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.