Limerick City Boundary Alteration Order 2008: Motion.

Limerick is well represented now, so we will proceed. Apologies have been received from Senator Hannigan. I propose to go straight to No. 3 on today's agenda, which is a motion re Limerick City Boundary Alteration Order 2008. On 14 February 2008, the Dáil and Seanad referred to this committee for consideration motions to the effect that Dáil Éireann approve the following order in draft: Limerick City Boundary Alteration Order 2008, copies of which have been made in draft form before Dáil Éireann on 12 February 2008.

The motions read as follows:

"That the proposal that Dáil Éireann approves the following Order in draft: Limerick City Boundary Alteration Order 2008, copies of which have been laid in draft form before Dáil Éireann on 12th February 2008, be referred to the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in accordance with paragraph (2) of the Orders of Reference of that Committee, which, not later than 27th February, 2008, shall send a message to the Dáil in the manner prescribed in Standing Order 87, and Standing Order 86(2) shall accordingly apply.

That the proposal that Seanad Éireann approves the following Order in draft: Limerick City Boundary Alteration Order 2008, copies of which have been laid in draft form before Seanad Éireann on 12th February 2008, be referred to the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in accordance with paragraph (1)(Seanad) of the Orders of Reference of that Committee, which, not later than 27th February, 2008, shall send a message to the Seanad in the manner prescribed in Standing Order 27, and Standing Order 74(2) shall accordingly apply."

I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and his officials to the meeting for the purpose of assisting us in our consideration of the proposal. I thank the Department officials for providing briefing material in advance, which has been circulated to committee members. This is the Minister's first time before the committee and I am sure we will meet on many occasions in the future.

I am very pleased to be here. I thank the Chairman and committee members for setting the time aside to discuss the Limerick City Boundary Alteration Order 2008.

I am accompanied by Mr. Feargal O'Coigligh, Mr. Barry Ryan and Mr. Eoin Corrigan, who are all officials from the Department.

Following a request from the committee, a briefing note on the draft order and related matters was prepared. Copies of the draft order and the briefing note have been circulated to the committee.

County and city boundary alterations are not regular occurrences. The most recent alteration to a city and county boundary was the 1979 extension of Waterford city, which was almost 30 years ago. In November 2006, the former Dublin city manager Mr. John Fitzgerald was asked to recommend proposals to address social exclusion, crime and disorder issues, as well as regeneration in Moyross in Limerick city. Mr Fitzgerald made a series of recommendations in his report, and he called for the following: sustained and intensive policing interventions; the establishment of focused regeneration structures; the deployment of integrated, multi-disciplinary teams to address social problems and provide family supports; improved infrastructure and access to Moyross; local and regional development, including using economic incentivisation measures; a more focused response to the drugs problem; and the regeneration of the housing stock.

The report also recommended a limited extension of Limerick City Council's boundary up to the Clare County Council boundary in the northern part of the city to facilitate intensive development and regeneration. The Moyross housing estate currently straddles the administrative boundary between Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council. This creates difficulties in making effective use of public and private lands to support regeneration and investment.

The limited boundary alteration recommended by Mr. Fitzgerald involves the allocation to Limerick City Council of responsibility for an area currently within the boundary of Limerick County Council. It would have no impact on the boundary of Clare County Council. The area proposed to be transferred corresponds closely with the Limerick north rural electoral division, centred on Caherdavin, which has a population of 7,251. This area is the wedge-shaped part of Limerick County Council, approximately 1,000 hectares in size, which is west of the city and north of the Shannon, and includes the suburbs of Caherdavin, Moyross and outlying agricultural land and settlements. There are nine townlands in this area: Ballygrennan, Caherdavin, Clonconane, Clondrinagh, Clonmacken, Coonagh East, Coonagh West, Knock and Shannabooly. The area is traversed by the Ennis and Cratloe roads and is approximately bounded to the south by the river Shannon, to the west by Meelick Creek and to the north by the railway. The western and northern boundary of the area corresponds with the existing County Clare boundary. Owing to development, there is no clear geographical demarcation of the eastern boundary of this area. The maps attached to the draft order delineate the area involved and show the boundaries of Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council as they will appear after their shared boundary is altered.

The recommendations of the Fitzgerald report were accepted by the Government in April 2007 and significant progress has been made since. I have a strong personal connection with Limerick, as members will know, and in my time as Minister I will ensure delivery by my Department of the recommendations of the Fitzgerald report is a priority. Limerick deserves no less.

In keeping with statute, I established an independent boundary committee in October 2007 to prepare a report on the administrative boundary of Limerick City Council. In doing so, I asked that the boundary committee have regard to the Fitzgerald report and to the need for the prompt implementation of Mr. Fitzgerald's recommendations. The boundary committee performed its work without prejudice to the wider issue of an application made by Limerick City Council in 2005 to extend its boundary. The committee reviewed all aspects of a boundary alteration, including relevant precedent, and studied the Fitzgerald report and maps of the area. Accompanied by local authority staff, the committee visited and inspected the entire area which is the subject of the recommended alteration. It also consulted the relevant local authorities, Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council, and considered all submissions received, having published a notice inviting the public's views. The submissions were overwhelmingly positive. Several of the submissions recognised that a boundary alteration will have positive consequences not restricted to the areas undergoing regeneration but also for Caherdavin, the city and the region as a whole. That is an important and sometimes overlooked aspect of this endeavour.

The boundary committee concurred with Mr. Fitzgerald's recommended alteration for a number of reasons, including the following: it will allocate responsibility to Limerick City Council for an area currently the responsibility of Limerick County Council which is geographically isolated from the remainder of the county; a single authority for the area will benefit the economic and efficient delivery of services; it will assist with the planning of economic development and infrastructural requirements in a manner more cohesive with plans for the remainder of the city; the city council will be democratically accountable to the 7,000 residents of the area, including the residents of the local authority housing estates which straddle the current boundary; it will facilitate potential economic incentive packages to encourage development in the area; it will aid the Northside Regeneration Agency in delivering its objective as an engine for regeneration and as a co-ordinator; it will support the integrated and coherent development of community and voluntary organisations within a single local authority; it will reduce any confusion which may exist as to which local authority represents the residents; and it will permit the coherent management of the area with the remainder of Limerick city, including the development of a cohesive planning approach between the area the subject of the recommended boundary alteration and the remainder of the city. As such, it represents a strong endorsement of the approach recommended in the Fitzgerald report.

Both local authorities, city and county, are fully supportive of the recommended alteration. I very much welcome their support and pay tribute to the elected members of both councils who are providing a strong example of local authorities working together and overcoming challenges in partnership.

Since the publication of Mr. Fitzgerald's report there has been a broad range of developments. My Department has a central role in the delivery of Mr Fitzgerald's recommendations. Regeneration agencies for each of the north side and south side of the city were established in June 2007 to lead the development of comprehensive measures to address issues of social exclusion and disadvantage and to drive forward the regeneration of these areas. In January of this year the agencies launched their respective vision statements which address the interwoven challenges of community, social, physical and economic regeneration. The agencies are now working on detailed and costed masterplans which are expected in summer 2008.

Another initiative of relevance is the gateway innovation fund, a strategic targeted intervention to stimulate gateway development in the context of the national spatial strategy. The fund is an incentive to stimulate and reward joined-up strategies and action at gateway level by helping to fund targeted strategic projects that can trigger the accelerated development of the gateways and their wider regions. The gateway innovation fund will operate with an Exchequer provision of €300 million over the three years 2008 to 2010. Applications are at an advanced stage of consideration, including an application from Limerick, and a decision is likely in the near future.

All cities face challenges. I know those Limerick faces will be met and overcome. For our part, the Government is committed to the development of Limerick. It is a complex task, requiring concerted action across State agencies. I know the local government system will continue to play a full role and this draft order will better enable the local government system to do so and thereby serve the interests of effective and convenient local government.

I welcome the Minister to the committee. I am delighted his recent flu has been overcome. I am surprised he did not declare an interest before he made a contribution on Limerick.

I did. I said I had very close connections.

Is that so? I thought the Minister would have gone further and told people the nature of his connection. Not many people outside Dublin South-East would know of the Minister's connection with Limerick.

The facilitation of this regeneration project is a positive development. Mr. John Fitzgerald and his team have done excellent work. There is no controversy on this matter but there would have been if another boundary extension lodged by Limerick had headed off in the direction of Clare. They were beaten back on that occasion and the matter was withdrawn in 2005 and not proceeded with. This is a clear indication of where partnership may or may not work depending on the physical boundary, although perhaps sporting boundaries also come into play. My colleague, Senator Coffey, knows all about this given that Kilkenny repressed Waterford's bid to have a boundary extension into south Kilkenny. That was dealt with in the most severe way in 2007.

More co-operation should take place between local authorities on the issue of boundaries, which will always be a difficult one. People want to operate in a more coherent and cohesive way but they are not always heading in the one direction. The gateway innovation fund is an opportunity in this regard. It is an example of how Limerick city and county, and Clare, can come together and, with a pool of money which helps to concentrate minds, facilitate co-operative development on infrastructure in particular. I expect the same principle will apply with regard to Galway City Council, Galway County Council, Waterford City Council and Waterford County Council. Kilkenny County Council is in the process of undertaking a planning and land use study at present with one eye on ensuring it gets some additional funds from the gateway fund to which the Minister referred.

There are lessons to be learned from these initiatives as to what is and is not possible. We should not get ourselves tied up with schemes that are not possible. We should go with the positive plans that each region can generate around a specific gateway urban centre to facilitate the growth of that gateway and, most importantly, the provision of essential services for the people in those areas, whether these relate to education, shopping or infrastructural development to facilitate employment in the years ahead.

I welcome the opportunity for Limerick city to alter its boundaries in unison with Limerick County Council to facilitate the regeneration work taking place there. In a few years, many people will study the manner in which this process was undertaken and its ultimate outcomes to ascertain whether it can be replicated in other parts of the country. It is a model that attracts much interest in social policy and housing development terms. Mr. Fitzgerald and his team have taken bold initiatives, if not always with a degree of unanimity, and they have driven on to ensure we get the desired result, namely, to help people in that region live in peace and harmony, and with the necessary services.

This is clearly a victory for common sense. The Minister's statement makes clear the sensible approach being taken by both Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council. This is a welcome decision.

I know we are not discussing other local authorities but I remind members that some years ago, there was a proposal to establish a boundary commission to ascertain the difficulties arising in regard to boundary extensions. Deputy Hogan referred to Waterford City Council, and several other boundary extension decisions are pending. "Long suffering" may be a more accurate description than "pending". Perhaps the Minister will consider these cases in due course.

I compliment the Minister on this development. Irrespective of his connections with Limerick, he would have taken this action in any case.

I welcome the Minister and his officials. What has happened in Limerick offers us a lesson when considering other cities. I hope the same co-operation will take place between the relevant authorities when a similar review is undertaken in Cork city, for example. That is not going as smoothly as we would like. Nothing concentrates the mind more than a financial package. Perhaps that is how we should look to progress other cases.

Limerick has had much undeserved criticisms for many years. It is a city I greatly enjoy visiting, but the publicity it receives would make one fearful to walk the streets. I have never found the bad press to be accurate. The motion we are discussing is an example of how the city is progressing. I congratulate the local authorities and look forward to the same co-operation in other cities. With the Minister's negotiating skills, he should be able to progress matters in an easy and peaceful manner.

I welcome the Minister for our discussion on this extremely positive development. It seems the tie he has chosen today is more of a geographical than a political indicator. The decision on the Limerick city boundary extension follows a long period of difficulties. There are lessons to be learned from what brought us to this position. As the programme develops there are also lessons to be learned from the regeneration process itself. Many positive aspects are contained in the boundary document. The provisions regarding monitoring and examination are something other local authorities will do well to emulate.

Regarding the Cork city boundary issue, I imagine the GAA players' dispute might be easier to resolve. It could certainly take far longer. This agreement shows the importance of a commonsense approach and, as Deputy Christy O'Sullivan observed, of putting in place a financial package. This positive outcome bodes well for the future. I am sure my Labour Party colleague, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan and others from the area welcome this exciting opportunity.

I too congratulate the Minister and compliment all those involved, including the local authorities, the local communities and the Department for handling this boundary extension so well. We are all aware of the potential for conflict when boundary changes are proposed. There is evidence of that throughout the State.

We should learn from this success and adopt a more partnership approach to future boundary change decisions. In addition, we must bear in mind the role of regional authorities, regional planning and regional strategy. Rather than pushing geographical boundaries, we should include regional considerations within our approach to facilitate better sustainable development of our cities. The local authorities must have a proactive role to play but we must ensure there is minimal conflict.

I compliment all involved. The lesson we have learned in this case will allow us to take a more imaginative approach in other cities where we may find ways to allow them to expand without having physically to move boundaries.

I thank the Chairman for allowing me to contribute to this debate since I am not a member of the committee. I join my colleagues in complimenting the Minister on his singular devotion to progressing this issue. He is not merely a friend in name but a true friend to Limerick. It is well recognised among the people of the city that we have a friend in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

I take this opportunity to commend Mr. John Fitzgerald whose report forms the genesis of the proposal we are discussing today. Mr. Fitzgerald has undertaken a true service on behalf of the people of Limerick — I would go so far as to say the country — in dealing with what is an acute issue of social deprivation. The manner in which he conducted his work is a model for how we should approach these issues in coming years. He used his experience, skill and expertise to craft a report that most people could accept. Among many of its proposals is the proposal before us today.

Like the Minister, I disclose a personal interest in that I live only yards away from the extended boundary. I am in the city council area but, as a member of the council, represented a large part of Moyross, which was divided down the middle by what was a totally artificial boundary. I hope that boundary will cease to exist with the passing of this motion. This boundary divided the area not only geographically but socially. Anybody who lives in or has represented the area knows it is no coincidence that the areas of most acute social deprivation, with the associated incidence of anti-social behaviour and public order offences, coincided with the part of the Moyross estate that is outside the city boundary. My colleague, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, will agree with me on this. To put it at its mildest, the county council did not have the same level of interest in the area as did the city council. People in that part of the estate did not know their public representatives, who were living many miles away. Many representatives never canvassed the area let alone serviced it. This played a part in the fact that the area was allowed fall into neglect.

Now that a single authority has responsibility for the area, I hope this situation will come to an end. I recall canvassing for the 1999 local elections and discovering that the boundary went through the front and back gardens of residents. Some people could be forgiven for having a split personality because they did not know whether they were coming or going. In one household the refuse was collected by one local authority because the bins were placed in the front garden but the house was under the jurisdiction of the other authority. It was a total fiasco and I am glad to see it coming to an end.

What are the Minister's views on the issue of boundary extensions? Clearly he supported this recommendation and triggered the statutory provisions which gave rise to the proposal that is before the Dáil and this joint committee. What is his view regarding those provisions, in so far as they relate to other boundary issues? My understanding is that two Acts cover proposals for boundary extensions, the 1991 Act and another subsequent Act. Under which statutory provision is this application being made?

In his presentation, the Minister stated "the boundary committee performed its work without prejudice to the wider issue of an application from Limerick City Council to extend its boundary made in 2005". Given the universal support for the proposal before the joint committee, how does the Minister now view the earlier proposal for an extension made in 2005?

I support other members' comments on the gateway innovation fund. It is a fabulous proposal and given the problems associated with Dublin outgrowing itself, such funding should be allocated towards the western side of the country to form a counter-pole to Dublin. Speaking parochially, the Limerick-Shannon gateway should receive its fair share in this regard.

Assuming this boundary change goes ahead and assuming the Minister makes an order to that effect, what impact will it have on the local election boundary changes, which will be dealt with later this year?

I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to speak as I am not a member of this joint committee either. I acknowledge the Minister's interest in Limerick. He spent some time close to where I live and has a strong interest in the area. I also thank him for the speed with which he has dealt with this application because it was important to do so and this process should make it move forward. I understand it must revert to the Dáil and can be proceeded with thereafter.

I made a submission that fully supported the extension. All public representatives of the area have supported this. It is important to implement this as quickly as possible. While I will not labour this point, it has been quite strange to work in Moyross where I hold a clinic every week. I refer to the kind of problems that arose over the years, such as that to which Deputy Power referred. In another example, some houses in a particular row, which were bought under tenant purchase agreements were dealt with by the county council because they were considered to be private houses. However, the occupants of houses on the same row that were still rented dealt with Limerick City Council, of which they were tenants. This caused many difficulties and problems about who was responsible for what and this measure will solve many such problems.

While the physical infrastructure side of this project is moving apace, one also must ensure there is progress on the social side and the Government will be pushing an open door in that regard. While the joint committee is discussing Moyross today, the regeneration project obviously is broader than that. Community activists in Moyross are anxious to identify vulnerable people in their communities and to ensure implementation of the kind of changes that will make a real difference, particularly to young people growing up on these estates. We must ensure this is not simply a one year wonder and that this level of support will continue into the future, because it will be needed.

I will make another point about which I believe the Minister will be interested. There is a proposal to build a railway station in Moyross. As the Minister noted in his contribution, the railway track runs along the edge of the Moyross estate and a number of trains travel between Ennis and Limerick on that line every day. There is potential for a railway station in Moyross and as the Minister has a particular interest in rail traffic, I urge that progress be made in this regard as quickly as possible to give people in Moyross a more environmentally-friendly public transport option.

I also support Deputy Power's comments on the broader constituency boundary issue. A number of other members have raised this issue in a broader context. This proposal was relatively easy because everyone was able to agree on it. However other changes, including the other Limerick proposal is highly contentious. There has been agreement between Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council in respect of this change. In general however, the process for effecting a boundary extension is that one local authority makes a proposal while the other local authority invariably rejects it and points out all the reasons such a change should not happen.

I agree with the comments of other members that there should be easier and more positive ways to achieve broader boundary extensions. This certainly is required in the case of Limerick. When planning for a city like Limerick, it makes no sense that big suburban areas lie within the Limerick county area although they really are part of the city itself. I refer to locations with which people will be familiar such as the regional hospital and the Crescent shopping centre, which is one of the biggest in Ireland. A mechanism must be found to address these issues and a broader boundary commission should be set up by the Minister as soon as possible. I again welcome this progress and hope it will be achieved as quickly as possible.

Before I call on the Minister to respond, I will make an observation. Although I am not intimately familiar with the locality in question and members should correct me if I am mistaken, I gather that part of the problem is that one local authority, Limerick City Council, built its local authority houses within a functional area of a different local authority. I consider that to be a recipe for disaster. Perhaps the Minister will comment on this practice because local authorities still are doing this elsewhere. They find land outside their own boundaries and, as Deputy O'Sullivan noted, they are responsible for collecting the rent but not for managing the estate when houses—

That undoubtedly is the problem.

The Minister should comment on the broader issue because this still takes place, albeit perhaps not to the same extent. Obviously it contributes—

Does the Chairman have Graiguecullen in mind?

Yes, I had in mind Graiguecullen, which lies in counties Carlow and Laois. I ask the Minister to respond to the questions raised, all of which have been positive.

I thank members for their comments and questions. As the contributions have demonstrated, people have recognised the benefits of acting in partnership. Senator Coffey suggested that regional authorities have a role to play and this is the case. Undoubtedly, this constitutes a successful application of such a partnership approach and it has worked very well. However, members have raised the issue of further boundary extensions. Deputy Hogan noted that many such issues are quite vexed and sensitive and are not easily resolved.

Deputy Power specifically asked on what legal basis was the draft order made. It was made under Part V of the Local Government Act 1991, which is the governing statute. It provides that the Minister may by order alter the boundary of a local authority where he considers such an alteration ought to be made in the interest of effective and convenient local government. While this provision was used this time, the Deputy also referred to the 2001 Act, as have other Members, which allows for the establishment of a local government commission that would take over the functions of specific boundary committees. This part of the 2001 Act has not yet been commenced.

I am minded not to commence it until there has been a thorough discussion on the forthcoming Green Paper, which will provide an opportunity to consider this issue and to examine the requirements in detail. These are serious questions and I note that Deputy Power raised the 2005 application in Limerick, which most Members recognise would have had serious implications in Limerick. It is in abeyance and is off the agenda at present. The application was made in November 2005 and, if implemented, would affect the Clare and Limerick council areas and would result in significant financial and organisational implications for all three authorities.

The application envisaged the transfer of substantially more territory to Limerick City Council than was recommended subsequently by Mr. Fitzgerald. That is one of the issues we must discuss in the context of the Green Paper. We must proceed gingerly in respect of this. I am committed to making those reforms but only when we have had a real debate about it. The Green Paper will offer us that opportunity.

The question of the local electoral areas was also raised. The relevant area of the Bruff electoral area of County Limerick will be transferred to Limerick city's number one electoral area. We have set up a committee under the stewardship of Niall Callan, the former Secretary General of my Department. He is heading up the Dublin and Cities Electoral Area Boundary Committee which will review, in accordance with its terms of reference, the division of the total area of Limerick city and will submit its recommendations no later than 20 June 2008. Obviously, it will not just deal with Limerick but has wider implications.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan is quite right in that the railway from Ennis to Limerick has been hugely successful. If evidence was ever needed that rail works, this is yet another example of it. The question of whether there should be a station in Moyross is not one for my Department but, obviously, I have an interest in seeing that Limerick is working and that we have good public transport in the area. It is a matter for the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, in the first instance.

The Chairman raised the question of an anomaly that sometimes occurs. Obviously, it is better when one keeps it simple and has one's housing estates in one's own administrative area. If it is not done in that way, it can cause problems and Moyross is probably a classic example of that. In terms of local government, the more defined one can keep it, the better it seems to work. Many of the comments made here show that there was a process of degeneration over a period of time. The statement about public representatives who do not bother to canvass an area was very telling and says it all because then people literally do not have any representation. There is only one way an area can go and that is downwards, which is what has happened. I hope this regeneration programme will mean that people will be back in there. It was great to see Deputy Jan O'Sullivan holding her clinic there. This is what we want to see. We want people to go in there. People need to feel part of the community. I am very familiar with the area, having gone to school close by, and I know what happened over a period of time. It happened quite rapidly. I hope that positive change can take place rapidly as well.

There being no other questions, I thank the Minister and his officials for attending and assisting our committee's consideration of the proposal.

We will also lay a report of the joint committee's consideration of the motion before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Is that agreed? Agreed.