Local Government Bill, 2000: Committee Stage.

Section 1 agreed to.
SECTION 2.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 17, subsection (1), between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following definition:

" 'Act of 2000' means the Planning and Development Act, 2000;".

This amendment clarifies all references to the Act of 2000. It means the Planning and Development Act, 2000.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 18, lines 7 and 8, to delete all words from and including ", in" in line 7 down to and including "authority," in line 8.

This is a definition of casual vacancy. In some unusual cases a casual vacancy is deemed to occur before a person has become a member of a local authority. This can arise, for example, where a person who has been elected dies after the poll is closed but before the first meeting of the local authority takes place. Therefore, the reference to a person ceasing to be a member is not technically correct and this amendment will address that point.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 18 subsection (1), between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following definition:

" 'community' means persons ordinarily resident in a particular area within the local authority boundary or who belong to communities of interest and whose boundaries may transcend the local authority area;".

This amendment seeks to insert the definition of "community" between the definition of "committee" and "corporate plan". That is an important addition given the critical focus of the Bill. I urge the members' support for its inclusion in the definition section.

As regards the amendment to include the definition of "community", I refer to the definition of "local community" in section 2. It is defined as including those resident in the local authority area and those who use local authority facilities in that area, such as parks, swimming pools, libraries and roads. It was considered necessary to define this term because the local authority provides a democratic forum to represent the local community, as can be seen in section 64, and may take action to promote the interests of the local community under section 66. Article 28A of Bunreacht na hÉireann refers to the role of local authorities in promoting on their own initiative the interests of local communities. I am satisfied the current definition is satisfactory. I ask the Deputy to withdraw his amendment.

I accept the Minister of State's position on this amendment. The reference to local community transcends the restrictive view. I accede to his request on this occasion so we can all get off on the right footing.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

We will now consider amendment No. 4. Amendments Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 9 are related. Amendments Nos. 4 and 6 to 9, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 18, subsection (1), between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following definition:

" 'community development' means to a process through which local community life is enhanced through the work of a wide range of community-based/voluntary organisations engaged in a variety of services and includes a focus on disadvantaged, marginalised communities and an emphasis on capacity-building and anti-poverty work;".

We are dealing with the definition section. There is a clear relationship between Deputy Gilmore's amendments and those I have tabled. However, I have an extended position in relation to the definition of "poverty" in amendment No. 8. It states:

In page 20, subsection (1), between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following definitions:

" 'poverty' means people who are living in poverty if their income and resources (material, cultural and social) are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living which is regarded as acceptable by Irish society generally. As a result of inadequate income and resources people may be excluded and marginalised from participating in activities which are considered the norm for other people in society;

'poverty proofing' is the process by which Government departments, local authorities and State agencies assess policies and programmes at design and review stages in relation to the likely impact that they will have or have had on poverty and on inequalities which are likely to lead to poverty, with a view to poverty reduction;".

The definition of "poverty proofing" is virtually the same as that proposed by Deputy Gilmore. Amendment No. 9 states:

In page 21, subsection (1), between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following definition:

" 'social exclusion' means cumulativemarginalisation from production (unemployment), from consumption (income poverty), from social networks (community, family and neighbours), from decision making and from an adequate quality of life;".

I urge the Minister of State to accept these amendments. I do not have any difficulty accepting the Minister's proposal in amendment No. 5. Perhaps we can find common ground and move forward.

We have received a number of submissions from the Combat Poverty Agency and the Community Workers' Co-Operative which have drawn our attention to the need to focus on poverty, community development and tackling disadvantage in our debate on this Bill. Whatever form the local government system may take after this Bill is enacted it should have a particular brief for tackling poverty and disadvantage. That is in line with the national anti-poverty strategy, which I expect the Minister of State supports. I understand it is also provided for in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. It should, therefore, be reflected in the legislation. It has practical implications at local government level. We are all aware of the circumstances, for example, in which poorer sections of our community, which are perhaps not as well organised or resourced as their better off neighbours, find it difficult to interact and extract from the local government system the same level of concessions. There should be a focus in the Bill on tackling poverty and disadvantage and on giving a brief to the local government system to pay attention to its responsibilities to address poverty in whatever form it manifests itself and to facilitate community development, particularly in disadvantaged communities.

A number of amendments seek to insert in section 2 different definitions related to different aspects of social exclusion. The term used in the PPF, which was agreed with the social partners, is social inclusion. Local authorities are developing an increased focus on programmes to promote social inclusion. This is reflected in a number of the later amendments I have submitted. Under the PPF, pilot social inclusion units have been established in nine local authorities.

The programme for revitalising areas by planning, investment and development - RAPID - aims to target investment expenditure in the most deprived areas and local authorities will have a leading role as regards the co-ordination of delivery.

Furthermore, the work of county and city development boards has a specific strand dealing with social inclusion. Precise legal definitions in this area are not helpful. What is needed is a practical working approach to the issue by local authorities. I have indicated that local authorities are evolving to develop a greater role in promoting social inclusion with support from a number of Departments, the Combat Poverty Agency, the community and voluntary sector and other interests. This is endorsed by the PPF.

I ask the Deputies to withdraw these amendments in light of these facts and later amendments to sections 66 and 68 which will insert the need to promote social inclusion. We are in agreement on the core issue and that is what matters. We have provided for the promotion of social inclusion. Precise legal definitions are unlikely to provide the answer to the social problem to which we are referring.

There is a significant difference in this situation as against amendment No. 3 regarding the inclusion of references to community. In that instance the Minister of State rightly referred to local community, as contained in the critical pages. However, that is not the case regarding areas which deal with community development, poverty, poverty proofing and social exclusion. The Minister of State referred to social inclusion, but that is not one of the references in the critical pages 17 to 21.

It is important that we clarify exactly at what we are looking. I accept the Minister of State's point that social inclusion is the critical focus. However, there is no such reference. We are trying to address what has been a real problem for disadvantaged, marginalised communities which have only known social exclusion. The purpose of the Bill, deficient though it is, is to address some of these deficiencies in people's lives and in many communities with which I am familiar. It is important that these references are included and I will press the amendment.

"Social inclusion" is a term which has been agreed by the social partners with regard to poverty and the lack of facilities for certain sections of the community. I would prefer to stick with this term. If the Deputy seeks a definition of what is meant by social inclusion whereby we would cover poverty and other matters, I could consider this issue before Report Stage.We do not wish to insert different legal definitions.

There is a Cabinet subcommittee on social inclusion which deals with all of these issues and we should not argue about this matter. If the Deputy would be happier to have social inclusion defined so as to include the kinds of issues with which he is concerned, I can examine such a course of action. I will see if we can come up with a definition before Report Stage.

As I understand it, the Minister of State has referred to amendments to sections 66 and 68. We will return to this issue when discussing those amendments. However, we will need to consider the practicalities rather than the wording. It seemsde rigueur to include references to social inclusion in every document, partnership agreement and Government statement which deals with tackling poverty, social exclusion and disadvantage. However, much poverty still persists in my constituency. Many of the initiatives launched with fanfares do not appear to be penetrating whereby they address poverty in a practical sense. The local government system has a role in pulling together and introducing a framework of accountability regarding many of the initiatives which are designed to address poverty and social exclusion. I will be happy to return to this issue when we discuss later sections, but it is important that the local government system is given a role in this area.

I would not wish to move away from using the term "social inclusion" to describe that to which Deputies refer. The term is included in other Government programmes and seems to be generally accepted. It would be confusing to move away from this term. If Deputies wish to include a definition of social inclusion then so be it. We could define social inclusion and social exclusion. However, we are talking about social inclusion.

The Minister of State is being vague. He is suggesting that he will examine this matter. Can he be more specific? Can he not say it will be done?

What would be the point in standing by my position and refusing to look at the matter? I am trying to be helpful and to meet the Deputy half way. I will not accept the Deputy's entire proposal but I will meet him half way. He will have to take me at my word that I will seriously examine this issue to see if we can come up with an amendment which would provide for the kind of issues on which his definition of poverty is based.

Chairman, what options are open to a Deputy is this situation? Can you outline the position regarding amendments at this juncture? Are there other options other than withdrawing amendments?

Will the Deputy return to this issue on Report Stage?

Will the amendments stand? I would prefer to let the amendments stand until I see what the Minister of State comes up with. If he is meeting me half way I would like to see the colour of what he is saying.

The procedure would be that the Deputy would withdraw his amendment and we would look at this issue before Report Stage and consider coming forward with an amendment along the lines I have suggested.

The Deputy can press an amendment on Report Stage if he does not press this amendment now.

So I can reintroduce these amendments.

Yes, provided we do not vote on this amendment.

To facilitate progress, I will await the Minister of State's response. I will withdraw the amendment but reserve the right to reintroduce it. Before conceding to the Minister of State's request, it must be stated that these are important definitions. I hope the sense and structure of the definitions are reflected in whatever wording the Minister of State offers on Report Stage regarding social inclusion. I have no conflict with that proposition, but it is important that the key and critical elements reflected are part of this Bill. On that basis I will withdraw the amendment and revisit the matter, if necessary, on sight of the Minister of State's presentation. I will withdraw amendments Nos. 4, 8 and 9 to which I am a party. Deputy Gilmore will have to indicate his position regarding these amendments of which he is co-sponsor.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Chairman, may I clarify one point? Any Member with an amendment at this stage can reintroduce the amendment on Report Stage without asking the permission of the committee. There is no problem in reintroducing an amendment on Report Stage. That should be made clear. One does not have to seek permission at all, just reintroduce it. It is as simple as that. The Deputy need not request permission, he has the authority.

I accept that, thank you.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 19, subsection (1), to delete lines 16 to 20 and substitute the following:

"land" has the meaning given to it by the Act of 2000;".

This follows from the definition of the Act of 2000. Land has been defined by reference to the Planning and Development Act, 2000.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 6 to 9, inclusive, not moved.

Amendments Nos. 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 18, 49, 50, 216 and 217 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 21, to delete lines 14 and 15 and substitute the following:

" 'town council' shall be construed in accordance with section 11(4)(b).”.

A range of official amendments relates to the question of boroughs and to the historic position of Kilkenny. The substantive sections in this regard are sections 10 and 11. Deputy Gilmore wishes to designate the boroughs as cities in amendment No. 11. The official amendments Nos. 10, 49, 50, 216 and 217 all follow as a consequence to the substantive official amendments Nos. 10, 12, 15, 16 and 18 to sections 10 and 11. These will continue the term "borough" in local government law. I will deal with boroughs first. The Bill as published uses the term "town" to apply to all towns, in line with every day language, and "town council" applies to all 80 town based local authorities. Section 10 deals with local government areas and section 11 with the local authorities for the areas concerned. Under section 10, local government areas are known as counties, cities and towns. The use of the term "town" has caused concern to a number of authorities which are currently known as boroughs. These are Clonmel, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Sligo and Wexford. There was concern that in some way or other this change of terminology would represent a diminution in status.

I should begin by giving some background as to where these proposals came from. There was a specific proposal in the White Paper published by the previous Government that modern technology would be applied to local government and that the terms "city", "county" and "town" should be used in modern law. This has been recommended in the Barrington report in 1990 and by the commission on town local government in 1996. There was never any question of diminution in status. Basically, what was involved was using language which might have more meaning to the layman. Very few people refer to the borough centre or borough people rather than town centre or townspeople. Indeed, in most of these towns the tourist literature concerned refers to town rather than borough. Kilkenny, of course, is the exception. When private sector enterprises in these towns advertise, they tend to use the term "town". That is the term that is used in every day language. So the use of everyday language is the issue.

However, the Minister, as part of a wide consultation exercise met the five mayors of the authorities concerned and in light of their concerns undertook to provide that the five towns concerned would continue to be boroughs for the purpose of local government law and that their local authorities would in future be titled as borough councils. The series of official amendments to sections 10 and 11, and a number of related amendments, are basically designed to achieve the same.

The first substantive amendment No. 12 basically substitutes a new subsection (3) in section 10. The net effect of the new subsection is that what are currently boroughs will continue to be known as boroughs and all other towns which are currently styled as urban district councils or town commissioners will in future be styled as towns.

A further point to be made is that the term "town", where it is used in the Act, refers collectively to all the various categories, that is, both the boroughs as now provided for in the new subsection (3) and the other towns. So while the collective term is "town", a subset of these are known as boroughs and will continue to use that title.

Amendment No. 15 deals with the special historical position of Kilkenny and adds an additional subsection (7) to section 10. I will revert to that in a moment.

Amendment No. 16 to section 11 will substitute a new paragraph for paragraph (b) of the existing (4)(b). The new paragraph provides that the local authorities for the boroughs which are created under section 10 will be known as borough councils and the local authorities for the other towns will be known as town councils. References in the Act to a town council will, where necessary, be read as including both town councils and borough councils.

By way of background it might be interesting to note that the borough terminology involved derives from legislation enacted in 1840. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have similar legislative origins as our own, and all of their local government legislation has been updated and has dispensed with the term "borough". Nowhere in the actual local government legislation itself does the term "borough" or the term "borough corporation" appear, nor in English local government law. Their terminology has been updated. However, a number of authorities do continue to use the term "borough", notwithstanding the fact that it is not specifically provided for in the legislation concerned. That was also the case with the Northern Ireland legislation, but a number of authorities subsequently utilised a separate mechanism whereby they can petition the Crown for the grant of a charter to make them a borough. Over the last 20 years or so, a number of authorities in Northern Ireland have done so.

The official amendment No. 18 to section 11 is a new subsection (16). Basically, this provides that the existing royal charters and letters patent relating to local authorities continue to apply for ceremonial and related purposes in accordance with local civic tradition. These towns have a long municipal tradition and heritage which they value and this subsection allows for that to continue. It is expressed in a more positive manner than the original subsection (16) as published.

As regards amendment No. 11, Deputy Gilmore proposes to designate as cities what are currently boroughs. The Bill provides for cities which in local government law are currently county boroughs with city councils. They are Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. Each of these has its own city council and is entirely separate from the county with its own council organisation, offices, manager and finances. A city council is, in fact, equivalent to a county council and responsible for the full range of local authority functions. There are a total of 34 such county or city councils. In line with the policy set out in Better Local Government by the rainbow coalition Government, there are no proposals to provide for further fragmentation of counties to create yet additional city authorities and a system which is neither organisationally nor financially sustainable. That would be the effect of this amendment.

Our smallest city is Waterford with a population of about 44,000 in 1996. I might add that local government in Scotland, with a population of five million, has four city authorities while Wales has two. As committee members know, there is an official amendment No. 15 to section 10(7) to recognise the unique historical position of Kilkenny. There is a new provision to recognise the term "city" to describe Kilkenny in line with long established historical and municipal practice. Kilkenny was reconstituted as a borough corporation under the Municipal Corporation of Ireland Act, 1840, as were Clonmel, Drogheda and Sligo. Indeed, section 2 of the 1840 Act specifically provides that Kilkenny is a borough and that is still the current legal position in local government law.

Traditionally, Kilkenny has been referred to as a city. This has its roots in local usage deriving from a 17th century charter. However, it has not been a city in local government law for the past 160 years at least. The Bill, as published, at section 11(16), provides that local charters can continue for ceremonial or related purposes, thereby safeguarding local tradition and practice. There is no difficulty, therefore, with Kilkenny continuing its long established traditions. However, Kilkenny Corporation indicated its concern that the provisions of the Bill would not maintain its status. In addition, there were concerns, as in other boroughs, that use of the term "town" was a form of diminution of status and that the Bill would preclude their continued use of the term "city". In view of these concerns the Minister indicated he would include provision to specifically recognise the traditional use of the term "city" to describe Kilkenny.

For the first time in local government legislation the uniqueness of Kilkenny has been recognised, provided this amendment is accepted. The new provision will not align Kilkenny with the five city authorities with organisations, finance, staff and councils divorced from those of the counties in which they are situated. As part of a general issue regarding the retention of the title "borough" the Minister undertook to make provision to protect royal charters and letters of patent in recognition of local government heritage, tradition and culture.

What does the Minister's amendment amount to? He proposes that Kilkenny, Wexford, Sligo, Drogheda and Clonmel remain as towns, as defined in the Bill - their local authorities will be town councils - but they will be called something else. All the Minister is doing is allowing them to keep whatever title they want but nothing is changing. Kilkenny will remain a city in name only and its council will be a town council as defined in the Bill. Wexford, Clonmel, Sligo and Drogheda can continue to call themselves boroughs but their local authorities will continue to be town councils. They will be called borough councils but will be no different from town councils. They will have exactly the same powers. No change is being proposed. This is window dressing. On top of all this they can keep whatever robes, patents, titles, royal charters and any other old flim-flam they have for ceremonial occasions.

With the framework for local government being established a decision has to be made. Either Kilkenny, Wexford, Sligo, Drogheda and Clonmel - which in previous local government legislation had a separate, distinct existence - become cities in the context of the city, town and county framework being established in the Bill or they do not. We cannot pretend they are one thing when they call themselves something else. They are all larger than Galway when it became a city under previous legislation. In terms of population and area they are well qualified. I have a Private Members' Bill that I was asked to table by Councillor Declan Bree in Sligo proposing that Sligo become a city. I am glad to have the opportunity to reflect this in the amendment. A pretence whereby they continue to have town councils while Kilkenny is called a city and the other four are called boroughs is codding the people of the areas in question. It is to pretend that something is being done when it is not.

Going back a number of years, borough councils were quite distinct from urban district councils and had additional functions and responsibilities. I served on a borough council in Dún Laoghaire for a number of years before it was absorbed into Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. It had specific responsibilities which went beyond those of an urban district council. What is proposed in the Minister's amendments is not a borough in the old, distinct sense. They will be boroughs in name only and which have no meaning. I propose that they should be cities. They either are cities or they are not. I do not like this idea of calling them one thing when in reality they are something else and do not propose to go along with it.

I agree with Deputy Gilmore. When the Bill was announced there were numerous meetings between the Minister and the mayors of the five cities in question and an undertaking was given that they would retain their status. From a reading of the Bill and having listened to Deputy Gilmore, this is purely window dressing. It is both unfair and unacceptable. The people concerned are being downgraded.

What does the Deputy say is unacceptable?

Deputy Gilmore's amendment proposes that the places formerly described as municipal boroughs should be cities while the Minister of State is saying they can use the term "borough" but in law there is no such status. Is that correct?

Until now they have been known as borough councils and will continue to be so known following the request of the mayors.

Why is Deputy Gilmore's amendment not being accepted whereby the term "city" could be used? It would upgrade rather than downgrade the places in question.

The request was to have the councils known as borough councils, not town councils.

That is not my understanding. My understanding is that they are being downgraded and that Deputy Gilmore's amendment——

In what way are we downgrading them?

They will be town councils.

They will be borough councils, which is what they asked for.

That is not my understanding. They will be town councils.

What is the difference between a borough council and a town council as defined in the Bill?

The Minister had a meeting with the mayors at which they discussed and agreed with this. The amendment implements the commitment the Minister gave to the mayors who came to represent their towns and councils. I am astonished it is being opposed. If it does not go through, they will be known as town councils.

If my amendment goes through, they will be known as city councils, which is what they are.

Some of them.

There are borough councils and town councils, including in Sligo, Drogheda and Clonmel.

Can we come back to the question. What is the difference?

They never called themselves city councils but Kilkenny did. It was always Kilkenny city and recognition has been given to that fact in the Bill, as requested. I remind the Deputies what their Government proposed when it published the document——

(Interruptions.)

That is five years ago.

This is a completely new Bill.

This was your proposal. Why is the title "county, city and town councils" in place, which has little meaning for citizens and which the Deputy's party supported four years ago?

Where does it say Kilkenny should be a town council?

They were all going to be town councils.

What is the difference between a borough council and a town council?

I will give a full and comprehensive explanation as to our position. I am satisfied that what is proposed in the Bill fulfils the commitment made by the Minister to restore the city council title to Kilkenny, which is what they required, and the borough council title to the other councils mentioned. Anything else would be moving away from what was agreed.

What is the difference in the Bill between a borough council and a town council?

I listened with interest to the Minister of State's response. While I am not privy to the details of his meeting with the respective mayors, even though one of them is a party colleague with whom I have discussed the matter in the past, it appears that what is at issue here is not necessarily what was agreed, but that there is provision in amendment No. 11 that the four other municipalities would have the same designation as cities as Kilkenny. I do not have a conflict with that proposition. Rather than parsing and analysing the difference, I would like to know what is the Minister of State's opposition to that proposal. Why would one not accept and concede the status to the respective municipal boroughs?

Schedule 6 refers to Clonmel, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Sligo and Wexford as former boroughs, while Schedule 7 refers to them as town councils. Does the amendment seek to change Schedules 6 and 7 or to change Schedule 6 to Schedule 7 as previously proposed?

The towns of Clonmel, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Sligo and Wexford referred to in Schedule 6 will remain as boroughs.

The Minister is amending the legislation, but what happens to Schedule 7 which refers to them as town councils?

It was agreed that the change will allow the towns to use "borough" in their title and on headed notepaper. Their council will be referred to as the borough council rather than town council. The mayors indicated they would be satisfied with that provision as they do not want to create the perception, which they deemed it was, that there was a change in their status. I understand they were fully satisfied with that change.

The Minister of State is not giving a clear explanation in respect of this provision. If the towns will be allowed to use the title, surely this should be clearly indicated in the Bill.

I do not see what the difficulty is. The towns objected to being told they would be known officially as town councils. The Minister introduced amendments to the Bill to ensure they can be known as borough councils, which is what they requested. I stand by that position because I cannot continue explaining it. The towns have been given what they wanted as represented by the mayors.

I did not get an answer to my question. What is the difference between a borough council and a town council?

It is a question of the title, which is what they objected to.

That is all?

Yes. There is no change in status.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 2, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 3.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

Section 3(4) reads, "Regulations may not be made under this section after the expiration of 3 years from the establishment day." Why three years?

This subsection provides that regulations may not be made after a period of three years from establishment day. Essentially, the purpose of making regulations under this section is to enable the Act to have full effect and to provide, where necessary, for other enactments to have effect in conformity with this Act. A period of three years allows a reasonable timeframe for any difficulties which may arise to be dealt with by way of regulation. This is major consolidating legislation which will modernise a large volume of general local government law dating as far back as the 19th century, therefore, some problems of interpretation could arise. This section provides a mechanism to deal readily with such a situation. A somewhat similar provision is contained in section 3(7) of the Local Government Act, 1993.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 4 agreed to.
SECTION 5.
Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

There is a huge chunk of legislation, some of which goes back to the beginning of the 19th century, which is being repealed by this Bill. There are approximately 80 separate enactments, orders and so on. In preparing for Committee Stage, I noted that while some of the sections of the more recent legislation of 1991, 1994 and so on are in general repeated in this Bill, in some cases they are repeated in a different way. I will come to that in discussion of later sections. What law is being repealed in its entirety? Much of what is repealed here is out of date due to the amount of repetition. We need to know what local government law is being totally repealed, withdrawn or taken off the Statute Book as a result of this section.

Provisions that have become redundant are being repealed. They no longer apply.

I do not want to hold up the discussion of the Bill on this point but it is an important section. All previous local government law is being repealed in one wallop. Everything is removed once section 5 goes through. We get the new Bill on local government in place of the old provisions. Is it possible to get a list?

There is a list

The statutes are listed, but what they do is not listed.

The Deputy can access them. In column 20, the Commissioners Clauses Act, 1847, is listed. That Act set up the town commissioners.

Do I take it from that answer that there is no material on local government law which is being repealed here and not re-enacted? Are some items now redundant?

Yes. It shows the sections that are being repealed - in some cases complete Acts have become redundant. There is no point leaving them on the system. This is a tidying-up exercise. It has been a mammoth task. Anyone who wants to look back through the Acts that are being repealed in total may do so.

I will give a practical example of my point. The old section 4 of the Local Government Act, 1955, is being restated in this Bill but is refitted in a different way.

That happens in many cases.

No. There are subtle changes. One of the fascinating things I noticed when going through this section by section was the subtle changes from previous enactments. The Acts reappear with subtle little turns on them. I did not have time to go back to the Grand Juries Act, 1836, to trawl for every little thing. There is a responsibility on the Minister to put on the record material changes, if any, being made in local government law as a result of the huge repeal under way. If there are material changes——

The changes are contained in the Bill.

Is anything left out of the Bill which was in the other Acts, other than redundant items?

The Deputy is asking if anything is being repealed. All sorts of Acts are being repealed.

I know that the Acts have been repealed.

Is this about Acts being repealed without the Deputy being informed?

No. I accept that there is no Act being repealed that we are not being informed about. They are all listed. I want the Minister to inform the committee about this matter as the committee does not have the resources to trawl through every statute to investigate it. We have a responsibility to find out what is being repealed. I see the list. I accept that the Minister is repealing redundant statutes. That is fine. However, is there any material in what is being repealed which is a material change in local government law and which does not arise purely by reason of redundancy?

It is consolidation legislation and some Acts that have become redundant have been repealed in total. Some sections are being modernised to bring local government law up to date. There will not be material changes in that modernisation. They are provided for in this Bill.

I have asked the question. If some guy in a wig down at the Four Courts finds some problem with this Bill, that is not my fault.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 6 to 9, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 10.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 24, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following subsection:

"(3) The following which had been previously described as Municipal Boroughs, shall be cities: Kilkenny; Wexford; Sligo; Drogheda; Clonmel.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 24, lines 14 to 17, to delete subsection (3) and substitute the following:

"(3) Within the county in which they are situated and of which they form part, there continue to be such other local government areas as are set out inSchedule 6 which-

(a) in the case of the areas set out in Chapter 1 of Part 1 of that Schedule, shall be known as boroughs, and

(b) in the case of the areas set out in Chapter 2 of Part 1 and Part 2 of that Schedule, shall be known as towns,

and in this Act a reference to a town shall include a reference to a borough.".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 24, subsection (4)(a), lines 22 and 23, to delete “North Tipperary and South Tipperary” and substitute “Tipperary North and Tipperary South”.

This amendment seeks a change of wording but it is an important change for the vehicle registration divisions of the local authorities described as Tipperary North and Tipperary South - the exact opposite of what is proposed in the Bill. It promotes the identity of a council when its registration plate is similar to the county name. I am anxious that this be amended.

Neither county council asked for the change. They seem happy enough to accept it.

I assure the Minister they will be looking for a change. This is just for reasons of consistency and to avoid confusion.

Section 10(4)(a) of the Bill provides for a change of name in Tipperary North Riding and Tipperary South Riding councils to north Tipperary and south Tipperary respectively. This is a more accurate description of the actual position given that “ridings” refers to thirds, not halves. This reflects the intention of the Bill to modernise out-dated terminology. North Tipperary and south Tipperary is the format that is used colloquially and is in line with the more recently established South Dublin County Council. Given that the Bill was published last year, there has been plenty of opportunity for debate on the various issues by the local authorities.

However, of the many issues raised, this one has not been the subject of debate as far as we are aware. I understand that no strong feelings on the matter have been raised locally or by the councils. The only context in which this issue surfaced was the possible implications for the vehicle registration system which the Deputy mentioned.

That is the only reason.

The order of the index letters on the registration plates is relevant. They are "TN" and "TS" respectively and it is a fair concern that this might have to be changed in view of the format proposed - north Tipperary and south Tipperary. Responsibility for the registration of vehicles was transferred from motor tax offices to the Revenue Commissioners. I understand inquiries were made of them in regard to this question. Our information is that the change of names proposed in the Bill will have no legal implications for the current combination of index letters and that usage of TN and TS can continue.

I accept the Minister's statement that it may have no legal implications. However, if the purpose of this Bill is to promote county identity and loyalty - I note the Minister's remarks on several occasions that the county is the primary organ of local government - we should stick to one name for the county. It is causing confusion. I accept that the proposal in the disallowed amendment is now a function of the Revenue Commissioners. I submitted it to allow the three new Dublin local authorities to have their own licence plates which would identify them as counties. I was making the same argument in this case.

I would be prepared to go some way along the road the Deputy is proposing if, between now and Report Stage later in the week, we receive official notification from both local authorities indicating they wish to make the change. I do not believe they do. In those circumstances I would look at the matter very favourably, but it would not be proper of me to do so on the basis of an amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 24, subsection (6), line 36, after "and 17" to insert "andsection 225”.

This is a technical amendment to ensure the provisions of section 10 take account of the operation of section 225 regarding reclaimed land. Section 10 specifies the local government areas in the State. Section 225 provides that reclaimed land adjoining the seaward boundary is automatically deemed to come within the local authority area. Therefore, section 10 needs to be read by reference to section 225 and the "without prejudice to" clause in subsection 6 should apply.

We had an interesting case once when a lobster boat was blown up alongside a pier and the county council had a claim lodged against it for malicious damages. It stated that the pier was not in County Galway but in the water.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 15 was discussed with amendment No. 10.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 24, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following subsection:

"(7) This section is without prejudice to the continued use of the description city in relation to Kilkenny, to the extent that that description was used before the establishment day and is not otherwise inconsistent with this Act.".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 10, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 11.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 25, subsection (4), lines 10 to 12, to delete paragraph (b) and substitute the following:

"(b) The local authority for each of the towns set out in Schedule 6 shall be known by the name of the town followed by the words-

(i) in the case of a town set out inChapter 1 of Part 1 of that Schedule, ’Borough Council’, and

(ii) in any other case, 'Town Council',

and references in this Act to 'town council' shall be construed accordingly.".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 17 in the name of Deputy Olivia Mitchell has been ruled out of order as it is outside the scope of the Bill.

It was a good try.

Amendment No. 17 not moved.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 26, lines 36 to 38, to delete subsection (16) and substitute the following:

"(16) Subject to this Act, royal charters and letters patent relating to local authorities shall continue to apply for ceremonial and related purposes in accordance with local civic tradition but shall otherwise cease to have effect.".

Amendment agreed to.
Section 11, as amended, agreed to.
NEW SECTION.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 26, before section 12, but in Part 3, to insert the following new section:

"12--A member of a local authority who is employed in any office of employment shall be entitled to such unpaid leave from the office or employment in question as is necessary to enable him or her to attend meetings of the authority or committees thereof.".

This is a very important amendment. Following publication of the Bill a period of consultation ensued. I took the opportunity to consult Labour Party members of local authorities around the country. One proposal which emerged very strongly from that consultation process was that there should be statutory unpaid time off work to enable members of local authorities to attend meetings and carry out their functions.

They reported to me very strongly that members of local authorities are encountering many difficulties in securing time off work to enable them to attend local authority meetings, particularly now that local authority meetings are increasingly held during the normal working day. At one time it was common for local authority meetings to be held at night, particularly in many of the urban authorities. That has changed with the increase in local authority work and meetings during the day make it necessary for people to get time off work.

The amendment proposes an entitlement to unpaid leave. I have not prescribed how that might be arranged in a place of work. That is to be negotiated and agreed between the employee concerned and the employer. However, the principle needs to be established. It is also important in the context of the proposals in the Bill to recognise thede facto position that membership of a local authority requires a great deal of work. The Bill provides for payment of a wage or salary to members of a local authority formally making membership of a local authority a part time job. One cannot do two jobs at the same time. People in employment need to get time off work to carry out the functions of membership of a local authority. The amendment is straightforward. I emphasise again that it proposes unpaid leave from employment so there would be no cost for employers.

I have considered inserting a statutory requirement to provide for time off for members of local authorities. However, I am not convinced that this is an appropriate matter for legislation. There could be constitutional difficulties with regard to private employers. It is unlikely that they could be compelled to release staff. At present, as Members will be aware, most public sector employees in the ESB, Bord na Móna and Bord Gáis who are councillors are entitled to take leave to attend meetings. Civil servants are also entitled to special leave with pay and Eircom and An Post have had special arrangements in the past. Certain limits are placed on the extent of such leave in these cases.

Agreement offers the best way forward. The issue has already been raised in a preliminary way in the context of PPF talks and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, intends to follow up on the matter in that framework. That is probably the most productive way to proceed. I understand the intent behind the amendment but I cannot accept it without first having full discussions with the employers side.

Many local authorities meet in the evenings whereas many county councils hold their meetings in the afternoons and there is a great deal of committee work at local authority level, some of which has to be done during the day. That presents a special difficulty for people who wish to serve. However, the issue should first be discussed by the social partners before we proceed. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government has agreed to do that and I can give that commitment.

I welcome the Minister's commitment that the issue will be discussed with the social partners. It does not, however, give me great cause for optimism that we will end up with unpaid leave of absence for local authority members. There is a difficulty here and we have to address it. It is not just a question for the employees and the social partners, it is about local democracy. It is about the right of the public to be fully represented. For example, in the case of councillors elected in a particular town, some may be in employment where they can get time off to attend meetings or in professions where they can organise their own time while others may have to negotiate with their employers without having a statutory right. They are automatically at a disadvantage. A member might have to be present at a council vote at 4 p.m. on a Monday evening, for example, but might not be able to attend because he or she might not get time off work. Employees are not encouraged to become candidates for membership of county or town councils because employers are unwilling to give time off to attend council meetings. Apart from inconvenience, there is no issue concerning employers apart from cost that would require the kind of discussion that takes place between the social partners.

What is at stake is the right of citizens to be fully represented on their local councils and to be fully represented by a councillor who is working in the private sector for an employer who is not enthusiastic about the councillor's membership of the council. Citizens have the right to stand for election and they should not be denied time off work to attend council meetings. They should have an equal opportunity to participate in politics, irrespective of where they are employed. An issue of principle must be addressed in this Bill.

I support Deputy Gilmore regarding this amendment. He is correct in stating that it is the natural right of all citizens to participate in the democratic process. While listening to him, I thought of a number of examples of the difficulties people would face if they were to present themselves for election for local or national office. Retention of their existing employment and the restraints that would be imposed on them need to be addressed. They have no legal support in this regard. This Bill is an excellent opportunity to place on the Statute Book a stipulation that citizens have an absolute and legal right to participate in the democratic process and this amendment affords us that opportunity. It would be a patent weakness in the Bill if it were not incorporated.

I have no doubt everybody present can think of examples where people are constrained by the nature of their employment. These people are often in the least remunerated positions in manual labour and factories. There is a significant deficit of input from a range of employment sectors. Council chambers would be improved by a greater balance of input from all citizens. Therefore, the amendment is important.

I support Deputy Gilmore in regard to this important matter. On Second Stage, I questioned from where the next generation of councillors would come. With full employment, and people making so much money in the private sector, they are not willing to give of their time. A large sector of the urban population is not represented at local government level. I refer to the thousands of people employed in companies such as Hewlett Packard, Dell, etc. who are not local authorities members because they would find it so difficult to get time off work to attend meetings. There is an imbalance in the type of representation. Farmers are well represented on local authorities, but the IT sector is not. Many other sectors are not well represented either. This problem will get worse. Will the Minister of State reconsider the amendment?

I have stated the Government's position on the amendment. The Minister is committed to taking up this matter with the social partners. That is the correct approach. It would not be correct for me to accept the amendment without those discussions having taken place.

Ammendment put and declared lost.

Section 12 agreed to.
SECTION 13.

Amendment No. 20 is in the name of Deputy Gilmore. Amendments Nos. 20 to 29, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 27, subsection (1), between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:

"(f) is Chairperson of a Committee of either or both Houses of the Oireachtas,

or".

Section 13 lists a number of people who are disqualified from membership of local authorities. A provision in an earlier Bill stated that the chairman of an Oireachtas committee, which is an important position, could not be a member of a local authority. I think this provision was in previous legislation, but was removed before the last local elections for a reason I did not fully understand. It is an important provision and should be reinserted in legislation. I am disappointed the Chairman is not here. It has taken the good out of tabling the amendment.

The other amendments concern the current prohibitions against members of the Garda, civil servants and employees of local authorities above a certain level. There is no reason for this prohibition to continue. There may be arguments that they should not be active in political parties, for example. That is another matter, particularly regarding the Civil Service. I do not understand why a Garda or civil servant living in Naas should not be on the town council. We are excluding many who would have a lot to contribute to local government, which should not be the case.

People who have not paid their water charges or were in a court case with their local authority, the costs of which they have not paid, are also excluded. This should be changed and the people should decide who they want to elect. If the people elect a person who has had a row with the local authority, so be it. To my knowledge there are no corresponding prohibitions on people standing for election to the Dáil. One could be a tax evader and stand for election to the Dáil. A question on eligibility may arise but that is another debate. Given this, exclusions for eligibility to stand for election to local government which do not pertain for election to the Dáil should not be allowed.

I wish to deal with amendments Nos. 24 and 25. Amendment No. 24 states: "In page 27, subsection (1)(i), line 29, to delete “section, or” and substitute “section.” The purpose of this, with amendment No. 25, is to delete section 13(1), paragraphs (j) to (m), inclusive, which deal with reasons for disqualification of persons from being elected or co-opted on to local authorities.

Section 13(1)(j) refers to those “undergoing a sentence of imprisonment for any term exceeding 6 months imposed by a court of competent jurisdiction in the State,”. It is important that we recognise we have come from a situation of conflict on this island over 30 years. I was a director of elections at the time a young republican imprisoned North of the Border became a candidate here in a Dáil election and was elected to the Dáil in 1981. From my personal experience as director of elections I can testify to the importance of that experience and the critical input and effect the exercise had in terms of the direction of republican activists in subsequent years. It was extremely important. It is also very important that we do not lose sight of past events. We do not have to go back over 20 years to 1981 but we can look back to those who are so described as the founding fathers of this State and consider that many of them were imprisoned at the time of their election. Given this, the provision set out in this paragraph should not be a reason for excluding anyone.

People are imprisoned for many reasons, but that should not exclude them from the right to put their names forward. It is my wish, and I want to put it on the record of this meeting, that we should never again have to witness the experience I have instanced where people would seek to be elected from imprisonment. We must recognise from our own experience that this is not a reason for refusing to accept their right to candidature.

It would be a serious flaw to imitate in this Bill the legislation introduced by Margaret Thatcher following the election of Bobby Sands. It is something the Irish electorate would not welcome. It would open up a vista of interface and argument that we should not have visited upon us. I strongly urge the Minister to remove section 13(1)(j) from the Bill as it offers no positive or practical advance on the current situation and only creates untold problems. I strongly oppose the inclusion of this paragraph.

With regard to section 13(1)(k), Deputy Gilmore referred to those in conflict with local authorities or local government, through protest or opposition to a service charge, or whatever may be the case. We must leave room for the individual to utilise legitimate means of protest, which also includes withholding payments in some cases. There is long established precedent for this to which we can all point. To include in a section a provision where a person is disqualified from standing for election because of a failure to pay a summons, portion of a summons or charge or surcharge by an auditor of the accounts of any local authority upon or against that person is unacceptable. It might apply to sitting members of local authorities in terms of a surcharge applied by an auditor. Is there a means of protest? Are they to be automatically disqualified if they hold strong, principled opposition? Are we ruling out principled opposition and closing the door on the opportunity to protest by serving members of local authorities or people who may be activists within the community from whatever source of opinion?

Section 13(1)(l) disqualifies a person who “fails to comply with a final judgment, order or decree of a court of competent jurisdiction, for payment of money due to any local authority,”. That could apply to a range of areas, including the current practice on planning permissions, where people are levied enormous sums for the provision of carpark spaces. Often wistful promises never materialise and excessive charges are applied to people in the business community. It is credible that people may act, say, in the full knowledge that money has been locked up for seven years with no prospect of a carpark space being offered and may wish to challenge the practice. They could be sitting members or people who have the aspiration or ambition to be involved in local government, including those from the business community and a range of other areas. Paragraph (l) could exclude people from an unlimited range of areas. It is contrary to the spirit of the argument for inclusion and seeking to accommodate and encourage more people to become more actively involved in the democratic process.

Some may argue that section 13(1)(m) should be retained. I would hold no brief for those involved in fraudulent or dishonest dealings affecting a local authority or any citizen or group of citizens. However, what is meant by the terms “corrupt practice” and “acting when disqualified”? Does it mean disqualified from driving or from a profession? How would that be interpreted?

If section 13(1)(m) is accepted, it means that irrespective of what conviction, sentencing or court that applied it, this provision would impose a life sentence on those affected in that they would not have the opportunity or wherewithal to go beyond whatever activities in which they were engaged. There is no recognition of the potential for reform or for an individual to change, accept and reject their previous actions or performance. We must leave the door wide open to ensure all citizens, irrespective of their experiences, have the opportunity to come forward. These critical areas they seek to exclude are fundamentally flawed and totally against the spirit of what should prevail.

The Minister referred to social inclusion. These paragraphs list a series of exclusions which are contrary to the spirit to which the Minister referred earlier. They are the most negative elements in the Bill and they should be removed for the reasons I have outlined. I urge him to accept amendment No. 25 and agree to the deletion of section 13(1), paragraphs (j) to (m) inclusive.

Amendment No. 29 should be accepted. It is proposed to exclude judges from being members of local authorities, yet drug dealers will be accommodated. They should be specifically excluded for any conviction at any time for the sale and distribution of illicit drugs. Councillors and all public representatives should be leaders in their communities. They are people of influence and access. With the local activists at their disposal they have a great opportunity to organise events and so on which allow them to have great contact with young people. I have some experience of this in my area where a person reputed to be strongly involved in the drugs trade ran for public office on a number of occasions. I do not wish to elaborate but the arguments are almost self-evident. Whatever may be the case for Deputies, councillors have very close contact with people on the ground and are in a position to build a strong business in the drugs trade.

The amendment refers only to the "sale and distribution" of illicit drugs. Perhaps it should also include their use. Section 13(1)(k) excludes a person who “fails to pay any sum or any portion of any sum charged or surcharged, by an auditor of the accounts of any local authority, upon or against that person.” Notwithstanding the argument made by other Deputies regarding service charges and other such payments, a councillor could be in rent arrears to his local authority. Could that be a case for disqualification if this provision was agreed to? I would have a major concern about that.

There is a wide range of amendments to section 13 requesting various deletions to the range of disqualifications which apply to being elected to or being a member of a local authority. On the one hand, Deputy Olivia Mitchell has proposed the inclusion of an additional disqualification. The disqualifications referred to in section 13 are based on current law, which aims to ensure the public office holders in question are ineligible for election to membership of local authorities because of the potential for conflicts of interests. For these reasons I do not accept the Labour Party amendments to enable a garda, a civil servant or certain local authority officials to also be members of a local authority.

Deputy Ó Caoláin's amendments, echoed in some cases by the Labour Party, would have the effect of removing the disqualifications from election or being a member where a person is undergoing a prison sentence, has failed to pay a surcharge or comply with a court judgment regarding money due to the local authority, or has been convicted of an offence in relation to improper dealings with the local authority. The disqualifications are based on the current provisions which I do not propose to delete. Deputy Olivia Mitchell wishes to extend the list of disqualifications to include cases where a person has a conviction relating to the supply of drugs.

The disqualifications provided for in the Bill are fair and balanced. On the one hand, they disqualify persons who have deliberately rebutted local authority powers and shown disregard for the local authority system while, on the other, they are not permanent. Section 13(2) and (3) provide that they will only remain in place for a period of five years. The disqualification covering a prison sentence refers to a sentence being served at the time and that is longer than six months. In these circumstances if the person concerned was a local authority member, he or she would be depriving the electorate of representation while he or she was imprisoned. When he or she is released from prison they will then be eligible for membership.

Deputy Gilmore proposes to delete various disqualifications, yet at the same time, taking an opposite approach, he simultaneously proposes to introduce a disqualification for chairs of Oireachtas committees. This may have been proposed out of devilment.

I appreciate Deputy Olivia Mitchell's concern about the drugs problem and her wish that disqualification from local authority membership be extended to include instances where a person has been convicted of the sale or distribution of illicit drugs. Section 13 provides for disqualification where a person is undergoing a prison sentence. It would cover a person convicted of a drugs offence but only where he or she is serving a prison sentence of more than six months. This amendment highlights the issue of whether a convicted individual who has duly served his or her punishment should be further penalised by such disqualification or whether it should be a matter for the electorate.

The Bill provides for disqualification resulting from conviction for specified offences. These offences, such as corrupt practices and fraudulent dealings with a local authority, all have in common the point that they relate to wrongdoing in relation to the local authority. The integrity of the local authority system could be called into question if a person convicted of such behaviour was allowed to be a member. At the same time the law recognises that persons should not be penalisedad infinitum and such disqualifications operate for a period of five years from the date of conviction.

If it is decided to move from only including offences against a local authority to more behavioural crimes, should we not include other crimes, such as murder, sexual abuse etc? Where does one stop? On balance, I would prefer to leave section 13 as it stands and let the issue of convictions for certain offences be considered in a more comprehensive way in the context of any similar changes to Dáil disqualifications. In the circumstances, I cannot agree to accept the proposed amendments. With regard to the point raised by Deputy Kelleher, the person concerned would have to be charged in court and have gone through the final legal process, including a final court conviction.

No more than anyone else I do not want to see drug dealers, murderers, those who have been guilty of corrupt practices and so on become members of a local authority. However, this decision should be left to the people. They should decide who is to be a member of the local authority. They are capable of forming a judgment about the character and suitability of any candidate who offers for election to a local authority. The only proposals I make for exclusion are in line with the rationale behind those relating to holders of public office where the extent of their responsibilities means that they could not reasonably be expected to serve on a local authority. I disagree with attempts to exclude those who have not paid service charges or rates where, say, there is a dispute over valuation. I also disagree, on the one hand, with excluding a person sentenced to a six months prison sentence while, on the other, accepting a person who gets a suspended sentence or the Probation Act for what could be a much more serious offence.

Removing by legislation the choice that should be exercised by the people in a democracy is dangerous. We should remove these exclusions. I considered tabling the same amendment as Deputy Olivia Mitchell. It is one we received in a submission from a local government association. However, on reflection, I concluded that if dealing in illicit drugs was a cause for exclusion, so also should convictions for murder, child abuse and other offences. However, ultimately, that is for the people to decide. It is not for legislators to decide what categories should be excluded. I ask the Minister to reconsider this provision because there is a distinction. We are entitled to define certain public offices where people, because of the range of responsibilities of the office, are not eligible to serve on local authorities. However, it is not appropriate in legislation to try to anticipate or second guess what should be a decision of the people. The provision should not be included.

I feel particularly strongly about the areas on which I focused for the reasons I outlined. It would be poor judgment to include them. Regarding paragraph (m), the Minister of State referred to those serving a sentence for any term exceeding six months and said that they would be eligible on their release. However, that would not apply under paragraph (m) which states, “is convicted of, or has had a conviction confirmed on appeal.” This implies retrospection for life and makes no reference to the term of sentence being served.

The Bill will impose a life sentence in terms of an individual citizen's right to participate in the electoral process. It is important to recognise that people have the right to participate fully in society if they have discharged whatever commitment or sentence was imposed on them. The Bill is seriously flawed in this area and I could not support the provisions to which I referred under any circumstances. I ask the Chair for guidance because, unlike other Members, I am a lone player in the House and I am anxious to know the options open to me in terms of pressing my amendments. If the Minister of State is unwilling to accept them or find some common ground on which we can work, what will be the net effect if I press my amendments? The Chairman was not in a position to adequately answer this query earlier and I hope the Acting Chairman can do so.

It is open to the Deputy to call a formal division. The bells would be rung, etc, if he wished. Otherwise, I can assess the mood in the room and proceed from there.

Is the effect of pressing my amendments that they cannot be reintroduced on Report Stage? Is that correct? Will the Acting Chairman confirm the procedural position?

That is not correct. The Deputy can retable the amendments for Report Stage. If an amendment is withdrawn, the Deputy can also resubmit it for Report Stage.

They can be resubmitted.

I have received contrary information about this matter all evening. It is important to know the exact position.

To be fair to the Chairman, we were unclear about the Deputy's question.

There was conflicting information. However, I considered the amendments carefully and the Minister of State will appreciate that I feel strongly about the arguments I made. This area merits reconsideration by the Minister.

In relation to Deputy Ó Caoláin's intentions, we are working to a timetable. While I do not suggest any member's right to call divisions whenever he or she wishes should be curtailed, the committee was operating the voice vote formula in the expectation that divisions on issues of major importance would be called on Report Stage. That was my approach to the Bill and I am concerned that if formal divisions start to be called on Committee Stage, there will be several of them. There are already two matters that I intend to put to a division on Report Stage.

We will keep that in mind.

Deputy Ó Caoláin referred to a life sentence. If a person is a member or an official of a local authority and a surcharge is awarded against him or her, which he or she refuses to pay - a surcharge is not imposed lightly, it is usually for a major misdemeanour - the disqualification is not for life. If he or she serves a sentence over six months, the disqualification only lasts for five years from the date of its commencement. It is not a life sentence.

I referred to a life sentence with regard to paragraph (m). It states that a person is disqualified from being elected or co-opted if he or she is convicted, or has had a conviction. It is not time limited. The conviction could have been 20 years previously. My reading of the paragraph is a valid interpretation.

Section 13(2)(c) states in relation to fraud that the disqualification shall be for five years from the date of the conviction or determination of the appeal as the case may be. The position of this and the previous Government has been to uphold this provision. New law is not being introduced in this regard. The measure is being re-enacted because the various legislation dealing with local government is being consolidated. The Government is not of a mind to make any changes along the lines suggested by the Deputy in the amendments.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 21 to 23, inclusive, not moved.

Earlier the Minister of State indicated that——

This was discussed already with amendment No. 23 and cannot be discussed again.

It is not about the amendment, but the Report Stage on which I seek clarification. The Minister of State indicated that Report Stage will be taken later this week, but will he clarify when it will be taken?

When the Committee Stage is completed. I cannot forecast——

The Minister of State said earlier——

The chairman said that there were four days set aside for this legislation.

We will continue with the Committee Stage on Friday, Report Stage will not be taken until next week.

It was hoped to take it earlier, but we will have to see how we proceed.

The Government is applying a guillotine. What time will be afforded to the Report and Final Stages, if it returns to the Dáil?

There is no guillotine on the Committee Stage. Does the Deputy accept that?

There was a guillotine on the Second Stage. Will there be one on the other Stages?

I cannot answer that. We do not have the Dáil business for next week.

I was not a party to what Deputy Gilmore indicated as an understanding about voice votes. I have difficulty in withdrawing these amendments.

We can decide the amendments on a voice vote.

I was not party to that and do not want to move from calling a vote on this. I will seek a voice vote on this occasion and proceed accordingly. If it fails, as it might, and, with the chairman's earlier clarification, I will revisit them on Report Stage. It is a significant, fundamental flaw in the Bill and I am not prepared to let the matter drop.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 27, subsection (1)(i), line 29, to delete “section, or” and substitute “section.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 27, subsection (1), lines 30 to 44, to delete paragraphs (j) to (m).

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 26 to 28, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 27, subsection (1)(m), after line 44, to insert the following:

"(iv) a conviction relating to the sale or distribution of illicit drugs.".

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 13 agreed to.
SECTION 14.
Question proposed: "That section 14 stand part of the Bill."

Is there not a Government amendment on this section?

The Minister for the Environment and Local Government announced last week that there was——

It was to notify the House of the Government's intention to introduce an amendment on Report Stage.

That is not acceptable. The dual mandate was the celebrated issue last week. This Bill was published 14 months ago. The Minister said that he fought like a lion for this provision since then. There were discussions between the Government and the four Independents who support it. Last week, the Minister announced that he intended to bring forward an amendment to excise section 14 from the Bill. We are on Committee Stage and the Opposition agreed to facilitate the Government on this by trying to get the Bill dealt with in Committee this week.

I will not co-operate with a stroke if the Government's amendment to its own Bill is not proposed now. I object to the procedure proposed by the Minister of State. There is no amendment at this stage and we cannot have a Committee Stage debate on this issue. The Government seeks to introduce the amendment on Report Stage when there will be restricted debate and not the same opportunity to question the Minister of State on the issue. We will be limited to one contribution each with two more minutes on issues arising from the debate. There is the possibility, as Deputy Ó Caoláin mentioned, of a bigger stroke in the form of a guillotine on Report Stage on the last day the Dáil sits. The Government is attempting to avoid debate on an embarrassing issue. The Minister of State's approach is unacceptable. A Government amendment should be tabled on Committee Stage. This should be clarified.

I join Deputy Gilmore in objecting in the strongest terms to this treatment. It is bad enough that on Second Stage we spent most of the time discussing a Bill, the cornerstone and only worthwhile measure of which was removed. We learned this from the media and were not formally informed of it. For this to happen again on Committee Stage is outrageous and unacceptable. It means that for four days we will tweak a Bill, much of which is predicated in section 14. It is a meaningless exercise. I propose that we abandon Committee Stage if we are not to know the content of the major amendment. It is what the Minister called the Bill's cornerstone. It is an insult to the Members here and to local government to discuss the Bill not knowing if section 14 is included. We will not know until a few minutes before the end of the Dáil. The Minister may not be well but there are people in the Department, including the Minister of State, who could indicate the content of the amendment.

I reflect my colleagues' comments. The Minister of State must recognise that this a serious dereliction of duty on the part of the Government. As one who indicated to the Minister privately and in the House my support for the measure before us, I find this approach objectionable. As a lone Deputy, with limited resources in the House, I went to great lengths to ensure my amendments were tabled for Committee Stage. The Department and the offices of the Minister and Minister of State ought to have been able to ensure the amendment in question was before us today. I appreciate the Minister is unwell and wish him a speedy recovery - I do not direct this at him as he is not here to address it personally - but for the Minister of State and his departmental officials it is a dereliction of duty and insulting to the committee. I lodge the strongest objection.

This is an unusual situation where those who wanted to table amendments on Report Stage and questioned the Chair about their right to do so——

My amendments are before the committee.

There is no comparison.

——seek to deny the Government its right to do so.

My amendments are before the Minister.

It is not an amendment.

This is but one section of an important Bill.

No section is more important than section 14.

The Bill contains major proposals on local government. The Deputies suggest that the Government has no right to table an amendment and that there is something improper about its intention to table a Report Stage amendment. This makes no sense as it is a long standing practice that the Government indicates at this stage its intention to introduce an amendment, just as the Deputies did. It was impossible for the Government to table an amendment on this issue but it is its intention to do so on Report Stage.

The Minister of State is inviting us to participate in a farce. If we proceed along these lines, we agree that section 14 should stand part of the Bill when we know it will not be the section with which the Government will proceed. We do not have the text of the Minister's amendment. All last week on the Order of Business I asked for it because continuing with Second Stage without it meant debating a Bill without knowing the Government's position on its main plank which we could only follow from press statements and then read the signals.

The Taoiseach stated last week that the amendment would be brought to Government this week. I presume it met today. Can the Minister of State, who participates in Government meetings, tell us if it has approved the text of the amendment? If so, we should be told what it is. If it is a matter of practicalities and the text has not yet been prepared, we can postpone consideration of this section until we see the Government amendment.

It is nonsensical to approve a section which we know will not be approved without having a proper Committee Stage debate and I will not participate in it. There are provisions in the Bill which I want enacted and on which I indicated at an earlier stage we would co-operate. However, I do not agree with being deprived of a Committee Stage debate on the core issue of the legislation. Will there be a Government amendment to this section and for what will it provide? When will we see the text? If we will not see it now, we should postpone consideration of this section until we see it.

Deputy Gilmore used a word that I used on Second Stage when the Government's decision was announced. It had been trickle leaked to us before then. We are again involved in another act in a legislative farce. There is a comparison between members' arguing to reintroduce amendments on Report Stage and what the Minister intends to do. While what we propose is before us on Committee Stage, the Government, with its clear intent and the resources at its disposal, has yet to show us its proposal. This is not acceptable. I concur with my colleagues' comments that it is untenable and must not continue.

No decision was made until the Government considered the matter this morning. The decision was not to proceed with the proposal in this section. The amendment was not drafted. It is normal practice to inform the House that the intention is to introduce change by way of a Report Stage amendment. The Opposition is seeking to work up a head of steam and anxious to debate the issue. Simply put, the proposal in this section will not be proceeded with. If the Deputies want to debate the matter now, I am prepared, if the Chair is agreeable, to propose that the section be deleted, following on from which there will be minor consequential amendments which must be tabled on Report Stage. That is my offer.

Are the Deputies willing to accept it?

I accept it. I simply seek a Committee Stage debate on the issue and accept that there will be consequential amendments.

I propose that section 14 be deleted. The decision is that we are not proceeding with the proposal contained within it.

For what reason?

I am involved in a coalition Government of two parties, of which mine is the smaller. We have policy objectives. This is the reason we participate in government with another party and our participation is dependent on the achievement, or otherwise, of those objectives. We are pleased with our progress in the implementation of the joint programme. The Government is supported by four Independent Deputies who are implacably opposed to the ending of the dual mandate, and persisting with that will result in the withdrawal of their support, precipitating a general election. As a politician and coalition member who deals with political realities, I weigh up the issues and decide that this is not something that should cause a general election. There are bigger issues to tackle and aspects of our programme for Government to be implemented. The political decision was made by the Government, just as prior to budgets it made similar decisions which kept the Progressive Democrats in Government. That is the political reality. There is no mystery. It is common sense politics. That is why I propose to remove the section now so as to facilitate the Deputies rather than await the promised Report Stage amendment.

We have talked ourselves out by now on the dual mandate. This Bill was looked forward to for years by everyone who cares about local government. The need for reform was clear. When the Bill was published after a long gestation, I was disappointed because it sought not to reform local government but to tinker with it. The Minister accepted that. Notwithstanding that there were welcome changes, there were only two significant matters. There was no radical change, such as changing the balance of power between county managers, the Minister, other agencies and elected members. The ending of the dual mandate and the direct election of mayors, of which more later, were the only two significant matters.

The dual mandate had to be reformed before anything else could be done. Local government is failing because councillors are set up to fail by the system. All decisions roll back to central Government. This does not encourage or give incentive to councillors to take decisions into their own hands even in those few areas where they have control. It is a bitter disappointment to see the political manoeuvrings and realise that four Members, who operate in a back room in Leinster House without coming into the Dáil to explain themselves, control the Government so that the cornerstone of Deputy Dempsey's opus major as Minister is sacrificed on the altar of power. The Minister of State said that it was not worth it. Is that how little he thinks of local government? It is about accountability, which is what lost the Government the referendum on the Treaty of Nice. The people lose contact with their elected representatives, have no faith in them, do not believe what they say and do not follow their example.

This Bill is about accountability and democracy, about what the media call disconnectedness. Removing this radical reform demonstrates why it should be no surprise that the referendum was lost. All my colleagues are aware of the growing disdain for politicians as they go to meetings to say that it is not the local authority but another body which is responsible for the matter being discussed. We must say that the Dáil is not responsible for many matters because agencies, such as the National Roads Authority, deal with them. We are bypassing the political system and destroying local, national and European government. The Minister must think again when he says that it is not worth having an election about this issue.

If this was such a big issue for Deputy Mitchell's party, why did it not put such a proposal into its policy paper on local government? When her party was in Government why——

It is in our policy document.

The Deputy was in government until the last election.

I was not in government.

The Deputy's party was, and it did not bring forward proposals on the dual mandate.

Is the Minister talking about history or the current policy document, published before his own Bill?

When the Deputy's party was in government, it did not take one step along this road.

What has this got to do with the issue? Is the Minister answering questions or questioning what happened in history?

If the Deputy makes a political statement, I am entitled to make one.

This is not a political statement. The Minister stated that it was not a big enough issue about which to have an election.

It was a highly loaded, charged political statement.

It is important and a disgrace that not only is local government being treated like this but also Members of the Dáil.

I have been a Deputy for four years and, as the first of my party to take his seat, it was a steep learning curve. I had to find my way alone in preparation for others to join me. In that time it became apparent that the dual mandate affects both local government and Members' ability to operate as legislators in the Seanad and Dáil. It is in the interest of the electoral process and representative politics that some people have exclusive responsibilities at one level and others at another. I realise the restrictions parties put on individual Members. It is not just the current situation and it is false to blame the four Independents, although they were the critical element in persuading the Government to delete section 14. Members in all parties want to maintain the dual mandate. I claim no moral high ground since the same difficulties might apply in a wider debate in my party.

Of their nature, political parties are wont to introduce constraints and take electoral judgments in terms of working out their strategies for each electoral contest. It is, therefore, not the case that an individual Deputy or member of a council could necessarily extract himself or herself from one or the other. It is a collective decision and, strategically, parties will make judgments as to how they will best fare by utilising the personalities or individual candidates available to them.

I saw, in the decision as proposed by the Government, a welcome proposition to remove the dual mandate and force all political parties to face up to the responsibility of providing a full raft of candidates to address the two all-consuming and all-absorbing time demands that both local government responsibilities and Dáil or Seanad responsibilities place on any individual elected representative. I am deeply disappointed because I fear that once section 14 is removed from the Bill, this matter will not be revisited for many years to come. This will mean the continuation of what is an imperfect situation for both tiers of elected representation.

In a previous direct private exchange I had with the Minister I confirmed my support for the Government in bringing forward this element of the Local Government Bill. I believe it was the right course of action to take. I fully acknowledge that it was a difficult thing to do, but it was also extremely courageous. I am deeply disappointed, on a personal level and as a practitioner of the art of politics and political representation, we have failed to grasp the nettle on this occasion. Elected and representative politics will continue to suffer at both levels as a result. I urge a reconsideration of the position.

I made the point about the restrictions political parties can place on their candidate base, a fact with which I have become extremely familiar during my short and limited experience. However, to state that the finger of blame can be pointed solely or wholly at four Independents who are not accountable to or whose actions are not directed by a political party is clearly dishonest. Clearly they provided the sail and others provided the wind to allow the ship to be scuttled at this late juncture.

I will not delay the proceedings further. I reiterate that the Government is making a mistake which will have adverse effects on the interests of local and national politics on this island. It is not too late. If section 14 is put to the committee, I will be affirming my support for its inclusion. I hope that will continue to be the case to the conclusion of the deliberations on this Bill on Fifth Stage. I also hope the Minister will reflect on the views I have expressed with his colleagues.

I had the pleasure of being present in Wexford at Easter in 1998 when the Minister for the Environment and Local Government announced to the annual meeting of the Local Authorities Members Association that he intended to introduce a Bill to provide for certain reforms in local government. He outlined to the meeting two of the measures he intended to introduce, first, the creation of the post of directly elected mayors or chairpersons and, second, the abolition of the dual mandate.

The Bill to which the Minister referred eventually appeared in May 2000 and, as Deputy Mitchell stated, the Labour Party was heavily critical of it. We were disappointed that the extent of the reforms it contained was limited, that the structures and institutions of local government introduced at the beginning of the 20th century would remain in place and that there would be no significant change in the balance between executive and reserved functions at local government level. However, we acknowledged that an attempt was being made to introduce reforms in the composition of local government. We saw some merit in the concept of directly elected mayors and recognised what the Minister was attempting to do in creating a regime whereby members of local authorities would receive a salary type payment in acknowledgement of the extended range of functions they are expected to perform. In that context, we saw merit in the proposal to abolish the dual mandate. We consulted the members of our party who are also members of local authorities and discussed the matter at a meeting of the parliamentary party.

This is not an issue I would elevate to a point of high principle or in respect of which I would try to capture the high moral ground, this is an issue in respect of which decisions are taken on balance. In that context, the Labour Party came to the conclusion that this reform should proceed. In a situation where we knew the Independent Deputies supporting the Government were not satisfied with this proposal, there was a temptation on our part, to which we gave consideration, to inflict a parliamentary defeat on the Government. However, we decided on balance that there are occasions in the Houses where a convergence of political opinion occurs in relation to necessary reforms. We reached the conclusion that this was an occasion where it was not appropriate to take the opportunist route and that it was appropriate to take the proposed reform at face value and run with it. On balance, we decided to support the Government in respect of this proposal.

The Labour Party feels aggrieved that this measure is not being proceeded with. The only argument the Minister has offered today is that it is being done for reasons of realpolitik. It is interesting that he has offered no justification whatever in relation to the measure. That is not surprising because neither he nor his party agrees with it. I have a great deal of sympathy for his position because, like him, I served in a Government in which my party was a minority member and I understand the compromises etc., that must be made. Fortunately, I never found myself in the position of having to propose a legislative measure with which I fundamentally disagreed but I understand what he is saying.

There is one part of the Minister's logic which I fail to follow. The only justification being offered for this amendment is that, in the terms of realpolitik, the continued existence of the Government is dependent on three components: Fianna Fáil; the Progressive Democrats, which has swallowed this measure as one of its compromises and justifies doing so on the basis that it got its way on other issues; and the Independents. I could understand the logic of this argument if this was the first or second year of the Government's term of office. The Minister indicates that this is to avoid a general election, but such an election will have to take place because the Government is in the final year of its term. In addition, we are in the final month of the current session and the Dáil is not due to return until October. For how long does the Government intend to remain in office? Given that the general election must take place within the next 12 months, the logic behind the Minister's argument is flawed. There is something we are not being told.

I cannot believe that the Government would sacrifice what it regarded as an important reforming measure or that it would inflict such a humiliation on the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and not obtain something in return. There is something missing and some concession has been made. I do not believe that a party which has enjoyed the degree of success enjoyed by Fianna Fáil would do what was done to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government last week without obtaining a major concession in return from those Deputies from whom the original concession was exacted. That is therealpolitik of this matter. What deal has been done?

The reform of local government is being sacrificed and that is a pity. It is also a pity that when a majority of Members of the Dáil would have voted to enact it, the Government is abandoning section 14. The guarantee of enactment was given by the Labour Party - I have outlined our thinking in that regard - because its members came to the conclusion that there are occasions when the requirement for institutional reform and political progress is greater than any short-term political advantage. The Labour Party made that call and I am disappointed its members have been let down. What price was paid for our being let down? We have not yet been informed of the facts in this regard. Some deal was struck last week. We know what was one part of it, namely, the deletion of section 14 and everything it would involve for the Government, particularly the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, but we do not yet know what was the other side of the equation. What did the experienced Ministers and politicians who negotiated on the Government's behalf with the Independents last week receive in return for dropping section 14? The Minister of State should not indicate that the price was their continued support for the Government, which has entered the final few months of its time in office.

I welcome the Minister's proposal. There is cross-party support for this measure among individual Deputies. Most speakers on Second Stage expressed the hope that section 14 would be changed and I am glad that has proved to be the case. If one speaks to Members on all sides on an informal basis, it is clear there is huge support for what the Minister is now proposing.

It is the other way around.

I do not believe that is the case. I was always of the opinion that this measure was premature. I accept there is an argument in favour of dropping the dual mandate but I was always of the view that there should first have been a change in the electoral system that would be followed by the change outlined. Until we employ some form of single seat or list system, trying to change the existing position would have a damaging effect on many people involved in this area. People involved in the major parties, particularly members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, are aware of that fact. If Deputy Gilmore aids his colleague in becoming elected in Dún Laoghaire, he might obtain an understanding of the difficulties involved for the larger parties.

If one considers the positionvis-à-vis the European Parliament, there is no ban on a person serving as both an MEP and a Deputy. What is the big deal with people serving as both city or county councillors and Members of the Dáil? Perhaps there is a difficulty if they represent the constituencies of Galway, Donegal or west Mayo, but there is no problem whatsoever in Dublin. If one can be an MEP and a Deputy, why can one not serve as a city councillor and a Deputy?

What Deputy Mitchell stated was nonsense. A great deal of hypocrisy has been uttered about the image, standing and status of politicians and about how people perceive us. I stand open to correction, but I believe that every Member at this table holds a dual mandate at present. We have all been elected to the positions we hold. The people who elected us had a choice and could have chosen not to vote for us if they so wished. This is not the major issue that Members might pretend it to be. I am of the opinion that I am able to combine being a Deputy and a councillor. However, if I was an Opposition Front Bench spokesperson I might have a difficulty in terms of my workload. There is no doubt that Opposition spokespersons have a huge amount of work to do and lack the support structures available to Ministers.

The Green Party has a policy in respect of this matter and when members of that party became Members of the House, both sitting Deputies from that party were obliged to stand down as councillors. Every party has the option to make this demand of its members. The party of which I am a member set the trend in respect of MEPs and will probably also set the trend in relation to this matter. Just because it is not enshrined in law does not mean that a party cannot adopt a position. It has been open to parties to adopt and implement a policy in respect of this matter. I do not wish to give credit to Deputies Gormley or Sargent, but at least they have put their money where their mouths are and implemented a policy on this matter. The option remains, either for individuals or for parties, to withdraw from local authority positions if they so desire.

Was the Minister wrong on this matter?

He expressed his view and I am entitled to express mine. I am delighted this will not be enshrined in legislation. This is not a matter in respect of which major reform was urgently required. Change would not happen for three years in any event. The world would not stop turning next week if we had not passed section 14. The option will remain open to any individual or party to state that, on a national or regional basis, the pressures of holding both jobs is too great. What is the big deal?

I am glad the Minister has adopted this new approach because we will have time to reflect on and debate the matter to a greater extent among ourselves. In the meantime, people can decide, on an individual or party basis, to opt out of the dual mandate. I am glad there has been a change of heart.

I also welcome the Minister's announcement and I support the withdrawal of this section. I have been involved in local government for 22 years. Prior to my involvement therein, most Deputies played a leading role in local government and this did not harm their position and the workload involved did not discourage them from retaining the dual mandate. There was, therefore, no demand for an end to that mandate.

There is a special connection between members of the electorate and Members of Parliament. That was established and nurtured by Deputies throughout the history of the State and of local government. I would oppose the breaking of that unique connection because it is the basis on which many of us are informed. We obtain most of our information directly from constituents through the clinics we hold, which allow us to educate ourselves in terms of the changes required at national level.

Members of the public did not request an end to the dual mandate. They had an opportunity in 1999 to decide that they would no longer support Deputies and Senators who became involved in local government. Many sitting Members of the Oireachtas were elected in the local elections. The results indicate that many topped the polls in their constituencies. There was, therefore, no demand to drop the dual mandate.

The Opposition has talked up the fact that, when in Opposition, the Government proposed the removal of the dual mandate and it has been stated that there was dissension in the Fianna Fáil ranks and among members of other parties. The reality is that there are Deputies and Senators across the political spectrum who would not like to lose the positions they hold in local government. I will hold this view until the Oireachtas is properly reformed which would give Members of both Houses a more meaningful role and ensure that, because of their increased workload, they would not be in a position to retain their membership of local authorities.

It should be remembered that when requesting information from local government, people must wade through a depth of bureaucracy. This continues to deepen and it is preventing the delivery of services people require. If such services were delivered properly, we would not be inundated at our clinics and in the course of our general work with representations about matters that should be dealt with in the usual official manner. That does not happen, however, and as a result people make inquiries from us at our constituency clinics.

I do not wish to deviate from the central point of this debate. If, however, one considers the example of the health boards it is obvious that information is simply not forthcoming and, therefore, involvement is required. During the course of the debate on this matter I have made my position clear. I outlined the fact that my constituency is made up of two counties and indicated that I am a member of the corporation, county council and county enterprise board in one of those counties and that I have no difficulty in carrying out my work. It is my experience that people have no problem obtaining information provided they are sitting members on their local councils. If one is not a sitting member, the information is not forthcoming because one is not connected, as such, to the electorate.

I reiterate one point made by Deputy Ahern, namely, if a person so wishes, he or she can hold the dual mandate. However, if the workload is too great, they should not become involved. As stated in the Dáil last week, I do not want to be involved because of the perks and expenses I can obtain, it is simply my willingness to serve and participate in local government which leads me to be involved while also serving as a Member of the Oireachtas. There is nothing wrong with that. Opposition Members are simply trying to talk up a problem or brew up a storm in a teacup and they have failed to do so on this occasion.

I am sure the Minister for Defence has listened carefully to the debate and is aware of what the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, has proposed to the committee.

Yes. There is not much more that can be said. This matter has been hotly debated. It is clear that while the major political parties are supportive of the concept of dropping the dual mandate, we live in a democracy where realities sometimes come home to roost. An amendment has been proposed by the Minister of State which will resolve this matter for the foreseeable future. I accept, however, that it may return to the agenda on some future occasion.

I wish to make a few points on procedure. Members will accept that we have had a full debate on this section. However, we had begun consideration of the section and, therefore, under Standing Order 114, I am not in a position to put the Minister of State's amendment but I am in a position to put the section. I hope Members understand that explanation.

I am interested in the Minister for Defence's comment that this matter might reappear on the agenda. The information that has entered the public domain seems to indicate that under the terms of the deal struck with the Independents this matter would not be revisited and that they would probably support the same parties for Government if they are returned to the Dáil after the next election. Before the Minister for Defence arrived we were trying to establish what caused the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, who was determined to include this section in the Bill, to advocate its deletion. Everyone knows that, in the short-term, the concerns of the Independents are being met but that the Bill would have been passed without their support in any event. What long-term factors led to the proposal to delete this section?

I listened to part of Second Stage and all contributors, including members of Fine Gael and Labour, with one exception, were totally opposed to the proposals in the Bill in relation to the ban on the dual membership.

Fine Gael and Labour are not in government.

As Deputy McGuinness stated, there is no clear consensus in any political party regarding this provision. The final decision taken by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, was obviously based on the fact that the Government had received solid support from the Independents who were anxious that this section should not be included. We live in a democratic society and we are obliged to listen to the views of others. Most people advise us that we should take this approach and that is what we did on this occasion. As I stated earlier, a future Government may return to deal with this matter but that will probably not happen for a long period.

Why did it take so long for the penny to drop with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey?

This Bill involves the most major consolidation of local government laws in history.

The Minister should stop.

It contains a number of provisions which the Minister, in an ideal situation, would be anxious to implement. As the situation at present is not ideal, he made a practical decision. In the final analysis, he put forward strong arguments in favour of his case.

On the question of procedure, what is the Acting Chairman proposing to do? Is he stating that he will put the section and that the Opposition will vote in favour of the section, which was put forward by the Government,and that Government Members will voteagainst it?

Yes, I understand the Government is opposing section 14.

Will the Acting Chairman clarify the statement he made to the effect that while he cannot deal with the Minister of State's amendment he is in a position to put the question on the section?

The Deputy will appreciate that this development is unprecedented. Having consulted Standing Orders we discovered that consideration of the section had commenced and I, therefore, should not have accepted the Minister of State's amendment.

Does this preclude the tabling of any further amendments on Report Stage?

Even though we will already have dealt with this section, we will be able to revisit it on Report Stage?

The Government will be voting against the section.

We are about to make history.

Yes, we will stand by the Government's proposal.

The Deputy should have a chat with Deputy Wall about that.

Is the Acting Chairman stating that the Government will vote against the section but proposes to table amendments to it later?

Just minor amendments.

To facilitate the arguments being made by Opposition spokespersons who wanted to debate this matter, I asked the Chair if he could accept an amendment to delete the section which would allow the debate to proceed. This proposal was agreed by the Chair and the Opposition Deputies present at the time and we proceeded to discuss it. Procedurally, however, the Chair was not correct in accepting the amendment. We have indicated our intention to delete the section and Opposition Members have indicated that they intend to vote in favour of its retention. In that context, the section will be put and we shall vote against it.

I am not making myself clear. If the section is deleted there will be nothing to be amended, so there will be no further amendments coming forward.

If someone else wants to introduce a section, a Report Stage amendment may be introduced. That, however, is the very thing the Deputy was objecting to.

No, I am just looking for clarification.

You can propose amendments in terms of adding sections.

I give notice that if this section is taken out of the Bill on Committee Stage, I intend to introduce an amendment on Report Stage to either reinstate section 14 or some variation of it.

That was the interesting point I wanted to make and I concur with Deputy Gilmore. I get lambasted for not supporting the Government very frequently and I judge everything on its merits. Here is a rare occasion where I concur and I indicated that some time ago. However, the Government has fallen at Beecher's Brook. I will be voting for the retention of section 14 and would be happy to join other Members in proposing its reintroduction on Report Stage. Maybe the Minister and others will support it at that stage. Their support would be welcome.

The Chairman, Mr. Healy-Rae, took the Chair.

Question put.
The Select Committee divided: Tá, 6; Níl, 8.

  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Gilmore, Éamon.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Reynolds, Gerry.

Níl

  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Jackie.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Power, Seán.
Question declared lost.
Section 14 deleted.

Should we break now and resume at 7 p.m.?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Sitting suspended at 5.56 p.m. and resumed at 7.05 p.m.
NEW SECTION

We resume on section 15. Amendments Nos. 30, 35 and 44 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 30:

In page 28, before section 15, to insert the following new section:

15.-(1) A person shall not hold membership simultaneously of-

(a) more than one local authority of the same class, or

(b) a city council and town council.

(2) For the purposes of this section, local authorities shall be deemed to consist of the following 2 classes:

(a) county councils and city councils;

(b) town councils.

This amendment which proposes to insert a new section 15 is in response to suggestions from the local authority associations. It provides that no councillor can hold membership of more than one local authority, with the exception of being a member of both a county council and town council. Dual membership of a county council and a town council is a feature of our local government system and can have positive spin-off effects for greater co-operation and linkage between town and county. The prohibition proposed by this amendment relates only to actual membership so there is no prohibition on standing for election. In the event that any member gets elected to more than one local authority she or he must opt for one authority only and the resulting vacancy will be filled as a casual vacancy.

The amendment mirrors current law in relation to standing for two or more electoral areas in the same local authority and being required to opt for one if elected for several. This I believe is a better approach than preventing multiple candidacy proposed by the Labour Party by way of amendment to section 19, which would prevent a person seeking election in multiple local authorities and could have constitutional implications. In these circumstances I ask Deputy Gilmore to withdraw his amendment to section 19.

Amendment No. 44 is consequential on amendment No. 30 prohibiting simultaneous membership of local authorities. This amendment to section 27 extends the regulatory power regarding local actions to include those circumstances where casual vacancies arise, or where persons are elected to more than one local authority of the same class. It also extends to those unusual circumstances where a casual vacancy can arise due to factors such as a death during the electoral process, intervention by the courts etc. Currently, the Local Election Regulations, 1995, deal with such matters. Regulations under section 27 must be approved in draft by both Houses.

I have put down an amendment which is an alternative to this one. The Government is proposing that successful candidates may sit on only one county council and one town or urban council at the same time. They could be a member of an urban and a county council, but not two urban or two county councils. If, for example, a candidate wished to stand for election to both Tipperary North and Tipperary South councils, under the Minister's formula that candidate would be entitled to stand. It is possible that he or she would be elected to both authorities. The Bill provides that the candidate or party who holds the seat is entitled to the co-option. If the candidate opted to take the seat in Tipperary North, who would get the co-option in Tipperary South? Is there not an entitlement for the candidate to put in his or her co-option in Tipperary South?

Is that not a matter for standing orders in that local authority?

As I understand it, the Bill provides that the party who holds the seat will be able to claim the seat in a co-option. I know this usually relates to independents, but it is possible that a political party would be involved. That party may decide that the same candidate should stand in different electoral areas. For example, Deputy Ó Caoláin may decide to contest both Monaghan and Cavan county councils. If he opted to keep his seat on Monaghan County Council, Deputy Ó Caoláin's party would be entitled to nominate a substitute on Cavan County Council. I am attempting to avoid a situation where a high profile candidate is clearly going to take only one seat, but stands in a number of local authority elections and then claims co-options.

That is a good point.

An amendment to section 27 will be proposed on Report Stage to provide that, in the case of a candidate elected in more than one electoral area, the casual vacancy will be filled by majority vote.

That raises another problem if we forget about Deputy Ó Caoláin's party and look at the Minister's.

The majority party.

A large party could arrange for a couple of high profile independents to stand, safe in the knowledge that co-option could be claimed when it comes up, if it has a majority on the authority.

Is the Deputy willing to cite any example of this happening?

I think it happened on Galway County Council not so long ago. The majority grouping got its way with a majority vote. I admit it does not happen very often and that there is a degree of honour in this, but it happens from time to time.

It may, but it is a fairly isolated phenomenon. We do not encourage candidates to stand in multiple electoral areas as it does not make democratic sense, to put it mildly. Majority voting in such circumstances is quite an acceptable solution. The circumstances outlined by the Deputy are quite unusual. I do not know the reason he chose County Tipperary, as most people know there are two ridings because the county was difficult to manage in the middle of the 19th century.

I could not think of another partitioned county.

The Deputy did not have to embarrass me publicly. There was a row about policing, but the main reason for the division was that the people of Nenagh and Clonmel thought their town should be designated as the capital of County Tipperary, while the people of Thurles made the case that it was in the centre of the county. When agreement was not reached, common sense prevailed, as it will regarding the matter raised by the Deputy. I do not want to see the Labour Party standing in all elections as I do not want to see it losing its deposits.

I do not think there is any danger of that happening in either Tipperary constituency.

Amendment agreed to.
Sections 15 and 16 agreed to.
SECTION 17.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 29, subsection (1), lines 24 to 31, to delete all words from and including "seventh" in line 24 down to and including "held." in line 31 and substitute "day of the declaration of the election of the members of the local authority.".

As I understand it, the definition of "ordinary day of retirement" means that outgoing members of a local authority will remain members of the local authority for seven days after polling day. It is dangerous to allow the old council to remainin situ for seven days after the election, as there may have been major changes in the election. Who knows what decisions may be made by a council in a week. In the interests of democracy, the ordinary day of retirement should be the day of declaration of the election of members of the new authority. This would effectively mean that the old council would cease to exist on the day of the count.

The Deputy's assumption that this has stood for over 100 years is correct. Section 17 of the Bill restates section 9 of the Local Government Act, 1994, and provides that the term of office of members continues after polling day for seven days until the ordinary day of retirement, whereupon newly elected members come into office. It is sensible to provide for a reasonable period to allow for a smooth transition from one local authority to another. It does not make sense to tie the ordinary day of retirement to the day of the declaration of members, given the administrative demands on local authorities following the election. Annual meetings have to be held, for example, a chairman and vice-chairman of the council have to be elected on the tenth day after the election and consideration must be given to the election, appointment or nomination of members of joint bodies. Local authorities are also required to publish notice of the annual meeting in the election year. Article 16.4.2° of the Constitution states, "Dáil Éireann shall meet within thirty days from that polling day." It is sensible, therefore, to allow a reasonable period.

I have no problem with allowing a reasonable period, as time has to be made available following the election of the local authority for meetings to be arranged, but I do not agree that somebody voted off the council should remain a councillor for seven days after the election. A situation could conceivably arise whereby a number of councillors lose their seats but remain even though they have been rejected. Dáil elections are straightforward, as those who lose are gone on the day of the count. The same should apply to council elections as I do not see any argument for a defeated member remaining a councillor, with all the legal entitlements that entails, for seven days after the election. By the same token, new councillors cannot be considered as such until seven days have passed. It is a loophole that has never been exploited to my recollection, but now that it has been spotted it should be closed off.

The Deputy has a point. Though I have considerable experience over a number of years, I cannot think of a single instance of exploitation or possible exploitation of that position. In terms of the Dáil, it is stated that "Dáil Éireann shall meet within 30 days". Governments are in office for the intervening period and my experience from both sides has been that the outgoing Government has been very co-operative and supportive of the new administration. This is something I would like to encourage. Apart from the administrative perspective and the notice which has to be given of annual meetings and the appointment of cathaoirligh and others, there is no real downside to that.

I also know from personal experience that when one loses office, or one's seat, the mind strays quickly from what one was doing in the administration or on a council. Deputy Gilmore has never had that experience so he has obviously been wonderfully——

The Deputy does not have any fundamental worries.

I cannot give an example of where this is causing problems.

I know that.

For example, in a controversial issue to do with the disposal of land, it could conceivably arise that a week after local elections an outgoing council, half of the members of which have been voted out of office, could make the decision to dispose of the land. It would be done and dusted and there would be nothing the new council could do about it.

The new council probably could do something about it but given our experience it is inconceivable that scenario would arise. That is a reflection on the integrity of the people who stand for office in local government, though I do not think Deputy Gilmore intends it as such. They are very dependable people generally. At a time when there is much criticism of the political system, and of individuals who stand and face the electorate in their local areas, we should provide a vote of confidence as distinct from imputing suspicion. I accept there are isolated cases of dubiety, though neither the Deputy nor I could give an instance.

When the election is over, if one has not been re-elected one should not be able to continue as a councillor. That is my point. I ask that the Minister looks at this. I do not know what the history of this is but——

I am open to correction on this as many of those present have considerable experience on local authorities. I served on a local authority for over 20 years and I cannot recall a time when a meeting was convened by the council to decide any issue in the interim period between the election and the meeting to elect the chairman of the new council. I venture the guess that no local authority has met in that interim period to make decisions before the new council was appointed and I ask the Deputy to withdraw the amendment.

I am not withdrawing it.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 17 agreed to.
SECTION 18.

Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 are alternatives to amendment No. 32. Amendments Nos. 32, 33 and 34, inclusive, may be discussed together, by agreement.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 30, lines 17 to 34, to delete subsection (4) and substitute the following:

"(4) (a) A person shall be deemed to have resigned from membership of a local authority where the person is absent from attendance at any meeting of the authority for a continuous period of 6 consecutive months (’the relevant period’) from the date (’the relevant date’) of his or her last attendance at a meeting of the authority.

(b) Paragraph (a) does not apply where the absence was-

(i) due to illness, or

(ii) in good faith for another reason, and which, in either case, is accepted by the local authority and approved by resolution under this paragraph before the end of the relevant period, in which case the period shall stand extended to 12 months from the relevant date.

(c) Where a resolution is passed under paragraph (b) and the continuous period of absence continues uninterrupted-

(i) due to illness, or

(ii) in good faith for another reason, and, in either case, is accepted by the local authority and approved by resolution under this paragraph before the expiry of the relevant period as extended under paragraph (b), then the period shall stand extended to 18 months from the relevant date.

(d) A casual vacancy under this subsection occurs on the next day after-

(i) in the case of paragraph (a), the end of the relevant period,

(ii) in the case of paragraph (b), the end of the relevant period as extended under that paragraph,

or

(iii) in the case of paragraph (c), the end of the relevant period as extended to 18 months under that paragraph.”.

The Bill provides that where a member has not attended any meetings of the local authority for a continuous period of six months he or she will be deemed to have resigned and will no longer be a member. Attendance at any committee is deemed to be attendance for the purposes of this section. As originally drafted, the Bill allowed for the six months period to be extended by a resolution to a 12 month period of absence in the case of genuine illness or other bona fide reasons. This issue was raised by the local authority associations. They wanted the overall 12 month period to be extended to two years. The Minister considered a two year absence too long but agreed to extend the overall continuous period to allow for absences through illness or other valid reasons and this was acceptable to the associations.

This section must also be seen against a background of other developments. The interval between local elections can no longer be extended. There is a fixed five year term and a member can be absent for one and a half years of that. A salary has been introduced for members and the current, 19th century law, specifies an absence period of 12 months for county and city councillors. As the amendment proposed by the Minister substantially meets that put down by Deputies Olivia Mitchell and Gilmore, I ask that they withdraw theirs. It is clear we have gone a long way to meet what the Deputies sought. It is a genuine compromise and should be accepted.

I am very happy with the alternatives. They should meet all circumstances.

I will settle for that as well.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 not moved.
Section 18, as amended, agreed to.
Amendment No. 35 not moved.
SECTION 19.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 31, subsection (3)(b), line 21, after “with” to insert “a list of replacement candidates furnished by the non-party member at the time of his or her resignation, or in default of such a list, in accordance with”.

This issue was raised by the three local government organisations, LAMA, the General Council of County Councils and the AMAI. They recommended a lift system similar to that which applies in European Parliament elections for co-options to the local authority where a casual vacancy arises. In cases where candidates are elected from a political party the practice has been that the party has the right to nominate the substitute. That should be enshrined to give political parties the freedom to select the replacement at the time the casual vacancy arises. However, there is a question as to who is entitled to the vacant post if, for example, an Independent resigns. We had a case of this in my local authority when an Independent, who had previously been a party colleague of mine, resigned. In fairness he nominated a member of the party for which he was elected for the position. If, for example, an Independent passes away there is nobody to make the nomination.

There is a case for having a list system or, as this amendment proposes, an option for the Independent to draw up a list on being elected. If he or she does not want to make a list, it would revert to the procedure that applies in the council. An Independent should have the option of nominating a list of successors should a casual vacancy arise, particularly in circumstances where he or she may not be in a position to indicate who should replace them.

The Bill regularises the position in so far as the co-option of party casual vacancies are concerned. In so far as non-party vacancies are concerned section 19(3)(b) and (c) provide that these are filled in accordance with such requirement as the local authority may set out in its standing orders. Paragraph 16(1)(c) of Schedule 9 requires a local authority in making its standing orders to comply with section 19(3)(b). Thus the local authority must consider this matter in making its standing orders and must consider if it will include special provisions. The matter is, therefore, left with the local authority. The amendment suggested would allow the outgoing member to nominate his replacement. It is more democratic to allow the local authority decide the position in all cases.

Having said that, I ran into a storm some ten years ago as Minister for the Environment and Local Government when I proposed that in the event of a vacancy arising, the party which won the seat at the previous general election would automatically nominate and take the seat without the process of a by-election. I survived that storm.

There is considerable room for genuine partnership on arriving at a decision on this issue. I will consider the matter again between now and Report Stage. That should not be interpreted as meaning I will find an acceptable solution. If we proceed on the basis that the casual vacancies in the party system are filled in the way we have suggested, there may well be some scope for accommodation. Deputy Gilmore should not assume that the matter will be solved but I will re-examine it before Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 19 agreed to.
Section 20 agreed to.
SECTION 21.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 32, lines 6 to 14, to delete subsections (1) and (2) and substitute the following:

"(1) Each county or city council shall have one member for every 4,000 persons ordinarily resident in its functional area and each town council shall have one member for each 1,000 such persons, subject to a minimum number of members of 21 in the case of a county council, 15 in the case of a city council and 12 in the case of a town council.".

As I said earlier, this side of the table is disappointed that the Bill does not contain any major change in local government other that those we have already discussed. One of the issues which needs to be addressed is the inequality that exists between local authorities. Let us take the population to councillor ratio. The lowest ratio is about 1,200 population per councillor. In several counties the figure is around 2,000 population per councillor. The ratio is 1 : 10,000 in Dublin city and 1 : 7,000 or 8,000 in the surrounding counties.

This amendment proposes a formula whereby no county or council would lose members. In other words what they have they hold. The amendment introduces the principle of a population ratio for additional councillors. I suggest that it should be 1 : 4,000 in the case of a county or city council and 1 : 1,000 in the case of a town council. For example, in very large or populous counties or towns there is provision for an increase in the membership of the council in line with increases in population. I am willing to be flexible on the ratios proposed. We can argue about whether it should be 1 councillor per 4,000, 5,000, 1,000 or 1,500 population. However, the principle of the ratio should be agreed. The principle already applies in Dáil elections and is written into the Constitution. We do not have it in the local government area.

It will also have an important knock-on effect on the elections to the second House. At present every county and city councillor has the same status as an elector for the Seanad. In practice this means the citizens of counties and cities with large populations have a disproportionately low electoral influence on the election of the Seanad. That is probably unconstitutional because the principle of equality of citizenship and voting entitlement is not maintained.

The inclusion of this amendment would allow for different sizes of councils depending on population and an increase in the size of a council as the population of the council area increases. It would also enshrine the principle of proportionality in the size of councils and the entitlement to elect councillors. By establishing existing numbers as the threshold, above which the ratio will apply, the amendment takes nothing away from any county, city or town.

I support Deputy Gilmore. I plan to table an amendment which sets out to achieve a similar aim. It is wrong that some people should be more represented than others. One of the areas where this rigidity in the system causes real problems in practice is its inability to respond to changes in population. Few parts of the country are not experiencing rapid population change. Particular problems exist where a spill-over of population from town councils or cities into the surrounding county is not reflected in an increase in the county's representation.

There is a trend emerging for cities to request an extension of their boundaries to take in once rural areas that have been built up. That is not a good idea. We should try to retain the county as the primary unit of local government. An increase in a county's representation would facilitate the formation of area committees as a way of representing a given area, which is better than attempting to move it into a town. That process will continue with the final result being the absorption of the county into the city council.

It is envisaged that at the next stage of local government reform we will move towards area committees. It is important to have flexibility to reflect changes in population. The fact that this has not happened is probably not just the fault of the Government but of others also.

This amendment proposes to alter the number of members of each local authority in the State. It proposes to provide for one elected member for every 4,000 persons resident in each city and county and for every 1,000 persons resident in each town. Under this proposal Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council would have 47 members instead of its current 28 and Dublin City Council, 120, an increase of 68. I do not think this is what the Deputies want.

The current position is that council population ratios in cities and counties vary enormously. Each local authority operates within its own administrative area and the main priority of the relevant council is to have a sufficient number of members to carry out its functions effectively. A simplistic view to have complete equality of representation across the State would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve and result in very substantial reductions in membership in some authorities, as well as increases in others.

The question of an appropriate level of local representation is a complex and difficult one affecting all local authorities and one on which there are differing public views. Should additional town representation be taken into account and, if so, to what extent? Should lower population ratios be allowed for in large rural areas and higher ones in compact urbanised counties? Any move to consider comprehensively differences between local authorities across the State would be a major undertaking requiring detailed analysis and which could only be implemented over time, as recognised in the recent report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government. Section 22 of the Bill provides for a mechanism by which a local authority can apply for an alteration in its membership with a report by the Local Government Commission. That is the correct and sensible approach to take. I, therefore, ask Deputy Gilmore to withdraw the amendment.

When the Deputy brought forward his proposal I was reminded of a convention I attended when an argument was raised about representation for each area as to who should have the right to vote and how many should vote. One man stood up and made a great impact in saying that if one spoke of people in an area the size of a mountain there would not be as many as in the room. There are some highly depopulated areas which require a different approach to representation, as Deputy Ó Caoláin and others know from personal experience. The proposals made in the amendment and the figures I have given for different authorities that might arise from it are not conducive to the effective management of its business by a local authority.

The other way of looking at that argument is that the figures demonstrate just how under-represented large urban areas are in terms of councillor numbers. I would not argue against having 47 members in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. Such a number is required to achieve broad representation. I accept, however, that with a council of 120 members there could be a problem. I once sat on a council with 78 members and it was an unwieldy body.

There are other solutions which can be looked at to deal with this issue. If we look at past figures for the number of members of county and city councils, there has been very little change during the 100 year existence of county councils. If one was to go back over that period, one would probably find that they were close to proportionality when introduced. There is always an allowance for the bigger geographical spread. In the last 30 years this country has become more urbanised, but the size of representation of those living in cities and large urban areas has not increased correspondingly with the result that we have local authorities with roughly the same number of members as when the population was much lower. This issue needs to be addressed.

There should be an element of proportionality. We should keep what is in place and build on it. The quality and effectiveness of local democracy in large urban areas are being affected. This, in turn, is contributing to low voter turnout in the areas concerned. Councillors outside the large urban areas are genuinely local as the numbers they have to represent are much lower. In Dublin city it is as easy to be elected to the Dáil as it is to Dublin City Council. It is easier in some areas because in some areas of the city the quota for a seat on the city council is 4,000 to 5,000.

Perhaps the Deputy should be using the words "as difficult" rather than "as easy".

The Minister can take his pick. We had very good local election results in Dublin city.

While there may be a question in regard to the specifics of Deputy Gilmore's proposition, the basic tenet of having a level of proportionality is important and should be revisited. The county council of which I am a member is the only remaining 20 member body in the whole jurisdiction. Ours is the smallest county in terms of county council membership.

It was not prudence that restricted it to that number but a factor to which the Minister referred - political expediency, the guiding force in preventing expansion.

We will not lecture each other on such matters.

Of course, we will not. County Leitrim with half the population has two more elected members than County Monaghan, while County Cavan with a slightly larger population has five additional seats. There is an anomaly. There should, at least, be a bottom level guideline in regard to a council's right to make application for additional seats because political expediency has been an influential factor in any proposition for numerical expansion. This reflects the collective opinion that dominated local authorities during the last 100 years. Deputy Gilmore's argument is correct, in principle, and should be looked at in regard to the base level of representation. I am open to a debate on its development in terms of numbers.

It will remain on the agenda and will be addressed as local authorities come forward with their proposals in this regard.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 21 agreed to.
Section 22 agreed to.
SECTION 23.

I move amendment No. 38:

In page 33, subsection (1), line 24, after "order" to insert "on receipt of a report from the Local Government Commission".

As I do not have much to show for my day's work, perhaps the Minister will accept this amendment to section 23 which provides that the Minister can, by order, divide a county, city or town into local electoral areas and, in respect of the members of the local authority, fix the number to be elected. That is an awesome power for the Minister to have in the context of local elections, the configuration of electoral areas, numbers and members etc. I saw this being done in my county prior to the last local elections when the number of electoral areas was reduced from seven to six because of the way in which the numbers of seats were——

Not by the Minister.

I am just telling the Minister what was done. The net result was that my party's representation on the council was reduced by two seats, attributable to no other factor than the redrawing of the boundaries and the configuration of seats. It had nothing to do with the amount of votes.

The function to which I refer can have major implications for the outcome of an election. At a minimum, it should be exercised by the Minister on receipt of a report from the Local Government Commission.

That is the position.

That is not what the Bill states.

The amendment is superfluous. Subsection (1) is stated to operate subject to subsection (7) which specifically provides that, before deciding to make an order under this section, the Minister shall request the Local Government Commission to prepare a report. It further limits the Minister in that paragraph (b) provides that the Minister may not make an order that varies in any material respect from the provisions of the report of the Local Government Commission.

The Deputy is perfectly safeguarded and I accept the point he made concerning decisions taken by commissions. I travel to the southern part of my constituency, Tipperary North, which is about 50 miles from where I live and relates much more to south Tipperary than it does to north Tipperary, but its status was determined by an independent commission. One parish is split down the middle by the constituency boundary. I do not condemn independence, but desire that some regard be had to the natural divides in regions, whether they are formed by rivers, mountains, etc. However, independent commissions make their own decisions. As a former Minister for the Environment and Local Government, I can well recall the commission's report presented during my term. I did not change one iota. I accepted it fully, and those who went before and came after me did the same. It is now stated in law. Long before the Deputy's time there was a certain——

There was a——

I do not want to mention the man's name because he is long since dead, but there was a name put forward before the 1977 election. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government at the time had full discretion. As it is long since gone, the Deputy has no need to fear. We are becoming too good for him.

Amendment by, leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 39 and 90 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 39:

In page 33, subsection (1), between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following subsections:

"(2) Upon the publication of a census classified by area, the Minister shall request the preparation of a report pursuant to subsection (7) in relation to all local authorities in the State.

(3) Local authority areas for any one local authority shall as far as practicable have the same ratio of members to population.".

This amendment provides for two things: first, that the Minister would request a report under subsection (7) which pertains to the report of the Local Government Commission on local electoral boundaries after the publication of a census and, second, the introduction of the principle of proportionality in a different way. This is an argument we had in relation to another amendment recently which I do not propose to repeat.

I will not go into great detail either, but amendment No. 90 may offer the Minister a possible way of responding. I am less prescriptive in my amendment, but ask that the commission ensure significant population changes in counties and electoral areas reflect the numbers assigned to those areas from the next local elections after the publication of a census, which will establish the need for greater or lesser representation.

My main motivation is not so much that urban areas are under-represented, which they are, but that I want to ensure as many areas as possible can function. One has to have a minimum number of members for area committees to operate successfully. If they are to do so, some areas will need an increase in representation. Will the Minister accept this amendment or consider it on Report Stage?

There are two issues raised in these amendments: first, the review of local electoral areas to take account of population changes identified by a census and, second, the population to councillor ratio across the electoral areas of a single authority rather than the countrywide version alluded to in amendment No. 37 to section 21.

Before the local elections of 1999 a comprehensive review of local electoral areas throughout the State was carried out by the electoral area boundaries committees based on the results of the 1996 census. It is the intention to review these areas when necessary. There is no need to have a mandatory requirement to review legislation. It is unnecessary and possibly incorrect to make it mandatory to carry out such a review. If there are no significant changes in population, a review would waste the commission's time. The Fine Gael amendment also serves to imply that the commission could, on its own initiative, increase or decrease the total number of members. The commission's function is to allocate the total membership of the local authority amongwhatever number of electoral areas may be considered appropriate. Only a local authority can seek an increase in its total membership under section 22.

The new subsection, subsection (3), requires that "Local authority areas for any one local authority shall as far as practicable have the same ratio of members to population".

The Deputy's proposal reflects what already happens. The local electoral areas were reviewed in 1998 - before the last local elections in 1999 - taking into account the results of the 1996 census. Two committees, the Electoral Area Boundary Committee and the Dublin Electoral Area Boundary Committee, were established in 1998 to review local area boundaries in advance of the 1999 elections. The terms of reference given to the committees included provision to ensure a reasonable relationship between the population and the representation between each local authority. While this objective is important in establishing the boundaries of local electoral areas, it is only one of the many practices which need to be considered. Other important aspects include the need to preserve natural communities and hinterlands of towns and to draw up areas which facilitate the decentralisation of local services to area level.

As the local authority system evolves, each of these factors may take on a particular significance. For this reason it is not proposed to accept the Deputy's amendment. To tie down this provision alone in primary legislation is unnecessary in the light of current practice. The main priority for local authorities is that each relevant council has sufficient members to carry out its functions effectively. I therefore ask the Deputies to withdraw the amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 34, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:

"(5) An order pursuant to this section shall not be made unless a draft thereof has been approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas.".

This is about the local electoral areas and the number of members in each. As the Minister will be doing this by order, the order should be approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas.

This amendment would have the effect of bringing every individual order dividing local authorities into local electoral areas and fixing the number of members for each area to the Houses of the Oireachtas for approval. The procedure for reviewing local electoral areas outlined in the Bill has been specifically designed to make it as independent and equitable as possible. First, the review is carried out by the Local Government Commission, a body independent in the performance of its functions. Section 23(7) ensures that the Minister may not make any order altering a local electoral area without a report from the commission. The Minister is further required to make orders which do not vary materially from the recommendations of the commission unless substantial reasons for any changes are given in them. If, as the Deputy proposes, orders were then required to be laid in draft before the Houses, it would convey the perception that Members intended to become involved in the process. In a modern democracy this is properly kept, in so far as possible, at arms length from interested parties. The Bill provides that the Minister's orders are laid before the Oireachtas and may be annulled within 21 days. It is considered that this procedure is sufficient and restates the existing position in section 24 of the Local Government Act, 1994, in relation to the laying of orders on local electoral areas before the Houses. I think the Deputy will accept that is a fair position.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 23 agreed to.
Section 24 agreed to.
SECTION 25.

I move amendment No. 41:

In page 35, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following subsection:

"(4) A person who encourages, persuades or organises another person to contravene this section shall be guilty of an offence, and shall be liable on conviction on indictment to a fine or to imprisonment for 2 years or both.".

The Bill as it stands provides that a person who votes more than once at an election is guilty of an offence and the penalty for such an offence is prescribed. The biggest culprits in this are those who organise or persuade people to vote more than once. We can all envisage an occurrence where somebody is foolish enough to be talked into casting a vote on a second occasion. If a person's name appears twice on the register he or she may vote twice. Others may take someone else's polling card and use it to vote. Getting at the innocent individual who does so is only half the battle, we need to get the people who organise the fraud. People do not walk into polling stations of their own volition and engage in double voting, using other people's polling cards. These are organised activities. You can be sure that where someone votes twice he or she has been put up to it. We need to build a provision into the legislation which gets at the organisers.

I intend to pursue the same issue when we come to deal with electoral legislation, which I understand will be before the House shortly. I want a provision in this legislation that the organisation or encouragement of people to engage in electoral fraud carries a heavy penalty.

There are measures in place under the Local Election Regulations, 1995, which deal with personation and bribery. Those regulations remain in force under this Bill. I have read this text for the first time and I have a lot of sympathy with Deputy Gilmore's amendment. I would like to have an opportunity before Report Stage to reflect that in a way which would meet his suggestions. I want to take a look at it and come forward with a more comprehensive solution to the problem. It is something which must be stamped out, there is no place for it in a modern democracy. Most people in public life abhor it and there may well be a need for further strengthening of the existing provisions in that context. I would like to have the opportunity to bring an amendment forward later.

I welcome the Minister's statement. In response I will withdraw the amendment. I presume the Minister intends to amend the Bill on Report Stage.

I want to record my support for the thrust of the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 25 agreed to.
SECTION 26.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 35, subsection (1), between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:

"(c) A referendum shall not be held on the same date as a local election poll.”.

I agonised about submitting this amendment. At the time I was conscious of the low turnout at local elections. I seem to remember that local elections were held with European elections in the past. I also think that they were held on the same date as a referendum at one stage. On balance, I thought it best that local elections be stand-alone polls, as indeed referendums should be. If I had doubts, they have now been swept away. I do not want to cast an aspersion on the electorate, but there can be a herd mentality if people feel very strongly in favour or against something. It can influence their vote in a referendum or a European election and can do so dramatically in Dáil and local elections.

A referendum or a local election should be held on its own and should be the sole focus of the electorate's attention. I strongly recommend this amendment. I am sure all my colleagues can see the value of it.

Apart from Deputy Mitchell's argument in terms of hoping to avoid what she describes as the herd instinct, it is critical that we ensure clear and unambiguous debate on any referendum to be held this year. It must be recognised that this has not always happened and that there are sound reasons there should not be a marriage of referenda and election polls. We must leave clear crystal water between various excursions to the electorate. That is in the interests of informed opinion-making on the part of the electorate in judging the issues. I support the proposition, but I would not limit it to local election polls. It should apply across the board.

I agree with Deputy ÓCaoláin. This is a local government Bill, but I accept that this should also apply to general elections. Local issues tend to be regarded as less important and this is wrong. Local government issues should be allowed to be the subject of discussion in a local election. That is primarily why, in the context of a local government Bill, I am pushing this amendment.

I too agonised about this amendment, which was recommended by the local government associations. I made the call the other way. I am not so sure that the electorate is confused or does not know what it is doing. The electorate knows perfectly well what it is doing. In 1959 there was a referendum on proportional representation in conjunction with a general election and the electorate voted one way on proportional representation and the other way on the election of a Government. In 1992 a general election was combined with three referendum proposals on the issue of abortion. In that case the electorate voted one way on two of them, another way on the third and, arguably, voted another way on the election of the Government. Individual voters know very well what they are doing.

Having said that, there is a case for not overloading the number of propositions put to people on the same day. The point made by the local government associations is that almost certainly elections to the European Parliament will be held on the same day as local elections and that adding a third issue complicates matters. The fear among local government organisations is that in this scenario local elections will lose. However, that is not necessarily the case. The last local elections were held in tandem with the European elections. My recollection is that it was much easier to persuade members of political parties to knock on doors for their local election candidates than for their European election candidates and in respect of most campaigns, the local election literature was at the top of the pile being put through letter-boxes. Local elections do not, therefore, lose. It is also the case that putting a couple of propositions to the people increases the turnout. I appreciate there are arguments for both sides, but I tend marginally to favour the opposite way to Deputy Mitchell.

Lest it be misunderstood, I did not suggest the electorate was confused - it is never confused. We have a very sophisticated electorate, probably one of the most sophisticated in the world. My point is that once every five years local government issues deserve to be discussed separately on the doorsteps. That is not an unreasonable request. Unfortunately, we are stuck with the European elections as well but the meshing between local and European issues nowadays is amazing and probably there is not so great a conflict. However, a referendum can be on almost any topic, which sometimes can be all-consuming topics, to the detriment of the local government issues.

Deputy Gilmore acknowledged in his concluding remarks, even though he takes the contrary view, the reasons one might support Deputy Mitchell's amendment. He said that local government might secure primacy among activists in any given grouping promoting a case. However, we also have a responsibility towards primacy of focus in relation to any referendum issue. Conflict arises in both cases and that is critically important. Limited media attention and exposure are the avenues of information on which people depend. It is not possible to ensure adequate debate or dissemination of information if the process is cluttered over a limited period of three weeks or so. That is patently wrong. There are sound and self-evident reasons for separating the issues and we should not make little of them. That is not to question the electorate's sophistication. It is critically important to ensure that the full raft of information is provided. If the electoral machinery of political parties and Independents who are campaigning has to deal with a crowded agenda in terms of a multiplicity of issues and arguments, there is no question but that a referendum issue will fall back in priority terms. That is against everybody's interests, irrespective of the outcome. There are sound reasons therefore for supporting this amendment. Deputy Mitchell has indicated she is more convinced today than ever——

That is why I tabled the amendment.

——perhaps for different reasons, in regard to the outcome of the recent referendum. I am equally convinced, though we took opposing views.

Neither I nor Deputy Gilmore interpreted Deputy Mitchell's proposal as a reflection on the electorate's ability to decide on complex issues. However, taking an amalgam of what the three Deputies opposite have said, I take the middle ground. Existing legislation is flexible. It does not require that a referendum or referenda be held with local elections, but it is possible to decide to do so, depending on the circumstances.

In addition, we are all very interested in increasing public interest in elections. Sometimes it takes a controversial issue in which there is great motivation on both sides of the argument to get the majority of the electorate out to vote. I represent a constituency which had an 82% to 83% turnout in a general election three times in the past 30 years. We should all aim to get up to those percentages. We should leave the flexibility enshrined in the existing legislation to opt for a referendum or referenda, if that is deemed to be appropriate, rather than the requirement not to have a referendum. Both sides of the argument are catered for and as I understand the Opposition proposals before me, they are taking both sides of the argument.

The reason I submitted the amendment is to change the existing position where a Government is free to hold a referendum on the same day as the local elections. That is the purpose of the amendment, so I am not sure what the Minister means when he talks about the middle ground.

A referendum shall not be held on the same date as a local election poll.

That is my amendment. The current position is that a referendum can be held on the same day.

Yes, the flexibility is there. The Deputy wants to remove the flexibility——

——and I do not accept that.

The Minister is calling it the middle ground, but it is the exact opposite.

I am calling it the middle ground between three propositions made to me by Opposition Deputies. Of course it is the middle ground.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 43:

In page 35, subsection (1), between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:

"(c) An election of members of a local authority shall be held earlier than five years from the date of the last local election upon presentation to the Minister of a petition of one quarter or more of the registered electors of that local authority area calling for such election.”.

This is an important and innovative development in terms of retaining democratic control. The notion that elected members and councillors are only accountable when it comes to the actual election on a five year cycle is not the case and is not the view of the greater number of elected members of local authorities. Many instances could be given where an electorate might feel they were completely at a remove from their local authority, either as a result of false manifesto commitments made and reneged on almost immediately or the electorate being misled, misinformed or whatever. This is an important safeguard which allows for everyday accountability and an opportunity for the electorate to intervene where they believe the process of local administration in the hands of the elected representatives has gone amiss.

While the Minister and I agree that we should aim for significant turnouts, preferably in the 80s, if that were achievable, in reality, looking at the 1999 figures, one quarter or more would constitute well in excess of one third, nearly 40%, in most of the local authority areas of the actual turnout in any election. That is a significant threshold that must be crossed before such a petition would be put to the Minister. This is a different and novel proposal but I have no doubt it would be welcomed. It is an important development which would reflect an intent on the part of the Government to ensure new and welcome accountability. I commend the amendment to the Minister.

This amendment would enable the electorate of a local authority area to petition the Minister to hold a local election before the ending of the five year period. I presume the thinking behind the amendment is that this scenario would come into play if the electorate was dissatisfied with their local authority and they would request the Minister, by petition, to call a new election. We might note that no such provisions apply at national level nor do I think it appropriate at local level. Any electoral system needs a measure of certainty so as not to collapse at the first unpopular decision. If there were such high levels of dissatisfaction with a local authority, the Minister would have power, under Part 21, to hold a formal inquiry into the matter. However, later Opposition amendments propose to remove this power.

I have served with members of local authorities of all political parties at national and local level and the majority of them are thoroughly decent citizens trying to do a difficult job, sometimes in extremely difficult circumstances. They have a huge commitment to local democracy and suffer from a massive interference with their private lives in terms of the various demands made on their time. I have the greatest of confidence in their ability to look after the interests of their local communities. Although it may not be intended in the amendment, it tends to hold a view often propagated which adds to cynicism towards politicians in terms of not having trust, which is very important, in the people who serve at local and national level. There is probably no profession so scrutinised or open to criticism and public odium and very few others give the hours and commitment given by most of the people I know who serve in this business, and we should have greater trust in and support for them. In this instance, elections which are called every five years, where the electorate has the facility to reject or accept the work they have done, is sufficient. As I said, a later amendment seeks to remove the power from the Minister to hold an inquiry if that is deemed to be necessary. I am unable to accept this amendment.

I am not surprised by the Minister's response. I affirm for the record that I share his view in terms of the high opinion of people who give service at local authority level. I accept his point that that view is shared by all political groupings. As someone who has served almost 17 years at local authority level, over that period I have grown to appreciate and learned to accept the sound motivation of the overwhelming mass of people involved in it. They are an under-appreciated level of public representation, but that is not what is involved here. The Minister used the word "dissatisfaction". It is not only about dissatisfaction. If that were the case, people could wait and make their judgment at the next electoral outing. I am referring to a situation where people are dealing with a breakdown of trust and a real sense of betrayal. I do not wish to be party political about it and I had not intended instancing where people might feel that sense, but in my few years of experience there have been cases where people have felt a great sense of betrayal having canvassed for a political party with a particular manifesto and set of commitments that were subsequently set aside.

I am not speaking from my party's experience but reflecting the views of people from other political groupings who over the years have expressed their exasperation having been employed and engaged to present a particular set of arguments only to find that within a few months of election, more often than not at the time of the adoption of the Book of Estimates, the commitments offered, the critical arguments that influenced the electorate, were turned on their heads and the proposals binned. I know of good people who have worked in other political groupings who have felt exactly what I described, a breakdown of trust and sense of betrayal, and they have reflected that on different occasions. It is from that activist community that arguments have been put forward to me over the years that the electorate must have another form of intervention to ensure that where a betrayal is patently obvious within a few months of election one should not have to accept that and have to wait for another four and a half years before passing judgment.

This proposition has a two way effect. It offers the electorate an interventionary exercise, but it also puts all the political groupings and all candidates, whether independent or party affiliated, on notice that when one makes commitments and stands on a particular platform or for a manifesto, one has a responsibility to follow through on them. This proposition has a two way effect and a very beneficial one. Despite his initial rejection of this amendment, I urge the Minister to give this proposition further serious thought.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 26 agreed to.

We set a time of 8.30 p.m. for concluding business. I thank the Minister and his officials from the Department of the Environment and Local Government for their input into today's meeting. I also thank members of the committee for their contributions. As agreed, we will resume consideration of this Bill tomorrow morning at 10 a.m.

The Select Committee adjourned at 8.35 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 20 June 2001.