I thank the Cathaoirleach and the House for facilitating today's debate. I appreciate the opportunity to introduce the Bill in the Seanad and I look forward to positive contributions from Members. The Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act 1971 was first debated in the Seanad, so it is fitting that this short confirmatory Bill relating to the 1971 Act is introduced in this Chamber.
Before referring to the Bill, I will provide some background information on the 1971 Act. The purpose of that Act was to enable the Minister, by order, to establish corporate bodies to provide for the local authorities and-or the Minister such services as are specified in the establishment orders. The immediate need in 1971 was to establish a body to enable the local authority conciliation and arbitration scheme to operate effectively. The Act was framed in general terms so that the powers it conferred could be used to establish bodies to provide other services for local authorities, if that was found to be necessary or desirable.
Since 1971, 13 bodies were established under the 1971 Act, of which seven are still operative. Some of the bodies established were merged with other bodies or dissolved, depending on the demand for the service specified. The initial body established, the Local Government Staff Negotiations Board, still exists but is now known as the Local Government Management Services Board. Due to changing circumstances, the National Road Safety Association, the Fire Prevention Council and the Irish Water Safety Council were merged in 1987 to form the National Safety Council. Since then, the National Safety Council has merged with the Road Safety Authority, while Irish Water Safety has been re-established.
In general, the bodies were established to provide specified services for local authorities where it was more useful to have a single provider rather than each local authority acquiring or providing the service. A good example is the Local Government Computer Services Board which provides large computer systems that can be used by each local authority. The other services generally related to fire safety, water safety and road safety. In total, 41 orders were made under the 1971 Act. Apart from the 13 establishment orders, the balance consisted of orders amending the establishment orders, revoking various bodies and designating bodies for which bodies established under the Act could provide services.
The legislation we are discussing today is a short Bill to address matters concerning bodies established under the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act 1971. Following the advice of the Attorney General in regard to the Health (Corporate Bodies) Act 1961 and the subsequent passing of the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2007, the Attorney General advised that the possible unconstitutionality of section 3 of the Act of 1961 in respect of health related bodies also extended to local government bodies established under section 3 of the 1971 Act. This arises as the 1971 Act contains similar provisions as those found in the 1961 Act.
It is not a question of any of the corporate bodies concerned having "no legal basis". I assure the House that all were properly constituted under the 1971 Act by way of statutory instruments. However, given the advice and recommendations from the Attorney General, this Bill is required to confirm the orders for existing bodies. In view of the importance of the bodies established under the 1971 Act to the local authority service, it would not be appropriate to allow any doubt to exist in this matter. Therefore, early enactment of the Bill is desirable to confirm the establishment orders of the seven existing bodies in primary legislation.
Apart from the amendments to the Limerick regeneration agencies establishment orders, the Bill involves no policy change and no additional charge on the Exchequer. It clarifies the areas covered by the Limerick Northside Regeneration Agency and Limerick Southside Regeneration Agency and provides for two additional appointments to the board of each agency, one from FÁS and another from the local community or local business community.
These two bodies were established in June 2007 on foot of the findings of the April 2007 report, Addressing Issues of Social Exclusion in Moyross and Other Disadvantaged Areas of Limerick City, by former Dublin city manager, Mr. John Fitzgerald. The agencies are tasked with driving forward the development of comprehensive measures to tackle issues of social exclusion in Moyross, Southill and adjacent areas. Given the need for urgent action in this matter, the agencies were established under the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act 1971. The ambitious work programme of the agencies has delivered, in recent weeks, vision documents for Moyross and Southill housing developments and lands adjacent to these developments, which were launched by President McAleese. Comprehensive master plans for regeneration of the areas concerned will be drawn up by the summer.
I will now deal with the main provisions of the Bill. Sections 1 and 2 are standard technical provisions setting out the definitions used in the Bill and making provision for the payment of expenses incurred in the administration of the Bill out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas. While no direct expenditure in implementing the Act is anticipated, it is prudent to include this standard provision.
Section 3 confirms the establishment orders made under the 1971 Act for current bodies and provides that these orders have statutory effect as if made in primary legislation. Subsection (3) provides for the standard provision in legislation of this nature to ensure that the confirming provisions cannot be construed in such a way as to infringe any person's constitutional rights. Subsection (4) takes account of the provisions of the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004 which provides for certain staff to continue in employment after the age of 65.
Section 4 confirms the validity of acts carried out by dissolved bodies in accordance with the establishment orders of the bodies concerned. Subsection (2), in the same manner as provided in subsection 3(3), provides that, if this provision were to conflict with the constitutional right of any person, its operation will be subject to such limitation as is necessary to ensure it does not so conflict.
Section 5 and the associated Schedule amend the establishment orders for the two Limerick regeneration agencies to provide for the appointment of two extra members to each board and to clarify the areas covered by the agencies. Section 6 is a technical provision stating that the Act may be cited as the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) (Confirmation of Orders) Act 2008.
The Bill is a short document but nevertheless important. It is considered that the Minister should have authority to establish bodies to provide services to local authorities where there is a specific purpose and where it would be more practical and economical to provide the service by a single body rather than each of the 34 major authorities acting separately at much greater cost.
The 1971 Act was brought forward initially to permit the establishment of the Local Government Staff Negotiations Board, now the Local Government Management Services Board, to provide industrial relations expertise for the local government system. Prior to its establishment there was no formal central forum to discuss pay issues relevant to local government in general. The wisdom of this move has been demonstrated over the years by the excellent service provided to local government management by the Local Government Management Services Board and its predecessor, the Local Government Staff Negotiations Board. These boards have provided a central centre of excellence in industrial relations, human resources and other management services to local authorities in the last 30 years.
In various constitutional actions over the years concerning whether secondary legislation infringed Article 15.2 of the Constitution, the need for the Government to have a mechanism to establish corporate bodies has been recognised in judgments of the High and Supreme Courts. In his judgment in the Pigs and Marketing Board v. Donnelly case, Hanna J. acknowledged that “the functions of every Government are now so numerous and complex that, of necessity, a wider sphere has been recognised for subordinate agencies, such as boards and commissions”. However, as was stated by the then Chief Justice in the judgment in the City View Press case, the test of the constitutionality of the legal instrument establishing corporate bodies is that it gives “effect to principles and policies which are contained in the statute itself”. I intend to review the relevant section of the 1971 Act to ascertain what strengthening it requires to meet the constitutionality test or whether new legislation is required.
This is a short Bill. It follows from the advice of the Attorney General to ensure there is no uncertainty attaching to the seven existing bodies established under the 1971 Act and follows the same provisions as contained in the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2007 which the House passed last December. I commend the Bill to the House.