I thank the Seanad for facilitating the taking of Second Stage this evening. The main purpose of this Bill is to alter the boundary between Cork city and Cork county councils and to provide for the boundary alteration arrangements and consequential matters. It also provides for the holding of plebiscites on the direct election of a mayor for Cork city, Limerick, Galway city and Galway county and Waterford, and provides for a single chief executive of the two local authorities in Galway in anticipation of their merger.
The revised boundary for the city of Cork was proposed by the Cork implementation oversight group, following on from the report of an expert advisory group in April 2017. The latter recommended extending the Cork city area rather than merging the local authorities as proposed in 2015. The scale of this boundary alteration is very significant, involving the transfer of 147 sq. km occupied by approximately 80,000 residents from within the administrative area of the county council to that of the city council.
The boundary change is being effected by way of primary legislation rather than the existing procedures for amending boundaries, which are the subject of amendment by this Bill, due to the scale of the alteration and the absence of clear evidence of agreement between the two local authorities in relation to all aspects of the transfer. Apart from the splitting up of Dublin County Council, this is by far the largest boundary change to a local authority boundary in the history of the State.
The impact of the Bill will be that key urban parts of the immediate hinterland of Cork city, which most people assume to be already part of Cork city, will form part of the Cork City Council area in the future, allowing potential for further development within a new city council boundary, while also incentivising higher density development and reducing the risk of sprawl. There has been much comment in Cork city in the past about the need for a proper integrated development plan, for the city area as we know it up to now and for the real area that Cork city has covered for many years.
The scale of the boundary alteration meant that it was not possible to include a map of the transferring area in a schedule to the Bill. In order to be adequately legible, the hard copy of the map had to be produced in size AO, which is quite large, and this is why it had to be deposited at my offices in the Custom House. In addition, a physical copy was laid before the House. The extended city area includes Ballincollig, Carrigrohane, Blarney, Glanmire and Cork Airport, but does not include areas such as Carrigtohill, Passage West, Monkstown, Ringaskiddy, Carrigaline and the more rural parts of the city hinterland. The population of the city will increase from 125,657 to 205,000 and the extended area will facilitate the Project Ireland 2040 national planning framework targeted rate of growth for Cork city of at least 105,000 more people by 2040.
The main elements of the Bill involve provision for the revised boundary, indicated by hatching on the deposited map that was laid before this House on 25 July, which will take effect on a transfer day to be appointed by ministerial order. That will be fixed to coincide with the new councils coming into office after the local elections in May of next year. The Bill will also provide for statutory status, powers and functions of an oversight committee to oversee the boundary alteration implementation process, including provision for an implementation plan to be produced by the committee, which the local authorities will be required to comply with in implementing the boundary alteration.
The Bill will also include a range of specific arrangements to be made jointly between the local authorities in relation to the relevant area being transferred, including matters such as the transfer of assets and liabilities, transitional provisions relating to local authority financial functions that will largely remain with the county council until 1 January 2020, the performance of functions in the transferred area and transfer of staff and related superannuation arrangements. Financial arrangements will consist of annual payments from the city council to the county council, a payment in respect of 2019 from the county council to the city council and periodic contributions from one authority to the other authority on foot of specific costs arising from the boundary change, to be agreed jointly by the local authorities in accordance with the implementation plan, with provision for recommendation by the oversight committee and direction by the Minister if there is no agreement. The arrangements will also provide for the annual payment from the city council to the county council for a period of ten years and will be based on the difference between income and expenditure in respect of the transferring area in the county council’s annual financial statement for 2017, as increased each year to reflect changes in the value of money since then. There will also be provision for an extension of the ten-year period by order of the Minister following a request to do so that is accompanied by a statement of reasons made by the county council and referral of the request to the city council and consideration of any representations the city council might make.
Arrangements will also cover: the duties of the relevant local authorities and their employees relating to the implementation of the boundary alteration, including regular reports to the oversight committee; ministerial regulations and directions in respect of the boundary alteration; and consequential provisions arising from the boundary alteration In relation to the holding of local elections to Cork City Council and Cork County Council in 2019. Other matters consequential on the boundary alteration will also be included in the arrangements such as: the continuance of contracts and legal proceedings, and the applicability of development plans, local areas plans and local economic and community plans, including requirements relating to planning applications and development contribution schemes; applicability of by-laws in the relevant areas, continuation in force of leases, licences, permissions, etc., granted by Cork County Council in respect of the relevant areas; provision for necessary data-sharing; transitional arrangements regarding valuations for rating purposes; replacing the posts of chief executive of Galway City Council and chief executive of Galway County Council with a single post of chief executive of Galway City Council and Galway County Council; the holding of plebiscites on the question of providing by law for directly-elected mayors with executive functions for Cork City Council, Limerick City and County Council, Galway City Council and Galway County Council - in anticipation of the merger of those two local authorities in 2021 - and Waterford City and County Council at the same time as the local government elections in May 2019; and the amending of certain enactments.
It had been hoped to enact the legislation this year in order to enable all necessary action to be completed in time for the local elections in mid-2019. While enactment will not now be possible until after the Christmas recess, it should still be possible to complete the process and commence the necessary provisions in sufficient time to meet the specified dates for the publication and coming into effect of the Cork local authority registers of electors. If not, there may be a need for a special difficulty order under the Electoral Act 1992. While the boundary alteration and transfer of local authority jurisdiction will take full legal effect in mid-2019, the legislation provides appropriate flexibility in relation to operational arrangements so that transfer of practical responsibility for certain functions can proceed on a more gradual basis, if necessary, to allow time for organisational changes to be completed. However, it is expected that the transfer arrangements will proceed quickly once the legislation is enacted and that this will not be a drawn-out process. Responsibility for the detailed planning and implementation of the reorganisation involved will rest primarily with the local authorities, subject to guidance and oversight by the oversight committee and compliance with the implementation plan. In the Dáil, I acknowledged the Cork implementation oversight group and the two chief executives and their teams regarding the enormous work they have put into teasing out the various implications and arrangements that this boundary change entails. I reiterate that acknowledgement here. As well as the provisions implementing the Cork boundary alteration and in line with the Government decision in principle to merge the two Galway local authorities by 2021, as recommended by the expert advisory group chaired by Professor Eoin O’Sullivan, the Bill also provides for the appointment of a single chief executive with dual responsibility for both Galway City Council and Galway County Council, who will be empowered to implement administrative integration through delegation of executive functions under the Local Government Acts. This approach to the management arrangements was put in place in Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford ahead of the mergers of councils in those areas and it worked very well. Two separate elected councils are being retained for the 2019 local elections but, in anticipation of the merger by 2021, the plebiscite in Galway city and county provided for in Part 6 will be on the question of a directly elected mayor or chairman covering both the city and the county. I will return later with more detail on some of those Galway questions. The Bill also contains provisions to copperfasten the status of cities and counties by repealing the existing power to alter county boundaries by ministerial order, save where agreed by the relevant local authorities.
I will now go through the main provisions of the Bill in detail. The Bill is set out in seven Parts, comprising 49 sections and an associated Schedule. Part 1 contains standard provisions dealing with title, collective citations and commencement. It also provides for interpretation of key terms, regulations, orders and directions, as well as a technical provision for expenses.
Part 2 alters the boundary between the county and city of Cork, as indicated on the deposited map, with effect from the day appointed by the Minister, which is intended to be a week after the local elections are held in mid-2019 when the new councils take office. Part 2 goes on to deal with a number of consequential matters, including the transfer of staff, land and buildings and property in general other than land; the transfer of rights and responsibilities; the continuation of leases, licences and permissions; and the preparation of maps of the new local authority administrative areas that will apply after the transfer day. Any land and buildings in the transferring area owned by the county council will automatically vest in the city council with effect from the transfer day, apart from any exceptions or later applicable dates that might be agreed between the two local authorities before that day. When it comes to staff and non-land property, the two local authorities will need to jointly agree and designate the property and the staff numbers and grades that should transfer. The usual safeguarding of employment terms and conditions will apply to the transferring staff of the county council. All rights and liabilities attaching to anything that transfers to the city council will automatically transfer as well. There are provisions to establish a Cork boundary alteration oversight committee to assist the two councils in performing their functions under the legislation. A key part of this will be the implementation plan that the committee will be required to agree. The final sections in Part 2 deal with the arrangements between the two authorities for the performance of functions in the transferring area and the obligations on the councils and their staff to facilitate compliance with the legislation.
Part 3 deals with the financial arrangements arising out of the boundary alteration in Cork that will require to be made by the two local authorities relating to annual payments for a period of ten years from the city council to the county council, a payment in respect of 2019 from the county council to the city council and periodic contributions from one authority on foot of specific costs arising from the boundary change. The calculation of the annual payments is to be based on the difference between the income generated from the transferring area and the expenditure incurred by the county council on that area using 2017 as the base year, with an adjustment for changes in the value of money each year, as outlined in the implementation plan. There is provision for the Minister to extend the ten-year period by order following a request to do so. Such a request will have to be accompanied by a statement of reasons made by the county council, a referral of the request to the city council and consideration of any representations that the city council might make.
Part 4 contains other consequential provisions, such as data sharing, which require the county council to give the city council all the information, including personal information, which the city council might require for the purpose of performing functions in relation to the relevant area. For the 2019 local financial year, the Bill provides that the relevant area remains part of the rating area of the county council until 31 December 2019. The county council's budget and the municipal districts' schedules of works for 2019 will continue to apply for the rest of the year as if the boundary alteration had not happened. During 2019, the city council will set the municipal rate and decide any variation in the local property tax rate for 2020. This means that the basis on which the 2019 budgets were prepared will remain valid for the year. The Bill provides that the registers of electors to be used by the two Cork authorities for the 2019 elections will be based on the post-boundary alteration position. This means electors in the relevant areas can participate in the election of the councillors that will represent them when the boundary changes a week after the election. Interim polling district and polling place arrangements to cater for the new administrative areas are also provided for.
Development plans, local area plans and local economic and community plans relating to the relevant area will continue to apply after the transfer day until Cork City Council makes replacement plans or variations. The Bill provides that the county council will complete any planning enforcement proceedings commenced before the transfer day and will conclude to a decision to grant or refuse permission any planning application cases that are already under way at that time. The city council will be responsible for all other planning functions. The council's development contribution schemes will apply to the relevant area. The transferred development contributions applicable to infrastructure projects in the relevant area will continue to be ring-fenced for infrastructure and facilities in that area. The remainder of Part 4 provides for the interim continued applicability of any rules, regulations or by-laws applicable to the relevant area, together with a general saver for acts and instruments done before the transfer day and for arrears of rates, rents and housing loan repayments, as well as all the 2019 liability, continuing to be collectible by the county council unless the two authorities agree otherwise.
Part 5 sets out amendments to the Local Government Act 1991, the Local Government Act 2001 and the Planning and Development Act 2000 that will enable the Minister to extend the time limit within which the Cork local authorities must prepare their new development plans. Part 5 also provides for an amendment to the Valuation Act that will mean the city council will not be able to request a revaluation of the transferred properties on the basis of the boundary alteration. The amendments to the 2001 Act are consequential to the boundary alteration. The amendments to Part V of the 1991 Act provide that future boundary alterations cannot be effected by ministerial order unless the local authorities concerned are in agreement. This means that future boundary alterations will require to be effected through primary legislation if the two authorities do not agree that such a change should happen. If they are in complete agreement about the need for a change to the boundary, the quick and simple procedure for effecting the change by means of an order under the 1991 Act will continue to be available. I had hoped to include in the Bill provisions for joint structures to facilitate local area planning for urban areas that span county boundaries to provide an alternative way of ensuring the appropriate future development of towns and cities that straddle two local authority areas without changing the local authority boundaries. As Deputies wanted those provisions to be given further consideration, they have been removed from this Bill and will be the subject of a smaller Bill early next year. I agree that such consideration is merited.
Part 6 provides for the holding of plebiscites in Cork city, Galway city and county, Limerick city and county and Waterford city and county on a proposal to provide by law for a directly elected mayor of those administrative areas on a date appointed by the Minister, which is intended to be the same day as the local elections. The plebiscites are to be conducted in accordance with regulations that will contain the usual provisions in respect of the form and wording of the ballot paper; the arrangements and requirements relating to the information to be published and distributed to the voters; the appointment, duties and staff of the returning officer; the taking of the poll; the voting and counting of votes; and electoral offences, etc. The regulations will require to be approved by resolution of the Oireachtas. The people entitled to vote in the plebiscites will be those entitled to vote at local elections for the authorities in question. Information for voters is to be published and distributed by the relevant local authority at least 30 days before the voting day. This will include a summary of the functions and office of directly elected executive mayors for the local authorities concerned, the impact on the relevant local authorities, relationships between the offices of directly elected mayor and those local authorities and with other relevant bodies, the estimated cost and resource implications, the possible advantages and disadvantages associated with the proposal, any impact for the functions of any other body and any other information the Minister considers appropriate.
I am not sure how the business committee of the Seanad operates. It is anticipated that a memorandum will go to the Government in late January or early February. It is important that we would have a proper discussion in the Seanad, over an entire day if necessary, to enable Senators to set out what they envisage the powers of directly elected mayors should be. I ask the Leader and whoever else is involved in making these decisions to make provision for such a debate at an early stage in the new year, perhaps during the first week back in January. I do not think there is much political division on the powers and functions of directly elected mayors. Nevertheless, it is important for the views of Senators to be taken on board before the Government makes a decision. I have given the same commitment for such a debate to happen in the Dáil in early January 2019.
Part 7 of the Bill amends the Local Government Act 2001 to provide for a single chief executive with dual responsibility for Galway City Council and Galway County Council. I mentioned this provision earlier.
It also contains two miscellaneous technical provisions, one of which restates in both Irish and English the amendment made to section 32(2) of the Official Languages Act 2003 by section 49 of the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 that should have been made bilingually at that time and the other corrects the title of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland used in the Building Control Act 2007.
With regard to Galway, which comprised most of the discussion in the other House, I emphasise to that the independent group chaired by Professor Eoin O'Sullivan, who is a Galwayman, made clear proposals about the direction of the local authority in Galway in the future and that it was advisable to have a single corporate body. On Committee Stage in the Dáil, I gave a commitment which I will reiterate. Nobody seemed to notice it in the Dáil but Senators will notice it. What happens in other jurisdictions, particularly in Britain where a number of local authorities have merged, is that they retain two chambers. That should be provided for in the Bill and I will insert that in the Galway Bill, which is scheduled to come before the Houses in the middle of next year. Every local government Bill is generally catch-all legislation. This Bill is mostly about Cork but it contains a vital section on Galway, which is the start of the reform of local government in Galway city and county but I see no reason a city the size of Galway should cease to remain as a political entity. I have heard no argument from anyone about why there should be two separate management structures. The provisions of this Bill are simply to allow the merger of the management structure.
It should be borne in mind that until 1985, there was only one management structure at local government level in Galway. We live in an age where many politicians do not like the advice of experts but the Galway local government report was clear. It was also clear on the issue of funding and an early part of the report addressed how funding has to be resolved before the process of merger starts. I emphasise that the decision that will be made in the next couple of days about Galway will be to allow us to revert to a system that existed until 30 years ago, which is one management structure. Next year, in the middle of the year, we will have the local government Bill and most of it will be devoted to Galway. Many of the issues which I have referred to with regard to Cork will be contained in that Bill.
It is deeply ironic that Deputy Ó Cuív, who spent all of the Celtic tiger years at the Cabinet table, did nothing in that time to increase the baseline funding for Galway County Council. It is remarkable political hypocrisy. It does not mean that the argument that he is making is wrong because it is very true. The report of the expert group says that the differences in funding between Galway and other local authorities are substantial. I am responsible for the Local Government Fund through the local property tax. Galway County Council receives approximately €5 million per annum less than it should receive. I was appointed to this job 18 months ago. In one of my first meetings, I met four councillors from Galway. Eileen Mannion from Clifden was the chairwoman of the council at the time, three of her colleagues, Jimmy McClearn, Peter Feeney and a man from Ballinasloe handbagged me at an event in Portlaoise but they were right to do so. I gave a commitment that day, having spent time on a local authority myself and knowing the difficulties relating to budgets, that this anomaly would be rectified.
I am in a position where all funding of local government except for a tiny amount is earmarked. It has to be because, whoever the Minister is, we want local authorities to be funded and make their own decisions. I have approximately €3 million to €4 million annually in a discretionary fund under the heading of local government reform. I indicated to Galway County Council before its budget meeting last week that I would give half of that fund to it, which is remarkable. Each of the other 30 local authorities around the country will burn effigies of me since they will only get half between them, with Galway County Council getting the other half for the next three years. That is approximately €1.4 million next year and €1.3 million for the following two years. The baseline review of the local property tax is not completed yet because the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has not signed off on it but we have completed our work. We reckon that in three years, when the merger happens, the baseline funding in Galway will increase in the first year by approximately €2.5 million and will continue to increase as house building continues to increase. This is not about housing construction in Galway. The local property tax figures reflect construction throughout the country.
Senators are probably in a better place to consider the detail of legislation but it would be difficult for Galway County Council to have to reopen its budget that it just agreed last Friday and I am committed to providing that €1.4 million in funding, which will go directly to the municipal districts, the regions of Galway, in anticipation of the merger, in order that they can beef up the services they are giving in the towns and rural areas around Galway. It is not even the first stage of the merger. The local government Bill next year will deal in minute detail with every issue relating to the merger of the two local authorities in Galway. This House and the Lower House will decide on that. There was some resentment among Galway Deputies that Galway was included in this Bill at all. It was misguided in that all local government Bills tend to have many different sections that deal with different areas and the local government Bill next year will primarily relate to Galway. For the funding of local government in 2019, it is essential that the Bill passes and I will endeavour, as I have, to deal with the many genuine concerns that local and national representatives have about the prospects of a merger in Galway and what it will mean for funding for local government for Galway in the future.