Local Government Bill 2018: Instruction to Committee

I move:

That it be an instruction to the Select Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, in relation to the Local Government Bill 2018, that:

(a) pursuant to Standing Order 154, the Committee has power to make amendments to the Bill which are outside the scope of the existing provisions of the Bill, in relation to the holding of plebiscites on directly elected mayors and the establishment of urban area committees; and

(b) Standing Order 154 is modified as outlined in Standing Order 200 to provide that the Committee has power to make amendments to the Bill which are outside the existing subject matter of the Bill, in relation to section 32 of the Official Languages Act 2003 and to repeal section 49 of the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011, to facilitate the commencement of section 48 (amending the Local Government Act 2001) of the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 and to amend sections 2 and 13 of the Building Control Act 2007;

and to make other consequential amendments required to take account of the changes above.

In my Second Stage speech on 18 October 2018, I mentioned that some further provisions, including in respect of the holding of plebiscites to consider the proposal for directly elected mayors for Cork city, Limerick, Galway city and county and Waterford and joint structures to facilitate local area and forward planning for urban areas that span county boundaries, would be brought forward on Committee Stage. Two of the amendments I propose to the Local Government Bill 2018 relate to the insertion of a new Part of the Bill dealing with plebiscites on directly elected mayors and consisting of seven sections, and a new Part dealing with urban areas and consisting of four sections.

In late September, the Government agreed in principle to the holding of plebiscites on directly elected mayors with executive powers for the cities and counties to which I referred at the same time as the local government elections in May 2019. This was subject to the inclusion of the necessary legislative provisions within this Bill and the future submission of more detailed proposals on the plebiscites and the questions to be put to the electorate, as well as the specific powers to be given to mayors.

The provisions I propose to add as a new Part of the Bill provide for the holding of plebiscites in Cork city, Galway, Limerick and Waterford on a proposal to provide by law for a directly elected mayor of those administrative areas. The date for holding the plebiscites is to be set by the Minister but the intention is that this would be in May 2019, the date of the local elections. The plebiscites are to be conducted in accordance with regulations that will contain the usual provisions relating to ballot papers, returning officers, the taking of the poll, voting and counting of votes, etc., and will need to be approved by resolution of the Oireachtas. The persons entitled to vote in the plebiscites will be those entitled to vote at local elections to Cork City Council, including those being transferred next year from the county to the city; Galway City Council and Galway County Council, in anticipation of a merger of these two local authorities in 2021; Limerick City and County Council; and Waterford City and County Council. Information for voters, which is to be published and distributed by the relevant local authority at least 30 days before voting day, is to include a summary of the functions and office of directly elected mayors for local authorities concerned, the impact on the relevant local authorities, other statutory bodies, the estimated cost and resource implications, the possible advantages and disadvantages associated with the proposal, and any other information the Minister considers appropriate in guidelines to be issued to the authorities. Within two years of the holding of plebiscites, the Minister must submit a report to the Oireachtas specifying either legislative proposals to establish the office of directly elected mayor for any of the local authority areas concerned or his or her reasons for not submitting such proposals.

Section 30 of the Local Government Bill removes the ministerial power to change local authority boundaries by order in circumstances where the local authorities concerned are not in agreement about the alteration. As a result, where there is no agreement, future boundary alterations will be capable of being effected only by primary legislation, such as under this Bill in the case of Cork.

In the context of continuing urban overspill across county boundaries, I propose to establish a mechanism for local authorities to work together to ensure the proper planning and development of certain cross-boundary urban areas. The relevant provisions in a further new Part of the Bill require the establishment of urban area committees within six months of commencement of the legislation where at least 1,500 persons or 15% of the population of an urban centre are living in the administrative area of another local authority. This will apply to towns and cities with a population of between 1,500 and 100,000. Those towns to which this is applicable are Athlone, Bray, Carlow, Carrick-on-Shannon, Drogheda, Limerick, Portarlington and Waterford. The urban area committee is to perform local area planning functions for the town or city and its contiguous areas as determined by the committee or, failing that, as ordered by the Minister. Membership of the committee is to be equally drawn from both local authorities and is to consist of six councillors from the relevant local electoral areas, with three appointed by each local authority, plus the cathaoirleach of each of the local authorities. It is also to include a minimum of two and a maximum of four non-voting members with relevant expertise in the areas of transport provision, infrastructure development, housing provision or business and trade. Administrative support to the committee is to be provided by members of staff selected by the committee from nominations made by the two local authorities. The main function of the committee will be the production of the local area plan for the cross-boundary urban area, including the appropriate zoning as an explicit function. In the case of these areas, the development plan content for both local authorities will have to follow on from, and be consistent with, the local area plan that is made for the cross-boundary city or town and it will not be possible for either local authority to amend or revoke the local area plan approved by the committee.

I also mentioned on 18 October that amendments relating to the placenames provisions of the local government code might also be brought forward if the urgency of progressing this Bill permitted. I am proposing an amendment that repeals section 49 of the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 and restates the content of the repealed section in Irish and English. Section 49 amended section 32(2) of the Official Languages Act 2003 for consistency with changes to Part 18 of the Local Government Act 2001 that were made under the previous section 48 of the 2011 Act. It was, however, enacted in English only, whereas amendments to Acts enacted and enrolled in Irish are required to be bilingual. It is proposed, therefore, to take the opportunity with this Bill to redo the 2011 provision in both languages, with a view to then commencing Part 18 of the Local Government Act 2001, as amended. This will facilitate the planned holding of a plebiscite by Sligo County Council on a proposal to change the placename of Inishcrone, or for some people, Enniscrone.

I also bring to the attention of the House a further proposed amendment to the Bill, which is for the purpose of correcting errors in the title of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland in sections 2 and 13 of the Building Control Act 2007 that omitted the word "the".

I will make some brief comments on the issues addressed by the Minister of State and the additional provisions that will go to committee in the proposed amendments. These are different from the substance of the Bill that we discussed some weeks ago. Any proposals which address the issue of rebalancing and enhancing powers for local government, in particular the elected members, or tackle challenging issues that have arisen in urban areas as a result of planning in recent years are to be welcomed. Anything that moves beyond normal thinking must also be welcomed. The Minister of State alluded to a number of challenging issues arising from urban sprawl across county boundaries. Anything that can be done in that respect has to be welcomed, especially considering the "Death of the Town" headline that screamed from the front page of the Irish Independent last Friday. That provides an interesting backdrop to the deliberations on the remaining Stages of this Bill.

Mr. Stephen Purcell, in his report for the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, concluded that a perfect storm was brewing in towns because of the impact of rents, commercial rates, out-of-town shopping retail centres, online shopping and, wait for it, the impact of the abolition of town councils. The Minister of State will not agree with my view on the impact of that decision but, as the author of a detailed independent report commissioned by the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland states, it impacted greatly on our towns. Perhaps the Minister of State will reflect on that point, rather than slapping it down every time I mention it, because it certainly has merit, as Mr. Purcell noted.

The impact of online shopping featured prominently in that report and it has hit our main streets greatly. This issue featured at a committee hearing in the House of Commons yesterday when the owner of Sports Direct, Mr. Mike Ashley, told Members of Parliament that the high streets in England, outside of the capital, are already dead. There are major challenges that need to be tackled head on. Anything we can do to promote urban spaces is to be welcomed.

On the composition of the proposed urban area committees, the non-voting members, who will not be elected members, will specialise in the areas of transport, housing, business and trade. Imaginative thinking is to be welcomed if it brings a different discourse to what needs to happen. There are challenges in the areas to which the Minister of State referred, including Athlone, Bray, Carlow and east Meath-Drogheda. We need to ensure the living space of citizens in all counties is enhanced and they have access to good public transport, housing and urban spaces. I hope that, as a result of these proposals, this will be an exciting time for local government and the discussions emanating from them will be positive.

On the issue of directly elected mayors, I welcome the move as extremely positive for democracy in Ireland. It will bring us into line with other democracies across the world, including countries in Europe and the United States. Even the smallest local towns in the US have contests to elect a mayor and the office is not shared out by political parties as the spoils of war during the term of a council. I hope the areas selected for the plebiscites, as outlined by the Minister of State, will be endorsed. I also hope that the pilot project, when it is reviewed in Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway, will be considered for expansion to other major urban areas and that we can embrace this style of local government.

I look forward to the day when large urban towns, including my home town of Navan where I was privileged to be the mayor, Trim, Drogheda and Dundalk will also have directly elected mayors. These should not be about someone having a title, wearing a gold chain or attending openings. What is to be genuinely welcomed about the proposal is that the plebiscite will ask whether certain functions of the chief executives of the local authorities in question should be transferred to their cathaoirligh. The Minister of State has spoken about this before. He is passionate about the local government system and wants this debate to take place. I hope change will be real and that it is embraced and endorsed and that there will be responsibility for local government. I also hope that those who secure this responsibility recognise that they are answerable to the people in a real and meaningful way. That will only be good for local governance. The period ahead is an exciting one. Its significance lies in the greater accountability it will deliver, with decisions being taken closer to the people. That will be welcomed by citizens and I hope it is firmly endorsed. When it comes to addressing these powers, I hope people understand that this will also increase their input into local government.

I welcome the amendments the Minister of State is bringing forward. I look forward to the resultant discussions. I hope the local government system will be further enhanced and strengthened. The urban area committees will be very interesting for the counties impacted. I hope those counties will recognise that this is an opportunity to address poor planning decisions. They have not emanated from badness but naturally from the current system. I hope we will be able to address some of the deficiencies present in larger urban areas and enhance living spaces for people through a diverse and different forum.

Deputy Ó Laoghaire is sharing time with Deputy Ó Broin.

In the context of rules and procedures, there is a certain irony in how the rules of this institution can work peculiarly. Last week I was prevented from tabling an amendment to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2018 concerning the manner in which sexual assault trials were governed. I will certainly be appealing against that decision. In this instance, we practically have an entirely new Bill. The Government has that ability, but it is a significant departure. I appreciate that there is a timeline which has to be worked in terms of electoral registers. I do not particularly want to see any delay in the Bill’s progress because it has to be dealt with. However, it is far from ideal that spokespersons on local government or Cork Members have to deal with 30 pages of amendments at such short notice. I appreciate that the departmental officials have to do this. However, for many of us, these are our local authorities. The amendments concern the financial sustainability of our local authorities, with rules for development and local area plans. We will have less than 48 hours in which to digest all of the amendments and then decide on positions on Committee Stage. That is far from an ideal way of legislating and it puts us in a difficult position. If we are to have directly elected mayors, they need to have real powers. What is more, power does not need to be taken from councillors but from local authority chief executives. My priority is to ensure both Cork local authorities are financially sustainable and have a clear manner of progressing. I am not sure that the issue of city and county sheriffs has been properly addressed. Their responsibilities are important in terms of the register.

The Bill was published originally in August. Both Cork local authorities prepared detailed submissions which they sent to Cork Deputies, the Minister of State and the Department. They will not have an opportunity to respond to these significant amendments, not only on the plebiscites to be held and the urban area committees but also on the transition. With some of the amendments I will agree, but with some I will not. Ideally, they should have been dealt with in the Bill when it was published in August.

I thank the Minister of State for his opening remarks. Those of us on the housing committee take our legislative responsibilities seriously. As the Minister of State knows, Sinn Féin supports the holding of plebiscites. I acknowledge the fact that on Second Stage the Minister of State indicated that he would bring forward these proposals. The problem is that we have been given five pages of amendments which essentially are a new Bill 48 hours before the committee will have a chance to discuss and vote on them. That means that we have had no Second Stage debate on the substance of what is separate legislation. Neither have we engaged in any pre-legislative scrutiny.

Before we received the amendments, in the Irish Examiner yesterday Daniel McConnell had a story based on a leaked memo from the Cabinet in which the Attorney General expressed serious concern about them, allegedly on the grounds that it was not clear what the decision-making powers of the new mayors would be or what their relationship with existing councillors would be. The same Cabinet memo highlights criticisms from the Minister for Finance who stated there were no costings associated with the amendments. That is not intended as a criticism of the officials, but when Ministers put pressure on officials to produce complex legislation within short timelines, unfortunately, mistakes are made, as we have seen happen in the case of other legislation recently. I am concerned that we are not being given sufficient time, particularly those of us who are new Members, to deal with these technical amendments.

I was previously a member of the Dublin elected mayors forum when the four Dublin local authorities examined the issue of a directly elected mayor for Dublin. Some of the key issues centred on the powers and structures such a mayor would have, as well as costs. Would powers be lost from local authorities as they devolved upwards? Would powers be given to local government as they were devolved downwards from Government agencies? From what I understand in talking to the Minister of State before today, there will be more legislation. In some senses, we will be asked to take some important decisions at the committee tomorrow without having full information. As Deputy Ó Laoghaire said, we do not want to delay the substantive legislation tomorrow. Members of the housing committee, whose job it is to scrutinise the Bill, will need a detailed briefing from departmental officials in advance of the committee session tomorrow which will allow us to tease it out. It could be done in half an hour or 45 minutes and would allow us to go through all of the issues properly and would at least give us the benefit on Committee Stage of being able to debate and take decisions on them. If the Minister of State gives us a commitment that we will at least have that additional preparation, we will certainly not stand in the way of the motion.

This is not to be partisan about the issues. While we can have our political and policy arguments, it is our job at the committee to ensure the legislation will be right. We take our scrutinising responsibilities seriously. Producing substantial legislation at such short notice is not good practice. I hope that when the Minister of State comes back next year with the next local government Bill and the substantive issues surrounding the powers of directly elected mayors, the costs and the relationship they will have with existing local authorities, we will not be in a similar position where, to meet a tight deadline, detailed amendments will be dropped in on Committee and Report Stages. If the Minister of State is willing to give us that commitment, that we will receive a detailed briefing at some point tomorrow afternoon, we will certainly not stand in the way of the motion.

I have serious concerns about what is before us. As has been said, effectively we have two large sections of amendments to the Bill that have nothing to do with its main substance. Essentially, it is about the extension of the boundaries of Cork city and local authority arrangements for Galway. Up to 128 amendments have been proposed, some of which are more detailed about the arrangements for Cork and the areas that will become part of the city which up to now have been part of the county. That is fair enough. However, in themselves they are quite detailed. I would certainly like to have the opportunity to discuss them with my Cork colleagues before expressing a view on them. I have the added difficulty that the Labour Party does not have any Member on the housing committee, meaning that we will not have an opportunity to vote on the amendments. While we can attend, we cannot vote.

I understand the amendments were brought forward because we needed more detail. On Second Stage we all said we wanted to know more about the arrangements for the particular areas in Cork, but I am concerned about the other amendments. I support the holding of a plebiscite on directly elected mayors. I also support the concept of directly elected mayors. In the limited time we have had to read what is before us, I thought I would get some idea from amendments Nos. 105 and 106 of the powers and functions directly elected mayors would have, as well as of their relationship with the chief executives of the local authorities.

However, the regulations only concern how to hold the plebiscite, including people's right to vote and the normal arrangements that are put in place for any election. As far as I can see, nothing tells us exactly what the powers will be. Surely that is crucial. In my understanding, the whole point of having a directly elected mayor is to reorganise the relative powers between the executive and the elected members, but all I can see is amendment No. 109, which reads:

The Minister shall, in respect of each administrative area in respect of which a plebiscite is held in accordance with this Part and not later than 2 years from the day appointed under subsection (2) of section 33, prepare and submit to both Houses of the Oireachtas either--

(a) a report specifying proposals for the enactment of a law providing for a directly elected mayor for such administrative area, or

(b) a report specifying the reasons for his or her not preparing and submitting a report under paragraph (a).”.

I assume the latter provision is because, since we cannot predict the result of a plebiscite, a mayor may not necessarily be appointed. It seems that the Minister will make all of the decisions. There is to be consultation and so on, but I am not sure that we will be doing our job as Members of the House if we just let this pass through without any understanding of what the mayor's powers or role will be.

The process is even more complicated in counties, albeit not so much in Cork, which will just entail the city. In Limerick, Waterford and Galway, the people who will be taking part in a plebiscite will be from the administrative areas of the council of the city and county of Limerick, the council of the city and county of Waterford and, because those authorities have not been brought together yet, the council of the city of Galway and the council of the county of Galway. There will be just one directly elected mayor for large county areas and cities in those counties. That raises issues. I expressed my concern on Second Stage that there could be a mayor from, for example, the back end of the county in Limerick representing the city. I have nothing against the back end of the county, but mayors from other places normally represent large municipal areas, which will not be the case in this context. As such, we have every right to have concerns about the powers and role of the directly elected mayor.

The next part relates to places where urban areas extend into other counties. Limerick is included in this. Obviously, I know more about Limerick than I do about the other areas. I would like to know more about how this will work. In Limerick, for example, there are two housing estates very close to where I live, but they are just over the other side of the river in County Clare. I assume that that area is the main part that will be transferred to Limerick. However, they are in County Clare currently and have been part of local area plans that are linked to Clare villages close by. This was an issue at the time of the original proposals to extend the boundary, which were strongly resisted by people in County Clare but supported by some of those living in the housing estates immediately adjacent to the city because they had mostly come from the city. The interaction between such areas and the parts of the counties that are adjacent to them pose difficult questions. Many issues need to be teased out in this regard.

While I have many concerns about the Bill, the one matter I do not have a problem with is amending the error in the title of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, but that is hardly the most significant element of the Bill.

As Deputy Ó Laoghaire stated, I am not sure how appropriate it is that we should be sending to Committee Stage a Bill that substantially differs from the Bill that we debated on Second Stage and to which we had given some thought. We now have little time to give to the two sections that have been attached to it. There has been much debate in recent years about the issue of directly elected mayors and much support for it. Ironically, a great deal of that support has been in the Dublin area, which is not included in this legislation and has been postponed to a later date. Given that there is a question of democratic representation at local level anyway, this significant issue deserves much more scrutiny than it will get on Committee Stage tomorrow if we use this mismatched approach to deal with what is almost a new Bill.

The Minister of State has been asked to give a briefing, which I hope will extend beyond the members of the committee to anyone who wants to attend. I would have preferred more time. Does it have to go to the committee tomorrow? Can we not take longer? We have very little time to examine it.

I join in the criticism of Deputies being asked to make so many decisions on so much in such little time. Obviously, the clock is ticking on getting this business done. The problem rests with the slow pace in getting matters to this point.

I am not going to comment on the issue of directly elected mayors now as I will make my comments at some other time. In the time available to me before the next debate commences, I will focus on issues relating to the boundary changes in Cork and the staffing levels in the two local authorities that are to be newly constituted there. My understanding is that negotiations are taking place between the city and the county, with a focus on determining how many whole-time equivalent positions serve the transition areas and transferring that number over. The negotiations were to have been completed by now, but I understand that there may be white smoke halfway through the first quarter of the new year. I am concerned that the original deadlines have not been met. The time for concluding the negotiations and then seeking expressions of interest in February will not make matters impossible, but it will be tight, given that the new arrangements will come into place at the end of May or beginning of June. I will be watching the new deadlines like a hawk.

I wish to raise a number of points about the fire service, including the Cork city fire service. Its staffing level stands at 140, with operational firefighter numbers the same today as they were in 1975. The Minister of State has raised his eyebrow, but that information comes from a reliable source. International best practice calls for 1.031 firefighters per 1,000 people. Under a section 85 agreement dating to 1999, the city fire service has duties and responsibilities that extend into the county, including the transition areas that are being transferred into the city, but they are the responsibilities of a backup service for the county fire service, which has lead responsibility in those areas. It is not good enough to say that the Cork city fire service has responsibility for those transition areas in any case, given that there will be an increase in the level of responsibility from backup service to lead service.

If the numbers were to remain at 140 with the extra population coming into the city as a result of the transfer, the number of firefighters per 1,000 of the population would fall to 0:66, which is a bit higher than Poland and a bit lower than Slovakia. It is too low and is unacceptable. I am not in favour of boosting the city's numbers at the expense of the county and leaving fire services in the county short. What should be looked at here is an increase in the number of firefighters for services that are already depleted by austerity and that have been stretched in recent years. I want to register that a dip in the numbers in the city fire service to a ratio somewhere between that of Poland and that of Slovakia is not acceptable. I do not think it would be acceptable to firefighters or the people in the area. I stress that I am not in favour of strengthening one at the expense of the other. Recruitment is something that needs to be looked at. I was going to make some points about the electoral register and directly elected mayors but time is ticking and we have another important debate tonight so I will save those points for another day.

I am perplexed by the rush to introduce this in this manner. Concerns have been expressed by various Deputies. I will not repeat them. I agree with them. My interest in this Bill concerns the proposal to amalgamate Galway city and county, which takes up three or four lines in the Bill. The rest of it concerns Cork. On top of that, and I will return to that point, we are now being asked to look at an entirely new Bill in this manner. I agree with Deputy Ó Broin that a briefing should be given but it should be given to all of us.

A number of Deputies and I met with the Minister of State and his officials. I was horrified by the lack of understanding of Galway city and county and the fact that the proposal to amalgamate them was based simply on the logic that bigger is better. It completely ignored the interim report. It took the one recommendation that they should be merged and ignored what was set out - the conditions precedent, which said that staffing and resources had to be looked at prior to any merger. In the Minister of State's speech, we were told about directly elected mayors, about which I will keep an open mind. It involves Limerick and Galway city and county. It is in anticipation of the merger of the two local authorities. I have tabled an amendment. I understand Deputies Ó Cuív, Grealish and Fitzpatrick have tabled amendments to remove the proposed merger between the city and county. Is the Minister of State going to ignore that and just go right ahead? Is that what democracy means? Is the Minister of State going to listen to us? I am a committed Galwegian. I love my city and want it to grow and develop but I fundamentally object to the notion that bigger is better when it is not based on any evidence. The Minister of State may recall the packed meeting in the audiovisual room only two weeks ago involving a presentation where we were to make our decisions based on evidence. Evidence has gone out the window with regard to this and we have nebulous concepts like bigger is better when we know that is not true. I have already mentioned the Lisbon Treaty, which contains a commitment to making decisions closer to the people on the ground and not removing them. Yet we are going ahead with this. We started off with a Bill where the Cork boundary was to be extended, which is a matter for the Cork people to look at. Galway was stuck in with two or three lines telling us that bigger is better and that we were going to take the first step, ignoring the interim report and the vast majority of elected Members on the ground. We come in tonight and get the Minister of State's speech and the amendments, which I have not had a chance to go through in detail. The Minister of State is asking us to do this and for what?

I will speak about Galway. One major problem is the excessive power in the hands of management - unelected people. The second major problem is the lack of oversight by the Department regarding the lack of a master plan in Galway. We have higgledy-piggledy developer-led development, no master plan and no oversight by the Department. The former Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, agreed with me when I stated during Leaders' Questions that Galway has returned to developer-led development. The site at Ceannt Station is over 14 acres, eight of which are being developed by a person on behalf of Ceannt Station completely in isolation from the public lands in the docks and the other public lands in Galway. The Government seems to think this is okay. I ask myself why I talk about this and go into the minutiae of it when the major problems in Galway are lack of democracy; the fact that when decisions are made by local councillors, they are ignored; a major housing crisis; and a major traffic problem. All of these problems have solutions. We have proposed solutions. I do not come in here and object for the sake of objecting. I come in here with solutions relating to Galway. A total of 22,000 people signed a petition. I am actually underestimating the number. I collected the signatures with a committed number of people on the ground, most of whom are non-political, that said we should not put in another road and we should look at public transport, including light rail, particularly in the context of Galway, which has an opportunity to be a thriving but green city. What do we get? We get ignored and told that it is not possible.

Park and ride has never been implemented. We put it in our city development plan in 2005 and it has never been rolled out while traffic congestion builds up. Until this year, we had not built a single local authority house since 2009. These are the real problems on the ground. I will not go into the hospitals issue; it is for another day. Yet the Minister of State has us looking at a Bill that has metamorphosed into a completely different Bill and is asking us to approve it and push forward to committee level as quickly as possible. This is not democracy. This is a diversion from the real problems on the ground but, most importantly, it is an undermining of democracy at local level that will put more and more power into the hands of unelected officials in the guise of directly elected mayors. I am particularly upset when something is done under false pretences. We are talking about directly elected mayors but there is no mention of the powers they might have or how they might interact with the system on the ground. I have the greatest of concerns about these proposals and I do not think this is the way to proceed.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I agree with the previous speaker. There is not one shred of democracy in this Bill. The proposed boundary changes will have a detrimental effect on the county of Cork. The loss of revenue from areas such as Glanmire, Blarney and Ballincollig will result in a significant drain of revenue from the county in the long term. I represent rural areas in west Cork, some of which are the most disadvantaged in the country. We cannot afford any loss of revenue in the long term. The proposed transfer of a large area from Cork County Council to Cork City Council is a land grab that will have a significant detrimental effect on Cork County Council. I believe the Blarney Tower and adjacent hinterlands should remain within the Cork County Council area and not be transferred to the city. This would result in a population of 6,357 people remaining within the county. One only has to look at the quality of our roads, particularly in west Cork. They are a glaring example of what under-investment and lack of revenue can do to an area but what will happen after this?

I propose that Cork local authorities commence a joint review of operation of the financial settlement. If after the completion of a review, Cork City Council fails to comply with subsection 13, the Minister may, after consultation with the oversight committee and within a period of no later than three months, make a settlement amending a financial settlement.

Further to this, in the event of Cork City Council being unwilling or unable to make the contribution to Cork County Council, for whatever reason, the Minister, on behalf of the State, will guarantee the payment to Cork County Council.

I ask the Minister of State where does democracy work here? Every Cork county councillor, whether from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin or independent, totally opposes the proposed changes and they have conveyed this view to the Government and Oireachtas Members.

The Deputy will get an opportunity to speak later, but I am speaking now. The views of councillors and Members have been totally ignored in the Government's effort to bulldoze this Bill through.

We also need to include in the Bill the local authority changes in west Cork where, up to now, nobody who has been elected to represent the people has been allowed a say. The hinterland of Clonakilty, from Ring to Timoleague, including Courtmacsherry, Lislevane, Darrara and Butlerstown, reverts to the west Cork municipal district. Ring village is only two miles from the town of Clonakilty. It makes no sense to move it to the Bandon-Kinsale district. People in these areas made submissions opposing this change, as did I. We have not been listened to or consulted. The findings have been made by the independent commission, which is astonishing to say the least. The Minister of State does not have to agree to these findings and I ask him, if he has any respect for democracy, to refuse to agree to their findings.

We also need to reinstate all the town councils in County Cork that were abolished in 2013. Some of the decisions of the current and previous Governments on rural Ireland beggar belief.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill again. The Minister of State knows my view. I am not in favour of the Bill. As I stated on Second Stage, it is disingenuous and an insult to the intelligence of the people of Galway to have just two lines in the Bill stating that a new chief executive will be appointed to oversee the merger of Galway city and county. Galway is the second largest county in Ireland and there will be significant difficulties if this proposal proceeds. If there is to be a merger of Galway city and county, there should be a proper debate in the House and the change should be provided for in a separate Bill, rather than being lumped in with Cork. Galway is a diverse county, containing Clifden, Cleggan, the Aran Islands, Inishbofin and a medieval city with a mayor. The county council is starved of funds.

I recently spoke with the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Mr. Phil Hogan, who represented the same constituency as the Minister of State. His officials put a similar proposal to him when he was Minister and he rejected it out of hand, saying it would have been a disaster. Now we have the Minister of State bringing the same proposal to the House. I will not support the Bill and I ask Members not to allow Galway to be lumped in with Cork in a Bill of 28 pages that only mentions Galway on two lines. That is terribly wrong.

I do not agree with the proposal to have a directly elected mayor. The system in Galway is working exceptionally well. We have a mayor over a five-year term from different parties or independents. I ask the Minister of State, if he pursues a plebiscite for a directly elected mayor, how it would work in Galway. Is there to be a chairman of the county council and a mayor of the city, or is the elected mayor to oversee the city and county and try to work with a chief executive? What powers will the mayor have? It will be an absolute disaster. As far as I know, this model is not working in Limerick where there is no agreement between the chairperson of Limerick County Council and the mayor of the metropolitan area of Limerick.

I ask the Minister of State to support my amendment to withdraw any reference to the merger of Galway city and county from the Bill. He should introduce a separate Bill if there is to be a change in Galway. There is no support for his proposal among the elected representatives in Galway.

I also disagree with the proposal. This type of legislation is important for local government and local government reform. I know the Minister of State is not the same person as his former colleague, Mr. Hogan, to whom Deputy Grealish referred. Galway should not be tacked on to this Bill, as previous speakers have said, that is so ravaging and damaging to Cork. I can speak from my experience of what the Government did in Tipperary when it amalgamated north and south Tipperary county councils against the wishes of the people. It destroyed our county and our county town of Clonmel and took away all the services. The Government abolished town and borough councils and did not care.

Democracy is being taken away from the local members. The Government doubled the size of the areas for the county councils and gave them no say whatever. The Government now wants the issue discussed. The county manager, Joe MacGrath, was brought into a workshop from which the press was shut out. Council members might as well be idle. Drawing up local area plans and tabling and discussing amendments to them is a waste of time. Our county development plan has not been reviewed and has been extended again. We badly need development.

We need more accountability and more powers for the elected members, not for the chief executive officers. We do not call them county managers anymore but CEOs and they are all-powerful. At a civic reception now, we must bow and defer to the CEO. The elected representatives who face the people should have some say and not be subject to subterfuge and deceit, as they often are. They should not be bullied and intimidated by workshops behind closed doors to which the media are not allowed access.

As regards housing, the Government has failed abysmally. I heard this morning on the radio that Tipperary County Council has now appointed a new official to count and draw up a list of vacant houses. We have been talking about this issue for 12 years. There are houses that have been vacant for 30 years, 20 years and ten years while we have a housing crisis going on and 3,000 people waiting for houses. We have not even built a dozen houses in Tipperary in recent years.

Reform is needed and is not happening. As I said, we cannot have this going on, with power being taken away from the people who are being shut out completely. The Government did this with the LEADER groups and all the other functions that take away power from the people. It has been a smash and grab and the county councils are now just rubber stamps for the county managers and CEOs. That is all they are.

I was on the list.

This is an internal matter for the groups. Neither I nor the House has jurisdiction over such matters.

This is important legislation that is changing the nature and structure of our democracy and we need to get it right. It is something we have been thinking and talking about for more than ten years. It is disappointing, therefore, that the Bill is being rushed at the last minute. As I commented to the Taoiseach earlier today, we read in the newspapers that the Minister for Finance was bitterly opposed to the proposals because there was no costings and the Attorney General was bitterly opposed to them because there was no detail on the powers. I find it hard to believe that something that has been so long in the making and doing is being delivered in such an inappropriate, incomplete and, dare I say, incompetent manner.

Two years ago, the Green Party's first contribution to Private Members' business in this Dáil was to introduce a Bill for directly elected mayors. We asked for consultation and did not press our Bill to a vote. The Government said it would engage with the other Opposition parties and not a single instance of such consultation or co-operation took place.

The Green Party supports the Bill because it wants to see directly elected mayors in all our cities and towns. We also want to see a directly elected mayor in Dublin, although that is not happening at the moment. We want to see one in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford because those cities need new leadership. The leadership provided for the past 20, 30 and 40 years has led to a sprawled model of development that has hollowed out the centres of our cities and resulted in out-of-town retail centres taking over. The car dominates every Irish city and town causing gridlock. This does not work. We want these mayors to have real powers over the chief executives, working with the chairs of the strategic policy committees so that we start to get housing, transport, local environment and culture right.

We will support the Bill, which we want to see passed. However, we have to mark a protest at the way it has been introduced and the lack of consultation with Opposition parties. We all have an interest, expertise and experience in local government. The Minister has to commit tonight to engage in a proper process of consultation with the Opposition parties in order that we get this legislation right. In saying that, I am not being party political. This is in all our interests, whoever is elected as mayor, because we all know the current system does not work and needs to change. It probably needs to change in Cork more than in any of the other cities because Cork has sprawled. It is like the words of the John Spillane song, "Johnny don't go to Ballincollig, Johnny don't go to Carrigaline" because Cork, like every other city, has sprawled in spades. Part of the problem was that the county was living off the city in ensuring that its development on the edge of the city gave it a rate base, but no consideration was given to the strategic development of the city.

We fear that this sort of approach to development in Cork might still go ahead. Places like Monard, which is 1 km from the proposed county-city boundary, could be developed if the county continues to play the game of getting development at any cost even though, as I said earlier, the Cork transport system is now coming to a gridlocked halt.

This proposal needs to be backed up with real budgets to give cities the flexibility to start investing in the public transport solutions they need. Cork needs a light rail system. Like Galway, Waterford and Limerick, Cork needs significant public transport projects that must be led by political leadership. This has to extend to putting housing beside public transport. There are four railway lines going into Limerick, but there is no real connection between that transport infrastructure and the development of the city.

Galway is a disaster in transport terms. If Cork wins the booby prize for worst sprawling development model, Galway is surely the worst example of bad transport planning on the planet. When the Galway orbital road with all the roundabouts was being built 20 years ago, a road engineer said to me that as sure as eggs are eggs, all of the roundabouts would lead to gridlock and would have to be taken out. Nothing is changing. The only transport proposal in Galway involves even more orbital roads. There has been no real radical thought about how public transport might stop the city from developing in the way it has been developing.

There have been some positive developments in Waterford. We would like to see whether the greenway could be run right through the centre. We support the proposed development on the north side of the River Suir. While it is not all negative, Waterford - God help us - could do with a lift. It should be the capital of the south east. The mayor of Waterford should really be the leader of the south east. There should be a focus on Waterford Institute of Technology and on the industrial history of the city as part of an effort to relaunch Waterford as a counterbalance to the development of the other cities. Political leadership is needed to make that happen.

We support this initiative. We want the plebiscites. We want to know - in the coming weeks rather than in the coming months - what exactly the powers will be. This will ensure people know what they are voting for. We want to know when the mayors will be in place if the plebiscite is approved. I asked the Taoiseach about this earlier today, but he was unable to give an answer. If the people say "Yes", is it envisaged that mayors will be directly elected three months or six months later? Will the mayors be put in on top of the CEOs of the local authorities? Will the chairs of the strategic policy committees in the councils be used as a cabinet for the running of cities? Is this the approach that will be taken? It is the sort of approach that we might propose and suggest. The Minister needs to start discussing this with the rest of us. If he does not do so, and if we do not get this right, I am not sure we will get the plebiscite through because when the time comes to vote, the people will rightly ask what they are voting for and whom they can trust.

I am not interfering, but I must advise the Deputy that if he is sharing time, there is just one minute remaining in this slot.

I was not intending to share time. I will leave it at that. My colleagues have spoken previously.

If the Deputy is not sharing time, he can continue for a further minute.

I will conclude. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's response. Perhaps Deputy Fitzmaurice would like to avail of the remaining time in this slot.

I will allow Deputy Fitzmaurice in at this point.

I will be brief. We saw one part of the Local Government Bill 2018 a week ago. It is coming in dribs and drabs. I do not fully understand where the Minister of State is going when he talks about the powers that elected or unelected committees will have. What is he using? I would like to go back to Galway. As Deputies will be aware, the first thing that is written about Galway in the document is "show me the money". I do not see where we can keep going forward until the money comes. I thank the Minister of State for his engagement with us. We will be constructive with him. I want to make it clear that as far as I am concerned, the money for the municipal areas and especially the peripheral areas needs to be brought up to the same level as other parts of the country. People are not objecting to what is proposed for Cork. Maybe there are Deputies who have objections. Those involved are working hard. Galway has been in at the back of it. It appears that there are some good ideas in this proposal for local areas like Athlone. We need to thrash it out so that we can know what is in it. The document is coming in quick at us. I know we will get a chance on Committee Stage. We will be constructive at the committee. There is a lot of toing and froing in the case of Galway.

That brings the debate to a conclusion.

Is there no response from the Minister of State?

No provision has been made

There are two minutes remaining before this debate must end.

The Minister of State speaks very quickly.

I suggest that the groupings and parties should think about matters like this when they are making decisions at committee level. With the agreement of the House, I will allow the Minister of State to speak for the remaining minute and a half.



I will respond briefly to all of the queries. I have spoken to the officials. The Committee Stage debate on the Local Government Bill 2018 is due to commence at 6 p.m. tomorrow. At 5 p.m. tomorrow, my officials will meet Deputies to discuss some of the issues of concern that have been raised and I will do so as well if I can. An email outlining the details of that meeting will be sent earlier in the day. Many of the issues that have been raised tonight with regard to certain provisions, especially those relating to Galway and Cork, are more suited to the Committee Stage debate. Certain sections of the Local Government Reform Act 2014 set out the legislative proposals for the holding of plebiscites. The provisions of the Local Government Bill 2018 are essentially a reflection of that. My experience over the years I have spent in both Houses has been that local government Bills generally tend to have many parts to them. Everybody was fully aware on Second Stage that there would be substantive amendments on the urban area committees and on the plebiscites. We flagged our intention to introduce such amendments. The Government has yet to make a decision on the functions of directly elected mayors. What we are talking about this evening, and will be talking about tomorrow, is the mechanism for allowing the plebiscite to be held. I am open to the idea that after the memorandum has been discussed and - I hope - approved by the Government, the House should have a full discussion on people's views. I happen to agree with much of what has been said, particularly by Deputy Eamon Ryan, because it is in line with how I envisage the position. No decision has been made by the Government. Therefore, we cannot discuss the specific role. However, we can discuss how we see the plebiscite taking place.

Question put and and agreed to.