Local Government Reform Bill 2013: Committee Stage (Resumed)

SECTION 16

We are resuming on section 16, which is opposed by Senators Ó Clochartaigh and Cullinane, but they are not present in the House at the moment.

Section 16 agreed to.
Question, "That section 17 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Section 18 agreed to.
NEW SECTION

Amendments Nos. 13 to 17, inclusive are related and will be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 29, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:

“19. The Principal Act is amended by inserting the following Part after Part 3:

“PART 3A

COMMUNITY COUNCILS

22A. (1) Every city and county council shall designate Community Council Areas throughout its local authority area.

(2) The structure of each such Community Council Area shall reflect the natural community of that area and each village and town shall have its own Community Council.

(3) The number of members on each Community Council shall be between the range of 7 to 15 (towns shall have 15 members and villages shall have 7 members).

(4) Members of the Community Council shall undertake their duties on a voluntary basis.

(5) Community Council members shall be elected annually, such election shall take place at an annual general meeting of the Community Council.

(6) Persons registered on the register of electors for the particular year shall be invited to the Annual General meeting and each such person shall be entitled to vote to elect Community Council members.

(7) Each Community Council may extend ex-officio, non-voting positions to representatives of local community groups, such groups shall be chosen at the annual general Meeting.

(8) Community Councils may draft Local Area Plans in conjunction with the executive of the relevant local authority and any such plans so drafted, shall only be put to the relevant Local Authority for approval following a vote of persons on the register of electors of the relevant Community Council Area.

(9) Community Councils shall be consulted on any major planning applications within that Community Council’s area and shall be invited to make submissions on same to the relevant local authority.

(10) Community Councils may organise matters such as —

(a) local community events,

(b) plebiscites on matters including street name changes, and

(c) community levies for specific projects, including playgrounds, sports facilities, parks.”.”.

SECTION 19

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 29, line 12, to delete “districts” and substitute “district councils”.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 29, line 13, after “district” to insert “council”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 29, line 14, after “districts” to insert “or as municipal district councils”.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Question, "That section 19 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 20 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
SECTION 21
Government amendment No. 17:
In page 33, line 5, after “may,” to insert “following consultation with the municipal district members concerned,”.
Amendment put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 21, as amended, stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 22 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
SECTION 23
Question proposed: "That section 23 stand part of the Bill."

This is the section that will see the town councils abolished. We went through the points on Second Stage and again yesterday. I do not want to labour the point, other than to say this is a mistake and a retrograde step. In my county of Cavan there will be 34 fewer local representatives to represent the people of the county. I do not believe this change should go ahead and that is the main reason we oppose this section. The points have been well made and there is no point in labouring them further. We are totally opposed to the abolition of the town councils.

I support Senator Wilson on this. I agree it is a mistake to abolish the town councils. It would have been better to put the question to the people by way of a referendum on whether they wished to see town councils abolished. My concern in regard to all town councils being abolished is that we are throwing the baby out with the bath water. There is no doubt the system needed reform and the existence of many town councils could not be justified. However, my area of Waterford, Dungarvan and Tramore town councils are good examples of town councils and local authorities that have served these towns well.

What about Lismore?

In Dungarvan in particular, there has been a very good relationship between the elected representatives of the town council, the county council and local organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce. The town has come on in leaps and bounds because of that association and because of that local democracy and the synergy that existed between the town council and the people who live in the town. The town councils will be a loss to towns like this.

The problem with the Minister abolishing town councils is that he has not given any real or new powers to the new municipal districts, the new merged councils, the new councils and the reduced numbers of councillors we will have. He is abolishing the town councils, but there is nothing of substance to replace them. What we have is less of the same, particularly when we consider the removal of water services and other services from local government. This is a step backwards.

We made the point yesterday that by comparison with international or EU analysis, this State falls far short of the number of public representatives - local authority members - per head of population. If this section passes, the situation will be far worse.

I concur with what has been said by Senators Wilson and Cullinane in regard to this issue. I like many others here have served within the local government system, on both town councils, or urban district councils as they were, and county councils. The experience of many who served in that dual capacity would be that where town councils were properly empowered, they were an effective and efficient organ of the governance system.

The county councils always had a tendency to assume the powers of the urban district councils. Now the Department is assuming powers that the county councils should have. It is small-scale empire building, in which nobody wants to cede power but in consequence the system is totally centralised.

Does it serve the people well that there are town councils in 15 towns with a population of fewer than 2,000 while several with a population over 10,000 do not? No. The solution is not to abolish them all but to ensure that those with a population in excess of 10,000 are given the status of a town council, with appropriate powers.

Why do residents living inside a boundary line have a town council, while those in the suburbs of the same town, but outside an outdated boundary, must deal with the county council? That arose out of changes made in 1994 in the run-up to town council elections when arbitrary boundaries were set. Unfortunately, many people in my town, and I am sure elsewhere, who wanted to play their part, to exercise their franchise, were deprived of the possibility of doing so. That was not done by the councils but by the Department of the Environment and the Minister of the day. Within the past 19 years there has been no attempt to rectify it although it could easily have been rectified.

The Minister is not rectifying it, he is just abolishing the whole thing. It is rather like trying to abolish the Seanad. The idea that reform means dismantling the process and replacing it with nothing is totally misguided from the point of view of local government. If anything, the economic collapse of the past five years has taught us that our political system is not up to meeting the challenges of these difficulties when they come along. There were dissenting voices in this House and within the Dáil, where all the parties, including those in Opposition, complained that not enough money was being spent, that public expenditure was not high enough, that salaries and social welfare and everything else should have been increased. The mind-set is that everybody follows the herd. Unfortunately, what we are doing here will remove voices from the system which were very accountable at local level, particularly through urban councils. That will be a significant reduction in our democratic structures.

Does it make sense that town councils operate like islands, separate from their wider hinterlands? There is a thrust towards urbanisation in our society. These growing urban areas will be part of a conglomerate county council which will not be as effective. The Minister pointed out yesterday, they will deal exclusively with policy. Most of the representations that the Minister and other Members of these Houses receive are not about policy but about the delivery of services and in many instances the failure to deliver services satisfactorily to citizens. That is why we have such a strong representative role within these Houses.

Does it serve a purpose that some town councils, which owe their existence to 160 year old legislation, have virtually no functions? It does not. That goes back to the old town commissioner situation, which could also easily have been rectified by giving those town commissions the same status and powers as town and urban district councils. There is also a reference to transferring territory and resources from the county council to the town, thereby weakening the county councils. That is not the case. The growth in infrastructure in County Louth shows how dynamic that council is. It has two very strong municipal areas, Dundalk and Drogheda, both of which have greater revenues and more developmental roles than Louth County Council but that did not stop all three from functioning properly and effectively in the interests of their towns and county. The premise for this legislation has not been fully thought through. I am particularly surprised at the Minister because Kilkenny in particular has a town of historic significance-----

It is a city.

Yes, a city. It was once the capital of the country under the Confederation of Kilkenny. I have empathy with it because my grandfather served as Borough Treasurer and Town Clerk many moons ago. I know the pride the people in Kilkenny take in the achievements of the Borough Council. It is one of the finer towns in the country. Now the city will be divided in two for electoral purposes. There will be six seats in each area and a smaller representation for the city on these bodies. Somebody from Graignamanagh or Inistioge will not prioritise Kilkenny city given that their electorate and those who support them come from the south of the county. This may not concern the Minister because by the time this comes to pass and its effects are felt he will probably be serving in the European Commission.

Sponsored by-----

-----the new Taoiseach.

The Minister is the real Taoiseach.

Therefore the issues of Kilkenny city and county will, I presume, be far from the Minister’s thoughts in his new 28 country-wide responsibilities. For those of us who will continue to live in these areas it is a matter of concern. This Bill offered a real opportunity to transform local government but unfortunately not only are we neither transforming nor reforming it, which we could have done, and strengthened it, we are demolishing it. That is very regrettable.

Does the Minister want to respond briefly?

Especially as it concerns the capital.

Especially as it concerns the nonsense I have listened to for the past 20 minutes.

Senator Cullinane said there are no new powers in the Bill. The Bill provides that no separate structures in the future can bypass local government or no services that have been set up can be delivered by a quango, which was the norm under our predecessors.

Irish Water is the new quango.

There is a service level agreement that Senator Cullinane chooses to ignore to which €528 million has been allocated for 12 years.

Twelve years, exactly. Why is the Government privatising it?

That may be up to the Senator’s party in government in the future. Best of luck to it. We will not go into what is happening in the North.

Councillors will be able to vary the local property tax.

The Minister has admitted that Sinn Féin will be in government with Fine Gael.

It could be in government with Fianna Fáil.

Sinn Féin-Fine Gael will be the next coalition.

It will be Sinn Féin-Fine Gael.

That is the only option Fianna Fáil has.

The Minister will be in Brussels.

Councillors will be able to vary the local property tax-----

-----or downwards, which is the true meaning of democracy. Councillors and the municipal district level, which enhances the role and functions of the towns and their hinterlands, will be given reserved powers for the first time, in a meaningful way.

If Senator Walsh wants to continue with the system whereby 7% of the-----

(Interruptions).

I did not interrupt Senator Cullinane. He should listen for a change and I will give him my view.

I remind the Senator what the Senator and his party did in 1977 and since then, was to centralise power and take it away from local authorities.

We did it and Deputy Hogan supported it.

I did not support it. The Senator's party was in government for 14 years.

It was part of the Fine Gael manifesto in 1977. That is a fact.

I will revert to the Senator about the Fianna Fáil policy.

Councillors will adopt a local strategy on economic matters and on community matters for the first time. This is the first time a statutory remit is given to the community sector so that it can have a structured relationship with local government. Service plans will be in place similar to the old health boards system which, in my view, was often criticised and much maligned. That system was replaced when Deputy Martin was Minister for Health. Eleven agencies were centralised without any loss of jobs and no efficiencies introduced. The budget doubled over the following 15 years and now we see the mess that resulted. Nothing in the Bill takes powers away from the local authorities to set charges such as parking charges and this money is retained in the municipal districts which will be the main beneficiaries.

When I listen to Fianna Fáil Senators like Senator Walsh crying crocodile tears for town councils, I presume he was part of a kitchen Cabinet with Noel Dempsey in 2008. I refer to the Fianna Fáil policy at that time, expressed in a document entitled, Accountable Responsible and Democratic Local Government. On page 7, under the heading of Structures and Functions, it states:

The range of functions currently performed by local government units is decided on the basis of history rather than any practical or financial reality. This has to change. The sub-county tier at the moment is ineffective, it lacks focus and is not delivering for the citizen or for the democratic system. Town local government is important in the context of local democracy but many town councils have neither the population nor the financing to be effective units. They are cut off from their natural hinterlands and their boundaries no longer reflect current realities. We need a new, strong district council system to be introduced.

I will continue for the information of the House:

Fianna Fáil believes new municipal councils and regional councils with teeth, need to be introduced or as the premier unit of local government, the county and city council should remain the premier tier of local government and that tier should be responsible for the delivery and financing of all local services.

In other words, the 70 additional reserved functions I am giving the municipal authorities are totally opposed in this document published by Fianna Fáil.

That document was never approved.

I am sorry to have to read that document into the record of the House because I have listened to nonsense about this system we are putting in place which upgrades the relationship between the citizen and the local authority, which deals once and for all with the boundary extensions that bedevilled local authorities like New Ross, Kilkenny County Council and Waterford, over the years. Fianna Fáil representatives are crying crocodile tears for a structure that only a small number of years ago, in a party policy document, adopted by their parliamentary party, they wanted to get rid of.

That document to which the Minister refers was written by the former Minister, Noel Dempsey, but it was never approved by any parliamentary party that I belong to. It is a fictional document, in so far as I am concerned.

It is policy.

(Interruptions).

Senator Wilson, without interruption.

It is a fictional document because it was never approved by any parliamentary party that I belong to.

Let the record show that Fianna Fáil is the republican party. Is the party still the republican party?

It would not be the first document flashed about by Fine Gael that was not genuine.

It was not the first document from Fianna Fáil that told lies.

Senator Wilson, without interruption, please.

The Minister is trying to muddy the waters here by talking about abolishing rates in 1977 which was part of the Fianna Fáil manifesto. I agree it was part of the manifesto and that it happened but it should not have happened. It was the wrong decision. However, I remind the Minister that as part of the Fine Gael manifesto in 1977 - an actual official document - Fine Gael proposed the abolition of rates not over one year but over two years. That is the only difference.

It would take an extra 12 months-----

What about the motor tax?

Senator Wilson, without interruption.

Let us put the record straight. It was part of the Fine Gael manifesto for the general election of 1977. It does not make it any better because that should not have happened and it was wrong that it happened. There have been difficulties as a result. No one on this side of the House is saying that there have not been difficulties. As has been pointed out here by many colleagues and Senator Walsh and Senator Cullinane this morning, we are the most under-represented people in Europe as a result of this legislation if it goes through. It is part of the dictatorial policies of this Government. There was no plebiscite so that the Minister could decide without asking the people, the same as this House would be gone if the people had not to be consulted by this Government. That is the reality. The policy is to centralise all power and authority here in Dublin and disenfranchise the people of the Twenty-six Counties of the representation to which they are entitled, in particular, the people of rural Ireland and of the west and north west.

It is unfortunately those of us on this side of the House who are listening to the nonsense from the Minister. He has done a very poor job of selling a very poor Bill. His pretence that this Bill is radical reforming legislation that will give powers to local government, is fiction-----

The Senator does not want to see it.

-----and absolute nonsense-----

Maghera District Council.

Some might still agree we have the most centralised system of governance in Europe, if not the world. Our problem is that we have never given local government the power, functions and responsibilities it needs. Central government never gave local government real power.

The Minister referred to all the great powers that the Bill will give to local authorities-----

The Senator was outside the Chamber when I was speaking.

I ask him to show me where in the Bill power has been devolved from any Department to local government. The answer is none, yet the Minister is abolishing town councils without giving them any power whatsoever. It is very interesting to listen to the Minister's exchange with Fianna Fáil Senators and his quoting from what Senator Wilson called the fiction document, the Fianna Fáil policy document. If that is what Fianna Fáil said and if he is correct in that presumption, then the Minister is simply implementing Fianna Fáil policy. The Minister is implementing what Fianna Fáil started.

I am just trying to remind them.

It goes back to something Senator Walsh or someone else from Fianna Fáil said, that this is being driven by officials, by civil servants and not by the Government nor the Minister. The same language, the same logic that was contained in the Fianna Fáil document from a former Fianna Fáil Minister, cited by the Minister, is exactly what he is implementing today. He is implementing Fianna Fáil policy. I welcome the fact that the Minister has great faith in Sinn Féin's electoral abilities and that we may be in government at some point-----

Sinn Féin is doing it in the North.

I can tell him we will not be in government with his party nor with Fianna Fáil. My preference is to go into government with the Labour Party-----

It will not be with us, that is for sure.

-----or progressive parties but certainly not with the Minister's party-----

The way the Senator is talking, Sinn Féin will have an overall majority the next time.

Senator Cullinane, without interruption.

In all seriousness, the Minister cannot come into this House and try to sell a Bill that is clearly weak, that fails local government, that missed the point. He had the opportunity to seize the initiative and he failed to do so by telling us that the Bill gives power to local government. He has rammed the Bill through the Dáil by use of the guillotine. That House had a couple of hours debate to take billions of euro of assets from local authorities across the State-----

And liabilities.

-----and put them into a quango, as he said himself, that he planned to fatten up in order to privatise. He has taken one of the local government core services from local government and given it to a quango. It was rammed through the Dáil with no proper discussion nor scrutiny because the Minister was afraid to have a real debate on the issue. He has taken one of the core functions of local government away from it.

(Interruptions).

He is trying to pretend that his plan is to give power to local government. It is a nonsense and it is difficult for us to listen to the nonsense which is fiction. What the Minister is doing is every bit a fiction as what was in the Fianna Fáil document. The Minister is implementing exactly what the officials had advised Fianna Fáil to do when they wrote that document.

The Senator should leave the officials out of it.

It does not come as a surprise to me that the Minister would refer to a Fianna Fáil document, which was, however, only a consultative document prepared by a very small group of people.

No, it represented party policy.

As Senator Wilson observed, the group did not have any authority in the matter.

Was Senator Walsh part of that group? Did he write the report?

Senator Walsh, without interruption. The Minister should not be drawing fire unnecessarily.

I actually opposed the idea of reducing the number of town councils.

Show us the evidence.

Many fine towns - Mullingar comes to mind - had town commissioners but should have had proper, effective town councils. I am not surprised the Minister would assume this document represented Fianna Fáil policy and decide to implement it. As we have seen in the past three years, the plan for economic recovery that was introduced by the former Minister for Finance, the late Brian Lenihan, and totally opposed by the Labour Party and Fine Gael in opposition has been embraced by those same parties in government. What worries me is that they have now run out of Fianna Fáil templates for doing things and, as a consequence, are like a ship at sea without a compass and rudder.

The whole country was at sea before this Government came into office.

Unfortunately, that has been the tendency of those two parties in the past.

The Minister referred to domestic rates. I opposed their elimination at the time as being the wrong move from a local government point of view. I recognised, however, that I am a member of a party which has a policy of low taxation as part of its philosophy. It is a republican party that is concerned with empowering people to spend and invest their own money as they wish, which is a far better economic template than one which takes all their money from them. Unfortunately, the latter template is the one being followed by Fine Gael and the Labour Party, both of which are parties of high taxation.

It is pathetic that the Senator would assume to lecture us about economic templates.

Moreover, the State is wasteful of taxpayers' money in many instances, as we have seen in the hearings of the Committee of Public Accounts. It is far better to leave people with their money and let them choose how to spend it. They will do so more efficiently than the State would, and we will have a better structured economy as a result. However, that is an aside.

It worries me that the Minister has a closed mind on this particular issue. His attitude is surprising, given his record of distinction in serving as a county councillor for many years in Kilkenny. He was an effective councillor.

I did not have the benefit of a town council.

The Minister is only three years in office. My party was in government for 14 years and, for more than half of that time, its Ministers were very effective. I could see, however, as I have acknowledged before, that the longer we were in power, the more institutionalised those Ministers were becoming. It is surprising to see, after only three years, that the Minister is fully institutionalised within the system. We all know that officials are concerned with maintaining their own empires and power bases. That is evident at all levels of government, causing difficulties between town and county councils and between Departments and county councils. The Minister can probably attest that it also causes problems between Brussels and member state governments.

I appeal to the Minister, even at this late stage, to reconsider this issue. He will have time at Christmas to reflect on the debate that has taken place and to conclude that the likely outcome of this proposal will not be in the interests of citizens.

I do not intend to reflect on what the Senator is saying. I hope Christmas will be a more joyful occasion than that.

This proposal is not in the interest of democracy in our country. Perhaps when the Minister is relaxing with his feet up, he might think about the damage he is doing to local government. I hope he will step back from what he is proposing. Stripping away representation at town council level will create a situation where our already overly centralised system of government, which places us at the bottom of the list among OECD countries, will be even more centralised.

I conclude by restating a question I asked yesterday, which the Minister avoided answering, about his proposal to establish district councils and fit them into a regional structure.

That was formerly the policy of the Senator's party.

Have his department officials confirmed that this is their intention and plan, or is it he who is driving this initiative?

I am bemused by Senator Walsh's new-found interest in Kilkenny, although I suppose he does have a lot of interests in that county.

Half of my family is from Kilkenny.

He made an interesting observation about people in Graiguenamanagh, The Rower, and Inistioge. In fact, under the boundary commission changes, those people will be able to vote to elect the mayor of Kilkenny city. The Senator denigrated that change.

Is the Minister seriously putting it forward as a major reform of local government?

The Senator mentioned it and I am clarifying the issue for him. The changes are in line with the submission made by the Fianna Fáil Party in Carlow-Kilkenny to the local boundary commission.

Question put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 14.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators David Cullinane and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.
SECTION 24

Amendment No. 18 is a Government amendment, amendments Nos. 18, 19 and 131 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 18:

In page 36, delete lines 8 to 12 and insert the following:

"24. (1) The Minister shall by order specify a date (in this Part referred to as the "transfer date") to be the transfer date for the purposes of this Part.".

These amendments seek to deal with the issue of the ordinary day of retirement for outgoing elected members following the 2014 local elections in the context of the dissolution of the old and establishment of the new structures at county and sub-county level.

Amendment No. 19 inserts a new subsection (3) in section 28 of the Bill which provides in paragraph (a)(i) that in the case of all local authorities, including those to be dissolved in Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford, the ordinary day of retirement will be linked with the 2014 establishment day for the new merged authorities. This will allow for the synchronisation of the date for the retirement of outgoing members, the date on which persons elected in 2014 come into office and the 2014 establishment day which I anticipate will be 1 June 2014.

Paragraph (a)(ii) of the new subsection (3)(a) ties in the provisions of paragraph (a)(i) in a situation where a poll is countermanded or adjourned. In such circumstances the ordinary day of retirement will the seventh day after the poll is completed or the fresh poll is held or the 2014 establishment day, whichever is the later.

Subsection (3)(b) provides that the date of retirement for members of town councils will be the transfer date, the date on which the town council will be dissolved to be determined by the Minister by order under a new section 24(1) to be inserted by amendment No. 18. Section 24(1) of the Bill empowers the Minister to make an order specifying a date to be the transfer date for the purposes of the dissolution of town councils and the date from which relevant county or city and county authorities will become the successors to those town councils. Again, I anticipate that this date will be 1 June 2014.

Amendment No. 131 is consequential on the insertion of a new section 24(1) of the Bill. The proposed addition to section 17(1) of the Local Government Act 2001, currently provided for in Schedule 1, will no longer be required should the amendment to section 24(1) be accepted.

These are important technical amendments to the Bill to allow for a smooth transition to the new arrangements following the 2014 local elections, and I commend them to the House.

Amendment put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 24, as amended, stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 25 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 26 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 27 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
SECTION 28
Government amendment No. 19:
In page 39, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:
“(3) For the purposes of the local elections held in 2014, the definition of "ordinary day of retirement" in section 17(1) of the Principal Act shall be read—
(a) in the case of every local authority (including a local authority that is being dissolved under section 17)—
(i) as if the reference in that definition to the seventh day after the polling day at the election of the incoming members of the local authority were a reference to the 2014 establishment day, and
(ii) as if the reference to the seventh day after the date provided for the purposes of paragraph (b) of that definition were a reference to the 2014 establishment day or the seventh day after the day on which the poll is completed or the fresh poll held, whichever is the later,
and
(b) in the case of a local authority that is being dissolved under section 24, as if that definition referred to the transfer date and to no other day referred to in that definition.".
Amendment put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 28, as amended, stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
SECTION 29

Amendment No. 20 is in the names of Senators Wilson, Ó Domhnaill, Cullinane, Ó Clochartaigh and other Senators, amendments Nos. 20, 23 to 25, inclusive, and amendment No. 148 are related and may be discussed together by amendment. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 40, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:

"(2) Each municipal district may, in respect of that district, set an additional commercial rate for premises occupied by large commercial entities which exceed such thresholds in turnover or other economic activity as may be prescribed.".

I want to speak to these amendments that are grouped, which seek to do a number of things. I want to make a general point on the issue of rates. It is important that in the context of any reform of local government we examine the funding of local government and the rates issue. The Minister mentioned this in his Second Stage speech and in response to a number of earlier amendments where we briefly touched on the issue of rates. The Minister may know that in my county of Waterford we had a revaluation of rates, which was a disaster for many small and medium-sized businesses and retailers who got notice that the rates were going to be doubled and trebled. While the Minister has made an extra allocation of funding available to the new merged local authority in Waterford, and that will be helpful, I hope that it will be able to use that money to reduce the rates burden on businesses in Waterford-----

I hope the Senator will support it.

We will support that element of it. I should have said to the Minister yesterday that I have supported estimates on Waterford City Council in the past and personally voted for them, but we will not go back to that argument. We have seen where rates have been doubled and trebled and even if there is a 15% or 20% reduction in the overall rate, it will still be a significant burden on those small retailers who have seen a massive hike in their rates. What we need to see is a real change in how rates are calculated and a shift in burden away from the small and medium sized retailers and businesses to the bigger businesses. We saw what happened in the North and I know the Minister likes to look to the North to seek guidance around how we should do things better here in this State.

To see the hypocrisy.

If the Minister considers what was called the Tesco tax in the North where there was a shifting of the burden away from the small retailers to the big multinationals where they would pay more proportionately than the smaller retailers, that is what we need to do in this State. We need to fundamentally review the whole issue of commercial rates and consider a progressive rate system that is based on income and not just based on assets, valuations and all of that. That is an antiquated way to look at commercial rates. There is no real fairness, ability to pay consideration or progressive nature to the rates system in this State, and that is wrong.

The amendments also seek to empower the municipal districts in respect of their rates in municipal district areas. The Minister spoke earlier of powers being given to the new municipal districts that are being set up, but that is not the case. To take the Waterford example, Waterford city has its own city council - its own autonomy - and now a new municipal district will be set up that will not have the ability to set a rate. That will be the prerogative of the new merged authority. The Minister is taking power away from some of those areas to which he said he will giving power. Some of these amendments seek to allow the municipal district areas to set rates. The Minister has trumpeted these new municipal districts and put them up on a pedestal as the great part of the reform element of this document and he is giving them new powers and we have heard how great they will be, yet they do not even have the power to set rates. If he was really interested in empowering the municipal districts-----

The Senator knows that is nonsense.

-----he would give them the ability to set the rate which is what he should do. I will be supporting all the amendments which have been tabled by Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil on this issue because we need to fundamentally examine the rate system in this State.

I want to speak to amendment No. 20 in our names which covers the last point that was made by Senator Cullinane. We are talking about the rates issue, and the Minister said earlier that the powers of the town councils will now be exercised at the municipal district level, then the most fundamental power is the power to raise revenues. If that is not going to be applied at district level, which it is not under this Bill, and that is the reason we tabled this amendment, then what the Minister has said is incorrect. The municipal authorities will be no more than just what the area committees or the district committees are now. We have had those in Wexford since 1979. They are a very effective way of looking not at policy but at the administration of services. That is what we apply them for and officials came before us and were accountable whether it was for water services delivery, domestic refuse, roads or housing. All the areas for which the council had responsibility for the delivery of service functions within those districts were discussed with the local councillors in that area and it worked very effectively for us.

I was glad that when the Local Government Bill was enacted in 2001 it took that as best practice and applied it across the country. The Minister will have to accept that by not allowing it to happen at municipal level, he is removing a very significant function that applied to town councils. The town council rates in my county are pitched at much lower levels than the county council rate.

That is the case in my county and it is probably true across the country. If, as will happen under the new legislation, there is a tendency over a period to have all the rates increased to the county council rate, that will overburden small businesses and small retail operators who are struggling. Many of them that have gone out of business will not be affected but others are struggling in the current economic situation. The system evaluation, about which many people complain, is totally antiquated. The Minister referred to the local government system going back 160 years but the rates system is totally antiquated and is based on theoretical valuations. There is a need for the entire area to be examined. With the introduction of the property tax which is now being applied to every household, perhaps there was an opportunity to have a root and branch review of the commercial rates system. Undoubtedly, as we try to tackle the high unemployment rate, there is a need to incentivise small and medium businesses, in particular retailers and small businesses on the outskirts of towns or in urban areas to continue to benefit from the lower rate and, if anything, to reduce it rather than increase it. The proposal is counter-intuitive to everything the Government should do in terms of job creation. It will have an adverse effect. I know it is of concern to chambers of commerce and business organisations in towns.

I hope it will not be the case that every amendment we propose is rubbished. That is tantamount to the totalitarianism we have seen in the past three years and it should be taken into account. Perhaps it is time to review the approach given the rebuffing the Government received from the electorate in a number of recent referenda.

Senator Walsh should produce his policy document.

Members who have spoken will be pleased to hear I agree in principle with them on some points made on the valuation process. In my contribution on Second Stage I indicated that valuation should come under one Department rather than two. It is regrettable that is the case currently. Committee Stage of the Valuation (Amendment)(No. 2) Bill will come before the House early in the new year.

It has been stated that in many instances towns have lower rates than counties. What will happen in Waterford based on the Minister’s proposal is that the rate will be harmonised downwards so one will have the lowest rate. I commend the Minister on providing the finance in order to do that. The downwards not upwards harmonisation will put people on a level playing field. Senator Cullinane and others have called for higher rates for larger industries and businesses. That has happened in many instances through the revaluation process. Dublin and Waterford are the only two counties that have been completed to date. I fully admit that the increases outlined by the Valuation Office will present major difficulties in particular for small shops in the retail sector. Many valuations are under appeal. In other cases valuations for small businesses have gone down but we do not hear about them. We only hear about the ones that have gone up. It is understandable that people are concerned about increases.

The Minister is doing everything possible in the rates area in which he has jurisdiction to reduce rates downwards. It is a matter for each council to decide as councils have autonomy and it is up to them to decide where to allocate additional moneys. It will probably be the case that we will have a major debate on rates during Committee Stage in the new year, and in particular, on the valuation process which is taking place. Given that Dublin and Waterford are the only counties that are completed I expect we will hear much more when the rest of the country has been completed and people will find themselves in difficulty in large cities and towns. That is a debate for another Bill in the valuation process.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. On a more general principle, I would love at some stage for us to have a fundamental root and branch look at the way we raise funds for the activities of our democracies. I am a social democrat at heart. I am a great believer in people who have more money paying more taxes than people who have less money and people that make more money making a bigger contribution than people who make less, but I am troubled by the way we assess rates in the first place, the whole idea that somebody puts an arbitrary value on one’s business or premises and assesses how much tax one should pay on that regardless of the income, turnover or revenue involved. Somebody could have a terribly loss-making business but because someone has arbitrarily and subjectively valued it as being valuable, the person concerned has to pay a large amount of tax. I just do not get it.

Will this section enhance or remove a part of the latticework of accountability which is so crucial in the way we spend public money? The trouble is that when one reduces levels of democracy one increases levels of bureaucracy and when one does that, bureaucracies tend to misidentify narrow sectional interests as in fact being public interests. For that reason, while we in Seanad Éireann believe very much in harmony, I am not so sure that harmonisation is its own end. I am not sure there is something particularly valuable about harmonising for the sake of harmonisation. The lack of accountability, the attempt to homogenise everything and the development of bureaucratic structures can lead to substantial pathologies. In one situation a large amount of public money, probably tens or hundreds of thousands, was spent by a body which had no local authority representatives on it, which it should have done, in pursuit of a cover-up of financial fraud. That was in St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group ten years ago when a large amount of public money was spent trying to defend the absurd contention that the hospital was not aware that a very large research programme existed, as it was the only way it could justify a very substantial and deliberate mis-billing of money from the Voluntary Health Insurance and other insurers. In the process it spent many tens of thousands of public money in pursuit of the cover-up. I am troubled by many aspects of the Bill and I hope that at some stage we can have a look at the way we raise the necessary revenues for our local authority activities.

I wish to make one or two comments on rates. From my experience rates on premises do the rounds to some extent. When businesses are going well, the rate remains the same and is not proportionate to the profit of the business. At such a time the multiple of costs on the business are lower, and when businesses are going badly, the multiple and percentage of the overall costs of running the business increase because there is no correlation or proportionality between the two. That is one of the reasons progress has not been made in the area over many years.

The second reason for the lack of progress is what Senator Walsh described as the antiquated system for devising a rate on a building. There are obvious winners and losers. Some months ago when the Valuation Office visited Waterford city I was there with a colleague on a Saturday morning.

His head was nearly taken off his shoulders by businesspeople who had been affected by an upward rates review yet as we continued along the street he met another person who told him that he did a great job on the rates. The system is desperately imperfect. I know work is ongoing on the new rates valuation Bill but will the Minister comment on the need for some linkage between income and expenditure and revenue of a business to the cost of the rate? Should the rate vary depending on how well the business is doing or otherwise? That is the first question.

Second, many discussions were held with the Minister prior to the Bill being drawn up, one of which was about the out-of-town supermarkets that got free parking as part of their planning permission and that were sucking the traffic out of town centres. People were shopping with their feet, so to speak, and the town centres were struggling. A number of Members suggested to the Minister that such premises should be required to pay an extra rate or tax; I believe it is called the Tesco tax in Northern Ireland or England. Does the Minister believe that is feasible? He will probably tell me that is an issue for the other legislation but I ask him to comment on it because it is all interlinked.

There is concern that harmonisation will mean upward harmonisation but in Waterford and, I believe, in Tipperary the Minister provided extra funding this year to ensure that is bedded down. In some cases it will be harmonisation, with the definition being a downward harmonisation. Does the Minister envisage that continuing and where does he see the slack being taken up if we do not continue to get a subsidisation every year from the Department? Does he believe the uplift in the economy will ensure that or will it be done through efficiencies within the local government system? When does he believe we can look forward to a trend towards downward harmonisation?

I do not propose to accept amendment No. 20 even though I understand the spirit of the amendment in terms of where the Senators are coming from. How we levy the commercial rates will continue to be a reserved function of the local authorities and the elected members. Senator Crown was concerned that in the future that might not continue to be a reserved function of local authority members.

The valuation Bill is critical to how we apply commercial rates and the Minister, Deputy Howlin, is developing proposals on the valuation for Committee Stage of the Bill, which is currently before this House. I understand he will be in the House again in February or March for a discussion on the particular changes the Senator has advocated. It is an antiquated system and it needs to be changed. The economic indicators or whatever criteria we come up with have to be taken into account but, equally, we must have a stable system of funding local government and providing the necessary finance for those services. There is a balance to be struck but we are making provision in this legislation for harmonisation downwards towards the lowest rate in the county. That is a prudent measure to take account of these difficult times for businesses. I have already done it in Waterford, Limerick and Tipperary because they are merged counties, and it is up to the elected members to make sure the savings are achieved to harmonise it downwards. I am giving them a ten year transitional period in which to do that. These amendments go towards allaying the concerns people might have about the possibilities of increasing rates for ratepayers in relevant areas. We are advocating, and inserting in the legislation, that savings are achieved to ensure downward harmonisation.

A number of issues arise. I am disappointed that the Minister is not accepting our amendment because he has said that the powers and the status the town councils have will now be exercised by the municipal authorities. The most important function that any State apparatus, be it local government, central Government or whatever, has is the power to levy a charge on the public. I would see a disparity in many counties, including my own, between the capacity of those towns to generate business and therefore be in a position to pay rates and other towns that are hubs within the county, which attract a good deal of business because of their commercial outlets. The principle that applied until now, namely, that those towns' representatives decided the charge for the rates, is a good principle. Unfortunately, that will go now.

I note what the Minister said about harmonisation downwards towards the lower rate. What does that mean? The Minister said it will be done over ten years.

A reserved function.

It is part of the spin we have been getting from the Minister who, along with many of his colleagues, has been fairly good at it over the past three years. Will it decrease by 10% towards the lower rate? What will happen over the ten years? Will there be no increases? This will be swallowed up in overall council decision-making with regard to rates in the future. The lower rate that is enjoyed now by hard-pressed businesspeople will evaporate. The Minister is saying the theory is that it will go downwards.

Is the Senator opposing the section?

It is nothing more than a sop to the commercial entities that are struggling, and the Minister knows they are struggling.

(Interruptions).

Senator Walsh without interruption.

I know they all welcome the support.

Fine Gael might not be worried about that. Fine Gael is the party of the big farmers and the large-----

On the amendments, Senator.

They are not big shots like the Senator.

I am speaking on behalf of the constituency we represent as a party, namely, small businesspeople who through their own enterprise and hard work have created small businesses that are struggling and in difficulty in the current economic climate. I will not apologise to the Minister or anybody else for articulating and defending their position. I am disappointed with the response the Minister has given.

On the municipal district councils that will now do this function, as a former member of a local authority I know that in the rural areas, the question of rates is not an issue because there are very few commercial rate-paying entities, therefore, the people in those areas do not have an electoral voice. I have spoken to colleagues across the country many of whom said that when they came to the end of the debate on rates, which might have taken place over five or six days, and they were left looking at a deficit of €30,000, €60,000 or whatever, the simplest way to deal with that, and there will always be a proposal from predictable sources, was to increase the rate by 1% or 2% to make up that deficit. As a result of the direction the Minister has gone with this legislation the interests of those small businesses will be affected, even by leaving it at municipal level, but extending it now county-wide will seriously disadvantaged those people. The Minister will be away in Brussels and it will not be a headache for him but it will be a headache for them, and it will be a headache for those interested in creating jobs here. I will be pressing this amendment.

I concur fully with the points made by Senator Crown and Senator Landy. There is a big deficiency in our commercial rates system. First, it is antiquated and, second, it is very subjective because it is based on notional rent. I have many examples of where that notional rent would be significantly removed from the commercial rents that might be obtained for those premises, given the economic circumstances.

I am also aware that we have had a situation where shopkeepers in the same premises, where one has a profitable business and the other may not, may end up paying the same or in some instances the smaller business operator may pay less. The point made by Senator Landy is worthy of consideration. I am surprised that all of this has been subsumed into the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform because we have seen little public expenditure control and, certainly, we have seen no-----

They were also there.

We have seen no reform coming from that Department.

Senator Jim Walsh's party did not take it out of the Department either.

I would suggest the Minister would look at having some sort of small commission or review group to look at the rates system and conduct a root-and-branch trawl to see if it could come up with something which is more commensurate with the requirements of the economy, and ability to pay should be factored in.

We have also had a situation - it is applied in every town - where enterprising shopkeepers, who invested - perhaps borrowed to invest - in improving their premises subsequently had their valuations increased and ended up paying more rates. They were penalised for doing that whereas the ones who did not invest or renew - where one would like to have seen it happen in the interests of proper urban development and making the towns more attractive for shoppers coming to those locations - ended up without any review. There is a need in this area for it to be systematically examined.

My fundamental point here is that the direction in which the Minister is going will heap more charges and costs. It is regrettable that the Government likes heaping costs and taxes on hard-pressed taxpayers and individuals, and now on shopkeepers and on small businesses. I would ask the Minister over Christmas-----

They paid nothing when Senator Walsh's party was in government.

They certainly did not pay anything like what the Minister is applying to them to pay.

There is a need-----

Senator Walsh is against us bringing it down.

Senator Walsh, without interruption.

I hope Senator Walsh votes on this one. He should call a vote on this one.

It needs to be-----

Senator Walsh is being repetitive.

I am not. I am bring interrupted.

Yes, you are, surely.

And repetitive.

I would like the protection of the Chair when I am speaking, if I could get that.

You have the protection of the Chair.

There is a genuine need, despite any difference we might have on the issue, for us all to prioritise the interests of small businesses. It is from there that the job creation and the employment for the future will come. Instead of penalising them, the Minister should incentivise them. I would ask the Minister to review the direction in which he is going with this Bill, which, as I stated earlier, is counter-intuitive, not only to democracy but to small businesses as well.

I agree with the harmonisation downwards. It is something that should be supported. It will benefit many different areas. I certainly know it will benefit my own city of Waterford.

At least we have Sinn Féin on our side.

The problem with merely harmonising it is that it is trying to make limited changes within a system that is antiquated. It certainly will help, but the Minister is not dealing with the fundamental issue of how rates are calculated, an issue we raised along with all the issues raised by Senators Walsh, Landy and Cummins in relation to the rates valuation process. The Minister has not dealt with those.

It is a separate Bill.

The Minister has responsibility for local government. I am asking for his view on how we can, outside of the scope of this Bill, change for the better the rates system in this country. I accept that harmonising downwards is the best we can do within the scope of this Bill. It is positive, it should be welcomed, and the Minister should be commended on it. I refer especially to the funding that has been given to local authorities to reduce rates. Any lifting of the burden, especially on small and medium-sized businesses, must be seen as a good development. Nobody will argue against that. However, we need to have a debate about rates, how they are calculated and how they are paid.

The other issue, which the Minister has not dealt with, is the power to set rates for the municipal districts. I am looking at the two amendments which my party tabled, one of which, amendment No. 20, is supported by Fianna Fáil. We are dealing with five amendments in this grouping, but I will deal with amendment No. 20 first. It seeks to insert the wording: "Each municipal district may, in respect of that district, set an additional commercial rate for premises occupied by large commercial entities which exceed such thresholds in turnover or other economic activity as may be prescribed." The Minister has not told us why that would not be good.

More or less.

It will be for larger multiples. Why is that not good? Senator Landy made a point about out-of-town shopping. In fact, the Minister-----

I support Senator Cullinane on that.

-----raised that issue in debates on the failure of some local authorities, when it came to planning out-of-town shopping centres, to take account of their impact on town and city centres, given that these places can provide free parking. There is scope to increase taxes on some of those bigger multiples, and these taxes can be used to ease the burden on smaller retailers. The amendment seeks to provide some form of a progressive nature to rates, yet the Minister has not given us any reason for not accepting it.

The second amendment to which I wanted to come back is amendment No. 23 in respect of municipal districts. This amendment is straightforward and pragmatic. Given the Minister's view of how wonderful the new municipal districts will be, I do not understand why he cannot give them the power. It seeks to substitute the wording in the Bill with the following: "The base year adjustment shall be determined in accordance with subsections (3) and (4) by a rating authority, with agreement of the members of the Municipal District Area where the base year adjustment will apply, in respect of each year of the adjustment period for each of the specified areas of the rating authority." We are asking only for the consent of the municipal district area members, and even that is being ruled out. The Minister has not dealt with that issue either. He is not giving them the autonomy to set a rate, and this was referred to by Senator Walsh and others. The Minister can argue that in the overall authority, whether it is the new merged authority of Tipperary, Waterford, Limerick or wherever, all members can set the rate, but that is not the point. The point is the municipal districts, which the Minister states will benefit those areas, whether it is Waterford city, Galway or wherever, should have the power to set a rate. They have it at present. It is being taken away from them and it is being given to a bigger authority. Why was that not looked at? If there is a reason the power to set a rate was not given to the municipal districts, what was the reason for it? Why did the Minister not go with that option? I would be interested in hearing the logic of that decision.

I am delighted that Senator Walsh accepted that he is in favour of increasing rates on businesses and that he is against this amendment tabled by the Government to make the necessary changes to harmonise rates to the lowest level in each county. I am surprised at him, but I suppose I have heard many surprises.

I refer again to that non-document of Fianna Fáil which talked about charges.

I thank the Minister for his admission.

It states there should be a charge for water based on usage with suitable minimum allowances based on family size, that local authorities should be free to charge for all local services they provide such as refuse collection, the motor tax element of the Local Government Fund should be replaced with an Exchequer grant, new sources of finance should be identified at local level, the power to levy rates should continue at county level, not at sub-county level, and the greater use of shared services, such as IT, payroll and purchasing, should be a mandate in the local government system, something Fianna Fáil voted against yesterday. I rest my case. It is hard to know what Fianna Fáil policy is these days.

In response to Senator Cullinane, I agree that out-of-town centres are places which could give us, by devolved responsibility, an opportunity to ease the burden on town centres. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is examining this to see how, for example, parking charges could be levied on out-of-town centres to level the playing pitch for shops and businesses in town.

Senator Paul Coghlan has a Bill.

He has. Senator Coghlan has good timing. The Valuation (Amendment)(No. 2) Bill will cover a number of Senator Cullinane's concerns. It is important to have a good debate on the valuation process because, as I stated earlier, it is not satisfactory at present. That is why the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, has had a lengthy consultation process for the past year with stakeholders. For the information of Senator Walsh, there is much work done on this in the Department of Finance, which has always been the Department appropriate for valuation.

It is a matter for the Government to change if it wishes. The Senator was very concerned about it but did not get to change it over 14 years. We are not prepared to devolve the function of and responsibilities for levying rates to municipal districts because I do not want different rates applied by authorities in the same county. People may disagree with that if they wish. We are certainly conscious of the harmonisation of rates across a county area. In this regard, consider the competitive pressures that exist whereby counties or regions might be competing with one another. One should not have one rate on one side of a line dividing municipal districts and a different one on the other. If this were the case, there could be a different rate a mile up the road in a different village or town. That is the background to why we decided to leave the setting of the rates at county level. The elected municipal district member has a second bite of the cherry in that he can argue, at the plenary session of the council, as to what rates would be appropriate, based on needs and resources, in order to run the show in his district. He can also argue what the priorities should be.

This is a bit like playing handball against a haystack. There is none so blind as those who do not want to see. There are two aspects to the amendment that has been tabled. One aspect is that each municipal area should be allowed to determine its commercial rate. The Minister's argument against that is that different rates could apply in areas within a mile or two of each other. This is already the case. A mile from where I live, a different rate is applied on each side of the river. This is because the other side of the river is in a different county. The Minister's argument against doing what we are suggesting is, therefore, a non-argument. Our proposal would create a competitive dynamic within a county because a municipal area, by creating a rate according to its budget, would generate competitiveness regarding commercial rates within that county. We need some discipline to keep the rate down and competitive.

The second point of the amendment concerns premises occupied by large commercial entities. Tesco has been mentioned but I do not believe it has brought much to the shopping landscape of this country. Other retailers may have. Most of the stores of Tesco are on the outskirts of towns and their location has been detrimental. I argued against the rezoning of land to allow this to happen in my town but I was in a minority. The majority decided otherwise. The rates arrangement certainly has an effect. I certainly commend the efforts being made to try to find a balance by examining charges, including car parking charges. The amendment affords the Minister an opportunity to examine the profitability, and perhaps the revenue, of large commercial enterprises to ensure in some way that their contribution will be higher than that of the smaller shopkeepers so as to afford an opportunity to the latter to survive. The smaller shopkeepers may not be a priority for the Minister but they are a priority for our party.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 21.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators David Cullinane and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 are out of order.

Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 not moved.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 40, to delete lines 17 to 19, and substitute the following:

“(2) The base year adjustment shall be determined in accordance with subsections (3) and (4) by a rating authority, with agreement of the members of the Municipal District Area where the base year adjustment will apply, in respect of each year of the adjustment period for each of the specified areas of the rating authority.”.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Government amendment No. 24:
In page 41, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:
“(8) Notwithstanding subsection (7), where—
(a) in respect of a specified area the base year adjustment calculated in accordance with subsection (3) would result in a levy with a value greater than 20,
(b) the local authority concerned, following the adoption by it of a resolution for the purpose of this subsection—
(i) applies in writing to the Minister to make an order that the adjustment period applicable to such specified area may be greater than 10 years, and
(ii) such resolution and application states the length of the extension being sought (which extension so stated shall be in respect of a period not greater than 10 years),
and
(c) following consideration of the application under paragraph (b), the Minister determines that an extension should be granted,
then, the Minister may by order grant an extension, which extension may, if the Minister considers it appropriate in the circumstances but subject to it not being greater than 10 years, be different from that sought in the application referred to in paragraph (b) and, accordingly, in its application to that specified area, the reference to 10 years in subsection (7)(a) shall be read as if it were a reference to the sum of those 10 years and the extension provided for by that order.”.
Amendment put and declared carried.
Government amendment No. 25:
In page 41, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:
“(9) Notwithstanding subsection (8), it shall be lawful for the rating authority to determine an increase in the annual rate on valuation where—
(a) the adjustment period of a specified area in the administrative area of the rating authority has been the subject of an order under subsection (8), and
(b) the adjustment period applicable to all specified areas in the administrative area of the rating authority, other than any specified area that is the subject of an order under subsection (8), have ceased in accordance with subsection (7).”.
Amendment put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 29, as amended, stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 30 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
NEW SECTION

Amendments Nos. 26 and 147 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Government amendment No. 26:
In page 41, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:
“Amendment of certain provisions relating to rates on vacant premises
31. (1) Section 71 of the Local Government (Dublin) Act 1930 is amended—
(a) by inserting the following after subsection (1):
“(1A) A local authority may—
(1B) The specifying of a local electoral area or local electoral areas and the determination of the proportion of the refund shall be a reserved function.”,
and
(b) by inserting the following after subsection (3):
“(4) The Minister may make regulations specifying the financial considerations and administrative and other procedures to apply in relation to the performance by Dublin City Council of functions to which subsections (1A) and (1B) relate.”.
(2) Section 20 of the Cork City Management Act 1941 is amended—
(a) by inserting the following after subsection (1):
“(1A) A local authority may—
(a) specify a local electoral area or local electoral areas within its administrative area where owners of vacant premises shall be entitled to claim and receive a refund of differing proportion of the municipal rate to that referred to in subsection (1), and
(b) determine the proportion of the refund to apply in respect of each specified local electoral area or local electoral areas in accordance with paragraph (a).
(1B) The specifying of a local electoral area or local electoral areas and the determination of the proportion of the refund shall be a reserved function.”,
and
(b) by inserting the following after subsection (3):
“(4) The Minister may make regulations specifying the financial considerations and administrative and other procedures to apply in relation to the performance by Cork City Council of functions to which subsections (1A) and (1B) relate.”.
(3) Section 14 of the Local Government Act 1946 is amended—
(a) in subsection (1) by deleting “which is situated in a county but not in an urban area and”,
(b) by inserting the following after subsection (1):
“(1A) For the purposes of subsection (1) reference to county rate shall include a rate adopted by a city and county council.
(1B) A local authority may—
(a) specify a local electoral area or local electoral areas within its administrative area where owners of vacant premises shall be entitled to claim and receive a refund of differing proportion of the county rate to that referred to in subsection (1), and
(b) determine the proportion of the refund to apply in respect of each specified local electoral area or local electoral areas in accordance with paragraph (a).
(1C) The specifying of a local electoral area or local electoral areas and the determination of the proportion of the refund shall be a reserved function.”,
and
(c) by inserting the following after subsection (3):
“(4) The Minister may make regulations specifying the financial considerations and administrative and other procedures to apply in relation to the performance by a local authority of functions to which subsections (1B) and (1C) relate.”.”.

Section 31B amends section 14 of the Local Government Act 1946 to the effect that vacancy refunds in authorities where the 1946 Act applies are reduced to 50%. I previously signalled that I intended to revert to this matter and I appreciate Members' contributions to the debates both in this House and in the Dáil in the past few weeks. There are, however, numerous factors to be considered when proposing an amendment to rates legislation, including its effect on business sentiment and its impact on local government finances. I accept that the commercial property market is not homogenous and there are locations around the country where there is little or no demand for commercial premises, which means that the intentions behind introducing a reduced refund are more difficult to achieve.

I believe the best way of ensuring that local circumstances are accounted for is to provide the elected councils with the authority to tailor their vacancy refunds that best suit their own local economic circumstances. The amendment I am introducing specifically seeks to provide that elected members in all local authorities can, as a reserve function, decide an electoral district or districts within the administrative area of the county and city, where a differing rate of refund may apply. Councils can decide on the appropriate refund being any proportion downwards from 100% that should apply in each individual area, and provide that the Minister may make regulations setting out the administrative and financial procedures to apply in relation to the taking of such decisions. The underlying objective of these provisions is to allow elected members to respond to the realities of economic circumstances in their own areas.

Amendment No. 147 amends Part 3 of the schedule to provide for this new reserved function. Related amendments are also being made to the Local Government (Dublin) Act 1930 and the Cork City Management (Amendment) Act 1941 to provide for local discretion there as well because in both of these cases, the prevailing refund regime of 50% already applies. As I have explained, provision is being made to allow the local authority to provide a different proportion of refund in specific electoral districts within the authority's administrative areas. It would, of course, be open to the elected members in Dublin and Cork to apply a 50% refund regime to all electoral districts in the relevant cities, thereby maintaining the current position.

I extend a lukewarm welcome to the change.

Vote against it.

To be honest, it was my intention to call a vote on this section because where premises are vacant and there are no revenues accruing, there are also no services being utilised by the owners of that premises. Therefore, the justification for charging rates on it is without foundation. I would have preferred a situation where it would have been standardised at a refund rate of 100% across the country, particularly given the situation we are in.

It is being standardised.

What the Minister is doing is not standardisation. What he is doing is empowering local authority members to make that decision.

It is a reserved function.

It can apply at any specific rate. I would have preferred it if we had standardised it at 100%. I have seen instances in a number of towns where premises were unoccupied, often because of the financial collapse of the company or the individual operating the premises. To add to their woes with the particularly high rates we have is not something I am particularly in favour of. I would have preferred if it had been standardised.

The Minister said at the outset of this debate that he would listen, and he has listened on previous Stages. He has brought in amendments not only to listen but to act on the requests of various organisations. This is a perfect example of this. For the past two days, we have been listening to complaints about powers not being devolved to local councillors. This is game, set and match as regards the devolution of a power to councillors for the betterment of their areas. All anybody can do is welcome this because it will mean that, again, the relevance of the elected members in the area to the business community will increase. Those who are responsible and who do it properly will be the people who the electorate see fit to return in future elections. That is what local democracy is about at any time. This is an excellent piece of work that gives each municipal area an opportunity to look at its set of circumstances and make a decision based on them. That is the way it should be and I welcome it.

I support Senator Landy and very much welcome this amendment. The Minister has certainly been listening. We now have an opportunity to give the power to the people on the ground - the councillors representing the area who know best the business situation that prevails. With the indulgence of the Chair, I welcome the comments made by the Minister during the discussions on a previous amendment where he indicated that the Government and Department are looking at assisting centre-of-town businesses by looking at the possibility of some levies or some way of imposing charges on out-of-town retail developments to balance the situation in town centres. My own town of Ballinasloe is a case in point. The life has been sucked out of the centre of the town by Tesco, Aldi and Lidl developments on the outskirts of the town with free parking, so there is a real need to balance that. The Minister is listening. This Bill and the amendments that have been made indicate we are heading in the right direction and that real power is being devolved to the people who know best what is happening - the councillors on the ground. We are on course.

Senator Walsh might not be aware of it but this provision of 50% relief already applies in Cork, Limerick and Dublin. I have had representations from all parties in Galway city to have it extended there. Rather than having a blanket provision that seeks to harmonise as Senator Walsh suggested, I will give discretion to people to do whatever they wish, from 0% to 100%. The reality is that what might suit Galway might not suit New Ross. We are devolving to each municipal district the opportunity for the elected members to decide these things themselves on the basis of refund of rates in the context of vacant premises.

At this stage, I will probably reserve with leave to resubmit an amendment. I will reflect on it. I think there is a move. I note that it is the local authority rather than the municipal area that will make the decision. It is not the municipal district councillors that will make the decision. From what I can see in the amendment, the local authority can make that decision in respect of a specific area but it will be done by the full council. That troubles me a bit. Perhaps the Minister might look at giving it to the municipal area because it would certainly be a step in the right direction. I know the council as a whole can designate one of the municipal areas rather than the entire county, but it would be better if the authority was vested in the municipal members. Perhaps the Minister might reflect on that. I acknowledge that it is a politically astute move by the Minister.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 27 not moved.
Section 31 deleted.
NEW SECTION

Amendments Nos. 28 and 142 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 28:
In page 42, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:
"Duty to inform rating authority of transfer of relevant property
32.(1) In this section—
"occupier", in relation to property (whether corporeal or incorporeal), means every person in the immediate use or enjoyment of the property;
"owner", in relation to a relevant property, means a person (other than a mortgagee not in possession) who, whether in that person's own right or as trustee or agent for any other person, is entitled to receive the rent of the property or, where the property is not let, would be so entitled if it were so let;
"relevant property" shall be read in accordance with Schedule 3 of the Valuation Act 2001.
(2) Where relevant property, or an interest in relevant property, is transferred from one person to another person in circumstances that render that other person liable for rates on the property so transferred, then—
(a) it shall be the duty of the owner of the property (being the owner of the property prior to transfer) or such other person as the owner has authorised in writing to act on his or her behalf to notify, in writing, the rating authority in whose functional area the property is situated of the transfer not later than 2 weeks after the date of the transfer, and
(b) it shall be the duty of the person transferring the property being either the occupier or the owner, to discharge all rates for which he or she is liable for at the date of the transfer of the property or of an interest in it.
(3) Any rates due by an owner of relevant property and not discharged in accordance with subsection (2)(b) shall remain a charge on the relevant property, but that property shall not, as against a purchaser in good faith for full consideration in money or money’s worth or a mortgagee, remain charged with or liable to the payment of such unpaid rates after the expiration of 12 years from the date upon which the amount concerned fell due.
(4) The owner of relevant property shall be liable for a charge equivalent to no more than 2 years of the outstanding rates due from the previous occupier or occupiers where—
(a) the owner has not notified the rating authority in writing of a transfer of relevant property or an interest in relevant property in accordance with subsection (2)(a), and
(b) the requirements of subsection (2)(b) have not been met.
(5) Any charge due by an owner of relevant property and not discharged in accordance with subsection (4) shall remain a charge on the relevant property, but that property shall not, as against a purchaser in good faith for full consideration in money or money's worth or a mortgagee, remain charged with or liable to the payment of such unpaid rates after the expiration of 12 years from the date upon which the amount concerned fell due.
(6) Any charge levied under subsection (3) or (5) does not affect—
(a) the liability of any previous occupier for outstanding rates in respect of which he or she is primarily liable, or
(b) the functions of the rating authority concerned under any other enactment to collect any outstanding rates from the occupier or occupiers primarily liable.".

The legislation underpinning many aspects of commercial rates dates from the 19th century. A large body of case law is well established and local authorities and ratepayers are in the main very familiar with and generally accepting of the operation and practice of the rating system, notwithstanding what we discussed earlier. The local authorities must play a leading role in creating a pro-enterprise and supportive environment to generate jobs and sustain existing jobs and are best placed to meet many of the needs of businesses in terms of infrastructure, local promotion and other key enabling measures. In this context, local authorities work with ratepayers who are experiencing financial difficulties and take whatever action is possible to support enterprises that wish to establish, expand and create jobs in their administrative area. Moreover, I have been concerned with an aspect of rating legislation that in my view could give rise to an unfair burden on new occupiers of rateable property, be they companies that wish to expand, relocate or indeed start up. The subsequent occupier provisions contained in the Poor Relief (Ireland) Acts 1838 and 1849 determine that occupiers can held liable for up to two years for the unpaid commercial rates of the previous occupier.

I am taking this opportunity in amendment No. 142 to repeal those provisions and eliminate this financial burden for new occupiers to ensure that any possible barriers to enterprise development are removed. Removing this liability offers the possibility that property that may otherwise have remained vacant and unoccupied can now be re-let, thus improving opportunities in the property market and reducing the instance of vacant commercial properties. The amendments to this effect are set out in Part 4 of Schedule 2. As I said before, rating legislation is complex and there are numerous factors to be considered when proposing an amendment such as this, including its effect on business sentiment and local government finances.

I am taking the opportunity with amendment No. 28 to introduce a new duty to inform the local authority of the transfer of rateable property, be it a change of ownership or tenancy, in order that the local authority is in a position to ensure liability can be established as soon as it falls due. The amendment details the nature of these requirements and the penalty for non-compliance.

Subsection 2(a) places an obligation on property owners to notify the local authority of a change in interest within two weeks of the transfer. This includes a transfer of ownership or tenancy where the person to whom the interest transfers will become liable for rates. This therefore applies in circumstances where the new owner takes up occupation of the premises or a new tenant is moving in.

Amendment put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 32 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 33 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
SECTION 34
Government amendment No. 29:
In page 43, line 17, to delete “, 13, 14(3) and 15” and substitute “and 13, subparagraphs (3) and (4) of paragraph 14 and paragraph 15”.

This amendment addresses an omission in the list of consequential provisions in Schedule 4 of the Bill that shall not apply in the case of county and city development boards. It provides for the insertion of paragraph 14(4) dealing with local authority housing to the list of excluded provisions that are already set out in section 34(4)(a) as this relates to an area in respect of which the development boards had no remit.

Amendment put and declared carried.
Question proposed: "That section 34, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

The section provides for the dissolution of the city and county development boards that were consequential on transitional matters arising from the dissolution. I am disappointed that the Minister has taken this initiative. In the context of having the widest possible democratic accountability, the county and city development boards represented a very good model for embracing all the social and economic aspects of the administrative areas in which they operated. I served on the county development board in Leitrim through my connection with child care. It provided a very good platform for the social, economic and cultural activities within the county. I appreciate that the Minister is establishing - they have already been established in many cases - the economic and social committees within the local authorities which go some way towards addressing the same model as the county development boards. However, I believe the new initiative is a very poor substitute for the county and city development boards, which were very inclusive. I am disappointed that another aspect of local democracy is, in a sense, being demolished.

I did not catch the Leas-Chathaoirleach's eye earlier. This section deals with the dissolution of county and city enterprise boards, but the Bill also deals with the dissolution of local authorities. I welcomed what Westport Town Council organised regarding the dissolution. It obviously did not influence enough people, but we should commend its attempt, as it was an example of local democracy trying to protect itself. It is a very fine town and I wish it well under the new arrangements. I was surprised that so few towns actually sent us any documentation - Westport did, for which I thank the people there. I accept that this section deals with the dissolution of something else - county and city development boards. The section on local authorities just ended with Part 5, so I beg your pardon, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. Westport deserves some credit for participating in the exercise with the Members of the Oireachtas.

Question put and declared carried.
SECTION 35

Amendments Nos. 30 and 33 are related and will be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 30:
In page 45, line 1, to delete “relates.”.” and substitute the following:
“relates.
(8) Section 45 shall not apply to meetings of the Committee.”.”.

Amendment No. 30 addresses an omission in the published Bill. It proposes that section 45 of the Local Government Act 2001, relating to the attendance of the media and the public at local authority meetings, shall not apply in the case of local community development committees. Although LCDCs will be local authority committees, their role and functions will differ considerably from those of other local authority committees. A significant element of LCDC work will be the consideration of funding applications. This work will involve confidential and commercially sensitive matters, which it would not be appropriate to discuss in the presence of the media and public.

Amendment No. 33 proposes to include youth organisations within the meaning of representatives of community interest set out in the Bill. Specific provision for youth organisations reflects the Government and EU priority of focusing on supports for young people, particularly in the area of training, upskilling and employment supports.

Is the Minister in effect excluding the media from these committees?

The Minister said confidential matters would be discussed. Confidential matters are discussed at all local authority sub-committee meetings. However, we could allow members of the press to be present for the generality of the discussions and excluded for the more specific items that are being discussed where confidentiality is involved.

Amendment put and declared carried.

Amendments Nos. 31, 32, 34 to 39, inclusive, 44 to 46, inclusive, 49, 50, 54, 61, 62 and 66 to 82, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 31:
In page 45, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
“ ‘community elements of the Plan’ means those parts of a local economic and community plan relating to the local and community development of the functional area of the Committee pursuant to section 66B;
‘economic elements of the Plan’ means those parts of a local economic and community plan relating to the promotion of economic development of the administrative area of the local authority pursuant to section 66B;”.

The majority of Government amendments to be taken in this grouping arise directly from an amendment I will address shortly concerning local economic and community plans. Under the new provisions for local authorities in sections 66A to 66H, local community development committees are to be tasked with preparing integrated local economic and community plans for their areas for the first time. These plans will have economic and community elements which will be prepared separately but in parallel. I will address this in more detail when I get to amendment No. 89. Consequently, the provisions in the Bill as published relating to the development of a local and community plan are to be replaced by the new provision. Therefore, in this grouping, I will address the amendments that will give effect to this change.

Amendment No. 49 deletes from section 128 of the published Bill the references at section 128C to the local and community plan as the new provisions in section 66 will now instead provide for local economic and community plans. As a consequence of this deletion, technical amendments to renumber the provisions in section 128 are covered by amendments Nos. 45, 50, 54, 61, 62, 66, 68 to 74, inclusive, 76, 77 and 82. Amendments Nos. 31, 32, 34, 36, 38, 39, and 78 to 81, inclusive, all provide for specific references to the local and community plan to be replaced by reference to the local and economic community plans or to the community elements of the plan, as the case may be. Amendment No. 37 alters the reference in this part of the Bill to the duration of the plan from five to six years. The change to the duration of the plan from five to six years is being provided for in the amendments I am tabling for section 66, which will provide for the local economic and community plan, and for the harmonisation of the planning period of this plan with other local authority planning processes, including the new regional spatial economic strategies.

Amendment No. 44 introduces a new function for local community development committees asking them to consider the economic elements of the plan before it is finalised to enhance co-ordination with the community elements of the plan and ultimately integrate the economic and community elements into a single plan. Amendments Nos. 67 and 75 make minor adjustments to the provisions for making regulations relating to local and community development committees.

I will now deal with the amendments tabled by Senators. Amendment No. 46 proposes to add a focus on social inclusion as an issue to which LCDCs should have regard. A similar proposal was made on Report Stage in the Dáil and I undertook to consider the proposal when framing the proposals for the local economic and community plan, which will be the key focus of the work of the LCDCs. Accordingly, I consider that the intention of this amendment is met through the provision in section 66B(3)(a)(i), which we have yet to debate, for a focus in the plan on the need to tackle poverty, disadvantage and social exclusion.

Amendment No. 35 is one of a number relating to the description of the key responsibilities of the LCDCs. I am satisfied that the wording set out in the Bill referring to the local and community development of each area properly represents the role and functions of the proposed committees. This includes the responsibility the committees will have for certain local development programmes. Accordingly, I do not propose to accept the amendments to remove the references to local and community development or to remove the word "local" from the phrase "local and community development". I believe these two amendments would limit the scope of the LCDC functions to dealing with community development supports and activities. This would be inconsistent with my policy intentions, which seek to give the committees a management and oversight responsibility for local development and community development programming at a local level. Therefore, I oppose them.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Many organisations are very concerned about this section of the Bill. They have concerns about the implications for independent work in the community sector in particular and for the most disadvantaged and marginalised communities. They regard this as a centralisation of powers around local development.

We are moving away from having the power with local development companies, as they are at present, and taking that away. Basically, we are handing a chequebook to the county councils. As we now, it is he who holds the chequebook will influence the agenda.

There is genuine concern that Part 6 of the Bill will give wide-ranging powers to the local authorities rather than the community development sector. There is a concern that the Bill gives the State control over the local element of independent Irish civil society. It is vital that the sector is autonomous and independent in order to work towards positive social change. The Bill states that the local development committees will be independent in their workings. From my experience it is clear that will not be the case in practice.

We are quite aware that when these companies, which are supposed to work from the bottom up, are under the influence of the county councils that the agenda will be totally different. I mean that the funding will be spent in a different way, and one can be clear on that matter.

We are also concerned that the Bill will provide for a wide-range of issues to be dealt with by ministerial order. That again will give the Minister, or a future Minister, significant powers to implement even wider ranging reforms without the need to introduce new legislation. That is a worrying development.

The legislation also provides for the reform of other legislation, some of which will have direct implications for the participation of the most marginalised communities, including the Traveller community. The Bill does nothing to further the involvement or participation of those most distant from democratic processes. It does nothing to address the democratic deficit identified. Let us examine the matter from a community development perspective. The idea behind community development is to empower people in their local communities. This section, particularly regarding the local economic plans, will serve as a rubber-stamp and lead to the county council agenda being imposed on local communities. Also, the county council agenda regarding how moneys are spent will be rubber-stamped by the committees.

I have worked with a local development company in the past and I am well aware of the issues on the ground. I have also sat on a social inclusion committee in county councils. I have witnessed the level of debate that took place but it leaves a lot to be desired.

I am not saying that social inclusion committees and the way they rubber-stamped the plans of some of the local development companies is the way to go either.

Just rubber-stamp it yourselves.

No. I am saying that the Minister's plan is very good but it received little discussion at the social economic committees. Once a year a quick meeting would be held by certain councils where the plan was rubber-stamped and off we go.

Rubber-stamped?

All of that was done by the amount of work that was put in by local development companies and the people from all of the voluntary and community organisations in those areas. It was an insult. As a result I do not have a great amount of confidence in local authorities, particularly given that since my time spent on the committee there has been a huge cut to staffing levels in county councils. That cut affects what happens. The Minister proposes to put more resources back into the county councils after staff levels were cut.

Let us take rural Connemara as an example. In Clifden or Lettermullan one does not see many county council officials but one will see the people who work for the local development companies on a regular basis which is key. I appreciate the Minister has said that the same people shall remain in the companies but there is a gradual move and the chequebook, initially, is being moved to the county council.

They are more accountable.

Is the Minister saying that LDCs were not accountable to date?

No, they were accountable to a private sector company.

The Minister should take back what he said.

They are private companies.

There has been oversight by Pobal and different organisations which give funding.

Does the Senator favour public service?

Is the Minister telling me that the oversight did not exist?

There is oversight.

That goes back to his Department and funding issues.

I have no problem and I know about them.

I know from my experience of working with many of the companies-----

The Senator has a vested interest.

No, I do not have a vested interest whatsoever.

Yes, the Senator did say he was a member.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh please, without interruption.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

I ask Members to speak through the Chair rather than having an argy-bargy among themselves.

If the Minister stopped interrupting me I might be able to conclude.

The Minister is like a jack-in-the-box.

Obviously it is a touchy subject for the Minister.

Seanadóir Ó Clocharthaigh, ar aghaigh leat.

I was a member of PLANET, the representative organisation for partnership companies.

The Senator declared his interest.

What planet is the Minister on?

Please desist, Senator Wilson.

Most companies that I came across were very frugal in the way they spent their moneys. They did not spend a huge amount of money on administration. The money was spent on local projects.

They should have put it in.

More importantly, they had local level committees. It meant that there was local input from people who represented the elderly, youth groups, the marginalised, etc. It is they who decided how the money was spent.

The Minister is creating a decision-making structure that will be centralised under the county councils. Therefore, it will be much more difficult for people and those from marginalised groups to attend meetings on the issues because they will, more than likely, be centralised in a county building. The provision is a detrimental step and one the Minister should reconsider.

I wish to inquire about the discussions on economic plans vis-à-vis Leader funding. I know that the Minister has held substantial negotiations on the plans because the plans will rely greatly on money coming from Leader. There were reasons Leader was not allowed to have its money funnelled through the county councils. The thinking was that Leader money should be spent as close to the community as possible. I refer to the community and rural development elements of Leader. That policy has now been changed. Can the Minister clarify whether he now has the full imprimatur of the EU on funnelling Leader moneys through county councils? That is a change of policy. When was the decision made? Can we have the details?

I seek clarification from the Minister that elected representatives can be on the local development committees. Is it still the case that the chief executive or manager of the council will select the elected members to sit on this particular committee?

That is not the case.

I welcome that fact. Is it still the case that the chief executive will select the non-elected members to the committee and put the names before the council for endorsement?

Consult the corporate policy group.

I thank the Minister.

I wish to answer the point made by Senator Ó Clocharthaigh.

I shall allow the Minister to rejoin the debate later, if he so wishes.

The problem with the section is that there is no new vision, just continuity.

The legislation will devolve power to local authorities which is the section that the Senator opposed earlier.

I shall deal with that issue in a second.

They are centralising powers.

It does no such thing. There is no new vision for local community development but a continuity of policy. Let us be honest, in the section there is a drift towards centralising community development into local government and putting it under Government control which was set in train by the previous Government. It started with the abolition of the community development projects which were subsumed with partnerships to become local development companies or whatever they are called at present. The previous Government dissolved the boards that comprised people who lived in communities and knew what the issues were. Those boards were dissolved and local accountability and responsibility was taken away from the very people who live in the communities. That was the first step taken to undermine the principle of community development and a bottom-up approach.

When the Minister came to power he could have reversed centralisation and stemmed the drift towards taking power away from communities. He could have given power back to communities, instead he has further centralised power. All he has done is allowed a process to continue and follow its course that was set in train, a long time ago, by the previous government. He has simply implemented Fianna Fáil policy on local community development.

I was a member of a community development project so the Minister may say I have a vested interest. The project is no more so I have no vested interest.

I did not accuse the Senator.

No, but the Minister accused Senator Ó Clochartaigh of having a vested interest for similar reasons.

The Minister might need to retract his statement.

It is important for the Minister to retract his statement.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh has since-----

I know that the Minister does not believe that Senator Ó Clochartaigh has a vested interest. Perhaps the Minister might take the opportunity, when he contributes again, to withdraw his comment.

(Interruptions).

I was a director of the Larchville Lisduggan Community Development Project Limited and know, at first hand, the good work done by volunteers. They were voluntary board members of the CDP. They lived in the housing estates and understood the issues that affected people living in the areas. Their power and responsibilities were taken away from them. They no longer have any involvement in the CDP because it was subsumed, along with partnerships, into local community development companies.

Where is the bottom-up approach? A team of people working in a voluntary capacity across the State have been taken out of the system. How could that be a good thing for the people who live in those communities? I remember attending an event in Croke Park which the Department and Pobal also attended. The Minister referred to a lack of accountability. There was accountability through Pobal and the Department. Pobal representatives were very clear when the community development partnerships, CDPs, were being dissolved that community development would not be subsumed into local government and controlled by it but that is exactly what happened. As Senator Ó Clochartaigh said, whoever controls the chequebook controls the agenda and policy. That is what will happen.

It is unfortunate that the Minister has not brought any fresh thinking, new initiatives or vision. He simply followed on with a process that was set in train long before he was Minister, yet he is dressing it up as a reform by him. That is nonsense. It was created by Fianna Fáil in the previous Government and it was set in train long before he became Minister. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, is simply implementing it and giving us no new vision, which is disappointing. Previous speakers suggested that the Minister might end up in Europe but before he goes he could take the opportunity to fundamentally reform local government and local community development. He has missed the opportunity. His ministerial legacy will not be good when it comes to local government and local community development.

It is better than Sinn Féin’s legacy.

The Minister provided clarity to Senator Wilson on the filling of positions on the local community development committees, LCDCs. Could he clarify the selection process for the chair of the LCDC? Clarity has been sought across the political divide.

It is only fair that time is provided for the realignment of community development within LCDCs to bed in and for us to examine progress. I worked in community development for many years. We quickly discovered that some systems that were introduced to assist with a bottom-up approach did not work. The best use of volunteers was not being achieved because of the processes that were introduced. The Minister will recall that much auditing was done to determine value for money and best practice. Nationally, we did not come out very well from the process. There is always an opportunity, none more so than at the moment when the most significant reform of local government in 100 years is taking place, to examine a system that would best serve communities through local development companies but also with a sense of democratic accountability and autonomous opportunity attached. For those reasons I look forward to the roll-out of the system and to getting clarity on the issues I raised and those that were raised by Senator Wilson to protect and enhance the role of elected persons. They are the ones who have a mandate from the community on whose doors they knocked to get votes. The mandate from the people should be supreme over everything else. The Minister has done a good job in the past two weeks in making changes that were required. He is listening. I respect and thank him for that.

That could become a habit. Senator Landy should be careful.

Nobody has all the wisdom. When one adds up the collective wisdom one gets the solution.

The point I was making to Senator Ó Clochartaigh is that he is very close to the community sector. I believe he was a paid official.

The Minister should tell me. He seems to have all the information at his behest.

He should declare an interest. What we are proposing is compliant with EU regulations on the bottom-up approach.

In response to Senator Cullinane, this is the first time the community sector is being recognised in law as having a role to play in the local community area and that it will be a reserved function of councillors to adopt an economic and community plan. They are the people who are democratically elected. They will now be put in charge, by virtue of their democratic mandate to disburse funds, with others, to various projects. They will be the contract holders. What better place could one put funds from the public purse than the public accountability system of local government where there are existing structures in place and where a report must be made to the local government auditor without duplicating all of the audit apparatus that has been established over the years in the community sector? Community sector members will have the majority of participants on the local community development committee. They are in an even better position than elected members to influence matters.

People do not believe that.

I suspect Senator Cullinane did not explain the position. This is the first time the role of the community is being recognised in a structured way in law. Senator Cullinane said there is nothing in the Bill but for the first time ever we are giving reserved functions to councillors to decide the local economic and community plan. They will work with the community in a structured way for the first time ever. That is just an example of the wide suite of opportunities councillors will have after the 2014 local elections. By the vote of the people they will have an influence on all moneys that are disbursed in their community, not through private companies, which is the current structure, where there are all the obligations of company law. Many company directors did not appreciate that when they began, but they telephone my office to get details of their role and responsibility under company law. I can assure Senator Cullinane that they were not always aware of what was involved, especially when coming to the end of a programme period, as we are under the rural development programme. We do not know the funds yet for the rural development programme because we have not completed discussions on that element of it in the Common Agricultural Policy. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is the contracting party – not my Department - with Brussels on the rural development programme.

In response to Senator Landy, the chair of the LCDC has to be elected by the membership of the LCDC in order to comply with EU regulations for funding. That is a committee within the local government structure that has to be self-contained for the purpose of drawing down those funds in order to adhere to the EU regulations on the bottom-up approach.

I understand that one of the front-runners in terms of participation by local authorities with the community on LCDCs is Cork County Council. My understanding is that a councillor has been elected chairperson from within the group. I am sure that will allay Senator Landy’s concerns. The situation will vary but it is possible if councillors and the local community work closely together. The working relationship between councils and communities varies as well. Officials and members of the county council must embrace the community more and, equally, the community must be less suspicious of what councils are trying to do. If statutory bodies and community groups work together in a local area the outcomes and output of local community development committees will be improved. I hope that will allay the concerns some people have had on those matters and put paid to some of the hypocrisy in terms of not devolving responsibility and power to councillors. Senator Cullinane was involved in a masquerade of such nonsense for a while.

I know the Minister is only trying to wind me up by talking about vested interests. For the record, I do not have any vested interest in the area. In a previous life I worked with a partnership company in Connemara, Cumas Teoranta. I do not work for the company any longer so I do not have any vested interest to declare.

I thank Senator Ó Clochartaigh for the clarification.

The Minister is very welcome. I thank him for being so interested in my background.

I am watching Senator Ó Clochartaigh.

That points to something-----

It was not necessary to make such a statement.

It was, given that the Minister cast aspersions on my character.

No, I did not.

I had to clarify the matter.

I had to clarify a few matters.

I will clarify a few more issues now while we are at it.

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, has a file on every one of us.

Do not go there, Senator Wilson.

It is important to say that we have been through the cohesion process with the local partnership companies, as they were, and the Leader companies. The process was managed by the Department. As part of the process the previous Minister was told-----

Was it Deputy Ó Cuív?

Yes. The Minister's officials would have been well aware of people's concerns about the issues regarding the cohesion process at the time.

I am surprised the Minister is calling these companies private companies because they are not. They are companies limited by guarantee and under guidelines that were negotiated over three or four years, as far as I remember, by officials in the Minister's Department. Strict criteria were laid down on how these companies had to be constituted, the number of board members, which sectors they had to come from, etc. For the Minister to say that many of the directors of these companies were unaware of their responsibilities surprises me. I know that numerous consultations took place at the time about the responsibilities of the directors. It is unfair to many of the good people who have been directors of those companies and who have been running many of those companies well, to be casting aspersions on them by saying they are private companies and they did not live up to their responsibilities.

I am not saying that.

That is a statement the Minister needs to retract because it is most unfair.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh is very sensitive.

We realise that the cohesion process, especially in the Gaeltacht areas, was an absolute disaster. The Minister knows that himself. Certainly, we need an investigation into what happened in the Gaeltacht areas and what happened to Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta, MFG, in particular, and how some of the actions in that company were allowed to happen, under the auspices of the previous Minister, it has to be said.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh is bang on.

Many calls for an investigation into that have been made.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh should spell it out.

I call on the Minister-----

Senator Ó Clochartaigh should spell out the allegations he is making.

The allegations have been made by many people into exactly why-----

We should be careful of allegations. We do not want to abuse the privilege of the House.

I am not going to do that. It is important to find out. Have the audits done by the Department shown up any issues regarding documentation being kept or board minutes etc., the way decisions were made, the way moneys were spent, etc., on the various programmes? It is about time the Minister sanctioned a full investigation into that issue.

The result of that, the reason it is important now and the point I am trying to make to the Minister is that in the Gaeltacht we do not have a structure similar to one of the local development companies.

There are structures.

We do not have that structure because it was taken away when MFG was gone. Will the Minister clarify where the Gaeltacht areas sit in his new vision for local development? At the moment the funds are being allocated through contiguous companies, including FORUM Connemara in Letterfrack and Comhair na nOileán, etc., in various Gaeltacht areas.

We have concerns about centralising power and not having local people make decisions. Some €17 million was to be allocated to the Gaeltacht areas under the original Leader programme. From recent parliamentary questions it seems clear to me that we have only received a fraction of that and that we are approximately €9 million down on the figure we were told we would get only some years ago. Figures I received recently on County Galway show that of the Leader funding moneys we were supposed to get, we are approximately €5.5 million short because of cutbacks.

That is an issue. That money should have been spent locally but it has not been spent locally because of an issue between the Department, the Minister, the county councils, etc. That points towards the lack of confidence people in local areas have in a centralising of the chequebook system through the county councils. Although the Minister says there will be a majority of community and voluntary members on the local committees, we all know well that it is the people who hold the chequebook who will hold the power and drive the agenda. We all know that in this case they are the county managers and the directors of services. That is exactly what will happen and the Minister knows it well. It will probably be at the behest of the Minister of the day too. That is an important point and one of the reasons we need to re-examine this section and this part of the Bill.

What consultation has taken place with the representatives of the community sector on this part? They have raised serious issues with us. For example, the Community Workers Co-operative, CWC, has said to us that these wide-ranging and deep-seated changes are being made in the absence of any consultation with the sector or with the most disadvantaged communities that would be most affected. Communication from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government on the process has been non-existent despite numerous calls for information. In no other arena would such changes be allowed to be made without consulting those affected.

Yesterday, the Minister told us he looked into his own heart on all of these issues and he has searched them inside and outside, etc. It seems strange that one of the primary players in the community sector is telling us that although it has contacted his Department on numerous occasions, it has not been consulted. The Minister may wish to come back and explain that to the House.

To be fair, the Minister has shown an appalling lack of understanding of community development.

I know more than Senator Cullinane knows.

For a Minister with responsibility for this area – it may be more apt to say a Minister who is grabbing responsibility for this area – to refer to community development projects as private companies shows that appalling lack of understanding. These were companies limited by guarantee in the first instance. These were companies made up of voluntary members from community development projects who lived in the communities. They did their job in a voluntary capacity. They made up what was a voluntary board of management. The Minister seems to gloss over the fact that all of these community development projects were under the control of Pobal. Therefore, there was oversight and accountability from the Department of the community development sector. The point is that there was a community element. The previous Government took away the community element. The Minister is now not only supporting that but taking the whole area and putting it into local government and giving the power to unelected people in terms of the influence that the county and city managers or chief executives, as they will be called, and directors of services will have and the local councillors as well.

It is interesting. The Minister made a charge that I was being hypocritical because I was saying on the one hand that no new powers are being given to local government but at the same time I am not pleased with the powers of local development being given to local government. Is it not interesting that the only real power, the only power of substance that is being given to local government and councillors is by way of taking away power from the bottom up and from the local community? Not one element of power is being devolved from any Department. It is a matter of keeping power in the centre and all the Departments hanging onto their power and none being given to local government. The Minister is taking away the little power and influence that people at community level had.

Is Senator Cullinane afraid of democracy?

The Minister is giving it to-----

Senator Cullinane has not been a democrat for too long.

The Minister is giving it to local government.

Senator Cullinane, without interruption.

The Minister is trying to suggest that there is something wrong with having voluntary boards of management and people who live in communities influencing policy at the local level in matters of community development. The Minister is trying to present to me that this is in some way anti-democratic. Again, it shows up a character flaw in the Minister and a flaw in his thinking in respect of the local community development.

These people are elected. They are local representatives.

He is referring to character flaws in the Minister.

What is the problem with a democratically elected local authority member?

What the Minister should do is, first, take the opportunity to apologise to the community and voluntary sector for his comments today.

I will not. I do not have to apologise to Senator Cullinane.

The Minister should also apologise to Senator Ó Clochartaigh for the aspersions he cast in respect of him.

I have good news for Senator Ó Clochartaigh.

That would be more in his line.

Senator Cullinane has no problems casting aspersions himself.

(Interruptions).

Senator Cullinane, without interruption. We have a busy schedule.

I notice there is no heckling from those in the Labour Party because, in fairness to those in the Labour Party, they support community development.

The way out of this, Senator Cullinane, is to put the question.

They support community development. Again, this is a case of Fine Gael driving through a policy, supported by Fianna Fáil, which is about taking power away from the community and putting it into the centre, like what we are doing with everything else.

It is about local authority membership.

Many people who work in those communities-----

Sinn Féin is against democracy and not for the first time.

The Minister would know a good deal about democracy.

I do. I know more about it than Senator Cullinane.

When the Minister is abolishing town councils-----

We know about democracy in Fine Gael.

Those in Fine Gael thought the Seanad referendum campaign would sail through and they got their answer.

Senator Cullinane must be talking about himself.

The Minister would know a good deal about democracy. What the Minister is doing is undermining democracy in this Bill by abolishing whole layers of local government.

I have been elected for over 40 years.

If the Minister is so interested in democracy, now that he is in full flight, then-----

They did not elect Senator Cullinane in Waterford.

Let us wait until the next election comes and we will see who will be elected.

They did not elect Senator Cullinane down there.

If the Minister is so interested in democracy, why is it that he rules out the amendments that my party tabled in respect of holding plebiscites-----

Senator Cullinane, Minister, please do not bait each other. Respect the Chair.

The holding of plebiscites on the amalgamations of city and county councils-----

Senator, I know you are keen to conclude.

Those amendments were tabled but the Minister ruled them out of order. The Minister said he looked at them but he did not go with them. If the Minister is so interested in democracy, why did he not ask the people? If the Minister so interested in democracy why did he not put the abolition of town councils to the people by way of referendum?

Senator Cullinane is on a roll.

Why? It is because the Minister has no interest in democracy and because he wants to railroad through his Bill.

Senator Cullinane does not have a clue what he is talking about or about democracy.

If the Minister is really interested in democracy he should hold plebiscites on these issues.

The Minister has shown an appalling lack of understanding of community development. He has done a disservice to all the volunteers who have done great and valuable work in the community and voluntary sectors. Unfortunately, they have been proven right. They had a fear that this would happen.

They feared power would be taken away from those who work in the community and the volunteers and put it into local government, where it is controlled by the Government and unelected officials. That is not the way community development should happen. It is a bottom up approach. This is just Fine Gael ideology.

We - Fine Gael and Labour - were the first Government to give the community and voluntary sector a statutory remit in the local government system. Deputy Cullinane thinks that is a bad thing. We have respect for the local elected members, who were democratically elected and will be charged with the responsibility to discharge their functions and account for them in regard to disbursement of moneys and policy. They will also have to adopt, by a reserved function, the local economic and community plan. I do not see what is wrong with that.

I set up a working group, under the chairmanship of Fr. Seán Healy, ten weeks ago and got its report yesterday. Fr. Healy's committee, as Senator Ó Clochartaigh knows, consulted widely and I met with the community and voluntary sector myself recently. This group included Diarmuid Mulcahy, from the Senator's county.

The Senator is not well informed on this. Work is going on in an alignment group, between the Irish Local Development Network, ILDN, the county and city managers and the Department, for the past year, working out the details in regard to implementation and we have made substantial progress. I expect we will reach agreement in the next couple of weeks. Also, at my request, the officials of my Department have met the community and voluntary sector and community pillar on several occasions to discuss these matters, including some of the organisations the Senator mentioned in the community and workers co-op. The Gaeltacht areas will be part of the county LCDCs, but we have yet to work out appropriate delivery arrangements. These arrangements could include Údarás na Gaeltachta.

The Senator will be glad to know that today I have announced €1 million extra for Gaeltacht areas, for local development companies to spend in the next couple of months. This will include Comhar na nOileán, Fóram Chonamara and the Galway Rural Development Company.

Santa Claus is arriving to Senator Ó Clochartaigh.

We are only €8 million short.

Whoever worked out the figures in the past, it was not me. The plan was agreed in 2009, but the resources of the State have taken a fair leap in the opposite direction, unfortunately.

It was European funding.

All I can say is that my actions this year have ensured that the full programme funding will be met. Some €370 million will be committed over the programme period. My obligation is to ensure that happens.

That is not what was promised.

I did not promise any money to anybody; I do not know what the Senator promised. An additional €4 million was allocated today, of which €1 million will go to the Gaeltacht areas, for the former MFG companies that were starved of finance because of the liquidation of the company and the skullduggery that went on.

Is amendment No. 31 agreed?

I need to come back in on this.

I am not going to stifle debate, but the clock is ticking. I ask the Senator to confine himself to amendment No. 31.

The Minister mentioned the report of the working group on active citizenship, which was set up ten weeks ago. It strikes me as very strange that it was set up only ten weeks ago, when the Bill has been in the making for so long.

A minute ago, the Senator was saying no consultation took place, but now he is saying it has happened.

Allow the Senator to make his point.

I want to clarify for the Minister that according to information I received -----

It might not be right.

According to information I received yesterday from the Community Workers Co-operative, CWC, the report of the working group on active citizenship is imminent and the Minister has said we will see it soon. The CWC is concerned that the recommendations of the group will be included as a last-minute amendment to the Bill. Is that going to happen? Will we see Report Stage recommendations being rushed through on foot of the recommendations of the working group?

The CWC says the working group did not carry out any consultation with the community sector, those involved in community work or community groups. The Department also bypassed the structures established by the State itself, including the community and voluntary pillar, when establishing the membership of the working group, disregarding the normal arrangement for participation, transparency and accountability. It is concerned that the recommendation of the working group will be included in a last-minute amendment to the Bill, ensuring that the recommendations will pass into law without any scrutiny by Members of the Dáil and Seanad, community groups or any groups that might be affected. This is in total contradiction to what the Minister is telling us here.

It is important to clarify that issue. I welcome the €1 million extra for the Gaeltacht areas, but I would not really see it as extra. The Minister is aware that €17 million of Leader funding was supposed to go to Gaeltacht areas, but because of the unmitigated disaster that was MFG, this was not forthcoming. The €1 million is only €1 million towards the €17 million, but that will still leave us, by my calculations, €8 million short of where we were supposed to be.

We do not have the luxury of getting money anywhere else, like Sinn Féin has.

Gaeltacht areas have been severely hit by the way the Minister has reallocated the funding. He keeps changing the goal posts in regard to Leader spending.

The Minister keeps talking about the fact that under the new model the decisions will be made and because there will be elected representatives on the committees, the process will be democratic. Surely the Minister knows that there are already elected representatives on the boards of the new cohesive companies. There are four pillars on those boards. If I recall correctly, some 23 committees are elected in rural areas and 21 in urban areas, and part of that is the four pillars, which include locally elected representatives. Therefore, they are already part of the decision-making process.

Will the Minister clarify the relationship between these committees and those local companies that will remain in existence? The Minister said in response to earlier questions that people will still be employed in those local areas to deliver services, etc., but the cheque book remains with the county council. In the case of those companies that remain in existence, will the elected representatives be on the boards?

The Senator is quite correct that the cheque book will be with the local authority.

Yes, that is why we are saying that whoever holds the cheque book makes the decisions. They will probably do it at the behest of whatever Minister is in place.

That is democracy.

Not necessarily. Democracy would keep it as close to the people as possible and let them have more input into what is happening. There are elected representatives on the boards of Galway Rural Development, GRD, Fóram Chonamara, Comhar na nOileán at present -----

The Senator is talking about subsidiarity.

Will the Minister clarify what will happen to the companies under the new model? Will they still exist or will they be liquidated? If so, who will deliver on the ground locally and who will be the employers?

Local arrangements will be worked out between the local LCDCs and the community in terms of operational delivery of services.

Will the companies be disbanded? Is the Minister saying those companies will be liquidated? This is important.

We have not come to any conclusion on that.

Why not? The Minister said he had searched his heart when he developed this Bill. He said he consulted widely.

I have a big heart; I gave the Senator's area €1 million today.

Surely this is an integral part of the whole structure.

The Senator has made his point.

The Minister has just introduced new information. I have been at public meetings in Connemara with Fóram Chonamara and with organisations that are represented by it. Their understanding was that the local development companies would remain in existence and that the work they are doing would continue, but that the cheque book would be with the county councils and they would pay the local company to keep people employed in their local areas. The Minister is now telling me he has not decided.

No, hold on. Let me clarify,

Let Senator Ó Clochartaigh finish and then the Minister can come in.

I want the Minister to clarify this. Companies have been led to believe there would be a local structure still in place and that people would be employed in local areas by that local company, albeit that the administrative and financial functions would be transferred to the county councils. Is the Minister now telling us that this will not be the case? If so, there would be serious concern in many of our rural areas.

The Senator can hardly expect me to stand up here today and give him the outcome of a negotiation that is still going on. Is that the way he works - that he decides the outcome before the negotiation?

We have been asking for the Minister's vision.

My vision is clear. What we have is somebody like the Senator trying to muddy the waters in regard to negotiations that are going on currently between the ILDN, the partnership companies, the Department and the County and City Managers Association, CCMA. We will wait to see what is the outcome of those negotiations. They are very constructive negotiations, unlike the Senator.

Amendment put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 17.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators David Cullinane and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
Government amendment No. 32:
In page 45, to delete line 24 and substitute the following:
“ ‘Plan’ means the local economic and community plan to which section 66B relates;”.
Amendment put and declared carried.
Government amendment No. 33:
In page 45, line 34, after “section 128,” to insert “youth organisations,”.
Amendment put and declared carried.
Government amendment No. 34:
In page 45, to delete lines 38 to 41, and in page 46, to delete lines 1 to 10 and substitute the following:
“(a) to prepare and adopt the community elements of every 6 year local economic and community plan concerned in accordance with section 66C and any regulations made, or general policy guidelines issued, by the Minister for the purposes of that section,
(b) to implement, or to arrange for the implementation of, the community elements of the Plan (as the case may be) as made by the local authority in accordance with section 66C(4),”.
Amendment put and declared carried.

Amendment No. 35 cannot be moved.

Amendment No. 35 not moved.
Government amendment No. 36:
In page 46, line 11, after “of” where it firstly occurs to insert “the community elements of”.
Amendment put and declared carried.
Government amendment No. 37:
In page 46, line 12, to delete “5 calendar years” and substitute “6 calendar years”.
Amendment put and declared carried.
Government amendment No. 38:
In page 46, to delete lines 15 to 17 and substitute the following:
“(i) to amend the community elements of the Plan, or
(ii) to prepare and adopt new community elements of the Plan to be made by the local authority under section 66C,”.
Amendment put and declared carried.
Government amendment No. 39:
In page 46, line 22, before “the” to insert “the community elements of”.
Amendment put and declared carried.

Amendments Nos. 40 to 43, inclusive, 47 and 48 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 46, line 27, to delete “local and” and substitute “the”.

The amendments relate to the local groups that would be covered by the section. Amendment No. 43, for example, refers to improving the efficiency with which publicly-funded local and community development resources are used. This returns us to an earlier question we discussed, namely, whether the Minister has evidence to show that local development companies have been doing this work inefficiently in recent years. While some of the reports and audits Pobal has done on these groups have shown difficulties in a number of local development companies, they generally found that the companies provide value of money, are operated efficiently and allocate resources effectively.

The other issue of major importance to most of the local development companies is that they employ large numbers of local people. The Minister will no doubt inform me that negotiations are ongoing with the Irish Local Development Network, etc., but many of those who work in local development companies are based in the local area and have local knowledge. This is a major bonus, as is the fact that most of them live in the areas in which they are employed, some of which, for example, south, west and north Connemara, are remote rural locations. It is important that these people are living and working in their communities as their jobs are among the most important employment in rural areas that do not benefit from significant industrial development.

Many people are concerned that the county councils will hold the chequebook and allocate resources. They fear the administrative functions of the local development companies will be assumed by county councils and some of the moneys currently spent in peripheral areas will be spent shoring up staff numbers in local authorities in response to cutbacks. This would result in posts being lost in local communities.

I remain concerned about the Minister's replies to previous questions. There is still the potential that some of the local development companies will be starved of funding. This would leave them with no choice but to close down and result in job losses in rural areas. While the Minister will no doubt inform me that he does not propose to close down any local development company, the de facto outcome of the process he proposes will be the removal of funding and resources from the sector, as has occurred in the community and voluntary sector in recent years. As we all know, without funding the jobs will vanish.

I note from the Schedules that key organisations will be excluded from the decision making process. I note, for example, that the National Traveller Partnership, the National Collective of Community Based Women's Networks, both of which function as local development companies, the National Women's Council of Ireland, the Community Workers' Co-operative, Pavee Point and the National Traveller Women's Forum do not feature among the groups that must be consulted, as relevant bodies, under section 128G(1)(d). I ask the Minister to comment.

The local development companies work in local areas and seek to foster social inclusion and involve local people in the decision making process. The Minister is rowing back on this by providing for greater centralisation of this role under the county councils.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh trots out the mantra that we will close down this or that. That is not the case. Of the approximately 1,900 people employed in the local development companies, around 1,650 are Exchequer funded. I provided €47 million for the sector in 2014, the same level of funding I provided in 2013. This sum will fund 1,650 positions on the same basis next year as this year. It is a matter for the local development companies to decide on employment levels but that is the current employment figure in the companies.

Approximately 250 people are employed under the rural development programme, that is, the Leader partnership. I will not know if the funding available for this purpose will decline until negotiations conclude with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Government. At that point, we will know what level of staffing or structures are required to deliver the programme. There is no reason the local development companies will have insufficient resources to continue the good work they do in 2014. They currently employ 1,650 people, excluding those employed under the rural development programme.

The local development companies are private companies which receive money as part of a contract to deliver programmes on behalf of the State. We do not have contracts to deliver programmes with the organisations the Senator suggested have been excluded from the Schedule. They do not feature in the Schedule because we do not have contracts with them.

The local government system will need partners to deliver programmes in the same way as the State needs partners through the local development companies. The arrangements for this type of partnership have not yet been finalised as they form part of the current negotiations. We cannot anticipate the preferential partnerships or bidding process there will be for various communities to deliver programmes on behalf of the local community development companies. The discussions are ongoing and I do not know what will be their outcome.

There has been an uneven pattern in respect of administration costs in local development companies. While the rural development programme allowed for 20% administration costs, the administrative costs of many local development companies reached 35%, which is far in excess of what they should have been. Clearly, this has an impact as projects do not proceed where money is spent on administration. In the past 18 months, we have tried, with some success, to reduce the cost of administration to ensure more money becomes available for front-line services. I assure the Senator that the audits Pobal has done in some companies are disturbing and he would be surprised to learn where these companies are located. Pobal was established to ensure good corporate governance and management practices are in place and administration costs are kept down in the interests of having projects proceed in communities. The organisation does a good job.

The notion that there will be a disconnect between the community sector and local government arising from these decisions is nonsense. The local community development committees will focus strongly on securing partnership arrangements with the community to deliver programmes based on their local economic and community plan.

I appreciate the clarification. I appreciate also that negotiations are ongoing. It is a misnomer to call these companies private companies; they are companies limited by guarantee. That is not the same as a private limited company but people might take that as being the case from what the Minister said. Prescriptive memorandums and articles of association were given by the then Minister's Department at the time, Deputy Ó Cuív, to all those companies to the effect that they had to be set up with 23 members in rural areas and, if I remember correctly, 21 members in urban areas. It was prescriptive that the number of members had to come from local authority representation, etc. To call the companies private limited companies is a misnomer. They are not private companies in any sense; they were set up to be responsible to all sectors in society.

Regarding the Schedule, the Minister said the companies I mentioned are not contracted with the Minister's Department as are the ones on the Schedule. Those on the Schedule are the Leader companies, the local development companies as such. Can the Minister clarify at this stage, in light of the negotiations taking place with ILDN, if it is his vision that those companies will remain in place and be the local deliverers because, if not, why are negotiations ongoing with them? It is like saying we are having negotiations with schools on an education issue but we might pull out of the negotiations and set up different schools afterwards. The Minister for Education and Skills would not say something like that. Does the Minister have a vision that the local delivery will happen through those companies? That needs to be put to bed here today?

I am very concerned about the Minister's comments on the audits. These programmes have not just appeared overnight. They have been in place for many years. Pobal has been responsible for quite a number of programmes, including the local community development programme and its successors. It has been involved in the child care programmes. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has been overseeing the Leader programmes. They have been auditing these programmes for many years. We have had European Union scrutiny of the Leader companies also. If the Minister is telling me there are serious overruns in companies where 20% was supposed to be allocated to overheads and 30% or 40% has been spent, that tells me there has been a serious lack of oversight on the part of the Department, Pobal and the EU on these issues.

On the question of who is to blame, I have seen previous Administrations put the blame on the local communities and let companies like Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta, MFG, go to the wall-----

The companies spent the money.

The companies spent the money but they were being audited on an ongoing basis.

Are these the same people the Senator wants to discharge the programmes?

A Senator

Yes.

Is the Minister saying that all the companies are not responsible enough to-----

The individual companies.

Yes. I made the point earlier that a number of companies did not follow the guidelines but they were also under the oversight and the watch of the Department, Pobal and the EU. The question has to be raised, and I have raised it in the context of MFG, for example, about who was watching over that type of management that was going on because it was not just happening over a very short period. This was an ongoing practice but it is very important that we do not tar all those local development companies with the same brush.

Of the 30 or so companies, is the Minister talking about a very small number of them or is he talking about the companies in general? That needs to be clarified in case people might be of the opinion that all the local companies were being managed in a bad way. In terms of the companies that were not following the guidelines, what was done about it by Pobal, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which was managing the Leader programmes, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, in terms of child care cases, etc., which would have been managing programmes, and the EU, which would have scrutinised the Leader funding? The paperwork for Leader was unbelievable. In terms of the auditing, I was often told by people working in Leader companies that the amount of audit going on was massive. Why was this not picked up and corrected? Was it that the audit system was totally wrong?

It was corrected.

The Minister is saying now it was corrected but he is also saying it was in rag order. He is sending out misleading messages.

The Senator is.

He needs to clarify for us whether it is his vision that these local development companies will remain as part of the infrastructure in the future, through the next Leader programme in particular.

I have answered that already and I have answered several times to the effect that the community will be partners with the local authority in delivering programmes.

I am asking about the companies.

I do not hold any remit for private companies limited by guarantee but Senator Ó Clochartaigh knows that the directors of those companies are obliged under company law to conform with the various aspects of community law. Whether they are limited by guarantee or not they are still under the umbrella of the Companies Acts in which there are very serious responsibilities for directors, which they did not always realise when they were taking up these voluntary positions. As directors they are still obliged to comply with the law under the Companies Acts. They have very serious responsibilities in terms of financing and so on. I assure the Senator that any of the audits that threw up problems identified by Pobal were dealt with but there was over-expenditure on administration. Too much money is being spent on administration in these companies and we intend to streamline that. The money we have available for local development companies will be spent on projects, not on unnecessary administration, which can be duplicated with local government. The integration of these services and alignment with local government will mean more money for front-line services, and hopefully more opportunities in the community in terms of capacity building and animation to help people in the communities, not setting up a super structure. We have identified problems in a small number of companies in terms of their finances. Most companies do a good job but in my view too much money is being spent on administration by all companies.

Senator, we have given this issue a good-----

It is a very important issue. The Minister is saying that too much money is being spent on administration in the companies. Can he tell us where the evidence for that is and perhaps between now-----

It is 35% in some companies.

Could the Minister furnish Senators with that evidence before Report Stage? We have a number of weeks before we are back in session. I would like to see that evidence in document form. The local development sector would not agree with what the Minister has just said. Therefore, if he could furnish us with whatever reports he has that prove that point, I would welcome that.

The Minister said that the audits highlighted a number of issues and that all the cases were dealt with. I asked him whether he believes there is a need for a full investigation into what happened in MFG and the other companies the Minister said have not been managed properly. The Minister might tell us if he is willing to have a full investigation into MFG and the way that company ended up going into liquidation because I have asked many questions about it. Many other people have asked questions about it also but we have not got the full answers as to the reason what happened in MFG was allowed happen and why the auditing process failed so miserably over a number of years-----

That is not part of the amendment, Senator.

It goes to the issue around-----

It may well do but it is not part of the amendment.

-----local development companies and the way they are managed. It is the Minister who is casting aspersions on a number of companies in terms of them not being managed properly, therefore, rather than political rhetoric we would like the facts and figures in terms of his comment that these companies are spending too much on administration.

I draw Senator Ó Clochartaigh's attention to the published documentation by Pobal regarding the financial statements about these companies that they issue from time to time.

Senator Ó Clochartaigh, is the amendment being pressed?

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Committee divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 12.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators David Cullinane and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 41:

In page 46, line 37, to delete “local and”.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 47, line 1, to delete “all local and”.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Government amendment No. 43:
In page 47, lines 4 and 5, to delete all words from and including “to” in line 4 down to and including “and” in line 5 and substitute the following:
“improve the efficiency with which publicly-funded local and community development resources are used,”.
Amendment put and declared carried.
Government amendment No. 44:
In page 47, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:
“(h) to consider and adopt a statement in respect of the economic elements of a draft of the Plan prepared by the local authority in accordance with section 66C, and”.
Amendment put and declared carried.
Government amendment No. 45:
In page 47, line 6, to delete “(h) not later” and substitute “(i) not later”.
Amendment put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 46:

In page 48, line 16, after “inclusion” to insert “and address causes of social exclusion”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 47:

In page 48, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:

“(g) the allocation of resources to areas of most social and economic disadvantage.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 48:

In page 48, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following:

“(g) the specific needs of minority groups and hard to reach groups in relation to social inclusion.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Government amendment No. 49:
In page 48, to delete lines 27 to 43, and in page 49, to delete lines 1 to 15.
Amendment put and declared carried.
Government amendment No. 50:
In page 49, line 17, to delete “128D. (1) Subject to” and substitute “128C. (1) Subject to”.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 51 to 53, inclusive, and 55 to 60, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 51:

In page 49, line 23, before “members” to insert “at least 3”.

Sinn Féin’s amendments Nos. 52, 53, 55 and 56 seek to improve the membership and the remit of the community development committees to include State agencies and to promote social inclusion. These amendments also mitigate against taking power away from the local communities by adding representatives from the social partners and communities of interest. I hope the Minister will be in a position to accept these amendments which reflect what he has said is the purpose of these local development committees.

I support these amendments. We need to ensure social inclusion is part of the Bill. I have received representations from Traveller organisations and the Community Workers Co-operative on this matter. I will bring amendments on Report Stage, along with Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, to ensure all parts of society will be represented on these committees.

The needs of those who require social inclusion also includes those who have held challenges. In supporting the amendment, in September 2002, a member of the administration of St. Vincent’s Private Hospital told me that the hospital had been billing the VHI and other insurers in respect of drugs which had been provided to that institution for free for research studies.

In the letter, he stated this was inadvertent and invited me to join with the hospital in making a joint approach to the insurers. Other documents which were provided to me had shown that this was untrue-----

What has this to do with the amendments?

-----that the billing was deliberate and only ceased when the VHI found out. Incidentally, it found out from me.

The only defence the hospital could attempt was the absurd notion that-----

Senator Crown is out of order.

-----it did not know its research programme existed in its own hospital.

This has nothing to do with the amendments before us.

I believe it does. It will only take me 20 seconds.

This was despite the involvement of dozens of staff and reams of paper documenting its existence. When the hospital was caught out, it next attempted to prove the research programme was illegal.

Senator Crown, I have to rule you out of order.

The hospital spent tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of euro of public money-----

Senator Crown, this has nothing to do with the Local Government Reform Bill.

-----in an attempt to criminalise a part of its own organisation. As a result of this action, the research programme was closed down for a year. Women were denied access to a drug - herceptin - which we now know is life-saving.

Senator Crown, resume your seat.

Although it was not the intention of the fraudsters, or those who attempted the cover-up-----

I call Senator Ó Clochartaigh.

-----as an indirect result of these actions, women died. My hospital, its management and its board failed these women. Justice must be done.

One of the important roles of the local community development committees is in the whole area of social inclusion. It is important that representatives from State agencies are on these committees such as SOLAS, an tSeirbhís Oideachais Leanúnaigh agus Scileanna, and HSE, the Health Service Executive. These are the agencies delivering day-to-day services in communities. Accordingly, for community development it is important these committees know the policies of such agencies, as well as being able to influence them.

It is also important to have representatives of small businesses, such as the Small Firms Association, and the unions on these committees to share their experiences on economic development and what training needs to be put in place.

To ensure social inclusion, it is very important that the voices of minority groups, such as disability groups, ethnic minorities, Travellers, the LGBT community, older and younger people, are heard at the table on these deliberations about how their communities will be developed. We do not want the top-down approach again with directors of services driving a particular policy agenda and imposing it on local communities. We want the voices of those who need services and want to develop their own communities at the table. That is why we have put forward these amendments.

On the use of the title “Mayor” or “Cathaoirleach”, under this legislation, with the exception of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford city councils, the chairs of local authorities will only be allowed to be called “Cathaoirleach”.

The situation in my own county is that we stuck with the "Cathaoirleach" title, which I firmly believe was the right thing to do.

The Senator can raise this matter on Report Stage.

Yes, but I wanted to afford the Minister an opportunity to clarify something he said on Second Stage on Monday. I have received correspondence from the Association of City and County Councils. On Monday, the Minister suggested that an agreement had been made between the Association of City and County Councils and the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland regarding the application of the civic titles of cathaoirleach or mayor. I understand that this is not correct, however, which is why I want to afford the Minister an opportunity to clarify the situation here.

Which one is not agreeing?

The two organisations discussed many things during the year. The question of civic titles was not discussed, however, and each organisation proceeded on its own path on this.

They did not.

I want to afford the Minister an opportunity to clarify the record. I am not for one moment suggesting that the Minister misled the House, but I want to afford him an opportunity to clarify that situation.

In this grouping, amendment No. 57 provides that when the chief officer is seeking nominees for the local community development committee, LCDC, he or she shall do so in consultation with a corporate policy group or CPG. This will provide for an important input to the process via the CPG. However, I should point out that the focus will be on identifying the sectors to be represented on the LCDCs, rather on selecting individuals. In practice, nominating organisations will select their own nominees and submit them to the chief officer. He or she will have no role in selecting the individual nominees, nor will the members of the CPG. This will be provided for in the regulations. This amendment may clarify the position regarding amendment No. 58, which proposed to preclude the elected members from the nominees that would be sought by the chief officer in the context of the role of the chief officer as originally drafted. Given that this process will now be carried out in consultation with the CPG, I expect that that amendment will not be necessary.

The same applies to amendment No. 59 which proposes that the elected members to be nominated to the committee shall have been elected by the local authority. Elected members already have well chosen means of selecting nominations from their number to a range of bodies. In due course, I will bring forward regulations to cover the detailed arrangements for the nomination by various stakeholder bodies to the local community development committees. In doing so, I will consult as necessary with the representatives of elected members to ensure that a fair and reasonable process is followed.

There will not be room for everybody on every committee, otherwise we would have 30 people on these committees. Every organisation cannot be represented, but the LCDCs will consult with all sectors to see how we can ensure that we accommodate people as far as possible.

I do not propose to accept amendments Nos. 51 and 60 concerning membership and the chairmanship of the local community development committees. The legislation, as drafted, reflects the balance between the status of the committee as a committee of the local authority on the one hand and the independence of the committee in the performance of its functions on the other for the purposes of drawing down EU local development funds. One cannot have a situation, other than what I am proposing, if one wants to have the contract agreed for the next round of funds to be with the LCDC. It has to be a bottom-up approach whereby the majority of members are from the community sector. Senator Ó Clochartaigh may agree with me on that. The majority of the LCDC members have to be from the community and therefore that must reflect the EU regulations.

We do not have agreement on that one.

The guarantee that the chairperson shall be drawn from a specific sectoral interest, or that a specific sectoral interest should have a minimum number of members on a committee, would undermine the committee's independence and would impact on its eligibility as an implementer of key EU local development programmes. Given this requirement, I am not in a position to accept the amendments as proposed. However, I should point out that elected members may very well be the chairs of these committees. It is up to the committee to make that decision, as they did in Cork yesterday.

Amendment No. 52 proposes that with regard to sectors to be represented on local community development committees, a reference to statutory agencies be added to the already existing reference to public authorities. This section of the Bill relies on the definition of "public authorities" contained in section 2 of the Local Government Act 2001, which provides for the inclusion of a broad range of public bodies as public authorities, including "a board or other body established by or under statute". This definition has been drafted in a sufficiently broad manner to encompass statutory agencies and therefore the amendment is, in my view, unnecessary.

Amendments Nos. 53, 55 and 56 propose additional categories to be covered in the membership of committees. I do not consider that a reference to drawing members from communities of interest is required because section 128D(2)(d) already provides for members to be drawn from representatives of the local community. Therefore, this refers to the proposed communities of interest.

With regard to the proposals of additional categories of committee members, a key point is to ensure that we have a tightly focused membership and not a huge number of people that would make the committee unwieldy. The proposed amendments concerning, for example, guaranteed membership for representatives of all social partners on the committee would inevitably result in a larger than intended membership.

It is well known that we have had a plethora of large committee and boards whose effectiveness frequently suffers due to the size of their membership. The recommendation to me by the expert group that studies local development alignment was to keep the committees as small and focused as possible. Accordingly, I will do so and therefore I will not accept the amendment.

Could the Minister oblige the House by clarifying the situation on the mayors?

I am not going to do that.

Is amendment No. 51 being pressed?

We have not concluded with this yet. Senator Wilson asked the Minister a direct question.

We are just seeking clarification of what the Minister said on Second Stage in advance of Report Stage so that we will know whether to table an amendment. We are using this opportunity because the Minister is in the House today.

That does not concern this section or the amendment.

Obviously, the Minister misled the House on Second Stage. I am asking him to clarify the situation.

Is amendment No. 51 being pressed?

I will withdraw it and resubmit it for Report Stage. I just wanted to check exactly what the Minister did say.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 52:

In page 49, line 29, after “authorities” to insert “and statutory agencies”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 53:

In page 49, line 37, after “promoting” to insert “social inclusion and”.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Government amendment No. 54:
In page 49, line 41, to delete “section 128F” and substitute “section 128E”.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 not moved.
Government amendment No. 57:
In page 49, line 42, to delete “shall seek” and substitute “shall, in consultation with the Corporate Policy Group, seek”.
Amendment put and declared carried.
Amendments Nos. 58 to 60, inclusive, not moved.
Government amendment No. 61:
In page 50, line 21, to delete “128E. (1) The chief” and substitute “128D. (1) The chief”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 62:
In page 50, line 37, to delete “128F. (1) The Minister” and substitute “128E. (1) The Minister”.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 63 to 65, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 63:
In page 51, to delete lines 12 to 30 and substitute the following:
“(c) procedures to apply to ensure fairness and equity in the decisions of a Committee,
(d) the involvement of public authorities and other bodies and interests in the work of a Committee,
(e) the carrying out, management and control of the administration and business of a Committee and any administrative, secretarial and other support of a Committee, including the delegation of functions by the chief executive for the purposes of such support, and
(f) meetings and proceedings of the Committee, including arrangements relating to scheduling and notification of meetings and meeting agendas.”.

I am proposing amendment No. 63 which is linked to the proposals on a local economic and community plan for which provision is being made in the new sections 66A to 66H and which we will discuss later. The new provisions for the local economic and community plan will cover, in section 66H, the making of regulations concerning the new integrated plan. Accordingly, the provisions of section 128F(2)(c) covering the making of regulations for the stand-alone community plan are no longer required. This amendment also provides for the making of regulations in respect of administrative arrangements for LCDC meetings, such as scheduling and notification of meetings. This had not been provided for in the original Bill.

Amendment No. 65 proposes new additional texts to that which I have proposed to be deleted via amendment No. 63. However, as with the previous amendment No. 56, I am satisfied that the references to "community" in the Bill are sufficient to encompass communities of interest.

With regard to amendment No. 64, this same point was raised on Report Stage in the Dáil, and I gave a commitment to look at it. I can confirm therefore that in the amendments I am including today in respect of the local economic and community plan, there is provision for the making of regulations in relation to engagement and consultation with communities as part of the planning process under section 66H(2)(j).

The Minister should accept our amendments. If he is saying the consultation will take place, what is wrong with making sure this is clear in the section? In amendments Nos. 64 and 65 we are calling for engagement with the local community in the preparation of the plan. We want such engagement to be absolutely certain. The phrase "engagement and consultation" is very clear and explicit in order that we know exactly what we are talking about. When we say engagement, we mean consultation. We also make reference to the "local community" and "communities of interest" which are broader than the provisions as they stand. We are trying to strengthen this part of the Bill and be helpful to the Minister. I hope he will reconsider and accept the two amendments proposed.

I will reflect on them before Report Stage. The purpose of engagement, as the Senator rightly points out, is to consult people. Therefore, I will reflect on the matter before Report Stage.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 64 and 65 not moved.
Government amendment No. 66:
In page 52, line 4, to delete “section 128D(2)(g)” and substitute “section 128C(2)(g)”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 67:
In page 52, to delete lines 10 and 11.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 68:
In page 52, line 12, to delete “(h) procedures” and substitute “(g) procedures”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 69:
In page 52, line 14, to delete “(i) matters” and substitute “(h) matters”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 70:
In page 52, line 15, to delete “(j) consultation” and substitute “(i) consultation”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 71:
In page 52, line 18, to delete “(k) co-ordination” and substitute “(j) co-ordination”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 72:
In page 52, line 21, to delete “(l) implementation” and substitute “(k) implementation”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 73:
In page 52, line 24, to delete “and”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 74:
In page 52, line 25, to delete “(m) matters” and substitute “(l) matters”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 75:
In page 52, line 26, to delete “section 128G.” and substitute the following:
“section 128F, and
(m) any other matter of a general policy nature that the Minister considers appropriate for inclusion in the guidelines.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 76:
In page 52, line 28, to delete “128G. (1) In this section” and substitute “128F. (1) In this section”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 77:
In page 52, line 33, to delete “section 126C(4)” and substitute “section 126L(3)”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 78:
In page 53, line 13, to delete “the Plan” and substitute “community elements of the Plan, and the Plan generally,”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 79:
In page 53, line 14, to delete “the Plan” and substitute “community elements of the Plan”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 80:
In page 53, line 21, to delete “the Plan” and substitute “community elements of the Plan, and the Plan generally,”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 81:
In page 53, line 29, to delete “the Plan” and substitute “community elements of the Plan, and the Plan generally,”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 82:
In page 54, line 2, to delete “section 128G(2)” and substitute “section 128F(2)”.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 35, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 36

Amendments Nos. 83 and 84 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 83:

In page 54, to delete lines 34 to 39, and in page 55, to delete lines 1 to 4.

We are seeking to delete some sections of the Bill because we do not believe the Minister has been ambitious enough on the issue of mayors. If the Bill is to be genuinely reforming, the Minister should go further than simply having a plebiscite on a mayor for Dublin city. Even at that, once a referendum is held, it can take up to two years for the Government to acts on the result. It is not good enough. We should provide for directly elected mayors for all of our major cities and the holding of plebiscites in these cities. Why are the people of Waterford, Kilkenny, Galway, Limerick and Cork not being given the same opportunity as the people of Dublin to express their view on whether they want a directly elected mayor? One of the bones of contention for many people in local communities is the lack of democracy in the political system. We had a discussion about democracy and the Minister's version of democracy differs from mine.

What is the Senator's version?

In a real democracy the people would elect mayors. Mayors would not be elected on the basis of pacts between councillors.

Sinn Féin made a pact with the DUP, did it not?

Senator David Cullinane to continue, without interruption.

The one party in this state that would be closest to the DUP is Fine Gael.

What is the Senator talking about?

The Irish Unionist party.

Sinn Féin has made pacts.

The Minister has an affinity with the DUP.

The Senator has some neck.

(Interruptions).

Senator Cullinane to continue, without interruption please.

Fine Gael would be a lot closer to the DUP than Sinn Féin.

The Bill and the amendments we are discussing have nothing to do with the DUP. The issue is directly elected mayors-----

That is right.

The problem is that it does not provide for directly elected mayors. It should be the case that we have directly elected mayors in all of our major cities. Why is the Minister not going to give his own constituents in Kilkenny an opportunity to vote on whether they want to have a directly elected mayor? Why does he believe it is okay in Dublin only?

I might give them the opportunity some time if I am in government for long enough.

The Minister might explain that one to the House. What is different about the people of Kilkenny? Why is Dublin being singled out? What about Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford? Why are they being treated differently? If this really was a genuinely reforming Bill and the Minister was genuinely interested in improving democracy, as he claims he is, he would be making such a provision rather than going, once again, for the minimalist approach. He has picked out Dublin city only for the holding of a plebiscite and once the people have spoken, it will take up to two years for the Government to take action. It is outrageous.

There will be a cathaoirleach in some local authorities rather than a mayor, as Senator Diarmuid Wilson pointed out. Perhaps the Minister might answer the question the Senator posed. He has missed a big opportunity to really reform the system. If we go down the road of providing for a directly elected mayor in Dublin, the Minister should, at the very least, give that mayor powers, as is the norm in most European countries. Directly elected mayors in major European cities have real powers and responsibilities. Their role is not simply ceremonial, as is the case with most mayors in this state.

I urge the Minister to be much more ambitious. He is from Kilkenny, a city and a county that is very ambitious-----

The Senator should not patronise me.

The Minister has said he wears his county's colours with pride. He should, therefore, be a little more ambitious for the people of his own county and the people of this State. He should not just be looking after the people of Dublin. He should not forget that there are other counties that deserve the same level of representation.

I welcome a former distinguished Member of the House, Mr. Brian Hillery, to the Visitors Gallery.

I am not going to repeat what I said earlier, but I would appreciate a response from the Minister.

I am glad to clarify for the Senator and others that I was informed incorrectly that agreement had been reached on all aspects of local government policy, reserved functions and titles. That is not the case. The ACCC and the AMAI chose not to discuss the issue of titles because there were divergent views on it which were not reconcilable. These matters were not agreed between the two representative organisations.

I thank the Minister for that clarification.

On amendments Nos. 83 and 84, I am satisfied that the Bill carefully respects the history and civic traditions associated with local government. It reiterates the recognition given in the Local Government Act 2001 to various historic charters for civic or ceremonial purposes. Specifically, it provides that the title of mayor will be reserved for cities, municipal districts which contain boroughs and county towns or towns with a population of over 20,000 at the last census. This provision was amended on Committee Stage in the Dáil to provide that this population figure would include all of the town environment, rather than just the element in the county in which the town was mainly located which would affect places such as Athlone and Carlow. In other cases, the office will be titled chair, Cathaoirleach or leader. Provision is also made for the use of titles of Lord Mayor or mayor in respect of cities, as was the case prior to the introduction of the Bill. Similarly, in the case of the merging authorities in Limerick and Waterford, it will be open to the overall authority to adopt the title of mayor in view of the fact that these will be city and county councils. This will provide an additional means of maintaining the identity of the cities in the context of the merged entities and, as such, I am opposed to amendment No. 83. It will be a matter for the elected members in these authorities to decide which title they would prefer to use.

The Bill provides that the option of adopting the title of mayor will no longer be available to county councils. This restores the position which applied prior to the Local Government Act 2001. Furthermore, while examples of largely rural authorities having a mayor can be found, the more usual practice internationally is for the office of mayor to be associated with significant urban centres. Confining the office of mayor to larger urban centres will enhance the status of that historic office. Therefore, I do not propose to accept amendment No. 84.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 84 not moved.
Question, "That section 36 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 37 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 38 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 39 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
SECTION 40

Amendments Nos. 85 to 87 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 85:

In page 58, line 1, after "matters" to insert ", and the chairperson of such committee will be a member of the relevant Local Enterprise Office".

Amendment No. 85 seeks to make the chairperson of the new economic development and enterprise SPC a member of the local authority's local enterprise office. I cannot accept this amendment as the local enterprise offices will be executive offices within local authorities and will perform functions on behalf of Enterprise Ireland under the cover of service level agreements. Unlike the CEBs with a board structure, LEOs will not have a committee with members but will be serviced by the LEO staff. Local oversight of the operation of the LEO by the elected members will be managed through the new SPC for economic development and enterprise. However, I am proposing amendment No. 86, which will enable the local community development committee, or the LCDC, to the represented on the economic development and enterprise SPC.

I am deleting the requirement, as part of amendment No. 91, that the LCDC be represented on the CPG, in response to concerns that there will be an external member outside of the elected members on the CPG. The amendment provides that the guidelines governing membership of SPCs will be amended to enable me to acquire the LCDC to be represented on the economic development and enterprise SPC. In the normal course, the guidelines will provide that this representative will be the chairperson of the LCDC, but in the event that the chairperson is an official of the local authority, the representative on the SPC will be another nominee of the LCDC.

Amendment No. 87 is simply a drafting amendment to correct the title of the strategy to "regional, spatial and economic strategy". The word "regional" was inadvertently omitted from the Bill that passed through Dáil Éireann.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 86:
In page 58, between lines 1 and 2, to insert the following:
"(b) by substituting the following for subparagraph (i) of subsection (3)(b):
"(i) the representation of each local community development committee established in accordance with section 49A and of sectoral interests,".".
Amendment put and declared carried.
Government amendment No. 87:
In page 59, line 5, after “regard to the” to insert "regional".
Amendment agreed to.
Question, "That section 40, as amended, stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
Question, "That section 41 stand part of the Bill", put and declared carried.
SECTION 42

Amendments Nos. 88, 89, 106, 130, 135, 144, 145, 146 and 149 are related and may be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 88:
In page 60, line 1, to delete “section 67” and substitute “section 66B or 67”.

Amendment No. 89 rounds out the extension of new functions to local authorities, as set out in the Government action programme for effective local government. This is an important element of the Bill and will ensure that balanced local economic and community development will be undertaken in accordance with the principles of sustainable development, and that this development will be led and co-ordinated by the local government system. This function will be central to the new functions of local authorities. It will add to the current function in promoting the interests of local authorities, and in that context I am proposing amendment No. 88.

The changes in regard to economic development, enterprise support, community development and local development are major departures in local government functions, reversing some of the marginalisation of local government over the past few decades. There is a link between what we are doing in this Bill and the larger national economic crisis. Through the hard work and sacrifice of the people of Ireland, we have now exited the bailout programme. The Government recently launched its medium-term economic strategy to point the way to a stable and prosperous future, and away from the failed policies of boom and bust that have cost us so dearly. The local economic and community sector has an important contribution to make to the national economic recovery plan and to the objectives of the medium-term economic strategy. This is the context in which we are tasking local authorities, together with the local community development committees, to prepare integrated local economic and community plans for their areas for the first time. These plans will have economic and community elements which will be prepared separately, but in parallel. Both elements will be prepared in consultation with the public, with relevant public authorities, with the regional assemblies and with the municipal district members.

There will be ample opportunity to ensure synergies in the development of the economic and community elements, through the timing of public consultations on both elements, availability of drafts in parallel and meetings of the SPC and the LCDC being held in the same timeframes. The local economic and community plan must be consistent with the local development plans made by the elected members and with the regional, spatial and economic strategies. The making of these strategies will be a matter for the elected members in the regional assembly. The local authority will be tasked with drafting the economic elements of the plan, and I have provided a power for the Minister to give a role to the new SPC for economic development and enterprise in this regard. The LCDC will be tasked with preparing the community elements of the local economic and community plan.

Implementation strategies and arrangements must be put in place and led by the local authority and the LCDC, respectively, for the economic and community elements of the local economic and community plan. These will be reviewed and updated annually, and the local authority must report on the successes or otherwise of their implementation of these plans each year in their annual report. It will be a matter for their members to approve the text of the annual report as a reserved function, giving them a further opportunity to ensure that the implementation of their economic and community plan is properly driven and led. In that context, I am proposing amendments Nos. 135, 144, 145, 146 and 149.

There are also two technical amendments, one of which inserts an indefinite article in the text to correct the grammar, while the other relates to the definition of the local economic and community plans. In that context, I am also proposing amendment Nos. 106 and 130.

I support the sections that relate to the preparation of local economic and community plans. I have been a long-time advocate of local government playing a much more central role in economic development, and it is one of the few positive elements of this Bill that I can support.

The Senator finally found something that he agreed with.

The Minister is doing some good things in the Government that merit support. However, we need to learn from the mistakes of the past. The Minister served on the old city development boards himself. They were good in theory, but not very good in practice in some areas. It depended on the local authority involved. One of the difficulties that city and county managers encountered, as well as local government representatives, was in getting buy-in from many of the stakeholders. That included enterprise agencies, as they were not really engaging with the city development board plans. We had the same problem with some of the educational providers. Now we are seeing real changes and when the LEOs are up and running, we will hopefully change some of that perception. The new education and training boards are also coming on stream. How is all of that going to work? How will all those stakeholders be pulled in to frame the local economic and community plans? If they are to have any real value, and if the local economic and community development plans are to be as holistic and worthwhile as they need to be, then the local authorities involved will need the support of the stakeholders. Does the Minister agree with that?

If we are going to have local economic development plans, the enterprise agencies need to be on board. Perhaps the Minister might tell of his experience of the old development boards, including their failures so that we do not repeat some of their mistakes. As we go forward with the new local economic and community plans, we need assurance that they are genuine, that there will be buy-in and that they will be meaningful and what we all want them to be. If these plans are being framed but we do not get the buy-in from stakeholders, how will the Minister deal with that and how can the local authorities deal with it?

I agree with Senator Cullinane's sentiments that the local enterprise offices and the local authorities have to be centre stage in economic development in the future, and not be by-passed into agencies and quangos, as occurred in the past. There is a genuine issue here.

We have experienced this particularly in the south east where we do not have an office for one of our major agencies. I intend to make strong representations to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, when he is bringing in legislation for the local enterprise offices, about the need for local authorities to be able to draw on, and as a minimum, consult with the statutory bodies under his remit and all Departments. This is to ensure that the agencies and Departments cannot, for want of a better phrase, fob off the local elected members who have a genuine concern on behalf of the people they represent about the economy, transport, or any other activity in their community. We are trying to ensure that we have the necessary legislative teeth for the elected members of local authorities to be able to calling service providers or state agencies for consultation and discussion about the local economic and community development of the county or city.

As it is now 3.30 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with the Order of the Seanad yesterday: "That amendment No. 88 is hereby agreed to, that the Government amendments undisposed of hereby made to the Bill in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, the section, ---

That is the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan's, version of democracy: guillotine, like the Water Services Bill 2013.

-----or the section, as amended, is hereby agreed to in Committee, that the Schedules 1 to 5, inclusive, and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee, and the Bill is hereby reported to the House with amendments."

Question put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 18; Níl, 12.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Whelan, John.

Níl

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators David Cullinane and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.

Under Standing Orders I would like to wish everyone a happy Christmas.

When is it proposed to sit again?

It is proposed to sit again at 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 15 January 2014.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

While I am on my feet I take this opportunity to wish the Cathaoirleach and all the Members and staff a very happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous new year.

I, too, wish all my colleagues and all the staff of the House a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year. I look forward to working with everyone again in January.

I wish everyone a happy Christmas and a prosperous new year. I thank the staff for their hard work throughout the year.

The Seanad adjourned at 3.45 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 15 January 2014.