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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 8 Mar 1990

Vol. 124 No. 6

Derelict Sites Bill, 1989: Committee Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

I would like to remind the House that on the last day this Bill was taken, 28 February 1990, section 2 and the amendments to it were extensively discussed. I cannot allow repetition. As Members are aware, any outstanding issues that they wish to have considered can be brought forward on Report Stage.

Is section 2 agreed to?

We come to section 3, amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are related——

I said section 2 was not agreed.

I cannot state that I heard that, but I did notice you in conversation there with other colleagues. That is all I can say.

I said "No".

I did not hear you say "no".

It seems strange, a Chathaoirligh, if I may say so that you were able to detect my conversation, but you were not able to detect one single word, "No".

I detected your activity with your colleagues down there which I presume amounted to some conversation.

You castigated us the other day from——

What I am saying is that I asked if section 2 was agreed and I did not hear anybody saying it was not.

It is not agreed.

If it is not agreed, I must put the question.

Question put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 7.

  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Conroy, Richard.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Fallon, Sean.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Tom.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Hanafin, Des.
  • Honan, Tras.
  • Hussey, Thomas.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • Lanigan, Michael.
  • Lydon, Don.
  • McGowan, Paddy.
  • McKenna, Tony.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullooly, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Francis.
  • ÓCuív, Éamon.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • Ryan, Eoin David.
  • Wright, G. V.


  • Costello, Joe.
  • Hederman, Carmencita.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ross, Shane P. N.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Upton, Pat.
Tellers: Tá, Senators McGowan and Wright; Níl, Senators Norris and Hederman.
Question declared carried.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 6, before section 3, to insert the following new section:

"3.—In this section `derelict site' means any land other than agricultural land (in this section referred to as `the land in question') which in the opinion of the local authority detracts or is likely to detract to a material degree from the amenity, character or appearance of land, buildings or a dwelling or dwellings in the neighbourhood in question because of—

(a) the existence on the land in question of a structure or structures which are in a dilapidated, ruinous or derelict condition, or

(b) the neglected, unsightly or objectionable condition of the land, buildings or dwellings or any other structure or structures on the land in question, or

(c) the presence, deposit or collection on the land in question of any litter, rubbish, debris or waste, except where the presence, deposit or collection of such litter, rubbish, debris or waste results from the exercise of a right conferred by statute or by common law.".

I am not quite clear about or quite satisfied with the definition of "land". In section 2 land includes any structure and any land covered with water. It is that aspect of the Bill which I would like to have clarified, so that no misunderstanding will develop at a later stage. I would certainly like to have included there that "derelict site" means any land other than agricultural land clearly specified in the Bill. For example, one could envisage a situation where tourists may be visiting some parts of rural Ireland, parts which have, for one reason or another, perhaps because of emigration, become denuded of their population. We could have a farm which, because of emigration, has lain idle for a particular length of time. Perhaps somebody visiting Roscommon or Offaly could come along and look at that farm, which perhaps has gone into rushes and scrub and what not, and say that that is a derelict site. Again, I think it is important to decide and to have clearly specified who is going to deem it a derelict site. I think it is important to include there "in the opinion of the local authority". That is the section I have difficulty with. I would ask the Minister to examine the possibility of taking this amendment on board.

I would like to add my support to the point made by Senator Naughten. In my mind at least, there is a considerable doubt if the framers of this legislation, the people who prepared and drafted it and who thought about it, ever intended to include what we describe as agricultural land within the terms of this legislation. I want to suggest to the Minister that there are a number of types of land which possibly it was the intention to include. These would be what is described as urban land. That is clear enough and I have no quarrel with that. I have no quarrel with land that would be described as industrial land, or perhaps even having the potential to be industrial land or development land.

In each of these three categories the problems that have been confronted in cities, towns and villages, and even in what are designated as industrial sites throughout the country, are very apparent. I accept the need to deal with the problems that have been created there and the problems that arise when these areas are being assembled or when these pieces of land are being put together for either housing or industrial or development purposes. These are three categories of land, where I accept that there is a need for this legislation, but what I am not satisfied with is that it should apply — and this is what I want confirmation of — or has it been the intention from the start that it should apply to agricultural land? What I describe as agricultural land — and I want to make myself quite clear on this point — are the open fields of the Irish countryside. I will wait until I got clarification on that distinction between different lands from the Minister before I raise other points, because the points I have to raise may not be necessary depending on the Minister's reply to the queries raised.

The common purpose of amendments Nos. 4 and 5 is to make it clear that the reference to "structure" comprehends the singular as well as the plural. I am advised that the Interpretation Act, 1937, already takes care of this. That Act provides that "every word importing the plural shall, unless the contrary intention appears, be construed as if it also imported the singular". Another purpose of amendment No. 4 is to add the words "buildings and dwellings" to "land", apparently in an attempt to amplify the meaning of "land". But, under section 2, "land" is already defined to include "any structure" and "structure" is defined comprehensively to include every conceivable building and, without any doubt, to include dwellings also. I do not, therefore, see how this drafting change can be necessary. In fact, it might only serve to cast a doubt on the generality of the existing definitions of land and structure.

Amendment No. 4 would also exclude agricultural land from the definition of a derelict site while in practice the main application of this Bill will be to urban areas. I would not be entirely happy with this proposed exclusion. Dumping of litter on agricultural land could obviously in some circumstances detract from the amenity of the neighbouring lands. That is very important. I would consider it proper that the Bill should apply to this kind of case.

Finally, amendment No. 4 would give absolute status to the opinion of the local authority in deciding whether land detracted from the amenity, character or appearance of other land. Land would stand judged as a derelict site simply because the local authority were of the opinion that it was á derelict site. This aspect of amendment No. 4 places too much weight on the opinion of the local authority. It would result, in my opinion, in arbitrary and unjust consequences, leading to successful challenge to the Bill in the courts. That is the situation in regard to it now.

I am not exactly happy with the Minister's reply. The Minister, referring to agricultural land, stated that he would not be happy with this exclusion. I referred to the position in many parts of rural Ireland. Again, it is the definition of "derelict" with regard to land that causes me a major problem. I know from the comments expressed by the Minister for the Environment when introducing the Bill here that certainly the impression was given that agricultural land would not be included under the terms of this Bill. What I want to ensure is that that is the situation — that they are excluded. The Minister has gone on to say that he would not be happy with this exclusion, and that concerns me. I appeal to him to re-examine that with a view to taking this amendment on board. He also stated that it would place too much weight on the local authorities to have the local authority make the final decision. We may have difficulties with the local authorities on many different aspects, but I would be happier with the local authority making the decision than anybody else. That is the reason I put down this amendment.

Is Senator Norris offering? He may discuss this amendment along with his amendment No. 5, just for his information.

Thank you very much for your help. I understand that. I have to say that, by and large, the Minister's contribution impressed me. It is an important part of the Bill that the despoliation of agricultural land by litter and rubbish of all kinds, including sometimes the use of fields for car graveyards, does cause a serious problem, and I think his point is well made. However, I also have an amendment to this section and I am most grateful to you for your kindness in drawing my attention to it. It is simply a technical point. I hope it will not be considered too nit-picking. It is:

In page 6, line 33, to delete "structures" and substitute "structure or structures" as the case may be.

I believe that this is possibly a flaw in drafting. I am concerned that merely having the plural could mean that, unless there was a multiplicity of buildings involved or some kind of architectural complex, a single individual building could not come under this category. I suggest, with the greatest respect and deference to the talents of the parliamentary draftsman, that what is intended is "structure or structures" rather than simply the plural "structures".

I want to come back to the Minister again. I am quite prepared to accept that he made a reasonable effort to respond to the points I raised earlier. I am still concerned and I am still seeking a yes or a no response, or as near as possible to either of those, to this simple question. Can a field in its natural state — excluding dumping or anything else — through neglect by its owner — neglect by way of the growing of rushes or undergrowth, or anything else, without buildings, structures or dumping on it, have the capacity to become a derelict site within the meaning of this legislation? As I have said, I am talking about a field in the countryside without buildings, without structures or without dumping. Through the progression, as it were, of natural forces, can it become a derelict site within the meaning of this legislation? That is the bone of contention I have and it is a matter I want clarified. Either it can or it cannot be so classified. If it cannot, then I have no further argument.

I understand what the Senator is saying on that. I have a great knowledge of rural areas because I am from a rural area myself. In the rural areas all over the country we build or the local authorities build rural houses, some would call them isolated cottages. Say, for instance, on that part of the land there was dumping on the land——

I accept that, no problem there.

——that has to be cleared up. I want to be fair about that. Dumping can take place anywhere on any land in rural areas. Agricultural land could be used as dumping ground if it suited. I am sorry to say that in parts of the country that is a fact of life.

In regard to Senator Norris's query about singular and plural, the definition of the wording the Senator is concerned about, our draftsmen, or personnel, are of the opinion that the drafting that has been done on this is correct. I am quoting from the Interpretation Act, 1937. It says: "Every word importing the singular shall, unless the contrary intention appears, be construed as if it also imported the plural; and every word importing the plural shall, unless the contrary intention appears, be construed as if it also imported the singular". I want to put you at ease here, Senator. I know what you are at. You want to make sure that what we are saying is correct. I have looked at that, even over the weekend, and sought a legal interpretation of it. I am satisfied that the wording we have is correct. I am glad the Senator brought it to our attention. I want to say that we are happy with the legal interpretation, that of the draftsmen and the other legal advice we have got on that. I am happy that the wording there is correct.

To get back to the question of dumping on agricultural land, this could happen anywhere. You could have a group of houses. You could have cars or other goods brought in, crashed or otherwise, and placed in an agricultural field in front or close to houses. That has to be attended to. The main purpose of this Bill now is to clean up our act. Everyone in this House, including Senator Howard, would like to see this being done. I want to make it clear that I am not agreeing to the amendments put down by Senators Howard and Norris.

I am always happy to deal in a reasonable and positive way with any legislation that comes before the House. I believe that our function is to examine legislation in depth and avoid pitfalls, if we see pitfalls, and to endeavour to improve it. I want to say, with the greatest respect to the Minister, that I asked a question about a field in the countryside, a field without dumping of cars or anything else. The question I asked was if that particular land has the capacity to become a derelict site in its own way without the presence of any other material on it. That is what I am not getting the answer to. In the absence of getting an assurance that that will not be case, I must come to the conclusion that the fears I hold have a certain justification.

I want to put a further point to the Minister. I do not doubt the Minister's sincerity here in dealing with the queries raised. The Minister is interested in ensuring that we are all happy about the legislation that will emerge from here. But I think I would be forgiven if I was to say that there appears to be some movement in the background of all this to mislead us and to mislead the country in relation to it. Take Minister Flynn's speech here and the explanatory memorandum that was circulated with this Bill, it talks about dereliction, that this legislation is to deal with it in our cities, towns and villages; but it ignores the fact that there is the possibility there, intentional or otherwise, that the open fields of this countryside can be included within it. That is my problem.

The Minister referred to the problem caused by dumping. I accept that. I would suggest to the Minister that that is taken care of in section 3 (c) —"the presence, deposit or collection on the land in question of any litter, rubbish, debris or waste ..." That is acceptable. But I am still seeking clarification on the point I raised. The problem could arise under paragraph (b) —"the neglected, unsightly or objectionable condition of land..." That is as far as I am concerned to go. I am quite happy about the remainder of that line, "or any structures on the land in question". I am quite prepared to accept that structures should be included.

The situation I am trying to safeguard against is this. The Minister is from rural Ireland, I accept that. I am from further west in rural Ireland. Perhaps my countryside has been affected more by the ravages of emigration and so on than the Minister's area. I know of pieces of small holdings of land which are owned by people who are now scattered in the cities of the United Kingdom, the USA or even further afield, people who are putting together the means of returning and perhaps even bringing up their families in the homestead. That land I am referring to, particularly on the hillsides of the west, unless it is farmed properly day in, day out, or year in, year out, has the capacity to become neglected and unsightly for one reason or another.

I am asking a simple question. In the absence of that landowner, forced through social and economic circumstances to leave it behind but determined to return, can that land in the opinion of the appropriate officer at local authority level come to be described as a derelict site? If it can, then we are into the situation where sections 14 and 20 will apply to it, where the land can actually be compulsorily acquired. I think that is an unreasonable hardship to impose on the unfortunate people who have been forced to leave it. I am not talking about dumping cars or leaving rubbish on the land. I am asking whether land which in the absence of its owner can take on a neglected appearance, is open to being subjected to the terms of this legislation.

I would like to thank the Minister for his very clear and lucid explication of the point. When I saw him rising to speak a horrid thought assailed me. With my recollection of the Interpretation Act and the fact that I have a Bill amending it with regard to sexist language and the fact that the male pronoun is assumed also to include the female, I thought that this might in fact be his explanation. I am, as always, illuminated by the Minister's response and I will withdraw the amendment.

I would like, however, to say that I take a somewhat different view from Senator Howard on the question of whether or not a field can be derelict because I do not think that it is essential that dereliction should consist exclusively of industrial or domestic refuse. The Minister, I am sure, as somebody who, as he has indicated to the House, is intimately connected with rural life, will know that wilderness can also contain prescribed plants. I think in particular of things like buachaláin. Suppose I was a farmer or somebody with a small house, perhaps a nice local authority cottage. Suppose I was one of the persons, about whom Senator Howard spoke so appropriately and so movingly, who was saving up the money in England and assembling a site at home but had made no proper provision for its care while out of the country, leading to a situation where proscribed plants of various kinds did proliferate. There would be a nuisance caused to the neighbouring property. Therefore, I actually hope that a field can in certain circumstances be a derelict site.

Senator Norris, if I might say so, has put the picture exactly as I feared. I would like to quote an example. Suppose Senator Norris was to transport himself from his natural surroundings in Mountjoy——

I am not there yet.

Mountjoy Square, that beautiful Georgian square——

North Great George's Street.

North Great George's Street. If he was suddenly to decide that a vacation or a term in County Leitrim, for example, would do him good in various ways, he has just to transport himself down there. I can easily visualise him emerging some morning, expanding his chest and saying: "That field out there is horrible". He would, perhaps, they try to seek to have that included in the register of derelict sites. If the appropriate officer in, for example, Leitrim County Council, was of similar mind in relation to this, then we go straight into the process of compulsory acquisition, disposal of property and so on. That is exactly the scene I fear. Senator Norris put it perfectly clearly. I believe that that is the attitude that can cause problems.

I would like to conclude by raising another point. The Minister may not feel like responding to it on this particular part of the Bill. In relation to the rural fields and the countryside, I notice that there is only one Land Act referred to in regard to this legislation, that is, the 1845 Act. Many other Land Acts came into being during the remainder of that century and in the earlier part of this one. I believe that not alone will we find ourselves in conflict with a number of these in relation to rural land but we may also find ourselves with a constitutional problem. I believe we will face that later. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to discuss it under sections 14 and 20.

I have made the point, and Senator Norris has helped me to make it. Unless the Minister can say to me in regard to a rural field, as I have described it and as Senator Norris also understands it to be, that it is not intended that that should be included within the terms of this legislation, then I can only say that I would be unhappy with section 3 remaining as it is.

I would like, if I may, to be a little bit more helpful to Senator Howard, because I like to be helpful. He has interpreted what I was thinking absolutely. I hope the Minister will be able to confirm that a derelict field is a derelict field. I would like to say why. This can happen in fact not only to derelict land; it can occur not only in the countryside but also in the city.

Senator Howard very graciously referred to the fact that I live in the north inner city. One of the houses beside me is a defelict site and is in danger of pulling my house down. It also contains a derelict plot of land and from that experience I can tell the Minister that land with no structure whatever upon it is quite capable of inflicting damage to the neighbouring property, not only through the proliferation of noxious plants as I have already mentioned, some of which are proscribed, but also because, as has happened in my house, building adjoining the land can be undermined by the development of sycamore trees, which have a strong root system and which can fall on buildings.

We are going to have a debate, I understand, this afternoon about the recent storms. One of the things that occurs during storms is that trees are blown down onto adjoining property. You can also have a situation where plant life, either in the form of creepers or of stronger trees, can actually interfere with, for example, essential elements like roofs and gutters.

I maintain that in the country, for example, if somebody has the kind of house that the Minister has been talking about and the site next door to that property is allowed to go derelict then it could quite easily happen that damage would be caused to that property by the neglect of the absent owner. I do not wish to be facetious but it strikes me as somewhat strange that the rights of absentee landlords should be upheld in this House of the Oireachtas. I am sure the Minister agrees with me that the rights of the people who are actually continuing to live on the land and to struggle with those circumstances are far more important. I hope he can confirm that both Senator Howard and I are right. I will be pleased, even if Senator Howard is not.

Senator Howard asked if a field in its natural state could be regarded as a derelict site. That would be very unlikely.

Unlikely, but possible.

The only way that could arise is if it took the amenity from an estate or took from the character of the area. I am fully convinced that the landowners and the property owners will take account of this, even if people are in England or America. I had a very interesting case in my own area where there was a derelict building and the owners could not be found for years. The local authority had to take emergency action but they were not in an hour when the owners were ringing me. They came to light very quickly. The Senator is underestimating the intelligence of people.

I do not see a problem with agricultural land in the normal state. The problem is where there is dumping deliberately done. If it is overgrown with lamb's quarter, robin-run-the-hedge as they call it down in the country, that comes under the Noxious Weeds Act and the necessary action can be taken there. When this Bill comes into law, I expect all of them to highlight what is at stake. We need goodwill here and I am sure it will be forthcoming.

I feel the Minister has come a long way to meet the situation there. I am pleased that, when he dealt with the question of land in its natural state, it was his opinion that it could not very easily be described as a derelict site. I expressed my fears as strongly as I could. I believe he has accepted the sincerity behind the points I have seen making. Could I suggest to the Minister that perhaps between now and the Report Stage he might look at the fears I have been expressing and see if it is possible to include a safeguard of some kind in relation to agricultural land in its natural state.

All I can say is that I will have a look at it but I cannot give the Senator an undertaking.

I do not want to get involved in the nitty gritty of this debate. The two Senators here beside me have done that very adequately. The Minister says a great deal of goodwill is required and I accept that. I always believe that the approach of the carrot is much better and more effective than the stick but, unfortunately, it does not always deal with the recalcitrant landowner who simply does not care. Sadly, we have to admit there are some of these about. We would not need this Bill at all if it were not for the fact that there are landowners who simply do not care about creating dereliction and unsightly areas.

The Minister says we need a great deal of goodwill; he says he is depending on landowners to see that all is right. That is correct for the vast majority of them but legislation such as this is a waste of time unless we are certain we can pinpoint the really bad offenders who simply do not care and who will not spend a farthing to improve their property unless they are simply forced to do it. In my opinion, that is what the Bill is all about.

A number of issues were raised there. The question of buachaláin was raised by Senator Norris and the Minister quite rightly said we have an Act regulating noxious weeds. The question of indiscriminate dumping was raised. We would want to refer to our planning Act and to see that in each local authority we have an enforcement section to ensure that indiscriminate dumping does not take place. An action can be taken against the landowner in this instance.

Senator Norris raised an important point. I would like to ask the Minister to elaborate on the point made about trees and the danger from trees. What about the instance of trees overhanging onto public roadways? In the recent past there have been three deaths in the Cork area where trees have fallen on cars and killed people. I understand from the local authorities they can write to these landowners and indicate to them that these trees are unsafe. Does the Minister think that where there are trees in an unsafe condition that site could be termed a derelict site? The difficulty that now arises with the local authority is that while they can write to a landowner to remove dangerous trees, if the landowner refuses a situation then arises as to how can you prove in a court of law that trees are in a dangerous condition. I would like to ask the Minister if he envisages that something like this could be covered under derelict sites.

I thank Senator O'Keeffe. We have the Noxious Weeds Act. I may be treading on dangerous ground. The Acting Chairman may call me to order.

The Minister might be treading on dangerous grounds.

We have another Act which I will not dwell on. Then we have the Road Traffic Act. In regard to trees, which the Senator mentioned, especially now with the high gales, They are a matter of grave concern to all the people in the country. We had bad accidents with fallen trees. The local authorities have powers under the Road Traffic Act to take the necessary action there. If I was allowed to go on I could elaborate on that. I fully sympathise with the Senators in their concern over agricultural land. I am fully satisfied that what we are doing here is adequate to cover all that.

I would like to comment on the Minister's very helpful remarks.

Acting Chairman


It is an important point and I am very glad that a Member on the Government benches, Senator O'Keeffe, was kind enough to see the point I was making and to support it. The Minister has introduced the question of the Road Traffic Act. Although it may not be directly germane to this Bill I believe it is very relevant. The Minister or his advisers may be able to put us in possession of the information. Does this, in fact, cover a situation where the trees do not directly threaten a road?

One can have a situation, for example, at the back of a house where the proliferation and growth of trees can occur. The reason I say this is not all frivolous or tendentious, because in a previous incarnation I possessed property on which there was a very large old tree which the telephone people wanted me to cut down and being a difficult, obstinate sort of person I absolutely refused. I had it attended to by a tree surgeon. They invoked all kinds of powers which it subsequently turned out they did not have. I could thumb my nose at them. I am not completely satisfied that the various items in legislation mentioned by the Government completely close off the loopholes. I quite accept we have the Noxious Weeds Act on the one hand to get rid of buachaláin, robin-run-the-hedge and all these kinds of things. We have the Road Traffic Act which, I presume, only affects trees within a certain distance of a road. I am not sure, I could be quite incorrect on that. I would like the Derelict Sites Act to continue to operate in this matter. It is appropriate.

Acting Chairman

Is amendment No. 4 withdrawn?

Yes. In withdrawing it I want to say the Minister has been very reasonable in relation to this. He appreciates the fears we have in relation to agricultural land. I know he is prepared to have a look at it between now and Report Stage. I am also aware he is not in a position to give any commitments today. I am sure we can come back to it on Report Stage. On that basis I am quite happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 5 not moved.
Section 3 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 6, lines 40 and 41, to delete paragraph (a).

This may be a technical matter.

I will explain that.

I would be glad if the Minister would. It emerges from the fact that I put down something further on and I received assistance when this was put down. I would be most grateful if the Minister would explain my amendment to me.

Section 4 (1) (a) empowers the Minister to make regulations in relation to matters referred to in the Act as prescribed. This is an entirely standard drafting provision. It simply allows the term "prescribed" to be used later throughout the Bill as a piece of drafting shorthand to indicate matters for which the Minister may make regulations. There is no hidden or ulterior motive to this drafting device. I cannot see how its removal would contribute anything to the Bill. It is normal practice.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 4 agreed to.
Section 5 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 6 stand part of the Bill."

I would much prefer that we proceeded with a good deal of caution in relation to section 6. That deals with the serving of notices. I am not aware of any other legislation that enables notices served that could have so serious an impact on a person and his property, to be served with the force of law in such a loose fashion. There has always to be the presumption, even though the owner is unknown. I am at a certain disadvantage here because of the experience the Minister had with the owner of a certain building in his constituency. I am afraid I will be continually confronted with that example as I deal with this issue on the section.

This section prescribes the various ways that the notice can be served. It can be served by delivering it to the person. That is simple. It is delivered to him and that is it. We know who he is and he has got it. It is his responsibility from there on. It can also be served by leaving it at the address at which he ordinarily resides. In a case where an address for service has been furnished we are fairly safe down that road but there is always the possibility that during the period of service required, if the person was not to be present there would be always doubt that the person had emigrated, gone on holidays, or gone camping. There would be always the danger that he might not have received it within the appropriate period to enable him to take defensive action. Nonetheless, it is reasonable and I would not have any great quarrel with it.

You can send it by registered letter to the address at which he ordinarily resides or to an address for service which has been furnished. Then we arrive at paragraph (d) which states "where the address at which he ordinarily resides cannot be ascertained by reasonable inquiry, by delivering it to some person over 16 years of age, resident in or employed on the land to which the notice relates". That is acceptable. There is not a clue in the first one, "cannot be ascertained by reasonable inquiry where the person resides". The paragraph then states "or by affixing it in a conspicuous position on or near such lands". This goes back to the point that I raised earlier. Take the owner who is out of the country, forced by economic circumstances to go. Suppose he is on an oil rig in some remote part of an ocean, suppose he is in the outback in Canada, suppose, to the horror of Senator Norris, he is cutting down a forest in the Amazon.

He gets precisely what he deserves.

That is not justice and fair play. We have to provide for these types of situations. Here the Minister is not doing it. In the cases I have mentioned it would be unreasonable to assume, whether he is in the Amazon, the outack, or on an oil rig, that there is a hope that that person will be aware that the notice has been posted in a conspicuous position on or near the land in question.

We move on to subsection (2) which states:

Where the name of the owner or of the occupier (as the case may be) cannot be ascertained by reasonable inquiry, a notice may be addressed to "the owner" or "the occupier" (as the case may be without naming him.

That is taking a flier at the whole situation. I would say that to expect that that type of service would stand up in a court of law is stretching credibility to the limit. Let us read it again:

Where the name of the owner or of the occupier (as the case may be) cannot be ascertained by reasonable inquiry, a notice may be addressed to "the owner" or "the occupier" (as the case may be) without naming him.

Can the Minister assure us that that will stand up in a court of law? With regard to that system of serving notice on a person who is absent, are we satisfied that it would be adequate in the eyes of the law, in the eyes of the courts? Are we satisfied that we are acting with reason, justice and fair play to all concerned? We are serving notice to the owner without naming him. We do not know who he is. That is stretching credibility to the limit. Perhaps there may be another building in the Minister's constituency that would provide the answer to it. I believe we are over-reaching ourselves on this.

I would like to agree strongly with Senator Howard on this and support as vigorously as possible what the Minister is doing here. It is about time that we had this kind of legislation. I congratulate him on introducing it. The provisions are absolutely correct. I say, as a property owner, that property not only has its rights, which are guaranteed under the Constitution, it also has its very largely unenumerated responsibilities. I am very glad that this legislation is beginning, for the first time, to specify what some of those responsibilities and obligations, both moral and legal, are.

As I understand it the Minister is addressing here the difficulty of serving notice. I am astonished at this concern for absentee landlords in view of the history of this country. The Minister is addressing the frequent, deliberate evasion of the service of notices on the one hand. This is true not only with regard to traffic violations, parking fines all this kind of thing. It is certainly equally true in the situation of derelict sites.

One simply has to ask if this colleague of Senator Howard is off cutting down the Amazon or sheep farming in Australia, why precisely should that give him a right to interfere with the decent people who have the guts and "stickability" to weather it out on this damp, moist little island of ours where they will get rheumatism? I nearly said I have damn all sympathy but that might not be quite parliamentary — I have microscopic sympathy for these people. The Minister in this legislation is actually giving some teeth to it, I hope he actually sharpens his fangs. My problem, with this legislation is not that it is too strict but that it has not a lot of teeth in the right place. I sincerely hope that he retains these provisions. They seem to be absolutely appropriate.

May I ask the Minister and the House generally to address a rhetorical question? If there is no identifiable owner and if the local authority and the local people have not the slightest notion who the owner is, if the people responsible in that area do not know who it is, if the neighbours do not know who it is, if the local gardaí do not know who it is, if the local parish priest does not know who it is, is that not a very tenuous connection with the property upon which to try to establish rights?

Is it not appropriate that that person should be served with a notice in whatever way is possible? It may well flush that person out of the woodwork. It if does, so much for the better. The rights which in my opinion take precedence absolutely are the rights of the unfortunate people who have to put up with this dereliction. I am very glad the Minister has this section. I certainly will not be opposing it, I will be encouraging him to maintain it. Senator Howard did a very good job in reading onto the record, not once, but twice, several of the paragraphs but he omitted the final two subsections (3) and (4). I am very happy that they should continue as well because the Minister, in subsection (3) for example, is dealing not only with the question of defaulting individuals, he is also dealing with the use of companies — in my opinion there are fraudulent companies — as a barrier to prosecution; I am very glad that he gets not only at individuals but at companies and then, finally, tries to make it fair by suggesting that in those instances, where notice is served by the affixing of a notice in a prominent visable position, it is an offence for anybody to tamper with it. This is another of the cute little tricks. If a notice is pasted, posted up or pinned on a property then the owner may well come in the middle of the night, pull it down and say: "I never saw that". The Minister is perfectly right. I hope he absolutely slams the head of these amendments. He will have my full support if he does.

To follow on Senator Norris's point, one of the great weaknesses up to now has been the fact that we have been unable to track down absentee landlords and unable to get our teeth or fangs into them. This section now gives power to the local authority to tackle this problem. I have more sympathy for those people who are living next to dereliction than anybody who is absenting himself from it. Is not the service of notice here totally in compliance with the serving of notice under the Planning Act, and, indeed, under the Air Pollution Act?

I recall on the Second Stage discussion that I made the point that there was a Dublin problem and this Bill was designed to resolve that problem. My difficulty with it was that not alone would it resolve the problem here but it would create difficulties in rural Ireland. I have to respond to Senator Norris's point He is evaluating and looking at the situation that surrounds him in the vicinity of North Great George's Street.

Not exclusively.

He is attempting to implant that. I am also conscious that Senator O'Keeffe comes from the urban sprawl of the deep south.

I go deep into the same territory as the Minister, and I am aware of quite a number of situations in that constituency which would refer.

This was highlighted in my mind, perhaps I misinterpreted it in some way, by Senator Norris referring to the history of absentee landlords in this country. What I am concerned about are the people who are victims, or whose forefathers were victims of that system. People who, through economic circumstances, were forced to leave rural Ireland, do not deserve to be lumped with the absentee landlords of a previous age. To do so, is doing an injustice to them. I accept there is the problem in urban areas. Indeed, I would go quite a distance down the road with the methods proposed in the Bill of notifying the owners, because I believe where valuable property is concerned the owners are not too far away. Certainly, they are within distance of being able to establish what may be intended for their derelict sites. I know they have caused derelication but I am still concerned about serving a notice on somebody who, through economic circumstances, has been forced to leave some part of this country and who, for reasons which are quite unfortunate, may be so far away and so out of contact that he may not hear of the service of notice before the implications of sections 14 and 20 of this legislation are in place. I have no quarrel with the scene in the urban areas——

Let us be realistic. Is it realistic to say that somebody who leaves an economic unit behind him is not in touch with it? Let us be realistic.

While that view is being expressed, we are arguing about two totally different scenes. If Senator O'Keeffe and Senator Norris were from the counties that both I and the Leas-Cathaoirleach come from they would have a completely different understanding of the situation that can prevail. If Senator O'Keeffe was more familiar with the western and the north-western sides of his own county——

I come from there, Senator. I was born there.

——he would have an understanding of the problems that I am trying to deal with. However, I accept there are a different set of circumstances in the urban areas. I totally accept, in fact I support the reaction against those who are allowing valuable property to become derelict for the purpose of making it more valuable, but I am talking about a different situation. I am asking the Minister, who I believe knows what I am talking about, to look at the particular problems that can arise.

The other point I raised earlier which was lost sight of because the rural-urban misunderstanding come on the scene, was the whole question of the constitutionality and the legality of service of notice should be looked at. All I want is to be satisfied on the constitutional requirements, and the likelihood that this type of service of notice in relation to what may eventually become the confiscation of property. Let us not avoid facing up to that fact that under section 14 and 20 there is actual confiscation of property.

It is not confiscation as such. Compensation is paid, money actually is paid.

Again, we will argue that when we come to the section. These are the points that I want to make. I believe there is an urban-rural misunderstanding and we seem to be at cross-purposes. We are not, because I accept that problems exist in the urban areas while the urban people do not accept the problems that exist in the rural areas.

I feel very strongly about the provisions of the Bill. These are standard provisions in the Planning Act and in the Air Pollution Act. I understand urban life well and I understand rural life very well. This section deals with a person or persons who own property. Would anyone here like to have a derelict site beside his property? If he wished to sell it, it would gravely devalue the property. It would also look very bad to see a derelict building in an urban, or even in a rural, area. I understand that Senator Howard does not want that to happen.

If a person is on a ship, and is known to be on the ship, he will get the letter on the ship. We have great communications at present. I am a long time in public life and I have a good knowledge of grassroots communications. There is no site that I have ever seen where there is not an owner. He comes out overnight. I can assure the House that if you put up a notice on a property let the owner be in Australia or wherever, he will surface very quickly. The next minute he will be coming back and asking: "What is it worth?" Under the provisions of the Bill we will not acquire it unless it does not comply with the Act. But if the owners, wherever they are, clean up that area, then the local authority will not put a compulsory purchase order on it unless it is required for other purposes, such as road widening. Even if the person cannot be found, that money has to be paid into the court, the CPO has to go on it. If the person is known to the local authority, he has great options: he can go to arbitration on the CPO, or to the courts. We have great law, thank God for that, under our Constitution. I know from putting Bills through both Houses that we have a right to go to the Supreme Court to get a ruling on any of the sections. We are bringing the provisions of the Bill into line to comply with the Planning Act and the Air Pollution Act. The same standard arrangements are being made.

I have some reservations about the assertion that the owner cannot be traced. Generally, when a person leaves an area they always have a fellow down the road who keeps an eye on things-"There is my forwarding address, but don't tell anyone". If a local authority or any individual goes to trespass on the property the owner will be around very quickly. The law provides for all of that. In cases where a person cannot be found, the notice goes on the site for a statutory period. It complies with the same provisions in the Planning Act and the Air Pollution Act. It is very simple.

The main kinds of dereliction that take place are mostly caused by abandonment and dis-occupation of buildings, coupled with problems of title than can also exacerbate the problem. It is, therefore, essential that we make provision in a Derelict Sites Bill to deal with situations where persons cannot be traced. The provisions involved in any event are standard, based on the Planning Acts and the Air Pollution Act and local government environmental regulations. I am not going to stand up any more to reply to any of this because — do not take me out of context — I am sticking to the provisions of the Bill. I have very strong views on this. The Bill is being brought forward to do a job.

Senator Howard may not have meant to go so far, when he said we were trying to bring in draconian laws going back to landlordism. It is nothing like that. I am going to clean up those derelict sites in rural and urban areas. There is going to be no tomfoolery; dereliction will be dealt with.

I must say how very glad I am to hear the Minister's vigorous assertion of the principles that underlie this and his illustration that rather than doing something completely novel he is simply implementing provisions that exist in parallel and analogous legislation. That is an absolutely convincing argument.

Could I address myself to the situation that exists, of some difference between Senator Howard and myself? I take an interest in the totality of the experience of persons in this country. I am very glad to say that, like most citizens of Dublin or Cork, my rural roots go down a very good way and I am glad to say I am still in contact with relatives in the country.

I think I understand what Senator Howard is getting at, and it may affect the western seaboard more than most of the other sections of the country, but it certainly exists there as well. What the Senator is talking about is sentiment. What he is addressing is people who may have been pushed out because of economic conditions and hardships and, of course, one feels sympathy for them. They wish to keep some sentimental family attachment to the homestead, a tumbledown cottage or whatever it is and while they are serving their cocktails in Manhattan or the Bronx or whatever, they dream every evening of the little thatched cottage by the Shannon or the Lee or underneath the Twelve Pins — one understands that — but why should the people who remain have to suffer because it is a sentimental connection and not a real one. The Minister is absolutely right to put this section to the House, he will have my support in so doing.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 7 agreed to.

Acting Chairman

There are two amendments to section 8. We have already announced that the heading to amendments Nos. 7 and 8 should read section 8. Apparently there was a misprint. Section 9 should read section 8.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 8, subsection (2), line 31, after "representations" to insert "and a file containing all representations received by the local authority following the giving of a notice under this section shall be retained by such local authority and shall be kept at the offices of the local authority and shall be available for inspection at the offices of the local authority during office hours".

May I interject, Sir, to be helpful to some of my colleagues. There is a slight confusion and that is because there are two lists of amendments. As I understand it, the alteration or misprint is on page 2 of the list of amendments dated 7 February and the list of amendments dated 8 March does not require amendment because there is also a reference to section 9 there. That remains an amendment to section 9?

Acting Chairman

That is correct.

I have moved the amendment in the name of Senator Naughten. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure, not alone the presence of the register in the office of the local authorities but to ensure that it is available and open to the public for inspection. That is normal and standard practice. The fact that provision has not been included in the section to guarantee the availability of such a register may have been an oversight. It is for that purpose we have put down the amendment. I am sure the Minister will have little difficulty in disposing of my fears in relation to the availability of the register to members of the general public at the office of the relevant local authority during office hours.

I understand we are taking amendment 8a as well.

In that case I take it you are referring to ——

Acting Chairman

Does the House agree to discuss those two together?

This is the list of 8 March, the amendment that reads: "In page 9, before section 9, to insert a new section..."

It will make it easier for you.

This is one of the most important amendments I have put down. It reads:

Sites shall be entered on the derelict sites register upon any application made by any citizen or representative body which satisfies the criteria laid down in this Act.

One of the things that causes me most disquiet in the Bill is that I am not aware of machinery by which a private individual or a concerned and appropriate group could have recourse to this legislation without relying on the umbrella of the good intentions of the local authority. As the Minister has illustrated with his very charming and very appropriate and relevant story, local authorities may be a little anonymous, but when a notice is put on a building this will very rapidly bring out the local person and local knowledge may be very important. If we are talking about a county council or a corporation, such a body in a large city may not have the same minute knowledge or the same motivating energy as the individual who lives next door to a site or a building that is going derelict. For that reason it is extremely important that the individual citizen should have the right of direct recourse to whatever machinery is contained in this Bill.

I would have to say — although it is not actually directly covered by this amendment but it is related to it — I think it a pity that in the framework of this Bill it was not found possible to establish an independent authority to deal entirely with this area — a kind of derelict sites authority or a court of appeal to which a citizen might make recourse. However, in the absence of this — and I accept that it would be unfair for me to dwell at any great length on something that is not contained either in the Bill or in an amendment — I think it is absolutely vital that the ordinary citizen can go directly to whatever machinery exists.

Since the area of the city in which I live has been mentioned, I am very happy to extend an invitation to the Minister to come with me to North Great Georges' Street and to see the house next door to me, a List One house, which has been allowed to go derelict. The back windows are out, there is a brothel in the basement, the back wall is held up by a raking shore but the owner has done absolutely nothing. It could pull my house down with it if it collapses. I have somebody in the background who is prepared, at the moment, to pay a market price for that house and use the skills he has to restore it completely. This is one of Senator Howard's absentees who is a decent Dubliner, who is an authority on the restoration of 18th century buildings and has written two major works on it. He is prepared to realise his property in London, come back, pay above the odds for this house and restore it, and still the owners will not release it onto the market. It is one of about three hundred properties they own. The Minister and the Cathaoirleach, I am sure, will both excuse me for speaking with some passion on this. I want something done about it and today I cordially extend an invitation to the Minister to come with me and see that house. I could show him a great deal more around the city of Dublin.

It is for that reason that I, as an individual, have appealed to the corporation, to the dangerous buildings section under the Factories Act. I have done everything I can and yet nothing whatever has been done about it. This is a shame and it is a scandal. As a citizen, as a resident of the north inner city of Dublin if, as an individual citizen, I had had recourse to this kind of legislation, I would have walloped the Dublin Vocational Education Committee right into the dock over what they have done to No. 20, North Great Georges' Street and to Nos. 18 and 19, Parnell Square. I look for a real assurance from the Minister that the individual citizen be catered for and not just the local authority. I do not want to be attacking local authorities; I know the very valuable work they often do but they are an enormous operation and they do not have anything like the passion or the motivation of the person who is actually living next door to the disaster area.

I am delighted that sentiment is every bit as intense in North Great Georges' Street as it is in Connemara.


I would like to support both these amendments we are discussing now. Amendment No. 7 in the name of Senator Liam Naughten is quite straightforward. It is simply saying that the register should be available for public inspection. I think that is very important. I know in relation to the register which local authorities are supposed to keep under the Housing Act, registering houses which are in two or more flats, that sometimes the local authorities — being very over-worked, under-paid, under-staffed and everything else — find it difficulty to keep all these registers up to date. It is imperative that the public have access to these registers to see what properties are registered, whether it is under the Housing Act or here under this measure. I support the amendment.

The other amendment which we are discussing, which is in the names of Senators Norris, Costello and myself is that: "Sites shall be entered on the derelict sites register upon any application made by any citizen or representative body which satisfies the criteria laid down..." This is extremely important and valuable. I remember last week when we were discussing this, the Minister with some passion, and indeed supported by Senator Howard and some others, disagreed on that occasion with Senator Norris and myself. He was all on for giving power to the lowest possible level, power to the local authorities, and power to the local people.

I was involved last year in the promotion of the Tidy Towns Competition. I became aware that Dublin is not the only place that has problems with dereliction, although I would say our problems are greater than others. Every other big city — Limerick, Galway, Cork — has the problem but also quite small villages are trying to bring pride to their locality and trying to get the whole community to work together. As the Minister said, goodwill is needed, and he is right. They find themselves with dreadful eyesores which are as much a blot of their lovely village as all the dereliction we have in Dublin is on our environment. It is an excellent idea. I am all for the promotion of involvement of local people and bringing them into the system rather than excluding them from it which, sadly, our present system of government does to a large extent. I believe this amendment which would allow the citizens the right to have a site which clearly met the criteria entered on the register is an extremely good move. I cannot see any reason why it should not be encouraged.

With regard to Senator Norris's invitation to the Minister to go to North Great George's Street to see the example to which he is referring, I would like to tell him I got in first. I want to remind him that on the occasion the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, was here on the presentation of this Bill to the House I invited him to come with me on a tour on the topless bus. I told him if he had 35 or 40 minutes, which would be quite adequate, I would take him, not only to North Great George's Street but I would give him a quick tour around to see the dereliction in this city caused by the inner tangent road and by other massive road proposals. I would like to say to Senator Norris and to whatever Minister is coming, I hope it will be first of all to see the terrible overall situation in this city, and we can end up in North Great George's Street and have a look at that house. That is a serious offer I know from Senator Norris, and it is a serious offer from me. I really believe the Minister is committed. I can see from the intensity, the passion and the sentiment with which he is reponding to this discussion, that he is genuinely interested and I can think of no better way that he could spend 30 minutes. It would be most illuminating for him although I do not for one moment suggest the Minister is not very familiar with Dublin. I have to tell him that unless he actually starts at a particular spot with somebody who can bring him around and say: "These are where the road proposals have been for the last 35 or 40 years" that he can suddenly realise the full impact of what these lines on th map have done to the city. I have lived in Dublin all my life, I have been on the city council 16 years and I am ashamed to say, it is only within the last few years that the full impact of it struck me. I know the Minister is concerned about this matter and I urge him to allow Senator Norris and myself an opportunity to take him on a tour of Dublin. He will not regret it.

I am appalled at the vista being opened up, of the Minister being whisked by Senator Hederman on top of a topless bus. It sounds like the most extreme depravity. I hesitate to get involved but I have to say it is a splendid idea to take the Minister round and I would very happily engage with Senator Hederman in the competition as to who asked whom first. I might point out, that I issued a similar invitation during the last Seanad. It is such a good idea that a number of people have it simultaneously and I very much hope the Minister will graciously accede.

These amendments seek to create a greater public involvement in the procedures by which land will be entered on the derelict sites register. Amendment No. 7 would open to the public all representations by landowners against their land being entered on the derelict sites register. Amendment No. 8a would require a local authority to enter a site on the register where an application to this effect was made by any other person, representative, organisation or body.

I would like to remind Senators that the establishment of a derelict sites register, for which section 8 provides, is in itself a commitment to open government in the administration of this Bill. A local authority will be obliged to maintain a register of all land in their area which, in their opinion, is derelict. They will have to enter details of this land on the register, including particulars of action taken by them. The entire register will be made available for public inspection at the offices of the local authority at all times during office hours.

This public register of derelict sites will serve a number of purposes. In the case of urban land, liability for the derelict sites levy will automatically follow from entry in the derelict sites register. The register will also inform prospective new property owners that land is formally classified as a derelict site, with all of the liabilities and obligations which this will entail. Most importantly, the derelict sites register will stand as a public indication and reminder of the extent of the dereliction in a local authority area. If any interested member of the public, any representative or any member of a local authority wishes to make representations that the register does not adequately list all the derelict sites, then it will be fully open to them to do this. However, as the Bill stands, it is the judgment of the local authority which will decide whether, having regard to all the arguments put forward, a property should be entered in the derelict sites register.

Amendment No. 18 would change this position and require sites to be entered on the register on the application of third parties, provided that the application satisfied the criteria laid down by the Act. I should point out, first, that the amendment is technically defective because it does not spell out what these criteria should be. More importantly, the amendment would contravene natural justice in that it makes no provision for hearing the landowner's side of the case. I do not think anyone would like that to be the case.

The real intention behind both amendments is that the policing of the derelict sites control should, in some formal way, involve the public at large and not just the local authority. I have some difficulties with this idea. Section 9 of the Bill places a duty on every owner and occupier of land to take all reasonable steps to keep their land from becoming derelict. By contrast, section 10 places a much wider duty on local authorities to take all reasonable steps to keep all land in their areas from becoming derelict. In other words, the primary responsibility of individual landowners is for their own land, but local authorities are clearly required to concern themselves with the state of all properties in their functional areas.

The Bill establishes local authorities in a special way as guardians and protectors of the public interest in relation to dereliction. I do not think it would be practical for them to share this responsibility formally with private persons or representatives' organisations. As I have said, there will be nothing to prevent persons or bodies making representations to the local authorities and nothing to prevent them making representations on any aspect of the administration of this Bill, including the derelict sites and the register. I would expect the existence of the register to encourage this process.

For the reasons I have stated, I would not be prepared to give shared powers to the public in relation to entry on the register. If I may now elaborate, what we are doing here is giving powers to the local authority and to the members, as Senator Howard said last week on this debate. The local authority, or corporation, will be responsible and compelled under this Bill to keep a register of all of these. If I am going to buy a site, I or my legal representative should check with the register in that local authority area that the site is not in the register. I want to put this on record. I am not a legal man but I understand a good bit about it. If you go to buy a site you would want to make sure that there is not a liability on it under the register. It is very important.

I want to put on the record now that when this Bill comes into law a certificate will be required, in my opinion, from the local authority of the functional area because if you buy a site, pay your money and then find out it is in the register, you could be liable to a compulsory order. You would want to see the register to ascertain the position. If it is a cleaningup operation that is different. You can communicate with the local authority and they will decide and give you the clearance. That is why I want to spell that out. Do not take me out of context. Ordinary people might not realise this. They might say afterwards to public representatives that it was not explained, that "We did not know". I am explaining it now in the simplest way I can, without any legal garbage. I am explaining in very simple language what has to be done.

Coming back to the register, the local authority will keep a register in their area. It is open to any person to write in, or to communicate with elected representatives, if they so wish, to point out an area, a location or site, whatever the case may be. They can inform the local authority. But I have no doubt now. I think you may be underestimating the local authority a little.

In the Midlands they are very competent. Their area engineers and area officials who work for the local authorities know the areas quite well. I do not see a problem here. The local authority members will be involved also. People have the right to let the local authority know about this. The local authority will be involved in the compiling of the register. I do not want to get too many fingers in the pie because that does not work out, as you know. That is why I am satisfied with this wording of the Bill and satisfied that it will operate.

I understand the sentiments of the Senators also. I have to be fair. I do not think you need to worry now in regard to this. We are giving teeth now to the local authority. For the first time they are getting a wonderful opportunity here. In this Bill I am giving power to the members of the local authorities. They were crying out for it so long, saying that power was all in the Custom House, or in O'Connell Bridge House, whatever way you like to put it. Now we are bringing it back down to the corporations and the local authorities. I have explained this in as much as I possibly can. I appreciate the Members' views also. I am satisfied with what we have in the Bill. I have given a lot of thought in the last week to all the sections we will be coming to. I know where I am going in this. Do not take me out of context but I am satisfied with the wording of this.

The Minister is as always, interesting but I think his response in this instance is disappointing, and I regret that. He says, for example, that individuals can make representations. Of course they can. It only costs the price of an envelope, writing instrument and stamp. It does not guarantee that the local authorities will take the slightest, blind bit of notice, and that is the problem. That is what worries me.

I have paid some tributes to some local authorities, or even to the general principle of local authority and local democracy here this morning, but I also have long and wide ranging experience of local authorities. I am sure the Minister is quite right when he says that this gives them some teeth which they may have been asking for, but the Minister will also, I have no doubt, in view of his own long career in politics, at both local and national level, recognise the truth of what I say when I state that very frequently the corporations and local authorities have neglected to use powers which they have had in the past. They could quite easily have saved a certain amount of dereliction in this city if they only used the powers that existed, limited though they were. My problem is that there is the possibility of powers lying dormant, not being used.

The Minister says that local authorities are compelled to enter on a register. What happens when a citizen believes that local authorities are themselves in dereliction of their duty and when he becomes aware of buildings that are derelict for one reason or another — whether because of negligence, officials being too busy, or they could not be bothered, or because they do not have sufficient liquidity to do anything about it in terms of employing people? Of course, there will be a temporary shortfall economically if they do get stuck in to these derelict site situations. The authorities could be involved in some cost, I suppose. What guarantee is there that they will enter every single derelict site? Could the Minister who did a very competent job in elucidating some of the areas — particularly, I may say, in regard to the marginal areas of my concern in this — address one very simple idea that I have explained? I would like him to comment on it, if he will. Does he not recognise the fact, as I have very clearly stated, that a local authority is a large anonymous, amorphous body, with functionaries, bureaucrats and public servants — and I use all those in a neutral and not in a condemnatory sense — and that there is a substantial difference between the kind of motivation that may exist inside this kind of body on the one hand and the motivation of the individual who will have personal and direct knowledge of the situation on the other? If somebody goes to the trouble of trying to register a building as derelict, should he not be facilitated in every possible way?

The Minister talks about country councils. If in their opinion a site is derelict, what are the criteria? I presume there will be a further spelling out of what the criteria are in some of the regulations that may yet come. I would certainly welcome this. The Minister is nodding. I am very grateful. It no longer rests at the question of the matter of opinion, because there will be certain criteria to be fulfilled. This also affects one of the Minister's comments on our amendment, where he suggested that the amendment was defective because it was not specific enough. It did not specify the conditions. It did not take into account the rights of landlords, and so on. I would say that once the criteria are spelled out in the Bill, those criteria will be perfectly clear. It will be manifest under what sections the landowner has transgressed and that the rest of the Bill will apply. I do not accept at all that there is a question of natural justice intervening.

When the Bill is completed by the addition of the regulations prescribed by the Minister everybody will know what the criteria are. Those that transgress these criteria ought to be on the register. If they are not, individuals should have the right to place them on it as the rest of the machinery of the Bill comes into play. I must insist that the individual should have this right. I will be pressing this.

I would also like the Minister to explain if he actually imputes omniscience to local authorities? Are they all-seeing, all-powerful and ever wise? Is it ever possible that there could be a gap in their perceptions or that they could err, whether through malevolence, political chicanery or simply humanity? Because of the fact that, like the rest of us, they are fallible, is it not possible that there could be a gap and that that gap could be made up by the co-operation of the citizen? I will certainly wish to press this amendment.

If the Minister would give an undertaking that he will take my amendment away and look at it very carefully and amend the defects as he sees them while, at the same time, enshrining the principles, then and only then would I be prepared to withdraw it. Then and only then will I be tempted not to push it to a vote.

Could I respectfully suggest to the Senator that he is somewhat mistaken in relation to his comments about local authorities and more specifically in relation to local authority public representatives? As he rightly says, the individual would have the right to make his own representations to the local authority. He would also have access to the public representative in the area. It is one of the main functions of a local public representative to represent the views of the people. Any individuals who may not be doing that do not deserve to be there in the first place.

In fairness, this is the first opportunity that local authorities have had to get the power and obligation to implement these regulations. We could talk ad nauseam about hypothetical situations, as to what may or may not happen but we cannot legislate for all sorts of hypothetical situations. I am sure the Senator appreciates that difficulty. What I would suggest to him respectfully is that he should give an opportunity to the local authorities to implement these regulations and see how they work. I am very confident that the Bill is the best possible under the circumstances. The Senator will be pleasantly surprised at the implementation of the regulation when enforced.

This Bill goes a lot further than Senators may think. When it becomes law the local authority or corporation in its functional area will have to complete a register within one year and I am sticking to that — within one year. The problem with amendment No. 8 is that, for example, it could result in one set of citizens becoming subject to taxation at the instigation of another set of citizens. There has to be an authority with overall control. Senator Norris made a remark that possibly there should be an independent authority. We have enough authorities, in my opinion.

We have a local authority or corporation for the first time getting rights to look after all this. I accept that Senators want to make the Bill as practical and as good as possible. From a legislation point of view, it is well drafted and when it comes into law it will stand up. That is the aim, I have no doubt about that.

I have a great knowledge of local authority affairs. I am confident the local authorities will respond to this in conjunction with the members of those authorities with whom I have always had a great relationship. It is the right of any person to go to a member of a local authority or corporation and say that they should be included. In each electoral or divisional area you have the very competent staff of the local authorities to deal with all this.

Senator Norris and Senator Hederman mentioned places in their own areas in Dublin. It was very kind of them to issue an invitation to me but I have been asked all over the country as well and I have not got the time. It was very kind of them to issue that invitation.

Only 30 minutes.

I have been asked to go around the Twenty-six Counties. I will not be responsible personally when this Bill goes through because I am giving the authority to the corporations and local authorities. They have to get their act together on this. I am giving them the Bill with your support and approval and when this Bill comes into law the register of derelict buildings in the areas under their authority has to be compiled within a year. Some say I am asking too much but I do not think I am. I am satisfied with this.

To be fair to Senator Norris, I want to say there has to be an authority with overall charge and I am sticking with the local authority. I am not going to set up any more independent bodies. I have and always had great faith in the local authorities. Whatever anyone may think of them — they get a lot of abuse at times, and very little thanks — they do an enormous amount of work for the people. I cannot let this occasion go by without expressing my thanks to them all over the country for the work they do. They have to make very difficult decisions sometimes.

I am satisfied with the drafting of this Bill. I am satisfied that in law it gives all the necessary powers to the authorities.

I support this amendment. I do not think it is a vital part of this Bill. There are other areas which are much more serious. Senator Norris's problem — and I have great sympathy for it — is that although he is a man of wide experience in this particular instance he only has the experience of the Dublin Corporation. I, therefore, greatly sympathise with his most depressed opinion of their ability to do this. Perhaps I might help him by saying that as a member of that local authority — I hope I will be a member of it when this Bill comes in — I will undertake to do my best personally if this particular problem which he has is not being attended to.

I agree with Senator McKenna that the members of local authorities are, by and large, genuinely concerned about dereliction. They want to see it cleared up. If an individual comes to members of a local authority and brings such a matter to their attention they will find them very helpful and co-operative. Local authorities in general want to see dereliction cleared up provided, of course, that they do not own the property themselves, when, I am sorry to say, they take a rather different attitude. Senator Norris's grave fears in this matter are probably exaggerated. He has a base for them, but perhaps they are exaggerated.

I welcome the Bill. I hope that with the Minister in the Department of the Environment there is going to be a genuine effort to introduce some local democracy. I welcome the Minister's repeated statements that that is what he favours. I would like to remind him——

You are making a Second Stage speech, Senator.

All right. I would like to suggest to the Minister that he should go a step further. He spoke about giving power to local authorities. I do not think there is any harm in encouraging local authorities to involve the people; democracy should start at the very lowest level. I think it is called subsidiarity — that any function which can be given down to a lower authority is given. That is why I will be supporting the amendment. It seeks not to undermine the local authorities in any way but to get them to go a step further and to involve the people as this amendment, which Senator Norris and I have down, purports to do, that is, to allow then to bring to the attention of a local authority such a site and to have it entered on the register as has been outlined.

I cannot understand why the Minister says it would not be a nice situation that one lot of citizens could make another citizen liable to tax. I think that would be a splendid thing if the other defaulting citizen was perpetrating what I consider to be a social crime on his fellow-citizens by leaving sites derelict; and, if he is doing that, what is wrong with other citizens having some say in rectifying this matter? I do not think that is so hideous. It rather appeals to me that citizens should have that right. It will once again further what I believe in. We do not have to let all the power be with the local authorities. Let us farm it out. Let us say to people, "If you find that another citizen, through continuing dereliction, is causing a problem in an area and you bring that up, that is a good thing". That is probably a rather forward looking view but it is one, I am sure, that in the fullness of time will come to light with the Minister in the Department. He seems to be interested in local democracy.

By and large, it is fair, as the Minister has said in this instance, that local authorities up to this have had no power to deal with an owner of a property, even if it was a List One property. We have the sad case of 29, Clare Street, around the corner, where the local authority wanted to get the owner of that List One property to maintain it, but the local authority had no power. That is the reality. I hope that this Bill will give the local authorities that power. The difficulty is that we are going to exclude developers if they say to us the dereliction is there because they are assembling a site. That is why we appealed on our knees to the Minister — we will be doing that again in section 25 — that he would reconsider that, so that they would not slip out of the net. I ask the Minister to consider this amendment. I personally do not wish to press it, because I do not think it is the worst problem with the Act, but I certainly support Senator Norris's amendment.

Acting Chairman

I think consideration has been given to details of this. I would like the Senator to address himself to the amendment.

Yes, I am going to address myself quite specifically to the amendment. In so doing I would like to take up some of the things that have been said by the Minister and by every other person who has spoken, that is, with regard to the question of local representatives and their competence in this matter. Let us be quite honest. Local representatives are human beings and, like everybody else, they are a mixed bunch, full stop, end of story. We all know. I am not going to try to paint them as devils and I am sure the Minister and the other Senators here are not going to try to paint them as saints, because neither would be realistic.

In that light, I would like to place the following on the record. As a citizen, I appreciate that elected local representatives do and I also very much appreciate the fact that they play an unpaid role on behalf of society. I do not want it to be suggested that in moving this amendment I am in some way impugning the honour the reputation or the competence of local representatives. I am not. I am not, however, saying that all of them are either as effective or as informed or as competent as each other. There simply is not a level of uniformity. You can be lucky; you can be unlucky.

The other things I would like to say is this. I would like to know from the Minister, since we are all apparently going to rely entirely on the goodwill of the local representatives — and I have no doubt that in certain circumstances this exists — what rights do those local representatives have if they want to exercise them? Can one local representative representing me as an individual compel the local authority to enter upon the register a site that he or she knows is derelict because I have told them? I do not believe that one individual local representative has that authority.

It if falls within the Act, he has.

May I ask if that really falls within the Act? What is the machinery of compulsion for one local representative to bring this Act into force where it apparently has failed to come into force already? I think that is an important consideration. What is the mechanism of compulsion? I have experience of the local authority in Dublin and we have some excellent representatives on it. I have one sitting here beside me, Alderman Carmencita Hederman, and there are excellent representatives from all sides of the House, from various political parties, including the Government party, and those of no party. My experience has been that when I have briefed my local representatives, it is not unheard of for some of the other ones, who are totally ill-informed, biased and contentious to — for their own utterly unscrupulous reasons — to get a headline by attacking personally and by name people like myself who have sought to do this.

I would like to ask a very specific question. What rights does an individual have? Senator Hederman has volunteered to raise the matter of derelict sites, and I will certainly be happy with that — she has done this kind of thing excellently and ably in the past. I will certainly ask her, after the passage of this Bill, to do something for me in regard to a series of derelict sites with which I am familiar. Can the Minister guarantee me absolutely that, should Senator Hederman or A.N. Other raise on my behalf this matter, that will mean they will if they meet the criteria go onto the register? Can I ask also who monitors the register? Where does the responsibility lie to monitor the register?

I completely accept what the Minister says, that there is going to be a register. It is going to be done in a year. What makes the Minister think it is going to be complete? If it is not complete; what are the consequences? It is a very serious point. Suppose we get a register inside a year and it is, for example, to my knowledge grossly defective — and this is possible — is it not the case that that will confirm and consolidate the neglecting owners in their position and that they will laugh at people like myself because they will recognise that the situation has been pre-empted by the existence of a derelict site register? They will say: "My house could not be derelict. My property could not be derelict. If it was derelict it would be on the register. It is not on the register; therefore, it is not derelict". This is the problem that I am drawing respectfully, but very firmly, to the Minister's attention and I hope he will be able to explain it to me.

Acting Chairman

Senator Howard.

Could I make just one point? Not all members of local authorities are saints, some of them are devils, but they were elected there and that is local democracy, Senator Norris.

Acting Chairman

Senator Howard.

I want to say again that, listening to Senator Norris here, we are back to the old situation that has raised its head from time to time. There is a problem in this city; but it is not fair to say if there are deficiencies here in the personnel of the local authority, that every other local authority throughout the country should be condemned in the same breath. I object to that. The elected members of the local authority — I certainly say this in relation to my own local authority — will act with common sense where these matters are concerned. It is important that they would.

I would certainly have strong reservations about a guarantee being given — I think it is impossible to give a guarantee — that one individual member of a local authority can ensure the inclusion on the register of derelict sites of a particular building or property. To attempt to do anything like that is standing local democracy on its head. We have to allow for the situation that when this legislation comes into effect there are going to be crackpots around the country coming up with the opinion that this, that and the other site is derelict. It is derelict if it falls within the regulations as set out. It is derelict if that is the opinion of the majority of the elected members of the local authority, acting and behaving as sensible members and applying commonsense. You cannot have any individual — I used the term "crackpots"; perhaps I should not have used that term——

It has been used repeatedly about me and I am happy to accept that I am a crackpot.

I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not intend my comment to apply to any person here. People involved in local authorities know that such individuals exist around the country. Perhaps there is some better description of them. There will be a rash of these coming along wanting this, that and the other site to be described as a derelict property. There has to be commonsense in the application of this. I am satisfied that that measure of commonsense certainly exists in my local authority and, I hope, in a number of other areas. Whether it exists here in Dublin or not, I do not know. I can only speak for my own area.

It does, in the county.

There are a number of points I want to take up. It is important to say that the local authorities basically act as the guardians of the public. In reply to Senators Norris and Hederman, I think it is also important to point out that there is the function of the public representative, who has to look after the interests of the people. There is also another function and that is an executive function, the managerial function. I see the managerial function as being an extremely important one relative to this Bill, the same as it is important under the Planning Acts. I agree with Senator Howard when he says that if there is a problem in Dublin Corporation then that problem does not really manifest itself in many other local authorities. In regard to the Dublin scene, I might point to the fact that Dublin County Council already have a derelict sites section.

Mention was made about the rights of the individual to make a case vis-à-vis dereliction. Obviously, that right is there. It is there under the enforcement section with regard to planning and it will be there under this Derelict Sites Bill as well. The obvious choice is there for the public representative to make representations on behalf of his constituents; but at the end of the day it is going to be a managerial function to decide whether this particular site comes within the terms of the Derelict Sites Act. That is an executive function that is reserved to management at the end of the day to take a decision within the guidelines of the Act. It is very important that that would be seen for what it is.

We also mentioned the fact that it will take 12 months. As the Minister says, it is going to be a mammoth task for some local authorities to compile a complete register of derelict sites within that period. I would refer both Senators to section 11 of the Act, which empowers the local authority in the intervening period to take whatever action is necessary. That is a point that should not be overlooked when dealing with this amendment. I propose at this stage, since we have pretty well exhausted the section, that the question should be put.

No, I am sorry: I have not exhausted it. I have to take up a number of matters. I do not take offence at the word "crackpot"——

I am not applying it to you.

That is fine. I would not take offence at it, anyway. May I say that this very expression has been used about the Dublin Crisis Conference, for example, which represented very nearly one million people.

Acting Chairman

What has that to do with derelict sites or the register of derelict sites?

I will be very happy to explain that to you, Sir, at your invitation. It may take some little time, but since you were kind enough to invite me I will certainly do so.

It has been suggested that there are very large numbers of crackpots — in other words, of individual citizens of an eccentric nature who may mischievously employ this section if it was passed into law for their own purposes, whether sane or not. I do not believe that is necessarily the case. May I point out also that there are criteria to be met, so that crackpots can only do a very limited amount of damage. I would like to address once more this question of the criteria involved. I would like to ask the Minister are these objective criteria or are they subjective criteria, because I am increasingly concerned when I am told that these criteria — it seems to be something coming from all sides of the House — are going to be decided upon by the opinions of local representatives.

That is not correct, because the criteria laid down in the Bill and management structure within local authorities have to act within the ambit of the Bill or the Act as before them. It is not going to be a subjective thing; it has always to be an objective one.

I am very relieved to hear that. It is most important — and I hope that the Minister will have a look at this — that the criteria are objective and will be objectively applied and not subjectively applied. Since we are in a mood to produce little bouquets for Dublin County Council, let me place on the record of this House that at the moment there is a section 4 planning motion down for Dublin county. If this is the kind of behaviour that we can expect — and it is not unique to Dublin county or urban area; section 4 happens all over the country——

Acting Chairman

That does not apply, Senator.

With the greatest of respect——

I might put the Senator's mind at ease in the matter. He mentioned the reference in section 8(1) to the opinion of the local authority. Clearly, the opinion of the local authority will have to relate to whether a property is a derelict site within the meaning of section 3 of the Bill. If any further question of law arises it would have to be determined by the courts. That is very clear. I am trying to be as helpful as I possibly can as quickly as I can. We have had a long debate on this amendment and I have been very patient. I have explained this. I like to be as helpful as I possibly can, but I am not getting up on my feet again in regard to this.

Could I just make a very brief comment? I want to apologise to Senator Howard for interrupting him earlier on. I think the problem is — and I am afraid Senator Norris has to accept it — that if we want to have local democracy, which I desperately want, we have to accept that we do elect saints to local authorities but, sadly, we may also elect a few sinners as well. That is local democracy. If there was proper local democracy we might get fewer of the sinners and more of the saints, because people would be more involved and they would know what was happening. I am prepared to stick by the system we have of electing people to local authorities and of working within that ambit.

My reason for supporting this amendment is not that I have anything against the local authorities, who, I believe, will do their damnedest to implement this Bill. But, even on this amendment which Senator Norris and I have down, it will still be up to the manager to decide whether the criteria are being met in the situation where an individual comes in. We will still be in the hands of the manager. The reason I am supporting the amendment is not because I have not confidence in local authorities but because I think it would be a good thing for the local authorities to go even one step further and to involve the people in the decision. That is why I am supporting the amendment. I am not in any way denigrating local authorities. As I said, I personally do not consider it the most important of the amendments and I will not be pressing for a vote.

There is one further point I would like to make. It is an important point and it emerges from what the Minister has said. I would like some clarification, if this is possible. I completely accept that the Minister has been extremely patient and helpful and has clarified some material for us today. I think that is a very important function of the Houses of the Oireachtas, particularly of the Upper House. The Minister will appreciate that, when I felt that two of my amendments were unhelpful and could not be sustained logically, I withdrew both of them. Was the Minister saying in his final remarks — I felt he was almost saying it — that the individual can apply to the courts if he or she feels that the register is incomplete by virtue of its non-inclusion of a particular site?

Yes, it is a matter for the courts. Of course, they can. That is open at all times. I want to clarify another point. I am a great believer in local democracy. I stand by that, and that is it. There is no point in anyone saying to me that this person or that person is right or wrong, or whatever the case may be. They were duly elected by the people, by the ballot box, and I accept that. I am satisfied with it.

This is a vitally important thing, and I will leave it at this. I want it absolutely on the record of this House. I will intend acting upon this, Minister, because I am a man of my word and I have a very specific interest in this. If this Bill goes through in its present form and if certain specific sites in the north inner city of which I am aware and about which I intend to complain are not contained on the register, it is my entitlement as the law will then stand to apply directly as a citizen to compel those, should they meet the criteria, to be included on that register. If the Minister can "yes" to everything I have said there, I will not press a vote but, if he cannot satisfy me on every single line of that, then I am putting it to a vote.

I am dealing with the Bill on a national basis; I am not dealing with individual cases. When this Bill goes through into law that will be a matter for the persons concerned.

I would withdraw the request for a vote as well if the Minister can say that in the situation he outlined they will have recourse, that they will be liable to go and ask "Why is this site not on it?" and the Minister has said already they will be able to go to court.

Of course, they can go to court. You can go to court on any Bill.

It stands to reason. The High Court can determine the eligibility of any case that come before it. It is not for the Minister to decide that, surely.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 8 not moved.
Section 8 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 8a:

In page 9, before section 9, to insert a new section as follows:

"9.—Sites shall be entered on the derelict sites register upon any application made by any citizen or representative body which satisfies the criteria laid down in this Act."

Question: "That the new section be there inserted" put and declared lost.


Will the Senators who are claiming a division please rise in their places.

Senators Hederman, Norris and J. Ryan stood.

As fewer than five Senators stood in their places, I declare the question lost. The names of the Senators who stood will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Seanad.

Question declared lost.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.