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.