I welcome the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, and call Senator Jim Walsh who was in possession.
Local Government Reform Bill 2013: Committee Stage (Resumed)
The Minister responded, not particularly satisfactorily I am afraid-----
The Senator is very negative.
-----to the points we had made on this matter. I would appreciate it if the Minister would indicate whether I am wrong-----
The Senator does not want to hear what I have to say.
-----but in my opinion local government is about the principle of subsidiarity. It revolves around delivering and administering services and ensuring there is oversight of them at the lowest level at which their delivery is effective. Another issue arises in the context of the transfer of executive powers and reserved functions to councils. I do not concur with the point the Minister made to the effect that councils are only there to make policy decisions and that they have no role in the delivery of services at local level.
They are employees.
I do not know of any councillor who would inform his or her constituents that remedial works in respect of water services or repairs to potholes in roads which are quite common these days are not functions of councils and that these are matters with which the executives must deal. The Minister for Health was just in the House and I am sure he would never state huge hospital waiting lists are of no concern to him. In the light of the fact that the administration of services is not up to the standard that citizens would expect, there is a role for local elected representatives to play. The latter is particularly true in cases where the delivery of services is seen to be deficient. I would not agree with the fine distinction which states that councils are merely responsible for making policy decisions.
A report published in 1975 indicates that, at that time, the administration of government in this country was more centralised than was the case in communist China. There is a need to devolve powers from the centre to local areas, particularly those units which can deliver on the most cost-efficient basis. In general, that occurs at the point of service.
This Bill does not address any of the elements that goes to the core of having real local empowerment and democracy. What we have is local administration with councillors who have a highly restricted and constrained role. This underpins my thinking on the issue of reform of local government.
Previous attempts to reform local government have been abandoned. The Bill provides for a directly elected mayor of Dublin. While Dublin is the capital and largest centre of population, why does Kilkenny, for example, not have an elected mayor who would be the political supremo in the county? Why do people in County Kilkenny not have a right to decide which person should be accountable to them through the normal democratic process?
Currently, we have all-powerful county managers, some of whom are very good, while others are very poor. When I was actively involved in the local government scene I did surveys with various organisations which showed that fewer than half of the county managers were regarded as top class performers. We have seen the manner in which some of them secure their positions. The Bill does not include measures to address deficiencies in the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commission, under which people tend to be appointed on the basis of seniority, who they know or how well they are personally regarded by those in the system. Radical change is required in that regard. People outside the local government system must be involved in the appointment process.
These are the principles I would like enshrined in a proper local government reform Bill. The Title of the Bill before us is another of the misnomers that have become a feature of most of the Bills introduced by the Government.
I ask the Senator to stick to the amendment and avoid making a Second Stage speech.
I am trying to give the Minister some food for thought so as to widen his vision of local government of reform.
I do not wish to detain the Minister given that we must dispose of a large number of amendments by tomorrow. I concur with Senator Jim Walsh's comments on the current position and the circumstances that will prevail if this Bill is passed. The word in the Title on which I propose to concentrate is "Local". As a result of the Bill, County Cavan, the county with which I am most familiar, will lose seven county councillors, despite the previous census showing an increase in population of almost 18%. The reduction in the number of county councillors will leave the county with three scattered electoral areas.
What does this have to do with shared services?
It is related to local administration.
On a point of order, Senators should not make Second Stage speeches when we have more than 100 amendments to deal with.
I will rule on such matters.
I am merely making an observation.
I ask Senators to confine their contributions to the amendments under discussion.
Some colleagues who are newcomers to democracy may have a difficulty with freedom of speech. I will not take lectures from Senator David Cullinane on whether this is a Second Stage speech or Committee Stage contribution on an amendment. While the Senator may not like listening to me and may get upset with my contribution, I will insist on making my point if he does not mind.
I do not mind if it is pertinent to the amendment.
We are discussing a Bill that allegedly reforms local government. It is not a local government Bill because when it becomes law, the elections that will be held will not be local. Under the proposed Cavan-Belturbet electoral area, people from Blacklion, a village in the west of the county on the Leitrim border, will vote in the same electoral area as people 40 miles away in Cavan town. Are such elections local or part of local administration? The answer is "No". The legislation will deprive people, particularly in rural areas, of democratic representation. There should be positive discrimination towards rural areas. This Bill will cut the number of councillors in rural areas and increase the number of councillors in the east coast by the same number. That is not acceptable.
The Title of the Bill is-----
The Senator has strayed from the content of the amendment.
I may be straying slightly.
We had a full debate on the amendment yesterday.
I will conclude on a final point, which may give Senators a clue as to the reason Senator David Cullinane appears to favour the legislation. The document known as Putting People First, which was meant to put the Labour Party first, will put Sinn Féin first in the east of the country because of the unpopularity of the Labour Party.
None of these matters is mentioned in the amendments.
I congratulate the Minister and his party colleagues on providing for the demise of the Labour Party. As a result, the vote of other parties, including Senator David Cullinane's party, will increase. That may give a clue as to the reason the Senator is in favour of the Bill and wants to stifle debate.
Senator David Norris appeared to indicate.
No, I said what I wanted to say. I support local government. As with An Garda Síochána, post offices and so forth, we should maximise support for rural communities and in that regard I support my Fianna Fáil colleagues on the amendment. The abolition of local councils in historical places such as Kilkenny, from where the Minister comes, Waterford and Cashel is a pity. I will not delay the House as we must dispose of the amendments as quickly as possible.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 14, to delete lines 8 to 16.
With the indulgence of the House, I will read out the paragraph I propose to have deleted before analysing the reasons I am so very much against it. The paragraph reads as follows:
If, in any respect, any difficulty arises in bringing any provision of this Act into operation or in relation to the operation of any such provision, the Minister may, by regulations, do anything which appears to him or her to be necessary or expedient for removing that difficulty, for bringing that provision into operation or for securing or facilitating its operation, and any such regulations may modify any provision of this Act so far as may be necessary or expedient for carrying such provision into effect for the purposes aforesaid, but no regulations shall be made under this section in relation to any provision of this Act after the expiration of 3 years commencing on the day on which the provision comes into operation.
This provision gives swingeing powers to the Government. These types of provision are emerging as a frequent phenomenon in legislation. I object to them because they concentrate excessive power in the hands of Ministers. The first part of the paragraph refers to the removal of difficulties.
I do not think it is a particularly good idea to remove difficulties. One does not just bulldoze one's way through them and flatten them out. The best practice is to examine them, see why they arise, address the situation and cure the difficulty. There is a little too much of the Denning judgment - the appalling vista - that we must sweep things under the carpet. This seems to me to give the Minister or any Minister - it is not particular to the current, Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan - a very big sweeping brush for shoving things under the carpet if he or she wishes. I would prefer the difficulties to be confronted and addressed rather than removed. The language is sinister, although it is becoming standard. I want to fight against the fact that this kind of language is becoming standard.
Turning to the phrase "Also necessary or expedient", in politics, expediency has an unsavoury ring to it. Expedient could mean that it is in the interests not particularly of the people but of the parties in government. That is expedient. I do not like that word either and it occurs no less than twice.
The paragraph ends by saying that no regulations will be made after three years, but by that stage it will be done and dusted so that is no huge concession. Section 3 states that where regulations are proposed to be made under this section, a draft regulation should be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the regulation shall not be made until a resolution approving the draft has been passed by each House. My first concern is this needs careful management because sometimes these kinds of regulations slither through on the nod. People have to be watchful or this can happen. I would be concerned that not enough attention would be paid to the fact that these things, which could have some requirement to be teased out in the House, would go through on the nod. I hope that will not happen. The Seanad has been recharged and revitalised by its recent endorsement by the people but at the same time I would be concerned.
On another point, this is still a very whipped House. In Senators Aideen Hayden and Paul Coghlan the Government has the Mr. and Ms Whippy of this Chamber because they are extraordinarily good at it. There is no suggestion whatever that accidents are likely to happen. We had a classic example last night when we almost got a Bill to stalemate, at least, but the Whip on the other side was very good - that is their job and they do it. I hope that the reforms of this House will mean that it resumes its role which has been, for the majority of my tenure here, the situation that it is much less confrontational than the Dáil. This Chamber should not be a Chamber to be set in confrontation with the Dáil; it should be less whipped. We should have more expertise in it and we should be prepared to advise rather than confront the Government. This is all part of my reservation. To give such very swingeing powers on the grounds of needing to remove any difficulty instead of confronting it, the use of the term, "expediency" and the Whip together, make it clear to me that whatever answer is produced will give such power to the Minister. I am not impugning the character of this Minister nor am I saying he would be likely to give in to these venal party impulses. I have always found him to be a decent man. Anyone who is on the side of Laois must have a good heart. However, I do not like this in legislation at all and I want to register a protest against this kind of clause. I will be voting against it.
It is amazing how two people read the same words and take a different meaning from them. I read that part of the Bill as being a provision for providing that if any difficulty arises in a Bill, that the Minister will be able to correct it and bring into law what is actually in the Bill, not to bring anything new into law, but only what is provided for under the provisions we are discussing. Does the Senator not wish the Minister to be able to implement the Bill if an unintended consequence may arise? In my view, section 3 is very good, for the simple reason that we always complain about documents being laid in the Oireachtas Library without Members seeing sight or light of them. This section provides that a draft of the regulations shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and shall be passed by each House. That is a good provision. I do not understand what Senator Norris is talking about.
I am sorry to hear it.
I fully understand Senator David Norris's position on the wording of this section. It has been a relatively standard provision in this type of legislation for almost 100 years. It is designed as a very seldom-used provision to provide a mechanism for dealing with any unforeseen difficulty that might arise in the short term with the implementation of this type of administrative legislation. The Local Government Reform Bill will give effect to a number of structures, functions and new means of governance. It involves significant amendments of the existing local government code. Much of the change goes back to 1898. In order to ensure that there is no unintended consequence, this is the type of mechanism we use. The use of this provision is subject to a number of restrictions. As Senator David Norris pointed out, it requires the positive resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas - a worthwhile provision; it is time-bound at three years; the making of regulations under this provision would be subject to the most rigorous supervision by the Attorney General. It is a triple-lock against any Minister who might try to engage in some nefarious practice in the future. I am satisfied that the provision is necessary to deal with unintended consequences that may arise in the implementation of the legislation but it does not change the spirit of the legislation. It is merely to implement what is intended in the legislation. It is in line with practice elsewhere and is limited in its scope to avoid any unintended use. For that reason I cannot accept the amendment.
I thank the Minister for his almost plausible explanation. He says this has been standard practice and that some form of this section has been in legislation for about 100 years. However, that is the exact reverse of the argument he made yesterday in this House when he said that this was not 1874 but rather 2014 and we have to cope with 2014. If we even provoked the Minister into taking back to his colleagues the fact that at the very least the language of this section should be looked at and words like, "expediency", removed, then that might be fair enough.
Senator Cáit Keane had a difficulty with understanding where I was coming from and she read the section very differently. That is completely legitimate and she made some good points. However, the Senator will remember on so many occasions we have had regulations passed by this House without debate. This worries me. Could a provision be included to say that regulations should be debated by the House? I accept the Minister's bona fides, but I do not like the idea of expediency, nor do I like the idea of removing difficulties. I want to confront difficulties. I would like the term, "expediency" to be removed. The ordinary citizens complain that politicians do what is most expedient for themselves.
The House, not the Minister, decides what it will debate. The Minister has indicated he might be of some help to the Senator.
I thank the Minister.
I am prepared to look at the wording, in particular, the use of the word, "expediency", on Report Stage.
I am grateful to the Minister. I may concoct an amendment for Report Stage.
I very much welcome the Minister's agreeable and flexible attitude to this.
Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 have been ruled out of order.
I oppose this section. I tabled a number of amendments which were ruled out of order, but I want to speak to the section. It concerns the amalgamation of the local authorities in Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford. I see all these issues as an issue of balance. I hope the Minister agrees that strong views were expressed on both sides of the argument regarding the pros and cons of amalgamation and the mergers of local authorities. While there are undoubtedly advantages and positives in mergers and amalgamations, there are also fears, risks and challenges which those local authorities will face. People must make up their own minds and I know there are different opinions in Waterford. I cannot speak to the same extent for Limerick and Tipperary, but the Minister will know there were very strong opinions expressed by some in Waterford, even within local government, that the merger of the two local authorities would not be good in the long term for the county and city, particularly the city. I took a decision that I was against the merger but only on balance because I share some of the concerns. I see some of the positives. While I will make the arguments against it, I assume the Minister will press ahead with his plans. When he does, we need to ensure the merged authority works in the best interests of the people of Waterford city and county, which is what we will all do.
There is no doubt that what we are seeing are wholesale cuts to layers of local government in respect of abolishing town councils and merging some authorities. Waterford city, as the Minister knows, is the country's oldest city. It is 1,100 years old next year. It is an historic city and it is only right and proper that a city of its size would have its own local authority and autonomy. We are not going to see Galway, Cork or Dublin lose their city councils and their autonomy. If we look at what has happened with job creation across the State and in the regions over the past five years in particular, we see there is a concentration of jobs in the larger urban centres of Cork, Dublin and Galway. We have not seen that in the regions. I can give the Minister the figures in terms of the IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland breakdown. The region I share with the Minister - the south east - has the highest level of unemployment in the country and is well above the national average of 14%. There is a very real concern that not having autonomy and the ability to expand, grow and develop with its own structures and autonomy distinct from the county could hamper economic development in the future.
The Minister spoke about shared services. The logic behind his argument is that the mergers and amalgamation will save money. He talks a lot about the savings that can be made, but the reality is that some of those savings could have been made through greater collaboration between the two local authorities without having to merge them in the first place. That would make sense to me. I see the sense in people who live in Passage East, Cheekpoint or Dunmore paying their motor tax or bills in the city rather than having to go to Dungarvan in County Waterford. Some of that makes sense but it could have been done through shared services.
The Bill provides for the holding of a plebiscite in Dublin on the issue of a directly elected mayor, yet the Minister is, in essence, going to disband two local authorities and force them to amalgamate without asking for the consent of the people who live in those areas. I think this was a wrong move on his part. It is a mistake to change fundamentally the structures of local government in a city as historic and large as Waterford without asking the people for their consent. That is why I tabled an amendment in this regard.
The Minister might also give me his view on the expansion of Waterford city. If the city is to expand, it needs to expand northwards and we have the issue of the boundary extension of Waterford city into parts of south Kilkenny, which would be beneficial to all the people who live in that part of Waterford and Kilkenny. I know that might be a hot political issue, but if the Minister is genuinely interested in the development of the south east, he must agree that Waterford city needs to be the economic driver. It needs to be the hub, capital, key economic driver, engine and heart of the region. For that to happen, it needs to have its own autonomy and to be able to expand naturally outwards without restrictions relating to boundaries and local government. That is why I agree with Fine Gael and Labour's position before they entered Government when they supported the extension of the boundary into parts of south Kilkenny and looking at shared services between the local authorities as a better fix than forcing the amalgamation of the local authorities.
I want to come back to the issue of costs. I am sticking to Waterford. The Minister makes many positive arguments relating to the merger of the local authorities, which I accept. I have said it is an issue of balance but one of the core arguments the Minister makes concerns costs. He outlines the savings, but he does not give us the corresponding figures for how much it will cost to amalgamate the local authorities. Despite requests for those costs from many people in Waterford, we have not been given the figures. Like many other things this Minister is doing in respect of water services, he is asking us to take a leap of faith without giving us the real information.
I have made my point on the amalgamation. I believe it should be a matter for the people who should have had their say. If the people of Waterford city and county believe merging the two local authorities is a good thing, and we had the arguments for and against, that is the way we should have proceeded. If the Minister proceeds with the amalgamations, we all must work as best we can to ensure we do the very best for Waterford city and county and get the development we need. I hope the Minister will accept that what has happened economically in the south east and in Waterford presents problems and challenges. We have a big problem with unemployment, which is 20% in Waterford city. Those challenges must be met. Whatever our views on the amalgamation, local government structures must be fit for purpose to meet the challenge facing the people living in those areas. I hope the Minister will take on board the comments I have made in a constructive way and see them as constructive. I look forward to his response.
I support what has been said by Senator David Cullinane. Looking at the shape of the local government system subsequent to this Bill, we will have regional city centres in many of the other regions, for example, Cork, Galway and Dublin. All economic indicators show the south east lagging behind the other regions. Unemployment is consistently high across the region. There is a need for greater attention from State agencies, particularly IDA Ireland which has neglected the south east, in particular some of its counties, including my own. We have had only a small number of visits from overseas companies in recent years - no more than one per year over the past four or five years. In some years, we have had none. In respect of the removal of Waterford as an administrative centre in its own right, it is the largest city in the region and, as such, could be a focal point which would benefit the region economically and from a developmental point of view.
I do not understand the reason for absorbing it into a county structure, no more than I can understand why Kilkenny would be absorbed. We will deal with this when we comes the dissolution of town councils. Will the Minister give the rationale for this? I see it as being fundamentally disadvantageous to the region. There are often tends to be rivalry between various towns and counties in the region. The administrative elected body of the capital of the region, namely Waterford City Council, has traditions and heritage, is involved in development, and promotes itself and in doing so indirectly promotes the region. If we do not have regional focus and Waterford City Council is removed there will be a loss in the area.
Even though the amendments have been ruled out of order I wonder whether the Minister would be minded to re-examine this matter and include it. There may well be a similar argument for Limerick but I am not sure. I do not have a major difficulty with North Riding and South Riding in Tipperary being amalgamated as it may make a certain amount of sense. The idea behind having a plebiscite in the areas to make the decision is something I will discuss with regard to town councils. This is a good principle and was enshrined in local government in the 2001 Act, if I remember correctly. The councils themselves can initiate a referendum where the people wish to make a particular decision on an issue of importance to them.
I certainly support the sentiments expressed and genuinely feel the Bill is going in the wrong direction in this regard. Some Senators have spoken about areas losing seats. Wexford has gained 13 extra local authority seats. It is not something for which anybody on any of the councils on which I served in Wexford would wish. Every time a review of local government took place during the 25 years I was a member of the council it made a unanimous submission stating that membership of the council should not increased. This was because there is an appropriate size of membership which facilitates constructive interaction, debate and decision making. Once it goes beyond a certain number it becomes a talking forum rather than a focused decision-making body which holds the administration to account. This is a concern not only of mine but of many people who have taken an interest in local government.
I was mayor of Waterford city in 1995 and 1996 and when I hear it spoken about, I certainly must speak about it also. Waterford city is the hub and gateway city in the south-east and drives the region. I agree that for this role to be fulfilled greater support for the region is necessary from the Government, particularly with regard to job creation. The region and city have been hit more than most. In saying this, I must also point out that since the Government came to office 3,000 extra people have been employed in the south-east, which is something that should not be forgotten. I am the first to stand up and shout, and will continue to do so, that Waterford city and the region should get its fair share of job creation and employment.
I want assurance from the Minister - which I have received previously, but I would like to have it said in the House - with regard to the mayoralty of Waterford city. I want assurance from the Minister that the mayor will retain all the historic offices and ceremonial duties which have been held for 1,100 years. In 2014 Waterford city will celebrate its 1,100th anniversary. It is the oldest city in the country. I certainly would not support anything, irrespective of what party it came from, if I felt it was not of benefit to the city and was detrimental to the growth of the city. Naturally we would all like to see everything stay as it is, but things move on. Given the increased population in the metropolitan district of more than 65,000, I see the amalgamation as being of benefit to Waterford city and county. It will give us a greater critical mass to put in place the structures necessary for any gateway city to operate.
I compliment the Minister on financing a number of projects through local government in Waterford in recent months. We had been waiting ten or 15 years for a new fire station and it is now under construction. When the old fire station is knocked down we will have an extension of six new courtrooms in the courthouse, also funded by the Government. I understand that tomorrow more significant funding will be announced with regard to housing. The Minister is certainly playing his part in the region and I can testify to this.
The big driving factor for the region, which all bodies and counties in the region realise will be highly significant and will help the region, is the university. Its development is in the programme for Government and Carlow and Waterford Institutes of Technology will be amalgamated to obtain university status. When this happens - it is not a question of if but when, and I hope it will be sooner rather than later - it will drive Waterford city and county and help us develop the new local authority structure to be put in place. It will unite the city and county.
Many would like to see the city council remain because of the ceremonial duties in particular, but I will wait for the Minister's response on this issue. I support the amalgamation process on the basis that it will be good for Waterford City Council and the inhabitants because of the critical mass which will be created in the metropolitan district and the energy which I am sure will flow as a result.
I thank the Senators for their contributions. I understand this is a very important issue for the structures of local government, but there is no such thing as business as usual for Waterford city. The economic situation in Waterford city has not been good for some time, particularly in the centre of the city. Waterford County Council developed commercial facilities close to the boundary of Waterford city which, unfortunately from a planning point of view, were allowed. Many of the businesses in the centre of Waterford city went into decline. This is the type of irresponsible planning which has happened in Waterford and which was replicated in several other places. The rows at local level about boundary extensions pale into insignificance when one sees what neighbouring authorities in the same county have done to each other.
I am surprised that Senator David Cullinane is concerned about reducing the number of local authorities when his own party in Northern Ireland has proposed a reduction from 28 councils to seven. He is not consistent with his party's policy of local government reform in Northern Ireland, but that is not unusual.
Significant savings of €6 million will accrue from the merger of Waterford city and county. These will be used for essential services, including implementing the people's business. There will be a one-off establishment cost for any merger. The same position will apply in Limerick. These figures have been verified, not by me, but by Grant Thornton, a reputable accountancy firm in this city that, before the decisions were made, we asked to determine what the financial benefits for the city and county of Waterford would be.
Senator David Cullinane has to raise the hare about county boundaries and Ferrybank, but he can see that I am not neglecting Ferrybank. I opened and provided the necessary finance for the library facility, which the Senator never sought. I do not believe that anyone else sought it either, but we provided an essential service for the people of south Kilkenny in Ferrybank. Senator Walsh must put up with the fact that most of his businesses are in the jurisdiction of the planning authority of Kilkenny County Council rather than New Ross, but it is a thriving business because it is in the area with the lowest commercial rates in the country. He would not move out of Kilkenny unless it was of significant advantage to his business, even though he loves New Ross.
This is the way business is. People are not sentimental about where they go in business. They go somewhere because of the bottom line. Businesses must survive. I am sure that Senator Diarmuid Wilson would agree as regards Clones and the far side of the Border. Indeed, Border areas are the best examples. We must view structures differently in the 21st century, but I am a county colours person.
The Minister can say that again.
I wish the Senator was as well. I believe in co-ordination. The co-operation between Waterford and Kilkenny has not been the best over the years. I remember a city manager, Mr. Doody, during whose time we had excellent co-operation. I was a member of Kilkenny County Council and regularly attended meetings between Waterford City Council and Kilkenny County Council. It is a pity that this co-operation lapsed over differences of opinion on various matters, but we have co-operated a great deal in terms of infrastructural development. For example, the major wastewater facilities for Waterford are based in Kilkenny. Waterford Port, where Senator Maurice Cummins used to work, is a major area of employment opportunity and a state-of-the-art facility that is now beginning to develop with Glanbia and SmartPly, expansions and further opportunities on the way. There is scope for co-operation. The previous Government classified Waterford as a gateway, but then forgot about it.
I do not think so.
The results speak for themselves. The Senator mentioned the high level of unemployment. I compliment the former Minister, Mr. Martin Cullen, on ensuring that we had a motorway between Dublin and Waterford. Were it not for his presence as the Minister for Transport, that would not have happened. The money would probably have been diverted to the Dublin-Sligo route by other Cabinet members. He played a major role in the facility, which has opened up opportunities in the south east that would not have existed otherwise.
Senator Maurice Cummins is right, in that Waterford city has seen significant levels of investment in recent weeks, for example, €6.5 million for upgrading water services, a further €12.5 million to be announced tomorrow for housing and a €5 million surplus that I have guaranteed to Waterford city councillors as regards rates. Come the city's budget time, I look forward to Senator David Cullinane and his party supporting Fine Gael's councillors in passing estimates that reduce commercial rates for small businesses, towards which his party seems to have adopted a new attitude, and give them a chance to survive and prosper in this difficult climate, taking on more employees in the process.
I assure Senator Maurice Cummins that the history of and traditions associated with the 1,100 years of the mayoralty of Waterford will continue under this legislation. The metropolitan district will have a mayor of Waterford who will be empowered with the same level of history, cultures, traditions, civic responsibilities and duties. I also assure him that the technological university of the south east project is making progress. Legislation will be published in 2014 to allow for the merger of entities like Waterford Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology, Carlow. That merged entity could then apply for university status as a technological university for the south east. This is important for the future development of the south east, which is the only region without a university. I am delighted to be a part of a Government that included this matter in a programme for Government for the first time ever. This will provide equality of opportunity and access to families and individuals in the south east, in that a technological education at university level will be supplied as close as possible to where they reside.
My comments were constructive. It is unfortunate that the Minister has strayed somewhat, but I will keep my comments in line with a constructive debate.
I agree with everything that Senator Maurice Cummins stated, including his comments on the recent announcements of investments for Waterford, which are to be welcomed. No one would accuse him or anyone from his party of not doing the right thing by Waterford as they see it. That is not the charge that I have made. People make up their own minds about what they believe is best for the cities and counties they represent.
There are issues of balance. I have made up my mind on the basis of my genuine concerns, which are shared by Fianna Fáil Members and people who live in the city and county. We will just have to wait and see how they play out. If the merger proceeds, I will be constructive and work with the new local authority to the best of my ability. Of that, the Minister can have no doubt.
No one is arguing for the status quo. We need to change. If we are to be honest, the spatial strategy did not work for the south east because Waterford city did not perform as a gateway city to the extent that it should have. I am sure the Minister will agree that, if the south east is to grow, develop and improve economically, it must have a capital, a hub, an engine. That is Waterford city. As Senator Maurice Cummins stated, we need more investment and, critically, jobs. It is in the latter respect that the enterprise agencies will play a large role. There are some positive aspects to local government taking on more responsibility for economic development. There is something good in what the Minister is doing.
The Minister referred to irresponsible planning in Waterford. I do not accept that was the case in Waterford city. In fact, it was criticised for holding the line throughout the madness of the Celtic tiger years, while other local authorities did not. As the Minister knows, we encountered difficulties with the neighbouring authorities. This issue could and should have been addressed through regional development, which I accept the Minister stated. The regional development process could have had more responsibility for integrated regional spatial strategies, retail strategies, etc.
This is not a question of sentimentality about boundaries or the expansion of Waterford city. I would not support anything based on sentiment. It must be what is best for the people living in an area. Waterford city is the economic engine. A city needs to expand naturally, but it is being prevented from doing so, in that it will not be able to manage some of the services in a number of areas in south Kilkenny.
I know it is difficult for the Minister to accept this given that, as he said, he represents Kilkenny and is a county colours man. I proudly wear the Waterford jersey and the Minister proudly wears the Kilkenny jersey, but I also think regionally. It is important for us to think regionally. I agree with the Minister that there has not been the level of co-operation in the south east that there should have been. The Minister might be aware that when I took up my position as a member of the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation I drafted a report on economic development for the south east.
We are not discussing that report today.
I know that and I do not intend to discuss it. I am speaking about the amalgamation of the local authorities, economic development and responding to a charge made by the Minister. When drawing up my report, I consulted stakeholders in every county in the south east, including Kilkenny. I not only think locally, I also think regionally. That is what all of us across the Houses should be doing. Key to whether this proposal will be good or bad for the region will be if it allows Waterford city to grow and develop.
The Minister glossed over the core argument made by Senator Jim Walsh and me in relation to allowing the people to decide this matter. We all have different views on this. I am not in any way calling into question the integrity of the views of Senator Maurice Cummins or anybody else who defends the amalgamation. They are perfectly entitled to do so and there are valid arguments in favour of it, but we should have had the debate on amalgamation of the local authorities and let the people decide if it was the right thing to do. Why was this not considered in the context of the decision to hold a plebiscite on the issue of a directly elected mayor? The Minister also did not address the issue of the cost of the amalgamation. Perhaps he will clarify the issues I have raised.
While the Minister has given a general overview of the reason the proposal is a good one, he did not address the core issues I put to him, namely, the holding of a plebiscite on this issue and the cost of the amalgamation. The Minister spoke of the savings that can be achieved in this regard but the city manager in Waterford has stated he does not believe those savings can be achieved. I would welcome if the Minister could set out the figures in respect of the expected savings.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said. I agree with him that this is an important Bill. However, the changes being made in this Bill are not reform but a dismantling of local government. While some people believe it will have a positive impact on local government, I believe that impact will be negative, particularly in my region in that it will no longer have a focal point. I agree with Senator David Cullinane that every region, in terms of economic, cultural and administrative progress, needs a capital and a focal point. As I said yesterday, Waterford is a prime example of a council that takes pride and a genuine interest in its city. I have met people prior to their going abroad to promote the interests of Waterford city, which was indirectly of assistance to the region. This focus will now be part of a wider agenda for the county as a whole. The alignment of the interests of the city and county do not always coincide. We are losing something, therefore, in terms of what is being done.
The Minister was generous to point out the progress made by the former Minister, Martin Cullen, with support from the then Government and in respect of which there was a great deal of lobbying by Kilkenny County Council in ensuring construction of the motorway went ahead. It not only benefits Waterford but Kilkenny and Carlow. It undoubtedly was the foundation stone upon which economic growth in the region began. Five years into this recession, approximately €50 billion has been allocated in next year's budget for current expenditure. Nothing has really changed since the current crisis began. In the past, the allocation for current expenditure was somewhere between €50 billion and €60 billion. It has been clipped a little since while capital expenditure has been cut by €3.3 billion, which is significantly more than half in the same period. I have made this criticism previously. The Minister's comment in regard to the former Minister, Martin Cullen, raises the question of what the Ministers, Deputies Phil Hogan and Brendan Howlin, will have to show for their tenure in government with regard to the south east. What achievements can we point to?
What about the university?
The university has been on the agenda for a long time.
Nobody has ever done anything about it.
I would welcome it. I campaigned with others from the region for the designation of Waterford Institute of Technology as a university. I believe that will be pivotal to the region. I am mindful that our third level education system has been deprived of the necessary resources to ensure its educational structures produce graduates that will be of a quality on which we can build our future economic growth. Since this Government took office, there has been a decline in the ranking of our universities in the international league tables. This has to be of concern to us all. My recollection is that the only university in the top 100 is Trinity College Dublin and it, too, has slipped down the ranks during the past seven years. There is no point in having a university in Waterford unless it is not properly resourced. The Minister referred to the library in Ferrybank for the people of south Kilkenny. While developments such as this are necessary, particularly in a county where unemployment is high, we need to offer people more than library books. We need to provide them with jobs. That is where I would like to see the emphasis.
I know from my own county that the local government system has been pivotal in ensuring the interests of counties, towns and cities have been highlighted internationally. This has been done by way of trade, commercial and other promotions of areas, particularly in the Waterford region because of the failure of IDA Ireland to provide any support to the region. Senator Maurice Cummins referred to the 3,000 new jobs in Waterford, which are to be welcomed. Anybody would welcome them. What the Senator failed to mention was that the number of job losses in the area equate to the number of jobs created.
They are net jobs in the region.
Senator Jim Walsh is straying from the section.
I am not. The section deals with the removal of the administrative centre of Waterford city, which is the capital of the region. That, to me, is a downgrading of the region.
The Senator is talking nonsense.
This means city councils will be working directly on behalf of the cities. If there is growth in Dublin, the whole hinterland of Dublin benefits. Likewise, Cork and Galway. The south east is being deprived of a centre, which causes me concern. I believe the scope within the local government system to attract major industries into particular towns and cities is being removed by this Bill. This is not a move in the right direction.
The Minister referred earlier to his being a county man. He is a great man.
The Senator should elaborate.
Waterford is well represented here by Senator Maurice Cummins and others. As far as the county mayor is concerned, Waterford and Kilkenny are being well looked after. I would like to speak on behalf of all the other counties not mentioned thus far. The 2001 Act provided for directly elected mayors.
We could end up with a case where a district in a county with 20,000 people would have a mayor but the county, with a larger population, would not. They could be ruled by two different people in opposition etc. I am a great county woman and every county would hold its pride. Many counties do not want to use the term "mayor" and prefer the term "cathaoirleach". The Minister might reconsider the issue.
We are speaking about the south east and it is my duty to represent Tipperary. I concur completely with the Minister about Waterford city. I know it very well as I worked in the city for 13 years from 1987 to 2000; that was on Broad Street in the middle of the city, which was the hub at the time. It saddens me to see the centre of the city run down in the way that it has been. Major outlets moved out for business reasons, as the Minister correctly said. That was facilitated by politicians who decided to rezone lands on the fringes of the city, causing the demise of the centre. I probably go to Waterford city more than any other town because I have many links there and I know it is fighting back. For the Christmas period there is Winterval, a fantastic event that goes on right over the Christmas period.
I do not accept the Government is not doing anything for the south east. Much infrastructure has been put in the south east and in my town, for the first time since 1977, a new educational facility in the form of a school is being provided. There is also a new primary health care centre, and that is the first time anything has been done for 30 years with regard to health care. To say the south east is not getting infrastructure is incorrect. I commend the Minister and his ministerial colleagues for the effort they are making for the south east. It is an uphill struggle, but we started from a very low base, and the damage to the south east was done during previous Administrations.
I commend a former Minister and Deputy, Mr. Martin Cullen, who was mentioned, for his work in providing a motorway in the area. When I leave my house to come to Dublin, I am on the motorway in 15 minutes and it goes straight to Dublin.
We say a prayer for Martin every day.
He never got such compliments when he was in government.
That piece of infrastructure is critical, as is the bridge that was built to take the pressure from Waterford city and make it more attractive as a retail centre. I would not like the claim to go unchallenged that the south east is not fighting back, because it is. It is an uphill battle because we started from a very low base that was left by the previous Administration.
Is section 8 agreed to?
A serious question was put to the Minister as to why he did not consider undertaking a plebiscite. It would be interesting for him to put a reply to that question on the record. That would seem to be a sensible approach, given that his disposition was to demolish all town councils, and he might have given consideration to the people being given the decision rather than the Minister.
I considered everything and anything with regard to local government reform and decided not to have a plebiscite.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Brennan, Terry.
- Burke, Colm.
- Clune, Deirdre.
- Coghlan, Eamonn.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Comiskey, Michael.
- Conway, Martin.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- D'Arcy, Jim.
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Gilroy, John.
- Hayden, Aideen.
- Henry, Imelda.
- Higgins, Lorraine.
- Keane, Cáit.
- Kelly, John.
- Landy, Denis.
- Moloney, Marie.
- Moran, Mary.
- Mullins, Michael.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Neill, Pat.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- van Turnhout, Jillian.
- Whelan, John.
- Barrett, Sean D.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Cullinane, David.
- Daly, Mark.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O'Sullivan, Ned.
- Power, Averil.
- Walsh, Jim.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
We discussed this section with the last one, but Senators Diarmuid Wilson and David Cullinane have indicated that they oppose it.
You are right, a Chathaoirligh. In fact, I thought we were debating section 9 rather than section 8, such was the variety of the contributions. I am interested in the practicalities of the city and counties operating in Limerick and Waterford. That they are losing out in a sense has been very well aired. Galway will retain its council status, while Limerick and Waterford do not due to the amalgamation. In practical terms, I am somewhat concerned about the references to city and county in the legislation.
I do not have any experience of a borough or town council because County Leitrim never had the population to generate one, but there was always a tension between the rural and the urban. There was always a certain tension between Carrick-on-Shannon, as the county town, and the rest of the county when it came to council initiatives. How does the Minister envisage this working in practice? Will there be an equality or parity of esteem between the city and the county? Legislatively, they are referred to as city and county. Presumably, the councillors who will form the bulk of the municipal area will elect a mayor, although perhaps the Minister will clarify this.
I presume that those who represent the city borough or electoral area will elect a mayor. What relationship will the mayor have with the county mayor or cathaoirleach? What relationship does the Minister see developing between the councillors who, I think, mentally will continue to operate as city councillors rather than county councillors? How does he see that relationship work? Does he think it will be an advantage? I am somewhat reluctant to enthusiastically embrace getting rid of the county or city councils and amalgamating them because, in practical terms, an enlarged council will lead to continued tensions between the urban and rural areas. I also suggest that it will be detrimental to the cities of Limerick and Waterford but not for Galway and the major centres in the country. The proposal will have a negative impact rather than a positive one.
I do not want to rehearse the arguments.
It is allowable in this case.
We had a good discussion on section 8 which dealt with the amalgamation of Waterford City and County Councils. I thank Senators Maurice Cummins and Denis Landy for their positive contributions on Waterford city.
I wish to comment on the Minister's one-line response to the question on the core issue of whether a plebiscite was considered. He said that all things had been considered but I am being constructive when I say we deserve more of an answer. He must accept that there are some concerns. It would have been wiser to let the people decide. I ask him to explain why a decision was taken to amalgamate some cities and counties but not others. Let me take Galway and Waterford as an example. Why was Waterford not considered for amalgamation? Why was Galway considered for amalgamation? What criteria was used to judge whether an amalgamation was in the best interest of the people of Waterford city and county but not in the best interest of the people of Galway city and county? What principle, logic and criteria were applied? I would like to hear his views on the matter because it might explain his decision to amalgamate some local authorities and not others.
Senator Paschal Mooney was worried about the tensions between rural and urban councils. There are no town councils in County Limerick. There was Limerick City County and Limerick County Council and we did not have a tradition of tension between urban and rural in that sense. That did not stop Limerick County Council from approaching the boundaries of Limerick City Council to zone lands and, like Waterford, sucked the economic centre out of Limerick city. The bad practice and planning had a detrimental effect on the town and city centres of Limerick and Waterford. The State should not have provided infrastructural investment, but it did and we now see the difficulties that the Government must reverse in the future in order to strengthen the city centres in both Limerick and Waterford.
The municipal district councillors are elected for their municipal district area but they are the same councillors who go to the plenary session of Leitrim County Council. They can argue their point in both places. They can seek resources to take care of needs and priorities for their area at municipal district level and then they can argue their point with the other 18 councillors in County Leitrim. As Senator Paschal Mooney will know, I made an exception for the counties of Longford, Leitrim and Roscommon which have a low population in order to ensure they had a critical mass of 18 councillors. They can co-operate together in order to ensure they have the necessary needs and that is based on the fact that they will now have more discretion at local level to raise and spend their moneys at local level.
With regard to Waterford, I am surprised that Senator David Cullinane tabled an amendment seeking 18 councillors to be in the city and county of Waterford, rather than 32.
No, the Minister has not read my amendment correctly.
I have read the Schedule.
No, the Minister did not.
The Senator said Waterford.
No, there are two amendments.
No, there is not.
The Minister did not read the second amendment.
No, I read it.
I have read it very carefully.
No, the Ministger did not.
Obviously it was a mindset that the Senator had which is similar to what is happening in Northern Ireland, that is, reducing the number of councils from 28 down to seven.
We will deal with the amendments when we reach them.
The people of Coleraine or Maghera did not have an opportunity to avail of a plebiscite to make a decision but the Senator's party made the decision. I have looked at every situation in terms of a plebiscite for various areas. I thought that the most appropriate place, where there was a strong case for a directly elected mayor originally, was the Dublin region. We looked at the four local authorities.
Like Dev, the Minister looked into his heart.
The Minister has spoken for the people.
I did. The Senator is very glad that we did in Kilkenny because he makes a living in the city.
Population and geographical factors were taken into account and Waterford city and county will now have a population of 115,000; Limerick city and county has a population of 184,000; and Galway city and county has a population of 250,000. Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh will know about Galway city and geographical distances between it and other locations. For example, from Clifden to Portumna, they are greatly different and at variance in population and geographical terms than Limerick and Waterford.
I do not accept that statement from the Minister. As somebody who has driven from Youghal bridge to Passage East in Waterford on many occasions, I know that the journey is a fair distance. I do not think that he can-----
What is the mileage?
I do not know. I shall look it up on the AA route planner and get back to him with the information in a few minutes.
Then the Senator can confer with his colleagues.
For example, Tallow town in County Waterford is a fair distance away from Passage East.
It is 50 miles from Clifden to Galway.
The distance is greater from Youghal bridge to Passage East in Waterford.
It is only over the road.
That is not a good enough reason to say that it is healthy, good and positive to amalgamate Waterford city and county councils and base it on population figures and distances between one part of the county and another.
The 18 councillors would have a long way to travel to meet their people.
Senator David Cullinane to continue, please, without interruption.
The Minister wants to discuss amendments that we have not yet reached. There are two amendments, one for Waterford city and one for Waterford county.
It may be difficult for him to read Bills and amendments.
I read them all.
I ask the Senator to debate the section.
I am more than happy to help the Minister understand the amendments and that is why we are here. I do not accept his logic.
Will Sinn Féin have a plebiscite in Coleraine?
He would know a lot about Coleraine and that is all that I can say.
The Senator would be surprised.
I do not accept his logic that amalgamation is good for Waterford but not for Galway and it does not make sense to base his decision on population figures.
I raised the issue of tension between urban and rural, regarding Limerick and Waterford, because both of the cities have councils that focus on their respective cities and on all aspects of city life. They will now form a larger block that will be a county council in order that when decisions are taken it can be outvoted. I means that the city councillors who want something that is in the interest of the city will be outvoted.
That is democracy.
I know that it is democracy.
It seems like he has used a hammer to crack a nut here. He gave the impression that the move was positive but the jury is out on whether that is the case.
With regard to the question of retention, the Minister used a variety of adjectives to define the mayoralty of Waterford when we discussed the matter. Liverpool has a mayor and chief executive officer. I remember talking to its CEO during a visit to the city. I learned that the mayoral role is largely ceremonial and that he or she has no other function whatsoever. I suggest, in the case of Waterford and Limerick, that even though municipal councillors can nominate and elect a mayor, the position will gradually lose its profile and be less effective simply due to being part of a larger voting block that represents the entire county of Limerick and the entire county of Waterford. That is the only reason I raised the question of tension between the two regions.
I know that the Minister is not going to change his mind on the matter. The jury is out on whether the development is positive and it may be detrimental in the long term to the interests of both of the cities of Limerick and Waterford.
The Minister has raised an issue that I wished to raise, namely, how he chose the different local authorities.
It has been argued in Connemara for a long time that Connemara should have its own county council because of its size and geographical area. The local members of Galway County Council would argue that because there are seven councillors from Connemara and 23 councillors from east of the-----
I am surprised that Sinn Féin is bringing up that issue.
I am just looking at how the Minister came to make his decisions and asking whether this issue was taken on board during that process. The area involved is huge. It has often been said that Connemara is larger than counties such as Leitrim, Roscommon and Louth in terms of population or geographical area. Was that taken into consideration? As the Minister said, the distance from Clifden to Portumna is absolutely massive. It is very hard for the members of Galway County Council to cover such a distance. The city councillors have the advantage of having their remit confined to the area within the environs of the city. It is a genuine issue. We feel that the way Galway County Council is structured means there is a bias towards the east of the county. There is a bias in favour of east Galway when decisions are being made because most of the councillors - 23 of them at present - come from east Galway. The best example I can give in that regard relates to the fire brigade service, which is the subject of much debate at present. As the Minister will be aware, there are seven or eight fire stations in the east of the county, but the station in Clifden is the only one in the west of the county. A strong case has been made to the effect that the traditional structure of the county council is part of the reason for it. There has tended to be a bias towards the east side of the county in the allocation of resources. I know the Minister has looked at all of the options. During his deliberations, did he consider the establishment of a separate county council for Connemara?
I considered the establishment of a single local authority for the county and city of Galway. I decided to retain the city and county councils on the basis of the reasons outlined by the Senator.
Section 10 deals with the boundaries of the new local government areas of Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford. I would like to revisit our earlier discussion on the natural expansion of Waterford city. Does the Minister agree with the strong case that has been made consistently by Waterford City Council for the natural extension of Waterford city into parts of the south Kilkenny area? Why was that not considered as part of the new boundary changes? Would it not be in the best interests of the people who live in some of those areas if they were to come under the new metropolitan district of Waterford? Notwithstanding one's allegiance to one's county colours, I think it would have been a positive move and an act of good faith on the part of the Minister in relation to Waterford city. I wonder why that was not considered in the context of the fundamental reforms we are seeing, such as the establishment of the new metropolitan district, the implementation of boundary changes and the amalgamation of the councils. Why was this issue not addressed? Waterford City Council made an application for a boundary change a number of years ago.
It was turned down.
Yes. Did the Minister consider the matter? Did he study the report? Did he not agree with some of the recommendations in the report? Can he not see the sense and the logic underpinning these recommendations? Does he agree that these changes would be positive and good for the development of Waterford city?
I did not look at that issue. I think everybody knows perfectly well my views on the boundaries in south Kilkenny, or indeed in Rosbercon or anywhere else. I did not have to look at it because I have a very fixed view on the matter. The people of Ferrybank and south Kilkenny are well served by Kilkenny County Council in the same way as I am sure the people of Waterford city are well served by Waterford City Council.
Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 have been ruled out of order.
I want to speak on this section for clarification purposes because our amendments were ruled out of order. I would like to be helpful to the Minister because he raised an issue about these amendments. Amendment No. 11 proposed that the Waterford county area should have 18 councillors. Amendment No. 12 separately proposed that the Waterford city area should also have 18 councillors. Therefore, we were proposing that County Waterford as a whole should have 36 councillors, as opposed to the 32 councillors currently provided for. I would like to make a point about the number of councillors in response to what the Minister said about the position in the North in this regard. He often speaks about the North when he comes into this House. We were proposing that this State should have a minimum of 1,165 councillors. That would bring us into line with the number of councillors in the North. The Minister's approach takes us-----
How many councillors was Sinn Féin proposing to have in the Republic?
The figure in our proposal is 1,165, whereas the figure in the Bill is 949. To be helpful and constructive, we suggested a more appropriate figure in the case of each of the cities and counties. We are not criticising and opposing the Minister for the sake of it. We are trying to ensure there is adequate elected representation across the board. We want to make sure the issue of subsidiarity is taken on board. I am sure the Minister will agree that it is difficult to put one's name forward on a ballot paper seeking to be elected to represent one's city or county on a local authority. It is a demanding job. More demands than ever are now being made of local authority members. It is important that we have a sufficient number of local authority members across the State. If one examines any of the reports that compare the local government figures in this State to the equivalent figures in other states, including the OECD reports, one will find that we have the lowest number of councillors of any of the European countries. That problem will be exacerbated by the passing of this section of the Bill, which will see a significant reduction in the number of councillors.
That is one of the fundamental reasons I oppose the Minister's entire approach. He is reducing the number of councillors, but he is not giving local authorities any power of substance. He is tinkering at the edges. He is making some minor changes here and there. He is providing for no new fundamental powers. This Bill does not devolve power from any Department to local government. It is not in the Bill because the Minister is not interested in it. He is interested in introducing minimalist piecemeal reform, saving money and reducing the number of councils and councillors. It is all about reducing numbers. It is not about reform at all. A big opportunity is being missed. The Minister had a big opportunity to reform local government properly, but he has not done so. I will oppose this section on the basis that I do not accept the figures proposed by the Minister as he tries to reduce the number of councillors. It is important that we take an all-island approach. We should be consistent across the island. We should have a sufficient number of elected representatives in this State and-----
The Senator has a brass neck.
-----it should correspond with the number of councillors we have in the North also. It is important that we have a consistent all-island approach on these issues.
This section sets out how many members each municipal council will have. Having gone through the Bill, the only changes I see are name changes. This is a superficial approach to improving local government. As I mentioned, the number of county councillors in my own area will increase from 21 to 34. I suggest there is an optimum number of councillors that makes a council effective. For that reason, the numbers set out in this Bill for the vast majority of councils are probably too large. As a consequence, the effectiveness of local government will be nullified. There are other reasons for this. The approach we are taking is disparate and centralised. Senator David Cullinane is absolutely correct when he compares the position here with that in other countries.
The Irish system of local government is probably the most centralised in the OECD. It is controlled from the centre, which is probably the reason it lacks cost-effectiveness, efficiency and accountability.
I fully concur with the Minister on out-of-town shopping centres and developments. While he is correct in that regard, the responsibility for this trend lies not with local authority members but officials who were probably working to guidelines issued by the Department. We must recognise where the deficiencies and failures in the system lie. Given his long involvement in local government, I am surprised at the Minister's approach. He has worked with some good county managers in County Kilkenny and will have observed the modus operandi of local government. For this reason, I expected him to show greater empathy in terms of what needs to be done. Unfortunately, what we see here and in all changes to local government and many other areas is the retention of as much power as possible by the centre, in particular the bureaucracy. This is regrettable because the Bill presented an opportunity to build on the work done in 2001, which did not deliver the anticipated outcome and has threatened the democratic functions and empowerment of local authorities. Once the principle of subsidiarity has been abrogated, as has been done in a dramatic fashion in this Bill, it is difficult to put in place an effective system.
I recall discussion on proposals to abolish town councils and replace them with area or district councils and abolish county councils and have area councils report to regional councils or authorities. The Bill appears to move by stealth in that direction. If that is the route being taken, let us have a debate on it but we should be informed. Have discussions taken place in that regard? Is this Bill a step towards local government becoming regional, with district areas reporting to a regional authority? Such an approach would avoid some of the duplication that occurs.
The Senator may raise that issue in the subsequent section.
I do not wish to contribute to every section. I am trying to facilitate the passage of the Bill.
The Senator seems to be contributing on every section.
This legislation is a missed opportunity. The Minister could have reduced the number of town councillors rather than abolish town councils as the latter option will result in practically no savings being made. Current staff will be subsumed into county councils and no one will lose his or her employment. Town councillors are very cost-effective as they are paid a pittance for the work they do. They provide leadership, which is an issue to which I will return when we reach the section on the dissolution of town councils. The Minister has lost sight of these facts.
Streamlining the membership of the councils will be a step in the right direction. I was a member of my area council, which currently has four members, when it had five members. The decision to increase the number to eight members will not improve outputs.
As Senator David Cullinane pointed out, Ireland is the most under-represented nation in Europe. I share Senator Jim Walsh's disappointment in the Minister, who spent 20 years as a distinguished member of Kilkenny County Council.
I am reducing the number of members on Kilkenny County Council.
As the Minister stated, he wore his county colours with pride while a councillor and fair dues to him for continuing to do so. Unfortunately, he has taken the advice of officials because this legislation is an officials' charter.
I take full responsibility for my actions, unlike others.
It is proposed to reduce the number of councillors in all county councils and abolish town councils. People in County Cavan will have 34 fewer public representatives as a result of the Bill.
It is to be hoped things will be better.
The winners will be the officials because, as the Minister is clearly aware, while it is easy for officials to fob off members of the public, they cannot easily fob off public representatives. I feel sorry for the Minister because officials have been trying for decades to achieve this outcome but previous Ministers did not fall for it. Unfortunately, the Minister has fallen for it in its entirety.
They got the idea from the former Minister, Noel Dempsey.
I am disappointed because I hold the Minister in high personal regard. He is an excellent Minister, albeit one who has made some serious mistakes which we do not have time to discuss. The winners in this process are the officials and the losers are the citizens.
If Senator Jim Walsh believes there are too many councillors in one area and not enough in another, he should table an amendment on Report Stage to have their number reduced in County Wexford and increased in County Galway. I am from Clifden and we are halfway to Dublin when we reach Ballinasloe.
I listened carefully to Senator Jim Walsh because he usually speaks sense. In this case, he did not speak sense for the simple reason that he was wrong to suggest the Bill provides for nothing more than a change of name. Some 44 functions are being devolved to the district, all of which had been held by county councils, and 24 other functions will be devolved provided the councillors agree to do so. This means 68 new functions will transfer to district councils. This legislation means much more than a change in name for a county.
Councillors will have the power to vary rates on vacant premises as they see fit. This is a good provision. As the Minister indicated, district councillors will sit on county councils and will be able to speak up for their areas and make a case in respect of vacant premises in their area. Functions are being devolved. I accept it will make it harder for local councillors because there will be a strong lobby but one cannot have gain without pain. If one wants the devolution of functions to proceed, one must be prepared to take the pain that comes with the gain. I will speak on the other positive changes in the Bill when we reach them.
I do not know what to say on these matters. I will bring with me tomorrow a policy document in which I have no doubt Senator Jim Walsh was involved alongside the former Minister, Noel Dempsey. I will outline for the Senator what Fianna Fáil Party policy on municipal districts and authorities was some years ago.
There is no point in the Minister outlining today a policy he proposes to outline again tomorrow.
The Cathaoirleach is correct. I am giving Senator Jim Walsh a little teaser on the metropolitan authorities proposed by Fianna Fáil. We will see tomorrow how his party policy equates with the rhetoric I have listened to for the past two hours.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Brennan, Terry.
- Burke, Colm.
- Clune, Deirdre.
- Coghlan, Eamonn.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Comiskey, Michael.
- Conway, Martin.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- D'Arcy, Jim.
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Gilroy, John.
- Hayden, Aideen.
- Higgins, Lorraine.
- Keane, Cáit.
- Kelly, John.
- Landy, Denis.
- Moloney, Marie.
- Moran, Mary.
- Mullins, Michael.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Neill, Pat.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Whelan, John.
- Barrett, Sean D.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Cullinane, David.
- Daly, Mark.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O'Sullivan, Ned.
- Power, Averil.
- Reilly, Kathryn.
- van Turnhout, Jillian.
- Walsh, Jim.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Zappone, Katherine.