Local Government Bill 2018: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Last night, I made some points around planning in general and in particular how our cities have different systems. Dublin has four local authorities, Cork has a boundary extension and Limerick, Galway and Waterford have either completed or are in the process of merging city and county. We need to look at the overall picture and do some long-term planning because strong cities are crucial for any country but particularly in Ireland where the Dublin area is so predominant. We must make sure the other cities can develop and become strong centres, both individually and collectively. That is why I also emphasised the importance of the M20 between Cork and Limerick. We already have a motorway from Limerick to Galway, but it is important that we link those three cities, and Waterford in the long term. I am sure that the Minister will be interested in ensuring that happens.

I will return to Cork specifically. I said a service delivery plan was necessary for the areas that will be brought into the city council jurisdiction from the county. Last night the Minister of State said:

For the local financial year 2019, the Bill provides that the relevant area remains part of the rating area of the county council until 31 December 2019 and the county council’s budget and the municipal districts' schedules of works for 2019 continue to apply for the rest of the year as if the boundary alteration had not happened. The city council will, however, during 2019 set the municipal rate and decide any variation in the local property tax rate for 2020. This means that the basis on which the 2019 budgets were prepared will remain valid for the year.

He went on to speak about the register of electors, the post-boundary alteration position and how the electors would be the ones who would vote for the new council.

There is much that is difficult to understand. It is important the people in the area have certainty and that they are given as much information as possible. I have found the document produced by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service useful because it sets out the different processes and what will happen with property, lands, lights, liabilities, money and so on in the transfer. It also goes through the sections on the Bill and explains what will happen. Some of my Cork colleagues raised concerns around planning conditions granted by the county council and whether the obligation would then be on the city council to fulfil those planning conditions. If there are financial obligations, how will this work? There are several such practical issues which need to be teased out. I understand the enforcement of planning decisions made before the transfer day will become a matter for the city council, but we need absolute clarity for people in the area. I expect there will also be legal eagles looking at this for any loopholes in the legislation. Clarity on these issues will be very important for people living in the areas, but also for others who may be involved in building, for example.

On housing, there is a proposal called One Cork which has been put forward by the trade union movement. I propose co-operation between the city and county, and maybe more, on housing and that there would be a merged body which would develop housing in the Cork area. That has been adopted by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. It is suggested that there would be that kind of clustering to ensure we build houses where they are needed. We are all aware of the difficulties in the area of housing. I want to strongly make the case that publicly owned land should be used for social and affordable housing. It is something that arises in Cork, in particular, because there has been a failure by Cork city especially to build the number of houses that are required. Of course, it is an issue around the country and local authorities would argue that they are not receiving the funding and so on, but it is something that will arise in the context of these changes.

There is also the question of local representation and whether people feel they have the appropriate amount of representation in next year's local elections and confusion around the relatively short period of time. The Minister has said that he hopes to complete the legislation before Christmas, but it is a very short time leading up to the local elections. There are concerns about this being able to bed in properly so that people feel they are represented appropriately by the correct number of public representatives and by public representatives who can cover their area. It is a big change in local democracy for people who live in the area, and local democracy is very important in the balance between the executive and public representatives in any area. I am concerned that local people would feel that they had public representatives with whom they were acquainted and that they felt could represent them. If not, the balance of power will not be as it should be.

I want briefly to refer to bringing back town councils. We have acknowledged that the abolition of town councils should not have happened. My party has a Bill to restore town councils. There is a good deal of discussion and support in various political parties on bringing back that tier of local government. I do not believe the old system was fit for purpose in many ways. For example, County Limerick had no town councils even though it has a number of large towns such as Newcastle West, Abbeyfeale and Kilmallock where other much smaller places had town councils. We need consistency around that but we need that tier of local government. I do not know if the Minister of State can refer to that in his reply.

The Bill also proposes a change in respect of Galway. I believe the solution for Galway will be similar to the one we have had in Limerick. There was much trepidation in Limerick when we were facing into the merger of the city and county councils. A great deal of discussion took place in advance of it. By and large, people believe it has worked. I briefly referred last night to one area where it has not worked. It can happen that the mayor of the city and county comes from one end of the county and when majors visit from the United States, Britain, France or anywhere else they expect the mayor to be based in the city because that is the norm in most countries. There is an issue around that. If we are going to have directly elected mayors, presumably that, to some extent, will address that issue. I do not know if this has been thought through. I do not know if in the case of Limerick, and potentially Galway, Waterford etc. there will be some provision to ensure that the mayor represents the city, as most mayors do. They represent a municipality, an urban area and, in many cases, much larger urban areas than our mayors represent. In terms of the development of urban centres, it can be extremely important to have a mayor who is seen to represent an urban centre or a city in the case of Galway, Limerick or Waterford.

People representing Galway will speak about Galway. I do not have personal experience of the situation there but from my experience in Limerick it is important that people know exactly what will happen, that there is plenty of consultation and that all the concerns in the county and city are heard and taken on board and that appropriate action is taken. Limerick has been somewhat of a guinea pig and there may be some learning from our experience. The change in Limerick has allowed us to develop as an economic unit in a way we would not have been able to do if the councils had been kept separate. That has been important. People will see that there has been a rejuvenation in Limerick and a renewed sense of confidence that we can grow and develop to become a larger city and a counterbalance to Dublin. That is something we believe has been a success. There may be other areas where we would have some doubts but certainly that has been a success.

We will have questions when we come to deal with Committee Stage. My colleagues from the Cork area, in particular Deputy Sherlock, have concerns and they will be raised as we move forward with the legislation. As the Minister of State indicated, he will bring forward a number of amendments which will cover substantial issues that will need to be fully debated. I look forward to engaging in that debate.

Ní mór dom a rá i dtús báire nach mbeidh mé ag caitheamh mo vóta ar son an Bhille seo. Seachas bheith dírithe isteach ar na fadhbanna tromchúiseacha i nGaillimh - cúrsaí tithíochta agus tranglaim tráchta go háirithe - ceapaim nach bhfuil i gceist anseo ach am amú, airgead amú agus acmhainní amú. Nuair a bhí mé ag breathnú ar an reachtaíocht seo agus ag léamh na tuarascálacha uilig, bhí iontas orm i dtaobh an mhéid atá á dhéanamh ag an Rialtas. De réir mar a thuigim, tá Páirtí an Lucht Oibre ag tabhairt tacaíochta don mholadh atá romhainn. Níl a fhios agam faoi Shinn Féin go fóill.

I will not be supporting this Bill. I say that as a person who has served at local government level for 17 years. I do not believe I ever missed a meeting. As a committed councillor, as many of the councillors in Galway city are, I have read all the reports. This issue arose in 2015 when the then Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, for some reason, decided to set up an expert advisory group. That group comprises business people, one professor of social work and a barrister, all of whom have no experience at council level. That was the original group and it subsequently became the expert advisory group with the addition of managers and former managers. I have a serious question about that expert group. The then Minister, Deputy Kelly, in 2015 stated:

The ambition is to create a stronger Galway. The major urban centres are critical to the economic success of their wider regional hinterland.

He set up the Galway Local Government Committee and it reported in November 2015. The two interim reports that I have read are internally inconsistent. They refer to citizens and customers. They also refer to benefits but acknowledge that both local authorities are struggling with the resources they have, both financially and in staff terms. They cannot even do what they are supposed to do. The proposed amalgamation will not save any money because the councils cannot save any more money because they are operating on such a limited budget as it is.

We must ask what is proposed. In a Bill that is focused on Cork, and I will leave it to the Cork representatives to talk about Cork, a tiny paragraph about Galway has been inserted. The Minister of State when introducing the Bill referred to that paragraph. He stated:

Part 5 amends the Local Government Act 2001 by inserting a section to provide for a single chief executive with dual responsibility for [both councils]... This will facilitate administrative integration of the two local authorities.

He cited, by way of precedent, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford etc.

Why that would be in this Bill beggars belief. It has nothing to do with Cork and, even if it was the right decision, the conditions precedent, which came from the so-called expert advisory group, says that certain things have to happen first. It was not the appointment of one manager for both councils but to address the lack of staff and resources and it refers to a transition director. None of that has happened. Yet, one paragraph covering this proposal has been inserted in a Bill dealing with Cork. At the very least, justice would demand that would be taken out of the Bill. I understand Fianna Fáil intends to do that and I hope it does. If it does not, we will table an amendment proposing that it be removed. It makes no sense for it to be included in this Bill.

I can only judge the substance of the Bill from what I have read because we have not been given anything else. This Bill was not referred to a committee for prelegislative scrutiny and I do not believe a cost-benefit analysis of this proposal was carried out. I see no reason we would vote to have this proposal as a first step. I ask for sense to prevail, to remove this proposal, start again and examine the real problems in Galway city. The Government increased the number of city councillors to 18 and to 39 on the county council. As I understand it and I am open to correction on this, not one of the 18 councillors, who are very important stakeholders, was in support of this proposal. I went forward and made a verbal submission. I regretted having to go to a private hotel to do that - which is an instance of what happens - rather than that taking place in a public building. I raised my concerns. I do not believe any one of those 18 councillors said this was good and each and every one of them engaged with the process. In respect of the 39 county councillors, and I open to correction on this and Deputy Grealish might be more au fait with the numbers, almost 99% of them said not to do this. If the Government is going to have a consultation process and 99% of the combined councillors are saying not to do this, and the Government goes ahead and does it, what kind of democracy is that?

The Government is proposing a larger local authority which, as acknowledged in various reports and research undertaken, will lead to a larger gap between the people it is meant to serve and those in charge. That runs totally against the Lisbon treaty, which the House has continually been informed is the best thing that ever happened. In fact, the treaty is so good that we had to vote on it twice. One of the specific clauses in the Lisbon treaty involves an absolute binding legal commitment to ensure that decisions are made as close as possible to the citizen. What is proposed here is the complete opposite.

The November 2015 report states:

A starting point for the committee is an acknowledgement of the broadly successful delivery of services and economic development in the current configuration of local government in Galway. The committee acknowledges the broadly successful delivery.

It also indicates that thoughtful submissions were received. However, the overwhelming majority of these were against the amalgamation. Of the submissions received, ten were simple acknowledgements, 23 expressed a broad preference for maintaining the status quo, only 14 expressed a preference for a merger and six expressed no preference. We must ask who were the 14 individuals or organisations that expressed a preference for the merger. They included the chamber of commerce and other such organisations but not the elected members - 39 and 18, respectively - of the two local authorities involved. The latter were overwhelmingly against the merger. As already stated, the experts acknowledged there were thoughtful submissions but they did not act on them. They were convinced on balance but that balance was not based on evidence. While the experts acknowledged that the current configuration works reasonably well, they were convinced this is not the optimal configuration on balance. There is no evidence to justify that conclusion. The experts stated that the merger would be broadly cost-neutral and they found it difficult to foresee any savings. The report indicated that local authority staff were struggling because of underfunding.

The second interim report from April 2018 states:

The group notes the significant revenue underfunding of the Galway local authorities relative to comparators, in addition to staffing constraints in key areas. On the basis that the existing resources available to both organisations are not commensurate with realising the vision of an effective amalgamated authority, the expert advisory group recommends that the existing deficiencies in respect of both the human and financial resources be expeditiously resolved as an essential prerequisite to the amalgamation process.

The expert group dealt with staffing levels and stated:

In respect of staffing numbers the figure for Galway County Council is 751.40 WTE or 4.2 staff members per 1,000 population. This staffing complement does not compare favourably with the staffing level of the most comparable counties …

Arising from this, one would have imagined that action would have been taken. However, no action has been taken. Quite extraordinarily, all of the effort and money which has gone into these three reports has taken attention away from the existing problems in Galway. Professor Eoin O’Sullivan, the group's chairman, stated in his foreword to the June 2017 report that the group had met on ten occasions over the previous five months to examine the technical feasibility and implications of the amalgamation of the local authorities. It took that length of time and that number of meetings to confirm that the merger would be technically and administratively feasible.

I am zoning in on this because there is a serious crisis in housing in Galway. Our housing waiting list dates back to 2002. Galway has major traffic congestion because of the absence of a co-ordinated plan for public transport, school transport and park-and-ride facilities. Rather than meeting them twice a month to deal with these problems, the expert group was examining some future amalgamation. All the while, there was an acting manager in the county council, which placed him in a particular predicament, and a manager in the city council who does not know what he is doing on these issues, although we were reassured this has not affected them. It is difficult enough for Deputies to perform here while wondering whether a general election will be called tomorrow. Imagine having an acting manager in a county council for a period and that person not knowing what is happening. While this is going on, we are getting letters from people who are living in appalling housing conditions and concerned about traffic congestion but no action whatsoever has been.

Outside Dublin and Cork, this will be the largest conglomeration of people in the country. What is proposed for them is based on the recommendation of an advisory group, with no expertise at local authority level, to the effect that what is proposed is, on balance, better economically. IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Údarás na Gaeltachta are involved. We want to make a large local authority with less democracy. For what? This will involve the third largest population grouping outside Dublin and Cork, stretching from the Gaeltacht, to the three Aran Islands and Inishbofin to Portumna and on to Ballinasloe. Such a geographical variation could not be catered for under such a large local authority. As matters stand, people in Connemara and on Inishbofin feel they are not heard when they are struggling to get basic services such as a health centre fit for purpose. They are struggling to get the ear of the local authority but we are going to make it much bigger in order to satisfy some whim of Deputy Kelly when he was Minister in 2015.

Even if I am totally wrong, it is stated in these reports that there will be no cost savings and that nothing in particular will be gained from the merger. There is reference, however, to a general economic gain. I would be the first to acknowledge that an economic gain is important. However, what is more important is the illusion - I admit I have become even more cynical - of democracy. We are now going to remove that illusion to a larger local authority against everything the people want on the ground.

It is acknowledged throughout the relevant report that there are excellent shared services. From experience, I know about this in the context of the fire and library services. The report in question acknowledges that a high degree of co-operation already exists in joint organisations. Why would the Government set up an advisory group to compile three reports? The answer is that it was to divert attention away from the serious problems that exist. Those problems relate to underfunding and a lack of staff. This is acknowledged everywhere. I pay tribute to the Library and Research Service, which gave us all the information, quite neutrally as one would expect, in the Bills digest.

There is an assumption that bigger is better but we know from the evidence that this is not the case. Only the other day, we attended a presentation sponsored by Science Foundation Ireland in the audio-visual room at which 16 individuals spoke for one minute each and told us about the importance of evidence. We have the evidence. Making something bigger for the sake of making it bigger is not a good solution.

This ignores the evidence on the ground that both local authorities are struggling because of a lack of money and staff. What I object to most is that we are talking about enhancing democracy but since my election to the local authority in 1999, I have watched local authorities being stripped of powers. With regard to waste management, Galway achieved 70% recycling in a pilot project and 56% diversion from landfill on a regular basis, while on a shoestring budget. The response of the Government was to privatise the service which has gone backwards since then. Equally, responsibility for water was taken from the local authorities resulting in a loss of experience and knowledge on the ground. The expert advisory group says that local authorities should be increasing services. It does not look at what is happening in reality and talks generally about an increase in service provision, including social welfare. The expert group is suggesting that social welfare-type services should be included in the remit of local authorities. While there may well be an argument for doing that, this suggestion is evidence of the type of internal inconsistencies and contradictions that exist in all of these reports.

This provision has no place in this Bill and makes a mockery of what elected representatives have sought. As I understand it, most of my former colleagues in Galway West, apart from those in the Government party, are not in favour of this. What is the point in having a consultation process? The cynicism of this is hard to take. Perhaps I am being naive in asking the Minister of State and the Government to reflect. Maybe it is beyond the Government's ability to reflect but reflection is an essential part of a functioning democracy. We must reflect, read and learn and take action based on evidence. This is not based on any evidence.

I wish to share time with Deputy Michael Collins.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill, which provides significant detail on the proposed extension of the Cork City Council boundary but only refers to the appointment of a new chief executive for Galway city and county in Part 5, under the "Miscellaneous" heading. That is disingenuous and very disrespectful to Galway. The Bill provides for the appointment of a new chief executive to oversee the merger of Galway City Council and Galway County Council. We deserve more than that in Galway. If this is to go ahead and a deal is done with Fianna Fáil to push it through-----

And with the Deputy himself-----

Hold on one minute.

Deputy Grealish is part of the alliance too.

I am not part of the alliance.

Galway deserves better than this. Galway is a medieval city, with the first mayor appointed back in 1485, Mr. Peirce Lynch. If this Bill is railroaded through this House and the merger of the two local authorities goes ahead, we will lose our status and the mayoral position. A mayor is one of the most important positions that a city can have and the mayoral position in Galway is truly historic. When important visitors come to Galway, including prospective investors brought to the county by IDA Ireland, they always meet the mayor. How will it be possible to have a chairman of a super local authority with up to 57 members, as well as a municipal district of Galway city and a mayor for the city? That is not going to work. It is not working in Limerick or Waterford. This is my fear with the Bill and I will find it difficult to support.

The Bill makes no reference to the crucial issues of funding or staffing, which will directly impact on the success or failure of any amalgamation of Galway city and county councils. In October 2017, I spoke at length in this Chamber about the need for adequate funding for both councils prior to an amalgamation taking place and my view on this matter has not changed. The second interim report of the expert advisory group on local government arrangements in Galway, produced in April this year, concluded that “the establishment of an amalgamated Authority combining Galway City Council and Galway County Council, would maximise the potential of the region to maintain, secure and grow a sustainable economic base into the future.” However the report also concluded that the amalgamation of the councils "must be preceded by the addressing of the existing deficiency in respect of both the human and financial resources available". In 2018, Galway City Council had a budget of €994 per person, down from €1,312 in 2008, while Galway County Council had a budget of €626 per person, down from €1,004 in 2008. An amalgamated authority would have a budget of €738 per capita, which compares poorly with the €1,000 per capita available in other comparable local authorities.

Galway had 740 whole-time equivalent staff members at the end of 2015, while Mayo had 928; Kerry, 1,063; Donegal, 851; and Tipperary, 975. I have read this data into the record of the House previously. Galway is the second largest county in Ireland. In 2016, the budget in Galway was €104 million while it was €125 million in Mayo; €124 million in Kerry; €132 million in Donegal; and €135 million in Tipperary. The situation is bleak, as a combined local authority in Galway would have a total staffing level of 4.5 staff per 1,000 population. The comparative figure for other previously merged authorities is between 5.5 and 6.7 staff per 1,000 population. Only two directors of services employed by Galway County Council are in permanent posts; the rest are acting in their posts, including the chief executive. The latter has been acting for the past three or four years. How can a local authority be run properly with so many people in acting positions? This does not just apply to directors but to all grades of staff. I know of one person who worked in the Connemara region for ten years in an acting position before he retired. That is not acceptable. These funding and staff deficits must be addressed before we proceed further.

It is clear that the ongoing budget shortfall in Galway is having a direct impact on services and staff morale. Of the seven main personnel in Galway County Council at present, five are in acting roles, as permanent positions cannot be filled due to uncertainty. As a result, major decisions cannot be made. The county council’s planning office has just half the staffing level of Mayo County Council's but, as of May 2017, it was processing double the number of planning applications. There is no local authority housing construction unit in the council due to an erosion of funding over the past number of years. This lack of funding has contributed to a housing crisis, a lack of critical infrastructure, planning delays and difficulties, minimal repair and maintenance of local roads and a host of other problems.

Over the past number of months I have spoken about the proposed amalgamation of Galway city and county councils with a number of local councillors and senior officials. As Deputy Connolly said, only one councillor is in favour of the merger. All other councillors oppose it because it will not work. The message from councillors and officials is the same, namely that the funding issues must be resolved first. If this is not done, not only will it be detrimental to services but it will also affect the working relationship in the new amalgamated authority as councillors feel that they will be competing with each other for funding.

Galway is a unique county, with a big city as well as rural and sparsely populated areas. Connemara and the areas stretching from Glenamaddy to Portumna are so different. There is a wealth of history in the city itself, with Christopher Columbus numbered among visitors in the past. Galway City Council currently collects significant revenue through business rates and funds services differently from the county council.

Understandably, concerns exist within the city that revenue collected through rates will fund services that will be of no benefit to rate payers. The only way to address this concern is to address the funding. Galway is the largest county and city in the west of Ireland. The expert group rightly points out that it has the capacity to be a driver of regional development, to avail of opportunities for enhanced economic development through the national planning framework and the capital programme and to provide regional and national leadership at political and executive level. I agree with those sentiments. There is merit in strategic planning and economies of scale for shared services, but this amalgamation and this Bill should not be passed under the current funding model.

I will not be supporting the Bill as it is brought forward today. Galway deserves far more. I will work with my colleague, Deputy Connolly, to table an amendment that the merger of Galway city and county councils be removed from the Bill. The Bill is about the expansion of Cork County Council. For one section of it to deal with the appointment of a new chief executive to oversee the merger of Galway city and county councils is disrespectful to the people of Galway city and county and its elected councillors. If the Bill is to be enacted, we must be given a guarantee in the House that Galway city will not lose its mayoral status and that adequate funding will be put in place for the merger. It seems that a deal has been done on this section of the Bill, there will not be enough Members to vote it down and it will be enacted before the end of the year. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, and the Government to ensure Galway city does not lose its mayoral status and that sufficient funding is available for the merger to be done properly.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Bill. It proposes the transfer of part of the administrative area of Cork County Council to Cork City Council. The recent proposed boundary changes which involve the transfer of a significant number of people from the county council to the city council will have a detrimental effect on the county. The loss of areas such as Glanmire, Blarney and Ballincollig will result in a significant long-term drop in county council revenue, the effects of which will be felt for generations to come.

I represent rural areas of west Cork, some of which are the most disadvantaged in the country. These areas include the Mizen, Sheep's Head and Beara peninsulas, Bere Island, Dursey Island, Whiddy Island, Long Island, Sherkin Island, Heir Island and Cape Clear. We cannot afford any long-term loss of revenue. One need only look at the quality of roads in the county, particularly in west Cork, to see a glaring example of what the current underinvestment and lack of revenue can do to an area. Of course, there are other examples of underinvestment in the area. Several businesses have closed in west Cork in the past six weeks, including Long's shop in Timoleague, Lordan's in Ballinspittle, Hickey's in Kilbrittain, O'Driscoll's post office in Ballineen, Lisgriffin school in Goleen, Axa Insurance in Bantry, Desertserges post office, Drimoleague Credit Union and The Welcome Inn west of Bandon. Such closures are proof of the current lack of investment in west Cork. The lack of broadband is significantly affecting businesses and the people of the area. Several communities have been waiting many years for wastewater treatment plants. Raw sewage is being discharged into the sea in several locations along our coastline while local communities are doing their best to increase and enhance the tourist industry in the area.

The proposed transfer of this large area from Cork County Council to Cork City Council is a land grab which will have significant detrimental effects on the county council. When I and other members of the Rural Independent Group brought proposals to the Dáil to try to stop the transfer, I was amazed that we could not get the support of other Deputies representing Cork county but were supported by Deputies from Kerry, Galway and Tipperary and other parts of the country who could see what the Bill would do to rural areas of west Cork. Many Cork Deputies turned their back on Cork county, its people and councillors by dancing to their parties' tune. The people of the Cork County Council area will pay a high price for being let down by their Deputies in that way. Cork county councillors across the political spectrum are totally opposed to the proposed changes and have conveyed that to the Government and Members of this House. Their views have been ignored in the effort to bulldoze the Bill through. Who gave the expert advisory group more authority than elected members? Who is running this country? Is it being run by an expert group lined up by a Minister or its elected representatives, whether they be members of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin or another group or party or Independents? Have Members any authority or say in what happens in this country or is everything overridden by an expert group?

The Bill proposes that a financial settlement be made to compensate the county council for the loss of revenue. It is suggested that the financial settlement or compensation would last for up to ten years, although there is talk of that being subject to review. It could be reviewed the week after it is started. Ten, 15 or 20 years of compensation is far too short. At a minimum, the agreement should be for 15 to 20 years with reviews thereafter to examine extending the settlement for a longer period. In the event of Cork City Council being unable or unwilling to honour the financial settlement over a 15 to 20 year period with reviews thereafter, which may be a possibility, the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, on behalf of the State, should guarantee the payment to Cork County Council. It is imperative that is done because there is no way Cork County Council, which stands to lose a significant amount of revenue as a result of the boundary changes, should ever be in danger of not receiving the full financial settlement.

I cannot understand the transfer large amounts of farming land between Blarney and Ballincollig to Cork City Council. Under the Bill, areas around Coolroe, Tower, Leemount and parts of Inniscarra would move within the city boundary against the will of the people and their elected councillors, many of whom, including Councillor Kevin Conway, are fighting for the people in these communities. Many residents in those areas are extremely unhappy with the proposed transfer to the city council. Thousands of signatures opposing the plan which were handed in by the people of Ballincollig have mysteriously gone missing. I wonder why that happened and where they are.

The previous Government abolished the town council tier of local government. That tier focused on urban centres and its abolition was clearly a mistake which needs to rectified through the restoration of our town councils. I strongly support the reintroduction of an urban focus. There is a disconnect between the municipal districts and urban towns. People in the towns of west Cork no longer have ready access to as many councillors as previously or to what used to be the town hall. That access must be restored. When the town councils were abolished, Clonakilty, which is in my constituency, set up a mayoral council and bucked the trend. It stood up for itself and volunteers in the town carry out important functions in the area for its people. The town was dictated to from the top, but it refused to listen. Its mayoral council has played a significant role in promoting tourism in the area.

Some of the proposals regarding local government area boundaries in west Cork make little sense to me. For example, it is proposed to transfer Courtmacsherry, Timoleague, Barryroe, Darrara and Ring out of the Clonakilty area and into the Bandon-Kinsale electoral area. That makes no sense as those areas are within the Clonakilty catchment area and areas such as Ring and Darrara are within walking distance of Clonakilty town. In spite of that it is proposed that they will be transferred out of the Clonakilty electoral area against the will of the people, local community and voluntary groups and many local representatives. The rumours about the reason behind the change are frightening and indicate that democracy is being ignored. I will not repeat them in the House.

Some of the decisions of the Government and its predecessor on rural Ireland beggar belief. The Government must start taking the people of rural Ireland seriously and give them back their voice. Democracy has been eroded little by little in recent years and the voices of local people and councillors are no longer being heard. They have no voice. They are being dictated to from the top.

That is not democratic; it is not the will of the people. It is not the will of the great people of west Cork, who put me into Dáil Éireann. By ramming this proposal down the throats of the people, we are going against the will of the people who elected the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, and every other Member of this House.

I have referred to the motion I proposed last year. I greatly appreciate the support it received from people in many counties, including Tipperary, Galway, Kerry and Clare. I knew at that time that we would be facing really difficult circumstances in west Cork. I suggest that the Tánaiste and certain party leaders have wagged the tail in this regard. They have forgotten their councillors and their own constituents. Their approach might suit a few people, but it certainly does not suit those who live in rural Ireland. They have not governed for the people of west Cork; they have governed for their own areas.

Even at this late stage, I plead with the Minister of State to withdraw this plan. We certainly have not received any assurance. From what I can see, the initial plan was to give a little assurance to the people. We were guaranteed ten years with no review, but now we are not guaranteed anything without a review. From what I can see, the review could take place within weeks of the agreement being put in place.

I will be opposing this legislation. I intend to table a number of amendments that will be based on what has been expressed to me by elected representatives in west Cork from the Minister of State's party, the main Opposition party and right across the political spectrum, as well as by the communities and people of the area. I will stand by them throughout the legislative process. I intend to force every one of my amendments to a vote if that is what it takes to prove to those I have mentioned that they have turned their backs on the people of rural Ireland, as they have done previously.

Ba mhaith liom i dtús báire fáilte a chur roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. Admhaím gur Bille tábhachtach é an Bille seo. Caithfimid go léir anois díriú ar na toghcháin atá le teacht an bhliain seo chugainn agus ar iarrthóirí a phiocadh sna dúthaigh ina mbeidh comhairleoirí á toghadh.

The Second Stage debate on this important legislation provides a timely opportunity to reflect on the future of large urban areas like Drogheda. The Minister of State will be familiar with the issues to which I refer. I will not be making the same points as the previous speaker, in some respects, because I am dealing with a town like Drogheda that has grown phenomenally over recent years. The population of Drogheda has increased to such an extent that it is now the largest conurbation-----


I thought that noise was one of my supporters getting into the House. I have lost my train of thought.

The Deputy was talking about Drogheda.

I would never forget Drogheda and I hope it never forgets me.

The Deputy was saying that he wants Drogheda to join County Meath.

Drogheda is the largest conurbation in the country that is not a city. According to data released by the Central Statistics Office, Drogheda has a population of more than 40,000. It is a huge area. The population of Drogheda is larger than the populations of a significant number of counties. Outside the main cities, Drogheda is the largest town in Ireland. It is bigger than Dundalk. It does not have a local council, however. It has what is known as a municipal district, which has a weak milk-and-water focus and no power. The municipal district can talk, but it has no power. The fact is that power resides in the county council, which happens to be based in Dundalk but which could be based anywhere in County Louth. This is not a speech about Dundalk versus Drogheda. It is about the need for decisions to be made where the people are. Decisions should be made where they effect the greatest number of people. Those who live in a town should have control over decisions on what is going to happen there. Competent and qualified officials should have the requisite status and power to make administrative decisions in cases of reserved functions of officials.

I am aware that the first visit made by the Minister of State when he took up his portfolio was to Drogheda. He saw at first hand how important the town is, how much it has grown and what are its needs. It is unacceptable that a town the size of Drogheda - some people would call it a city - does not have the authority equivalent to its size. It should have an individual with the same authority and powers as a city or county manager. The name is not relevant. I would like to mention Galway city as an example in this context. Galway had a population of 38,000 when it went from being a town to being a city. Drogheda exceeds that significantly right now. I suggest that the criteria which applied when Galway was made a city some decades ago should now apply to places like Drogheda and Dundalk that have experienced phenomenal growth and have been designated as significant regional growth centres on the economic corridor between Belfast and Dublin.

During this legislative process, when he is deciding what should happen, the Minister of State should bear in mind that the CSO has informed me that the population of Drogheda will reach 50,000 by 2022 or 2023. That will be after the next census is taken. When Drogheda reaches the 50,000 milestone, it will meet the European and international designation of a city. The first thing that needs to be done by the Department and the Government is to recognise that this will happen. That happened to some extent when Drogheda was given its status as a regional growth centre. The second thing that needs to be done is to prepare for that. I understand that when Galway was made a city, the manager of the county of Galway was also designated as the city manager for Galway. That helped to ease the administrative process. Therefore, I suggest that the existing CEO of Louth County Council should now be designated as the manager of Drogheda. This would ensure continuity of management. When that person moves on, as everybody does, a new person should be appointed as the city manager of the conurbation of Drogheda. That is what happened in Galway and I think that is what should happen in Drogheda. In the interim, it is important that key planning, housing and administrative functions that have an impact on Drogheda and are administered locally would be subject to local decision-making. They should be based locally in the town. If the officials whom members of the public might want to meet were available in the local council offices, people would not have to travel to Dundalk. They could have their needs met at the local council office in Drogheda.

I mentioned a key part of the preparation for city status at a committee meeting that the Minister of State kindly attended some time ago. The growth that has happened up to now has been recognised. Additional administrative personnel need to be put in place in key areas to care for the town of Drogheda. They should be based locally. Obviously, they would be accountable to the county council in the short term - the local elections are next June - but they would ultimately become the officials of the new city of Drogheda. That would be a welcome and important development and would meet the town's key growth needs. As I have said, the population of Drogheda is 40,000 at present. Planning has been granted in respect of 7,000 extant applications in the northern environs of Drogheda. This means that two or three years from now, 7,000 new homes will have been built or will be in the course of being built in the town. This will add to the existing population in Drogheda. If we assume that three or four people will live in each of these 7,000 houses, we can estimate that an additional 20,000 people will be living locally. I am not including in any of my commentary the parts of east Meath that adjoin the town of Drogheda. I see a very hard and hearty Deputy for County Meath looking at me.

I am listening very closely.

I am aware of the problems that exist in the locality. I am particularly aware of the wishes of Meath jersey holders, who are very good footballers. Unfortunately, we have trouble catching up with them when we are playing games of football. I am not speaking about the issues relating to east Meath that have been raised by other parties. I do not think it will be necessary to take over bits of County Meath for the purposes I am talking about.

The population that will exist in the county of Louth will be the equivalent of 50,000 or extremely close to that.

If there has to be a movement of some people the Minister of State will more than meet his target if the railway just south of Drogheda and the conurbation there is brought into Drogheda. The majority of the people who live there would be very happy to be part of the town because they live, shop, go to school and attend the hospital there. It is made for that but that would not affect or change the county boundary which is very important. That is the way forward. I have spoken to the Minister of State, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, the Taoiseach and many other people about this.

It is different in other counties. I do not know much about Longford other than that Longford has a county town. In Kerry, the county town is Tralee. County Louth has two of the biggest towns in the country. They have huge demands and needs. I can talk to the Minister of State after today's debate about this. This would be of great advantage to the local community. It will add to a centre which the Minister of State has identified as a regional growth centre. It will make local democracy, power and decision making accountable.

Reading the annals of Drogheda Borough Council which goes back to the 12th century-----

There was a County Drogheda once.

There was "the County of the Town of Drogheda" which was abolished in the 1890 local government reform. At one stage-----

The Deputy can see I do my homework.

At one stage, we had a Member of Parliament, MP. I would not object to having been the MP at that time.

There is a very fine MP there at the moment.

An excellent one, the very best.

The Deputies should not be engaging in cross talk.

I cannot hear him but I know he is echoing my views.

It is serious and if that were to happen I would have done my job as a Deputy for my area. I believe the Minister of State is fully aware and alert to the issue.

The restoration of local power is important and I welcome the changes the Minister of State is making. I was a member of a council for 27 years or more. The difficulty arises when councillors may not wish to make an unpopular decision. Deputy Kelleher was a Minister of State and he knows at first hand the problems in making unpopular decisions. If we leave them to officials, for example, the councillor can avoid it and blame the officials but that is not good enough in today's local democracy. I know the Minister of State intends to give additional powers to the directly elected chairperson or mayor of councils, which would include the city of Drogheda. That person would have to be accountable and would have the powers but would have to be accessible and available. That is a fair deal for democracy because there is local control and administration and there is direction to the officials on what should be happening. If the mayor does not do his or her job, he or she goes. That is the way it should be.

The climate we live in now is better than when the former Minister who happened to be from County Kilkenny abolished many of the councils. That was the wrong decision.

Good man, Deputy O'Dowd.

It was absolutely wrong.

As the Deputies opposite know, they caused the collapse of the economy and we were in debt all over the place but that was a bad decision. Now is the time to redress the wrong that was done. I know the Minister of State will comment on this in his reply.

The irony is not lost on us of speaking today about borders and boundaries. The following lines from Patrick Kavanagh's poem "Epic" come to mind:

I have lived in important places, times

When great events were decided, who owned

That half a rood of rock, a no-man's land

The Deputy should continue the quote: "And old McCabe stripped to the waist".

Indeed and I suppose it could read: "That was the year of the [Brexit] bother." Borders and boundaries matter. We can understand why people have strong views about their locality because they have strong ties to the area they live in which is part of their make-up as individuals and as communities, and they form strong bonds through the GAA and other sporting organisations. All these things come into play when people talk about boundaries.

In Cork it is slightly different from Drogheda because it is not a question of transferring out of one county into another. The same applies in south Kilkenny and it was a contentious issue in Waterford as well. As a citizen who will now be living in the city when previously I resided in the county and as a public representative for the past 25 years for the area that will include all of the new city council area, which has come in from the county, I know this is not very contentious because there was a protracted discussion after the Smiddy report which recommended one authority. That did not gain enough traction or support there or in this House. We then moved to a conciliatory approach ending with this Bill.

I have been on record for a long time as saying that Cork City Council needed a boundary extension. In times past, we measured boundary extensions in metres, 400 m or 500 m, here and there, which had no significant impact on the city, as the metropolitan area, to plan for its citizens and the region beyond. Just as Dublin is my capital city, Cork is our city of the region, not just for the citizens who live in it but for those who use it from time to time. For that to be the case, it has to plan with a strategic long-term vision. This boundary extension will allow that to happen.

It is important to consider what has happened to date with this and previous boundary extensions. When there is minimal change, it does not encourage the local authority outside the city borough area to spend on the periphery of the boundary. That has been very evident in my constituency, Cork North Central, and particularly in the investment that should have gone into the county environs of the north side of the city because it knew that at some stage in the future it would be transferred to the city. Why then would it invest in it? When there is no investment in those areas it is the citizens, the people who reside on the boundary, who suffer most. They suffer for a few reasons, incompetent planning or lack of a strategic vision for the area and then lack of investment in infrastructure and the public realm. That has happened all over the constituency I represent, from Knocknaheeny down to the Mallow Road, across to Kilbarry, Ballyvolane, up into Banduff, Mayfield and Lotamore. There has been ad hoc development in all those areas for a long time. There was no strategic planning whatsoever. At least from the point of view of the boundary extension we will now leap well into the county area so that the city can plan strategically for the next 50 or 100 years. It could not do that until now. It always had to build within its own footprint. It was not able to cater for the citizens who reside in the urban area and could not expand to ensure that it could have proper investment, and strategic planning to allow for a city to grow in a way that would benefit citizens who live there and who come to work and socialise there.

From that perspective, I have always said we need a boundary extension.

The Minister of State knows as well as I do that once one puts a pen to a map, there will be strong views in some quarters. By and large, there have not been considerable objections but strong views have been aired on the issue of Blarney and Tower being brought into the city area. These were expressed by the county council as a collective through its mayor and chief executive officer. I am sure the views were also conveyed to the Minister of State. These views, expressed by some local public representatives and the county council as a collective, have not gone away. I find it amazing that there has been commentary by public representatives who are much further from the proposed boundary than I am. They seem to have very strong views on what should happen and believe there should be no boundary extension. Everybody has to accept that we need to address that.

I refer to compensation and the need to ensure the citizens of the new Cork County Council area will not experience a reduction in the standards they expect from investment due to the loss of a rates base to the city council. There are many proposals on this in the legislation, not least on the issue of a review "not later than ten years" after the first making of a financial settlement. Of course, the county council would not like it to occur before ten years. There is merit in some of the arguments put forward, however. If in the years ahead local authorities have borrowing requirements, as I imagine will be the case, they will need to have certainty on balance sheets, assets, liabilities and income. If they want to invest in housing, water and sewerage infrastructure or whatever else is required in public-realm investment, they will need to know what their balance sheet is. With uncertainty, it would be difficult for them to raise or borrow money. This is a key point to be examined. We need to tie this down. That there is to be a review "not later than 10 years" means it could come very quickly, which could undermine the new county council’s ability to fund itself with certainty in the years ahead. I would like the Minister of State to examine this. Our spokesman, Deputy Shane Cassells, has also raised this. There is merit in addressing some of the concerns that exist.

These concerns are highlighted by the council itself. It has concerns over being able to fund the peripheries of the county, as stated by Deputy Michael Collins. The large rates base comes from the area that was previously around the city, including industrial parks. To lose a lot of this rates revenue is fine if the compensation is certain for a number of years, but having no certainty diminishes the county council’s ability to invest.

We must also discuss the quality of life of citizens, where citizens reside, and future investment and planning. I have referred to the extension of the boundary. There is no doubt that there has been poor planning and vision for the north city environs, to say the very least. The only major public transport infrastructure we have is a two-line railway from Mallow to Glounthaune junction. There is then a single line to Cobh and Midleton. Regardless of what the Minister of State does, I would like him to consider the fact that along the railway line car salesrooms and warehouses have been built but people have been housed miles from the line. If one takes the train to Mallow from Midleton train station, it journeys through an industrial park of low-density warehouses, panel beaters' shops and car salesrooms. It then passes through farmland at Water Rock, where it is now proposed to build thousands of houses. This is fine as it is along the railway line. One then reaches Little Island and Glounthaune. There are very fine car salesrooms there. In fact, I bought a car from one of them myself. The point, however, is that I never envisage somebody going on a train to Harvey Norman to buy a bed, and I certainly do not envisage him or her going to a car salesroom on a train to buy a car. There is a good chance that one would drive to these places. We have not used wisely the infrastructure available to us.

After Little Island, one journeys into the city, out through the tunnel and towards Blarney. The first major park one meets is Blarney Business Park, which is full of car salesrooms, and there is also an NCT centre. We are squandering a very important asset, namely a railway line that should be used to move people from high-quality residential areas to areas of high-quality work. There should not be spread-out industrial parks in which there is no high-density employment. They contain warehouses primarily, except in Little Island. In general, there has been appalling use of critical infrastructure for which any other city would give an awful lot. The Minister of State should consider this and encourage local authorities to act. I blame Cork County Council for this because it was primarily responsible. Whoever dreamed up the plan was not using the public infrastructure that has been in place for a long time wisely and correctly. It was mismanaged from that perspective.

Overall, the city is small by international standards but it can grow and has considerable potential. It has critical mass, a deep-water port, an airport and some very fine infrastructure. There are also the people, who make any region. There is a major multinational base with pharmaceutical, medical devices and software companies.

There is one piece of infrastructure missing. I cannot blame the planners for it but I can blame the Minister of State and Government. I refer to the north ring road. A corridor was originally identified from the Glanmire bypass across the north city environs, over to Kerry Pike and down to Poulavone, Ballincollig. We need to get that back on the plan. More than anything else, it would open up the region to development. We all forget that the Jack Lynch Tunnel is now the only link in a modern region between the north and south. When the tunnel is closed for maintenance, chaos descends not only on the city but also on the region. Traffic from the north and east cannot gain access to deep-water ports, ferries, airports, hospitals or colleges. Therefore, we need to ensure an orbital route is provided. I do not expect it to be built today or tomorrow but it must be put in the long-term strategy envisaged for the region. I implore the Minister of State to talk to the powers-that-be to insist that an orbital route at least be included in the plan and design with a view to putting funding in place at some stage in the future. It is critical. If anything happens the tunnel, Cork city and the south Munster region close down, as was evident when there was flooding or other problems. If there is a catastrophic event in the tunnel or structural damage requiring it to be closed for a period, there will be major challenges. For all these reasons, I would like the Minister of State to consider the matter.

I concur on the concept of the boundary extension. I raised the fact that there was some horse-trading done between the two councils. One could argue it was distasteful at times. Certainly, the issue of Blarney and Tower was raised by the local authority itself, and it was the only area it asked us to highlight as a bridge too far or, I should say, a land too far. In general, however, a boundary extension is merited. It can allow the city to expand.

That should be done in a planned, meaningful way that benefits the residents who live there. There are turf wars between CEOs, councillors and Deputies, but the most important thing is that services are delivered for the people who reside there, be it in the county or the city.

I wish to deal with one aspect of this Bill, the situation in Galway. I compliment my colleague, Deputy Cassells, who has done a great deal of work on this. I also welcome the Minister of State's attitude towards the Bill and his good listening abilities. It is important to have a good listener and I hope he will be able to take on board some of the issues we are bringing to his attention.

I do not favour amalgamations of local authorities. The centralisation of everything is not workable, particularly in a small country. I dislike the idea of basing our local authority structure on somewhere in Europe. Ours is one of the smallest areas of Europe and we are going to be different. That is why centralisation is not a good idea. I have a serious issue with part of this Bill and the debate on Galway. There are more than 275,000 people in Galway city and county, and to amalgamate the city and county is the wrong decision. The Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, and Deputies Fitzmaurice and Ó Cuív are present and they have far greater experience than I have of the situation but I believe we are increasingly taking power away from places such as Galway.

One example is the demise of the town councils. The demise of the town council in Ballinasloe, which has a population of more than 7,000, was a bad decision. There was a popular debate in the House on abolishing all town councils but that was an unwise debate. When one talks to the people in Ballinasloe, from every part of the town, they say that they feel part of their voice has gone and that the local authority is not able to look after everything. Ballinasloe has been badly hit but it is fighting back. It is important that our policy on town councils is implemented and is part of this Bill. The people of Ballinasloe tell me frequently that they want the restoration of a town council because most of the time it has a good and positive function for the town. Given the expanse of Galway city and county and its population, we should not be amalgamating but trying to give back more power. We should keep the county council and the city council and bring back town councils for places such as Ballinasloe. It will give people in the community the voice they need.

When I want something done in the Ballymoe and Castlerea area or in Deputy Fitzmaurice's area - he will get the same answer - I am told that the job cannot be done this year because there is no funding. The starving of funding is a massive issue and is very bad in Galway County Council. There have been issues with funding for a long time, as has been outlined by Deputies Connolly and Grealish. Other Deputies will outline it too. The power of councils has been drastically reduced. Even in the case of roads, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, appears to be getting a great deal of control. It is increasingly eating into an area that was under the control of councils. The same happened with water. With regard to planning, councillors are finding it extremely difficult even to make basic genuine representations on behalf of people. It is hard to make any type of progress. Of course, it is an executive function but it is an extremely difficult area and it is hard to make progress on it. I have serious reservations about the Bill in respect of Galway city and county councils.

I wish to mention something else before I conclude. I accept it is not relevant to the Bill but we had a great debate in the House about Monksland, Athlone, which is part of Roscommon County Council. There was a recommendation that it would be annexed and go into Athlone in County Westmeath. That caused huge annoyance in our county. The Minister of State probably knows that 27,000 people signed a petition. Can he confirm that this is done and dusted, that there will be no more interference there and that Monksland, Athlone, will stay within the County Roscommon boundaries?

Cuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht seo faoi rialtas áitiúil i gContae na Gaillimhe agus i gcathair na Gaillimhe, a bhaineann go háirithe leis an teorainn idir Comhairle Contae na Gaillimhe agus Comhairle Cathrach na Gaillimhe. I welcome this debate. We have often discussed the need for strong regional balance in the country and the majority of us agree that the west coast has to develop further in comparison to the east, the capital city and its hinterland, in terms of quality of life and affordability, even for people living in Dublin. As a Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development, I was a strong supporter of the Atlantic economic corridor and the potential along the west coast from Derry, Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo and Roscommon down through Galway, Clare, Limerick and Kerry. A strong Galway, like a strong Cork, Limerick and Sligo, is in everybody's interest.

What we have at present is a strong Galway city. There is no doubt about that. Many colleagues who visit the city talk about the vibrancy, activity and what is happening in terms of culture, night life, sport and so forth. Even during the downturn Galway city did well. There is a strong hinterland around Galway city. My area of Moycullen, Barna, Oranmore and Claregalway are also doing well because many of the people who live in that hinterland work in Galway city. There is already an interconnection between the city and county, with people living in Moycullen but working in National University of Ireland Galway, NUIG, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT, hospitals or foreign direct investment industries.

A number of options were considered by the committee, including an expansion of the city boundary. I have always been fearful of this. I listened to Deputies talk about the great history of Galway city. Of course there is that history, but we must remember that the present structures came into being in the 1980s. They were in abeyance for a period of time and came back in 1985 under a local government Act at the time. With regard to the talk about an extension of the city boundary, it might be quite simple in some areas. For example, in Barna there is just the Barna Woods between Barna and the city. In other areas it would be much more difficult.

My concern about the city expansion is the impact it would have on the rates base of the county. Deputy Kelleher mentioned that with regard to Cork. In 1985, when it was done previously and there was an expansion of the city boundary, there was a compensation mechanism. That has come under the spotlight of some of the city councillors to a degree recently. They cannot believe compensation is still being paid since 1985 and they question the merit of it, but it is very important for rebalancing. Not only is one losing the businesses that were there when the boundary extended, one is also losing the potential of further businesses based on the lands that were also acquired. Sometimes I joke with my city colleagues who are against expansion, although it is not a joking matter, by telling them they do not have enough land to bury the dead and must come to the county to try to find a graveyard. There are real issues between the city and county, but the rates base is of particular concern.

I have often heard Deputies compare Galway to Mayo and Clare. Mayo has at least three strong towns, Westport, Castlebar and Ballina, which have considerable rates bases. Clare has a strong town in Ennis with a strong rates base. That helps the county base in those counties. Galway has a very strong rates base in the city, which means extra revenue for the city council at the expense of the county.

There are other towns, such Moycullen, Barna, Oranmore, Claregalway, Tuam, Ballinasloe, Loughrea and Clifden but the potential we are losing in Galway city has an impact on the county. I hear people talking about the impact on peripheral areas but in a unified area where there would be a stronger rates base and potential, there would be more money to be spent on peripheral areas of a county.

It was stated that 99% of local representatives in Galway are against this but I do not agree. Many councillors have indicated support or that they are at least open to consideration of this amalgamation, although there is the important caveat that has been discussed regarding funding. Currently, funding for Galway county is below average and it has been below average for at least 20 years. Any change needs to be backed up with funding and intent would be best demonstrated by providing that increased funding now, prior to amalgamation. In fairness to the local authority members, when they raised the local property tax for 2017, they decided not to do it for 2018 as they did not feel rewarded by central government. It is an issue that has been discussed with the Minister of State and officials.

There is existing co-operation between city and county, including libraries and fire services, and there is very easy potential to be realised on roads and the arts. These include the Galway city ring road, which would be a joint effort between the councils, although there is agreement that it is being led by the county council. The sewerage system on Mutton Island is serving some of the county as well in Barna and Oranmore, where there are connections. I have mentioned funding and we need to get it to at least the average and, ideally, above average. We must ensure in any amalgamation, if it happens, that there would be stronger municipal districts with power and a set budget. In an amalgamation, there should be a dispersal of funding to the peripheral areas as well.

We must ask why an amalgamation would be considered. The main advantage of an amalgamated council is that a critical population and strength would emerge for Galway. It would punch above its weight in funding and investment. We have done well with foreign direct investment but having what would be one of the largest local authorities in the country could only be advantageous to us. This is again with the caveat that additional funding would be generated and disbursed on a regional basis, which is a requirement.

Many people have spoken about the dispersal of councillors in any new system. Councillors would be elected based on population, with the greater populations in the city or areas around the city. That is a concern and I am not sure how it can be addressed; it is a concern even within the county as it is with respect to boundaries. Even with the most recent review, there was a large area from Callownamuck and Rosscahill all the way across to Oughterard, Camus, Rosmuc, Carraroe, Kilkieran, Clifden and Deputy Ó Cuív's area in Cornamona, Clonbur, Cong and Inishbofin. It is a huge geographical area represented by four councillors. That is an issue. I do not know whether an amalgamation will expedite a resolution to this imbalance. Could one argue that with the strength of the city and county together - their revenues and potential - there could be better redistribution following the amalgamation?

The Bill before us is predominantly about Cork but addresses the issue of a new chief executive. The existing set-up of having an acting county manager for a number of years in Galway is not ideal for the individual in question or in terms of certainty for the county. If the legislation is approved by the Dáil and Seanad, subject to Members' wishes, I ask that the Minister of State ensure that certainty is provided and that these changes take place. Everything I say comes with funding in mind, as it is very important for any local authority. Galway has done poorly for a number of years now in respect of funding. I ask that this be put to the top of the list in considering amalgamated local authorities. I also ask for intent to be shown before this happens by looking at funding of Galway County Council in particular, especially funding distribution. Galway is such a large area, with a big coast and offshore islands, so there are costs associated with infrastructure in those areas. I ask that the model for the distribution of the local property tax and other sources of funding be examined. From the figures I have seen, it seems that the funding process is not advantageous for Galway county. It is in need of modernisation and bringing it in line with where Galway county is.

I listened with interest to Deputy Kyne and my other colleagues from Galway. The Deputy made a thoughtful contribution and we are having the debate that should have taken place over the past three years. However, the great and the good that decide our destinies in the Custom House decided that the last people who should be brought into the centre of this process are Oireachtas Members or local authority members. We were peripheral to this from the beginning. Expert groups are the new way of getting a view as they know better than all of us. If I want technical information, I go to an expert but if I want political information, I go to the people who stand on the ditches and get elected. The big difference is that the elected person must take the complexity of life into account rather than the narrow confines of an expert group dealing with a specific point of expertise.

We had a debate about this matter at our parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday. Deputy Cassells did not manage to attend. It was agreed at the meeting that we would support the Bill because we are in favour of the expansion of Cork city but we would not support the devious process in place in Galway. We oppose that. I hope the majority of the House opposes it. Every Deputy in Galway West, with the exception of the Government Deputies, who are in an invidious position, would do that. The other three Deputies oppose this.

We can go back to the arguments in favour of amalgamation, as this is amalgamation by stealth. The idea of putting in one county manager is part of the squeeze that has been ongoing for a long time. It is the first step and we will be brought in gently until we are so far in, there will be no getting out. Deputy Kelleher quoted some high-brow poem a while ago but I will go to a nursery rhyme.

It was Patrick Kavanagh, in fairness. It was not that high-brow.

It is high-brow enough compared to what I will quote, "Sé dúirt damhán alla le míoltóigín tráth: 'Ó! Tar liom abhaile,". The Minister of State knows what happened the poor old míoltóigín. As spider said to the fly, come home with me. I do not know what it is in English and I do not know it all in Irish.

We know what happened to the fly that was promised all the goodies by the spider. When he went into the web he got eaten up.

If I hear another word about successful cities from economists, the great and good of society and business interests I will feel like exploding. Cities are fine. I grew up in a city. They are certainly fine for certain classes of people but there is huge misery in cities and if anyone doubts it they should come to my clinic next Monday. I face more intractable problems in my clinic in Galway city than I do in my clinic in Connemara. I get more people coming in saying there is nowhere to live in Galway city than I do in Connemara. I get more people coming in saying they have neighbours from hell or they are in an area riddled with drugs in Galway city than I do in Connemara. When I hear of successful cities, and I hear how successful this city is, I recognise that the neck of the woods I grew up in and still stay in when I am here in very successful as it is in the embassy belt but I also recognise there are many places to which I could bring people in the city, and some of them are not far from the House, that the Government itself will say are the basket cases of all basket cases in the country. This is despite the measures it and the Minister, Deputy Ring, always boast about. What is the north city special task force for? Why do I see gardaí in the street with submachine guns if they are in successful cities? Granted, the economy of the city is fine if I take it as a totality on average but averages are very deceiving. The reality is when I consider the good of people I look at the economic, social and cultural parameters and I ask just how good is it.

I heard what Deputy Kyne had to say, that there would be more money if all of the country areas were linked to the city, but I believe there are flaws in the argument. The first flaw is to accept that for a rural area to survive it has to be attached to a major urban area and that is how we finance local government. The consequence of this is quite scary for Donegal, Leitrim, Roscommon and all of the other counties that do not have major urban areas. If I take County Galway without the city it is as urbanised as any of those counties are in their totality. If Galway County Council cannot survive financially without the city, and if the same funding parameters are applied to County Galway as are applied to the other counties that do not have major urban conurbations, and there are more of them than counties with major cities in them, then by God they will also face a big problem financially.

The irony of pouring a lot more resources into cities is that they are inexhaustible in their demand for money. For example, and rightly so, we need a bypass for Galway city which would cost €700 million. When we have done that we then need to put in place a rapid transit system, which would cost another €300 million or €400 million. They are needed because that is what cities do. They gobble up money. If we had €600 million for roads in Connemara we would be fairly well fixed up and the Minister of State would be very happy as the Minister with responsibility for the Gaeltacht. We would not have any infrastructural problems. Not only that, but the infrastructure we would build would be sufficient for 20, 30 or 40 years. The reality is the centre always sucks in the wealth. If we walk around London, and I suggest people do and look at the magnificent buildings, and ask how were they built the answer is it sucked in the wealth from the empire. I do not blame it because that is what centres always do. The centre of power will attract the money particularly when it has the democratic mandate to do so, as it would in the case of the Bill.

I do not like living on people's goodwill. I am suspicious of it in the long term. Therefore, what I would say is fix the financing. Galway has purposely been treated very badly in terms of staff and money in recent years. There has been a policy in the Custom House to ensure there was no actual funding. The city is not that well off either, but when the county council came to me and stated it was short of money I tabled endless questions to the Minister of Housing, Planning and Local Government, or whatever iteration of that Department was there at the time, as to how local authorities are funded, how the cash is divvied out, what is the process and what is the formula. It took me question after question to get the formula. The Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, knows we had to have special meetings in Room A. This was two years after I tried to get the formula. All I wanted to know was how it is done. I could not understand it because from my experience of local authorities, those in Leitrim and Donegal were better off than that in Galway and no rational explanation was given for this. Was it based on the population, the topography, the dispersal of the people or the conglomeration of the people? What was it dispersed on? Talk about obfuscation. The only conclusion I could come to was the formula suited because if people are squeezed hard enough they will do what one wants them to do. It is the same with staff. There has been an acting county manager for the past four or five years. As far as I am concerned it should be like a Secretary General whereby the day one walks out somebody else should walk in. The Civil Service manages to do this all of the time. Many of the rest of the senior staff, such as the director of services, are acting. It is the same with the city council. As I said, I believe the squeeze is on.

Let us look at what would happen from an elected member's point of view. Currently, Galway County Council has 39 elected members and the city has 18, giving a total of 57. I am told if there was an amalgamated local authority in time it would reduce to 40 members. Immediately the more peripheral areas with non-expanding populations would find the very thin representation on the ground they have would begin to melt. Then I would pull out that great plan for 2040, the plan that states Galway city will grow by 40,000 people. I do not think the Government will get its wish. It will grow like a melting ice cream within ten and 15 miles of the city.

I do not believe everybody will live in dense houses in city centres but the Government can dream on. I hope I am around in 20 years time for more great planning by the great planners. If the Government wants to do what it wants to do it should bring in a communist state because the only way it will ever get people to do what it wants them to do it is to force them to do it with a communist state. A half-way house is a mess. The Government writes its plan thinking the people will do what it wants them to do but the people will do what they want to do. They will live in the communities they want to live in because that is what they will choose to do. No matter how much the Government plans the other way they will not go there. As I said, dream on.

Within ten or 15 miles of the city there will be an extra 40,000 people. Beyond that we might get small growth but it will be marginal and Government will make sure it is marginal by starving it of the very basic water, broadband and road infrastructure that is badly needed. Take the local electoral area of north Connemara, as it is called, which is really north south-east Connemara without a sliver. We will call it north Connemara for some reason. It is about 40 miles.

I am a bit old fashioned so I will talk about miles. I have spent my life doing a mental arithmetic exercise in this regard. By dividing 40 miles by six, one gets the number of kilometres. The area is approximately 40 miles by 20 miles, which works out to 800 square miles. That is a lot of territory. However, when that contains an offshore island and any amount of bays, peninsulas or whatever, the actual driving distances are much greater.

At the moment, that area has four councillors. I have not had a chance to carry out a detailed extrapolation, but my guess is that in 20 years' time we would be lucky to have two councillors covering the entire area. The chances are they will live in the eastern part of the area. It will be the same thing down in Portumna and in Dunmore. Does the Minister of State really think that two councillors will be able to fight against the great forces gathered around the city in order to get the resources suddenly to go west or east? As they fail to do that, these areas will decline further. They certainly will not grow and the rest will be history.

We need to have a debate on what we are trying to build. Are we trying to build an economy for the sake of doing so and in the interests of our GDP or are we building an economy for the sake of the people and their quality life? We also need to think about the culture. I do not mean the narrow view of language or whatever. Since human beings were created, there have been artists, storytellers and so on. Anybody who ignores the value of the culture of any people ignores something fundamental to human beings. In the modern world, people always want to talk about what they can measure.

During the rod licence controversy, an accusation was made about those who were defending our lakes against the rod licences being imposed, unfortunately, by a Fianna Fáil Government. They accused the opponents of rod licences of being emotional. To accuse someone of being emotional can be a knockout blow. I attended a meeting of our local party organisation and the chairman, a very wise man, a schoolteacher who had been very involved in the anti-rod licence campaign spoke. He gave one of the most effective speeches I ever heard. It was not very long and I will rehearse it. He said:

They accused us of being emotional. Do you know what? We are emotional. But when you think about it we are born out of emotion, we get married for emotional reasons and it is very emotional when we die. Those are the three biggest things in our lives. Who says emotion doesn't count?

He left it at that - point taken. In all of those major decisions in our lives, rationality is completely trumped by the more cerebral considerations.

I will give some amazing and scary evidence of where we are heading. The expert group wrote a second report in which it suggested bringing together the organisations which deal with industry in the region. It referred to IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and so on. We are talking about an area with the strongest Gaeltacht in the entire country. The headquarters of Údarás na Gaeltachta - the industrial authority for all the Gaeltacht regions in the country - is located only five or six miles from Galway city. Did the expert group mention that Údarás na Gaeltachta should be represented at that meeting? No, because that is not what the group is about; it is about the city and its environs. The hinterlands can go to America as far as it is concerned as long as nothing is done in them.

We will be opposing the Bill. Centralisation is not always right. We are becoming a more centralised and controlled society than ever.

Between now and St. Patrick's Day we will see small parishes taking on the best with some winning and some losing. Corofin, six-in-a-row county champions, beat all the city teams and all the teams from the big towns. It will be interesting to see what will happen between a team from the city, which I have to support on Sunday because that club is located in the constituency of Galway West, against St. Thomas's. However, St. Thomas's does not even have a town. These little parishes that play with the best represent the nowhere of the modern Ireland, the ones that do not exist in the spatial strategies. There is something in these rural parishes. I do not know what it is. Perhaps it is the drinking water that produces in small populations so many absolutely incredible sportspeople and community spirit. On Saturday, my club will contest the Connacht club junior final. We won the all-Ireland title in 2012. It will be a big event for an entire community in a way that just does not happen in the big towns and cities. What the Government seems to be saying is that is all very nice and very traditional and very cute, but it just does not really matter in the modern Ireland.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Local Government Bill 2018. As the Minister of State knows, it has taken some time to get here. There have been a number of attempts and various iterations. I welcome that the legislation providing for the expansion of the Cork city boundary is now before the House. I was probably in a minority in that I was open to the idea of a single authority in Cork, with a strong city at its core. However, that is history. The decision has been made. We will have two authorities, with the population of a greatly expanded Cork city increasing from approximately 125,000 to over 200,000. A city, of course, needs scale. In European terms Cork city, even with the revised boundary and the increased population, will still be a small city. In the context of investment and Cork having its rightful place on the European map as a significant city, it is important that it has an enlarged and growing population. Under the Government's Project Ireland 2040 plan, the intention is that over the coming two decades or so the population of Cork city will increase to between 320,000 and 360,000. That is, by any measure, quite a dramatic planned expansion of the city.

I commend the Fianna Fáil spokesperson, Deputy Cassells, on his work in respect of this issue. He engaged with different groups and stakeholders, and took on board the points they made. As Deputies, we have been approached by people from both local authorities in Cork - the city council and the county council. It is fair to say that while there is disagreement on certain issues, there is also considerable common ground. One of the key themes to emerge from those submissions and the meetings we have had is the need for certainty. The reality is that we are about to enter a new era in local government in Cork and both local authorities need certainty regarding funding for a decade and beyond.

The Minister of State will be aware of the points that have been made by the county council and its concern that the first review can happen in under three years. The longer review is scheduled to occur not later than ten years. It is concerned it will happen in much shorter timeframes. It is possible given the wording in the Bill. From a city council perspective, it wants to have certainty too. It has a different interpretation on some of the issues. It is not our function to take sides. The determining factor in making the decisions needs to be what is best for the citizens of Cork. For me it is all about the quality of service provided. I am a Deputy who represents both the city and county. That will continue to be the case because the town where I live, Carrigaline, and where I am from originally, Passage West, will remain within Cork county but other parts of the constituency in the county will transfer to the city. The greater Douglas area, for example, has been, for all intents and purposes, part of the city for a long number of years. It is reasonable that areas contiguous to the existing city boundary, into which the city has essentially expanded, would form part of Cork city. What is proposed goes much further than that but that is to allow the city council to plan over the medium to long term. That is also an important issue.

As we move forward in the next decade or so, the Government will have to really focus on the issue of regional development. Cork is the ideal counterweight to Dublin. Cork needs to be prioritised by way of investment. It is the second largest city in the State. It is the obvious place within which to continue to invest, particularly in the city centre. The docklands area is one of the most exciting brownfield sites with enormous potential for regeneration in our country. I hope it will receive the recognition it deserves and that Cork will secure significant funding under the urban and rural regeneration fund. I understand the first decisions are to be announced in respect of those funds quite shortly.

What really concerns people about local government is the quality of the services provided. Councils in Cork and right around the country need to prioritise basic services such as cleaning drains, footpath and road repair work, cutting verges and doing all the essential work that can have a real impact on people's quality of life if it is not done. It is obviously important for councils to have a wide remit to be involved in economic development and arts and culture and so forth but the focus has to be on the core services they provide. I would like to see the area offices and road crews who perform those essential functions get more funding and be given more priority by each local authority because they do the bread-and-butter work which keeps the show on the road at a very local level. It is important.

It is crucial under this new local government configuration in Cork that there is a joint approach adopted by the two local authorities on the key strategic issues and challenges facing the city and county. When it comes to planning, for example, there has to be co-ordination. When it comes to promoting Cork domestically and abroad, we want the two authorities to speak with one voice. We need a co-ordinated combined approach by the two councils in respect of the key strategic challenges we face.

We need to have a date for the transition period and when all of this will be concluded. I will go back to the point I made at the beginning about certainty. We need to have a date by which we know all this will be done so there will be no lack of clarity and no confusion about who citizens are to contact for the provision of the basic services I spoke about earlier. We have local elections coming up next May which present an immediate challenge in that respect.

While we are on the issue of local government, the decision to abolish the town councils needs to be revisited. I cut my teeth politically on a town council. It was a former town commission in Passage West. It is certainly true to say it had very few powers but it had the power of suasion. It forced senior local authority members and managers to come to the town every month to sit around the table and be held accountable and for us to seek an update the following month in respect of questions we put. That level of accountability has now been removed because the areas that have lost town councils are now part of much larger municipal districts and in some cases those small towns may not even have a councillor on the municipal district. Local democracy has been greatly diminished by the abolition of town councils. I ask the Minister of State and the Government for whatever period of time is left in the Dáil to move that issue forward. We need more democracy, not less. We need local government as close as possible to the citizens it is designed to serve. It was a terrible mistake and it is not too late to rectify it. Much damage has been done but I can testify having spent eight years on a town council to the value of the work that is done there. Where I served had very little power because it was not an urban district council, it was a town commission. It had very little by way of financial resources but it was really important for the people it served. The local citizens knew who to go to. They had plenty of local town councillors who were a very effective conduit between the citizen and the county council. That needs to be revisited and reinstated.

I will leave it at that. I welcome the Bill. I am glad this issue is moving on. I ask the Minister of State to study very carefully the issues raised by both councils in Cork. They are very legitimate issues. There is much common ground. There is some difference of opinion and interpretation. The Minister of State should let his guiding light be what is best for the citizens and what will deliver the best quality services to the people of Cork city and county into the future. That is my primary concern as we finalise these new arrangements.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. While I understand that most of the Bill is concerned with Cork, I see a small piece, perhaps an afterthought, put in for Galway. Galway should have its own identity. I heard people speak about Galway earlier. There is a huge problem with staffing in Galway. The Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, and Deputy Ó Cuív outlined it very well. Some people might be hung up about people being in acting positions. I am not too worried about it because people are either able to do their jobs or they are not and if they are not, it is not difficult to move them on. In Galway there is a huge concern. I will ask the Minister of State to do one thing. For the sake of Cork, people will not go hammering against the Minister of State in the first round but there are a few rounds to this fight. The Bill will go to Committee Stage and come back to the Dáil. I ask the Minister of State that Department officials meet the representatives of Galway. A lot of money needs to come to the table. There is 100,000 km of road in Galway. It has one-twentieth of all the road in Ireland. It has one of the worst budgets available from the Department. I am not blaming the Minister of State's Department but the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and people from the Minister, Deputy Donohoe's Department. Someone has to come to the table with money. There is huge concern for the municipal district. Galway is 100 miles from one end to the other. There is huge concern. It is touched by Clare, Mayo and Roscommon and there are people out-----

The Minister of State is correct. Fair play to him. Tipperary also touches it. There are a lot of people on the periphery who are concerned. Near Creggs, the guys who go along cutting the hedge will not cut it on the right-hand side for about 100 yards because it is in Roscommon. It worries people because they think if there is a merger of city and council they will be forgotten about completely.

We must ensure that the municipal districts get the funding they need. It must be ring-fenced. It must not be a mere promise or they will not buy into the process. Deputy Ó Cuív outlined Fianna Fáil's position. The Minister of State is a reasonable person, but promises are not enough. The money must be given before anything happens. Promises will no longer work because there is a genuine fear. Galway is unusual because it has several islands. I am no expert on the islands because I am from the other side of Galway. As was pointed out earlier, Údarás na Gaeltachta has its headquarters in the county. These are the concerns. There are a few large towns, such as Ballinasloe, that need investment.

My area was affected by the redrawing of the boundaries. We were looking to the west but we will now look to the south. It is a totally new area. In fairness, the redrawing may be suitable and a good decision for the Deputies in Galway or Roscommon to cover the area. However, some of the councillors in the area are being put into a corner whereby they will be unable to get a couple of hundred votes because of the way it has worked out. That is a major problem.

Galway County Council does not have the staff to put contracts out to tender. The staff has been decimated over the years. I know every council got some staff but Galway got more than any of them. I do not know if it was because of people retiring or what, but the result is that it struggles to have enough staff, even in the municipal districts, to do up contracts even if they were to be subbed out. To be brutally honest, I do not believe in wasting money or in having two or three people running something together that could be run by one. I am not in favour of that. If there is one good person, that is fine. Shared services are important to ensure that we operate as efficiently as possible.

I am not au fait with much of this but my understanding is that there are problems with the mayorship of Galway and other places where councils have been amalgamated. Galway is unique because it is a city of heritage. It is the place to go in the west of Ireland if one is a tourist. Based on previous mergers, there does not seem to be a cohesive way of solving this mayoral issue because people always bicker about it, which is one thing that needs ironing out. I ask the Minister of State to meet the officials but I warn him that a great deal of money will be required in order to solve the problems. He needs to be able to compromise on matters for the sake of all the Deputies and elected representatives in the area.

I made a submission to the so-called experts. There are experts for everything nowadays. As Deputy Ó Cuív pointed out, however, it is us who must go out and listen to people's views. We are Deputies and we are elected to be messengers of the people. While it might be acceptable for experts to consider A, B or C, we must try to cover every angle. There is much talk about income, rates and so on but, given Galway's size, much of it could be considered to be on the periphery of the county. People in those areas are worried that they will be mobbed by the city and they will not matter. It is comparable to Dublin and the rest of the country, but it will happen on a local level. These issues need to be addressed.

If an agreement is made in Cork, I do not expect many Deputies to block the Government's first step up the stairs. Before the Bill proceeds to Committee Stage, however, I ask the Minister of State to meet everyone involved in the Galway in order to see what can or cannot be done. The Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Kyne, supports the Government yet he highlighted many sensible issues and problems. He is on the ball. This is not political but rather about doing things right.

Monksland remains an issue. I know there is a similar situation in the Minister of State's region of Waterford and Kilkenny. The sooner an announcement is made in respect of these places in order to kill the matter once and for all, the better. I do not know if he plans to kill it but that is my hope. This blurring between Roscommon and Westmeath has gone on for too long. I hope he makes whatever announcements are necessary rather than lingering and wondering. The matter must be put to bed once and for all. What is in Roscommon should stay in Roscommon and the same is true of Westmeath.

This was a day when the Minister of State could have made a name for himself for ever by including Kilkenny in the consideration for city status. I heard Deputy Grealish and others discuss the significance of the corporation, as it was then, the urban council and so on. These bodies could learn from the experience of Kilkenny city, where the destruction of local government was begun in previous legislation brought in by the then Minister with responsibility, Noel Dempsey. In response to significant outcry from Kilkenny city, that Minister put into the legislation that Kilkenny would be recognised as a city for ceremonial purposes only. Since then, it has been all downhill for local democracy. That kind of destruction of local government was continued by the Minister of State's colleague, Phil Hogan, when he was the Minister with responsibility for local government.

Having worked in local government, and having been a member of the county council, surely the Minister of State would have seen at first hand "the need for local democracy", as Deputy Michael McGrath put it, and the pride local people have in local democratic structures. That pride no longer exists, as the Minister of State knows well because he can see the difference between the county council on which he served and the current one. It has nothing to do with the members but rather their ability to effect change and bring real democracy to their local area.

When the then Minister, Mr. Noel Dempsey, decided Kilkenny city was no longer a city, it was his decision. He dressed it up in the legislation, but it was a three-card trick and it was not okay. The Minister of State knows the value of a corporation or an urban council. He knows what a city needs and what people demand for democracy. We should, like France, look to the lower structures of our representative bodies, such as local councils. I encourage the Minister of State to restore city status to Kilkenny, to look at Galway and similar places and to ensure the need for a local council is central to any reform.

There must be a council for each city as well as a general county council representing that city council, which is how it functions best. People used to know their local councillors and were able to approach them directly about issues that affected their lives. Local organisations such as the Irish Farmers Association, the chamber of commerce and so on were able to engage with them. The rates were struck and the money was spent wisely.

With the changes that have been implemented, there is a major division between city and county and a massive scramble for the funds that are necessary in order to give life to a city. Cities and large urban centres are the centre of the economic development of counties.

There is also the historic value the medieval city of Galway, as Deputy Grealish described it. I could equally describe Kilkenny as the medieval capital of Ireland. Over the years, the corporation, as it was then, was central to the economic and social development not only of the city but also the county. We have lost that in the context of local government reform. We lost the direct input in the context of people's desire to have their local place recognised in a way that reflects their values. We did it, as did every party, but it caused terrible problems for local government. Previous speakers referred to local electoral areas, administrative functions and council staff. They also referred to local people knowing the staff and who to go to when there was a problem. That is no longer the case and people's democratic input into their councils has been weakened as a result

This legislation makes provision for plebiscites to ask people if they want directly-elected mayors. The Government ought to issue an instruction to the effect that there should be directly-elected mayors in Cork and Dublin. The mayors of other urban centres and cities should be the leading figures in their respective democratic structures. It should be they who lead local councils because this would restore the pride of people and members in the structures designed to represent us all. There is an opportunity in this Bill to correct the position in this regard. The Minister of State indicated that he will bring forward amendments. However, I had been led to believe that this was a done deal on foot of a headline that appeared in the Kilkenny People some time ago. I thought the Government would actually do this and restore the corporation or the urban council but instead, it is re-enforcing a botched job on councils throughout this country. From the perspective of finance, it does not cost much more, or perhaps the same, to have a corporation, a mayor, a county council and a chairman discussing and debating the issues of the county and reaching real decisions. However, when I go to a county council meeting and sit in the public gallery, I am struck by the number of reports they have to have in order to do anything. Perhaps that is why the Minister of State's colleague cannot build houses. The information about housing and everything else in the county or city is actually held by the local authority but we have outsourced the work to voluntary housing agencies and now nobody knows what is really happening. I am told that much of the delay is in the context of how the Department views these applications when they come before them. The delay in this regard is the reason that houses are not delivered.

Why do we not ask ourselves what happened in the past that we can learn from? In the 1950s and 1960s, when there was no money, huge local authority housing estates were built all over the country. People had the opportunity to rent their own home, and, following a period, could buy their own home. They could aspire to owning their own homes. It was a successful model that delivered. Surely the Minister of State could be pushed to ask the County and City Management Association what its members are doing that they cannot deliver the necessary houses. He must be tempted to do so. Is he not tempted to ask them why they cannot deliver CCTV in conjunction with the Garda in Urlingford, County Kilkenny, and similar places? Why is that bureaucratic obstacle there? I think it is because the members of the council have been deprived of the right to instruct the chief executive - previously the county manager.

The Minister of State makes much play in this Bill of a county manager being one person, a chief executive, but he knows that in Kilkenny we had a county and city manager, Paddy Donnelly, for years. Mr. Donnelly did not merely run the council effectively and efficiently, he promoted Kilkenny, he developed it and he supported the mayor and chairman of the council to achieve what they wanted. Once that model is in place and working, it restores people's pride in their own place and in their public representatives. Regardless of what criticisms can be made of politics, the mayor was always respected and supported. Now we have people in Galway appealing to the Minister and Deputy Fitzmaurice asking the Minister of State to meet. The Minister of State comes from that background and I encourage him, as someone who is young in political terms but who has served in many different positions, to take the best of what he learned from there and not allow the County and City Management Association to tell him what to do.

In his heart and soul, the Minister of State knows what needs to be done. He knows that the power must be tilted from the chief executive to the members. In the context of the debate on the Bill, he is being told to do that. I recall the recent Carlow-Kilkenny by-election at which Deputy Bobby Aylward was elected. When constituents were asked, it emerged that major issues about which they were concerned were the restoration of Kilkenny corporation, reinstating city status and the position of mayor. Those of us on this side of the House committed to that as part of the by-election. If that is to mean anything, young Deputy Cassells, who is sitting in front of me, should cross the Chamber to the Minister of State and tell him that, as part of the confidence and supply arrangement, we must deliver on that promise, otherwise it was a con job on the people. We cannot have that in politics, can we? The Minister of State has a great deal of scope in this area. There are many things that he can do to change the current situation and restore the better parts of that which existed in the past and create the type of confidence in local government that is needed at this point.

The way I think chief executives work - I might be wrong in this regard - is that they agree to fix a pothole for a councillor or to allocate a house. They listen to councillors but, in return, the latter must vote for the budgets put forward. Councillors might get potholes fixed but, as a result of what I have just outlined, the budgets of local authorities are not being administered correctly, efficiently or in the interests of the people we serve. The courting of members of local authorities goes on and on until a majority of councillors are entrapped in this game of promises to repair potholes, etc., while the bigger picture goes unaddressed.

The Minister of State needs to speak to those county managers and demand from them a standard in the delivery of the services for the public we represent of the highest order. It might be no harm if all the political parties were to meet their councillors and inject a bit of backbone into them to ensure that they acknowledge their obligations and responsibilities and act accordingly. That also needs to be done because it is a two-way street. The people are demanding it.

The Book of Estimates comes out at the end of each year and is gone through as quick as one would say a Hail Mary. The results are very different and one would have more hope with a Hail Mary than with the Book of Estimates.

The Minister of State is in a position in which few Ministers find themselves. I am not playing political games with him. I have said this to him privately. He is in a position to leave his mark on the Department, turn it back towards democracy, enlighten the local authority members as to their role in a new democratic process and strengthen the role of mayors and that of chairpersons versus that of chief executives.

I would consider them to be a board and they should be directing the person who is being paid by the State to do his or her job.

In many counties, mayors or chairmen are down the list in terms of recognition while paid officials make it look as if it is their domain and that they have brought about these wonderful changes. Without the representatives that the public elect, we would not have those changes. However, we have not given those public representatives powers. This Bill could deliver powers to them. Deputies Fitzmaurice and Grealish have called on the Minister of State to meet those representatives. He does not have to hear what they have to say to know what has to be done. If he had the courage of his convictions, based on a real true experience he has had in politics, he could do this. He can take the advice of his officials but not be led by it; he should be led by his own experience. He should give Kilkenny its city status as promised. Let us continue with a proper democratic structure. It now all rests on the Minister of State's shoulders.

That sounds like a very good point at which to hand over to the Minister of State to reply.

I will try to get through as many of the points raised as possible. In that context, I tend to take too many notes. I thank the Members who contributed to the debate. More than expected did so.

Deputy Cassells spoke first and expressed emotions, which I have felt myself in the past, about the campaign by members of Louth County Council to extend their remit into County Meath. I know how those particular matters can be very contentious locally. The Deputy also referred to the boundary of the town of Navan and said that the zinc mine is in the county council area. The Deputy raised the restoration of town councils with me previously. I have stated on the record - Deputy McGuinness might have been present when I did so - that the best thing the former Minister and now European Commissioner, Phil Hogan, did was abolish town councils. I do not know how any democrat could stand over a situation where a select few people get two ballot papers in a local election while everybody else gets one. I do not subscribe to having two levels of representation at local level for some while the rest of us just have one. However, there should be a properly integrated local government structure between urban and rural areas. Deputy Cassells indicated his support for the Cork city boundary extension and the proposed merger of the councils in Galway. Perhaps the meeting to which Deputy Ó Cuív referred took place at a different time.

He was told to do that.

Deputy Cassells requested more specifics on the financial arrangements, but particularly the timeframe for the handover in Cork and when any compensation package can be reviewed. It is very much the intention that the ten-year mark would be the point at which such a review would take place. The Deputy spoke about transferring assets and liabilities under sections 9 and 11. The legislation is quite clear on the transfer of such assets and liabilities. Deputy Cassells sought detail on the cross-boundary committees covering joint urban areas. Those are specifically designed for places such as Drogheda, Waterford, Limerick and Athlone. Their purpose will be to take a strategic look, from a planning perspective, at the urban centres that cross county boundaries in order to see how we might develop them properly in the future in an agreed way. No boundaries will be moved because, as the Deputy stated, they are an emotive issue, particularly in an Irish context.

Will there be statutory powers?

Yes, we intend to establish them on a statutory footing. The powers they will have will be primarily in the area of forward planning and transport. Currently, such functions are not adequately performed by local authorities. A good example of co-operation, perhaps even the best example in the country, is at Graiguecullen, which straddles the boundary between Carlow and Laois. The authorities there have been co-operating for approximately 50 years and nobody comments much about it. They have agreed that certain functions are performed by the local authority in Carlow in respect of an area that stretches into County Laois. In terms of these joint structures, if the two local authorities agree to give specific additional roles to them, they will be able to do so. Deputy Murphy O'Mahony spoke about the need for a quick resolution in respect of Cork. She is correct in that regard. That is the primary purpose of this legislation. Deputy O'Keeffe spoke about the role of councillors. The Deputy served as a councillor for a long period. He said that this is an important role and that councillors had lost functions in recent years. I would point out to the House that Sara Moorhead, SC, is conducting a review not only in respect of councillors' pay and remuneration, on which I expect to have an interim report in the next week or so, but also on the role of councillors. She is also considering additional functions we can give them.

I am a firm believer in what Deputy Connolly spoke about, namely, performing functions at the level closest to the people. She laughed when social welfare was mentioned in that context. In some parts of the world, certain aspects of social welfare are delivered by local government. We should not be constrained by our narrow Victorian system of local government that has only recently been overhauled. Our city, town and county council structure was introduced in 1898 and very little relating to it changed until the past 20 years. There are certain functions we have never performed at local authority level which should be performed at that level. Ms Moorhead's report will be finalised in the spring, before the local elections. Deputy O'Keeffe reluctantly accepted the findings of the Cork review group. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan expressed his concerns about Ballincollig and Blarney and said that people locally were surprised about the proposed boundary extension. The best answer in that regard was given by Deputy Kelleher, who referred to the need for the city to plan, expand and develop into the future. He referred to boundary extensions in the past that went 400 yds but, five years later, housing developments have extended beyond that distance. It is probably dangerous to move a boundary once but if we are going to move it, we have to allow for the expansion of the city of Cork into the future.

We want Cork to be the counterbalance to Dublin. It is the only other city in the country that could be accepted and considered to be a city internationally. We want to make it bigger. The population projections for other cities and towns in the national planning framework are also significant but Cork has the capability of being a real counterbalance to Dublin.

Deputy Ó Laoghaire referred to sheriffs and coroners. The laws governing the latter come under the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality. Changes to local government legislation do not automatically mean a knock-on change for coroners and sheriffs. The Department of Justice and Equality is liaising with officials in my Department about possible changes in the future. Our function is to establish the local government boundaries.

As well as speaking about the positive role played by Sinn Féin in this process, Deputy Ó Laoghaire raised the Mackinnon proposals for a wider economic area in Cork. In the next couple of weeks, I will be bringing to the Government a report on metropolitan governance which will encompass the idea of a broader economic area around Cork city which is not just confined to the newly expanded city boundary. Deputy Buckley spoke about the importance of the Cork brand.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan and others referred to the importance of public information about the changes, particularly in Galway. She also referred to the development of the Cork-Limerick road and the importance of the Waterford to Limerick road which is in the national development plan. There will be an opportunity for much more detailed consideration of directly-elected mayors and there will be a memorandum to the Cabinet about this, hopefully in the not-too-distant future. The memorandum will outline the extent of the powers of directly-elected mayors. I agree with Deputy McGuinness that the most significant redistribution of power at local government level would be from the executive to somebody who would be elected directly. This is not a question of creating a new role as we already have mayors and chief executives. It is a question of balancing those two roles. In the future, the mayor will perform many of the functions which are considered to be the chief executive's at present. There will be an exception in areas such as planning. Due to reports from several tribunals of inquiry, I do not believe it would be appropriate to make that change. There will also be exceptions with human resources and the hiring and firing of staff. I am a supporter of this proposal overall. The ultimate objective is that each local authority would have a directly-elected mayor. It is proper that it should be trialled and functions changed in future incarnations.

Deputy Connolly is not supporting the Bill. She criticised the composition of the 2015 expert group. I was not involved in putting the group together. The Deputy is correct in pointing out that both Galway local authorities are struggling for funding. Deputy Fitzmaurice asked me to meet Galway local authority members. I have no problem with that. I have met most of them individually - many on several occasions - to discuss this issue.

This is a local government Bill which is primarily concerned with Cork. When we get to the amalgamation of Galway city and county councils, if it happens, it will be done by means of separate legislation. This Bill reflects exactly what happened in Tipperary, Limerick and Waterford. The first step is to have an implementation officer - a joint chief executive. Galway is being treated exactly the same as the other three mergers which have gone before. There will be another local government Bill which will deal mainly with Galway.

It is not the case that 99% of the elected local authority members in Galway are opposed to the merger.

I did not say that.

I accept that Deputy Fitzmaurice did not say it. There are many councillors who have not fully made up their minds. Funding is a key issue. I have no difficulty in talking to Deputies Connolly and Grealish and others about retaining the position of mayor of Galway. The position dates back to the 1400s and there is a symbolic importance to it. This is more than just a ceremonial position. I have no difficulty in considering that matter further.

The first step in the Galway merger process will be the issue of funding. Discussions are already taking place between the Galway local authorities and officials in the Department in respect of additional funding. All the comparators were referred to and I have never disputed them. Part of the issue is that Galway City Council is a relatively new entity. It was established in 1985 as a separate corporate local authority from Galway County Council. Many people I know in Galway feel that the city council never really took off fully independently of the county council. The Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, spoke at length about the fact Galway city has done well, even in the recessionary years. Part of Galway city’s periphery and some of the substantial market towns in the county have not done so well, however. That is a reason why a unitary authority in Galway would work. We have significant rates bases in and around the city while many of those market towns in the county have lost traditional shops. Deputy Michael Collins named shops in west Cork which have closed in recent weeks. That has been the case in many regional towns, not least in Galway. A united local authority, which can look at where development is happening in Galway, which is mostly around the city and its hinterland, can then use some of those resources to help some of those towns which are struggling.

Deputy Connolly referred to how large a geographical area - from the Gaeltacht to Gort - the merged council would have to cover. The county council already covers that area with the exception of the city. It will be the third or fourth largest local authority in the country.

Deputy Ó Cuív gave a most interesting and lengthy contribution - it was different from what I expected it to be - which was mostly about football, parishes and things of that nature. He was a bit "Trumpian" and decried experts. Several times in his contribution he denounced that we should ever consider having experts and that nobody was consulted. The Oireachtas Members in Galway were consulted on at least one occasion, if not more, by the expert group. Most of the expert group were Galway natives. I do not believe local democracy, whether it is Galway city or county councils or Cork city or county councils, is the preserve of councillors. It belongs to the people. By all means, consult councillors too. However, the notion that unless councillors give their consent then it is null and void does not stand up to much scrutiny.

Several Deputies referred to officials operating in acting capacities in Galway local authorities. From the Department's point of view, there is no bar on those positions being filled permanently. That matter will have to be raised by Deputies.

That is all the more reason a renewed management system, as envisaged in the section that deals with the appointment of a new joint chief executive, would be a good thing in a Galway context. That said, I am perfectly willing to consider amendments and suggestions from Members. However, I do not accept Deputy Grealish's assertion that this is disingenuous or Deputy Ó Cuív's claim that it is devious. There is nothing devious about it. This has been going on for four or five years in some way, shape or form. The methodology for implementing it is exactly the same as that employed in Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan has spoken about the fact that Limerick city and county have benefited enormously from the merger of its city and county councils. Waterford has been much slower to benefit but improvements are happening. I live approximately half a mile from the centre of Waterford city and have seen it coming back to life in recent years. The merger has played its part in that.

As an outsider, it strikes me that the issue in Galway is that the city has done well in the past and continues to do well, relative to the county. Deputy Ó Cuív referred to how the centre will always take power and resources and that he is against centralisation for that reason. That is King Canute stuff. Galway city is taking money already. It is attracting shoppers, visitors and others, to the detriment of the rest of the county. To suggest that we can go back in time is a nonsense. Deputy McGuinness and others spoke about a golden age of local government but I was a councillor 20 years ago and there was never a golden age, to my knowledge. I accept that councils have lost powers but I have referred to the job being done by Sara Moorhead on the question of giving more functions and powers to councillors and councils. We can often view the past through rose tinted glasses. Deputy McGuinness wants me to re-establish Kilkenny city council, for example, but there was never a city council in Kilkenny. There was a Kilkenny corporation and a Kilkenny borough council but there was never a city council. It is interesting that Deputy McGuinness failed to mention a proposal to the boundary commission for the most recent local elections to divide Kilkenny city that was a carbon copy of a submission by Fianna Fáil. No other political party or individual devised a situation whereby Kilkenny city would be cut down the middle. I do not know if the Fianna Fáil submission was made by Deputy Aylward or Deputy McGuinness but I will not take lectures from the latter about Kilkenny city. Deputy McGuinness also said something extraordinary. He referred to a major division between Kilkenny city and county, but there is no such division. In fact, I would say that there is less division now than at any time in the past.

Deputies Michael McGrath, Fitzmaurice and others spoke about the structure of the municipal districts. I would envisage that the municipal districts will grow in the future and gain their own independence. It is a new system and it is interesting to note that councillors who are members of municipal districts favour the system-----

No, they do not.

They do. The Deputy should read the submission made by the AILG-----

They do not favour it. I have spoken to councillors.

Deputy Cassells should read the AILG submission to Sara Moorhead, which says in black and white that they favour the municipal district system. I have heard the same in meetings that I have had with the AILG. It should be noted that more than half of the board of the AILG is made up of Fianna Fáil councillors, although I have no doubt that there are some Fianna Fáil councillors who think differently.

I did not mention any party.

Fair enough. I am just saying that the representative group for councillors favours the municipal district system. It also favours giving the districts more power, autonomy and money, which is the point I was trying to make. Deputy Fitzmaurice referred to the strengthening of the municipal districts. Part of the meeting we will have with the Galway members will be about that very issue. I have said from day one that rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water in terms of municipal districts, we should strengthen them. Deputy O'Dowd spoke about municipal districts performing more functions locally but, under the current system, there is no reason for Drogheda municipal district not to have a housing section or to perform other functions to which Deputy O'Dowd referred. The issue is that Louth County Council will not allow it. That is a matter for the members and management of Louth County Council and no local government Bill will solve it.

In response to some of the other points that Deputy O'Dowd made, under the national planning framework Dundalk and Drogheda have been identified as growth centres. As I signalled at an Oireachtas committee meeting a few months ago, additional resources should follow on from that identification. We are now on the verge of delivering some of the funds that were announced under the planning framework. Alongside the additional funding is a requirement for extra staff and I have no difficulty in devising a system that marries the national planning framework to the local government structure, which would see additional staff being provided to centres earmarked for substantial growth into the future.

Regarding Galway, I would stress that the consistent under funding to which Deputies have drawn my attention will be addressed in part by the review of the rates of local property tax and the system of allocation. That review is almost complete and is examining the structures under which local property tax funding is given to local authorities. It will take into account the population of local authority areas, levels of deprivation as well as existing income and expenditure commitments given by local authorities. It will also take into consideration Government priorities in the context of the national planning framework in particular.

I assure Deputy Ó Cuív that there are no plans, in this or any other legislation, to reduce the number of councillors in Galway. The section that deals with Galway is only concerned with the first stage in appointing a joint chief executive. I have responded to the points made by Deputies Michael Collins and O'Dowd already. Deputy Eugene Murphy does not favour amalgamation and said that we should not base our local authority structures on those that operate on the continent, which is not what we do. We have a county system here. I am a believer in one authority per county, whether it is Kilkenny, Galway or Limerick. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan spoke about the fact that there is a different local government system in operation in Dublin, which has four local authorities. The Citizen's Assembly is due to examine the local government structures in our capital city next year. I maintain, and I have said it in the House previously, that Cork should never have been one county in the first instance. It is far too big. That said, if we want to make Cork city a real counterbalance to Dublin, with a population of 250,000 and rising, then it should have a separate local authority. Every other local authority in the country has somewhere between 30,000 or 40,000 - as with County Leitrim - and 250,000.

I am sorry to interrupt but we must adjourn this debate at 5 p.m. The Minister of State has four minutes remaining. He can continue or I can put the question on the Bill now. Either way, we must conclude at 5 p.m.

I will conclude by saying that I will meet the Galway representatives. This is not a slight on Galway. There will be a Bill in respect of Galway. We can go through the issues of funding and so forth.

Question put and agreed to.