Local Government Bill, 2000: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 3:
In page 33, lines 12 to 20, to delete subsections (1) and (2) and substitute the following new subsection:
"(1) Each county or city council shall have one member for every 4,000 persons ordinarily resident in its functional area and each town council shall have one member for each 1,000 such persons, subject to a minimum number of members of 21 in the case of a county council, 15 in the case of a city council and 12 in the case of a town council.".
This amendment proposes to alter the number of members of each local authority in the State. It proposes to provide one elected member for every 4,000 members of the population in each city and county and one for every 1,000 in each town. Under this proposal, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council will have 47 members as opposed to 28 at present. Dublin City Council will have 120 members, an increase of 68. This is hardly what the Senators want.
The current position is that in general council population ratios between different cities and counties vary enormously. Each local authority operates within its own administrative area. The main priority is that a relevant council has sufficient members to carry out its functions effectively. To establish equality of representation across the State would be difficult, if not impossible. It would result in very substantial reductions in some local authorities as well as increases in membership of other local authorities.
The question of an appropriate level of local representation is complex, affecting all local authorities, on which there are different public views. For example, should additional town representation be taken into account and to what extent should lower population ratios be allowed for large rural areas and higher population ratios for compact urbanised counties? Any move to consider comprehensively differences between local authorities in the State would be a major undertaking requiring detailed analysis. It could be implemented only over time, as recognised in the recent report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government, to which Members of this House participated.
Section 22 of the Bill provides a mechanism by which a local authority can itself apply for an alteration of its membership with a report by the Local Government Commission. This is a correct and sensible approach. I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.
In the normal course of events, with the possibility of a Report Stage and a referral back to the Dáil, we could have a reasonable debate on the matter. Nobody wants a Dublin City Council with 120 members. The country would not survive it – RTÉ's tendency to be Raidió Teilifís Dublin would be overwhelmed.
Senator O'Meara made the point that if these criteria were to apply to existing town councils, north Tipperary would not have a single town council. There needs to be an element of scale to recognise the population structure of the country. Of course one could have some sort of sliding scale that would establish a maximum number, but the real problem is at the bottom, not the top. A sensible level of delegated authority must be ensured which is not conditional on population numbers which most urban areas currently would not meet.
From a procedural point of view, should amendment No. 3 have been taken with amendment No. 6 to section 90, which I tabled? If not, I will wait until we deal with that amendment to address the issue further, because the Minister has mentioned the commission in that regard.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 21 agreed to.
Sections 22 to 25, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 26 stand part of the Bill."
There was an amendment to this section in the Dáil which the Minister was not disposed to accept. Perhaps it does not need to be in legislation, but we should bear in mind that at local election time, when a number of elections are combined, there can be considerable confusion among the electorate. Particularly in urban areas, one could have an urban council ballot paper, a county council ballot paper and also a ballot paper for the directly elected chair. There could also be a ballot paper for a European election, which would mean four ballot papers having to be considered at once. To avoid confusion, this matter should be addressed as it could prevent people going to their polling stations. In practice, even though the amendment was not accepted, I would like to think that if there were four elections on the one day, despite the cost effectiveness of this, we should not add further referenda.
That is a sensible approach. Experience has taught us that the electorate can become confused if too many matters have to be voted on at once. That does not mean that the population cannot deal with so many, but it can create problems.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 27 to 39, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 47, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following new subsection:
"(10) For a person to be nominated for the position of Mayor he or she must have served at least 5 years as an elected member of a local authority.".
This is an important aspect of the Bill, particularly for local authority members. The majority of members who spoke at the GCCC, LAMA and AMAI, their three representative bodies, have been adamantly against the concept of directly elected mayors from the outset. The Minister agreed to a proposal by the General Council of County Councils and a similar one by LAMA that the person directly elected would have five years experience either in local government or at national level. It was very peculiar that this provision was suddenly removed when the Bill came before the Dáil. I am inclined to suspect – the Minister may accuse me of paranoia – that this was a sop to keep the councillors happy and distracted until the last minute.
While I have no knowledge of the constitutional implications of such matters, I have always felt from a practical, common sense point of view that the concept of five years previous experience was a non-runner. However, the Minister must have thought otherwise since he allowed it to stay in the Bill until the last minute.
The problem is very simple. Single issue candidates opposed to some proposal like incineration or entertainers or sports persons who enjoy a reputation will becoming directly elected mayors. They have an advantage in this form of election and will win through. Perhaps the Government thought it would have the advantage because it could turn out the greatest number of mayors. I advise the Minister to rethink this provision and remove it for the very simple reason I put forward on Second Stage, that is, that directly elected mayors are of no benefit to local democracy. There is no difference between such individuals and individuals selected by party groups.
It is not always the largest group which ends up electing the mayor. A number of small groups very often come together. Democratically electing people to make a selection, in the same way as Deputy Michael Smith has been selected to become a Minister and the Taoiseach was given his role, is an example of true democracy taking its course. If the Government wants directly elected mayors, why does it not opt for direct elections for Taoiseach similar to presidential elections? I guarantee it is not inclined to do so. The Taoiseach, if he put his name forward, might even win it. Ultimately it is not sauce for the goose and sauce for the gander.
I believe someone looked at voting patterns around the country and concluded that Fianna Fáil would be the net beneficiary of this proposal. It will not work that way. We may get some good individuals. In my experience in a busy city, Galway, most of the occupational time of the mayor was taken up by honorary occasions such as attending dinners at night and official openings. I guarantee that these directly elected mayors will have had enough by the end of their first year. It is rare in modern times for a mayor seek re-election because of the demands of having to go out at night and the pressure on their families. If that is true for one year, what will it be like for five years? Nobody will want the job.
I believe we will lose if this amendment is put to a vote. I therefore ask the Minister, if he intends to press the measure, at least to re-adjust this provision and reduce the term to three years. If he really wants to provide for directly elected mayors, he must take the simple step of giving them authority, responsibility and powers at least equivalent to those of a manager. The public could then see who is responsible for what. If they fail they will go after three years. I originally supported the concept, but only on condition that power and authority were handed over to elected representatives rather than an unelected body.
This is a missed opportunity which could have heralded a revolution. It is time for adventurous thinking. We should look at experiences in Europe, where countries with directly elected mayors have not collapsed. They are also common in the United States. There is no reason we should not have them, provided they have authority and responsibility. Under this system we will get individuals who will be courted by managers – by no means stupid individuals – and kept on side, thus creating a division between the directly elected mayor and his council. Some local authorities will become virtually inoperable with people pushing against each other left, right and centre.
The present system has worked well for 100 years. If the Minister cannot introduce the concept of a minimum five years experience or a three year maximum term, he should throw out the whole idea and let the system which has served us so well continue.
The associations discussed this matter among themselves and a suggestion was made to the Minister both privately and formally. The Minister was amenable to accepting that proposal, which required that the person who stood for the position of cathaoirleach of a county council or mayor of a city would be committed and strongly attached to local government. Like any position one might pursue, experience would count for something and the five year stipulation was included. I understand there were some legal difficulties with the proposal which is difficult to understand when one considers that the nominating bodies for various elections are controlled and designated. If the five years does not carry, there are perhaps other options to look at, for example, perhaps allowing only registered political parties as defined in the electoral Bill to nominate or insisting on a minimum number of councillors. The associations of local representatives will return to this issue.
It is unfair of Senator Coogan to say the Minister somehow ran with this in the knowledge that it would be overturned. I know from talking to him that is not the case. Initially he checked if it was legally in order. The indications were that it was but in the last month or two he received indications that it was not in order. Something will have to be done. It would be invidious to arrive at a position in which someone succeeds in being elected cathaoirleach of a county council because of a specific controversy and subsequently pursues a single agenda. The whole success of the new system of local government will depend on the expertise, experience and commitment of the newly elected cathaoirligh.
I do not have any difficulty with Senator Coogan's suggestion that the Taoiseach should be elected by general plebiscite. There is nothing wrong with that system – indeed it has some merits.
No, but the current incumbent would be an admirable candidate for the position.
The Senator is on a safe bet.
We would be confident of his chances of being elected. I ask the Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith, to convey to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, our disappointment at the non-acceptance of the amendment, which we understand is due to doubts about its legality. There are three years to run before this provision is implemented and, in the interim, something should be instilled in it to avoid the scenario I described arising, which would be very much to the detriment of local government and the intentions of the Bill.
This is the one area of the Bill about which I had reservations from day one. The Minister has done everything in his power to win the support of councillors by including the stipulation that the elected chairman should have served five years as a local authority member. Some such stipulation is necessary, even if the question of whether the measure is constitutional must be revisited.
There is concern among all councillors that the person elected would have no interest in local democracy, might be interested in only one issue and would feather his or her own nest. A person could be elected on a single issue which was flavour of the month, regardless of his or her interest in local democracy. This would be an offence to local democracy and councillors would be very apprehensive should it happen.
I have concerns about this provision. I ask the Minister to convey to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the need to revisit this aspect of the Bill and consider the insertion of such a stipulation within the next three years. I agree with the concept of giving whoever is elected mayor or cathaoirleach a direct mandate to take control of the local authority area. However, I see flaws in the proposal.
If our aim is to take power from the manager and restore control to the elected members, why not re-emphasise the relationship between reserved and executive powers? Going outside the council to select a candidate who may not work, or even wish to work, with the councillors will not address that issue. At every recent meeting of the General Council of County Councils and the Local Authority Members Association members have expressed concern that a provision be inserted to ensure the person selected to run would have experience of a local authority and empathy with local democracy.
I empathise with Senator Coogan, the proposer of this amendment, but I am confident the Minister will revisit this issue and suggest we allow the matter to rest.
I, too, have reservations about this section. A directly elected mayor or cathaoirleach presents problems. Traditionally, the largest party or the largest amalgam of smaller parties on a council elected the mayor or chairman. The idea of the people directly electing the mayor is a good one but to elect such a person for five years imposes an onerous task on him or her. The cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, of which I am a member, does an almost full-time job. He works from early morning until late at night, seven days a week. No one could work at that pace for five years.
I am not sure what powers would be accorded to the person concerned. I can see how a person might be elected to this position on a particular issue which might be at variance with the wishes of the councillors. Who would win out? A mayor needs the support of the councillors. What if his or her single issue was one such as water or waste charges on which he or she disagreed with the councillors? A pop star or sports personality who had no knowledge of local government or real interest in it might be elected mayor by popular acclaim and suddenly lose interest in the office with four years of his or her term to run.
The section is fraught with difficulties. The original idea of directly electing a mayor and giving the people as much power as possible was good. I do not know how we can reverse this proposal once it has been passed but I am sure the Minister will give some leeway on this question and look at some aspects of the proposal again.
I have spoken to many councillors who have reservations about this proposal. These reservations are well known and have been articulated by many. I ask the Minister for Defence to bring our concerns to the attention of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government when he reports to him.
As I do not wish to test the patience of the House, I will not repeat what has been said.
One either believes in democracy or one does not. This House has a fairly exclusive electorate. Some of what I have heard about this debate, in this House and outside, reminds me of what would have been said in the last days of the British empire or the British raj. I am sure it was said that the peasants were not equipped to take over the running of their country and suspect the same argument was used in advance of Irish freedom and democracy. Events have shown that argument to be spurious.
There are no half measures in this matter. It is correct that a mayor, cathaoirleach or chairman should be drawn from the people and have the democratic mandate which gives him or her authority. If, as the case may be, the candidate from the Monster Raving Loony Party, as Gaeilge, secures the chair of the county council, he or she will soon resign when he or she discovers the nature of the job. We must accept that risk if we believe in democracy.
This debate has echoes of the previous debate on the Treaty of Nice. One of the difficulties in that debate was the lack of connection between the voters in the member countries and the institutions of the European Union. This has been at the heart of the problems associated with the failure to adopt the Nice treaty. I may be expressing a minority view but we cannot qualify democracy by deciding who shall be eligible to run for election. We cannot place restrictions on who the people decide they want to represent them.
I confess an ambivalence about this question because I may wish to run for lord mayor of Cork at some time in the future, but as I do not have five years experience on a local authority, Senator Coogan would have me excluded.
One feels a consensus of wisdom in this House and one of the pieces of consensus wisdom I have acquired is the view that most people who are made Government Ministers on their first day in the Dáil do the job badly. There are exceptions, but the overwhelming experience is that most people who become Ministers immediately they are elected to the Dáil are not good advertisements for that route to Government. People learn from membership of the House.
My principal reservation about this provision is that a person who did not have experience as a member of a local authority would be more open to manipulation by the permanent local government than someone who knew the system well and had allies among the elected members.
On balance, I come down on Senator Coogan's side. I suspect my party would come down on his side also.
Is the Senator staying with the party?
It is a very broad church. Whether I support Senator Coogan's amendment will hardly be the cause of my future in the party being questioned.
Senator Cassidy is not here to remind Senator Ryan of his origins.
That has already been mentioned today. If the Minister is encouraged, he will do so too, because he does so regularly.
There is a case for strengthening the admistrative skills and independence of an elected cathaoirleach. I believe in the principle of directly electing mayors or cathaoirligh. It would probably be preferable that they have some experience of local government before they are elected in the same way that generally Ministers do a bet ter job if they have some experience of the Dáil first.
Once this Bill goes through, under the enabling legislation, the Minister might give consideration to holding referenda in each of the local authority areas to determine if they wish to have elected mayors or directly elected chairs. The British model could be looked at. However the three polls that have taken place, admittedly in small local authority areas in Gloucestershire, Cheltenham and the north-east of England, have all returned overwhelmingly negative results. The electorates have rejected the concept of directly elected mayors and chairs. However it might go some way to addressing the very real objections that all of us who are in contact with councillors have found in different parts of the country. It is a little like the curate's egg; patchy and not unanimous. Some councillors have not exercised their minds about this to any great extent while there are others who have.
Accepting that there will be directly elected mayors and chairs in local authorities throughout the country, I reiterate a recommendation I have made to the Minister for Environment and Local Government on at least two occasions during the wide-ranging consultative process in which he engaged prior to the introduction of this Bill. These positions need to be fully resourced. There should be the creation of the office of the cathaoirleach of a council and the office of the mayor. They should be given full administrative resources, otherwise, according to what the Bill states, we will create an office but not change in any significant regard the County Managers Act. We are therefore providing a title and a role as yet unspecified for directly elected mayors and chairpersons.
It would enhance the office if the directly elected mayors and chairs were given the same expertise and administrative support services as are currently enjoyed by the executives of councils and local authorities in general. There will now be no pre-schooling or apprenticeship required by any citizen who wishes to stand for the office of chair or mayor. Surely it is not unreasonable to suggest that the person who takes on that office, if they do not have previous elective experience, should have at their disposal the full panoply of administrative skills.
Notwithstanding the difficulties in implementing this unique legislation, I would not like to think that this House would send out the message that we are somehow against the idea of any citizen having the right to stand. Councillors will agree, most of them in private I must admit, that they have no intrinsic objections to citizens generally exercising their rights in this regard. It happens in every other election. Why therefore should it not happen in the context of directly elected mayors and chairs? However because of the inherent dangers contained in this proposal, it is incumbent on the Government to ensure whoever is elected is given the full resources of what is available at local authority level.
I was drawn unexpectedly into this by watching the monitor and hearing some of the remarks being made. When I came into the Chamber I heard my good friend, Senator Dardis, referring to the peasants and defending their rights. On a number of occasions he has raised this issue on which I absolutely support him. Peasants have nothing whatever to be ashamed of. Some of my best friends are peasants, even a few, I understand, in this very House.
I am particularly interested in the question of the direct election of mayors. Senator Mooney is perfectly right. If we regard the general public as fit to stand for election to either of these two Houses, then they should be allowed to stand for mayor. In my constituency, there is no requirement to have a degree of any kind or any education whatever. All that is required is to have eight or ten people in good standing on the electoral register to nominate someone and off they go. That is perfectly reasonable and fair.
I am glad the Senator makes the distinction between education and a degree.
That is another day's work, but there is a distinction. If we are to have direct elections, they should be open and we should trust the good judgment of the electorate.
It came as news to me about a year ago that this proposal was in the offing. I was made aware of it because the environmental correspondent of The Irish Times was going around saying that I was manoeuvring to have myself made Lord Mayor of Dublin and this was disastrous and should be stopped. I said that I had no intention of doing so and the message got back to him. He said in his latest book that I was denying it which was good because I would make up policy on the hoof. All the council was in a great flutter about this.
I heard someone mention that five years was too long. I do not know whether they meant five years was too long an apprenticeship or the possibility of a mayor or cathaoirleach lasting five years was too long. If people think five years is too long for anything like this, they should also consider the Presidency. I have made this submission to the review group on the Constitution. Seven years is far too long to impose on a President, particularly in the light of the possibility of a second term bringing it up to 14 years. The French had seven years; they recently changed it to five.
I ask the Senator to address the amendment.
He has drifted from the Lord Mayor of Dublin into the Presidency.
Senator Mooney raised the question of giving technical support and backup. That is a good point and very important. The definition of the functions of mayor also needs to be substantially altered because as it exists in Dublin the position of Lord Mayor is a formal chairman of debates and very largely ceremonial. I am not saying it is not valuable; it is. However in places like New York, Paris and Jerusalem, there is a directly elected mayor who has executive power. There is not much point in tinkering unless they also get executive power.
I support Senator Coogan's amendment. We need more debate about directly elected chairs and mayors. A number of Senators spoke about experience and there is a great fear that someone without experience might be elected to the detriment of the local authority. That could happen in many instances. The Minister has stated on many occasions that he wants to devolve more power to local authorities, in particular to directly elected chairpersons and mayors. However that is not reflected in this Bill. He does not seem to be giving any extra powers to a directly elected mayor or chairman.
I could see a disadvantage in relation to funding for those elected to the local authority from an area where a person is standing for chair or mayor. A cap on the amount of funding allowed for directly elected mayors or chairs is not mentioned. A person seeking election as chair or a member of a local authority would have access to considerably more funding than a person contesting a seat in the same electoral area, putting him or her at a distinct disadvantage. Will the Minister elaborate on this provision and state if limits will be imposed on spending? An ordinary person seeking election to a local authority will be at a distinct disadvantage compared to somebody seeking election as a chair or mayor. Elections for mayors or chairs should be at a different time to elections to the local authority.
The Senator's comments are more appropriate to the section than the amendment. The amendment is very specific and I ask Senator Burke to address his comments to it. Later we will deal with the section.
If the Minister accepted the amendment there would be no need to speak on the section. Senator Coogan's amendment is very fair and it could get the Minister and the Government out of a spot. The public would like to see people who are well qualified getting these posts. On very few occasions is a councillor, elected for the first time, appointed chair or mayor, unless there is a struggle for power.
Clearly there is much support for the concept contained in Senator Coogan's amendment, which requires a directly elected mayor or chairman to have at least five years experience on a council. The Minister has great support for that concept, and when he addressed the association he was concerned to see if there was a mechanism through which consideration could be given to what the association was putting forward. Subsequently it emerged there were constitutional difficulties in doing so. When we reflect on that we realise that those standing for election to this House were not told they had to have a certain amount of experience in one place or another. A person who is 35 years of age or over has the option of standing for the presidency, while a person aged 21 years or over can stand in a Dáil election. Nowhere is there a written requirement to have experience in one place or another.
We are talking about a change, which has not been broadly welcomed, but is novel and gives the post tremendous democratic legitimacy. On examining how this operates in other countries the Minister saw it was a way in which the strength of the council as distinct from the executive could be enhanced. It is fair to say that councillors who end their term as chairman after a year very often say it was only in the last few months of their term that they really got to grips with the job and understood what was necessary to do it. Therefore, there is an amount of sense in having a longer term and enhancing the power and ability of the council. This has to be done in concert between elected members and the executive.
I do not agree with the notion raised about a person simply walking into the job. A certain fear of democracy underpins this thinking. The electorate has the freedom to decide. Is it not saying a little about how one is doing one's job if one feels desperately threatened by somebody who can come from the outside without any experience and take over the roll? It may happen, but the Minister wants as far as is possible to monitor directly elected chairs and mayors and to return to the issue in mid term to see what review is necessary in the light of that experience. We must be prepared for change and embrace considerations and developments which have quite successfully taken place in other countries. We are now seeing the beginning of a change which will ultimately extend to greater powers being given to the chair as it evolves, and this is a move in that direction.
Therefore, I am unable to accept the amendment. While there is considerable sympathy for it the best we can offer is a stout-hearted commitment to review the position in mid term.
I have asked in the context of a number of issues that legal opinion on such matters should be published so we can examine it. The reason the legal system is so beneficial to so many lawyers is that there are different opinions about different things – there are two sides to every story. If we had the opportunity to examine the legal opinion I have no doubt I would find somebody who would say my request is legitimate and constitutional. I again ask that legal opinion expressed by a Minister be made available on time to the House so a judgment can be made on it.
Saying things will happen in the long term is like saying "Live horse and you will get grass". We cannot wait for some time in the future; we can only deal with the legislation before us, and for that reason I will have to oppose the provision as it stands.
I agreed with much of what the Minister said and have some sympathy or empathy with what was said by Senator Dardis. There has been a gradual erosion of the power of local government over the past quarter of a century and this is a major initiative which can work to enhance local government. The fear is that people will be attracted to the posts who will not be inclined to enhance local government.
The Minister referred to the fact one must be 35 years of age to stand for the presidency. Will the Minister examine the situation which pertains to the nomination of president. I cannot run for president unless I am nominated by a political party or a certain number of county councils. Perhaps within that framework a solution could be found to this problem.
Amendment put and declared lost.
Question proposed: "That section 40 stand part of the Bill."
The majority of those who have spoken have been in favour of my amendment. Senator Norris in the main supported the argument I put forward, namely that this is a change for the sake of change and that it is meaningless. There is nothing behind it – it is only a ball of smoke. It is unfortunate that the opportunity was not taken to provide for real and meaningful change to the role of mayor and chair. I oppose the section.
Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Cox, Margaret.Cregan, JohnDardis, John.
Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Tom.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Glennon, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Kiely, Rory.
Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Lydon, Don.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.
O'Toole, Joe.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Ross, Shane.Walsh, Jim.
Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Coogan, Fintan.Cosgrave, Liam T.Costello, Joe.Doyle, Joe.
McDonagh, Jarlath.Norris, David.O'Dowd, Fergus.Ryan, Brendan.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Dardis and T. Fitzgerald; Níl, Senators Burke and Coogan.
Question declared carried.
Question proposed: "That section 41 stand part of the Bill."
The section provides that where a casual vacancy occurs in the office of a cathaoirleach and the remaining term of office is more than 12 months, a by-election will be held to fill the vacancy by direct election and if the remaining term is less than 12 months the members of the council will elect a cathaoirleach. That provision should be changed. Where such a casual vacancy arises, members of the council should elect a cathaoirleach. One or other arrangement should apply. There should not be provision for two arrangements. Where such a casual vacancy arises, I favour that members of the council should elect a cathaoirleach.
If provision for a directly elected chairman is part and parcel of the Bill, it would be incongruous to change it midstream. There is a logic to this section. If the term of office remaining is less than 12 months, the council will elect a cathaoirleach. It would be against the spirit of what is in the legislation to make such a change.
I do not have much to add to what Senator Walsh said. If one accepts the principle enshrined in the Bill, and if unfortunate circumstances arise where a directly elected mayor or cathaoirleach died, the principle that has been adopted in the legislation would have to be adhered to.
I accept what the Minister and Senator Walsh said. The council will elect a cathaoirleach if the term of office remaining is less than 12 months. Where the term remaining is more than 12 months, rather than have a by-election, could a leas chathaoirleach or deputy mayor, as in the case of Dublin or Cork, not take over?
A leas-chathaoirleach would take over for the interim period during which the arrangements for the election are taking place. We either adopt the principle of having a directly elected cathaoirleach or mayor within that timescale or we do not. There does not seem to be a major choice in this.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 42 to 44, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 49, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following new subsection:
"(5) A local authority shall make reasonable efforts to accommodate access for members of the public and representatives of the media at local authority meetings.".
I am disappointed with section 45 and this amendment is an attempt to strengthen it. It should be written in bold letters and large print that local authorities and committees thereof should meet in public wherever possible. It should only be a matter of exception that they do otherwise. The legislation should state that. In some of the surveys conducted in the past, one of the reasons that was given for not allowing public access to meetings, was that the room was not big enough or there was not space for them. It should be an obligation on local authorities to ensure that excuse cannot apply.
Section 45 provides an unequivocal right for the public and the media to attend meetings of local authorities. There is only limited provision for the local authority to meet in committee. That is subject to safeguards, including special voting requirements and reasons to be given. An official amendment was made to section 54 on Committee Stage to permit access for the public and media to these meetings. The question of the dissemination of information about local authority meetings to the public, that they be informed when and where meetings take place, that they be given copies of the agenda etc. are dealt with comprehensively in paragraph 8 of Schedule 10 and more generally in section 127.
An amendment was also brought forward on Report Stage to paragraph 8 of Schedule 10 to address the issue of the supply of notice and agendas to the media. It will now be open to local authorities to decide on ongoing arrangements as it considers appropriate. A number of local authorities already supply notice of meetings and agendas to the media as a matter of course.
Against this background, the practicalities of facilitating the press and the public will be a matter for each local authority to decide in accordance with their standing orders. It is at the discretion of each authority to decide whether the public has the unequivocal right to attend and to promote openness and transparency. Not everything can be achieved overnight. The important point is that we are moving in the right direction.
It is clear from my reply and the amendments which have been brought forward that there is a very comprehensive position regarding the right of the media and public to attend. There is the ongoing argument that local authorities should have the discretion to make their own decisions according to their standing orders. Each local authority is a little different in composition, geography, problems etc. and they may be better off to have discretion, within what is being proposed, to decide for themselves on the attendance of the public and the media. In essence it is a greater degree of local autonomy at local level.
I love the way the Government justifies itself when it does not want to do something by talking about its commitment to local democracy. When it wants to do something it can put in place the most stringent measures and say that they are necessary for order and proper administration. I take it with a grain of salt and the Minister had his tongue firmly in cheek as he gave his reply.
The problem is that one of the issues in section 45, that the local authority may regulate the right of members of the public and media representatives to be present, is that the local authority can take into account the amount of available space. There is no obligation on them to make space available. Previous surveys suggest that local authorities say that there is no space for the media or the public in the rooms where they hold their meetings. We should impose an obligation on them.
I believe in local democracy. Local democracy carries with it certain undilutable obligations, one of which, as far as is practical and within well-defined limitations, is that meetings should be carried out in public.
The powers of local authorities to hold meetings in committee is severely curtailed. We have to creep before we walk and many councils do not have the facilities. Many councils are spending considerable funds to provide adequate facilities to meet this need. It cannot be done overnight. We should not set out in detail that local authorities should do more than is expected of them in this legislation.
There are arguments on both sides but meetings should be as accessible as possible. That is what the Minister is saying. I have some empathy with what Senator Ryan said about authorities going into committee. Perhaps the Department of the Environment and Local Government will write to local authorities urging them that the discretion they have under this Bill should be used exceedingly sparingly. Going into committee to discuss the full estimates is not right. The councils should be given some direction in that regard.
These comments are more appropriate to the section than to the amendment. The amendment is quite specific.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That section 45 stand part of the Bill."
I will raise some points on the extent to which the media have access to the meetings of councils and their committees. I accept the point the Minister has made that, while it is possible to use the lack of availability of space as an excuse, there are very few premises in the country where space is an issue. If someone wants to be mischievous they could use that as an excuse but I do not foresee it happening in practice.
The National Union of Journalists raised several queries in a letter to Senators dated 9 July – I assume other Senators also received it. One would have though the NUJ would have been accurate as to the section of the Bill it was talking about, but it was not. It raised the matter of the grounds on which the local authority can decide to exclude the media. This has been considered at some length by Kildare County Council. There was a vote on the issue and the Labour Party, some Independents, my Progressive Democrats colleague, councillor Timmy Conway, and I were in a minority in wishing to give the media access to committee meetings. Notwithstanding the fact that there should be grounds for exclusion on specific topics like housing allocation, for instance, where there are sensitive issues regarding individuals, I do not think the media would want to be present in that case. Nor should we subject them to the tedium of committee meetings, but if they choose to endure the tedium that is a matter for them.
One of the matters which concerns me about the section is that it refers to "accredited" representatives. By whom are the media accredited? Are they accredited by the local authority, or is it assumed that the media representatives are accredited de facto? An accreditation system is another way of excluding people.
How far down the system does the question of being present at a local authority go? Senator Walsh raised the point about the estimates and I agree with him. There should be access to such meetings. We discuss the estimates in public in Kildare. How far down the system does this extend? Does it go as far as area committees or just ordinary meetings of the council?
The National Union of Journalists speaks of planning sub-committees. Sensitive issues can be involved concerning substantial inward investment where a major corporation may consider locating in the county and there is a necessity for confidentiality. I understand this. Much of the information would be available under the Freedom of Information Act subsequently. The NUJ should have some grounds for wanting journalists to attend most of the meetings it wishes them to attend. The union makes the point that it is difficult to see how the public interest can be served by discussing matters of public interest or taking decisions in private.
The NUJ also makes the point that local authority meetings, including meetings of subsidiary bodies, should be held in public on the same basis as Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann. The procedure exists for the Houses to go into special committee and exclude the public for matters of significant import, although it has never been adopted in my 11 years as a Member. It is not an unusual procedure. The journalists have a point regarding access to meetings.
Section 45(2) refers to "a meeting". How far does this extend? What does "accredited" mean? Section 45(3) refers to the absence of the media being required or the local authority regarding it as a requirement because of the special nature of the meeting or other special reasons. How far does the term "special reasons" extend and where does it stop? I realise that is a difficult question for the Minister to answer but perhaps he might give us his views on the matter.
Senator Dardis has said almost everything I wanted to say but I wish to reiterate that we have a good template for deciding what should be done in secret, namely, the issues covered by the exclusions in the Freedom of Information Act, such as personal privacy or material which would be commercially sensitive in terms of decisions a local authority would make, for example, about competing tenders for the provision of goods or services where many of the commercial agencies, bodies or companies do not want the information disclosed, especially in advance of a decision.
It is ironic that much of what will be done in secret will become accessible to the public through the Freedom of Information Act. This section could be more strongly worded while leaving the correct right to have exceptional items discussed in private. Where there is a difficult issue, for example, a decision on the building of a ring road or a bridge across a river, such as one across the Barrow in my home town of Athy which is a matter of considerable controversy on which the local Labour Party representative, Deputy Wall, and I have slightly different opinions, the urban district council could make that decision in private, if it wanted to, to avoid people knowing what members said. Ultimately it would be revealed under the Freedom of Information Act.
It should not be possible to do things in private. We had dreadful debates in the House in the 1980s, especially on abortion and related matters. It would have suited some Members not to have had the debates in public because otherwise it meant they had to state opinions and explain their positions on explosive and sensitive issues. It would not have been excusable to do the simple thing of debating them in private. There may have been an attempt by someone to do so and the House unanimously decided not to go that route. I wish local authorities would make a similar decision, but I know they would not. That is the reason I am sorry this section is not more strongly worded.
We must be practical about this. It would not be possible in primary legislation to name the circumstances which could conceivably arise in each local area in which a local authority could go into committee. The safeguard is that half the members of the full council must vote to go into committee.
Sometimes trouble is caused by doing something different, experimental and far-seeing. This is the first Local Government Bill which specifically and unequivocally gives the right to the media and public to be present at council meetings. That is a positive change.
Accreditation means a journalist's card or the equivalent. An amendment was made to section 52 covering other meetings below formal council meetings allowing the Minister to introduce regulations to assist councils to determine the type of meeting below formal meetings where the media and public would be present.
This is the first time primary legislation gives an unequivocal right to the media and public to be present at council meetings. Absolute safeguards have been provided to restrict a council severely from going into committee for frivolous or vexatious reasons.
I could be misinterpreted in saying this but I would like to have a certain degree of confidence in local councils to make a judgment. They are elected by the people to do a good job. In fairness, most of them set out to do this. We want primary legislation to assist, encourage and restrict, where necessary, but not determine every circumstance in which a council must or must not or may or may not do this or that.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 46 and 47 agreed to.
Questions proposed: "That section 48 stand part of the Bill."
This was raised by a colleague in the Labour Party who is a member of a local authority. Section 48(3)(b)(ii)(II) states that the term of office of a chairperson of a strategic policy committee “shall not be less than 3 years.” The point was made to me that, if a chairperson has a period of three years and is then reappointed for another three years, that is six years, which is not co-terminous with the period of office of a county council. It appears that the provision should state that it should be not less than three years and should come to an end when a local authority election is held. If a person is made chairperson for three years and reappointed for another three years, his or her period as chairperson stretches beyond the period of local elections.
I spoke to Senator Ryan's colleague, Senator O'Meara, about this issue. It does not work out. If a person is appointed for another three years after the first three, will he or she be automatically a member of the next council, will he or she be ex-officio, or how will he or she establish himself or herself?
Another issue in the section relates to the effectiveness of strategic policy committees. Is there a mechanism other than the annual report to determine whether they are effective and meeting? I do not suggest a daily record should be kept of attendance but some measure should be made of the effectiveness of SPCs because I am aware of cases where the attendance was such that they had to be abandoned. These included unelected people to help make them feel part of the democratic system.
This is not the first time Senator Ryan has tested the waters but he knows as well as I do that, when an election is called, everything falls. The notion that there is a continuation into the next council of a decision taken by the previous one does not arise. If the Senator is the lord mayor of Cork city and operating SPCs, once the election take place he will no longer be working with some of the members.
In reply to Senator Coogan, the way in which the provision is working will be surveyed and monitored. This is not just primary legislation which will lie flat. There will be ongoing research, monitoring and so on by the Minister of the day and the local authorities. We must bear in mind that these strategic management committees resemble the local cabinet, so to speak, and the surveys will be ongoing.
The Minister is attributing motives to me that might be true on many occasions but they are not true on this occasion. This matter was raised with me by a particularly conscientious and active member of Cork Corporation who happens to be a colleague of mine. Where does the Bill say that the chairperson would cease to hold office because of a local election, either implicitly or explicitly?
Section 51(6) states, "Unless dissolved in accordance with subsection (3) a committee shall be deemed to be dissolved on the ordinary day of retirement of members of the local authority concerned in accordance with section 17.” The Senator should not tell me that he is not playing on at this stage.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 49 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 50 stand part of the Bill."
I welcome the provision whereby the chairman of an urban authority will be an ex-officio member of an area committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 51 to 56, inclusive agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 57 stand part of the Bill."
Prior to the 1994 local elections the Minister extended the urban boundaries for voting purposes. At the time everyone believed there would be a corresponding extension in regard to authorities within that area. However, that has not happened because there has been a change of Government. There has been no extension to the boundaries of a number of urban council areas who applied for extensions for the purposes of controls rather than for the extension of the voting franchise.
There is a major change in sections 57 to 60, inclusive, regarding urban councils or local authorities who seek extensions or alterations to their boundaries. In some instances it must be agreed between the urban council and the county council. If an urban council or county council reaches an agreement on an extension to an urban boundary, the Minister should sign the order and that should end the matter. That is what should have happened in regard to extensions sought heretofore.
Under the legislation, if one applies for an extension to an urban boundary which is agreed by one or two local authorities, it will then go to a boundary commission who will carry out evaluations and make a recommendation to the Minister. The boundary commission is a group of people appointed by the Minister of the day. In this instance one or two local authorities who agree an extension or alteration to their boundary in good faith will then be at the behest of three, four or five unelected members, people who have been nominated by the Minister of the day, which is not good enough. If local authorities comply with all the regulations and a recommendation is sent to the Minister, that should be sufficient, rather than being at the behest of a number of people who could have a vested interest.
I agree with much that Senator Burke said. My urban authority has been endeavouring for almost a quarter of a century to get a boundary extension, which is almost impossible. If we believe in the principle of subsidiarity, it behoves us to have a system whereby local government is administered closest to the people. The Minister, Deputy Smith, is in a very good position to appreciate this aspect because he took an initiative in the past to allow urban authorities to extend their boundaries for the purposes of elections. The intention was that these boundaries would be extended, but in most cases that did not happen because very often county managers and county councillors opposed it.
It is totally unacceptable that housing estates should be divided in two, with one section coming under an urban authority and the other under a county council. Urban authorities should include the whole developmental area within their jurisdiction. This is important, given the current rate of construction of residential and industrial estates.
There is another argument in regard to this aspect. The Bill does not enhance the role of urban authorities because the Minister arrived at a stage whereby the various committees recommended that the primary unit of local government should remain the county council, therefore nothing should be done to undermine the financial viability of the county council. It is unfair, on the one hand, to restrict urban authorities from extending their boundaries while, on the other, they do not have the financial ability to meet some of their commitments. If the boundaries were extended they would be able to do so.
I welcome the provisions in Part 8 of the Bill. For the first time it sets out a fairly definite process to be followed which, I hope, will lead to these boundaries being extended. I agree with Senator Burke – it was in a joint submission we made – that where two local authorities are in agreement, that should go through without the commission addressing it. Section 60 states that the commission must treat this aspect as a priority and make recommendations to the Minister.
I will be brief because I do not wish to make the same points as the other Senators. This aspect is epitomised in the Dublin area where there are huge problems in regard to the division of areas. The Bill spells out how agreement can be reached and how things can be co-ordinated.
I have a problem in regard to the local government commission. I often wonder how they draw the lines. It seems like a line on the map and I am never sure whether they have got it absolutely right. The Minister will be familiar with this aspect given his experience as a former Minister for the Environment. I echo the points raised by the two Senators.
The Local Government Commission is dealt with in section 2. The commission is independent. I can recall as Minister for the Environment when there was a review of boundaries. I would hate to think that the decisions on these matters would have to be taken by the local elected members in those areas. If Senators are pressing for that kind of decision, we will just have to dissolve the Seanad now and deal with the matter some other way. The import of what Senators are saying is that we should try to speed up the change in the boundaries where there is local agreement.
The reason for the involvement of the Local Government Commission is not just on the question of boundaries. Assessments must be made in terms of economic viability. There can be very strong urban growth which if it were to have total control within its own boundary would have a very detrimental effect on a poor rural hinterland. These considerations must be taken into account. Where there is agreement between the two local authorities, the commission is expected and requested to deal with that very quickly.
I remind Senator Burke that it is up to the local authority to make the application. An application was made by the authority in Killarney recently and that has been accepted. The initiative comes from the local authority, not from the Department.
I represent a local authority, Castlebar, which has made an application for a number of years and nothing has happened. Several reminders have been sent from the local authority to the Minister. There is full agreement between the county council and the urban council on the issue. I agree with the Minister that in areas where there is agreement there is no need for the commission. The county council and the urban council always make clear what the financial implications are for either local authority. I do not see why the commission would have a different view. I fully agree with the Minister that those things should be speeded up.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 58 to 62, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 63 stand part of the Bill."
I have argued strongly for the devolution of powers to local government. It is a matter of some regret that the devolution committee which was established seems to have gone into abeyance. I know there is resistance from various Departments to devolved powers to the Department of the Environment and Local Government and to local authorities. While that is understandable, it is regrettable. Local government has a remit in third level education but it should have a remit in all areas of education. The very valuable health committees should have been replaced by local authority elected members on the committees. The disbursement of lottery grants, local development and so on should be part of the remit of local government. I would also add policing. Who is better placed to discuss with local superintendents and local management of the Garda the problems in a given area than the elected members who are well aware and well informed by their constituents?
There are enabling provisions in section 72, and also in sections 64 and 65, for the Minister to devolve powers. There are further developments, including the promotion of interest among young people in local government, the promotion of the Irish language and amenities, sports, recreation and heritage facilities. Many councils play their part in this. If we are serious about meaningful local government, somebody must grasp the nettle to devolve powers which are centralised and could be much more administratively delivered by control at local level. In that way there would be much more accountability to the public for whom the services are provided.
I make a strong appeal to the Minister in this regard. I know that when he was Minister for Local Government he certainly played his part in trying to achieve this. Most people would acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, is as good as any holder of that office. There needs to be a push not just by the Minister but by his colleagues in government. There are complaints about a range of public services, especially in health. Many of those complaints could be tackled and addressed locally by people with the local knowledge if we only took the decision to devolve powers to a lower tier of government.
Senator Walsh has strayed into section 65 so if I briefly slip in and out I hope you will not mind, a Chathaoirligh.
We are dealing with section 63.
If leniency was shown to that side of the House I am sure you will extend it to this side of the House. We have seen the reverse of the devolution of authority. The authority of local authorities is being transferred to managers. The Waste Management Bill is a prime example. Local authority members must be trusted to carry out the functions. If distrust is shown they will react in the opposite way. Decisions are some times difficult for them to make and they take time to make, but they eventually arrive at a decision. If there are hard pills to swallow, they will do that.
If this Bill makes changes regarding remuneration there will be more pressure on members to carry out those responsibilities. We should pay more than lip service. The functions of local authorities have been eroded. Alternative groups and boards were set up to manage the tourism industry and it might have made more sense to consider the local authority in that regard. It often provides the finance and facilities for tourism. We should be adventurous and imaginative and say that tourism should come within the remit of local government. We should also examine traffic management and take some step towards local community police. If this Bill is to have a purpose, it should examine these matters but I think the opportunity has been lost.
I hesitate to speak on this because the local authority members know better than I do. It is a pity the Government reversed the decision of the previous Government to have local education committees. It was one of the first decisions of the then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, on the grounds that they were bureaucratic and expensive. My view was then and still is that the way central bureaucracy defines efficiency inevitably means that it looks more efficient when it is in charge. This is because the waste is elsewhere. When the work is done locally, if there is waste, it is usually in the provision of a local and very useful local service.
The issue of the powers of local government is one that seems to have been left for another day and that is a great pity. Senator Walsh made the point perfectly well that there is no area of Government which would not benefit from local input when it is being applied locally. The idea that there is somebody in Dublin who can make a better judgment on any local issue than local people properly advised with competent technical advice is nonsense.
I remember a member of Dublin Corporation talking about the licensing of horse-drawn taxis on St. Stephen's Green and pointing out that they would have to apply to the Department of the Environment and Local Government for by-law approval. Who in the Department of the Environment and Local Government knows more about that than the members of Dublin Corporation? That is just one example and there are hundreds more.
There is a huge reluctance to dispose of the myth that everything referred to the Department is dealt with by the Minister. I have heard city managers in Cork say that the most frustrating thing is to know that when you refer something to the Minister it will be decided on by an official who is less qualified, less well paid and manifestly less competent than the city manager who – in conjunction with the local authority – is not per mitted to exercise their authority. There is a fundamental problem here.
The myth of centralisation has been a huge flaw of the political left for many years, particularly in Britain. It is interesting that Sweden, which is in many ways closest to a model social democracy, has a huge degree of devolution. Health care is under the control of local councils. Denmark, like other countries I know reasonably well, devolved great powers from central to local government over the last 25 or 30 years. Two countries with a strong, successful tradition of social democracy have gone in the opposite direction to the political left here. We have only begun. This has nothing to do with civil servants going to Thurles or anywhere else. It has to do with accepting as a myth the idea that the expert in Dublin somehow knows more than local people. That is the real issue. There is nobody in Dublin who can ensure that Athy Urban District Council or Kildare County Council will use their money better.
Part of the problem for local government over recent years has been that it was by-passed by a number of initiatives in rural development and micro-enterprise. The fault is not always at the centre. We all agree that when it comes to the hard decisions there has been a strong reluctance to take them at local level. I reject the notion that power is being taken from the local authorities in the Waste Management (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2001. It is only taken from the local authority if it fails to fulfil its obligations in the management of waste. I have had the experience of devolving about 30 or 35 instruments to local authorities and a number of decisions to be taken under their auspices were sent back to the centre when it came to having to make a hard local decision.
If Senators are going to make comparisons with Denmark and other countries they have to look at the finance raised in those countries at local level. Since many local councillors vote against raising the smallest amount of money for water charges, it is hard to believe they would want to be associated with what happens in Denmark where the local charges are so substantial. When added to the general tax system they give a phenomenal rate of tax. Having said that, the task force on local government and local development systems, the county and city boards, the Garda, the health boards and FÁS are coming together. You cannot possibly move from where we are in the historical terms of our education system and our legal infrastructure to make comparisons with other places.
I do not want to differ with Senators except where I have to but in my experience you never lose power while you are taking the decisions. You lose power when you do not take them. That is true at national and local level. In any organisation if you keep failing to take decisions you will lose power. If it is not taken away from you by primary legislation it will be taken away by the public. We need to get our thinking about local power straight. Local power means taking the easy decisions and taking the hard ones. The more those are taken collectively, the more power you will have. I am very interested in that. I agree completely with Senator Ryan that it is impossible for someone a distance away to be as good as somebody who is local, provided the person sitting locally takes the decision. However, if he or she does not it is a different matter.
The handing of power to managers in the Waste Management (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2001, was based on the simple fact that a few councils did not agree with the Minister's decision. As they did not agree he decided to punish all councils.
This will not be exercised in any circumstances where local authorities are taking the decisions themselves.
We are entering into a completely different debate.
I support the Minister. It is standard practice for all councillors everywhere to ask for more devolved powers. Powers were devolved to allow the issuance of taxi licences but the tough decision was not taken. That went on and on and on. In Schedule 12, Parts 1 and 2, there are a very significant number of ministerial responsibilities which are now devolved under section 63.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 64 to 67, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 68 stand part of the Bill."
Tá saghas díomá orm faoin alt seo. Tá sé lag faoi úsáid agus cur chun cinn na Gaeilge. I do not for a second want to suggest that this is the fault of a particular party or Government. One of the faults in our national efforts to revive or sustain the language is that we often do not do the things we should. Mar shampla, section 63(1) provides:
(1) A local authority may, in performing its functions, take such steps as it considers appropriate to encourage the use of the Irish language.
B'fhearr liom i bhfad go mbeadh "shall" ansin agus ní thuigim cén fáth nach bhfuil sé ann. Ní thuigim cén fáth gur cuireadh "may" isteach in ionad "shall" mar nuair a théann tú tríd an alt agus nuair a léann tú fo-alt (3) a leagann rialacha an Aire amach–
(2) (a) The Minister shall in accordance with this section issue, or arrange for the issue, to local authorities of guidelines.
Then subsection (3) states that a local authority shall have regard to such guidance in the performance of its functions. However, all of that is subsidiary to the fact that whether they do anything or not is a matter of discretion. Go speisialta, is trua nach bhfuilim ábalta aon tagairt a fheiscint ann do na dualgaisí faoi leith gur chóir go mbeadh ag na h-údaráis áitiúil go bhfuil Gaeltachtaí ionta. I mo thuairim, ba chóir go mbeadh ceart ag ball ar bith d'údarás áitiúil a thoghtar do cheantar Gaeltachta, ba chomhair go mbeadh sé de cheart aige no aici gach gnó a dhéanamh as Gaeilge agus ba chóir go mbeadh sin de dhualgas ar na h-údaráis áitiúil.
It would be very wrong if a representative of a Gaeltacht area on the county councils of Kerry, Galway, Cork, Meath or Donegal were precluded from using only Irish to conduct all the business of that local authority. That is the fundamental right of a Gaeltacht representative, whatever about the rest of us. I am never precluded from doing business through Irish in this House. Tá na háiseanna againn, a fhad agus is mian liom nó le daoine eile iad a úsáid. Tá daoine eile sa Tigh seo go bhfuil Gaeilge níos fearr acu agus a thugann an-tacaíocht don Ghaeilge chomh maith. Níl aon brú orthu riamh an Béarla a úsáid in ionad Gaeilge más mian leo é sin a dhéanamh. It would be wrong that a different situation would ever apply in a local authority.
Aontaím leis an Seanadóir gur ceart go mbeadh an focal "shall" in ionad "may" anseo. Measaim go bhfuil dualgas orainn úsáid a bhaint as an Ghaeilge mar chomhairleoirí.
This is a good provision but it could have been stronger if "shall" had been used instead of "may". I suggest that the Department might consider circulating all councils, pointing out that there is this particular provision and requesting that perhaps there would be at least one item on the agenda of every local authority where people could speak bilingually and use the language. We did that for a period at my local authority and then a chairman came along who disagreed with it because he did not have Irish, and it was dropped. That might be a way of doing it. There is a need for a voluntary input.
Senator Walsh's idea of one Irish item on the agenda is valuable. The difficulty would be that not everybody speaks Irish and the facilities are not always in place for people to translate the Irish debate. This is regrettable. If one was to look at that concept, one might consider putting in place the proper provisions in council chambers which one would find in most decent facilities, whereby an individual who was unable to understand Irish would have it translated simultaneously. That might give an impetus to the growth of the Irish language.
Aontaím go mór leis an cuspóir atá leagtha amach ag na Seanadóirí anseo. Is é alt 68 an chéad alt den tsaghas seo a cuireadh i mBille mar seo riamh. Aontaím go mór le Seanadóir Coogan. Níl sé furasta do gach duine i gcomhairle contae an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn níos faide. Caithfimid glacadh le sin freisin.
This is the first time a provision of this kind has been put into a Bill like this to encourage the use of Irish. However, we all know that there are circumstances in local authorities where it is not feasible immediately to make it compulsory for everything to happen at once. The facility is there in many place, it is being encouraged and it is a positive move in the right direction. There are fairly strong legal reasons, which I would not wish to go into in the House, for the use of "may" instead of "shall".
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 69 to 79, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 80 stand part of the Bill."
I welcome this section which deals with local archives. The wording in the subsection (2) is strong. It states that it is a function of the local authority to make arrangements, etc., for the custody of archives and for making them available to the public. Furthermore, I welcome that it states that the local authority may acquire archival material by purchase, donation or bequest.
A few years ago at Kildare County Council I moved a motion seeking the establishment of a local archive in County Kildare. The reason I did that was the county offices were being renovated and I feared that some of the documents would be lost. The most valuable depository of the social history of a county is probably the county council records, documents and archives. It is important that these documents would be preserved and maintained for future generations.
An archive is different from a museum. There have been calls for a county museum in Kildare but this is a different matter. I am pleased to say that provision has been made for the custody of the archives in the new arts and library centre at Newbridge, which was the millennium project of the county council. The single biggest difficulty is finding the space to store them and also the fact that a professional archivist, who is being shared with the regional authority, is involved in the management and custody of the archive.
This is a hugely important section. I am glad to see it in the Bill.
I agree with everything Senator Dardis said. This is a very worthwhile section. I cannot help pointing out, slightly mischievously, that subsection (4) includes the power for the Minister to give advice or direction to local auth orities, in paragraph (e), of “circumstances in which local archives, or particular classes of local archives, may be withheld from public inspection”. Given our unwillingness to issue directives to local authorities about meeting in public, I am intrigued by the fact that the Minister is retaining the power to direct local authorities not to make certain local archives available to the public. It seems contradictory, given our willingness to refrain from interfering with the local authority on the issue of meetings in public, to keep the power to tell them which local archives they cannot make public as distinct from advising them to do so.
I had a personal word with the Minister about this and I think it was Senator Ryan he had in mind. He did not want the Senator to explore any further in these entrails. Seriously, I thank both Senators for their comments generally about this provision and, more importantly, what the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the Minister have been doing to develop libraries and archives. There are record levels of funding and staffing being provided.
Personally, I am very interested in this area. We should continue down this road, notwithstanding what was said by Senator Ryan, who unfortunately can be absolutely brilliant and then decide to finish by saying something which undermines everything he has said previously.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 81 stand part of the Bill."
I welcome the inclusion of section 81 in the Bill. This system has been operating in most local authorities for many years. It would seem that this provision is a little more flexible than the old system in that subsection (3) states:
A road authority may provide assistance by way of carrying out of works, a financial contribution or otherwise towards the construction or improvement of a non-public road . . .
That would seem to be a slight change from the old provision. Now a local authority would seem to be able to give a financial contribution if there were two or more people carrying out works on a road. Rather than have the local authority getting involved in it, it would be more beneficial if the local authority stated that it would give £1,000, £2,000 or £3,000 to the applicants and let them carry out the work. That is the meaning I take from the provision and I hope that would be the case. If that were to happen, it would be a great system.
The other issue concerns section 81(4)(a), which states that assistance by a road authority shall be “conditional on a prior written agreement by the parties concerned with the road auth ority and a financial contribution by such parties”. Prior written agreement was necessary under the old system as well. In some cases, if all people concerned are not in agreement, one of them could stop work being done on a road. This would an injustice to those who would like the work to be carried out. I have seen this happen on several occasions.
With regard to the type of roads for which we are now legislating, financial assistance can be given for their repair but one person can hold up a council's funding of a project or its carrying out of the work. That is wrong. Will the Minister intervene in cases where a local authority is in favour of granting financial assistance or carrying out work, but is hindered by those not in agreement? Will the Minister ensure work is carried out if the vast majority of people concerned are in agreement? It is unfortunate for people who live on bad roads who may have fallen out with their neighbours.
I sympathise with what Senator Burke is saying. I am aware of the circumstances to which he is referring. It is a pity that they happen. In general, when there is agreement, there is flexibility. The Senator is referring to special cases in which the majority are in agreement, facilitating the council, and giving the written approbation, but in which there are one or two objectors. In those circumstances, there is a facility to make application to the Minister, who may decide to alter, if that is not too strong a word, the guidelines and regulations governing the scheme in question. The Minister can give authority to the council not to apply the full requirements of the scheme. It is hoped such cases will be exceptional because if there were too many people creating problems for those who were co-operating, those not co-operating would still receive the same benefits and have their roads repaired as well.
I appreciate what the Minister said. With regard to flexibility, there is more in the sense that a council can now make a financial contribution.
That is a local decision to be taken at local level.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 82 to 84, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 85 stand part of the Bill."
Many years ago, as a student of public administration, I recall a case where two local authorities bought equipment that they used for only part of the year. One of the authorities used a weed-eater on a riverbank but the other authority used to rent one while the other was lying idle. Could such functions be enhanced? I know many local authorities share services. For example, Galway Corporation shares fire and library services with the county council, which works quite well.
In cases where services could be shared among local authorities, we should include a stronger commitment to do so to lower the cost for all involved.
I hope I understand Senator Coogan because that is happening in many local authorities. It is advisable to reduce costs and streamline services and devote moneys saved to other purposes. This Bill does not prevent the sharing of services.
I am emphasising the encouragement of sharing. Human nature, being what it is, means that managers often see their realms as kingdoms. There is reluctance among them to share responsibility, authority or facilities. I know of one local authority in which a commitment was made by all the parties involved to establish a joint committee long before it was approved or recommended by the Government. Every time they asked when a meeting was to be held, they discovered it would not be held. That the sharing of services is not prohibited by the Bill is welcome, but it should be encouraged.
It is a reserved function under subsection (5).
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 86 to 89, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 79, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following new subsection:
"(2)(a) The Commission shall ensure that significant population changes within County and County Borough electoral areas are reflected in the number of members assigned to those areas from the next local election after the publication of the census which established the need for a change in representation.
(b) In determining the priority areas for additional representation the Commission shall have regard for the viability, efficiency and relevance of local area committees.”.
My colleague, Senator Burke, has already remarked on the commission. I am always fearful that groups, regardless of how independent they are supposed to be, become independent from everybody. A previous amendment by the Labour Party, amendment No. 3, concerned the expansion of numbers of members of local authority. If one looks at Schedule 7, in page 197 of the Bill, Leitrim has 22 local authority members and Roscommon has 26. The population of those two counties is less that the population of Galway City, which has 15 representatives. In order to ensure balanced representation, the commission should ensure the numbers are proportional to the populations.
Although this amendment comes under section 90, it is more related to section 23, which deals with local electoral areas, whereas section 90 lists the functions of the Local Government Commission, which must be carried out in accordance with certain sections such as section 23. This amendment concerns the review of local electoral areas to take account of population changes, which are identified by a census. It implies that the Local Government Commission could, on its own initiative, increase or decrease the total number of members of an authority.
For the local elections of 1999, a comprehensive review of the local electoral areas throughout the State was carried out by the Electoral Area Boundary Commission, based on the results of the 1996 census. It was always the intention to review these areas when necessary. However, following careful consideration of similar concerns raised during the passing of the Bill through the Dáil, an official amendment was tabled to address some of the concerns. It provides that, in considering a request to the Local Government Commission to review local affairs, the Minister may take account of population changes highlighted by the most recent census. This, however, does not make it mandatory for the Minister to request the commission to carry out a review of the electoral area after a census. If there are not significant changes in population, a review would waste the commission's time.
As I said, the Local Government Commission could, on its own initiative, increase or decrease the total number of members. The commission's function is to allocate the total membership of the local authority among whatever number of local electoral areas may be considered appropriate. Only a local authority itself can seek an increase in total membership under section 22.
In view of the reasons I have outlined, particularly given that some of the Senators concerns have been met by way of amendment, I do not propose to accept this amendment. It is a matter, in the first instance, for the local authorities to make the applications for more members.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 90 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 91 stand part of the Bill."
With regard to the establishment and membership of the commission, I strongly recommend that past and present members of local authorities should be considered. It is open to the Minister to make subsequent regulations as to the constitution of the commission. This Bill reflects the thinking that better local government is achieved by a committee made up of bankers, other professional people and county managers. Any such committees looking at local government should include people who have been practitioners of local government, that is, either councillors or former councillors. We strongly recommend that the representative associations be used to make nominations to the Minister and that account be taken of those nominations.
I add my voice to that very reasonable argument.
The representative groups, the General Council of County Councils, LAMA and the AMAI, should be represented on the group of five members being appointed by the Minister. These bodies have a very valuable contribution to make. From my observations of the workings and dealings of local authority members during the years, they are impartial. Consideration should be given to including the representative bodies in this commission.
Under section 89 the representative associations will be designated to nominate their members and a decision will be taken on those nominations.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 92 to 103, inclusive, agreed.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 88, subsection (6)(a), line 26, after "environment" to insert "provided that the manager takes reasonable steps to obtain the prior consent of the Cathaoirleach and notifies the elected members forthwith.".
This is an attempt to ensure some level of democratic participation. It refers to the power of a manager to incur additional expenditure "where he or she is of the opinion that such additional expenditure is necessary to avert or minimise a threat to public health, public safety, property or the environment." We propose the insertion after "environment" of "provided that the manager takes reasonable steps to obtain the prior consent of the Cathaoirleach and notifies the elected members forthwith."
The most immediate and striking reason for this is the number of occasions on which members of local authorities have told me about matters presented to them as a fait accompli before they knew anything about them amid considerable reluctance on the part of managers to tell them precisely the reason.
This reminds me of the extraordinary circumstances which developed in Cork some years ago when Deputy Martin, now a Government colleague of the Minister, was forced to threaten use of section 4 to enforce the right of the members of Cork Corporation to inspect a consultant's report on the landfill site on the Kinsale Road when officials refused to make it available. There is no direct parallel but it represents the alternative view that the system of local government is meant to be a partnership between professional management and elected representatives. The exigencies of speedy decision making should only extremely rarely be used to enable a county manager to avoid informing elected members about what is going on.
The amendment relates to section 104 of the Bill, which provides for circumstances in which a local authority may exceed the budgetary provisions over and above those adopted at the annual budget meeting. In general, the manager is obliged to obtain authorisation from the elected council in order to exceed the budget provisions adopted. The only circumstances in which prior authorisation of the elected council is not expressly required by the manager in incurring additional expenditure are for reasons of emergencies or where expenditure arises solely due to additional funding becoming available. In my experience, funds of this nature generally become available at short notice and with a relatively short life span.
I do not seem to be addressing Senator Ryan's problem. This section concerns funds becoming available towards the end of the year. These have a very short life span for use and the council should, therefore, press ahead to get the work done. In addition there are emergency circumstances. In my interpretation of the provisions, the case the Senator makes does not seem to apply.
The Minister has not misrepresented anything. This is to prevent the manager from incurring additional expenditure "where he or she is of the opinion that such additional expenditure is necessary to avert or minimise a threat to public health, public safety, property or the environment". One could not argue with that, but there ought to be some obligation on the manager to make reasonable efforts to communicate this fact with the elected cathaoirleach and the members. That is all, it simply aims to keep the dual function going. Members have told me that good managers are very good and bad managers tend to be extraordinarily minimalist using all the powers available to them. Listening to the comments of others it seems that, provided something is not explicitly stated in writing, many managers will take the option presenting the least difficulty, which is to tell people as little as possible. It is not a party political issue. Members of all parties have told me this. Members, in particular the cathaoirleach, ought to be told.
While I do not disagree with Senator Ryan's thesis, I disagree with his proposed amendment. If one takes the flooding or natural disasters we have had in recent years – there was very serious flooding in County Kildare – the local authority has to be in a position to act immediately and effectively.
If necessary. For that reason I would not circumscribe what can be done.
It is stated on page 88, line 35, the manager shall inform "without delay, the Cathaoirleach of the fact."
He or she is informing of the fact that something has taken place. There is a fundamental difference between that and "to obtain the prior consent."
That is not possible for emergencies.
No one is saying it is. The wording is, "take reasonable steps." Obviously there are circumstances in which that cannot happen. It is a matter of representing the partnership, but I will not hold up the House over it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 104 agreed to.
Sections 105 to 109, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 93, subsection (10), line 35, after "jurisdiction." to insert "Local authority services may not be withheld from occupiers who are in default of payment".
I understand this section caused some controversy in the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party on the issue of community initiatives. To be helpful, as the Minister knows is my wont, I propose a reasonable amendment, which is that, where a community initiative is agreed that includes a fund and a charge, there should be a firewall between the provision of local authority services and dealing with the debt. I will not argue about whether it is possible to take the money from someone as a debt.
The section contains a reference to treating default of payment as a normal debt, which is how it should be. However, it should be made clear that a person who declines to pay his or her fair share of funding towards a community initiative should not be made a victim by being deprived of water or refuse services, in particular the former for which there is no longer a charge. It should be dealt with as a debt to be recovered in cash, not through the deprivation of other services.
This amendment relates to section 110 which deals with community initiative schemes whereby funding for a specific community initiative may be raised. This concept was first mooted in the White Paper, Better Local Government, in 1996 to introduce a mechanism for local authorities to sponsor in partnership with local community or other groups discretionary development projects which would not otherwise proceed within available resources.
There are strict rules set out to govern the setting up of such a scheme. The decision is at the discretion of the elected council, at least half of whose members must vote in favour of the resolution to introduce a contribution. Prior to its being voted on by the elected council, public notice must be given of the council's intention to consider adoption of a draft scheme to provide for the contribution in respect of a specific community initiative. The process allows maximum scope for public comment on any or all aspects of the proposed scheme, including the decision by the council to hold a plebiscite within the proposed area prior to deciding on the adoption of the scheme.
This amendment seeks to ensure that default of payment under the contribution scheme will not result in local authority services being withheld. Section 110 does not provide for this and its provision cannot be used to overturn the duties of local authorities. Local authorities have statutory obligations under various statutes to provide a wide range of services within their functional area. The statutory obligation on authorities to provide these services is, in no way, diluted or removed in the event of default in payment of the community initiative contribution. The provisions of section 110 regarding default of payment relate only to the standard remedy available to local and other public agencies in such cases, that is to recover the contribution as a separate contract debt from a court or competent jurisdiction.
Therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.
The Minister has said there is no power to penalise people so I do not see any point in pursuing the amendment.
That is an interpretation which only Senator Ryan's gifted and lucid mind could make.
I have no idea what I have done to provoke these jibes. I am in very good humour tonight. The Minister should see me on a bad night.
The debt must be pursued in the courts.
I know what the Minister said. The council may not cut off people's services.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 110 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 111 stand part of the Bill."
There is provision for the making of regulations in relation to the form of accounts. The simplification of local authority accounts is long overdue. The programme system which currently operates is outdated. Local authority accounts should be dealt with in a normal business manner showing income and expenditure, perhaps under different expenditure headings. We should move away from programme headings which have very little relevance to the current activities of local authorities.
Any properly run small business has an annual budget and monthly accounts which relate to the budget. I ask the Department of the Environment and Local Government to examine this system of accounting for local authorities. In my own local authority, despite criticism for a number of years, inept management has resulted in the 1997-98 abstract accounts being completed only recently. The 1999 accounts have not yet been done and will, I understand, show over-expenditure of approximately £250,000. This is appalling. People within the local government system are reasonably well paid. There should be checks and balances to ensure that proper financial controls are in place so that this kind of mess, which reflects on councillors and management, does not occur.
Steps must be taken to streamline the accounting system and install the necessary disciplines which apply in any well-operated company.
I support Senator Walsh. Very few people understand local authority accounts. They should be simplified for members, the press and the public. It should be possible to put a simple accounting system in place for local authorities, so that people can understand and debate them.
A very user-friendly and transparent system is now evolving in local authorities. There is massive support for new IT systems. We are moving very quickly towards a higher level of efficiency. Senators can look forward to a much more streamlined, transparent and user-friendly system using modern technology.
Will there be monthly accounts as in a normal business?
That is under discussion.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 112 stand part of the Bill."
Why has there never been a provision for a surcharge at Government level equivalent to the one applicable to local authority members?
The Senator has put me in a very awkward position.
The Minister is well able for it. He will have to try another tack if he wants sympathy.
I have much sympathy for seeing the end of the surcharge system. In the next programme for local government reform I will use my good offices, which run counter to the official advice I receive, to bring that about. There are constraints and difficulties with regard to abolishing the surcharge now. I am obliged to listen to much advice on this matter, as the Minister does. I look forward to the day when this surcharge no longer exists. It has never been applied in my lifetime.
Of course, there must be some strictures. People cannot do what they like. If something is taken away it must be replaced with something else. I look forward to making an advance in this area.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 113 to 130, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 105, line 21, before "(1)", to insert the following new subsection:
"(1)A Council may, by resolution, require that any executive functions be exercisable by it as reserved functions except functions relating to human resources, financial operations, urgent legal action and the granting of individual planning permissions.".
On Second Stage and when discussing earlier amendments I debated the role and functions of local authority members. I will not repeat what I have said before although I feel very strongly about this matter, as all local authority members do.
Section 131 sets out what are reserved functions. These are the major policy decisions which set out the parameters of local government operations. Section 149(6) provides that the executive functions, functions which are not reserved, must be performed in accordance with the policies determined by the elected council.
This amendment would provide that any, or indeed all, executive functions could be declared to be reserved functions by resolution, with certain exceptions. This would have the effect of dis mantling the entire policy executive framework which is the current basis of local government law. It is not at all apparent that decisions on individual cases of enforcement action, housing allocations or similar matters would, at this stage, become reserved functions as would seem to be the case under this amendment. Quite the contrary approach was taken by the rainbow Government in its White Paper, Better Local Government, which proposed to maintain the current policy executive framework.
The Bill envisages a fuller role for the elected council so that it can reclaim its rightful place at the centre of policy making and maintain a proper overview of local authority operations with proper support and back-up. In those circumstances, I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 131 agreed to.
Section 132 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 133 stand part of the Bill."
Under this section a corporate group, comprising the cathaoirleach of the county council and the chairmen of the strategic policy committees, will be set up. It is provided that the manager shall prepare a corporate plan for the local authority and in consultation on this he shall bring the policy group together. In the smaller counties there will be four SPC chairpersons along with the cathaoirleach and there can be three additional people who are not members of the council. There could be nearly as many unelected people as elected people making recommendations on a policy group. This will dilute the contribution of the local elected councillors in preparing the corporate policy to be put in place by the manager in consultation with the policy group. I know it is up to the corporate policy group to bring those people on board, but the facility is there to bring in as many unelected people as elected people to make decisions on a corporate plan for a county.
There are two aspects of the Bill about which I feel strongly. One is devolution and this is the other one. I welcome the provision for the establishment of a corporate policy group, made up of four or five councillors chaired by the full time chairman in the future. It is an ideal vehicle for the transfer of executive powers from the county manager to elected members and should be used as such. The director of services will report directly to the chairs of the SPCs who form this corporate policy group. This creates an opportunity to make a significant change and redress the imbalance that has come about over the past 50 years, whereby powers were assumed by managers, both by stealth and by other means and the councillors allowed that to happen. I hope the system being instituted here will be used by councillors and by the Department and the Minister for that purpose.
The corporate policy group is a very important one. It totally up to the discretion of the council as to whether it invites non-elected members on to it. However if the council is to have more powers, that means it will be necessary to invite people from other disciplines to give a more cohesive result. If Mayo councillors think the goal posts are more likely to be in front of them when they kick the ball by leaving these substitutes on the sideline, then that is what they will do. If they think these substitutes will be better able to send it over the bar, they will bring them in. They need to find where the goal posts are.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 134 and 135 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 111, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following new subsection:
"(2)County Managers shall have full regard to the representational needs of members of the Oireachtas in respect of constituency matters in so far as they fall within the remit of Local Government and shall, on request by a member of the Oireachtas, furnish him or her with copies of all agendas and reports relating to Council meetings, including area committee and special meetings of the Council.".
As the previous amendment on the removal of the dual mandate was not accepted by the Minister, I withdraw this amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 136 agreed to.
Sections 137 to 140, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 141 stand part of the Bill."
Nearly all the county and city councils appoint five people to the health boards in their regions. Does this section put an onus on the people who are elected to the health boards to report back annually to the local authority?
Question put and agreed to.
Amendment No. 10a in the name of Senator Burke is out of order as it involves a charge upon the Revenue. Amendment No. 11 in the name of Senator Coogan is also out of order as it involves a charge upon the Revenue.
Amendments Nos. 10a and 11 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 142 stand part of the Bill."
I accept the ruling that my amendment has a financial implication. My nomination to the Senate is from the General Council of County Councils and therefore I represent it. I do not apologise to anybody for doing the best I can on its behalf. The salary scale to be paid to county councillors has been discussed in great detail and I am sure will be in the media some time in the future.
I have outlined, as have many other Members of this House, the amount of work involved in local government. A survey carried out by the General Council of County Councils showed an average of 33 hours per week. On Second Stage, I outlined the difficulties members have and the amount of time and commitment they have to give to the new bodies in which they are involved. These demand that whatever salary scale is put in place will recognise the contribution being made. It has been a public service up to this, but the demands of today's world are such that it will be difficult to get people to be members of local authorities.
We spoke on other issues today where voluntary groups find it hard to get new volunteers. The amount of work involved in local politics is often greater than that in most voluntary groups. Therefore the onus is on the Minister to ensure that the payment reflects the amount of work being done.
The minimum should be one third of a Senator's salary. That should also take into account the allowances that Members of these Houses obtain. It should be index linked to that so that we do not have to go back every few years to vote again. The sum I recommend as a minimum is not outrageous and is in fact very little.
With regard to back payment, the Minister has stated in the House that he can only pay from the time the Bill was published, which was May 2000 – a long time ago. However the Minister also made a verbal contract with local authority members. That contract was made when he first offered the previous local authority members the opportunity to take gratuity and retire. The people who gave up their gratuity and continued in public service had every right to expect that from the date they were elected, they would be paid their salary. That is only correct. That was a verbal contract I believe the Minister intended to ensure would come about.
If they are carrying out the work now what is the difference if they were carrying it out in 1999. These members deserve full payment back to that date. They also deserve, at the minimum, one third of a Senator's salary. In the past few months they have seen the salary scale of Deputies, Ministers and Senators increase quite dramatically.
We are well past Second Stage.
It is worth emphasising and I do not think anybody on the far side of the House objects to me outlining the work that is there. I ask that this be taken on board. When the Minister makes the regulations, as section 142(2) allows him to do, he should recognise that he is giving more work to local authority members and not less.
I welcome the provisions in this section. It is not the first time a Minister has recognised the voluntary work that councillors have done over the years. The Minister here tonight, Deputy Smith, was one of the first to do so when he brought in special allowances to recognise that people should be rewarded properly. While he came in for some criticism, the vast majority of councillors were pleased with the significant changes made during his term in office.
The Minister for the Environment and Local Government must be complimented. This proposition was put to him at a LAMA conference in October 1997, less than four years ago, and he deserves tremendous praise for accepting the proposition and now enshrining it in legislation. No figure is set in relation to it. The three representative associations have put forward their views that it should not be less than one third of a Senator's salary, as mentioned by Senator Coogan, and presumably service increments would also apply. We hope that when the AMAI, the GCCC and LAMA take up the invitation to which the Minister committed himself, namely, to discuss the issue following enactment of the Bill, we will be talking in terms of such payments.
I very much welcome the inclusion of superannuation provisions. Many of us are aware of councillors who left local government through retirement or the fortunes of the ballot box and found themselves at a severe loss because of their local government service. It is appropriate that their local government service be recognised through superannuation. The detail will have to be worked out, but there is no reason the normal public service arrangements for superannuation should not apply pro rata to the salary of local councillors, and we hope that will happen. We applaud the Minister for including these enabling provisions which will resource councillors to meet their increasing commitments and workload under the new structures and enhance the working of local government.
I remind Senators we are on Committee Stage.
I welcome this section. I am disappointed the amendment I put forward was ruled out of order. I appreciate why it was ruled out, but I tabled it to strengthen the Bill so payment could and would be made to local authority members. I am also disappointed that Senator Coogan's amendment has been ruled out of order, though again I appreciate why that is so. Regarding Senator Coogan's amendment, a firm commitment was given by the Minister that payment would be made to councillors from after the election in June 1999. I hope the Minister does not renege on this position.
I also support what Senators Coogan and Walsh said in relation to the Minister meeting the AMAI, the GCCC and LAMA following enactment of the Bill on the issue of the salary. Everybody agrees the salary paid to councillors should reflect the work they do. Only members, their wives and families really appreciate the work done by local authority members. Their doors are always open and, as Senator Coogan said, there seems to be an estimate of 33 hours per week. Everybody, including the representative groups, agree that a salary in the region of one third of that of a Senator would be agreeable, and I support that position.
A retrospection plan for pension purposes should be put in place for long-standing members who have served local authorities for years for no reward. More than 40 councillors lost their seats in the last elections and they walked away with nothing, which is very sad for them and their families. Some of them had given up their work to give a full-time commitment to local government and local politics, and at the end of the day they had nothing. It is only right that we reward people who have spent many years as members of local authorities with a pension which reflects that service.
I welcome the section and think it is high time the people doing tremendous work are rewarded. At the end of the day, a salary equivalent to one third of that of a Senator will not be enough on which to live. I compliment the Minister on including this provision in the Bill.
I welcome the section and compliment the Minister on facilitating this very important issue. I am a member of the GCCC, I have listened to its views and I endorse calls that members be well paid. Up to now most councillors have felt they have worked on the cheap. They work hard and the workload is colossal in terms of the proliferation of committees, the amount of documentation one must assimilate and the number of meetings one must attend. No other job equals their workload from 8 a.m. until 12 midnight. It would be an insult to offer less than £15,000. We will get the best representatives who will be committed and who will give the best. Long service should also be reflected in terms of the pension scheme and gratuity, which should be index linked.
I welcome the section and congratulate the Minister on facilitating it and making it worthwhile in terms of the future of local authorities and local democracy.
I support what other Senators have said about remuneration and superannuation arrangements. Very many local authority members over the years were willing to give their services on a voluntary basis in the spirit of patriotism and public service, for which they should be congratulated. However, times have changed and it is reasonable for them to expect to be adequately remunerated for the job they do. In that context I strongly recommend that the Minister introduce a mechanism whereby there is an automatic increase in salary. For example, under the Buckley report, salaries automatically increase when a particular grade in the Civil Service receives an increase. A similar system which would depoliticise the decision to increase salaries, and which would link them to an independent system, should be given serious consideration to ensure there is no major row every year, or every two or five years when there is an entitlement to an increase, but that it will be made automatically through relativity with a group in the public service, or with Senators.
I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward this section and agree with Senator Dardis that the salary of councillors when introduced should be linked to that of a Deputy or the Civil Service so there is an automatic increase.
I will not refer to all the work done by councillors as we have already discussed that, but it is important that the work is recognised. The Minister proved to be generous before. Sometimes he comes in for criticism which is mostly ill-deserved, but I think he will prove to be generous in the long run. I ask him if possible to backdate superannuation for those who have long service on county councils. At the last local elections a number of those who went forward did not take the hand-out offered. This should be recognised in future arrangements.
Like all the Senators, I welcome the broad thrust of this section. I do not agree with what seems to be an established approach by Members of this House that the salary should be linked to one third of a Senator's salary. I am inclined to go for a higher figure closer to £15,000 for the reason that a significant number of local authority members are already in other occupations. This salary will be taxed, and if it is a second income it is possible that they may be on the higher rate of tax. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to widening the bands and increasing the allowances.
It is coincidental that the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Smith, is in this House because he was the first person to establish a proper and ordered pattern of allowances in the 1994 local government Bill. At the time he received considerable and justifiable praise for it. There was some criticism about the manner in which the bands were put together. With the exception of some minor improvements in 1998 by the current Minister, the allowances for postage and telephones, which is some £1,000 per year, has not been significantly increased. The then Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, did not envisage the current dramatic increase in the number of meetings when he set the minimum number to be attended in order to be eligible for the travel allowance. The creation of special policy committees, area committees and all of the attendant sub-committees that have flowed from these initiatives mean that that some local councillors attend upwards of 120 meetings a year. This is well in excess of the bands that were initiated in 1994. I strongly urge the Minister to give serious consideration to widening the bands to take account of the higher number of meetings that councillors have to attend and also to give significant increases in the postage and telephone allowance.
Will the Minister clarify what the position will be in regard to the current allowances given to the cathaoiarligh of local authorities? In spite of the introduction of these allowances in 1994, my understanding from a letter from the Minister of the Environment and Local Government is that the Revenue Commissioners have been looking at this allowance with a somewhat jaundiced eye. They have not yet given up the fight as to whether or not it should be taxed. Once the legislation has been passed and the Minister and his officials enter into dialogue with the Revenue Commissioners and the Minister for Finance, then this old chestnut will re-appear. It is vital that the status of the existing allowance and any future allowances that are paid to local authority members be clarified so that they will not find themselves, in spite of the best efforts of the Minister, being, not so much worse off, but being less well off than they thought they would be. Let us be honest, we are all in favour of this and everybody is waiting for it to happen.
I support this section and the points that have been made regarding it by Senator Walsh. I ask the Minister and his officials to take on board the point made by Senator Burke, in reference to long-serving members who lost out on the last occasion. In the interests of serving their areas or parties they were often for ced to stand against their will and having lost they were left with nothing.
The whole scene has changed at local authority level. Currently no employer will take on a member of a local authority as they would be missing at least two days work per week if they were members of a sub-committee. That has to be taken into consideration when looking at the salary that will be given to local representatives. We all served for many years with practically no recompense in the interests of serving our local communities.
We recognise the contribution made by the then Minister for the Environment, Deputy Smith. The introduction of expenses was the first move in the right direction, and one had to attend some 80% of meetings to qualify. To ensure that there would not be abuse of the system, a similar system should pertain even when salaries are introduced.
We know that the Government will be generous but the points made by Senator Walsh in regard to superannuation and so on are very important. It is not just a case of what the councillors will get, it is also about looking after them properly in the long term. We welcome this section and a large number of local authority members who have worked for so long look forward to some remuneration for their work. It is particularly timely as local councillors will have an increased workload with more meetings.
This is one area where the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, is hurling out on his own. He is the first Minister for the Environment and Local Government ever to come seriously to grips with finding a legislative vehicle to give payment to local authority members. The rainbow Coalition had an opportunity in the White Paper in 1996 but decided for one reason or another not to recognise that role in the way that this Government is doing. The Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, grasped this nettle and will proceed to have discussions following the enactment of the legislation with the Minister for Finance and the Revenue Commissioners on drafting regulations.
A number of points were made this evening by all sides with regard to matters relating to pensions, the issue of retrospection and other matters which I will convey to him. It is an innovative step. The Minister has effected fundamental changes in quite a number of areas, regardless of the criticism he encountered. This is one area where I expect the criticism will be close to zero. I have no idea why almost every Senator in the House wants to contribute to this debate and I certainly would not have an IQ high enough to understand why they feel it necessary to decide the amounts that should be given, particularly when the amounts picked are even lower than the Minister might have in mind.
What we said was "no less than", allowing the Minister to show his generosity.
I do not want to go too far astray.
I thought the ante might continue to be upped. I am disappointed with the turn-out tonight. It would be remiss of me not to thank the Minister for the Environment and Local Government for taking this step. I should have done so initially. We all recognise it is a fairly gigantic step that might get adverse reaction from the media, but it took courage to take it. I ask the Minister present to pass on that comment to the Minister responsible.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 143 and 144 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 118, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following new subsection:
"(6) The Manager will be appointed following selection by an interview board consisting of the Cathaoirleach, a representative of IBEC, a representative of the ICTU and a member of the Local Appointments Commission.".
This amendment is straightforward. There is an imagery abroad that the Local Appointments Commission is a masonic lodge and what goes on inside it happens in an enclave. I propose that there should be other representatives on the interview board to open it up to the experience of various bodies such as ICTU and IBEC.
A variation of the amendment is that a full-time chairman should be on the board to select the manager. I have always held that view. I could not envisage any board of directors of a company charged with the proper and effective running of its business countenancing handing over the appointment of the most important person in the organisation to another body without retaining some control. Despite the opposition of the county managers association, there must be provision for the involvement of the new cathaoirleach in the selection process. There are many excellent managers, but equally the LAC has made many weird appointments to senior positions in local government. I do not invite the Minister to comment on that. If I were talking to him privately, I am sure we could concur on that.
It is fundamental to local authorities that a system is put in place whereby two or three nominations would be made by an expert panel and then a successful candidate would be selected by the corporate policy group or something like that. That process must involve councillors and at a minimum the cathaoirleach who should not have an observation role in this but a participatory one. Under the LAC, an outside chairman is appointed to chair such interview boards. I would like to think a mechanism will be found before 2004 to involve the cathaoirleach in that important process.
I support Senator Coogan's amendment. If the chairman of a local authority will be directly elected for five years, it is only natural that he or she should represent the members of that authority on the interview board for the appointment of the county manager.
Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 145 agreed to.
Sections 146 to 148, inclusive, agreed to.
Amendment No. 13 not moved.
Sections 149 and 150 agreed to.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 123, subsection (2), between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following new subparagraph:
"(e) The manager shall communicate to each member of the Local Authority, by electronic mail, or otherwise, a copy of each order made by him or her.”.
This is a simple amendment. I discussed it previously with the Minister in the debate on the planning Act regarding the use of modern technology. A manager should communicate to each member of the local authority, by electronic mail or otherwise, a copy of each order made by him or her. This is a new age in which information is transmitted instantly. Nearly every local authority member now has a computer that is connected to the member's local authority and if not, each member should have one by this stage and should be trained in how to use it. This is a simple request.
We spoke earlier about making the affairs of local authorities more open to the public. While I did not table an amendment on this, perhaps the agenda of the next local authority meeting and the minutes of the previous one could be put on the web to enable those who wish to find out the issues in local government to have direct access to them through this system.
There are strong parts to this Bill which require the manager to keep the council informed and a manager's orders are freely available. Senator Coogan requests that every order should be sent to every member, irrespective of the member's interest in it, area involved and so on. To require a manger in primary legislation to do that would be excessive and it would involve more work for staff who would be better deployed carrying out more essential tasks. I cannot, therefore, accept the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 151 agreed to.
Sections 152 to 162 inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 163 stand part of the Bill."
The section provides for a time limit of not less than one month or longer as may be specified by a local authority. The words "and of not more than" should also be included. I am aware of instances where people who were successful at interview for local appointments took months to make a decision. The position was not filled, the activities of the local authority were affected and in some instances the process ran on interminably because the people concerned were involved in interviews for other positions elsewhere and they were awaiting those results. This section is weighted too much in favour of the employee. Recognition should be given to the organisation and there should be a maximum period. I cannot ask that the Bill be amended at this stage, but I would like that to be taken on board by the Department and appropriate measures put in place in the future.
The law currently provides that a local authority may specify a minimum period of three months.
I am seeking a maximum one as well.
I am not sure how we could do that. If I were speaking off the cuff, I would use the example of being able to appoint a person who was eminently suitable and highly qualified but could not take up the position within three or four months, and then being obliged to take somebody else who is not near as good who would be available within a month. That shows there should be a certain amount of flexibility.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 164 to 171, inclusive, agreed.
Question proposed: "That section 172 stand part of the Bill."
It is right that there should be a declaration of interests and that the listed interests in section 175 would be included in such declarations and on the public register under section 172, but I have an objection to this because of an experience I had of a newspaper deciding to publish the full declaration. I do not think it is anybody's business other than that of the member. I can see a reason for it if a person has infringed in some way. Then a newspaper should be entitled to take up the story.
To publish the full declaration for prurient reasons or to gain readership is an abuse. I do not know how this can be dealt with but I ask that it be looked at. From talking to people in business, I know that they do not want their business activities, the shares they own etc. plastered all over the papers. It is one thing to put that information on the public record in the interests of transparency and ensuring that the ethics, which we all fully subscribe to, are complied with, but it is entirely different for this to be used as tabloid issue in the press.
I am afraid there is no way around this. This is a public register and every member of the public has a right to have access to it, and that includes the media.
I agree with that, but I do not want them to publish it.
There is no way publication of it can be restricted.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 173 and 174 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 175 stand part of the Bill."
Senator Walsh has already spoken about the list of things that one must declare. It all comes down to the ethics in public office legislation where one must make declarations and be as clean as possible. Some of these things are unworkable, for example, the gift from a friend or spouse. Suppose someone said that they wanted to have a team in a golf classic and it will cost £2,000 for a team of three, that is over £500 per individual. Maybe that person will want two good players because he wants to win. He may not be friends with them, although he might become friends if they win. We very often tie ourselves in knots regarding issues like this and make it impractical or impossible. If this continues to be redefined and made too tight, it will end up that people will not join local authorities or politics.
I could not agree more with the Senator. The essence of this has been to make everyone more accountable and to put a more transparent system in place. The ethics have evolved in recent years. There are circumstances where it can be intrusive. I have no doubt that it restricts and discourages many would-be public representatives from getting involved in public life. There is no way around that. These are issues which came before, and were accredited by, both Houses.
The measures regarding ethics in section 175 and elsewhere are intrusive but there is no other choice. If there is an onus on senior public officials to declare their interests, it flows from that that there has to be a similar onus on public representatives. It can be extremely onerous. For instance, it is difficult to determine the value of the shareholdings in unit trusts. I have development land in County Kildare and as a member of the local authority it is appropriate and essential that everyone should know that.
These sections will not make saints out of sinners. People who wish to subvert the law will do it, irrespective of the provisions in the Bill. It is very difficult to ensure that they comply properly.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 176 to 182, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 183 stand part of the Bill."
This section deals with the disposal of land. A request was made in a joint submission that the purchase of land would be included in this. I know there is an argument, which the Minister alluded to earlier, that because councils would be purchasing land for halting sites and other locally controversial projects the council might not apply itself to making the decision. The suggestion was that the manager would be empowered to make the deal – there is obviously a certain amount of confidentiality in making the deal – and then report to the council. That was ruled out for similar reasons.
This should be looked at. If the council overruled what the manager was trying to do for a good cause, the manager could appeal to the Minister and the council could make its defence. It is fundamentally flawed that one man can spend millions of pounds in payment to another individual for land without it going through the accountability and decision-making process of the local authority. That is absolutely wrong. On the other hand, if he want to spend £1,000 on something else it must be a council decision.
There is a number of issues here. There needs to be a certain amount of flexibility and discretion. There are circumstances, outlined by Senator Walsh, where it is necessary for the manager to keep certain matters fairly confidential because of the nature of the transaction. There is also the question of trying to keep some control on costs and prices. The more open and transparent the system is at early stages, the greater the likelihood of prices going up. We have experienced a lot of that. The flexibility in the legislation is required, as is the goodwill between the elected members and the county manager. I am conscious of what the Senator is trying to say and of the need to try to keep some control on prices. If the knowledge of what is needed is in the public domain at too early a stage it can lead to an increase in prices.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 184 to 210, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 211 stand part of the Bill."
I welcome this section. I would like if it was somewhat strengthened regarding people walking dogs in large towns or cities. There should be a requirement for people to carry "poop-scoops". There is nothing as bad as walking on the streets of towns and cities where there are dog poops all over the place. There should be a requirement on the person who is walking the dog to have a "poop-scoop" with them and to use it.
The dogs in other towns obviously do not do it.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 212 to 215, inclusive, agreed to.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 170, subsection (1), lines 39 to 44, and in page 171, lines 1 to 3, to delete paragraphs (c), (d) and (e).
The penalties are draconian in these cases.
This is an important section and amendment. On 9 January when Dublin Corporation failed to strike a rate and did not adopt the estimates, it was threatened by the Minister with dissolution. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, it is an abnormally heavy penalty to dissolve the local authority in the circumstances listed in the section. It is difficult to think of any circumstance in which an elected body of people should be dissolved. It is one thing for the Minister to make regulations to dissolve a board but another for him to dissolve a body of elected public representatives. The Constitution was amended in 1998 to give constitutional recognition to local authority elections and to specify the manner in which they would be conducted.
Why should it be that the one method of penalising a local authority is dissolution? There is no warning and it happens on the first occasion. It is the only penalty exercised by the Minister. Why are there not other penalties? If a local authority does not agree with something or does not adopt an estimate or whatever, why is it not the next time it does not perform that function that there is a threat of dissolution? There is no threat at present, just an absolute dissolution with possible re-election or appointment of commissioners.
It appears the Minister is undermining that element of democracy the Bill is supposed to enhance. The section is questionable in constitutional terms and also gives the wrong message that a local authority that does not perform a function can be dissolved by the Minister.
Existing local government legislation allows for removal from office of elected members in exceptional circumstances. However, since 1942, only four local authorities have been removed with only one removal in the past 25 years. I do not know why Senators would get excited at 9 o'clock this evening on a matter which has happened once in 25 years. It will only happen where the council wilfully fails to discharge its important duties. There are many services to be provided. There is a budget to be passed, staff to be paid and different matters to be attended to.
Dissolution can only be carried out after a public inquiry. There are one or two local authorities which might have been in trouble had this provision not been in place. While it has been used sparingly, only four times in approximately 60 years, it is essential to retain it. It is only exercised in the most exceptional circumstances. I have a long prepared reply but, in deference to the time, I will leave it at that.
Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Section 216 agreed to.
Sections 217 to 224, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 225 stand part of the Bill."
I compliment the Minister on putting the General Council of County Councils, the Local Authority Members' Association and the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland on a statutory footing. We thanked the Minister a number of times for this. It is a recognition of the contribution they have made, the opinions they have expressed on planning matters, the Planning and Development Act and this Bill, the input they have made and the amount of work they have done. While the Bill will not reflect everything they wanted, nevertheless, the Minister has recognised the contribution they have made and intend to make in future. On behalf of our side of the House, I thank the Minister for placing the bodies on a statutory basis.
I concur with Senator Coogan. As chairman of LAMA, I thank the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, for the recognition. It is the first time the association has been recognised in legislation. The Minister is one of the founding members and a former secretary of the association and I am sure he had this in mind when the section was being drafted. Many of my predecessors attended LAMA meetings for years without payment.
I also thank the Minister present, Deputy Michael Smith, because he was one of the Ministers who gave recognition by his attendance at LAMA conferences. Not every Minister did this; he was the first. I wish to record the thanks of our association to the Minister for this.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 226 stand part of the Bill."
I welcome the provision whereby an urban district council can have an associate member of the Local Authority Members' Association. The association is the union for local authority members and it is only right urban district councils receive recognition and have a delegate on the association. I welcome the inclusion of this section in the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 227 to 238, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 239 stand part of the Bill."
I compliment the Minister on this. This is an important measure and displays his commitment to enhancing the remit and role of local government. The transfer of Temple Bar Properties to Dublin City Council is the type of devolution which should happen from all sections and Departments to local government. We should welcome it as a positive step in that direction.
I welcome the measure, even though there was not very much consultation with councillors in proposing the amendment. I gather it was an initiative of the city manager. The fact that the shareholding is being transferred to Dublin City Council after the work of Temple Bar Properties Limited has been completed indicates that the local authority is not capable of supervising work of this nature, that it must be given to a limited body and only when the work has been completed is the local authority capable of administering it. Given the setting up of the city and county development boards, we should be looking far more towards the local authority being in charge of developments of this nature than transferring them at a later stage.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 240 to 245, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 246 stand part of the Bill."
I do not know if this is of significance but I wish to point out that the explanatory memorandum refers to the Abattoirs Act, 1998, while the Bill refers to the Abattoirs Act, 1988. I would like clarification of this.
I wish to draw the Minister's attention to the fact that an interdepartmental group comprising of the Departments of the Environment and Local Government, Health and Children and Agriculture, Food and Rural Development is considering the role now and in the future of the local authority veterinary services. There is a school of thought which believes that this function may be transferred from the Department of the Environment and Local Government and subsumed into the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. I am concerned about the wording "devolution of powers" and "subsidiarity" because they play a major role in local authority functions. I would be extremely concerned at the slightest suggestion of taking from local authorities and the Department of the Environment and Local Government the functional role of the veterinary services and subsuming them into the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.
The local authority veterinary services provide the Food Safety Authority with the necessary expertise required to ensure the concerns of consumers in regard to food safety are adhered to. We must be very careful to maintain a distinct line at that level between the provision of services in regard to consumer safety and the role of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development which is engaged in the promotion of food and so on.
I am asking the Minister to clarify why section 246 is included in the Bill. I also ask Seanad Éireann to support my call that the local authority veterinary services remain within the control of local authorities because they have played a useful role in the area of food safety. In the past two or three months the German international food chain, Lidl, was found to be importing into this country German beef sourced in Argentina. This was discovered by local authority veterinary officers. When an explanation was sought from the company, the documentation was found to be in both German and Italian which was designed to mislead. The local authority veterinary service which plays a good role should be linked with the Department of Health and Children in order to deal with the food safety aspect. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development has a separate role to play.
I am sure every Member of the House appreciates the significance of having clean and wholesome food and ensuring it is traceable and so on. I gather that the Bill allows for part-time appointments. However, the reality is that the restrictions on high street slaughterhouses, so to speak, are to be welcomed. The number of establishments within any county operating outside the ambit of the large export factories which come under the control of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development is so small as to make it sensible that in certain circumstances it should be a part-time appointment. I note that if an arrangement is reached with another local authority, that is a matter for the Minister. That is reasonable.
This section is a sensible one and reflects the modern reality. The overall control of the large export plants is vested within the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development which has the veterinary inspectors on the site. This is a reasonable provision in the circumstances.
I have nothing to add to Senator Dardis's point which is an accurate interpretation of the provisions in the section.
On Senator Callanan's point, there is an interdepartmental committee on food safety control which embraces all the interested parties throughout the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, including the Food Safety Authority. There has been one meeting so far but the committee was restricted in its earlier work because of the foot and mouth threat. It now proposes to consult with the various authorities on the best means of moving forward. Therefore, no decisions have been taken as yet.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 247 agreed to.
Schedule 1 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Schedule 2 be Schedule 2 to the Bill."
This issue relates to urban districts and town commissioners. Schedule 6 defines these authorities. In other words, Chapter 2 of Part 1 of Schedule 6, refers to former urban districts and Part 2 of Schedule 6 refer to town commissioners. This is a very significant matter in a county which is changing rapidly as is the case in Kildare. There is Newbridge Town Commission and an adjacent urban district council in Naas. The most recent projections envisage that the population of those three towns will be more than 100,000 by 2020. It is a growth triangle and is designated as such. There is demand for Newbridge to be designated an urban council because it is as big and significant as Naas.
There is a need for coherence in regard to town councils. A difference still exists in relation to the levying of rates which will persist if I am correct in my interpretation of the Bill. We are con fronted by serious issues which will cause a lot of problems in the future. I am open to correction but I recall there has only been one case where a town commission has been upgraded to an urban district council in the history of the State. It is very difficult to achieve. In circumstances where population is growing very rapidly and towns are becoming cities, some consideration will be needed as to how we will manage that by way of local authority.
I wish to make the same point about Mullingar. It is in the same situation as Newbridge as outlined by Senator Dardis. It has town commission status and it is envisaged that in the next few years the population will grow to 28,000 or 30,000. I ask the Minister to include Mullingar in an upgrade from a town commission to a UDC.
I would also ask that Bandon in County Cork would be considered. It is a town commission and it has sought the upgrade to urban status.
I am sorry I have no towns to put forward.
I am sorry I said anything.
I suggest Cabra in Dublin.
The Minister may have a comment.
These are serious questions for the future but they are also tied in to other coinciding matters which need to be addressed. We have a recent OECD report which talks about the fragmentation of services, housing, planning and roads. This is not just a matter to be resolved only in the context of a particular growing area. It must be put into some national or regional context. There will be a rating Bill to follow on over the next number of years which will look at some of the old outdated laws.
Question put and agreed to.
Schedules 3 to 7, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Schedule 8 be Schedule 8 to the Bill".
I welcome the change in designation of what were urban districts and town commissioners which will now permit them to use the designation of "mayor" and "deputy mayor". This is in conformity with worldwide practice and it will considerably enhance the status of the person who is privileged to be elected by his or her peers as the first citizen of the town or within the town context. However, I cannot understand why this designation or this Schedule also extends to county councils. It permits by resolution the change of the current practice of referring to the cathaoirleach – and I would like to think that most local authorities use the genderless Irish language rather than the gendered English version of "chairman". There are an increasing number of women who are taking on the role of first citizen in their county councils. I encourage the widespread use of cathaoirleach and leas-chathaoirleach.
Perhaps the Minister will give some indication why this designation would be permitted to be extended to county councils. This means in practice that by resolution, a county council can change the existing practice of referring to a chairperson or a cathaoirleach or leas-chathaoirleach as the mayor of the county. This is totally against the traditional practice in this country. I fully support the concept of the mayor of towns and of the former urban councils and town commissions having the right under this legislation to refer to the first citizen as "mayor" but I cannot understand why it has been extended to county councils. I appreciate that it is voluntary and that it is a matter entirely for the councils concerned, but I am curious to know the reasoning behind it. I do not see that it is in keeping with our traditions.
Senator Mooney has made the point I intended to make.
Senator Mooney made the point in the latter part of his contribution that it is a matter entirely for discretion at local level. That should remove most of the problem. It is important to remember what has happened in Ireland. Counties that were massive rural areas are now totally urbanised. They are like Dún Laoghaire. That is part of the flexibility that we create in a modern, developing Ireland. What was once part of a county is now totally urbanised.
We are all aware of the plethora of mayors and lord mayors that have been created artificially as a result of fund raising efforts at community level and in GAA clubs. The country is awash with unofficial mayors and lord mayors and we are now adding yet another layer of the mayor of a county. With so much opportunity for town councils to create the position of mayor, it might eliminate once and for all this plague of illegal mayors across the country. I am grateful to the Minister.
Question put and agreed to.
Schedules 9 to 15, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."
Under normal circumstances I said that a number of the provisions of this Bill are very welcome. A lot of work has been done over the past number of years. The difficulty I have was with two major issues: that the Minister has changed his mind regarding the dual mandate and the direct elections of mayors.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House. It has been a long day for him. I compliment on the manner in which he has taken the Bill and the knowledgeable and thorough way he has addressed the issues that have been raised. It is good legislation and it has been a long time in gestation. It will be welcomed by many people.
I wish to join in the thanks to the Minister and to everybody associated with the passage of the Bill. I was not here yesterday to participate on Second Stage but I want to thank the Minister, Deputy Smith, for the manner in which he has dealt with Committee Stage this evening. It is not his brief but it is obvious that he has a great command of the subject from his previous experience. Given that he came to it cold, he has done a remarkable job. I hope the Bill will have the desired effect. It is very radical and the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, deserves a great deal of praise for the courage he has demonstrated with aspects of this legislation. It is a significant step forward in the history of local government.
I join in congratulating the Minister. It is the most comprehensive local government legislation I have seen in the House in my short time here. It sets a very good foundation for the enhancement of local government in the future. It also epitomises much of the vision that the Minister has for this area.
Our thanks must go to the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dan Wallace, and the Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith, whose experience as an excellent Minister for the Environment has given him a very good grasp of the topic. Everybody here will agree that he represented the Government tremendously today. He was very impressive in relation to this Bill and the previous one. I also pay tribute to the Minister and his departmental staff who have worked extremely hard. As I know we are not supposed to name them, I will just mention John Cullen, Kevin Cullen and Joe Allen, all of whom have made a tremendous contribution in drafting this legislation. The Minister was extremely appreciative of their help and support. The Opposition's amendments were first class. There was unanimity in relation to some of them which I am sure the Minister will take on board as local government evolves.
I inadvertently sat down as the Cathaoirleach thought I had pre-empted my strike but I had not completed what I wanted to say.
I compliment the Minister on his grasp of local government. He has not become rusty. I am delighted we had a Minister present. This does not reflect on those who were here previously on this Bill. It is always worthwhile to have someone with an in depth knowledge of an area as it makes it easier for us and the person concerned. I also compliment the staff whom I met over a number of years as this Bill was coming to fruition. I had some little input to the General Council of County Councils. I would like the Minister to transmit my regards to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, and say that though there are some issues on which we cannot reach agreement, there are others on which we have. I recognise his commitment to local government.
I take the opportunity of thanking the staff – on this my last speech before we break – for their help throughout the year. I thank the Cathaoirleach and his staff, the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the reporters. I particularly thank the Cathaoirleach's staff as very often during the year when I needed assistance with regard to proper procedure they were always extremely helpful.
As Leader of the House, I thank the group leaders and the Whips, particularly the Government Whip, for their hard work, dedication and the long hours put in to the legislation from the Department of the Environment and Local Government in the last two days. As Senator Walsh said, it was a pity that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, who has done so much hard work with his officials, was not here to see it through. We were very fortunate however to have the former Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, and the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, in attendance. Their commitment to the environment portfolio has been second to none. I thank everyone for their co-operation – the Cathaoirleach, Leas-Chathaoirleach and staff of the House. Yesterday we sat for 13 hours and 20 minutes. It is now 9.25 p.m. meaning a sitting of nearly eleven hours already today. These have been two hard long days.
I am an old member of the General Council of County Councils of which I was a member in 1974 when all this started. I concur with the sentiments expressed by Senator Cassidy. There must be a certain amount of satisfaction on the part of Senators Walsh and Coogan. For many years they have fought for remuneration and recognition for councillors. I recognise this but they were not the only two involved. After the recess, Senator Coogan will have to find a new topic. For almost a year a regular feature of the Order of Business was a request by the Senator to be told by the Leader of the House when the Local Government Bill would come before us. I sound a word of warning, in jest, that the Senator will have to find a new topic.
It is not a case of praising the Leader and he praising me. I was behind the scenes and know the work Senator Cassidy put into bringing this Bill to fruition. I know the amount of times he went to the Government on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group and everyone in this House. I appreciate the good work he did. He made a promise and, by God, he has fulfilled it this evening.
I thank the Leader of the House and other Senators who have praised the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey. It was a monumental task to go back to 1898 to consolidate, improve, change and modernise this legislation. If the Minister was here, he would be the first to acknowledge the contribution his officials have made, not just in terms of putting this Bill through the Dáil and Seanad, but in terms of the background work that went into its various parts. It was a phenomenal amount of work and we relied, with success, on an incredible amount of experience. I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, for his comments.
We are delighted the Bill has reached this stage and look forward to seeing it being implemented, the changes which will take place at local level and, above all, a modern Ireland. We look forward to local authorities experiencing this change, adapting to it and making their local area, town, village or city a better place because of the strengthening of law to which all Senators have contributed.
Question put and agreed to.
When is it proposed to sit again?
It is proposed to sit again at 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 3 October 2001.