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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 10 Jul 2001

Vol. 167 No. 14

Local Government Bill, 2000: Second Stage.

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

This is an exciting and challenging time for local government, a time of change and renewal. Local government is now recognised by our Constitution as a fundamental part of our democratic system and I am privileged to be here in the Seanad today to take Second Stage of the Local Government Bill, 2000. It follows directly from the earlier constitutional Bill, on which I was also honoured to speak in this House.

I want to set out the context in which the Local Government Bill was drafted. It has long been recognised by all political parties that the local government system in Ireland is in need of overhaul. At least we can all agree on that, even if not on every detail of the way to go about it. Those of us within the political system and the local government system in particular recognise that local government is different from other public sector bodies. Local government is seen by many primarily as a service provider at local level. It is this but it is also much more. Unlike other organisations, it is democratically elected and now has a constitutionally recognised role of democratic representation for local communities. For the past 20 years or so, until fairly recently, local government was overshadowed and was not doing well, often through no fault of its own. Its funding base contracted, new local development initiatives did not connect with it and local government began to lose its rightful place at the heart of local communities. Within the system the central policy role more often than not fell to the executive, with the elected council taking a back seat as regards policy development. All of these developments combined to devalue our democratic system. They devalued local government and local democracy. It was obvious that action was needed to reverse these trends.

The Local Government Bill is just one part of an ongoing process which started in earnest four years ago, a process which has been driven relentlessly by my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Noel Dempsey, throughout that period. It will facilitate continued improvements and lasting change long after we are all gone. It is important that I acknowledge the work of others.

The Local Government Acts of 1991 and 1994 set the tone for a more enlightened approach to local government. They removed statutory controls and relaxed the ultra vires doctrine. Deputy Brendan Howlin, Minister for the Environment in the rainbow Government, published a White Paper, Better Local Government, in 1996. The Bill before us today incorporates and builds on much of that work and I acknowledge this fact. The Government programme, An Action Programme for the Millennium, contained an explicit commitment to local government renewal and this is now endorsed by the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness.

We have come a long way and achieved much in the past four years. In considering the Bill, we must look at it against the broader canvas of the local government renewal programme. It is one component of an overall package. It is incumbent upon me to outline some of the other measures that make up that package and what has been achieved to date. Local government is now constitutionally recognised with a fixed electoral cycle and guaranteed local elections, with a consti tutional basis which now provides a solid foundation for this Bill. The new Local Government Fund, established by legislation in 1998, is delivering significant additional resources, as borne out by this year's allocations. In 2001, somewhere in the region of £720 million is being provided to local authorities, delivering almost 64% more than in 1997 for general purpose needs. On top of that, the national development plan is delivering major increases in capital funding for local authority projects. It is providing essential services and infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing economy and a developing society.

Strategic policy committees are up and running and it is encouraging to see them beginning to operate as intended. They will allow the elected member to develop a central role in policy development, in partnership with relevant sectoral interests, and with proper back up. The disappointing delay in getting them started due to industrial relations issues is now behind us and I look forward to the introduction of modern management systems which are necessary to support the process, with directors of service now being put in place. I am delighted to say that the recruitment process is almost complete.

The establishment of county and city development boards was another milestone in repositioning local government and raising its profile. These bring together the wide range of State agencies operating locally together with the social partners and local development bodies under the local government umbrella, a unique opportunity to maximise the combined impact of all involved at local level. Working in partnership, they are devising a strategy for economic, social and cultural development attuned to the needs of the county or city concerned and will oversee its delivery. This represents a new way for the public service to come together and operate on a collective basis for the common good and crucially, under the democratic leadership of local government. The CDBs are now up and running and have directors and support staff in place.

Another key objective in the Government's renewal programme was to achieve better efficiencies, to modernise local authority and to support local authority members. An equalisation model to facilitate the allocation of resources from the Local Government Fund in a way which takes account of local authority needs and resources has been put in place and will be further refined in co-operation with local authorities. Modern financial management, accounting and audit systems are well on the way to full implementation. Proper service indicators and new corporate planning systems have been introduced. Support for necessary IT systems to underpin these initiatives is being provided. There is an ongoing pilot programme of one stop shops with funding support from the Department. A major programme of information and training for councillors began with a series of seminars for new councillors.

The second phase saw an intensive focus on the chairs of SPCs to support them in key policy areas such as roads, housing, planning, etc. The third phase sees this programme now being extended to all councillors, in co-operation with the representative associations. New management structures in local authorities are being implemented to strengthen management and staffing capacity and to provide clearer accountability and responsibility, as well as opening up better career prospects in local government.

Senators will understand from what I have outlined that this is a renewal programme designed to build on progress to date. It is tailored to Irish circumstances and can significantly improve the lot of local government. We have recognised that local government systems vary widely across different countries. In any country it derives from particular traditions, history, culture and circumstances, and prospects for change must provide for that. In some countries functions such as policing, public transport or social welfare are delivered by the local government system but we must be honest and ask ourselves if this is a realistic goal. Given Irish circumstances, is it likely that in the short term at least such services will be subsumed within our local government system? Is there public demand for that to happen, much as we might wish it?

The bottom line is that we have to approach change in a realistic way taking account of how functional responsibilities have evolved, and how they are currently organised, if local government is to progress. Thus, our starting point must be where we find ourselves today. From there we must move forward in a planned and progressive fashion to renew our system of local government. On that journey we should be open to all possibilities as anything is possible. We must move from a realistic assessment of where we are, from an assessment grounded in reality, not in unrealistic expectations.

Before and after the Bill was published the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, engaged in an intensive consultation process with local authority members through the local authority representative associations. Through their submissions, and an extensive series of meetings, the Minister was able to hear their views first hand. As a result of that dialogue the Minister promised to look again at some of the issues raised, and many of the amendments brought forward during the passage of the Bill through the Dáil reflect that commitment. The Minister very much appreciates the hard work and effort the associations invested in the process and he has conveyed his thanks personally to them. Indeed, I add my own thanks to the GCCC, the AMAI and LAMA.

I would like to flag some of the more significant amendments which were made to the Bill in the Dáil. The title ‘borough' will continue in local government law, as promised to the Mayors of Clonmel, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Sligo and Wexford. For the first time ever in local government law the special historical position of Kilkenny has been recognised. The proposed ban on the dual mandate has been omitted. A new provision dealing with the prohibition of multiple membership of local authorities is incorporated in the Bill in response to suggestions from the local authority associations. The period of persistent non-attendance giving rise to loss of membership of a local authority has been extended to 18 months. The provisions dealing with access, information and transparency in relation to local authority meetings and agendas have been further strengthened. Specific provision has been included to deal with incompatible outside work being undertaken by local authority officials. A substantive new section has been inserted to promote local authority support for the Irish language. Various amendments throughout the Bill underpin the developing local authority role in promoting social inclusion. The ownership of Temple Bar Properties Limited is transferred to Dublin Corporation. The foregoing gives an indication of how some of the concerns expressed by the local authority associations, the Opposition and other interests have been taken on board.

The Bill is not a stand-alone measure and it cannot be looked at in isolation. It is an important element in the Government's ongoing programme of renewal which is already putting into practice the theory and objectives behind much of the Bill. The Bill provides the statutory framework to carry forward the wide range of initiatives mentioned earlier. Real and worthwhile change can only be achieved by taking account of the needs of all involved, which in this case means 1,600 councillors, 30,000 staff and the electorate from whom local government draws its mandate. The Bill aims to provide a framework to facilitate change in such a way as to encourage those involved to take ownership of the process. At the end of the day people are the key to success. The Bill is designed to allow local government to evolve in new directions and facilitate progressive change.

There have been criticisms that the Bill does not go far enough. However, reaction to some of the more innovative proposals has been controversial. I see that as a reliable indicator that radical change is unlikely to find widespread acceptance in local government circles. For example, no amendments have been put forward to redraw the map of local government as we know it. The Bill attempts to strike a balance in terms of the change required to enable the local government system to meet the demands of a modern, inclusive, 21st century society. At the same time it retains the solid foundations which have served us well for over 100 years.

The Bill is a blueprint for change and modernisation as well as a platform for future change. It does not therefore abandon local government as we know it, rather it builds on past work and current structures. The county and city system is maintained, as are the town local authorities, in all, comprising a grand total of 114 elected local authorities. In future these authorities must operate on a new basis, with a new ethos, building on the concepts of partnership and inclusion. We must place greater emphasis on working together, be it town and county or adjoining counties and cities, and the Bill provides for that. While the policy and executive roles are continued they are subject to significant change and rebalancing designed to enhance the role of the elected council.

Many provisions in the Bill present members with a renewed opportunity to reclaim their rightful role as the policy makers. The Bill aims to promote a strong but workable framework in which the executive operates within policy parameters determined by the elected council and local government operations are overseen by that council with the necessary support. This legislation emphasises the links with the communities from which local government derives its mandate and supports community involvement in a more participative local democracy. It will provide for improved financial and organisational systems and procedures as well as for more efficient service provision.

The Bill aims to reinforce the rightful position of the elected council in determining local authority policy. The corporate policy group, with an elected Chair, will have a key role to play in this process as a kind of cabinet to deal with over-arching corporate affairs. That is the corporate plan for the life of the council, the annual budget and overseeing of the executive. The Bill places the executive under a duty to implement democratically settled policy and provides for executive functions to be carried out accordingly. However, any system is only as good as the people in it, the extent of their dedication and their availability to do the job in hand. No amount of legislation, no matter how reforming, can achieve that. The kind of commitment I am referring to is borne out by the service of councillors throughout the local government system. This too is acknowledged and the Bill provides for practical supports to assist members by way of a salary-type payment, allowances and training. There is also provision for pension arrangements.

Another aim of the Bill is to consolidate and update our local government law to provide a modern statutory foundation for local government. At long last general local government law will be found between two covers in a format which is accessible to councillors, staff and the public. That will represent a definite improvement on the current situation of a variety of overlapping provisions, scattered over a wide range of enactments with archaic terminology which is complex and impenetrable. In contrast, the Bill provides a modern statutory framework for local authority operations with a range of general powers available to all local authorities. It provides for the repeal of legislation dating back a century and a half. Separate Bills to update rating law and water services are being prepared and will complete the process of modernising the service codes and repeal the remaining pre-independence statutes.

I will mention briefly some of the specific provisions in the Bill. Part 2 contains key provisions establishing local authorities within a modern legislative format. It follows directly from Article 28A of Bunreacht na hÉireann which provides that there shall be such directly elected local authorities as may be determined by law. That law shall be the Local Government Bill now before us. Section 10 divides the State into local government areas of counties and cities. Within the counties, and forming part of them, are the town local authorities. Each of these areas – county, city or town – has a local authority known, as appropriate, as a county council, city council or town council; or borough council in some cases.

Parts 3 and 4 deal with local authority membership and local elections. Local elections are fixed at five yearly intervals to be held in the month of May or June, with the next local elections in 2004. This is now guaranteed by the Constitution, thus ending a long history of postponements which served to diminish local government. A mechanism is included in section 22 to allow for alteration in the number of members of a local authority. This involves a report by the independent Local Government Commission provided for in Part 11. This commission also has a role as regards the review of local electoral areas under Part 4; the alteration of local authority boundaries under Part 8; and the establishment of new town councils. As regards co-options, section 19 provides that in future, co-optees to a local authority must be nominated by the party for which the departing member concerned was elected.

Part 5 deals with the position of the cathaoirleach which, under existing law, is the generic title. Existing mayors and lord mayors continue and it will be open to any local authority to adopt the title mayor or cathaoirleach. From 2004, the cathaoirleach of counties and cities will be elected by direct vote of the people and will hold office for the life of the council. The directly elected chair will be a powerful impetus for change in the internal dynamics of local government. The cathaoirleach will be directly answerable to the people and accountable to the elected council; a full-time cathaoirleach who must work with the council to deliver on the full potential of the office, which is highly visible and accountable; a person elected by the people who draws on powerful democratic legitimacy to speak and negotiate on behalf of the whole community, with influence well beyond any formal powers and with the capacity to bring together the various elements of local governance. Experience elsewhere bears out the undoubted potential of such an office.

As regards meetings of local authorities, Part 6 establishes a statutory right of public access, and restricts the right to meet in committee to special cases and subject to special procedures. Schedule 10 sets out a comprehensive, updated and consolidated code for local authority meetings. The framework for local authority committees and joint committees is set out in Part 7.

Part 9 contains a general statement of local authority functions, while individual services such as fire, waste, planning, etc., are carried out under the relevant specific legislation, which for convenience is listed in Schedule 12. However, the Bill itself provides a range of general powers available to all local authorities, including democratic representational role broad powers to promote the community interest, including provision of local amenities; flexibility to take action ancillary to any express statutory powers; by-laws to regulate matters of local concern; land acquisition and disposal; establishment of a community fund to support local projects; discretion to introduce a community initiative scheme whereby an annual contribution can be introduced for a specific community initiative, but only following extensive local consultation; and an office of mayor, civic honours and the ceremonial role.

The Bill emphasises the need for town and county authorities to work together, and to combine their operations to the fullest extent and with a focus by all authorities on serving the public by whom rigid organisational distinctions are often seen as unhelpful.

Part 10 allows for necessary inter-authority co-operation in the performance of functions. It provides the flexibility for service arrangements to be made on foot of local agreements between town and county authorities or between adjoining counties and cities.

Part 12 will allow for the modernisation of financial management, accounts and audit to provide transparent, user-friendly and comparable data for all authorities. For reasons of greater effectiveness the water services function is consolidated at county level in Part 9, as was proposed in Better Local Government. In saying this, however, the Bill allows for joint arrangements to be worked out locally where this may be more appropriate.

Part 14 sets out the respective roles of the elected council, manager and staff. An array of mechanisms is provided to enable the elected council to maintain a proper overview of local authority affairs, to develop, make and steer policy and to oversee the executive, and with proper supports and back-up as referred to earlier. Local authority personnel and management law is also consolidated and updated.

Part 15 provides a comprehensive new ethics framework for members and officials. It is regrettable that the actions of a very small few can bring the whole system into disrepute. This Part provides an open and transparent framework which will apply to all aspects of local authority operations and will involve: disclosure of interest in any matter which arises, an annual statement of interests, a public register, active implemen tation, and with a role for the independent Public Offices Commission; along with codes of conduct for staff and members.

Part 21 restates existing law as regards the non-performance of certain functions and Part 23, as already mentioned, provides for the transfer of Temple Bar Properties Limited to Dublin Corporation.

This is a unique occasion in terms of local government legislation. For the first time ever in this State we have the opportunity to consider a Bill to provide the statutory framework for our local government system. The last such legislation for Irish local government, the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898, was before the Westminster Parliament at the end of the 19th century.

The Bill before us now is designed to improve local government, both in its operations and in its relevance to the communities it serves, and to modernise its procedures. It provides a modern legal foundation for our local government system, one which is founded on principles of democracy, partnership and community. It provides the framework to carry forward the renewal programme already well under way. It will significantly enhance the role of the elected council and it will allow local government the freedom to develop in the new directions essential to the development of our democratic system.

It is a Bill worthy of your trust and confidence, and a salute to local government. I confidently commend it to the House.

Senator Coogan has 15 minutes or any lesser amount of time he chooses.

Chairman, I do not know whether you are trying to encourage me to shorten my contribution, but in making my points I will try to stay within the boundaries of the 15 minutes.

The Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, has shown wonderful stamina in being here throughout the day and into the night, but at the same time I would have preferred if the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, were here. I am sure the Minister would have preferred if he was here and no doubt the Minister of State also would have preferred if he were here, considering the day he has gone through.

I compliment the Minister of State on the recognition that the Better Local Government policy brought in by the then Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, under the rainbow Government in 1996 was the foundation of the Bill and of the structure which is being put in place. If I can carry the simile through, in so far as the actual foundations of Better Local Government were the foundations of the Bill, unfortunately the structures the Government is putting in place are very shaky. It is more akin to bungalow bliss than an opportunity for building something which would both be attractive and work able. The reason I say that is he has missed a golden opportunity to advance local government.

The Bill contains a number of minor housekeeping measures, some of which perhaps would have come about anyway, but there is nothing earth-shaking in it. It seems that when the Minister started out some years ago he said that he liked a little item at one end of the shelf and asked could he have it, along with two other items at the other end, to put in the Bill. I also congratulate the Minister of State on complimenting LAMA, GCCC and AMAI for their input, but he pulled the hood over their eyes at one stage.

Local government provides a variety of services, such as sewerage and water services, roads, housing of all types and mortgages. Additionally, it provides for road maintenance, landscaping, amenity areas and investment in the arts. The work of a local authority is very varied. I have mentioned only some of its aspects. Planning is another important one. A huge spectrum of tasks is carried out within local government. A factory, for example, would have fewer products than local government.

Let us consider the role of the local authority member and the dramatic changes that have occurred. Some years ago, I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, in this House when he established the position on SPCs. I pointed out that this would involve more work for local authority members, but he argued that it would involve less. The General Council of County Councils carried out a survey and discovered that the average working week for a local authority member was approximately 33 hours. One might say there is bias in this figure. However, some members have to travel for hours to work – for example, from west Cork into the city and back again. The Minister of State is aware of this. Such a journey could take four hours or half a working day before getting any work done. This is very demanding. Therefore, 33 hours is not an exaggeration.

Apart from driving – some may not have to travel such distances – there are other demands made of local authority members. For example, there are members serving not just on one but perhaps two area committees and SPCs. A member may chair an SPC and then have to attend a policy committee and meet other chairpersons. There are ordinary meetings that have to be attended, as well as regional authority meetings, which involve more travelling. A person may also be a member of a city or county development board.

From the number of duties and the time commitments involved, local government service is almost a full-time job, and requires very able people. These are ordinary people who are, very often, learning their role as they go along. They give of their time freely for little or no recompense.

Section 142 deals with the Minister's right to make payments to local authority members. Reasonable payments are referred to. Consider ing what I have just said, not including the telephone calls members and their families receive at home, often at unsocial hours, and the need to travel at night, often in poor conditions, the term "reasonable" is not sufficient. Payment should be commensurate with the amount of work local authority members do. I am aware that is a regulation the Minister can make and hope he will take it into account. As a former member of LAMA and a local authority, he should recognise the validity of what I am saying.

I speak on behalf of the General Council of County Councils, my nomination body on the administrative panel. Therefore, I speak on behalf of local authority members and do not apologise for making their case as well as I can. Will the Minister of State relay the points I have made to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, in order that when he makes the regulations, he will not account only for the workload? He should also account for the following. When the Minister offered a gratuity to other members to resign or retire, he offered them the carrot and the stick. He offered them a gratuity but said he would replace this with a salary. He made this point before the last elections. People either made a decision to take the gratuity or continue in public service. As far as they were concerned, they had a contract with the Minister and assumed that by giving up perhaps £20,000, although staying in public service, they would receive a salary. That was in June 1999. The Minister is now saying that he can backdate only to May 2000. He has a contract with elected local authority members, which he should honour. He should ensure any recompense made would extend back to the period to which I referred.

I said that the General Council of County Councils, LAMA and the AMI were very involved in making submissions and meeting the Minster, his advisers and civil servants from the Department. They were making suggestions that would enhance the role of local authority members. One point, of which Senator Walsh is well aware, is that the idea of the direct election of mayors is not agreeable to 90% of elected members. I refer to members of his party. He is aware of this because he has often been told. Why is he not amenable to the idea? One might ask what difference does it make. Local communities elect the people whom they believe are capable. The people concerned select their chairman, deputy chairman, deputy mayor, mayor and lord mayor. They thought they were able to do that. It has allowed for individuals to be honoured by their own for one year to act in an honorary position representing their cities or counties.

I had that opportunity on a number of occasions during the years. It is one of the greatest honours that a local authority member can receive. This Bill would mean that this system would end. Are we replacing these individuals with people who have more responsibility or authority? The answer is no, we are not. We are simply replacing them with others who would have had the same status under the old system, in which the manager still rules the roost. Another opportunity has been missed by the Government to take some of that authority away and return it to the members through those who are directly elected.

Senator Walsh is aware that I was not averse to the concept of direct elections. I was averse to the term of five years. However, I thought that the basis of the direct election of mayors would be that they would have more power and authority and be answerable directly to those who elected them. The Bill does not provide for this. I do not want to be told that it may in the future. I can address only what is in the Bill. I can safely say that 90% of elected members will say this is a farce.

I spoke to three people last night who were mayors of my city. Their positions were honorary. I asked them if, at the end of their one year in office, they would have liked to continue for another year. They all answered that they would not as the role is too demanding. If a term of one year is too demanding for a person, what must five years be like? He would not wish to continue holding the office, no matter what salary he would be offered. Because the position is only honorary, most of the duties have to be performed at night, which upsets family life. That aspect of the Bill is a farce.

What has happened with regard to the dual mandate is even more of a farce. This Bill was mooted over two years ago and only arrived in May 2000. Since then, it has been languishing while the Minister's own backbenchers have fought tooth and nail to hold on to the dual mandate. They did not want to let it go. A clever move was made to suggest that it was the four Independent Members who were holding it up.

The Fine Gael Party clearly stated, and still does, that the dual mandate should be removed. It would have voted with the Government on that section of the Bill. Even without the Fine Gael Party the Government could have got it through, but for its own backbenchers. It is time the cover was lifted on that so the public and the elected representatives realise what was really delaying the Bill.

Eventually the measure had to be thrown out, thus weakening the Bill. I know the Minister is very upset about this because he fought to retain the measure until the last minute, appearing on radio in the final few days to say it was still there. He believes it to be central and pivotal to the Bill. I agree with him because I am aware that the duties of local authority members, which I outlined earlier, take up so much time that it is impossible for an elected member of the Seanad or the Dáil to combine them with the duties of either House. I know of SPC meetings held on a Wednesday which I am not able to attend. The dual mandate will end some time so it is a pity the Government did not have the courage of its convictions and stick to the measure.

I want to return to one or two areas related to consultation and dialogue mentioned by the Minister of State. I wonder has he taken the opportunity to look back at the effectiveness of SPCs. The principle behind their structure looks good on paper, but while some are extremely effective others are simply not working. I do not know why. The idea was that local authorities would be more open to community interests, but I can assure the Minister of State it is working only in some places. If he wants it to work, he had better go back and fine tune it.

I regard the Bill as a missed opportunity to hand more authority, power and responsibility to local authority members. It can be said that members are afraid to make decisions and that, unfortunately, they did not make decisions on regional waste management strategies. They did make decisions.

And got punished for them.

What annoys me most about it is that if a local authority did not decide in the way the Minister wanted, it was decided they were wrong and the issue had to be revisited, but it was all right if they decided in favour of the Minister. That is not democracy. If it is a regional decision, it should be voted on a regional basis. If a local authority finds difficulty with a strategy because it does not believe in it, feels it is dangerous or is not satisfied it knows enough about it, so be it. That is democracy at work.

A heavy handed Minister intervening to remove more power from a local authority by giving it to the manager is not local democracy. That is happening in parallel with this Bill. I hope the Minister of State takes the points I raised back to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, that he takes them on board and that there is an opportunity to revisit the Bill or introduce another which enhances the role of the local representative and enhances and guarantees local democracy.

It would be inappropriate for me to welcome the Minister of State to the House given that he has been here all day, but it would be appropriate to compliment him on his kind remarks about local government. As somebody who has served as Lord Mayor of Cork and had a distinguished involvement in local government, I would expect him to have an incisive view. That came across in his earlier comments.

I join with those who wished the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, a speedy recovery to good health. It would also be appropriate for the House to compliment him not just on the introduction of the Bill, but also on his deep commitment to local government. He championed the constitutional recognition which had been sought for many years. He is amenable to consultation, making himself available, for example, at a meeting in Tralee last summer attended by over 600 council lors who were afforded an all day session in which to express their views on various aspects of the Bill. He also consulted widely with the various associations, the parliamentary party and other interested parties prior to the publication of the Bill. It is a hallmark of his office that he has been open to suggestions from all sides and he deserves great credit for that.

Local government is a great challenge. The system is undoubtedly in need of an overhaul having experienced a gradual erosion of powers which pre-dates my entry into politics by a long time and continued subsequent to my involvement in politics at local level.

I welcome the Bill. Local government has served us exceptionally well. Town local government goes back centuries while county local government has been with us since its enactment in 1898 followed by elections in 1899. It was a forum for democratic self-expression in the years before the foundation of the State and helped spawn independence. It played a key role in the early days of the State in the provision of housing and water supplies to rural areas, as well as roads, planning, fire services and environmental amenities. At that stage local government was also involved in the provision of health services and upon reflection it might have been better to have left it there rather that allow it take the route it did.

Local government has also displayed a wider vision of contributing to local communities. My local authority, for example, established the Wexford national heritage park, which is a tremendous tourist attraction in the county, the 1798 visitor centre in Enniscorthy, assisted in championing the Dunbrody ship, which was built in New Ross and is now a major tourist attraction there, and built the new marina at Kilmore and a swimming pool in New Ross. A range of public facilities has come about because of the vision and contribution of local government which has been a major force for good and development. Those who have participated in it can be very proud of their achievement.

As we embark on a new century it is time we looked to broaden the functions of local government and loosen the central control that has always applied and which constantly seeks to extend its remit. Piecemeal change has taken place, some of it reactive and some of it for electoral gain. There is now a need for a more comprehensive approach. We need go no further than reminding ourselves that a world competitiveness report in 1995 ranked Ireland lowest on its administrative centralisation table, in other words, our local government was most dependent on central government. When one considered the countries which had just emerged from the communist system which was very centrally controlled, it is a fairly stark comment on the system we have allowed to develop.

Local government is also big business. The Minster of State rightly pointed out that there are 1,600 local councillors, 30,000 local government employees and a spend of over £2 billion a year yet it would be fair to say the directors of the system have very little control over some fundamental areas of the business they are charged with running and directing. On the finances of local government referred to by the Minister of State, I come from the school which was critical of the removal of rates on houses and the abolition of water charges. These did more than remove a method of financing councils; they took away an element of responsibility from the elected members. To that extent, they undermined some of the pillars which had previously stood local government in good stead.

It is unlikely that any Government will reverse what has happened. I acknowledge the £720 million which has been made available through the local government fund this year. This amount has increased by 64% since 1997 and has addressed many of the financial shortcomings which inhibited the activities of local government before that time.

I am disappointed the Bill does not attempt to address the question of the city and county management legislation. The SPCs were established to deal with what has happened as a result of policy being initiated by managers and often pursued by them, rather than options and information being provided to councillors to enable them to make decisions independently. Often the system did not work in the way intended and the manager had his own preferred policy. There is a need for a new management system and the introduction of SPCs and the consequent appointment of directors of services signal a move in the right direction.

The partnership between management and councillors is necessary but if it is to work effectively, councillors must be provided with research and other resources to enable them to do their job effectively. This problem must be addressed. I hope the introduction of new systems, particularly of corporate policy groups, will do this. Corporate policy groups, with directly elected chairs at their heads, provide an opportunity for us to look at greater empowerment of councillors, who hold a democratic mandate from the people.

The Minister advised the three local authority members' representative associations to come together to put forward amendments to the Bill. One of these amendments proposed that executive functions be transferred to the corporate policy groups, which would operate on a similar basis to the Cabinet at national level, with the executive presenting various policy options and the corporate policy groups making decisions. If the corporate policy groups were developed into playing this role local government would be strengthened and enhanced. This development would also have an enhancing effect on politics generally because elected representatives would be seen to be taking responsibility, creating initiatives, taking charge of services which are important to people at local level and giving an account of their stew ardship at the ballot box. That is the essence of democracy.

From a councillor's point of view, the question of directly elected chairs has been one of the most contentious aspects of the Bill. I agree with Senator Coogan when he says a person who serves a term of one year on a voluntary basis is almost certain to feel relief when his term of office comes to an end because such positions are, in effect, full time. Local government has suffered because the system of one year terms of office prevents the continuity which is essential for the pursuit and implementation of effective policies. It has been suggested that the direct election of chairs would attract single issue candidates or people who lack experience of local government or commitment to it. It is for that reason the requirement that candidates for chair would have five years experience of membership of a local authority was included in the Bill. In most careers experience is required of people who seek senior positions.

This issue will be pursued continually by the representative associations. The Minister was sympathetic to the proposal but legal advice has placed a doubt over it. The implications of the legal advice will have to be examined carefully. It is possible that other mechanisms could be used. There is a nominating procedure for the presidency, for example. The procedure for nominating candidates for the presidency through county councils was used successfully on the last occasion. It was a good use of local government powers to nominate people outside the mainstream of politics for the presidency. There may be mechanisms which could be used to achieve the same objective.

The dual mandate has been a contentious issue for some time. We are in an era of specialisation. An Oireachtas Member has a different remit from a local government member and the separation of the two would be to the benefit of national and local government. I understand that some people feel there is an electoral advantage in being a member of a local authority and that the experience gained there will stand one in good stead when one becomes a Member of the Oireachtas. There is some validity in that argument but there is a stronger benefit to be obtained by separating the two roles.

The question of the dual mandate should be re-examined between now and 2004, with a view to separating them. In the interim there is a valid argument to be made for paying all councillors equally. After that time a gratuity could be used to compensate people who had foregone it previously and may have been encouraged to stand for the Oireachtas. An effort should be made to end the dual mandate in 2004. There were particular difficulties on this occasion because of the numbers in Dáil Éireann.

I do not object to declarations of interest and disclosures being made annually by local authority members but I have serious difficulty with this information being published in newspapers for prurient reasons. This matter should be examined, perhaps by an Oireachtas committee. Only if people transgress should the detail of a member's interests and property be published in newspapers, to become the subject of local interest and public house talk. There is very little to attract people into the profession of politics and this is a pity. I support the inclusion of a code of conduct in the Bill. It is a pity that because a tiny number of politicians have been guilty of transgressions everyone is under suspicion.

Various Government services should be devolved back to local authorities. The people who are administrating services such as policing, health management, public transport, education and the distribution of lottery grants within the jurisdiction of the council should be available to account for their stewardship of those services at local level in the same way as at national level people administering public services are obliged to come before committees of the Oireachtas.

Section 142 relates to remuneration and pension, which is long overdue. Senator Coogan has rightly pointed to the number of hours involved. It is a total anomaly that the only people working free gratis in the public service were local councillors. That will be addressed and I hope the Minister, having accepted the proposal that came from LAMA, will ensure that the salary, pension and gratuity attached to it is commensurate with the workload and commitment of the people involved in local government.

I appreciate the opportunity to address the issues in the Bill. It is an important recognition of the work done by local councillors. I never have been and never will be a local authority member, but I appreciate and respect the commitment they give to their local communities.

I am one of the few people in either House of the Oireachtas who is in favour of the dual mandate or at least opposed to legislation outlawing it. That serves no electoral purpose and the people should decide who they want to represent them. If we try to constrict and restrain involvement and participation in politics, we will get the wrong result. I know it is meant in the best of ways, but I am happy that it is not in this legislation.

We are not doing anything to attract people into politics. What we went through earlier today was part of that. Here it is again tonight. I have discussed aspects of this legislation with the National Union of Journalists, which is a very important affiliate of the Irish Congress of Trades Unions. It has problems with this and I have considerable sympathy for that problem.

Many people who have a bad public image and get bad publicity do so because nobody sees the real work they do. I always say to teachers that if I could allow microphones and cameras into the classrooms of teachers in ordinary schools, people would be amazed at the amount of work they do. The same is true of county councillors. They are not respected because the work they do is never seen and it needs to be. I fully support them getting adequate remuneration for the work that they do. They are entitled to it and should get it. As a trade unionist, I value social, capital and voluntary commitment from people but a work input is required to make the system work and people should be paid for that.

Part 6 of the Bill refers to the meetings and proceedings of local authorities. I am particularly concerned about the elements of work that can be taken in committee. Section 45(3) is far too generalised in stating that a meeting can go into committee, in other words become private, because of the special nature of the meeting or an item of business to be or about to be considered at the meeting or for other special reasons. There should be an entitlement to have confidential meetings and go into committee, but the reasons should be much more specific than that.

It should be like the Houses of the Oireachtas in the way that we are governed by the Constitution. We have an entitlement to go into committee, our committees regularly go into private session and that is as it should be. However, some issues should not be taken in committee. The work which councillors do in their input to the council's budget, the rate etc. should be public. This is far better than people just grandstanding on the night they strike a rate or when they decide on service charges. Let us see the input they make during the course of the discussions. They should not be in committee. It does not serve the councillors well that it should be.

Every time we send people abroad to international meetings they are subject to negative press comment, but it is better to take it on the chin and say that it is important that council members go to look at waste management or whatever. It is better to be up front and deal with it.

Last week it was not considered sufficiently newsworthy to publish the expenses of Senators in the main. They could not wait to get at them two or three years ago, but the reality is they just get tired. I know that there were some exceptions and Senator Connor very unfairly got his name up in lights. If that kind of information were made available and we insisted that it be published in a particular way it could be dealt with.

The Minister should look at the way in which the meetings can be taken. It is wrong to simply cite "special reasons" and go into committee. There is nothing to be gained. Let us hear the councillors and the kind of creative input they make into working out the budgetary meetings of the council in the course of a year rather than those guys who stroll in on the council meeting when the hard decisions have to be taken and grandstand it for the press to show that they are the hard men.

Let the people and the press see the work the local authority members do and in that way it will have to be reported in a much fairer way. It is in line with the greater powers that we are now correctly giving to local authorities. I would look for even more devolution of power. We should look on local authority meetings in the same way as we look on meetings of Oireachtas committees. They should be subject to similar requirements and not the wide open arrangement in section 45 of the Bill.

The Bill has a serious void in the audit area in that there is no definition of an auditor. That may sound a bit odd, but I would like to see such a definition. The Bill states that the Minister may from time to time appoint people to the local government audit service. Who can be appointed to it? After the Public Accounts Committee inquiry there was huge concern among politicians and the public that auditors be auditors. There is now a move that they be part of recognised accountancy bodies, having gone through recognised, supported and approved audit examinations to become auditors. This Bill is not saying what an auditor is or what the qualification is, and that should be there.

The powers of the audit committee should be increased. It will become a crucial committee with the amount of money being dealt with and rather than simply commenting on the audit as it says in the Bill, they could have much greater powers than that.

I am very concerned about the approach that has been taken to employees in local authorities. This Bill gives them all the category of employee. There are various categories of people employed by local authorities. People had different rights and entitlements and I am sure the advisers and draftspersons who have the status of civil servants will recognise what I am talking about here. Officers of local authorities had statutory entitlements in terms of their conditions of service, superannuation, job descriptions and other issues. They had direct appeal to the Minister and Ministers determine their conditions of service in many ways. This will change as a result of the Bill.

Previously their functions were determined by local government statutes, as distinct from employees whose conditions are determined by laws relating to contracts of employment. They will now move from having protection under statute to a position where they will simply be protected under the normal contracts of employment. I am being careful with my words. It may be that at the end of the day this will turn out to be all right. However, I have discussed this with IMPACT, which is very seriously concerned. This has been done without any consultation. There was one meeting with the representatives of these people despite the fact this constitutes a major change to their employment status.

As a person who for a good number of years has negotiated pension entitlements, arrangements and protection for Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, I would expect Members to show an equal concern and sympathy for officers of local authorities who until now were covered by the Local Government (Superannuation) Acts. These Acts are not mentioned in the Bill, and I will closely examine the Minister's response. I hope Members agree that we must examine this matter so that we protect the employees and ensure the rights and entitlements they currently have under the Local Government (Superannuation) Acts do not deteriorate in any way through the enactment of this Bill.

I could go into significant detail on these issues and will perhaps return to them on Committee Stage. It is appalling that a Department should have so little consultation with a significant group of employees whose conditions of employment and pension entitlements are very much part of what is being addressed in the Bill. To gain the trust of employees and to produce a confidence building measure, there should have been serious negotiation and agreement with IMPACT, the representatives of these people. I ask the Minister in his response to clarify the issues I have raised and to give a commitment to ensure there will not be a deterioration in conditions, that the entitlement to appeal to the Minister will be maintained, that the method by which the Minister may devolve his authority regarding conditions of service of these officials will be agreed with representatives of the union, and the superannuation arrangements will be maintained and protected.

I join in the good wishes to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey. He got a raw deal in terms of the Bill. He also got a raw deal from the media, which I defended in many cases during the course of the day. It was appalling that on the day the Government changed its mind and the Minister announced a U-turn on the dual mandate, "Morning Ireland" ran a week old interview with the Minister which had not previously been aired and in which the Minister spoke against the dual mandate. It was unfair, and that is the type of situation which would arise under the provisions in the previous Bill. The Minister has given this Bill his best and I am sorry some things did not work out. I like his courage in dealing with it. I did not agree with his point on the dual mandate, but the Government should have made its position clear earlier. Neither did I agree with the Minister's attempt to downgrade Kilkenny. Apart from that I compliment the Minister on what he has done and I hope he returns to full health as quickly as possible. Perhaps he will be in Croke Park to cheer on Meath on Sunday.

I wish to share time with Senator O'Brien. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, and pay tribute to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, who has put a tremendous amount of time into the Bill. Many people were very critical of it and said it would not ever reach the House. I found Senator O'Toole's contribution very invigorating. If he is not elected to the Seanad in future he could always run for a local authority.

I might run in Kerry North.

I am sure the Senator would be successful if he ran for a local authority as he spoke from the heart about the entitlements of councillors. They have worked extremely hard and have donated a very large amount of their time to local authorities and local government without any reward. They were criticised morning, noon and night for not doing enough, but they worked on a voluntary basis. They got travelling expenses and many people made hay out of the fact they were getting so much, but the same people did not see that councillors were taking days off work and had to forfeit part of their salary as they looked after local concerns. They also had community meetings, etc.

Local government has come a very long way, and this Bill enhances and brings it forward. Everything in the Bill may not be satisfactory to everybody, but it contains much with which local councillors will be very pleased. They are going through quite a lot in terms of SPCs, new county enterprise boards and regional meetings. There has been much in legislation over the years improving facilities for local one stop shops, and the public is definitely benefiting from improvements in local government.

People raised the issue of chairmen being in office for five years and agreed that much can be said in favour of a one year term. However, there are some people who enjoy being chairman of a county council, and it takes almost a year to get to know the workings of a council. I maintain that the first year is spent learning how things operate, and learning from mistakes, and that the minimum term should be two or three years, when people can really get to enjoy the position. People should be broadminded in this regard.

Many people were very critical when they spoke about the dual mandate. Members of the Oireachtas will be forced from having a dual mandate as they will not be able to handle the workload. By 2004 people will opt out from having a dual mandate. If the payments system introduced in the last local elections was offered again, every Member of the Oireachtas would remain on the sideline and stick with one job. Members will be able to get minutes from local authority meetings and all they will need to do is keep abreast of what is happening in local government.

I welcome many of the provisions of the Bill, including the salary being provided for the first time for councillors and the gratuity. There is no doubt the issue of superannuation will have to be examined. Other powers will have to be given to councillors in future. In terms of national Government the work load is getting too much for Ministers, and they will have to devolve their powers to a far greater extent to local government. I refer here not only to the Department of the Environment and Local Government, but to other Departments. Members of local authorities in turn will have to be remunerated for their efforts.

It is stated that the payment to councillors can be backdated to the date the Bill was introduced. I would like the Minister to examine backdating it to the last local elections. It is something all councillors expected, and the Minister will have to examine this issue seriously.

I welcome the fact that there will be elections every five years. It is only right and proper that the seven and nine year periods have been abolished. The people have the chance to change their councillors if they are not doing their job. I welcome the legislation and will have more to say on it on Committee and Report Stages. I wish the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, a speedy return to the House and compliment him on all his work. I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, for all his work in local government.

I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, on his work today. He has spent ten hours in the House today and we are not finished yet. He deserves great credit for spending that time with us.

I welcome the Bill and compliment the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, on bringing it forward. It is important legislation that has been long awaited. There are many aspects of the Bill that I want to refer to but it would not be possible in the time allocated. Section 142(1) provides that regulation be made with the consent of the Minister for Finance for the payment of allowances towards local authority members. This is probably the most important part of the Bill because local authority members have served this country since local authorities were set up and only received expenses and very little remuneration for their work. Their workload entitles them to a salary and pension scheme and the Minister has in his wisdom brought forward this Bill which will ensure that very shortly they will have the salary they so richly deserve. Reform of local government is an important issue at this time of economic boom.

I send my good wishes to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, for a speedy recovery and hope he will be back with us after the summer recess.

The trouble with this legislation is that it is presented to us as a major reform measure. Reforming local government essentially means shifting the balance of the respective roles of the executive functions and those reserved for local authority members, but that is not the case here.

I welcome the Bill from the point of view that it builds on the White Paper, Better Local Government, published in 1996. In 1899, when local authorities were established, the balance of power was in the hands of the elected members. That was the case right up to the time of independence. The first serious attack came about in 1925 when the reserved functions began to shift more towards an executive appointed by the Minister. In a sense this meant that local authorities were operated as an adjunct to the Department of Local Government. That continued up to the 1950s with the county management Act which established a powerful chief executive in the local authority with extensive executive powers which totally took away the reserved functions of local authority members. There is every reason to believe that many local authorities were unethical when they had extensive reserved powers. That problem informed much of the change in the 1930s and 1940s, but we now live in a transparent era and I had hoped that the essential element of the reform provided for in this Bill – this will not be revisited in a comprehensive way for maybe a generation – would provide a shift in the way that functions are divided.

Local authority funding derives from rates which are still raised by the local authority – that is now a small part of their budget – and the rest is raised from the rates support grant and other grants-in-aid which come from the Department of the Environment and Local Government. The discretion that local authority members have over the rates support grant or any other grant-in-aid from the Department has not increased. Members have discretion over the funds they raise through rates and other charges. Policy can be made to direct how that money is spent within the law. In most cases, and certainly in the local authority that I serve on where 20% of our total supply of funding is derived from local funding – rates, water rates and so on – the remaining 80% comes from the rates support grant and others. We have no discretion over this matter. The chief executive, the county manager, has total discretion and from either a practical or policy point of view we do not have a function. That is the case for all local authorities throughout the country.

That is where the reform really misses the target. Local participative democracy does not have a role. The people elect the county councillors and would like to think that those they elect have a major say in the way the budget is ordered, within the law, in the same way as the Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas have a significant say, if they wish to exercise it, in financial policies and the way budgets are spent.

The Minister referred to the functions of local authorities, but the functions have not changed, they were always there. They are presented to us here as if they are something new but, for instance, the democratic representational role was always there in the sense that the members of local authorities were democratically elected and were there to provide a representational role. We always had the powers to promote local amenities, it depended on the chief executive-county manager who was in place. Some of them were extremely cautious about providing funding while others were a little more adventurous, which meant that good local amenities were provided in some counties but not in others. We have always had the power to introduce by-laws to regulate matters of local concern. That was always a function reserved to local authorities. The one area where members had power over the chief executive was in regard to land acquisition and disposal. It is somewhat disingenuous to present these functions as being representative of something new when that is not the case. The fact that the elected members have no greater role in exercising these functions is a serious flaw.

The Minister had much to say about directly elected mayors. I accept the principle of directly elected mayors and chairs, but there should be a condition that would exempt anyone from contesting these offices who did not have previous experience of serving in a local authority. It would be expected that the directly elected mayor or chairperson, as alluded to in the Minister's speech, would have certain experience. He stated:

The cathaoirleach will be directly answerable to the people and accountable to the elected council; a full-time cathaoirleach who must work with the council to deliver on the full potential of the office, which is highly visible and accountable; a person elected by the people who draws on powerful democratic legitimacy to speak and negotiate on behalf of the whole community, with influence well beyond any formal powers and with the capacity to bring together the various elements of local governance. Experience elsewhere bears out the undoubted potential of such an office.

There is nothing in the Bill to show that a directly elected chair or mayor has any influence over the executive.

I am not so sure what is the reserve function of a directly mayor. That is not clearly stated in the Bill. We know what are the reserve functions of a directly elected member of a county council but there is nothing in the Bill that states that a newly directly elected chair has any power to influence an executive decision. That is not reform. The script that was written for the Minister reads well, but at the end of the day it means nothing.

Many people will find it ridiculous that a chairperson of a local authority will be elected and presumably will have to be well paid for that job, but he or she will not have any major power in influencing policy. That person will not be elected by the electorate in an electoral area but by the electorate of the county, borough, city or town. The person elected could be a popular local singer or a popular footballer who sees an opportunity to be elected because of their local fame but who has no experience of the work or functions of a local authority. People may say "a plague on all your houses" because of the usual attitude of some people towards those in public life and they may reject a person who has been a member of a local authority for a long time in favour of a person with no experience of that work. There is an argument to be made that for a person to be eligible for election as mayor or chairperson, and I appreciate there are legal difficulties, he or she should have some experience of local government.

Given the nature of our electorate I suppose we have to say these things but I do so genuinely in that I am delighted that at long last it has been recognised there is a need to remunerate elected county councillors, borough councillors or city councillors. The point has not yet been made in the debate that Members of the Oireachtas are out of that loop. I am delighted about that. The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, was called the Minister for Spite by Members of the Oireachtas at a parliamentary party meeting because they will not get such an additional salary. They were wrong to say that. It is right that Members of the Oireachtas will not be paid such a salary. Although I exercise the dual mandate, I believe we should not exercise it and I would welcome its abolition.

Given that Oireachtas Members will be out of the loop, I call on the Minister of State to ensure local elected councillors are decently remunerated for their work. It will be easier for him to do that now that Oireachtas Members will not receive such remuneration. A minimum salary of £12,000 per year or a little more should be paid to an elected member of a local council. I am sure pro rata salaries will be paid to members of urban district councils, town commissions and so on. That is an important point. One of the major reforms in this legislation is that we are recognising the statutory role of elected members of local authorities. It is often ignored that local authority members, as part of their reserve function, have a statutory role. If they did not perform them, the local authority could not function. It is only right and proper that they should be well remunerated for that. I threw out that figure and I hope the Minister of State will seriously bear it in mind.

While I welcome the general thrust of the Bill, it is regrettable that this opportunity is lost to bring about real reform. The Acting Chairman is a member of a local authority. He and I sit on the same local authority and I know from his performance as chairman of it that he would like greater powers to be devolved to elected members. This Bill does not provide for that. That is where it signally fails.

I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, on his powers of concentration having been here ten hours on the trot and his brain is still working. It is almost 11.40 p.m. and I do not know whether my brain can keep going at this stage. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this Bill. It will give us a platform to debate local government in the widest sense.

I wish the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, a speedy recovery. I record my appreciation of his commitment and dedication to local authorities. I found the Minister, who had been a member of a local authority and had wide experience of the work load of councillors, very accessible when we were discussing the drafting of this Bill. I appreciate that he made himself available to facilitate us when many concerns were expressed at the initial stage.

Local government in Ireland has a proud history and is well served by dedicated staff and public representatives, but an overhaul of the system was well overdue. It had lost its place at the heart of the community. Over the years managers and staff had begun to take on the role of formulating policy and the council took on the role of agreeing to management proposals.

This Bill has taken many months of intensive and at times agonising consideration at all levels to reach this stage. We welcome its arrival in the Seanad as an example of reforming and dynamic legislation which will set the basis for a responsible and efficient local service for many years to come.

Many aspects of the Bill are positive although I have some difficulty with some aspects of it on which I will expand. The Bill sets out to enhance the role of the councillor and to give them additional power, support and community involvement. Having been a member of a local authority for 16 years, I have a fair knowledge and experience of the diverse functions of local government and the various authorities. The input made by councillors over the years cannot be emphasised enough in terms of the demands of their workload, their work with resident associations and all they have to put up with. When I became a county councillor 16 years ago I was well able to cope with the workload, but I would have to say something different today.

This Bill is wide ranging and I would like to have had more time to go into the detail of it. I welcome sections dealing with the funding of local authorities. It is essential to secure the necessary resources for the programmes of local government renewal and the Minister has acknowledged that. The sum of £730 million was provided for local authorities in 2001, 64% more than was provided in 1997. That improvement was complemented by major increases in capital funding for local authority projects under the national development plan to provide for essential services in infrastructure for a modern society.

The Bill also caters for a modern financial management accounting and audit system. I welcome this as it gives a picture of how the money is spent, something I never understood in all my years as a councillor and I have a Bachelor of Commerce degree. I am glad to see that there are changes incorporated in the Bill which will adopt a more simple approach. It will give us an indication of how money is spent and the manager the opportunity to explain it exactly.

Part 3 deals with, and clarifies, co-option. That is very important. During the years some councils allowed a party to co-opt one of its members. Independents, however, will be sorted out by standing orders. This aspect of the Bill is a little loose and I would like to get confirmation of how it will work. Sometimes it does not work well. There have been difficulties in my council as to how independents were co-opted. The sections dealing with the five yearly interval for local elections in Chapter 4 are to be welcomed. It was outrageous that there were no elections between 1991 and 1999. It diminished local government.

Part 7 will give statutory recognition to SPCs. This country has become too "committee-ited". I am concerned at the proliferation of committees at local authority level and will list some of them. There are regional assemblies, regional authorities, county and city development boards, health boards, vocational education committees, harbour authorities, enterprise boards, SPCs and area committees. I cannot see these functioning as designed.

What about the sheep dipping committee?

I did my best to list as many as I could. I do not think these committees can have the necessary back-up staff to function properly and efficiently. We will need more research to allow councils to effectively carry out their functions. I welcome the concept of the SPC because it is policy driven and will work with outside interests and in partnership with community interests. I have some concerns about local boundary alterations. My area, Terenure-Rathfarnham, has seven seats, and is almost like a constituency. This does not seem like local democracy to me. I would like the Minister to revisit this matter before the next local elections.

The three areas generating huge controversy are the directly elected mayor or chairman, the dual mandate – which has now been put on the long finger – and the provisions in regard to payments. The first potential stumbling block in the Bill is that of directly elected mayor. This is a radical and new concept. I do not want to give the impression that I am opposed to change and innovation. However, the model and logic of how this new structure might work has not been made very clear. It has caused me some concern and apprehension as to how it might be implemented.

I endorse the call made by the General Council of County Councils that a detailed working of the new system should take place within two years of the first elections of directly elected mayors. Any adjustments, in what is a new dispensation, could then be made. New dynamics in the relationship between manager, members and mayor will arise in this uncharted territory. It will need to be monitored in a very exact fashion to ensure the balance of powers is adjusted in the best interests of elected members.

The provisions regarding the salaries and pensions of councillors will be widely welcomed throughout the House. For too long we have had local democracy on the cheap. We have expected councillors to carry the burden of local represen tation without a realistic consideration of the demands on their time and commitment. The days when one could have membership of a council on an amateur basis are long gone. Today's local authorities need informed, motivated people who can devote time to the complex issues involved in representing local communities. The introduction of a credible and realistic salary is overdue and will be welcomed by all elected members. I hope there will be no undue delay in bringing together the various elements of the salary scheme. I hope also the Minister will give priority to meeting the leaders of the representative associations in the autumn in order that the level and detail of the salary scheme, and a corresponding pension scheme and gratuity, can be produced without delay.

We must also take long serving councillors into account in the pension scheme and gratuity. One must look at the workload and the number of committees that one must attend. A salary of less than £12,000 to £15,000 would be an insult to councillors, considering the work they do and the demands put on them. I call on LAMA and the General Council of County Councils to make these points when discussing the provision of payments.

The question of research backup must also be discussed. There must be provision for those establishing offices to serve their communities. It is impossible to do the work without some back-up services. I would like to think that there would be a statutory entitlement to time off to attend council meetings.

It may not be a good idea to reopen the discussion on the dual mandate. However, as a Senator, I had no problem with its removal. There is an emerging workload at local government level, and such a proliferation of committees and structures, that being a local representative has become an almost full-time job. We can no longer serve two chambers.

I ask the Minister to acknowledge the workload of councils. They are the basic framework of politics in this country. Without local authorities we would not be sitting here or get a chance to talk about this Bill. When it comes to negotiating the salary scheme, the Minister should reflect on how much work councillors do and how much they help in making democracy work.

I wish to share time with Senator Costello.

It is late in the evening and very late in the term. The long awaited and long promised Local Government Bill, 2000, is finally with us. It is substantial legislation. Unfortunately it is not the reforming legislation heralded by the Government, nor is it the reforming legislation described by the Minister of State tonight. Despite its size there is not much new in it. This is to be regretted.

There is not much new in terms of the major issue facing every elected member of a local authority, regardless of whether they are represented in the House, which is the power of the elected member. As Senator Ormonde and others have pointed out, the workload of and demands on councillors have increased but their powers have diminished. Earlier we passed the Waste Management (Amendment) Bill and further diluted local democracy and undermined the role of the elected member by handing over one of the reserved functions to the manager, namely, the power to adopt a waste management plan. That is regrettable, but I will confine my remarks to the Bill before the House.

We have reached the stage where electors are beginning to ask why they elect us. I will give two short anecdotes to illustrate my point. During the Seanad elections in 1997, I met an elected councillor in the Dublin area who pointed out that the poverty partnership programme in her area had more funding than the council of which she was a member. No one on that partnership was elected.

I recently attended a meeting, of which there are many, organised by the National Roads Authority and its consultants to draw up the route selection programme for the five new motorways to be built under the national development plan. Outside this meeting were represented community groups affected by one of these motorways in the Tipperary area. All asked elected councillors attending the meeting what, if anything, we would do to represent their views. The short answer was that there was very little we could do to represent their views because these major road programmes will not come before elected members in any form over which we will have influence.

It is extraordinary that the largest road development project which will have most impact on the lives of individuals and communities we represent will not be debated by elected local authority members in any formal way. This is one example of how down the years legislation has been passed which has undermined in a real and unfortunate way the power of the elected member to the extent that we are left with a large workload but little power. Unfortunately, the Bill does not address this issue.

While changes are proposed in the Bill for directly elected chairs of councils, remuneration for councillors, which is welcome, and other matters referred to by the Minister of State, overall it is not the reforming legislation we would have asked for. The Minister of State referred to the role of local authorities in partnership and inclusion. How can we implement a programme of partnership and inclusion when we do not have power to make changes and major decisions which affect people's lives? In terms of roads, waste management and other areas, we have diluted the role of the elected member and, to a large extent, we have created unaccountable structures. In the longer term, we have, unfortunately, created an even greater cynicism among the public about the role of the elected member.

I look forward to debating the Bill in greater detail on Committee Stage when we will be able to examine it in fine detail. In some sections, especially where amendments made in the Dáil are concerned, there are elements which must be closely examined.

The directly elected chairs are a new initiative and I join with others in questioning how they will work in practice. In theory it is a great idea to have someone who, with the mandate of the people, is given the role to serve as chair of the county or city council for five years. Unless that office is given some powers of initiative or is enabled to cope with the executive powers of the manager, it is an empty role. I understand the concerns of councillors, especially those who have served for a long time, about the potential of a person who has never been a member of a local authority being elected to that position for a local reason, such as dumps, incinerators, roads or hospitals. That is one area we will examine closely to see how it works out.

I welcome the Minister of State and sympathise with him for having such a long session. We are approaching midnight and we have not sat this late for a long time. However, I am glad there has not been a guillotine of the legislation and I compliment the Leader on that.

As many speakers have said, the Bill is a fine tome which is large in size and weight but leaves a considerable amount to be desired in terms of quality. It is not that there are not good measures in the Bill but they should have been much better. The legislation is built on the White Paper, Better Local Government, of 1996, introduced by Deputy Howlin, then Minister for the Environment. There are some good measures in the Bill and some good ones were introduced prior to it, such as the new structures in area committees, special policy committees, integrated area plans and city and county development plans. These are interesting and worthwhile developments which have the intention of providing a better local service with policy and delivery elements as part of it. That is useful as a background.

The other background element is the constitutional recognition of local government which is very important. We know local government is in a position to enhance itself in future. Much of that was brought about because 1998 was the centenary of local government in Ireland and a number of measures were prompted as a result.

The most serious deficiency in the legislation to which speakers have referred repeatedly is that the role of elected members has not been enhanced in terms of powers. Unless I as an elected member of my local authority can say I have greater power than I had prior to this legislation, it is not of much use. I will not receive remuneration for the service I give but ordinary members will.

While new structures are put in place, there are no new powers to do things. No local funding is provided to allow local authorities to do all they would like to do. They are still very much dependent on the combination of the rate support fund from the Government, which Deputy Howlin introduced for water service charges and is ring-fenced, and part of the Government fund itself. Most local authorities still work on a shoestring.

The real powers reside with the manager. Not until there is an opportunity in terms of powers and funding to carry out in full the work of local authorities will we have good local government. Given that the managerial system is being strengthened by way of legislation, more decisions will now be taken by the Minister which will encroach further on the decisions of councillors. This is not a healthy sign. There is no point in the Minister lecturing us about councillors not making decisions. What he means is that they will not make the decisions he likes. That is a different matter which has come up on several occasions.

The Minister has been seriously embarrassed by having to reverse his decision on the five borough councils of Clonmel, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Sligo and Wexford which he said would be abolished. However, the greatest embarrassment relates to the dual mandate to which the Fianna Fáil backbenchers, and the backbenchers of most parties, were opposed. The Minister did not bow to the backbenchers on this issue but to the four Independent Deputies. These were the only people who were listened to, which is not healthy for democracy. That just gives the Minister a bad name both inside and outside the House. I wish him well and hope he makes an early recovery and comes back with more legislation before the time runs out.

On the issue of directly elected chathaoirligh and lord mayors, I share the reservations expressed by the General Council of County Councils and the other representative bodies. It is not appropriate that someone who has no experience of local authority workings should be the senior person to whom elected local authority members will be responsible. That person would then be in a position to run the show in local authorities. There is a need to have a CV. One may say that his could be left to the discretion of the electorate, but given that the media has huge power, someone who has a high public profile and not necessarily experience in dealing with complex aspects of local government, could be in the most senior position in local authorities. While that respects the democratic position it does not respect the need for good government which is part and parcel of democracy.

I welcome the fact that there will be disclosure of interests. A register of interests must be compiled and elected local representatives will be answerable as is the case for Members of the Oireachtas. While I would like the Bill to be a more hard-hitting in terms of giving more powers to local councillors, nevertheless, it includes many good aspects. I welcome the remuneration for hard working members of local authorities throughout the country.

I intend to be brief, bearing in mind that the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, has been in the Chamber for almost 11 hours, which is some commitment.

The other Ministers are on their holidays.


Senator Callanan, without interruption.

As I have acknowledged the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, I would like at this juncture to acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has served this Government well. He has served us well as Minister for the Environment and Local Government and I take this opportunity to wish him well and back to full health as speedily as possible.

Hear, hear.

The Minister has a vision for local government. Many other Ministers for Local Government had an opportunity to do what he has done but they did not do it. There is some criticism of the Bill but in general it is welcomed, which is to be expected. The criticism of the Bill is unfair, unjust and somewhat hypocritical. It must be acknowledged that a great deal of reforming legislation has been introduced by the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and the Ministers of State, Deputies Wallace and Molloy since taking office.

The central aim of the Bill is to enhance the role of the elected member, support community involvement with local authorities in a more participative local democracy, modernise local government legislation, and provide the framework for new financial management systems and other procedures to promote efficiency and effectiveness and to underpin generally the programme of local government renewal. We should acknowledge that the Bill is doing just that. Perhaps it is fair to say that if anyone in this House or in the other House had an opportunity to frame this Bill they might either include or exclude aspects of it. However, the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, is the person responsible and we should welcome what he has done in this regard.

There has been reference to the workload of county councillors and so on and a general acknowledgment of many of the good aspects of the Bill. The greatest single reform the Minister has introduced here is the preservation of democracy at local level. He has done so by ensuring that local authority members receive some reward for the work they do. If things continued as they were, being a member of a local authority would become the preserve of millionaires and those who could afford to be away from their businesses. However, the Minister has ensured that ordinary men and women will represent ordi nary people at local government level, which is central to any democratic process.

I congratulate the Minister on this reform – perhaps other reforms such as roads, housing, infrastructure and so on could be administered by the Department – which is necessary if local government is to continue into the future. Many councillors have demanded this reform. Many people have left local government because they could not afford to continue in that service. This is the Minister's greatest achievement.

There are councillors who will say that they would prefer things to continue as they were. There are Senators and Members of the other House who spoke about the dual mandate and said that it should be surrendered. There is nothing to stop any Member of either House from opting out, people who are critical of this provision of the Bill and of the fact that the Government changed its mind? What about it if the Government changed its mind? That is what democracy is all about. People have that option.

The last time the issue of the workload of local authority members was debated in this House, it was said that the workload of a county councillor was 19 hours per week. It was said tonight that county councillors work approximately 33 hours per week. I wish to inform this House and the media that no person in local government will serve their community with a time involvement of only 33 hours. A councillor can do 50 to 60 hours when all is added up. It is not solely time spent in the council chamber but meetings with communities, residents and the many objectors' groups. A councillor's spouse or partner is often involved, giving a free service. Democracy now costs money.

The body of people in local government are honest people across all the parties. I do not know any person who has served in local government who has not lost money in doing so. I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, on that reform.

Senators have referred to various figures. Surely a county councillor is worth what a county council road worker earns, that is, about £16,000 per year. That is the minimum councillors should be paid. There should also be a proper job evaluation to find out what the real input and real cost is.

I wish to deal with one other matter in the Bill which amends the Abattoirs Act, 1998. I warn the Minister about this matter. An interdepartmental group has been sitting for some time to consider the future role of local authority vets. I say to that group to leave the power of the veterinary officer with the local authority and not to centralise it. It should be kept separate because local authority vets are the people involved with the National Food Authority and it is vital for the protection of the consumer that they remain separate. It cannot become involved with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. I will fight that with every bit of energy in my body.

I wish to share my time with Senator Jackman.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

It is now 15 minutes past midnight and I do not wish to repeat the points that have been made. This is a very important Bill. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, and I wish the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, a return to full health at an early date.

There are a number of issues in the Bill that are a source of concern. One of them relates to the status of various towns across the country. Expectations had been raised over recent years in relation to the increase in status of a number of towns from town commission to the status of urban district council. This Bill does not cater for those towns. I refer in particular to Shannon in County Clare. It is one of the fastest-growing towns in the country. It is a relatively new town, at 45 years old, that has expanded dramatically in recent years. The definite and strong belief was that it would acquire the status of an urban district council as an improvement from the status of town commission. Unfortunately, this Bill has done nothing to empower that council or to enhance its authority within its local community and area. The people of the area are extremely disappointed and the public representatives of Shannon are confounded that all the promises that emanated from the Department of the Environment and Local Government over recent years have come to nothing. The co-operation between Clare County Council, the Shannon Town Commission and SFADCo has resulted in absolutely nothing.

I am sorry this matter is not taken into consideration in the Bill. I say to the Minister that it is still not too late. We still have to deal with Committee Stage in this House and I ask him to address this matter specifically on Committee Stage. If we are serious about devolution of power to local public representatives and local authorities, here is a case in point where this should and must be done. I appeal to the Minister to respond positively.

It would be remiss of this House not to put on record our appreciation of all councillors since the foundation of the State who gave of their time and energy, in most instances causing the devaluation of their properties or their business interests. They served the country and their respective local authorities at a time when they did not get a ha'penny return. They did not even get expenses initially and then only minimal expenses. Most serving members of local public authorities lost financially as a result of their service. It is time we respected that and put on record our appreciation. Were it not for them, we would not have a local authority system today.

The proposal to remunerate councillors is extremely important and very welcome. I concur with Senator Callanan that there should be an initial payment of £15,000 per year. Every coun cillor should receive at least that sum per year. I ask the Minister to consider that figure as a starting point. Councillors do a phenomenal amount of work. The expansion in the number of committees, sub-committees and SPCs has created a huge workload for councillors. That must be recognised and respected and they must be properly remunerated.

The Government has egg on its face in relation to the dual mandate. A fundamental principle on which the Government went to the electorate in the last election was that the dual mandate would be abolished, but it succumbed to the pressure from the four Independents Members. The Government then came under further pressure from the four Progressive Democrats Deputies. They caved in on the token gesture whereby, though the dual mandate continues, Oireachtas Members who are members of local authorities will not be paid. Once one gives in on the principle, that is it – and to discriminate against Members of the Oireachtas is unconstitutional. This is a farce.

Members of this House have resigned permanent and pensionable jobs in teaching and other professions to be full-time politicians and legislators. A county councillor is not a legislator. A county councillor is a local public representative. A Member of the Oireachtas is elected to legislate. Those are two very distinct functions and to say there is a cross function is a nonsense and is not a justification for succumbing to political pressure from within the Government. I ask the Minister to address the issue again. The fundamental issue is the principle of the dual mandate. The Government has caved in to pressure on that and should now deal with the issue with a sense of fair play.

As someone who has served on a local authority for 22 years I say it is vitally important that the chairman of the local authority has service and experience on local authorities. I do not care about their political persuasion. Learning on a local authority is an extensive process and one will be a member of a local authority for a number of years before one has expertise and knowledge regarding all that goes on. For someone totally inexperienced to come in and take over as chairman is not good for local government and cannot be effective. Unless there is the co-operation and goodwill of the elected members and unless they have the authority to elect their chairman this is a recipe for disaster. I ask the Minister to look very seriously at that issue again.

It is with concern that I look at the time and realise that. like everything else that is so important to us, this is being rushed through at the last minute.

No one is rushing it through at the last minute. Senators have all night to discuss the Bill.

I will take extra time so.

The Senator can take extra time but I am next.

I find it offensive that when females address the House they are subjected to quite a deal of barracking.

All Senators are equal.

Acting Chairman

The Senator is wasting time.

I am not wasting time. I wish you would quieten these interruptions.

The Senator is provoking them.

Unfortunately, the funding needed to have proper local government is not provided for in the Bill. Having been elected as a councillor since 1985, I can say that local government members are the Cinderella of any political system. They do extraordinary work and give as much time to their jobs as Deputies and Senators. They go to meetings and try to be available to all sorts of interest groups from one end of the week to the other. The remuneration that has been spoken about should be even greater because local government members are full-time workers. They have to juxtapose their jobs with the demands of the local authority. One thing that has happened with the development of the SPCs is that external people have seen from the inside the amount of time given to meetings. We would not have as many items on the agenda per day in the Seanad. The typical agenda of a council meeting can run on forever. That is because we are dealing with very complicated issues and programmes right across the board from infrastructure to planning.

On directly elected cathaoirligh, it is an intrusion on the democratic system to find that if one person is there for five years there will not be an opportunity for councillors to be elected through rotation. It brings a tremendous amount of pride to villages and rural areas when the cathaoirleach can bring the council to those areas and hold specific events which provide the public with an understanding of what local authorities do. That will be lost with one person having five years without having what happens in Germany where the directly elected person is the chief executive and has power and funding. I presume the Minister was thinking in terms of our European neighbours. What is missing in the Irish system is that one has the honour of being cathaoirleach or mayor but not have the power to go with it.

The role of the National Roads Authority is the subject of ongoing controversy the length and breadth of the land. That controversy has been raised by Senators on both sides of the House. I am appalled at what happened in relation to the so-called powers of local authority members. Attending public meeting after public meeting one is asked what one can do about consultation. I have mentioned the Nenagh to Limerick road which is exercising the minds of hundreds of people. They are very irritated that they have a week to make submissions having had one opportunity to look at the plans on very badly printed maps. When we addressed the National Roads Authority with the engineer – who was anxious to have more consultation – one week was given to the people whose lives will be affected by the selection and implementation of the route. I am glad I can make that point because if we are talking about local democracy we are surely talking about consultation. It is very sad for councillors to have to say we have no part in this other than to approve or disapprove. If we do either, the manager can go ahead and do whatever, or the Minister can intervene. We do not have powers.

As regards residential density guidelines, the Minister looked at the Bacon reports and juxtaposed Dublin with Clonmel, Tipperary and Limerick. He does not seem to be aware that there is a totally different ethos relating to housing developments and needs in those areas. Everything may happen in Dublin from the perspective of the Minister but it does not from the perspective of those from the rest of the country.

We have two enforcement officers in County Limerick. Two have left and we cannot get anyone to come and work in the area. The most important aspect of legislation is ensuring that proper planning is being adhered to by developers. It is enforcement officers who do that. Why do people not want to work in local authorities? Why are we losing our planners and engineers? Is it because of lack of competitive remuneration compared to the private sector or is it because the work load is so great that they are as frustrated as councillors? These are the questions that should have been addressed in the Bill. There is frustration at all levels.

The reason people are leaving local authorities is very simple. It is because the Celtic Tiger is out there alive and well and they are being offered a great deal more money.

That is the whole point.

I too would like to have seen urban district council status for Mullingar. I would have liked to have seen a town of its size – 16,000 or 17,000 and projected to be 28,000 within the next five years – included in the Bill.

I welcome this Bill and the trust, work and dedication of this Minister. In 1985, during the life of the disastrous 1983 to 1987 administration, two out of every three lights in every town and village was turned off and there was no money for footpaths. Pot-hole candidates were elected in 1991 because of the lack of investment. Before us is the Minister's achievement. Local government is now constitutionally recognised with a fixed electoral cycle. Guaranteed local elections on a constitutional basis provide a solid foundation for this Bill.

The new Local Government Fund, established by legislation in 1998, is now delivering significant additional resources. This is borne out by the allocation in 2001. In the region of £270 million is being provided for local authorities, delivering almost 64% more for general purpose needs than in 1997. This is an incredible increase in the delivery of services by the Minister. In addition, the national development plan is delivering major increases in capital funding for local authority projects, ensuring essential services and infrastructure will be in place to meet demands in a growing economy and a developing society.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome this legislation to the House. On a point raised by Senator O'Meara, there are three councils which did not implement a waste management plan. This is the reason the Minister had to take back the power for a four year term only. He did so in order that a plan would be put in place.

The area councils, now being established in all counties, including County Westmeath, are an enormous success. It is about bringing local authority work to parish councils, all local communities and committees. The decisions are coming from the grassroots. I welcome this move and hope the Minister will remunerate the various positions required for these local councils. I see the opportunity for real local decentralisation, as happened in Castlepollard in my area of north Westmeath and other parts of the county, where we can now tax our cars, get a driver's licence and make planning applications. We will have our library increased to three times its current size. There is real local authority decentralisation taking place in every county.

The Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, is a great woman.

Only a former member of a local authority would have had the experience to know how important these matters were. I congratulate the Minister and wish him well in his recovery from illness. I look forward to him devolving further power to councils and the people who want these services created.

The provision of a salary for members of local authorities is long overdue and I am pleased that it will be enshrined in legislation. I congratulate the various organisations involved such as the General Council of County Councils, the AMAI and LAMA for their hard work during the years as well as past chairmen and members of these organisations. They sent deputation after deputation to the Minister to try to have all these provisions included in the Bill and to have all these problems addressed on behalf of their members. The Minister is a former secretary of LAMA and was aware of the needs which had to be addressed in regard to salaries.

It has not been easy to come to an agreement on salaries but the suggestion of an evaluation of the workload of county councillors will surely help the Minister in assessing the initial salary to be provided to recognise the valuable work being done by the members of local authorities whose families have done Trojan work. We were always told that it was an honour to serve the public. The trust the public places in a member of a local authority or the Oireachtas is sacrosanct. Their families are the real Trojan heroes of the public service. The public representative gets kudos from time to time, but the families get nothing for the difficulties and hard work they must endure from early morning until late at night.

The Leader must get a family allowance.

Pension rights should also be addressed in the context of salaries. It is great that this issue will be addressed. This is long overdue. I hope members of local authorities will be able to enjoy them. During the years I have noticed that due to the hard work and dedication of quite a number of members of local authorities, their communities will not accept that they must retire and they often die in office. I hope this provision, once it has put in place, will be a little incentive for them to enjoy the fruits of their hard work in service of their parish or area.

I welcome the guarantee in the Bill that local elections will be held every five years. At one stage there was a period of nine years between elections. That was not healthy for local democracy. I also welcome the inclusion of the SPCs in the Bill.

Nowadays the work of a member of a local authority is the equivalent of three day's full-time work per week. If we bear this in mind, their work must be rewarded generously. This must be done because there is a need to retain those with experience.

On the dual mandate, I always thought that the legislators, who on Mondays and Fridays went back to their constituencies, were familiar with legislation and of great assistance to councils on which they served. They also were able to keep a check on the executives of local authorities and the public representative's role in view. If I were faced with the choice of deciding whether they should be remunerated, I would be mindful of the fact that local authority work accounts for 70% of my workload. It is an honour to serve on my council and I would wish to continue serving the people and the parish to which I am committed.

My county's population has fallen by 34% in 30 years. I am aware that parts of the counties of the Senators opposite also have been decimated by declining population. If I lost the determination to continue to give freely of my time every Monday night, as I have done for the past 20 years, to improve the lot of the parish in north Westmeath in which I was born, I would retire from public life. The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, stated last week in the House that in his time he has seen, as I have in the 19 years I have been a Member of the House, many good men and women who had good jobs become Members of the Oireachtas. They had good prospects for promotion in their fields but gave them up in the interests of serving as a Deputy or Senator, and often finished up many years later losing their seats and having no job to which to return. In many cases they faced financial ruin. This must be addressed as it is not fair. The general public does not expect this of us.

Those who see the salaries we receive as Members of the Oireachtas or the small reward we receive for being members of local authorities know the demands placed upon us, such as attending functions and participating in fund-raising activities for charitable organisations or family disasters. Between one thing and another, the demands on public life are incredible. The drive to serve one's community and parish and try to do some good is admirable. The satisfaction one gets from this is the only reward for being a public representative.

I wish the Bill a safe passage. I know more amending legislation will be needed to update and improve the Bill in years to come.

By any standards, the legislation is very significant. It is a large Bill running to over 300 pages and over 200 sections. With this Bill, the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has sought to introduce reforming legislation. He has at times been subjected to criticism but, in time, after our closely examining what he set out to achieve, he will be seen as a reforming Minister and a friend and supporter of local democracy. He was a member of a local county council for many years and has a great understanding of the workings of councils. He was a member of the representative body for many years. I wish him a speedy recovery.

What the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, set out to achieve did not please everybody initially, but the plan, as set out in the Bill, is enormous. He did not try to diminish the role of the local councillor but to enhance it. He set out to involve the local communities more, support local democracy, modernise local government by introducing new frameworks regarding its operation and update archaic legislation, some of which was introduced in the 1800s. In general, he tried to underpin the programme of local government renewal – an ongoing process that will not end after the enactment of this Bill. He must be congratulated for the legislation.

There is a new ethics framework for councillors and staff. There is an independent commission to deal with local authority boundary changes, etc. The Bill emphasises the role of the elected council in determining policy, particularly the partnership model concerning the strategic policy committees. They are only some of the bodies that involve local people working with councillors for the betterment of an entire community.

Much has been made of a number of items in the Bill, such as the dual mandate, salaries and directly elected mayors. People forget the other elements of the Bill which will probably be considered in the next few hours or days. They tend to emphasise a few key issues at the expense of the rest.

Let us consider the dual mandate. I supported the abolition of the dual mandate – I have always said so – but not because it is impossible to do both jobs. It is possible to do two or three jobs, but one must work a lot harder. I know from my own experience as a councillor since 1985 that the workload of a local councillor has increased tenfold in terms of the number of meetings one has to attend and the number of functions. The amount of paperwork has increased enormously. The work of a local councillor is very difficult, not impossible to do in conjunction with another job, but getting increasingly more difficult. However, it is no more difficult for a Senator or a Deputy to be a local councillor than it is for a Deputy to be a Minister. Nobody says a Deputy cannot do the job of a Minister – of course he can. However, one has to work a little bit harder.

If one works harder, it must be recognised and remunerated. A lot of discussion was concerned with this issue of salaries. There is a provision in the Bill for the introduction by regulation of a salary for councillors. I welcome that but the salary must be realistic. People have mentioned many figures, such as £10,000, £15,000 and £20,000. As is done with Senators' salaries, will the Minister make councillors' salaries proportional to those of Deputies so they will not be looking for another rise in a few years as inflation and expenses rise? We all know that more money is needed as time goes by. The salary of a councillor should be at least a quarter or third of a Deputy's salary. Why not?

The amount of work councillors do night after night is phenomenal. Their families suffer as well. There is no joy in it. One receives no thanks. One gets nothing but abuse most of the time. Therefore, the position must be properly remunerated and structured in such a way that the salary will rise automatically. Will the Minister of State seriously consider the matter? Additionally, the salaries should be backdated to the time of election, if this is possible. There should also be a pension which should be backdated to the date the councillor was first elected. This again is reasonable. No matter what job one is in, if a pension is included, it goes back to the time when one gets the job. These demands are not impossible; they are small.

The public does not fully realise how much work councillors do, but if anyone wants to take on the job, and they do sometimes rush into it, they suddenly find themselves swamped with paperwork and meetings and wonder what hit them. It is a great privilege to do it even without remuneration because one is serving the community at local government level more than any other. This must be recognised.

The issue of directly elected mayors was referred to. I foresee difficulties in this regard. I do not know how a mayor will cope for five years. It is very demanding. The present system of having chairpersons change every year is a good idea. Maybe, in time, we will amend this legislation or maybe it will work out. I am willing to try it.

In my council of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, the job of the mayor or cathaoirleach is almost full time. There is another weakness in this regard. Very high profile people may get elected to a mayoralty who do not have any knowledge of local government or they may not have the same wish to serve as other councillors. This happens in London where candidates spend enormous amounts of money to get elected. There may be a limit on what people spend in elections, but a high profile candidate with no great commitment to local government could easily seize such a position. I am not sure that is good, but it can be examined again.

With regard to SPCs, most councillors serve on two of these. In my own area, some of them work and some of them do not. It is a great idea but much work is required to make them operate efficiently. Some members of the public on these SPCs, representing various groups, have been disappointed with what has happened to their input because they are non-executive and have to report back to the full council. Given time, they will enhance local democracy.

There are many other issues I could discuss, but it is 12.50 a.m. and other speakers wish to contribute. In this regard, I pay tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, who has been here all day while the Senators have drifted in and out, attended for votes and had tea.

Where is the Government?

He deserves great credit. The Bill is reforming legislation by a reforming Minister. No Bill is produced without some flaws. No Bill is ever produced that cannot be enhanced in some way. In general, it is a good Bill produced by a good Minister. I ask the Minister to look at the concept of remuneration for councillors because they work harder now than they did formerly.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, who has been mentioned already. I also wish the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, a speedy recovery. He is responsible for this reforming legislation. Some may not be fully satisfied with it but it can always be amended. There are aspects of the Bill with which I am not too happy, but I will address them later.

County councillors and local authorities have existed for a very long time. I was nominated to contest a Dáil election in 1969 on behalf of Fianna Fáil. I failed to receive a nomination to contest local elections at the subsequent local election convention. That meant I never became a member of a local authority. I did seek to become a member of one but that is how democracy, being as it is, fell for me.

I see the work done by members of my local authority, including Senator Jackman and others, and I commend them for their dedication. When I sought the nomination there was no such thing as councillors being paid. The subject was never mentioned. Most community work at that time was voluntary. Local representatives worked on a voluntary basis with expenses. They worked hard, often neglecting their businesses, which in some cases they lost. Those days are gone and we need to ensure that members of local authorities are remunerated justly. Work for other organisations such as coaching in sporting organisations used to be voluntary too but is now remunerated. That is the current trend.

I welcome the section introducing remuneration for councillors. I am pleased it mentions that councillors have a 33 hour week. Some say they have a 40 or 50 hour week. They have a long week, given the number of functions they have to attend and they deserve proper remuneration. I agree with Senator Lydon's request that the Minister pay councillors justly, having weighed up the work they do. Setting the figure as a percentage of a Seanad or Dáil salary has been mentioned. The figure seems to improve with each speaker and this could develop into an auction. The Minister should, however, remunerate councillors properly.

Pay and pensions should be index-linked. Salaries should increase in line with the cost of living. Councillors should receive a decent pension on retirement. It is very important that pensions are backdated to the day on which councillors were elected. Pay should also be backdated. Provision was made before the last local elections to offer a package to anyone who wished to retire. I understand the Bill provides for back payment until the day of the Bill's introduction. I appeal to the Minister to backdate pay to the day of the last general election.

I have no problem with the dual mandate. I have already explained that I tried to become a member of a local authority. I did not succeed in getting the nomination and refused to stand as an independent because I am loyal to my party. I have been a Member of this House for many years and the dual mandate has made no difference to me. I have always got on very well with councillors throughout the country by virtue of not holding a dual mandate and would envisage no problems for Members of the House if the dual mandate was abolished. It would benefit local government and the workings of national Government.

I was an external member of a county committee of agriculture and regret the abolition of these and the local aid committees some years ago. The local authorities have done great work in providing local services. They are of greater benefit to the community than regional authorities because they are more au fait with local needs. The same could be applied to agriculture.

My biggest problem with the legislation is the direct election of mayors or cathaoirligh, which will take away power from elected representatives. The position of elected mayor or chairman for five years could be full-time. As has been mentioned, the person might not have much interest in politics and might get fed up with the post after two or three years. He might resign because he finds he is neglecting his business or the pay might not be good enough. Will that cause another direct election to replace him?

In County Limerick there are 28 councillors. Seven members are elected from the Castleconnell—

Four women.

The Senator is right to ensure the gender balance is maintained. There are seven from the Bruff electoral area. I remember 20 years ago when there were only five elected to the council from that area. Four members are elected from the Kilmallock area, five from the Rathkeale electoral area and five from Newcastle West. If one of these, let us say a member from the Bruff or Castleconnell electoral area, was elected chairman of the county council area, would that lead to an increase in members of the county council from 28 to 29, given that the chairman of the council will automatically be a member of the council? Is there provision in the Bill for membership to increase?

This provision could also mean extra representation for one area. Previously this was decided on an equality basis. If one area's representation on the county council increases with the election of the mayor, it will disenfranchise other areas. This is unfair and needs to be examined. Directly elected mayors will unfairly increase the representation of one area and increase the number of councillors. I oppose this proposition. Given that the mayors do not need to be elected until 2004, we have three years to correct the problem.

I welcome this Bill and join other Members in sending my good wishes to the Minster for Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, who has shown himself to be a very reforming Minister. I also welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dan Wallace, to the House. He is a veteran of the Seanad at this stage and certainly has staying power. The Local Government Bill and supporting measures provide a package which, if utilised, will tilt the balance significantly in favour of the elected council. It is the Minister's aim to ensure that this package is fully utilised.

The Bill revises the council and executive framework so that the elected council has an updated series of mechanisms to oversee, monitor and direct the implementation of policy by the executive. The manager operates within this policy framework and has a duty to carry out and put into effect decisions of the elected council. While major policy decisions continue to be vested in the elected council, the SPC framework allows for more in-depth involvement by all councillors in policy development from early stages, with better support and information and training opportunities which are being further developed with the involvement of the social partners and other interests.

I have been a local authority member for 22 years and it has been claimed that the local community had no involvement in local government. The establishment of SPCs has answered that accusation. Until now, policy development has, by default, fallen to officials, with limited scope for input by councillors. The preparation of the draft annual budget for the authority and the local authority corporate plan should be undertaken by the manager in consultation with the corporate policy group and submitted to the council for consideration and adoption with an annual progress report by the manager of the corporate plan. I have served on a local authority for 22 years and I have had the honour of being chairman twice. In my experience the manager presents a draft estimate for consideration by the members who, if they wish to make amendments, must make them in the full glare of the public, even if the amendments are unpopular. The manager has the privilege of making proposals in the book of estimates behind closed doors with his subordinate officials. This is not a fair way of doing business.

The corporate policy group consists of chairs of strategic policy committees and the cathaoirleach. It is a sort of cabinet and reflects the representational balance on the council. It has an over-arching role in corporate affairs. The corporate policy group can require a report on any matter related to local authority functions and the cathaoirleach may require the manager to defer action on any such matter to allow for consideration by the elected council. The directly elected chairman with a five year term will raise the profile and public interest in local government. The chairman will have real potential for community leadership working on behalf of the elected council.

I understand the concerns expressed by members of local authorities to me and to the Local Authority Members Association. It has been suggested that a person with a high public profile might stand as mayor or cathaoirleach but might not have the necessary experience to discharge the functions of that office. In the past it was noted that when a council had a weak chairman, in the subsequent local election the members lost their seats. It would be unfortunate if a weak cathaoirleach or mayor was subject to the will of the manager. That would not make for good local government.

I have never been a supporter of the dual mandate. I was elected in 1979 to Westmeath County Council and to Mullingar Town Commission. On gaining election to this House I resigned my seat on the urban authority because I believe there is no case to be made for having a multiplicity of mandates. I consider that to be undemocratic and not the best way to do business. However, I accept that there are members of local authorities and of the Oireachtas who do not agree that the dual mandate should be abolished and I respect that. Local authority members are under extreme pressure of work. Any local authority member who works a 33 hour week is living it up.

Democracy costs money. When elected members of local authorities attend conferences they are often criticised in their local media for attending a conference which was not relevant to their work. It is important that councillors attend seminars and conferences, if only to inform themselves about how to go about their business. The powers-that-be did not always recognise the fact that democracy costs money and councillors have been the poor relation of democracy.

Reference was made to the relevance of town commissions and to the fact that their powers have not been increased. This is not the case. As a nominee of the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland, I consulted the Minister for the Environment and Local Government on this matter and I passed on his reply to all local authorities, including town commissions. I received a positive response from councillors and a very complimentary telephone call from a town commissioner who is a member of the Fine Gael Party. This commissioner recognised that the Minister is devolving powers to town commissions.

The National Roads Authority is not treating members of the farming community fairly. I spoke at Westmeath County Council about the attitude of the NRA to landowners along the line of national primary and secondary routes. During the foot and mouth disease crisis the people of Ireland demonstrated their feeling for the land and for the people who work on it. The landowners who are affected by the implementation of NRA decisions must be treated fairly.

Salaries for councillors are long overdue. Councillors have been the doormat of democracy. They have been paid nothing for doing long hours of hard work on behalf of their constituents. It is time the role of councillors was recognised and that we should get a salary commensurate with our input to local democracy.

I thank the Minister and I appreciate the length of time he has spent here. I welcome the Bill, which is innovative and part of a radical approach by this Government to all aspects of local government. The Bill has a substantial number of sections and fundamentally sets out the role of the elected representative and the executive function of county managers in the future. It involves the incorporation of operational procedures for counties' financial management, the flexibility of powers within the counties and sets out corporate planning and development for counties. It also sets out the independent commission for the establishment of boundary changes within the counties.

Managers must operate within the policy framework. They have a duty of care to the elected representatives and this is very important. It is important also to define the role of the elected representatives and the functions and duties of managers and officials towards the elected representatives. In future the manager must take on board and put in place the recommendations and decisions of the council.

I welcome the fact that there is a definition of who the chair shall be. He will be elected by a direct vote for a term of five years. Although I have my own views on that, I accept the decision. To some extent this gives an opportunity for inclusiveness and will bring in people who function in different sectors of society. At the same time it opens up new opportunities for chairpersons and to work with rather than be restricted by the managers and the officials of councils. It may give a certain innovation at council level that should be welcomed. At the same time we must respect the elected representatives. As a member of councils myself, I have always supported the role of county councillors.

It also sets down in statute that elections will be held every five years with the next election to take place in May or June 2004. I welcome the fact that it also incorporates functions of the SPCs which are in their embryonic stage at the moment. They have much to offer and sections 48 and 54 allow county councils to work together to set up SPCs. As someone from the west, I believe there are opportunities for us particularly in Roscommon when dealing with national primary routes. Things that affect Roscommon also affect Mayo, Sligo and other counties.

Part 14 sets out a statement of strategy. If requested, managers must supply information and this is important. They must not incur costs within the council that they have not outlined before a meeting and explained to elected representatives. It requires the manager to inform the council before he makes any financial commitments and this is very welcome.

I also welcome the ethical aspect of the Bill. Sections 176 to 179 outline the ethical responsibilities of elected representatives, officials and managers. This is not before time and will be good for us all. Even though there are procedures in place at present, this defines the responsibilities of all concerned. There are many public questions about decisions taken by councillors and officials. This is something that will protect the right and interests of individuals in the future.

Section 43 allows for payments to councillors and I welcome that. I am not setting down any parameters as to what the amount should be, but I believe the labourer is worthy of his hire. He has a new commitment in this Bill and the other legislation on better local government. I believe the Minister will recognise that in a properly planned way in the future.

I welcome the thrust of the Bill.

Now that we are at the conclusion of Second Stage, I thank all the Senators who contributed here tonight. I know local government is a subject that is close to the Senators' hearts and the debate just finished reflects their obvious commitment in that regard.

The diverse and wide ranging contributions during the debate by the Members of the House reflect the importance of local government in our society and show how it impacts in a very real way on the daily lives of each of us. Local government is integral to our continued economic and social development at all levels, locally and nationally. I know we share a common desire to support the local government system to cope with the increasing demands being placed on it. Everyone agrees there is need for the renewal of local government and the Government's renewal programme aims to move forward in a progressive way to deliver on this objective in a realistic and practical manner. In doing so, we hope to enable local authorities to provide quality customer service to the communities they serve.

Local government is facing huge challenges, higher expectations and greater accountability than ever before. The Government's renewal programme aims to equip it to perform efficiently and effectively in this changing environment. To do this, however, the local government system needs a modern, legal framework and this is the first time any Government has brought forward such legislation. The Bill acknowledges the need for change and provides a practical framework for local government to reshape its operations with the full involvement of members, staff and local communities in a more participative and representative democracy.

A number of detailed matters were raised relating to different sections of the Bill. These will be dealt with in detail on Committee Stage and a full debate at that time will provide the opportunity to deal with the matters comprehensively. I refer particularly to questions of local authority staffing and meetings mentioned by Senator O'Toole.

The Bill is the next step on the journey of local government renewal and I wish the House well in its more detailed deliberations tomorrow. I again thank everyone who participated this evening and the staff of the House who were here very late tonight. It was a very important debate and I appreciate the contributions of all the Members.

Question put and declared carried.
The Seanad adjourned at 1.20 a.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 11 July 2001.