Local Government Reform Bill 2013: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage

I move amendment No. 59:

In page 56, line 16, after “council” to insert “or a county council”.

This amendment relates to extending the opportunity to all councils, not exclusively the six mentioned county and city councils, to call their chairperson or cathaoirleach "méara" or "mayor". In our case, in County Donegal, the council has for some time been in a position to do so. The Minister might be good enough to extend additional funding to solve some of the problems on the ground there. We would be very grateful for it.

It would not happen under normal circumstances.

No; €22 million.

In County Donegal we have been able to call our first citizen of the county "mayor" instead of the traditional titles of "cathaoirleach", "leas-cathaoirleach", "chairman" or "vice chairman". Members of every council in the country should be allowed to call the cathaoirleach or chairperson "mayor". This gives more meaning to the role given that it concerns the first citizen of each city or county. It would impose no additional cost on the Exchequer. It makes absolute sense and the Minister should consider it given the important role being played by the first citizen of each county or city.

I second the amendment. I wish to add to Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill's contribution.

The main reason local authorities other than those designated in the Bill should be allowed this flexibility is that when the question of the change of title first arose some years ago, one of the arguments put forward by those who advocated that the first citizen be called "mayor" mainly concerned the representative role, rather than the executive role, that a mayor would have, especially in representing the county abroad. In America the term "cathaoirleach" would mean absolutely nothing. This is one of the reasons that led to the renaming of Dublin Corporation as Dublin City Council. When the Lord Mayor of Dublin went to America and said he represented a corporation, as far as the Americans were concerned this meant he represented some big company rather than an elected body. For that reason, if no other, there should be some flexibility built into this section that would at least allow the option to exist. It is quite possible that there are some counties which, for traditional or historical reasons, may wish to retain the style of cathaoirleach or leas-chathaoirleach. In my county, Leitrim, the titles "cathaoirleach" and "leas-cathaoirleach" have been retained, because they serve to point to our Irish identity as much as anything else. This does not necessarily take account of the pragmatic view I have been putting forward as to why there should be flexibility in regard to whether one is called "cathaoirleach" or "mayor". In terms of the representative role the first citizen carries out, particularly abroad and especially among the Irish Diaspora, the term "mayor" is useful. As the Minister knows, the mayor or first citizen tends to travel to very specific events annually among the Irish diaspora, particularly in Britain and the United States. For no reason other than a very entrepreneurial one, the use of the title "mayor" rather than "cathaoirleach", whose exact meaning might be questioned abroad, might help to enhance the attractiveness of the county.

When I spoke on the last occasion, I neglected to welcome the Minister to the House. I wish him well in 2014.

I support the amendment. The point has been well made by Senators Brian Ó Domhnaill and Paschal Mooney. On Second Stage the Minister stated there was an agreement between the two associations, the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland and the Association of County and City Councils that the title "mayor" would be used sparingly and in a limited capacity. We outlined during Committee Stage what cities could use the title "mayor". The Minister stated he understood what he outlined was the case. However, it is not the case and I thank the Minister for clarifying it on Committee Stage.

There should be flexibility such that where a county wants to call the cathaoirleach "mayor", it should be allowed to do so. In Cavan we have always called the chairperson "cathaoirleach" and my hope and preference is that we will continue to do so. However, there should be flexibility for other counties such as Monaghan to allow them to call their chairperson "mayor".

I am satisfied that the Bill respects carefully the history and civic traditions associated with local government. For example, it reiterates the recognition given in the Local Government Act 2001 to various historic charters for civic ceremonial purposes. Specifically, it provides that the title of "mayor" will be reserved for cities and municipal districts that contain boroughs and county towns, or towns with a population of over 20,000 at the last census. In other cases, the officer will be entitled "chair", "cathaoirleach" or "leader".

The Bill also provides the option of adopting the title "mayor" would no longer be available to county councils. It restores the position that applied prior to the Local Government Act 2001. When 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 cannot support the amendment.

Did the Minister state the officer can be referred to as "leader" in addition to "cathaoirleach" or "leas-chathaoirleach"?

He or she may be referred to as "chair", "cathaoirleach" or "leader".

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 13; Níl, 23.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 60 and 63 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 60:

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”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment No. 60 seeks to make the new chairperson of the new economic development and enterprise strategic policy committee, SPC, a member of the local authority's local enterprise office, LEO. I cannot support this proposed amendment because the local enterprise offices will be executive offices within the local authorities and will perform functions on behalf of Enterprise Ireland under the service level agreements. Unlike the county and city enterprise boards with a board structure, LEOs will not have a committee with members but will be serviced by LEO staff and as such, it is not possible to make legislative provision for the chair of the SPC to be a member of the non-existent board. Local oversight by the elected members of the operation of the LEO instead will be provided through the new strategic policy committee for economic development and enterprise.

Likewise, I do not support amendment No. 63, because the establishment of all committees, including the external representative members, already is a reserved function. This amendment would add nothing to the existing requirements in regard to the appointment of external members of committees by the elected members. However, the membership of the local community development committee, LCDC, is different, in that the particular requirements of the committee will set the parameters on how members need to be selected on appointment. These requirements are set out in sections 128D(1) and 128D(2). In addition, following a Committee Stage amendment, the selection of the membership of the LCDC shall be done in consultation with the corporate policy group, CPG. I also note that one function of the LCDC will be to develop plans for the rural development programme and that those conditions laid down by the European Union come into play in respect of allowing the LCDC to be able to implement EU funding programmes.

The Minister should clarify the reason he is opposed to the idea that local authority committees being set up under the new dispensation would not be subject to the approval of the council, rather than being a reserved executive function. Am I correct in stating that as a result, it means the elected members will have no say whatsoever in how these committees will be set up?

No, this is the only one in which the local enterprise offices are executive offices and therefore, will not have a board. The other one is the local community development committee, LCDC, about which I explained the process. All other committees are the same as at present.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 61, 67, 68 and 90 and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 61:
To amend the text inserted by amendment 89 in Committee by deleting the inserted section 66H.(2)(i) and substituting the following:
“(i) the procedures and processes to ensure consistency with the regional spatial and economic strategy and any regional planning guidelines referred to in subsections (2)(c)(ii), (3)(c)(ii) and (4)(a)(ii) of section 66C for the purposes of Chapter III of Part II of the Act of 2000,”.

These effectively are drafting amendments. Amendment No. 61 is a technical amendment to clarify two references in subparagraphs in section 66H. Amendments Nos. 67 and 68 also are technical amendments to correct references in section 126H(1) of the 2001 Act dealing with the number of members of the national oversight and audit commission. Amendment No. 90 rectifies an omission from the listing of reserved functions to be performed by local authorities by including the reserved power to fix the day or days for the first meetings of the municipal district members within the functional area of the local authority. This new reserved power is provided for in section 52 of the Bill, which amends section 10 of the Local Government Act 2001, dealing with meetings and procedures of local authorities.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 62:

In page 67, to delete lines 31 to 41, and in page 68, to delete lines 1 to 8.

This is an amendment to oppose the amendment of section 140, which, as the Minister is aware, gives powers to local councillors to override the views of the county or city manager if they feel it is appropriate. On Committee and Second Stages, some Senators referred to past abuses of section 140 but simply because something is abused does not mean that it should either be amended or stopped altogether. This amendment simply seeks to remove any amendment of section 140 in the Bill and seeks to remove lines 31 to 41. Its purpose is to undo what the Minister is trying to do in respect of amending section 140.

I second the amendment.

I am making a small but important change by removing the powers, as recommended by the Mahon tribunal, for section 140 to be used in respect of planning purposes. The second basis on which I am reducing the impact of section 140 is where there is a benefit to an individual. These changes are reasonable, but section 140 continues in the normal way to direct the new chief executive officer on all other functions.

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

I move amendment No. 63:

In page 71, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:

“(7) The chief executive will refer the establishment of all new Local Authority committees to the approval of a full meeting of the council.”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 64:

In page 78, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:

“53. Section 183(1) of the Principal Act is amended by substituting the following paragraph for paragraph (b):

“(b) at the first meeting of the local authority held after the expiration of 10 days after the day on which such notices are sent or delivered, the local authority may resolve (by a majority of its members present and voting, including a majority of those members present and voting who were elected in the municipal district where the land is situate) that the disposal shall not be carried out or that it shall be carried out in accordance with terms specified in the resolution;”.”.

While the Minister knows what I intend to say in this regard, I am trying to resolve the situation I perceive to be arising in Kells, County Meath and which potentially may arise elsewhere. At present, town councils have control over land and in the case of Kells, it comprises nearly 350 acres. There is great sentimental attachment to that land in Kells and the people of the town believe the land belongs to them. The amendment seeks, in general terms, to amend section 183 of the 2001 Act to ensure that if land is being sold by a local authority, not only would a majority of the members of the local authority support that resolution, as is required at present, but that within that majority, there would be a majority of members from the municipal district in which the land is situate.

That is as far as I can go in my proposal but I state further to the Minister that I understand members of Kells Town Council have asked to meet him. I urge him to accede to the request, because there are other things that could be done in respect of this particular landbank. It is not really a landbank and actually is known as the farm or lands of Lloyd and, in the main, is operating as a farm. It generates an income for the town, there are allotments there, as well as a tourism area. People on the streets of Kells will tell one they grew their own potatoes there years ago in an arrangement now referred to as using allotments. Is the Minister minded to consider this and perhaps examine the particular case, if a request is made by the council? I have spoken to some of the Minister's own party colleagues and they are in agreement. I hope I have adopted a constructive approach in this regard to try to get some resolution to the issue.

I second the amendment.

I thank Senator Thomas Byrne who has adopted a highly constructive approach in this regard. I have had an open mind to ascertain what could be done in a legal sense to help. All I can tell the Senator is that all existing covenants and agreements in respect of the lands in question in Kells must be respected and honoured by Meath County Council, which will become the corporate entity in substitution to Kells Town Council with regard to this property. I am checking the matter legally but all existing covenants and agreements, which refer to the benefit of this particular land for the benefit of the people in the Kells area, must be respected by the new corporate entity. Therefore, that is as far as we can go in this legislation in the context of the changes that are being made in the sub-county structures. However, I certainly am prepared to examine any assurances I can give to the people of Kells or to Meath County Council in terms of further instructions or regulations.

The general thrust of my amendment is similar to a change being adopted which provides that development plans must receive the support of the majority of councillors representing a local area. Is that principle right or wrong? The municipal district of Kells has seven of 40 councillors on Meath County Council, which is a substantial minority. It is only reasonable, if one wants to have grassroots local government, to give local councillors some say on development at local level, while ensuring the proposed structures are not fundamentally altered.

Local democracy is very valuable and we all want it to be devolved to the lowest possible level. Two thirds of a district council must support the development plan. The amendment relates to plans to rezone specific areas. I am concerned about the possibility that proposals that are beneficial to the majority of the population of a county may be opposed by a few local councillors due to lobbying and so forth. One could run into trouble if one casts the net too widely in legislation. The Senator's objective is a good one and it would be good to find a way around the problem he raises. The solution will be to allow measures that are good for a county as a whole to proceed, while taking account of the principle of local democratic input in development plans. Securing a majority of two thirds in a local district may be good in theory, but we must also safeguard the overall principle.

The Minister referred to certain covenants and protections that are in place. While I have not seen the Land Registry, I understand it shows that the land in question is owned by the town council. It is a good covenant in that the council will not act against the wishes of the townspeople. If there are more covenants I would like to hear about them, because I am not aware of others.

The Senator and I could work together on this issue. Once agreement is reached on the new corporate entity, Meath County Council, that will have the particular lands and properties in its stewardship, we may be able to work out arrangements. As the corporate entity being established subsumes the current entity, Kells Town Council, I am not legally in a position to accept the Senator's amendment. I do not have any difficulty with the spirit behind it, however. We will check, with the assistance of the Senator's colleagues on Meath County Council, the existing covenants and agreements to ascertain what we can we do. The Senator is seeking safeguards.

The officials are willing to work with the Department on this issue.

We will work with the officials.

Is the Senator satisfied?

I am satisfied to the extent that the Minister has indicated he will work with Meath County Council on this matter, about which his Fine Gael colleagues on the council are also concerned. Kells Town Council will meet on Monday night. I will call on all those present to arrive at some arrangement with which the people of the town will be happy. I thank the Minister for his co-operative approach. I will not press the amendment on that basis.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 65:

In page 83, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:

“(f) A county council or a city and county council is required to ensure that income redistributed to a municipal district will be on a fair and equitable basis, and reasonably proportional to the income directly generated within that municipal district,”.

This amendment relates to the estimates for city and county councils. Its purpose is to ensure proper regard is given to income that is generated in and redistributed to municipal districts and that such redistribution takes place in a fair and equitable manner. It proposes to add to the current section on the reserve functions of the municipal district members and the requirement on the part of the chief executive to take account of the budgetary plan adopted by district members. The amendment proposes that a county or city council will be required to ensure that income redistribution to municipal districts takes place on a fair and equitable basis and is reasonably proportional to the income directly generated within the municipal district in question.

It will take local authority management and members some time to get their heads around the new structures and approach being rolled out by the Minister, especially with regard to how the new districts will work out in practice. A major change will required in respect of how budgets are adopted. Members of a local authority currently adopt a budget. In my home county of Waterford, for example, a new merged authority, Waterford Municipal District, will be established. It will have three electoral wards within the district and a further two electoral areas outside the district but within the overall county council boundaries. As the Minister will be aware, one of the fears people voiced about the merger is that it may result in one area subsidising the other and being disadvantaged as a result. The Minister will argue that one must ensure one pools resources and obtains the best for the entire electoral area, city or county. There are, however, some concerns about how this approach will work in practice.

The amendment is reasonably straightforward. I look forward to the Minister's response.

This is the worst-----

Is the Senator seconding the amendment?

No; I am totally opposed to it. Senator David Cullinane is trying to close down rural Waterford and Connemara.

Amendments are lost if they are not seconded.

Senator Thomas Byrne's position may be a little strong. Senator David Cullinane may not be trying to close down rural Ireland altogether.

I do not support the amendment. The draft local authority budget must be prepared setting out the amounts necessary for the functional programmes of the authority, including an amount to be provided as the general municipal allocation. A consultative process commencing with the input of the corporate policy group, as set out in the Local Government Act 2001, remains central to the development of the local authority budget. The chief executive must subsequently prepare a draft budgetary plan for each municipal district. The members of each municipal district shall adopt the draft budgetary plan and the chief executive shall take account of any adopted budgetary plans in preparing the draft local authority budget. Each draft budgetary plan will set out the general municipal allocation being made available to that municipal district. It is important to ensure that these allocations are made with due regard to the principles of fairness and equity. This is being done in the legislation, which sets out the principles to be applied by the chief executive in making resources available to the district members for consideration in a draft budgetary plan. It provides that the chief executive have regard to the resource needs of the municipal districts and the broader needs of the local authority. Resources are allocated accordingly. It is common sense that each local authority member will fight hard for his or her municipal areas. For these reasons, the amendment is not necessary.

The amendment falls as it has not been seconded.

Amendment No. 65 lapsed.

Amendment No. 66 is out of order as it involves a charge on the Exchequer.

Amendment No. 66 not moved.
Government amendment No. 67:
In page 92, line 22, to delete “section 126I(8)” and substitute “section 126I(7)”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 68:
In page 93, lines 10 and 11, to delete “adopt or not adopt a report under section 126D(3) of a report with respect to a local authority or a regional assembly” and substitute the following:
“adopt or not adopt a report under section 126C(1)(i) or section 126D in respect of a local authority or regional assembly”.
Amendment agreed to.

Amendment Nos. 69 and 70 are out of order as they are in conflict with the principle of the Bill and involve a charge on the Exchequer. Amendment No. 71 is out of order, as is amendment No. 72 as it is in conflict with the principle of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 73 to 80, inclusive, are out of order as they are in conflict with the principle of the Bill and involve a charge on the Exchequer.

Amendments Nos. 69 to 80, inclusive, not moved.

Amendment No. 81, unfortunately, is in order and the Minister is entitled to proceed.

Government amendment No. 81:
In the new section 72 inserted by amendment 125 in Committee, to substitute the following for subsection (6):
“(6) (a) In this section a reference to “grant of representation” is, where 2 or more such grants are issued to the estate of a deceased person, a reference to the first of such grants to issue.
(b) In this section a reference to “late payment fee” includes reference to the 50 per cent increase provided for under section 71(3).”

Fortunately or unfortunately, I have tabled this technical amendment to clarify that the 50% increase to the outstanding non-principal private resident charge liabilities provided for in section 71(3) is also subject to the provisions on probate and grants of representation. This has the effect of bringing the measures into line with the treatment of late payment fees. For example, in the event of the death of a liable owner immediately prior to September 2014, the 50% increase would not be applied pending the appointment of a personal representative, just as late payment fees would not be applied.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 82:
In page 174, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:
"

No. 25 of

1988

Data Protection

Act 1988

Section 1

Definition of “local

authority”

Substitute:

“ ‘local authority’ means a

local authority for the

purposes of the Local

Government Act 2001 (as

amended by the Local

Government Reform Act

2014);”.

"
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 83:
In page 177, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:
"

No. 11 of 2013

Education and Training Boards Act 2013

Schedule 2

In column (2)—

substitute:

“Limerick City and County and County Clare” for “City of Limerick, County Limerick and County Clare”,

Substitute:

“County Tipperary” for “Tipperary North and Tipperary South”, and

Substitute:

“Waterford City and County” for “City of Waterford, County Waterford”.

Schedule 4

In column (2)—

substitute:

“Limerick City and County Council”

for:

“Limerick City Council

Limerick County Council”,

substitute:

“Tipperary County Council” for

“Tipperary South County Council

Tipperary North County Council”,

and Substitute:

“Waterford City and County Council”

for

“Waterford City Council

Waterford County Council”.

No. 35 of 1995

Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1995

Section 10(12)

Definition of “local authority”

Substitute:

“ ‘local authority’ means a local authority for the purposes of the Local Government Act 2001 (as amended by the Local Government Reform Act 2014);”.

No. 40 of 2006

Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006

Section 23

Definition of “local authority”

Substitute:

“ ‘local authority’ means a local authority for the purposes of the Local Government Act 2001 (as amended by the Local Government Reform Act 2014);”.

"
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 84:
In page 177, between lines 43 and 44, to insert the following:

No. 23 of 1997

Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1997

Section 3

Definition of “local authority”

Substitute:

“ ‘local authority’ means a local authority for the purposes of the Local Government Act 2001 (as amended by the Local Government Reform Act 2014);”.

".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 85:
In page 178, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:
"
"
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 86:
In page 179, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following:
"
"
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 87:
In page 179, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following:

No. 14 of 1999

National Disability Authority Act 1999

Section 2(1)

Definition of “local authority”

Substitute:

“ ‘local authority’ means a local authority for the purposes of the Local Government Act 2001 (as amended by the Local Government Reform Act 2014);”.

"
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 88:
In page 182, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:

No. 26 of 1925

Shannon Electricity Act 1925

Section 1

Definition of “local authority”

Substitute:

“ ‘local authority’ means a local authority for the purposes of the Local Government Act 2001 (as amended by the Local Government Reform Act 2014).”.

No. 4 of 2011

Student Support Act 2011

Section 2

Definition of “local authority”

Substitute:

“ ‘local authority’ means a local authority for the purposes of the Local Government Act 2001 (as amended by the Local Government Reform Act 2014);”.

".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 89:
In page 182, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:

No. 24 of 1997

Universities Act 1997

Section 16(5)(a)

Section 16(5)(b)

Section 16(5)(d)

Section 16(5)(g)

In subparagraph (i) to substitute “by Dublin City Council” for “the Corporation of Dublin county borough”.

Substitute for subparagraph (ii):

“(ii) the person holding the office of Cathaoirleach of a municipal district which contains the administrative area of the former Waterford City Council,”.

Substitute for subparagraph (iv):

“(iv) five persons elected by Cork County Council, Kerry County Council, Limerick City and County Council, Tipperary County Council and Waterford City and County Council,”.

In subparagraph (ii) to substitute “Galway City Council” for “Corporation of the County Borough of Galway”.

Substitute for subparagraphs (i) and (ii):

“(i) the person holding the office of Cathaoirleach of Limerick City and County Council or a person nominated by him or her,

(ii) the person holding the office of Cathaoirleach of a municipal district which contains the administrative area of the former Limerick City Council, and”.

".
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 90:
In page 193, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:

5

Deciding to fix the day or days for the first meetings of the municipal district members for each of the municipal districts within the functional area of the local authority.

Paragraph 4 Schedule 10 (as amended by section 54 of the Local Government Reform Act 2014).

”.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I understand today is a very important milestone in the Cathaoirleach's life. On behalf of everybody on this side of the House, I extend to him the very best wishes on his birthday.

I thank the Senator.

I thank Senators for their contributions to this very important legislation. While we might differ in our approach-----

There is no "might".

We have had the Committee Stage proceedings, Senator, during which we told everybody about what happened in south Kilkenny and New Ross; therefore, we are beyond that phase.

I thank Senators because I fully appreciate that they have a very close relationship with local government, particularly their electorate. Some 43 Senators have a very close relationship with their electorate, councillors in particular. I also know that graduates have a slight interest in what goes on here in terms of local government reform. The structures, functions, funding, governance and operational arrangements of local government are going to be different and I certainly look forward to seeing how they work. Of course, future Governments will have an opportunity to change these arrangements again, if they wish to do so, but we have made an honest effort in this House and I have tried to take on board a number of amendments in order to achieve high quality legislation. I hope we will be able to have certainty of implementation and, most importantly, the funding operations in the years ahead to deliver for the people we represent.

I congratulate the Minister primarily because any Minister who brings forward a significant body of legislation and manages to steer it through both Houses of the Oireachtas deserves at least some credit. I acknowledge this, but that is where my agreement and courtesy ends. We have opposed the Bill because we believe it is deeply flawed. We also believe there are question marks over the future development of local government in rural areas because many of its powers have been taken away and because of the drift of members from the west to the east. The Minister has said it remains for future Governments to decide how they might adapt or change the legislation and I hope that is something that will be looked at in order that that imbalance will be corrected.

I wish all candidates who are gearing up for election to county councils well and commiserate with the many hundreds of excellent town councillors who will find themselves out of work and a job in June as a result of the Government's proposals. In the context of the Minister's democratic aspirations which he has brought forward throughout the debate since he first initiated the legislation, when looks at comparisons between this country and similar countries, taking Denmark as an example, at local level it has town councils that have very real powers, yet this country which has already been criticised for having one of the most centralised administrations in central and western Europe now finds itself denuded of democracy at the very lowest level of the town council. I hope this will not be the Minister's legacy. I know it is not what he wants his legacy to be and hope it will not be that he took away democracy at local level.

This has been the most reforming Minister for local government we have seen since the foundation of the local government system. There has been a radical overhaul of the system. As somebody who has been involved in local government for 20 years and in response to Senator Paschal Mooney's last statement that local councils have been denuded of their powers, massive power has been given to district councils, devolved from county council level to local district level, which town councils did not have. That is a very positive aspect. Naturally, every councillor, Senator, Deputy and even the Minister cannot do everything in one day. He has only been in office a short time, but this has been a reforming Minister. He has always said he has local government at heart and we will see an increase in funding this year during which there will be a boost in funding to local authorities of €98 million, an increase of 11%. Therefore, we cannot say the Minister does not have local government at heart; he does, as he has shown. Some 44 functions have been transferred to district councils - that is democracy at local level. For the first time consultation with communities is being provided for in legislative form. We did have a consultation system in place in local government, but it was never written into legislation. We now have it in legislation.

I thank the Minister. He has stated he will keep an open mind in terms of a further devolution of functions. I look forward to further functions being devolved.

It is late in the evening and we have been debating a long time, but the Bill is worthy of debate. Reform of local government at the lowest possible level is where we are at and going. When I was elected first in 1990-91, what the Minister is doing was recommended in the Barrington report in terms of the devolution of power to district level.

I thank the Minister for the many hours he has put into dealing with this legislation, not only in this House but in the past two years. He and I have had many discussions on this issue, following some of which we did not walk away shaking hands, but we certainly reached a position where we both believed we would see the local government system growing from this legislation.

There has been much talk during the debate about the inadequacies of this legislation, but this has been the largest piece of local government legislation in 100 years. This Minister has taken the local government structure by the scruff of the neck and shaken it up. What will land back on the ground remains to be seen in the next few years. It will take a number of years for the system to settle down following this new change.

I have expressed clearly my reservations regarding town councils. I respect that this is a democracy and accept what has happened within my party and the Government in general with regard to the abolition of town councils, but it is important that the local elected representative is the person who represents local people. Much play has been made of the involvement of community groups. At the end of the day, democracy is instrumental in governing the country and it is to the fore within this legislation.

I express my thanks to the three associations, the AMAI, the ACCC and the LAMA, for their continuous interest in, contributions to and submissions on the process, on which we started out almost two years ago and which is now coming to fruition. Like Senator Paschal Mooney, I wish all of the candidates who face elections on 22 May the best of luck. I only hope most of the same persons are returned because that would give all of us a good chance of being returned also.

In reply to Senator Denis Landy, if the Government lives up to its promise, which I doubt, in terms of proper reform of Seanad Éireann, he may not be quite so reliant as he imagines on the local authorities. I hope this House will be democratised, as we were promised after being promised it would be extinguished. I do not intend to become involved in a load of political blather, of which there has been enough.

On behalf of my group, we appreciate the Minister spending time here and dealing in a calm, rational and informative way with all of the matters raised. We may not have seen eye to eye on everything - various Members on all sides of the House would have liked to have seen further movement - but it is an evolving process. I certainly hope the Bill will work out well for the people. It is now being passed by the Oireachtas and we must live with the results. I only hope, as has been said, that it will strengthen local democracy at a time when communities all over the countryside are vulnerable and diminishing as a result of emigration, etc., and so many institutions have been closed down or discredited.

I thank the Minister and ask him because the officials have left which, perhaps procedurally, is the appropriate course for them to take to thank the civil servants who attended with him because they also showed forbearance and patience. It is not in every job that one must hang around until after 8.15 p.m.; it has, undoubtedly, been a long day for them. The Seanad should express its thanks also to the Minister's advisers who do a useful job. It is not always what we want to hear, but it is certainly useful. They should be appreciated as much as the Minister.

Listening to the last number of contributions, it sounds as if farewell tributes are being paid to the Minister. We called for his resignation today and I did not think it would be that quick. The Taoiseach has high ambitions for him and there are places becoming available at the European Commission.

I am sure Deputy Gerry Adams has big plans for the Senator, too.

The Senator should tell us what Gerry has in mind for him.

If the Minister takes one of these places, we will wish him well.

I must be honest in my interpretation, as the Minister will accept. I accept that we have had a good engagement. The Minister enjoys the cut and thrust of debate and we have had a good debate in this House on the Bill. At the same time, we must remain true to ourselves in what we have stated through Second, Committee and Report Stages. I have real concerns about the Bill. I do not believe the Minister is radically reforming the local government system at all. In fact, what I think he has done is missed a big opportunity to genuinely reform it. One of the core issues raised, if one goes back to the start of the debate on Second Stage, is that we have not devolved real powers from Departments to local government. We have not given it the powers it has in many other countries. What the Minister has done is rearrange the deck chairs. We are going down the same road the Government followed in the case of the Seanad, which was to reduce numbers. Under the Bill town councils will be abolished and the number of councils and councillors will be reduced; they will be given no real powers. There are also the concerns of the community and voluntary sector, the Leader programmes and councillors, especially town councillors, but there are concerns right across the board. The Minister has missed an opportunity, which is unfortunate. It will take a new Government involving parties which are genuinely committed to reforming local government to bring forward the type of local government system that I want to see, which is genuine, robust and has the power to deliver for communities to the extent that it should. I do not believe this Bill will do that.

The Minister will accept my honesty and sincerity. I cannot change how I feel.

I acknowledge the Senator's sincerity at all times.

I do not accept that this is the reforming legislation that the Minister believes it is. We will be back at some point in the future to deal with the issue of local government.

They never went away.

Unfortunately for the Minister, it will be a Sinn Féin Government that will deliver us the reforms that we want.

(Interruptions).

Tiocfaidh ár lá.

Whether the Minister is here or in his soft seat at the European Commission or wherever he is when Sinn Féin is in government and bringing about real reform of local government, I hope he will then see that he missed an opportunity is this Bill.

I thank the Senator for his kindness.

Question put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 17.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.

Níl

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Power, Averil.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Ar 10.30 maidin amárach.