Local Government (Charges) Bill 2009: Report and Final Stages.

I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion of the amendment. On Report Stage each amendment must be seconded.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:

"2.—Notwithstanding anything in this Act, a property which has been the family home or principal residence of any person who is in residential nursing home care immediately prior to their admission to such residential nursing home or other residential care facility, shall not be subject of any charge, save and except in circumstances where that property has subsequently been let to a third party.".

This amendment speaks for itself. It arises from the concern that I and many other Senators raised regarding the anomaly in the Bill which would ensure that a charge would apply to the family home of a person, most likely an elderly person, who might have to be admitted to a nursing home for residential care. As the nursing home would be considered under the Bill to be the person's primary residence, we believe the matter of the family home must be addressed in the legislation to ensure a charge does not apply to it.

Late in the debate on Committee Stage the Minister undertook to review this aspect of the Bill. Everybody agrees that it was not the intent of the Bill to apply a charge in those circumstances. However, that does not take away from the fact that the Bill as drafted permits the charge to be levied. Fine Gael believes this is unacceptable. There are thousands of elderly people throughout the country in this situation. Obviously they face the high costs of nursing home care and to have this further charge imposed on them and their estate would cause unnecessary stress, a headache at local level for the local authorities that propose to collect it, and uproar in the community. That is unacceptable.

Fine Gael has framed the amendment to assist the Minister on this matter. The amendment acknowledges that where the family home is let, the charge should apply, which is reasonable. Fine Gael has been reasonable in tabling this amendment. I would hate to see the Bill leave the House without an amendment to remove any likely charge on the family homes of people in nursing homes. It would be remiss of the House to allow that to happen. It was clear from yesterday's debate that there is general cross-party support for the Bill and the concept of raising revenue through a charge on second homes. It provides for a new revenue stream for local authorities, which is welcome. However, we must be careful when drafting legislation. Rushed legislation is not good legislation. This Bill appears to have been rushed to a degree and does not appear to have been fully considered, which is why there are anomalies in it.

I look forward to the Minister's comments on this matter. Fine Gael intends to protect elderly people who must go into nursing homes by ensuring that this charge will not apply to their family homes.

I second the amendment. The Minister said yesterday that the most important exemption by far relates to principal private residences. He also dealt with the issue raised by Senator Paudie Coffey. It is important that we nail the definition of principal primary residence. I do not believe it is the Minister's intention in this legislation to penalise the elderly — that would not be his form given his political philosophy — but consider what was unearthed in the Bill yesterday by Senator Coffey. We must put people's minds at ease. If, God forbid, I am put into a nursing home 20 years hence and my private residence lies idle, the Bill can be interpreted to mean that the €200 charge would apply.

The Minister and his spokesman last night accused Fine Gael of playing politics with this, or said something to that effect. The Minister said during yesterday's debate that the charge will not apply to the principal private residence but I contend that the nursing home, maisonette or granny flat should also be exempt. It is important that the Bill leaves the Seanad with the anomaly and ambiguity cleared up. The language used in a Bill is important and rushed legislation is not good legislation. There has been much confusion and uncertainty. I hope the Minister will allay that concern tonight. We are being helpful in putting forward this amendment. It is drafted in explicit and simple language which will avoid confusion, allay the fears of many and put paid to the idea that we are imposing a tax on somebody for getting old. I hope the Minister's reply is positive.

I thank the Senators for their amendments. As I indicated yesterday, it was never the intention of the legislation, nor would it have been the ultimate effect, that it would affect elderly and incapacitated people who are long-term residents of nursing homes. However, for the avoidance of doubt, I undertook to make the legislation clear in this regard and to ensure the Bill does not apply the €200 charge to these people. I sought the advice of the Office of the Attorney General on the issue and, on foot of that advice, I will take whatever measures are required to ensure the charge will not apply to residents of nursing homes in respect of their vacated main or sole residence.

Senators will appreciate that it is important when drafting amendments to be as comprehensive and accurate as possible. I will need a little time to finalise this process. As the Senators said, it is not good to rush into these things. For that reason, I intend to table an amendment on Committee Stage in the Dáil and to report back to the Seanad. I thank Senators for their engagement with me on this matter. I hope they can agree to my proposal to copperfasten my intention of ensuring the charge will not apply in the circumstances I have described.

I thank the Minister for explaining his position. It is an awkward position due to the fact that this was not noticed when the legislation was being drafted. I accept he is seeking the best advice available, which is the reasonable and right thing to do. However, I am disappointed that the Seanad is not being given the opportunity to amend the legislation to remove this charge. I acknowledge the right of the Minister to table his amendments in the Dáil but we have debated this Bill at length and as the Seanad is, like the Dáil, a House of the Oireachtas, we have every right to correct legislation where anomalies are found.

This is an anomaly that would affect the elderly. It is most disappointing that the Bill, if the Fianna Fáil Party supports it, will leave the Seanad with this anomaly in place. That is not acceptable. It is the reason Fine Gael tabled this amendment and the reason we will put the amendment to a vote. I hope it will be seen and accepted by all sides of the House as a genuine attempt by the Fine Gael Party to address this anomaly that will affect the elderly in a most unfair manner. Those who will go into residential nursing home care, whether long-term or short-term, should not have the family home charged.

I shall say no more. We put a great deal of time and debate into this legislation. I am disappointed that, as Senators, we will not have the opportunity to correct the legislation before it leaves the House.

Does the Minister wish to respond?

I said what I had to say.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 22.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Twomey, Liam.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Francis.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Malley, Fiona.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paudie Coffey and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, after line 44, to insert the following:

"(i) a building which is occupied as a dwelling by a parent or both parents of the owner.”.

During the debate on Committee Stage, the difficulty with regard to granny flats or dwellings where elderly dependent relatives live adjacent to the owner of the entire dwelling, be it a bungalow or semi-detached house, was identified. We highlighted other situations, including that of the original family home on a cottage acre or family farm being signed over to a son or daughter who, in time, will build on the site, as is often the case in rural Ireland, with the elderly dependent relative remaining in the old family dwelling. There is a case to be made for exemption as this example is not facilitated in the legislation.

The definition of granny flats was heavily debated. As other Senators and I outlined yesterday, families building dwellings for elderly dependent relatives on the sides of their homes is a commonplace occurrence. Such dwellings are self-contained and have a kitchenette, a bedroom and a small living room. In many cases they have their own electricity supplies and meters, but they are granny flats attached to the original dwellings. Under the terms of the Bill, those flats will be liable for the second property charge. This is unjust and unreasonable.

Since a clearer definition is required, we have retabled our amendment on Report Stage to the effect that a building occupied as a dwelling by a parent or both parents of the owner would be included on the exempted list. As Senators stated yesterday, families build onto their homes to accommodate elderly relatives to remove the burden from the State and to keep people in a comfortable social environment with family supports. If enacted in its current form, the Bill will impose an unjust levy on the owners of such dwellings which are being used to care for elderly relatives.

A right of residence clause attaching to an agreement signing a family farm and home over to a son or daughter is commonplace in rural Ireland. In this way, an elderly parent or adult siblings can retain the right to reside in the original family dwelling while the son or daughter builds on the farm. The problem is that the person to whom the farm is transferred will be liable for the charge despite the fact that nothing but the title has changed. Until his or her death, the relative will continue to live in the original home under right of residence, yet the owner will be charged the second property levy. It was not the intention of the Bill to levy those people. Rather, it was to levy large investors. We have identified this problem area as being unjust and unfair to families. For this reason, we have tabled our amendment.

We would like our amendments to be accepted. If they are not accepted yet there is still to be a change, we would like the Minister to table the amendments in this House, allowing the legislation leaving the Seanad for the Dáil to be more complete. No Member takes pride in the lists of Dáil amendments being reported to the Seanad. Last night, groups of amendments to the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill were reported by the Dáil. The Bill was initiated in the Seanad. There is no reason for such amendments not to be dealt with in this House as opposed to in the Dáil. As the Minister stated yesterday, the Seanad is a relevant House of Parliament. We want it to be so, but we take no pride in lists of amendments being reported back. The cause is the ordering of business. Important legislation is being squashed into the last few days of the current term. As the Minister admitted, he is being rushed whereas he needs time to table his amendments. Were the Bill introduced in the Seanad earlier, he could have tabled his Report Stage amendments in this House. To some degree the Seanad is being slighted. I do not say this in a nasty way but the situation is not acceptable.

Our amendment proposes that a building occupied as a dwelling by a parent or both parents of the owner be exempted from the charge. This provision is fair and Fine Gael believes the legislation should be changed to accommodate people in such circumstances.

I second the amendment and, like Senator Coffey, call on the Minister to accept it. The premise of the Department's argument is that a property tax will lead to the greater utilisation of property. It is unfair to people. On the basis of the Ramsey rule, one will see this policy will not lend itself to people using property or to their being able to use it properly. What is the principle behind holding on to a maisonette, granny flat or, as Senator Coffey suggested, the house on the family farm or piece of land? Definition and detail are very important. The approach in the Bill, as it stands, does not reflect what the Minister stated to the House in the course of the debate. To use an old cliché, the devil is in the detail. This is why there is a need for clearer definition. Are we trying to create a new type of dwelling through this Bill? If so, we will have to rethink the whole issue of property, be it land or a type of dwelling.

While I know the Minister is open to suggestion, I believe it would be wrong if he did not outline clearly and specifically what is proposed for maisonettes and granny flats. The people who are using these dwellings are saving the State a fortune on health care. Are we trying to create a new type of dwelling? What does the Minister intend in the legislation?

Senators Coffey and Buttimer are correct that it is a question of definition. I strongly support the intention of the amendment and believe the Minister does also. I heard him on the radio deploring the fact that what he had regarded as a positive engagement with the Seanad and his preparedness to accept amendments was, to a certain extent, turned into a political football. He was accused of U-turns and so forth. This kind of commentary is unnecessary and I am glad it did not happen in Seanad Éireann. The other House conducts its business according to its own rules. The Seanad wants to be as constructive as possible.

Granny flats are a comparatively recent phenomenon. My saying "recent" is a function of my age. Granny flats have featured in the past 30 or 40 years but were never heard of when I was really young. I have seen examples all over the place, including very luxurious accommodation attaching itself to dwellings in the Ailesbury Road area, with which I am glad to say I was once familiar. The scent of mown hay or grass in a well-cultivated front garden in the suburbs on evenings such as these causes a kind of Proustian flashback. Granny flats range from those kinds of luxurious accommodations to others in more humble areas of the city or less refined suburbs, where I have also lived. They were basically converted garages.

The phenomenon of having granny flats was socially very positive because it held the generations together and meant that elderly parents, rather than going into a nursing home, could be afforded the comfort of proximity to their relatives. They had a degree of independence, which is so important psychologically in every way. At the same time, they benefited from the care of, and a relationship with, their children and, perhaps, grandchildren. This is socially very constructive.

The difficultly with the amendment is that it is not focused sufficiently. Will this Bill be returning to the Dáil?

The Minister might consider this area and come up with a focused measure. According to the amendment, it seems a dwelling does not even have to be attached to the main house. It would be inappropriate if very wealthy people with very wealthy parents did not have to pay just because those parents lived in a structure that had been transferred to their children by gift of deed, for example. A sum of €200 is fairly modest. The amendment is so broad that it fails to achieve its intention, with which I hope the Minister agrees. I imagine he might do so. If I were him, I would not allow myself to be intimidated or bullied out of accepting the principle of a good amendment simply because some less enlightened people in the Lower House would make a mockery of it because of his having done the right thing. If one does the right thing, it has its own reward. The intention of the amendment is very good but its scope is just too broad.

I support what my two Fine Gael colleagues have said. I appreciate the Minister is paying serious attention to this Bill. I am also conscious he may be making proposals on Seanad reform and I therefore advise my colleagues to tread carefully with him. All our futures may be in his hands. The Minister appreciates we are approaching this legislation with a view to clarifying some of the points of confusion and bringing about improvements, where necessary.

The Bill started off small but has attracted public interest. One or two anomalies have been brought to our attention over the past day or two. One brought to my attention and that of most of my colleagues today relates to properties to which a right of residence attaches. A property may be vacant but the elderly parent or sibling of the owner might have a right of residence in the house. Once there is such a right, the property cannot be sold or made available for letting. What is the Minister's intention regarding such properties. There is a substantial number of them across the country. The anomaly may not be fully covered by the amendment. What is the Minister's thinking and has he proposals to deal with the matter?

Can I take advantage of this opportunity, perhaps unfairly, to ask the Minister to comment on an issue I raised yesterday, namely, properties that have been repossessed by financial institutions and let to the former mortgagees? The Minister did not get to comment on these in his Second Stage reply. It is becoming more prevalent that financial institutions, rather than repossessing mortgagees' homes and evicting them therefrom, are entering into rental agreements with them. I presume the bank would own the house in such cases. Will financial penalties be applied in such cases?

There is some confusion over ground rent. I am by no means an expert on the matter. A significant number of properties in some towns and villages are subject to ground rent. Is there a need for clarification of the duties of the property owners? In Mallow, ground rent is still being paid or is theoretically owed to persons no longer resident in the jurisdiction. Is the Minister in a position to clarify the position on the obligations of owners of properties to which ground rent attaches?

I was very taken with the last few contributions and the very pertinent issues raised by Senator Bradford. Senator Norris's Proustian flashbacks give us all a moment of joy as we work into the evening. The smell of mown grass is not unknown in east Galway and Senator Norris is welcome to visit any time.

There is good sense in the Fine Gael amendment. I accept the principle of the Bill and that it is a good Bill but I take Senator Norris's point that one can conceive of situations in which it might not be entirely just that people would escape payment of the moneys in question when they could well afford to pay. Whenever legislation refers to parents it is especially significant. My father told a story, which is less a Proustian flashback than a reflection on tougher times in Ireland, of a tenant farmer who boasted that he was raising a large family, putting money in the bank and paying off an old debt. The old debt referred to having his parents living with him and he was putting money in the bank because his kids would one day take care of him and put a roof over his head. Those days may be gone but the concept of granny flats or adjacent dwellings is known to us all and these dwellings vary greatly in standard and construction. I support the amendment in general terms and do not doubt that the Minister will come forward with a provision to the effect that people who own the accommodation in which their parents live will not be liable for this levy.

I thank the Senators for their comments which highlight the differences between the Upper and Lower Houses because one does not often hear references to Proust or quotes from Yeats in the Lower House and it is quite refreshing.

I thank Senators Coffey and Cummins for this amendment. As I made clear yesterday I intend to exempt what are termed granny flats from the charge and have sought the advice of the Office of the Attorney General on suitable wording to achieve this. One possible option is along the lines the Senators have proposed but the amendment may need to be fleshed out somewhat by the inclusion of a requirement that the property be made available free of rent. I also want to explore with the Attorney General the possibility of some criteria in respect of a slightly more expansive definition of a qualifying relative and the inclusion of some proximity criteria of the kind to be found in the Revenue Commissioners' provisions on home carer's tax credit.

I propose to table an amendment which, with Senators' agreement, I will table on Committee Stage in the Dáil and upon which I will report to this House in due course. I hope this course of action is acceptable to the Senators.

I acknowledge the effort the Minister is taking to try to address this anomaly. Fine Gael supports this Bill in principle. We will withdraw this amendment because the Minister has undertaken to address the issue of granny flats before the legislation finally goes through the Oireachtas. I thank the Minister for listening to the concerns raised on all sides of the House. It is important that we listen to the genuine and sincere concerns that we raise on behalf of people living in these situations. We would not do this otherwise.

I wish the Minister well because this is a complex area and it will be difficult to get the wording right but he has the best legal advice available. We will wait and watch with interest as the amendment goes before the Dáil and will welcome it back into this House. I hope it will alleviate the problem and absolve people whose elderly dependent relatives live close to them of the charge. This is a practice that the State and its agencies should encourage at every level.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, after line 44, to insert the following:

"(i) an uninhabitable rural house.”.

This is an addition to the meaning of residential property in section 2. In rural Ireland one often sees houses that have become vacant, whether cottages or old farm dwellings. We would not like to see families being levied for this charge on a house that is uninhabitable. If it is habitable there is the potential for it to generate income through letting or sub-letting. The house may not be totally derelict because its superstructure, the roof and walls, might be in good condition but it might be uninhabitable because there may not be services and it might require a significant amount of work before becoming habitable again.

Despite what Senator Norris says there are people in rural areas who may have small land-holdings but do not have large sums of money to spare to pay this charge on what might be an old farm cottage or dwelling. That is the context of the amendment which we ask the Minister to consider. I do not think it is the intention of the Bill to levy charges in those areas. It is aimed at investment properties held by landlords up and down the country, mainly in urban but also in rural areas. I am interested to hear the Minister's views on an uninhabitable rural house.

I second the amendment. Senator Coffey has made the case quite well. Many dwellings are lying idle in rural Ireland where the landowner has either built a new house or has moved to a different dwelling on the farm. Many of these houses are vacant and without services and the cost of upgrading or doing remedial work to make them habitable would be enormous. This imposes a tax that is not in the spirit of the legislation.

I thank the Senators for this amendment. We had some discussion about uninhabitable dwellings on Committee Stage yesterday. In section 1 of the Bill "dwelling" is defined as including a building "used, or suitable for use, by an individual as a separate dwelling". Additionally in section 2 residential property is defined as "a building situated in the State used, or suitable for use, as a dwelling". The words "suitable for use" in these definitions are critical. If a building is not suitable for use as a dwelling it follows that it must be uninhabitable, to use the word in the amendment. I will reinforce this point in guidance I propose to issue to local authorities on carrying out this legislation. It has always been my intention to issue these guidelines, even in respect of the matters we discussed previously. It is clear the Bill as drafted provides that an owner of a residential property is not liable for a charge where the property in question is not suitable for use as a dwelling. Similar terminology is used in several statutes, including stamp duty legislation. In these circumstances I regret I cannot accede to the amendment.

I accept the Minister's explanation. The amendment was an attempt by Fine Gael to acknowledge that uninhabitable rural houses would have some exemption from the charge. We are willing, however, to accept in good faith the Minister's intention to issue guidelines, clarification and details, to local authorities that will collect the charges.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 4 arises out of Committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 4, 5, 7, 8, 10 and 11 are cognate. Amendments Nos. 6 and 9 are cognate, and amendments Nos. 12, 13 and 14 are related. Amendments Nos. 4 to 14, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 5, line 10, to delete "relevant local authority" and substitute "Revenue Commissioners".

These amendments were tabled on Committee Stage and we had quite a debate on them. The reason for the amendments being tabled is that Fine Gael is concerned local authorities may not have the capability and infrastructure available to them to properly collect all dues under the Bill. We feel the Revenue Commissioners have the ability and capacity to capture all people who might be liable. This is a genuine reason for tabling these amendments.

Yesterday, I stated that I would favour the local authorities collecting the charge but I am concerned about the resources of and data held by the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, and other such agencies. I am not sure the Bill is as clear or will function as easily as intended in the real world. Issues are raised about data protection and I am not fully convinced at this stage they are fully cleared up. The Bill allows for the transfer of data and registers from the ESB, the PRTB and the Revenue Commissioners to local authorities and I believe functional difficulties will arise in this area. These amendments have been tabled to try to address this and to make the collection and administration easier and less burdensome on local authorities.

I second the amendment.

I thank the Senators for these amendments, which were discussed yesterday. The Bill provides that income from the charge will accrue to local authorities. This is a new form of local authority income and it is important it is administered effectively and efficiently. I have full confidence that local authorities are well placed to administer and collect the charge and that they will assign sufficient staff and other resources necessary to implement it. A considerable effort has been made by local authorities in preparation for the introduction of the charge and this work is ramping up all the time.

Since the announcement of the charge in the budget a project board established by the County and City Managers' Association has been working behind the scenes in planning and developing the necessary infrastructure to facilitate the charge. The Local Government Computer Services Board has been engaged to design and develop an on-line portal similar to the very successful motor tax on-line system to enable the charge to be paid electronically. This web-based system is at an advanced stage of development and I am assured it will be operational in time to accept payments from a liability date of 31 July next.

Senators will be aware of the success of the motor tax on-line system where more than 50% of motor tax renewals are completed over the Internet. The motor tax on-line system has proved to be a simple and effective way in which renewals of motor tax can be made and I see no reason it would not prove to be as effective in the case of the €200 charge. In addition to the on-line method of payment, the local authorities will also accept payment of the charge locally and this will facilitate persons who do not have access to the Internet. Ample computer facilities are available in libraries throughout the country that can be utilised by persons who do not have personal computers for the payment of motor tax and the €200 charge.

It is clear local authorities have demonstrated their willingness to administer the charge effectively and efficiently given that the income from the charge will accrue to local authorities. As I stated yesterday, I have no doubt they will ensure appropriate resources are put in place to secure the maximum level of compliance with the charge. For these reasons I regret I cannot accept the amendment.

I thank the Minister for his explanation and I am happy to hear some groundwork has been done behind the scenes to plan for the administration of this in local authority structures. This is a very important facet of the implementation of the legislation.

I welcome the proposals for an on-line registration system. The motor tax registration system is very laudable and successful. It is very accessible for those who have computers, which a large percentage of the population does. However, another large section of the population does not have such access and is not computer literate. I am sure they will have access to the local authority offices to make their payments.

I will draw one difference between the motor tax system and this system, which is that the motor tax system is more easily enforced by the Garda Síochána on the roads because gardaí can see whether a car does not have a motor tax disc. The issue we are raising is that responsibility for the charge is left to the individual owners of the second property. To some degree it is a type of self-assessment. The PRTB's database is not computerised and there is a large backlog but local authorities will be depending on that information.

The Minister responded in detail to my concerns about the PRTB and how he intends to improve its workings. It was identified that €10 million is sitting in the bank account of the PRTB. From my understanding of the Minister's explanation, local authorities need to carry out inspections prior to drawing down that money. Obviously, a system is already in place between local authorities and the PRTB that is not functioning correctly and efficiently and needs attention and to be addressed.

In the same light, we are depending on good co-operation between local authorities and these State agencies and boards to have proper data transfer and interchange. To have the legislation functioning as intended, this will need to be fluent and easy. Concerns have been raised about this but the Minister has assured Members he is taking measures and local government administrations, through their county managers and directors of services, are taking measures to ensure the implementation of this will run as smoothly as possible. I still have concerns regarding the issue of data protection and perhaps the Minister will confirm the Department has consulted the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner on the measures in the Bill that affect the issue of data protection between various State agencies and companies.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 5 to 14, inclusive, not moved.
Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Senators for engaging in such a positive way and for their amendments. Broadly, the Senators will be very satisfied with the amendments I will introduce in the Dáil. I also thank my staff who are present and everybody involved in bringing forward this legislation. I thank Senators for their co-operation in facilitating early consideration of the Bill. I look forward to reporting back to this House in due course.

I thank the Minister and his officials for the way they handled this Bill in the Seanad. While I have been critical in part in regard to some of the shortcomings in the Bill, Fine Gael in principle supports its thrust and principles and we welcome the fact that it will create new revenue streams for local authorities. They are at present starved of resources and any way we can assist them to become more autonomous and to raise funds will help the delivery of local authority services on the ground. From that perspective, we welcome the Bill.

Fine Gael is disappointed its nursing home-related amendment was not accepted. We felt strongly about this, as was evident in the debate, where we identified that people in this category could be levied a charge. However, the Minister has undertaken to deal with this before the Bill goes to the Dáil. We oppose the Bill for that reason because we feel it is incomplete without the amendment. We also have concerns with the issue of data protection that arises from the terms of the Bill.

I wish the Minister well. For a short Bill, it is a complex one and it will have a deep effect on communities and people throughout the country. Hopefully, it will have a very positive effect for local authorities. I wish the Minister well in drafting the amendments he has undertaken to draft following identification of those issues by Senators from all sides of the House. I wish the Bill speedy passage for the remainder of its term in the Houses. We look forward to it coming back to the Seanad with reports on amendments adopted in the Dáil, which will complete the Bill and address the many issues of concern that Senators have raised in the House.

The Seanad has performed extraordinarily well in recent days in regard to the Bill. There has been deep engagement by Senators from all sides. We have carried out our functions to the best of our ability in analysing and scrutinising the Bill so it will, when it gets to local authority implementation stage, have the best effect for those local authorities it is meant to serve. I wish the Minister and the Bill well as it passes through the Oireachtas.

I thank the Minister and his staff for their attention to detail and their response to the various issues raised. There were a number of contentious issues which were well aired and debated. On the basis that the Minister has agreed to deal with those issues in the Dáil, I am prepared to vote for the Bill on behalf of the Labour Party.

I thank the Minister and his officials for the courteous way in which they dealt with this matter in the House. The civilised exchanges that took place in the Seanad give reasonable justification for why it is worthwhile continuing with this branch of the Oireachtas. I welcome the fact that the Minister accepted, at least in spirit, a number of the amendments that were proposed and argued strongly for in the House.

On behalf of the Government side of the House, I thank the Minister. This is the first Bill in many years whereby a funding base has been provided for local authorities — it is an extra string to their bow. Concerns were expressed by Members on the other side of the House, which I respect. The response and assurances given by the Minister certainly addressed my concerns and I have no doubt about the sincerity of those assurances.

The Bill is the first of a number of Bills that will give powers back to local authorities. When we talk about locally elected members, we are talking about, first, the power to raise money and, second, the power to spend it. Without that, one has no power.

The Minister has done extremely well. He came before the House and addressed the concerns, and I accept what he said. He put down a marker in his address on Second Stage as to what he intends to do for the future in regard to local government. My nominating body, the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland, is extremely grateful to the Minister. He brought a number of issues to the House, not just the detail of the Bill and the effects it will have. He has certainly given local government, particularly town local government, a shot in the arm. Well done.

In completing the Bill, we have undertaken a small but important step towards giving autonomy, independence and more effective use of spending to local government. Hopefully, the recommendations of the Commission on Taxation and the decisions the Government will make through being informed on the White Paper on Local Government will help that process in the coming months.

The House has played its important constitutional role in dealing with a Bill that constitutes a financial charge and, in doing so, helped to inform the definition of what the Bill constitutes. This is a Bill about how we define what constitutes second-owned properties and many of the contributions from all sides of the House have helped that process. I am confident the Minister, in bringing this Bill through the other House, and subsequently back to this House, will have taken note and will make this Bill stronger as a result of all the contributions we have heard during all the Stages of the legislation.

I thank the Minister and Members.

Question put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 22; Níl, 12.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Twomey, Liam.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paudie Coffeyand Maurice Cummins.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10 a.m. tomorrow.