Planning and Development Bill 2020: Report and Final Stages

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke. He has made a number of previous visits to the House. Before we commence, I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Also on Report Stage, each non-Government amendment must be seconded.

Amendment No. 1 in the names of Senators Boyhan, Keogan, Craughwell and McDowell arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, are related and amendments Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, are physical alternatives to amendment No. 1, therefore, amendments Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, to delete lines 1 to 5 and substitute the following:

“(i) shall hold public meetings (except in such grave and limited circumstances as may be prescribed by law, such as an emergency period, where the holding of such a meeting is not reasonably practicable, in which case a planning authority shall make alternative arrangements for effective and inclusive public consultation as it deems appropriate) and invite submissions in writing from members of the public, in relation to a proposed development plan, and”.

I second the amendment.

I welcome the Minister of State, who has overall responsibility for planning. This is a very important aspect of his work. I thank his senior Minister and the other Minister for State for taking various aspects of this Bill. We had a good, healthy, robust engagement on it.

The Minister of State will note from the amendments before him that my signature is on the amendment along with those of my colleagues, Senators Keogan, Craughwell and McDowell. In terms of the crux of this amendment, it provides that a planning authority:

... shall hold public meetings (except in such grave and limited circumstances as may be prescribed by law, such as an emergency period, where the holding of such a meeting is not reasonably practicable, in which case a planning authority shall make alternative arrangements for effective and inclusive public consultation as it deems appropriate) and invite submissions in writing from members of the public, in relation to a proposed development plan ...

On the face of it, that is pretty simple. The Minister of State will know from his and his colleagues' experience in local government that it is critical to have public engagement. I understand what Covid entails and the necessity of all this legislation. I have no difficulty supporting any of the legislation, except in the context of the obligation imposed on a planning authority. We should remember that the determination is not in the gift of the elected members; it is a matter for the executive, which initially has its draft. It is important that there be public engagement.

Senator Dolan, from Ballinasloe, made a very eloquent, short and concise statement on the Commencement debate earlier. She talked about the importance and significance of the community in Ballinasloe in identifying issues and counteracting potential developments on floodplains. She referred to environmental issues and the protection of habitats. Her views are representative of those of many others in these Houses who have been engaged as councillors. Most of us in the Oireachtas and in city and county councils became politicised through participation in, and activity related to, sustainable planning for villages, towns and communities. The Minister of State will appreciate the importance of this.

What I am saying in essence is that this aspect of the legislation has served elected members well. It has also served the city and county managers well. It is a question of engagement with the people. We know from Tidy Towns and public consultation in other areas that this is important.

The other day, I referred to the National Children's Strategy: Our Children - Their Lives, a very impressive document about public engagement and the participation of children. Luckily, I was able to pull it off the shelf immediately after my speech. It is available online and is 20 years old. Its forewords were written by the then Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, the then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Micheál Martin, and the then Minister of State with responsibility for children, Ms Mary Hanafin. It refers to the participation of and engagement with young people, including children. It refers to planning and various aspects of engagement to which I referred. When I referred to the document, I did not have it to hand and I had not looked at it for nearly ten years. It refers to active participation of all people within our community. I was particularly drawn to an infographic depicting Hart's ladder of participation. The lower end, which pertains to non-participation, comprises "manipulation", "decoration" and "tokenism". In the next category, which shows degrees of participation, in which I am interested, the rungs are "Assigned and informed", "Consulted and informed", "Adult-initiated shared decisions with children", and children involved in making decisions about their own community. There are various rungs of this kind on the ladder. The document is really informative and good. It refers to participation in the community of a certain sector, in this case, youth, including children. The youth are an important part of our future and have a major stake, if not a bigger stake than we have, in terms of how the community is going to evolve and develop in light of the great potential.

I told the Minister of State responsible for heritage, Deputy Noonan, about the importance of engaging with young people in addition to their advocates, which include schools, teachers and sports clubs. He agreed with me. The engagement determines many aspects of strategy in regard to open space, recreation and community. The Minister of State present will be familiar with all this.

I was a member of a county council myself and have been involved with three county development plans. I am aware of the significance of engagement with people. There are different levels of skills, including IT skills, among people. It is important to acknowledge and recognise that. I welcome what the Bill is trying to achieve in this regard. I have no difficulty with all that, but there are those who would find it very difficult to understand a plan. Many might even have a difficulty with orientation in terms of north, south, east and west. The meetings I attended were always positive. My experience of them was that they often involved people closely connected to the map, plan or a potential change to the plan, including farmers. Individuals may have an interest in rights of way or greenways, which are to become quite common, or in specific local objectives, zoning changes, coastal and forestry interests, and all the various amenities. Not all the contributions are negative. There are positive contributions, even regarding An Bord Pleanála. It is not always the case that there are people objecting; there are those who make positive observations and engage in the process.

Another benefit of the public meetings is that one meets professional planners. It is not just politicians setting up stall to talk about planning. They are entitled to do that, and many of them do so, but professional planners know every line of the plan or written statement and know the nooks and crannies, alleyways, byways, motorways, hills, mountains and the sea. They know the place and they understand it. They are best placed to give accurate, true and impartial advice and information to citizens - the citizens whom many of us have represented on city and county councils. This is important.

I do not believe we are poles apart at all. Can we have both elements? Can we make it an obligation? So many politicians, in the Dáil, Seanad and sitting county councils, have an interest in this. The Minister of State will be aware, from his engagement with the Local Authority Members Association and the Association of Irish Local Government, of representatives' talk of issues associated with the powers of the chief executives of the councils. I have had good experiences of them and I support them. I support a new, reformed role for them but we also want to empower our elected members.

Let me refer to what I am trying to achieve simply in this legislation. I do not want to politicise this process by saying politicians, or the majority of politicians, in a sitting county council should make the decision about a public meeting. I do not believe that is right. On the other hand, however, I do not want to empower chief executives to make that determination and say it should be within their gift. I would say that most chief executives will go along with the public meetings but there should be no ambiguity about it. It should be clear. The legislation, since it has served us so well in recent years, should state clearly that the chief executive and council are required to hold a public meeting on the draft city or county development plan.

I took the time to examine the approach of a number of councils. Kerry County Council, on its website, details to a great extent its public engagement meetings. That was interesting. I was highly impressed with Kilkenny County Council and with Cork city and county councils. Cork City Council is now entering its development plan process. There is extensive information on the process, which is, of course, subject to Covid developments. This must always be to the fore in our decisions. There is a requirement to have the meetings, subject to considerations associated with Covid or an emergency. The attendees enjoy the meetings. I have spoken to planners who have said they are very effective. They learn. There is soft information to be picked up on issues that a planner might not necessarily know about.

I do not want to dwell on the point. People hear what I am saying. I hope I am articulating my position in a way that makes it clear. There are no winners or losers. I do not want to empower the executive over and above elected members. I want to have included in the legislation an obligation, outside the context of an emergency that may arise, to have meaningful, constructive public engagement, face to face with the citizens of the communities we represent.

Senator Seery Kearney referred to BusConnects recently. I fully agreed with her. She made a valid point on the importance of engaging with citizens. There have been changes to BusConnects as a result of engagement. I have been to one-to-one meetings on BusConnects and, in addition to my bringing something to them, I have had people explain to me what was happening, such as the taking down of trees and their replacement with other trees.

It is a two-way engagement process. I hope the Minister of State will be agreeable to the amendment and see the sense of it. We could leave it there for the moment, and if it presents a problem in the future, we can revisit the matter. It is my hope, view and respectful ask of the Minister of State that he would agree to the amendment.

My colleague, Senator Boyhan, has made the case for all of us. I recall the first day the Luas track opened in Leopardstown. I waited for the Luas to arrive to go into town. An elderly lady came up to me and said, "Isn't it marvellous that the Harcourt Street line is open again for business?"

In thinking about the Bill and public consultation, I found myself thinking about planners. The Luas line was a vacant piece of land running from Leopardstown into Harcourt Street. In all the years that it lay idle following the closure of the Harcourt Street line, nobody touched it. Planners saw the benefits of maintaining that piece of ground for future use.

There are other such places around the country. I recently heard people talk about trying to reopen the Clifden line and various other lines, such as the line from Ennis to Galway. All these lines were preserved to a large degree by planners who had foresight and were able to think about what may be required in the future..

I also think about public consultation and engagement. Where I live in Leopardstown, a number of planning applications have been made over the past number of years. One was to build an 18-storey block close to the British ambassador's house. The public were engaged with that. Those on the estate where I live are totally and utterly engaged in everything that takes place in the local area. There is a fear in this country that we are pulling everything back to central government.

One constantly hears local representatives, including city and county councillors, complaining that they are losing more and more power as the years go on. They are the front-line people who, when development plans are put in place, hear complaints from local constituents and who would like to maintain public consultation in any development plan. When we start removing the public and their views from the process, we are running down a very dangerous road.

We do not always like what people say. I appreciate that in recent years there have been some fairly militant groups dealing with all of the different plans of Government. Maybe it would be ideal to have a situation where we did not have to listen to them, but citizens and taxpayers pay our wages and from that point of view it is vitally important that they are engaged as much as possible in anything to do with the areas in which they live.

From that point of view, I appreciate that we are on Report Stage and that the Minister of State's officials will have advised him to, as far as possible, resist any changes to the Bill, but at the end of the day, his name will be on the bottom of the Bill that is enacted and he will have removed the public from the consultation process.

I ask him to listen to what Senator Boyhan said. He has years of experience on local authorities. I never served on a local authority so I do not know what happens. I trust my colleague, Senator Boyhan, and other colleagues in the House who have spoken to me about the need for public consultation. I will not waste any more of the Minister of State's time. I ask him to take the amendments on board. I thank him and appreciate his time.

I support the amendment. We tabled similar amendments on Committee Stage, which essentially stated the same thing. The clarity of the wording in this amendment is probably stronger.

As Senator Boyhan said, this fundamentally comes down to using the term "shall" or "will" hold a public meeting. This is a sneaky change in a Bill, which is needed. It is essentially a technical Bill for the purposes of the pandemic. We are likely to be in a situation where some local authority managers will decide not to have public meetings. We need to modernise and move online, and Zoom meetings need to be held. However, there is a value for a lot of people, in particular when they are initially engaging in the development plan process, in having a planner available who is able to describe why height and density are two different things or why something is needed in certain areas but not others.

I spent a couple of days trying to read the various planning frameworks issued by the Department going back to 2007. There are planning guidelines, frameworks and circulars. It is a very complicated area. The planners are experts in this and they know the process. In a lot of ways, this is about having expertise open to the public.

It is not the case that online meetings cannot be held; they can be held in a draughty town hall. Things might occur to people in a draughty town hall after they have seen plans. Most of us have looked at development plans. When one is looking at them on a screen, it is very difficult to zoom in on things. There are giant maps, which are not accessible through technology or on a screen. Sometimes people have to sit down and look at the different colour codes and zonings.

I ask the Minister of State to take this amendment on board. We do not want a situation whereby in future development plans, due to particular reasoning, rationale or streamlining a local authority carries out it is decided not to hold public meetings. This goes to the heart of the consultation we have in local areas and the principles of local democracy.

Successive Governments – I include my own party in them – have generally taken power away from local government. The knee-jerk reaction is to put something into the hands of the Executive and make it faster and quicker. Other European countries have much more devolved levels of local government, participation and decision-making.

We are likely to reduce what people term NIMBYism when people are involved in and understand the process and understand that a proposal does not involve a single planning application but sits within a larger framework. People will do that if they are part of the process. Sitting in a draughty town hall with a giant map and a planner who is able to explain technical terms to them is part of the process for many people.

I ask the Minister of State to take on board the one small change the Independent Group has proposed. We are on Report Stage, but the Bill has to go to the Dáil. He has an opportunity to accept the amendment. It is a small change that will not have a significant impact, but it is likely that there will be a detrimental impact in years to come if local authorities decide to stop engaging with people on a face-to-face level.

Very good wording has been put forward by Senator Boyhan and others and I will be happy to support the amendment. I have tabled a number of amendments that seek to address the same fundamental issues in two or three lines. I am perhaps leaving a little more of the original text intact. The core point stands.

A local development plan is not just a planning application, a development on an individual street or one building. These plans are about the future of the places where people live around the country. Local development plans that are due to be developed in the next year will be fundamental because they will determine how we engage with the major challenges of climate change and what we have learned about living together after Covid. There is a mandated obligation in the programme for Government that local development plans reflect sustainable development goals.

Part of the sustainable development goals is inclusion and participation in terms of good governance. The real concern here is that the permanent change being introduced in section 11 could mitigate against proper and appropriate public participation by people on shaping the places in which they live. My amendments seek to address a couple of specific issues and I have broken them into two sections. Amendment No. 2 goes to the fundamental point that public meetings need to be online and in person. Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 give the caveat of a public health emergency with regard to the "in person" meeting. Again, my preference is to have both. If proper consultation cannot take place it should be postponed. I accommodate these in a similar manner to that done by Senator Boyhan, who set out situations where alternative arrangements might be made and the wording is very good on that.

I want to point to the problem with the Bill. I hope the Minister of State will accept either Senator Boyhan's amendment or one of my amendments but if he does not I strongly urge him, given that he needs to bring the amendment he made on Committee Stage back to the Dáil in any case, to consider changing and amending it. Right now, the language states it "shall include the holding of a public meeting or an online public meeting". Right now, the legislation is, in fact, going to quite a degree to prohibit holding both a public meeting in person and an online meeting. It states "shall include the holding of public meeting or an online public meeting". This was an issue raised with representatives of the Government prior to Committee Stage. This is a concern. I would like to see "or" replaced explicitly with "and". We have heard that it is important to have young people being more engaged. It is not just an age thing. There are older people who are online and younger people who struggle with literacy. We have huge diversity and I will come to some amendments on diversity shortly. The key thing is there are those who may be able to engage with an online process and who may not have gone to an offline public meeting in the past. Similarly, there are those for whom a public meeting in person, with the presence of a planner and where they can ask questions, is how they will appropriately engage.

On Second Stage, we spoke about the fact that Ireland has very high levels of digital illiteracy. It is an extraordinarily high number of our population and it is not about aspersions or generalisations, it is just a fact. Approximately 50% of people do not have strong digital skills. These are the European statistics on Ireland. If a local authority decides to go only with an online consultation it will exclude huge portions of people about whom decisions will be made. These decisions will shape where they live and whether they can stay living in an area, what playgrounds their children may be able to access, whether they will have transport routes and what those transport routes are. The planning decisions that are made will shape literally hours of each of these peoples' days and they will effectively be excluded from participating in the process where only an online consultation is held.

Similarly, if we were to go only with a public meeting it would create disadvantages for some, for example, those with a disability who may have difficulties engaging with an in person meeting. This is fundamental because place by place it will shape what Ireland looks like. The question is whether we want the people of Ireland to be able to participate properly. At present, as it stands the legislation does not require public meetings and online public meetings. It does not require both. There is not even a caveat with regard to the health emergency. We will see a lot of places in Ireland where those who live there end up not having a say in the local development plan.

Amendment No. 2 is a short amendment that simply specifies that public meetings be online and in person. Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 specify there may be exceptions such as an emergency period. Amendment No. 5 is small. It is with regard to submissions in writing from members of the public. Again, given that many people and members of the Government parties spoke passionately about the importance of online communication in the previous session, I suggest they might want to support the provision that submissions, which are separate from the meetings, might be made online or in writing. Perhaps the Minister of State will clarify whether the interpretation of "in writing" will include online and postal submissions. There is an issue with planning applications at present. Those who submit online are limited in terms of characters and the amount of what they can submit. It is only those who can submit in person who are able to make more lengthy submissions on planning.

These are my concerns. It is a serious concern. When local area development begins people who are very concerned will feel cut out of the process unless we address it now. It would be much better to address it upstream at this point rather than have many local representatives inundated with people who are worried or upset about something that has happened and who did not know they could have engaged on it. If the Minister of State will not accept our amendments perhaps he will indicate whether he is open to changing the word "or" to "and" when he brings it back to the Dáil.

I welcome the Minister of State to the house. I hope he will take into consideration the amendment tabled by the Independent Senators. None of us are here purely because we walked in the door. We had to get elected to get in here. We all started off as community activists in one form or another. Part of this involved getting engaged in our communities, going to public meetings and seeing what was happening. In my community that was how I got involved. I realised the bishop wanted to rezone a community space in our town for housing. There were not too many engaged at the time but I knew it was a very important piece of land. It was zoned for community and I wanted it to remain so. I took off to find out what was happening at a public meeting. Now the Minister of State wants to take away this opportunity for ordinary citizens to have access to public meetings. This is quite astonishing.

I remember receiving documents in 2014, when I was first elected, about putting people first. The mantra of the Government of the day was about putting people first. This legislation is certainly not doing that. This is very much a top-down approach where the citizen is not put first. As Senator Higgins has just pointed out, 50% of our nation do not have digital skills. Another 500,000 people cannot read or write. This Bill is very disempowering. I really hope the Minister of State accepts the amendment.

I find myself going backwards and forwards and checking and rechecking because when I hear the contributions being made I wonder whether I am missing something. The text, as per the amendment made on Committee Stage by the Government, clearly states a planning authority "shall consult with members of the public". The element of consulting with members of the public is absolutely preserved in this legislation. There is no question of the public not being consulted.

We are talking about how it is consulted. That either happens in person or it is online but it is still a public meeting. There is a theme running through the contributions, a suggestion that the public is being caught out. It is not. The word "shall" is instructive. It is mandatory to consult the public at this stage but this is not the last or the only point of consultation in a development plan. There are subsequent sections in the Act that oblige various levels of consultation and contribution so it is not the case that the executives sit in their lofty offices and put together a plan and will now exclude the public and then it will be a done deal. There are elaborate measures to ensure there is consultation thereafter. At this point, there is consultation.

In my contributions on this the last day, my concern was about how that discretion is to be exercised. I asked the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, if he could draw up guidelines and outline best practice in the expression of that discretion. My intentions were good but that has already been done. I presumed the absence of something when it was already there. There I was thinking I had taken a novel approach but this is already a requirement for public authorities. The best practice is already set out. It was in the Oireachtas Library and Research Service document. I referred to this before asking that it be the guideline but this is the guideline and this is the manner in which public consultation is to occur. The document states online consultations can complement face-to-face public meetings but should not fully replace them. There is no question but that there will be an exercise in discretion and the way in which that discretion is to be exercised is set out in a list from A to F. If at some point it is onerously exercised so as not to have in-person public meetings or there is a rogue local authority that consistently excludes the public, there is recourse to this and the matter can be raised as a motion or in the Chamber. There are lots of means of addressing this and ensuring that discretion is not exercised against in-person meetings.

When I was elected to South Dublin County Council I was struck, at the first in camera meeting we had, by the number of metrics put before members. I was also struck by the way in which members prided themselves on public consultation and they counted how many times such consultation had taken place. How effective some of those public consultations were is another matter but that is the ongoing robust exchange that takes place between the public and members of the council. Members ensured they went out to the public and prided themselves on doing so. In my area, there are bus shelter advertisements on various issues.

We are not dealing with a malevolent group that is opposed to the public, although some individuals may be. In general, we are dealing with local authorities and their executives which are committed to serving the public. We are creating a narrative that is untrue and disingenuous. Elected members of city and county councils throughout the country have the power to keep this in check. They have something to say. By presupposing this, we are denuding them of their ability to stand up for themselves and for the public they represent. Elected members also have many opportunities to contribute to, check, recheck and build into development plans.

We are discussing here the stage prior to publication. There are several other stages to the development plan, all of which invite consultation. We are talking about whether it happens in public, in person or online. We are not talking about eliminating public consultation. We need to bring this down a level and dial down the drama of the debate because this measure is not excluding the public. It is merely opening up the vista and the possibility of including far more people.

While I have reservations about and criticisms of BusConnects, public consultations on the programme did not stop. There were huge numbers of submissions, most of which were submitted online. While I agree that a certain proportion of the population is not good on digital literacy, I am also heartened that my party colleague, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, has a programme in place to make sure we have digital literacy. We are moving to ensuring that people have access to online forums and are literate online. Why not open that out to remote areas and big counties where people have long distances to travel in order that they can access public consultations from their homes? I understand the spirit of what the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, was trying to convey to us during the first debate on Committee Stage. It was about inclusion. There is no malevolent intent here. This is about opening up the process and not closing it down.

I agree with much of what Senator Seery Kearney has said. This debate is important and it is very important that everybody states what they think of this Bill. If Members have doubts about certain sections of it, this is the way to have the debate but I do not agree with my good friends on the other side of the House. The provisions in this section will enable further engagement with the public. It will not remove engagement from the equation. Senators from Fine Gael, the Green Party and Fianna Fáil would not support anything like that.

I am no legal eagle but I would consider myself of at least average intelligence. Last night, I looked up the definition of the word "shall". This might give Members some solace if they have doubts. The definition of the word "shall" - and I am sure Senator Seery Kearney will know this - legally means something-----

The Senator might allow me to make my point. The definition of the word "shall" legally means something must be done as opposed to the term "may", which simply means that something is allowed. In other words, "may" means it can be done but it does not have to be done. Surely the interpretation and legal definition of the word "shall", which is clearly stated in the Bill which provides that a planning authority "shall consult with members of the public in such manner" and so forth, is in black and white and means the process must be done and carried out.

I will read out a technical response to the amendments first and then I will comment on a few of the issues that were raised. I genuinely appreciate the engagement of the House and Senators' connection with this Bill. I know many of the issues raised are genuine and Senators are well-meaning. I fully understand that.

I will address amendments Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, as they have been grouped together by the Bills Office. These amendments each seek, by various means, to instigate the holding by the planning authority of a mandatory public meeting at this stage of the development plan preparation process. More specifically, amendments Nos. 1 and 3 propose that the provisions only apply during limited circumstances, such as the emergency period. Amendment No. 5 proposes that written submissions from the public shall be online submissions.

While I understand the intention behind the proposed changes, I must reject these amendments. Section 11(3) of the Act relates to the initial stage of the development plan preparation process. It is conducted before a pre-draft or draft plan has been prepared and can be described as the stage when the initial relevant issues and topics are identified for further, more detailed consideration in the subsequent planning process. For this initial strategic stage, planning authorities therefore spend substantial effort preparing and publishing written issues, documents, paper, reports, exhibition and information material, videos and questionnaires and so on in order to assist the public in preparing their submissions on the strategic planning issues of concern.

In the traditional public meeting format, not everyone wishes to speak and often those who do may seek to dominate the meeting with specific interest issues only, despite the fact that section 11(3) of the Act is intended to focus on the strategic, not the specific. It is also the case that there is no mechanism or obligation for what is said at a public meeting to be taken on board, as submissions need to be made in writing, through completing a questionnaire or some form of feedback. Increasingly, local authorities are moving to an online platform for public display of information, with presentations that may be pre-recorded, as well as the capacity for online receipt of written submissions. This has facilitated citizens to participate in processes from their own homes and at a time of their choosing. It also serves to generate written submissions that can be properly recorded and reviewed by the planning authority. This facilitates those who may be otherwise excluded from attending a public meeting or for whom it may be inconvenient as a result of disability, caring responsibilities, employment or some other commitment. While every effort is made to hold multiple meetings at different times of the day, evening and week in accessible venues to ensure as many people as possible have the opportunity to attend, this can dilute what already tends to be a limited audience to consider the pre-draft plan issues at this stage of the development plan process.

Experience has been that people are more willing to engage remotely with online processes, and such experience has accelerated as a result of Covid-19 considerations. Throughout the Covid-19 period, my officials have been engaging directly with senior planning staff of the planning authorities on keeping the planning system open and operational, in particular through an ongoing dialogue with the sub-committee of the County and City Managers Association. Through this forum, local authorities highlighted the difficulties in conducting a public meeting as required by section 11(3)(b) of the Planning and Development Act during the public health restrictions of the pandemic. In addition, they provided their experience of the limited attendance and value of the traditional public meeting, especially at the early strategic issue stage of the development plan preparation process, as is the case with section 11(3)(b). Greater levels of valuable public engagement were considered to be derived from written and digital submissions, where citizens can examine prepared material and information in their own time and submit issues and concerns in detail accordingly. It is, therefore, considered appropriate that it should be an option for some or all of the early public consultation stage of the development plan process to be facilitated to take place either online or in person and to extend this beyond the current Covid-19 pandemic, with such decisions to be made locally. This does not rule out holding a public meeting in person or a combination of a meeting and an online engagement. Rather, it allows for greater focus, efficiency and flexibility to encourage increased public participation in the development plan process.

Amendment No. 5, tabled by Senator Higgins, proposes to insert a wording which would have the effect that submissions in writing from members of the public would be treated distinctly from online submissions from same, with respect to the proposed development plan. As it stands, the provision simply invites submissions in writing from the public and this could include either online written submissions or physical written submissions, submitted by post or in person. I cannot accept the amendment, as it is unnecessary and may also introduce doubt elsewhere in the Planning and Development Act that online submissions may not be possible wherever submissions in writing from the public are invited regarding development planning and where the term "online" is currently not present.

I have had the privilege to lead my own local authority as cathaoirleach in 2013 and 2014, when we finalised the county development plan process. Preceding that, I was chair of our area committee in a time before the current reforms. The cornerstone and bedrock of my local authority and in my experience and interaction with the executive was public consultation, including meetings throughout each stage of the development plan. I remember going out to small towns and villages, engaging with people on local area plans and the planners going there one to one, explaining in detail all the provisions of the county development plan. It may come as a surprise to Members who have raised the public engagement issues in terms of the meetings that take place at each stage throughout the current development plan process that none of these are specifically required in regulations. They happen because the local authorities want to engage with their communities and because the executive and local authority members want the best for their communities. They want to hear people's views, take them into consideration and chart a way forward which will make our local areas better. Central to that is public engagement and that has always been the place, in my experience, of local democracy.

I will mention briefly a few points Senators have raised. I take each one of them as a genuine point. A pre-draft process is very general and strategic. Senator Keogan mentioned the field that generated the public meeting and the matrix or zoning that was specifically required and we are precluded from discussing micro-items like that at a pre-draft stage. Why? I go back to Senator Boyhan and the report he mentioned in terms of the issues contained in it. One of the words he read was "manipulation". What happened decades ago at these meetings was that suggestions were made for fields or areas to be zoned which were not appropriate, and that is why legislation was passed in 2010 that no one is allowed to influence the micromanagement of our area at these meetings. That is why significant safeguards had to be introduced at that time. This meeting is about high-level issues. Is the area, community or county in question going to grow over the next seven years? What path should it take? It is not about micro-issues. In terms of micro-issues when we get the plan together, public engagement is central every step of the way, from our executive down to our councillors, working together to ensure the public is brought on board.

I see what councillors do in terms of Cór na nÓg and such issues, trying to get young people engaged in the development planning process, which is key. They reach out to schools and youth centres. Councillors do that well and I compliment them on that. I have reached out to the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, to have a quarterly meeting with it during my term as Minister of State to ensure that, if our councillors have any issues regarding this, they are pointed out to me earlier so I can respond to them.

While I accept and understand the bona fides of some of the points that are made, I point out that the requirement is there. There will be a public meeting, be it online or in person. We need to be careful here. There is an absolute willingness by the local authority system and the executive to engage with the public at all stages of the plan. That is not required in legislation or regulation. It happens because they want to do it.

In my experience, I have never seen any reluctance on the part of the local authority sector to engage with that.

We are trying to make it easier for people. Other Senators articulated in the previous debate how participation can increase when it is online. For a local community, it is about whether the local field will be zoned open space, recreational, educational or suitable for residential. That is where communities get into the minutiae of trying to assess what is best for their communities. Local authorities engage in this at that point.

Senator Moynihan and others referred to maps and zoning matrices. None of this is at the pre-draft stage because there is no plan. It is at the very start. It is the inception and the authorisation to begin the process of drafting the plan. We need to be clear on that.

In my term as Minister of State, I do not want to take power away from local government. I want to give it more power. That is why we are progressing with the mayoral election in Limerick. That is why I signed a submission recently to start off the process of engagement to reform our local councils and provide the supports councillors require. Going from local authority to local authority, I know the deficits in some areas. I want to give councillors back power to address this.

I have heard the views expressed. I do not believe the provisions in question water down democracy or public participation. If anything, they assist them.

Will the Minister of State clarify the matter concerning the word "or"?

It is at the discretion of the local authority to either hold an online meeting or a public meeting or both. They have to do one. That is sufficient. There is no implicit action that a local authority is trying to prevent the public from getting involved. That does not happen in the local authority system. Local authorities want the public involved.

I thank the Minister of State. I respect his position. He takes his advice and puts his best case forward. I thank the contributors to the debate. It is not over, however. As the Bill was initiated in this House, it will come back from the Dáil and there will be another debate and set of engagements with the Minister of State.

I thank the Oireachtas Library and Research Service. Many Members have referred to its digest on the Bill. It is an excellent piece of work.

On technology generally, we have a long way to go. I have a letter from An Bord Pleanála and its hope for a new IT management system. I have been four years on the Oireachtas housing, planning and local government committee. The programme for Government contains the objective of having a fast, online and efficient IT system for planning. Many local authorities do not even have colour scanners. Some in rural parts of Ireland cannot access detailed montages or coloured drawings, etc. We have a long way to go but I accept it is on the way. We have had a few setbacks but it is something on which we all need to focus. I, as do many, embrace new technologies in terms of planning and understanding development plans.

I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the enormous work of our city and county council chief executives, their directors of planning and executive teams. They do a particularly hard job. It is not an easy one. I would not want any suggestion to go out of here that they were, in some way, deliberately setting out to frustrate public engagement. They are not necessarily doing that.

My problem, however, is this discretion. The Minister of State also referred to it in his response. The Bill's digest stated "The Bill also replaces the mandatory requirement [of city and county executives] to hold public meetings about a proposed [city and county] development plan, with an obligation for planning authorities to consult with and to invite written submissions from members of the public on a proposed development plan." That is the difference. It is an issue of empowering the executive. I understand and accept that, in the strategic nature and early stages of development plans, it is wholly and exclusively a matter for the executive in terms of preparing it. The executive puts it to the elected members who propose amendments, which are voted on by them. At that point, a draft plan is ready to go out to the public.

That is where we are. I am somewhat disappointed that the Minister of State is not agreeable to the amendment. That is his prerogative, however, which I have to accept. We have done our best. It is an issue which will come up. I am mindful of the fact that the Minister of State, I and other Members are strong advocates for councillors and local government. We have to be consistent about empowering local authorities with all aspects of power. I was hoping to take it out of the discretion of the executive. I did not want it to be politicised for the politicians either because I do not believe that would be right, appropriate or proper. The balance of power in the majority of councils changes from time to time. We have had this provision in legislation since the 2000 Act. It has served us, city and county councils and development plans well for a long time. It was my hope that we would put it into the legislation and that it would not be a choice of anybody. Instead, it would be a legitimate expectation of the citizens that they would have this opportunity.

That is where the difficulty is. I note from looking at development plans online that they are at different stages. Politicians of all sides and none hold successful meetings themselves. I am not sure if they are all very accurate in terms of representation and planning because they do not have the same expertise, however. It is important professional planners are there.

Will the Minister of State consider, before the Bill goes to the Dáil, bringing clarity to the next stage of the process to ensure somewhere in it we would have an obligatory public consultation? The Minister of State made a valid point about the first stage, where it is strategic and involves the executive's input. At some other stage in the development plan process, it might be possible that the Minister of State stitches in some measure to make it obligatory, given health considerations, Covid and emergencies, to have a physical public meeting in a public place.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 30.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Flynn, Eileen.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • Keogan, Sharon.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Wall, Mark.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Davitt, Aidan.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Martin, Vincent P.
  • McGahon, John.
  • McGreehan, Erin.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Loughlin, Fiona.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Sharon Keogan and Victor Boyhan; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, lines 1 to 3, to delete all words from and including “(which” in line 1 down to and including “meeting)” in line 3 and substitute “which shall include public meetings online and in

person”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 30.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Flynn, Eileen.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • Keogan, Sharon.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Wall, Mark.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Davitt, Aidan.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Martin, Vincent P.
  • McGahon, John.
  • McGreehan, Erin.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Eileen Flynn; Níl, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, lines 1 to 3, to delete all words from and including "(which" in line 1 down to and including "meeting)" in line 3 and substitute "(which shall include public meetings, online and also in person except where the holding of a meeting in person may be detrimental to public health)".

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 4, lines 1 to 3, to delete all words from and including "(which" in line 1 down to and including "meeting)" in line 3 and substitute "(which shall include public meetings online and, except in an emergency period, also in person)".

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 4, line 3, after “submissions” to insert “online and”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 4, line 5, after "and" to insert "shall ensure that where a member of the public chooses to make a submission in writing online they are not subject to a limitation in terms of length of submission, and ".

I second the amendment.

Amendment No. 6 is specifying where a member of the public is making a submission in writing. I have withdrawn amendment No. 5. I have accepted the valid point of the Minister in relation to that. Sometimes when we have online submissions, we have constrained spaces in which people are asked to contribute. I want to ensure that people are not limited.

We talk about this at a strategic level. Members of the public have strategic ideas and strategic input. It is important that they would be able to provide input at the strategic level in that early stage in the development process because if issues are not raised in the earlier parts of the process, it becomes difficult to insert them at a later stage. A person may have views on particular playgrounds but may also have a view that he or she wants intergenerational spaces as a strategic point. For example, a person may want issues of environmental sustainability, biodiversity or wildlife corridors to be reflected and they may relate not to a particular tract of land but to a strategic vision. In fact, on many of those strategic issues, members of the public have been frequently ahead of where the political plans have been. We have seen that on biodiversity, for example, and on wildlife.

This is specifically to ensure that where somebody is choosing to make a submission online, he or she is not constrained. I will point out, however, it is a constraint that is being inserted right now. We heard that in the guidelines previously there could be online consultation but that it should not replace the public meetings that might take place. We heard definitions of "shall" but we do not need a definition of "shall". That was in all of the amendments we have already discussed. What we need a definition of is "or". Right now, the Bill states, "shall consult with members of the public in such manner (which shall include the holding of a public meeting or an online public meeting) as it considers appropriate".

This is a problem. The Minister of State is building a binary into this Bill with the use of the word “or”. When he read it back, the Minister of State said “or both”, probably because he heard how it sounded. The words “or both” are not here in the text. I would like the Minister of State to replace the word “or” with “and” so we can be guaranteed both public online and in-person meetings. I hope the Minister of State will do that. If he is not willing to put in “and” instead of “or”, he needs to put in “or both” and specify it because, otherwise, he is going against the spirit of the existing guidelines, which state that online consultation should not replace in-person consultation. He is going against those guidelines and he is creating a dynamic where, for example, Limerick City and County Council or Galway City Council could choose either an online meeting or an in-person public meeting.

I do not think that is what anybody intends. I am not attributing bad intent to anybody and it is probably inadvertent but we need to make sure we try to get it right. Again, my amendment relates specifically to this question. I was reassured by the Minister of State's answer in regard to amendment No. 5, which is why I withdrew the amendment. Perhaps the Minister of State might be able to reassure me that amendment No. 6 is not necessary and that there will not be a constraint, for example, of 200 characters or 600 words on those who engage and submit by writing online.

It is a long-term strategy that will be in place. To address the amendment, it is necessary to read the original Act in conjunction with the amendments. This Bill is amending the original Act. The original Act planned for public meetings anyway, so this Bill would only add meetings that are online. This Bill, which has been brought forward to amend the existing Act, is going to introduce online meetings and we would have public meetings under the original Act which has been in place for many years.

I look forward to the Minister of State's response. It is a legitimate issue that has been raised. As I am not a lawyer, I will defer to the legal eagles. However, I ask that we would not lose the context of what we are legislating for. This is the statutory public consultation process. We have more than 31 city and county councils with more than 940 elected representatives. They are not self-appointed. They are not anonymous people. They are living in their communities, dealing with their constituents on a daily basis. They spend at least two years engaging in the formal process of a city or county development plan but they spend a lot more time engaging with their communities, their counties and their cities in an informal way, consulting on what the strategic development and planning ambitions would be for their county or city area.

The House needs to be careful not to lose sight of what our piece of business is today and not to have a message go out that this Chamber, or any chamber, is legislating to exclude or minimise public participation. Everything we are about is about engaging and energising public participation, and in creating opportunities for the public to participate. There is nothing in this legislation that will stop any citizen in the country from talking to their local councillor or Deputy, writing to any of them, emailing any of them, phoning any of them, or stopping them in the street and engaging with them on what they want in their development plan.

Senator Higgins is correct that the “or” does make it binary, so I would urge a review of that and to allow the possibility of "or both".

I have full confidence in the views of the executive and the members in local authorities around the country, and that they would not be so minded as to hide behind the word and say that if they had it online, they could not have a public meeting. I do not believe that is likely to happen. As many of us are former county councillors and elected members ourselves, we appreciate that is not likely to ever happen. However, the Senator’s point is correct and I agree with that.

The only place I have ever come across a word limit is within a planning permission, and I have experienced it in planning permission submissions with just one local authority. It does not preclude sending information in as an attachment by email, and it is only where they are provided with a box that a person has to cut and paste into. That would suggest it is a technology issue rather than anything else. We have to be mindful of the implementation of the submission process to ensure there is not something in the technology to preclude that. While I can see where the Senator is coming from, I am not sure it is necessary in this instance because it is only in that context of a cut and paste box, whereas a document can be attached in other formats and it is unlimited.

I support Senator Higgins in regard to the difference between “or” and “and”. It is a binary choice. I want to address this point. It is my experience of being on a local authority for 11 years that management do quote the legislation if they decide not to do something. I just had that experience last night when I had underlying legislation quoted at me as to why they had decided not to do something.

A public meeting is a very valuable thing to have. Nobody wants to stop online meetings happening, but there is a requirement to have a public meeting. As Senators Higgins and Keogan said, there are people who do not have online access, do not have good literacy and do not have an understanding of the planning process. What we are simply trying to do with this amendment is make sure it is kept more inclusive.

There is a central point that this Bill is being rushed through the House because it needs to be done in the context of the Covid emergency, which is fine. However, there is a provision in the Bill that is not in the context of the emergency but is seeking to make this permanent. Nobody knows what is going to happen in five years, ten years or 15 years. It is not a question of people using this nefariously but it is a question of people deciding, because of resources, that they have completed this. Senator Fitzpatrick and I have been on Dublin City Council for a long time and we know that when it comes to some of the issues, public consultation is not necessarily good enough and we have to go back again when people learn about it. This is about trying to make sure there is more robust public consultation and that it is a public meeting.

I want to go back to something the Minister of State said when he referred to it being at the draft stage. One cannot reintroduce issues when it is coming to the elected members and issues have to be raised at the draft stage. As Senator Fitzpatrick said, this is the statutory process. This is the bare minimum stage of the development plan process. It includes the additional extras but we are simply trying to make sure that a very simple thing within the statutory process is that there are public meetings and online meetings, and we are trying to limit that for the purposes of Covid. It is fairly simple.

I will read out a technical response first and then respond to each of the issues that have been raised. I will first address amendment No. 6 as jointly tabled by Senators Higgins, Ruane and Black. While I recognise that this amendment is well intentioned, I cannot accept it. Planning authorities routinely conduct public consultation exercises, inviting submissions from the public across a wide range of functions and areas of responsibility and have demonstrated the required capacity to undertake such important engagement activities in a transparent and equitable manner. The amendment suggests that there is or has been a restriction operated by the local authorities to seek to limit the extent or length of submissions made by the public. I am absolutely not aware of any such approach by a planning authority and do not believe the amendment is warranted or necessary when considered in light of the well-established practices that are currently operated in this regard.

I will now address the issues raised by Senators.

First of all, as I pointed out very clearly, from pre-draft to draft, if there are material changes and a manager's report again at the final stage, public consultations, meetings, officials going out to brief members of the public or agencies like our chambers of commerce, our youth agencies, and public participation networks, that all happens through the county development plan process. Not one part of that is required by regulation or under statute, so why does it happen? It happens because our local authorities want to reach out and want public engagement, because it creates a better environment and locality for us all to live in, and it is beneficial to our citizens. It is a fact that we want engagement.

In response to Senator Moynihan's point, this concerns pre-draft stage, not draft stage, so issues can be introduced. It is about seeking permission to initiate the process. Nobody can come into a meeting at this stage and ask for a field to be zoned or a school to be built in a particular area. It is strategic and it is about high-level issues and helping areas to grow. A local authority is not prohibited from having a public meeting or an online meeting. It is very clear in the Bill that it is up to the local authority to decide whether to have a public meeting or an online meeting. However, it must have a public meeting, whether it is online or in public, and that is key. What is most beneficial for the local authority and the citizens in terms of conducting business and getting the most effective response should be done. I want to bury the rumour that public meetings are being stopped, because they absolutely are not. As someone who has been a cathaoirleach of a local authority through the county development plan process, I have seen at first hand the length that officials and councillors go to to brief the public and to work with them to get the best possible outcome. The greater the engagement in a county development plan, the greater the reach out to our citizens and the better the result. That is what we all want to achieve.

On my amendment, if more engagement is better, I think the Minister needs to consider changing "or" to "and", or instead, he could add in "or both". This is not about the intent of anybody. I know that people are passionate about these issues and want to meet, but the law of unintended effects could be present here. I am concerned that there is an inadvertent mistake in the language in the Bill. There will be opportunities to address the issue in the Dáil, so I urge the Minister of State to address it, because I am sure he does not want to constrain and tie the hands of these well-intentioned local authorities that we have heard about. They should have the option, should they so wish, to hold both forms of meeting. I would prefer that they were required to do both, but we should at least ensure that they have the option to do both.

I accept the Minister of State's point on my amendment, that it is perhaps not an issue for legislation and perhaps should be dealt with in the guidelines. As Senator Seery Kearney rightly highlighted, as technology evolves, the issue could probably become more about technology. Therefore, I withdraw the amendment and will address the issue in respect of guidelines in the future.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 7 to 9, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 4, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

“(iii) shall take active steps to support equality of access to participation in public consultation, in relation to a proposed development plan, with particular regard to obligations under the Public Duty on Equality and Human Rights, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability and the Aarhus Convention.”.

I second the amendment.

Amendments Nos. 7 to 9, inclusive, relate to the fact that it is not just a matter that there should be consultation with a member of the public or that there should be the opportunity for submissions in writing to be made, but it is instead to insert a clause, of which there are three different versions, that proactively encourages members of the public to engage. We have heard descriptions of good practice from the Minister of State, and these amendments are to ensure that this good practice is embedded.

Since some of the last public development plans were drawn up, a new public duty on equality and human rights has been introduced which, rather than just simply requiring that local authorities do not violate equality and human rights, instead requires them directly to actively promote equality. There are great examples of good practice and others of less good practice. These amendments seek to mandate local authorities to, "take active steps to support full equality of access to participation in public consultation, in relation to a proposed development plan...". In amendment No. 7, I mention the public duty on equality and human rights. I also note the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Ireland has now ratified and asks us to ensure that persons with disabilities are actively supported and encouraged to engage. I would also add to that those who live in congregated settings and those in nursing homes.

We must look at how we can encourage the full diversity of persons who will be affected by a development plan to participate. It involves moving from a space that allows for that public consultation and engagement. I recognise that individual councillors may reach out to those persons, but these amendments ensure that the practice reflects the public duty to do so. The Aarhus Convention is also mentioned in the amendments, which specifically concerns participation in environmental decision-making.

Amendment No. 7 sets out some of the provisions. I recognise that in law it is often preferred that specific provisions are not set out. Amendment No. 8 is a slimmed-down version of amendment No. 7. It is not prescriptive in respect of the steps that need to be taken, but it states that such active steps as deemed necessary should be taken to promote full equality of access. Amendment No. 9 is an important one. It is a version of amendments Nos. 7 and 8. Although I recognise that there are complexities around the timing of this, it specifies that where there are particular communities, marginalised groups or age cohorts, whether they are young people, older people, or some of the groups who have traditionally not participated, or where they are not represented in the public consultation, their participation should be encouraged. Senator Moynihan and others described examples where these groups went back again. There should be active strategies to ensure that if the public consultation is not reflecting the social mix in our community, more active steps will be taken to address this.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and affording us the opportunity to make our points. I understand that the majority of local authorities want the best for their local communities. In 2011, I was looking for a unit for a family in Labre Park who did not have running water or electricity. I remember speaking about the redevelopment of Labre Park and how we should look at future-proofing it. It is the same here today. We should be future-proofing our planning at a local level, and through this, we should be empowering people from all walks of life. Those from the Travelling community, those living in direct provision, those with visible disabilities and those regarded as troublemakers in a local community, are most likely to be excluded from these places and from local development discussions.

As people know, I was born and reared in Ballyfermot. A few years ago, it was widely reported that apartments were being built in Cherry Orchard, and because the community was not engaged in that consultation on who was going in to the apartments, there was uproar. It is about the empowerment of the community. In many working class areas it is the unknown for many people from different walks of life. What would not happen in Blackrock or Foxrock should not be allowed to happen in Ballyfermot, Clondalkin or Bluebell. It is really important that young people are brought to the table and empowered, and that must be looked at going forward.

One of the main points I wish to make is about communities. If local authorities want sustainable communities, and communities that will work with them, then the communities must be brought to the table. There must be engagement and participation of the elderly and young people within those communities, because engagement is the future.

I will speak on amendment No. 9. The explanatory memorandum talks about the modernisation agenda.

This amendment to develop further strategies if the initial work does not encompass all of the voices that we need it to will trigger more imaginative processes. Senator Boyhan mentioned young people and art. The Dublin City Council Culture Company has had tea and chats with people of all ages across the city. There is work going on and engagement with people. If I have only one minute to speak, I will not go on. I will allow the amendment to proceed.

It is important how the message is communicated to the public if there are going to be online meetings. How will that message be communicated? In some areas, we have local radio and newspapers. In other areas, there are few means of communicating that these public meetings are going to take place. The Minister might address that point.

As it is now 3.30 p.m., I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Seanad of this day: "That amendment No. 7 is hereby negatived, Fourth Stage is hereby completed, and the Bill is hereby received for final consideration and passed."

Question put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 41; Níl, 4.

  • Ahearn, Garret.
  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Boylan, Lynn.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Malcolm.
  • Carrigy, Micheál.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Lisa.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Crowe, Ollie.
  • Currie, Emer.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Davitt, Aidan.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dolan, Aisling.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fitzpatrick, Mary.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Garvey, Róisín.
  • Hoey, Annie.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • Martin, Vincent P.
  • McGahon, John.
  • McGreehan, Erin.
  • Moynihan, Rebecca.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • O'Reilly, Pauline.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Seery Kearney, Mary.
  • Sherlock, Marie.
  • Wall, Mark.
  • Ward, Barry.
  • Warfield, Fintan.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Keogan, Sharon.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne; Níl, Senators Sharon Keogan and Victor Boyhan.
Question declared carried.
Sitting suspended at 3.51 p.m. and resumed at 4.05 p.m.