to focus on the town. The same would be true of urban areas around the country. The proposed councils would have all the powers that previously resided with town councils. We had different types of councils in the past, including the urban district councils, boroughs and town commissions of old. Under the proposals in the Bill, there would be one common type of town council with real powers, including powers as rating authorities in their own right.

This legislation would reconnect people with the lowest and often most immediate and important tier of democracy and the councillors elected on their behalf, and it could be enacted in time for the next local elections. Looking at the previous census figures, it would not be all that difficult to define each of the towns at issue. It would be an enduring enactment in that after every census, the Local Government Commission would have a legal responsibility to make a determination in relation to town councils. There is an enthusiasm and eagerness among people to restore this tier of local government. I hope we will have an opportunity to debate the Bill early in the new session and I hope there is cross-party support for it. I will write to every grouping and party in the House seeking that support. Of course, the details are not written in stone and if any Member has a suggestion to make by way of amendment, my party would be very happy to accept it readily. I hope all Members will give fair wind and speedy passage to the Bill.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.