Proposed Legislation

I welcome the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan. I congratulate him on his appointment and wish him well in his portfolio. This is not his first time in the House, as he was a distinguished Member of the Seanad some years ago.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise on the Adjournment the matter of changing the placename An Daingean to Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis. I also thank the Minister for personally taking this Adjournment matter.

In 2006, on behalf of the people of Dingle, Kerry County Council carried out a plebiscite on changing the placename An Daingean to Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis. There was a 95% vote in favour, but, unfortunately, it has taken five years for anything to be done. The previous two Ministers kept their hands in their pockets and did not deal with the issue. As a consequence, Dingle as a tourist destination has suffered.

I commend Kerry County Council for the manner in which it carried out its work in accordance with the outcome of the plebiscite and the democratic process that had taken place. I again thank the Minister for appearing in person to take this Adjournment matter and compliment him on hitting the ground running in the first 100 days of the Government and dealing with this issue. There will be massive benefits for the entire Dingle Peninsula generated by the tourism sector. I hope the Minister will have something positive to say to the people of both Dingle town and living on the peninsula because, as he is aware, Dingle is a worldwide brand and now a highly cosmopolitan town.

I join the Cathaoirleach and Senator Tom Sheahan in welcoming the Minister whom I thank him for the glad tidings of which I know him to be the bearer. As the Cathaoirleach is aware, this is not the first time I have spoken in the Chamber on this matter. I did so many times during the previous Seanad. I compliment all those to whom Senator Sheahan referred on their efforts in this regard. I wish well the people of Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis, as it will be known in the future on foot of the Minister's announcement.

I thank the Cathaoirleach most sincerely for his kind welcome. While I attended the House previously in the presence of Senator Wilson, obviously the Cathaoirleach was not present.

I thank Senators Tom Sheahan and Paul Coghlan for raising this important matter which Senator Sheahan has raised many times in the past three and a half years in the Dáil, while Senator Paul Coghlan has done so in the Seanad. I am glad to be given the chance to inform the House that the Government has now approved the inclusion of provisions dealing with the Dingle placename issue in the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011. They will replace existing provisions in local government law dealing with the changing of placenames.

There is a problem of incompatibility between the relevant local government provisions and the Official Languages Act 2003. It was brought into focus by the issue that arose in respect of the name An Daingean, or Dingle, County Kerry. The amendment I am bringing forward is intended to solve this problem. It also will put in place updated and clear procedures for the changing of placenames under local government law in a transparent and fair way and in harmony with the Official Languages Act.

The official name of Dingle was changed to An Daingean in 2004 by an order of the Minster for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs under the Official Languages Act 2003. The English language version then ceased to have legal force. As a result, there are three circumstances in which the use of the English version is not permissible, namely, in legislation, on certain Ordnance Survey maps and statutory road signage. This has given rise to a certain amount of controversy, with significant opposition locally and calls to retain Dingle as the official name, as well as a high degree of recognition, particularly from a tourism perspective.

In 2006 Kerry County Council held a plebiscite under the Local Government Act 1946 on a proposal to change the name to Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis, which was passed. The council applied for an order to change the name accordingly, but it was not possible to accede to this because the Attorney General had advised that the local government code could not be used to change the name of a place already subject to a placenames order, as was the case with An Daingean.

To resolve the issue, the previous Government decided to legislate for the use of the names "Dingle" and "Daingean Ui Chuis", in tandem, by way of amendments to the placenames provisions in the local government code. These amendments had been included in the Dublin Mayor Bill, but this opportunity passed with the lapsing of that Bill on the dissolution of the last Dáil. Instead, I am now proposing to avail of the earliest possible legislative opportunity to enact these provisions, through the environment Bill.

The proposed amendments will restate large elements of the existing placename provisions in local government law, but with some significant changes. In future, any proposal adopted by a local authority to change a placename must specify the proposed name in Irish only or in English and in Irish. Any plebiscite will require a secret ballot and all proposals will need adoption of a resolution by half of the total members of the council.

The legislation will provide that a placename change under local government law will supersede an order under the Official Languages Act 2003 and, of course, the impact of the 2004 placenames order, as it applies to An Daingean, will be undone.

I appreciate the sensitivities of all involved in this issue and that there are differing views, but the result of the 2006 plebiscite, even if not legally implementable at that time, was clear cut. The proposed provisions will provide a more coherent, modern and streamlined set of procedures for the changing of placenames and will place responsibility for this function at local level, where it should properly reside. An important aspect of the new provisions is that they will also give greater recognition to the Irish language in every case where placename changes are proposed. I hope, therefore, that these amendments will bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion and I expect that these changes will be completed before the summer recess of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

We are very grateful to the Minister.