I have raised this Adjournment matter because I have been contacted by the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland. This body nominated me to stand for election to this House again and I was elected on that nomination on three occasions.
There is a view that a move may be done to devolve housing allocation from borough and town councils to the medium of the county council. Two Members raised this matter in the other House. I will give my views in case it becomes reality. It would be a backward step at a time when we are endeavouring to strengthen local government and when town local government, above all other units of local government, must be strengthened.
The borough councils concerned are Drogheda, Clonmel, Kilkenny, Sligo and Wexford. Some 49 urban councils are involved, of which three have a number of members equal to that of a borough council, namely 12. The other 46 have nine members each. Bray Town Council represents an area greater than at least two counties in this country. If housing powers are downgraded we would take a backward step, making a nonsense out of upgrading local government and strengthening town local government.
If the expenditure of town councils and county councils is examined, one sees that town councils perform very well. In a town not far from where I live, 144% of the housing allocation was spent. It could have done with more money. Meanwhile, the county council spent 67% of its allocation, a figure that speaks for itself. I am not aware of the long-term proposals but I ask for the views in the Department, the permanent government. I ask the Minister and Ministers of State not to proceed with any proposal to devolve the allocation in the manner outlined. Such a proposal would not be in the interests of town councils, local government in general or democracy.
I am proud to have been a member of a town council, albeit it one that was non-rating. Unfortunately, town commissions had their name changed under the 2000 Act. However, all that changed was the name. There are 26 non-rating authorities and 49 urban district councils, making a total of 75. They are all town councils but, as already stated, 26 are non-rating. Some of those towns have populations much larger than those that obtain in towns with rating authorities, which were originally called urban district councils.
A great deal is at stake in the context of local democracy. I was born and bred in the country and I live in a town. In 1979 I had the honour to be elected to both Westmeath County Council and Mullingar Town Commission. There is no comparison between the problems of towns and those experienced in rural areas. One can travel miles along country roads and the only problems one might encounter would relate to the serving of hedge notices, verge trimming, the opening of water cuts, road surfaces or the need to straighten a bad corner. Walk town a street in a town and one might be presented with 20 issues.
There is no point in saying that this can be done more efficiently. I reiterate what I said regarding the uptake and utilisation of allocations. Town councils are far more efficient in terms of taking up their allocations and making use of them. I request that the situation which obtains at present in respect of the allocation of funding for housing starts to borough and town councils remain as it stands. I also request that any proposal, whether it comes from the Department or the Minister's office, be parked permanently. We should forget such proposals because they are not in the interests of democracy or furthering the powers of local government in our towns. I look forward to the Minister of State's reply.