I think we had finished section 141. I do not think the Opposition can do much more on the section.
Local Government Bill, 2000: Committee Stage (Resumed).
Amendments Nos. 164 and 165 are ruled out of order as they involve a potential charge on the Revenue.
This section relates to allowances for the cathaoirleach and leas-chathaoirleach. The point has been made to me, which I understand, that in many instances the chairpersons of area committees can have a much more onerous task than, for example, the chairs of SPCs and that there is a case for the making of allowances for chairs of area committees. Perhaps the Minister of State will clarify if councils will have discretion in this regard which would meet the requirement.
I tabled the amendment for precisely the same reasons as Deputy Gilmore. Given that the SPCs meet four times a year and area committee meetings take place several times a month, that is a far more onerous task and more demanding of the chairperson. I assumed local authorities would have discretion in this regard and I am amazed the amendment is ruled out of order.
It involves a potential charge on the Revenue.
The amendment is out of order. Section 141 enables the Minister, if he so wishes, to meet the point raised by Deputy Gilmore in regard to the chairperson of area committees. The section provides that the Minister may by regulations, made with the consent of the Minister for Finance, provide for the payment of expenses incurred by members in connection with attendance at meetings and for any other specified matter. In other words, he has the authority to do so if he wishes. I will bring this point to the Minister's attention.
Amendments Nos. 166 and 167 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 166:
In page 113, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following subsection:
"(6) The manager will be appointed following selection by an interview board consisting of the Cathaoirleach of the County Council or City Council, a representative of IBEC and representatives of ICTU and one representative of the Local Appointments Commission.".
It is a bone of contention in local authorities that councils who take on a manager for at least seven years have no say whatsoever in his or her appointment. My amendment proposes that at least one representative of the local authority, preferably the cathaoirleach, would be on the interview board, including a representative of IBEC, ICTU and the Local Appointments Commission. There should be some input from the council to which a manager is about to be appointed for quite a long period because he or she would dictate the success or failure of the council.
It is important that the process of appointing managers be opened up. At the moment the appointments are made by the Office of the Local Appointments Commission. There is a perception that the Local Appointments Commission is de facto the county managers in another guise and that the appointment of county managers is a matter for the county managers' club. I have the height of regard for county managers. They do an outstanding job. In my previous life as a trade union official I represented county managers, among my other duties. However, an arrangement for the appointment of county managers which is confined to the Office of the Local Appointments Commission, in which county managers are the dominant presence, gives rise to the perception that county managers appoint their peers. There is a need to open out this process.
In the case of an individual local authority, there is a need for the elected presence to be represented on interview panels. The formula proposed in the amendment would include the local appointments commissioners, a nominee of the cathaoirleach of the council and representatives of the principal social partners.
This looks like an amendment which the Minister might accept but I hope he does not do so. I have no objection to the cathaoirleach of a local authority taking part in an appointment process but I do not like the notion that nothing can be done without the participation of a member of IBEC and representatives of the other social partners. However, because it appears to be Government policy that the social partners must be included in decisions at every level, I would not be surprised if the Minister of State accepted this amendment. I hope he does not.
Deputy Gilmore alluded to the appointment process and we have all heard anecdotal evidence of county managers buying houses in counties six months before they were appointed as managers there because they were already aware that they were to be appointed.
I am concerned about the problem of dealing with bad local authority managers. Can anything be done in legislation to address this problem? The local authority manager is the person who has most impact on the lives of people in the area. If local government reform is to bring elected representatives into the decision making process it is also important that officials be held responsible. Is there a mechanism to remove officials from their positions if they do not carry out their duties or are found to be incompetent?
Section 145 will deal with the issue raised by Deputy Kelleher. The appointment of managers and other senior personnel of local authorities is a matter for the statutorily independent local appointments commission. The independence of the LAC is widely respected by trade unions and by all sectors of society. It operates for a range of bodies, including local authorities and vocational education committees. The composition of the large number of local authority interview boards handled by the LAC is not a matter for legislation. In fact, LAC boards are chaired by an independent chair and for senior posts usually include a private sector member.
As an independent body the Office of the Local Appointments Commissioners could be asked,vis-à-vis local authorities, to see if it is possible to devise a means by which the elected council could have an input into the appointments process while safeguarding transparency and confidence. However, this would be short of representation on the board itself. This is the Minister’s thinking, which the Government supports. He will, no doubt, follow up on this in due course and attempt to find a way to consult elected members and ensure they have an input into the appointments process without being part of the board itself.
The Civil Service and Local Appointments Commissioners have performed their duties in an excellent manner and are highly respected. Despite the reference by Deputy Kelleher and the stories which circulate about officials buying houses, there is not a general belief that this is the position and it is not the position. We would all be reluctant to take any action which would undermine the public's confidence in the appointments commissions. It is one of the outstanding features of public service in Ireland that appointments at that level are done in a fair way. Members of interview boards are often appointed very shortly before they perform their duties so that there is little opportunity to influence them. I would be reluctant to make any change in the present system of appointments.
I accept the point that some input by local authority members would be welcome. The Minister will look at that proposal. He holds the view that such an input would be welcome, as does the Government.
The purpose of the amendment was to open this question for discussion. I do not share the view of Deputy Kelleher in relation to appointments and I distance myself from what he said in that regard. When I talked about the perception of the Office of the Local Appointments Commissioners as a club I did not wish to reflect on the integrity of the commissioners. I was reflecting the perception that the approach of the LAC could benefit from being opened up. If the Minister is prepared to look at that question I am prepared to withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 168:
In page 115, subsection (4), line 1, to delete "Minister" and substitute "local authority".
This relates to the appointment of a temporary manager when the position of manager becomes vacant. The Bill proposes that the Minister make this temporary appointment and I propose that it should be made by the local authority. In most counties the deputy manager or one of the assistant managers becomes the manager while the new appointment is being made. The temporary appointment should be made by the council and not the Minister.
Section 144(4) provides for the appointment by the Minister of a temporary manager when a vacancy occurs. Deputy Gilmore's amendment would have the appointment made by the council. The existing provision for termination by the Minister would stand. A local authority manager has statutory functions which he or she must perform directly or by formally delegating them to another employee of the authority who then performs the function as if he or she were the manager. It is important that there be certainty about the position as only the manager, or the person he or she delegates the function, can perform the function. Where there is a time limit for the performance of a function, such as the making of a decision on a planning application, it is critical that there be provision made for a speedy appointment in the event of a sudden vacancy occurring as the provisions relating to a deputy manager, in section 147, would not apply. It would not be possible to await the holding of a council meeting to make an appointment. The making of a temporary appointment by the Minister is a continuation of the present arrangements and it is not proposed to accept the amendment.
So much for the independence of local authorities, devolution of functions and the rest of the nonsense we heard from the Government side for the last two days. When it comes to the test, they do not apply.
What happens in reality? Does the Minister regularise a recommendation from a local authority? Who advises the Minister? From where does the recommendation come?
The Minister is advised by the local authority that the vacancy has occurred, or is about to occur, and until the LAC recommends who should succeed, there is an interim period when the Minister nominates someone to act.
Is it on advice from the outgoing manager or the collective deputy managers?
We are assuming that it is not in the event of a sudden death. He would consult.
I move amendment No. 169:
In page 116, subsection (1)(a), line 27, to delete “of such length as the Minister specifies by order” and substitute “not exceeding 10 years”.
This clarifies the point I raised on suspension or removal of a manager.
Legislation was introduced at short notice under which the House increased a county manager's term from seven years to ten. There is no prescribed term. Subparagraph (a) says that the tenure will be of a period of such length as the Minister specifies by order. My amendment puts into the Bill the ten year term in the recent legislation. The term went to ten from seven because there was much movement by county managers as at four and a half or five years they looked for new employment. I supported the increase and am surprised that it is gone from the Bill.
The provisions of the 2000 Act will be imported into this Bill in a Report Stage amendment.
Amendments Nos. 170 and 171 are related and may, by agreement, be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 170:
In page 117, subsection (1)(a), line 4, after “may” to insert “propose to the council to”.
This amendment is about the appointment of a deputy manager. The Bill proposes that the manager, following consultation with the cathaoirleach, will by order appoint an employee to be deputy manager and may at any time terminate such appointment. In my amendment the manager may propose to the council to appoint a deputy manager. This important function should be exercised by the council. The manager has the right to make the proposal and the council can act only on his proposal so that individual members cannot propose their own nominations. It is important that the manager's choice is ratified by the council.
I will deal with amendment No. 170 first. Section 147(a) provides for the appointment by the manager, following consultation with the cathaoirleach of the county or city council, of a deputy manager. Deputy Gilmore’s amendment would require every such proposal to be submitted to the council. The purpose of section 147 is to provide a means whereby the statutory provision of the manager of a local authority are performed whenever the manager is temporarily unable to act, whether by reason of illness, vacation, or whatever. The functions which the deputy manager would be required to perform are those which the manager in person would have performed if he or she not been absent and, as such, the person to whom these functions are to be trusted must enjoy the trust and confidence of the manager. They would be ones the manager could delegate to another officer in the normal course of events. Therefore, it is appropriate that the manager has a key role in determining who is appointed.
The section as drafted requires consultation with the cathaoirleach and this provides the necessary link to the elected council. It is also a fallback as the cathaoirleach and, in certain cases, the Minister, will appoint a deputy manager if one was not appointed and the manager was unable to act. Significantly Deputy Gilmore's amendment does not see a role for the council in relation to these latter appointments. The amendment cannot be accepted as it would be unworkable in practice. Some managers appoint deputy managers on an on-going basis, most make them for specific periods when they are going to be absent on a structured basis, such as going on holiday or attending a meeting.
This amendment would mean that a deputy manager could not be appointed at short notice, such as in the event of a family crisis. It could result in the statutory functions of a local authority, such as making decisions on planning applications, going by default for want of a fast enough implementation of the fall back options. There must be certainty about the position of manager because of the functions assigned to the office by statute. What would happen if the council did not accept the manager's proposal? Where would the initiative lie then? We could not allow that degree of uncertainty to apply to a statutory position.
On amendment No. 171, section 147 provides that the manager may terminate the appointment of a deputy manager at any time. This amendment would remove the authority of the manager to terminate the appointment of a deputy manager and cannot be accepted. In effect, once a person was appointed as deputy manager he or she would hold the appointment for the duration of his or her career with the local authority. The purpose of section 147 is to provide a means whereby the statutory functions of the manager of a local authority are performed whenever the manager is temporarily unable to act whether by reason of illness, vacation, etc. It is essential that there be flexibility in relation to such appointments and that the manager, the cathaoirleach or the Minister, in certain circumstances, be free to appoint as deputy manager the person he or she deems most appropriate and who is available at the particular time.
Amendments Nos. 172 and 173 are related and may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 172:
In page 118, subsection (4), line 18, to delete "reserved" and substitute "executive".
We debated this substantive issue yesterday so I will not repeat a lot of what I said. Section 148(4) states that every function of a local authority which is not a reserved function is, for the purposes of this Act, an executive function of such local authority. I argued yesterday that we should reverse that order. Every function of a local authority which is not an executive function should be, for the purpose of this Act, a reserved function. This is a critical subsection. What it is really about is whether in the local authority system the elected members or the manager have primacy. Subsection (4) effectively gives primacy to the manager and to the range of executive functions. The reserved functions are effectively defined as the exceptions to the rule. I argued yesterday and had an amendment to the effect that we should define certain executive functions such as staffing, industrial relations, the making of planning decisions, the allocation of individual dwellings, matters relating to decisions on legal actions, etc. They should be defined and ring fenced as the executive functions which are performed by the manager. After that the council performs the functions and it is up to it, if it wishes, to give the manager administrative freedom in certain areas. These amendments have the effect of turning round the existing order where the manager runs the council and the elected members have certain functions reserved to them. The use of the term reserved has all the connotations of reservations with other implications.
I do not want to hold up the meeting but I support Deputy Gilmore on this particular amendment which I expect will not be accepted. The acceptance of this kind of amendment is at the heart of local government reform. The fact that it was not in the original Bill and that it will most likely not be accepted illustrates why the Bill is such a disappointment for anybody who cares about local government. The real nub of the problem with local authorities is that the elected members are the only people accountable to the public but their responsibilities are so few. Most of the responsibilities that really affect the people's lives are vested in the county manager. This not only hinders the decision-making process where councillors are responsible but also means that the powers they do have are gradually eroded so that they are less and less likely to take responsibility in the few areas left to them.
I support Deputy Gilmore and also what others have said through all the sections of the Bill. I suspect this is probably the last opportunity we will have to express deep disappointment with the failure to transfer powers to the elected members. This failure makes a nonsense of accountability because how can they be accountable for things for which they are not responsible?
The proposers do have a point yet if we take it to the extreme it might seem ridiculous. I do not know what exactly the specified categories are but we do not want the council to have to make a decision on buying biros. The Deputies have a fundamental point and issues of substance come up from time to time that do not appear to attach to either side. If the Minister cannot do what is asked should there not be some recourse to appeal or some system where the issue must be brought before an independent arbitrator or the Minister for interpretation? What may happen is that one county manager's interpretation might differ from another's. We can all think of instances where this would be valid and the Minister could probably rubbish them by seeing them from the opposite position. However, conflict does arise on some serious issues.
Before the Minister replies may I make a point, although I do appreciate that it is a bit unusual to speak a second time? The Minister was here yesterday when we talked about the issue of general competence and I drew his attention to the fact that I felt the provisions of the 1991 Act were being reversed. The same applies to section 129 which relates to the making of policy for a council. The 1991 Act gave the council the authority to make policy for the council and it did not confine the making of policy purely to the area of the reserved functions. In this Bill however that provision in the 1991 Act is being rewritten and now confines the making of policy solely to the reserved functions. The dilution of the general competence provision and the change relating to the making of policy together with this mean that what is actually happening in the Bill is that the authority which was given to local authorities under the 1991 Act, and specifically the freedom which was given to the locally elected members in that Act to make policy and to direct the council, is being rolled back. This subsection, tied with the others mentioned gives the net effect of the rolling back of the 1991 Act.
This is fundamental. It is a point Deputy Gilmore made yesterday and it should be looked at. It may be an oversight but the abolition of theultra vires rule which gave a general competence to the elected members is something that should be looked at before Report Stage.
I understand that there was a full discussion on this with the Minister for Defence, Deputy Smith, when he took certain sections of the Bill and the amendments yesterday. An undertaking was given to look at the possibility of adding an indication of the range of reserved functions to the Bill by way of an amendment on Report Stage. It may or may not be possible to do that but the commitment has been given. The points made here will be taken into consideration in looking at the possibilities of bringing forth an amendment on Report Stage.
The one thing we do not want is to list the functions of a local authority. Anything on the list would then become not a function of the elected members. That is the point Deputy Gilmore was making - with general competence one assumes, unless it is excluded, that it is a reserved function. That is critical.
The issue that arises specifically is whether the elected council can make policy in respect of the areas which are executive functions. The housing area is a fairly straightforward one where it has the power to make the scheme of letting priorities. But if we take, for example, road development, who actually makes policy there? An issue which arose at our council related to the south-eastern motorway, the making of the motorway scheme. The manager took the view that the making of the motorway scheme by the council and its submission to the Minister was an executive function. The council took the view, pursuant to the 1991 Act, that policy was a matter for the council. Eventually, it was put to the council and a vote was taken on it. The problem in this Bill is that the ambiguities which were created in the 1991 Act as to the extent of the power of councils, are being closed down here. We will submit that amendment on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 175:
In page 119, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following subsection:
"(4) The manager shall communicate to each member of the local authority, by electronic mail, or otherwise, a copy of each order made by him or her.".
The amendment would ensure that the manager communicates with each member of the local authority with regard to the manager's orders. This is now technologically possible and we should move to the stage where manager's orders are automatically communicated to the members of the local authority. Under the old system, they were put in a book and left on a table at the council meeting for inspection. Given the availability of e-mail, it should be possible to send them to each member of the council.
The amendment proposes the insertion of an additional subsection requiring the manager to send by e-mail or otherwise a copy of each manager's order made. Section 150 requires the manager of a local authority to make a written manager's order for all significant executive functions. The section lists the functions to which the provision applies. Subsection (3) requires the manager to keep a register of all manager's orders for each local authority for which the manager is responsible. Subsection (4) provides that at each meeting of the local authority, the manager must have available for inspection by the elected members a copy of all orders made since the previous meeting. Subsection (5) ensures that any elected member is entitled on request to a copy of any order made.
The amendment would require the manager to send a copy of every order to each member by e-mail or otherwise. I accept that it is important for managers to keep elected members informed of significant developments in the day to day work of the council. Many provisions in the Bill support this principle, for example, sections 136 and 137 which deal specifically with providing information to the council.
The section makes the manager's orders, all of which relate to executive functions, freely available to members as they need them. To require in statute that a manager must send a copy of every order to every member, regardless of the member's interest or the order's relevance, would result in a deluge of paper or e-mails for every councillor. This would be counterproductive and might have the opposite result to what the Deputy hopes to achieve. It would also place a significant extra administrative burden on local authority staff with a resulting loss of efficiency in other areas.
In time, as information technology becomes more developed and embedded in every day operations, it may be that electronic registers of the manager's orders will be the norm. However, until that is the position, I am convinced that the provisions in the section are adequate to ensure members have access to the manager's orders they need.
I await the electronic register.
Schedule 9 already includes provision for electronic communication by local authorities.
I move amendment No. 176:
In page 119, subsection (7), line 26, to delete "him or her" and substitute "a manager".
The purpose of the amendment is to avoid the possibility that the original reference to him or her may be interpreted to mean the individual rather than the office of manager. If that interpretation were applied, it would have implications for the effective operation of local authority business in that it could prevent a subsequent manager from certifying a previous manager's order. The amendment would eliminate the possible ambiguity regarding interpretation and provide continuity in the business of local authorities.
I wish to raise a general point which applies to the section, the chapter and to Part 15 of the Bill. Chapter 4 and Part 15 were discussed with the Congress of Trade Unions and the trade unions representing local authority staff. It appears that some of the provisions of Chapter 4 and Part 15 represent significant alterations of the terms and conditions of employment of local authority staff. For example, Part 15 involves the application of what is called the ethical framework for the local government services. Its various requirements are familiar to those of us who are elected public servants, for example, the requirement to make a declaration of one's interests and one's spouse's interests. This is a normal part of our terms and conditions of employment in that they must be made on an annual basis.
This is the first time a generalised application of the same requirement to a large tranche of the public service has been proposed. My point is not whether that should be done - nobody is disputing the objectives of transparency that are required - but I want an assurance that there is agreement on the part of the representative trade unions. Under section 170(3), each employee of a local authority shall prepare and furnish to the ethics registrar within the return period each year an annual declaration. Similarly, section 168(3)(c) states there shall be deemed to be included in the terms and conditions of employment of an employee an undertaking by him or her to have regard to and be guided by the code of conduct in the exercise of his or her functions.
There are requirements to make declarations in relation to connected persons who are defined in the same way as they are for our requirements as a brother, sister, parent, spouse of the person, a child of the person or a child of the spouse. This has significant implications for the terms and conditions of employment of local authority staff. In the future, it could have implications in terms of disciplinary cases involving the staff of local authorities. Have these provisions been discussed with the trade unions representing local authority staff and have they expressed their agreement to them?
We are dealing with section 154 but the Deputy's points are general.
I am raising the matter now because it will arise individually later. I want to avoid raising it under every relevant section.
The Deputy's main query was whether there had been discussions with the trade unions. Officers of IMPACT and SIPTU met departmental officials and all the provisions in the Bill were discussed. They were invited to make submissions if they wished with regard to any aspect of the Bill. They had access to all the information and they did not make any submissions subsequently. The implication is that they understood the proposals and were satisfied with them. The ethics requirements will apply to employees in grades specified by the Minister. This is the current law in that area.
I do not want to delay the discussion, but I may table some amendments on Report Stage to these sections if issues are raised by unions between now and then. There is a possibility that issues may be raised either with the Minister or members on this side. I wish to give notice that I may submit some Report Stage amendments in relation to Chapter 4 and Part 15.
Will the Minister indicate the classes of employees to which this part will apply?
Section 166 sets out the persons to whom this part applies. It also deals with the threshold for shares and land which are to be declared or disclosed under this part. Subsection (1) provides for the overall application to a member of a local authority - an elected councillor - and employees of a local authority in grades prescribed by the Minister. As a result of section 165(2), these employees also include an employee performing functions on behalf of another local authority and any other employee or other person in a position designated by the local authority manager. They are similar grades to those already prescribed under the planning Acts.
What are they?
That matter will be prescribed by the Minister by way of regulations. An employee of a local authority will be of a class, description or grade prescribed by regulations made by the Minister for the purposes of this part. Once the legislation is enacted and the Minister prescribes them, that information will be available.
I move amendment No. 178:
In page 140, subsection (1)(a), after line 45, to insert the following:
"(vi) the report of the Valuation Office on the consideration referred to insubparagraph (iv);”.
The amendment relates to the disposal of land and the notice that is required to be sent to the members of the local authority. In addition to the requirements already set down, the report of the Valuation Office on the value of the land should also be made available to the members of the local authority.
The amendment seeks to add a copy of the Valuation Office report on the consideration to the details to be supplied to the elected members. From my inquiries into this matter, it appears the Valuation Office does not have any role in the disposal of land by local authorities. In the past, it had a limited role in that when proposals were submitted to a Department for consent, the Valuation Office was consulted on whether the proposed consideration was fair and reasonable. This was when the disposals of land by all local authorities had to be submitted for the Minister's consent.
Under current law, only those few disposals which are not, on the basis of best consideration, reasonably obtained require ministerial consent. Regulations under the planning Act will further reduce the need for such consent. As far as we can ascertain, local authorities obtain valuations of land through local valuers or, in some cases, through their own valuers. In many instances, tenders are sought and perhaps it is the Deputy's intention to require that a copy of this valuer's report must be given to the members.
As stated previously, we cannot and should not legislate centrally for every detail of council procedure. We are trying to move away from that mentality. If in any case the elected members of the council are not satisfied with the proposed consideration for the proposal, they can ask for a copy of the valuer's report. It may be the case that many of the disposals proposed by a local authority, such as scraps of land to be incorporated into people's gardens, would have no commercial value and would cost more in valuer's fees if a valuation was sought than the land is worth commercially. In the circumstances and given the many provisions in the Bill empowering council members to seek information on all aspects of the local authority's work, there is no need to include the amendment.
It is an important consideration. It is important that the members of a local authority have an independent assessment of the value of the land. I am not referring to the disposal of small pieces of land, for example, the corner of a street that is incorporated into somebody's garden. However, members of local authorities should have access to independent valuations when significant disposals are involved. I may return to this subject on Report Stage with a different type of amendment that takes account of the Minister's comments but also deals with the issue.
Former councillors are familiar with section 83 proposals. In the manager's report to the council, where he or she is recommending a sale, details of the valuations that have been obtained are given. Councillors can request the manager to provide them with the details of the valuation carried out locally.
I move amendment No. 179:
In page 141, subsection (1)(b), line 6, to delete “resolution;” and substitute “resolution. The powers conferred on elected members by this section are not negated by any executive powers referred to in Schedule 14(4);”.
The amendment refers to the powers of elected members to decide on the disposal of land. There may be some conflict between the powers conferred by the section and the executive functions that will be carried out by the manager's order under Schedule 14. It states the acquisition or disposal of land or an agreement regarding the use of land is effectively an executive function to be done by manager's order. How can it be an executive function and a councillor's function? It may be that the wording at the top of the Schedule is incorrect in that these are done by manager's order, but they are consequential on a decision of the elected council rather than an executive decision. Perhaps the Minister of State could clarify that.
There seems to be some mis-understanding. Section 182 provides for pro-posed land disposals to come before the elected council. Schedule 14 is not about conferring executive powers but about procedural requirements.
It is not clear. It is headed "EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONS".
It specifies functions which require a formal manager's order to be carried into effect. The sale of land is one of these. However, no such manager's order can be made unless the proposed disposal has first come before the council under section 182 for approval. In essence, the amendment appears to be unnecessary as Schedule 14 does not negate the powers of the council under section 182.
I am happy to withdraw the amendment if that is the case.
While councillors must vote on the disposal of land, perhaps the Minister of State could clarify the position as regards the purchase of land. Councillors do not seem to have a role in that, although it is equally as important a function as the disposal of land.
That was discussed under previous sections.
That is fine.
I move amendment No. 181:
In page 141, subsection (1)(f), lines 18 and 19, to delete all words from and including “in” in line 18 down to and including “obtainable” in line 19 and substitute “where consent is required under section 211(2) of the Act of 2000”.
Section 182 provides that details of all land disposals must be submitted to the elected council for decision. As currently drafted, section 182(1)(f) requires the consent of the Minister in the case of the disposal of land where the consideration is not at best reasonably obtainable. The power to dispose of land is now contained in section 211 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, which requires the Minister’s consent in the case of the disposal below the best consideration reasonably obtainable. Hence the amendment inserts the up-to-date reference to the appropriate provision of the Act of 2000, which now governs the disposal of land by a local authority. However, the important point to note is that section 211(3) of the Act of 2000 allows the Minister by regulations to relax or remove the consent requirement. The intention, by way of such regulations, is to greatly reduce the cases where such consent would be required. There is still a multiplicity of legislative provisions, mainly in the housing Acts, concerning the disposal of land by local authorities with different provisions governing many of them. I propose to come back on Report Stage with an amendment which consolidates these in a more coherent way and which may meet the points raised by the Deputies.
I move amendment No. 182:
In page 141, before section 183, but in Part 16, to insert the following new section:
"183.-Section 182 shall apply with any necessary modifications to the acquisition of land.”.
This relates to the issue Deputy Timmins raised about the acquisition of land. I propose that the provisions of section 182, with appropriate modifications, should apply to the acquisition of land. I spoke about this yesterday and I argued that an approval for land acquisition was required. I appreciate we had a long discussion yesterday about not wishing to tie the hands of managers in acquiring land. We know it is a difficult job, particularly in the context of housing. We are anxious that local authorities are enabled to build up land banks, but the final approval must rest with the council. That is the purpose of this amendment.
This amendment proposes to insert a new section after section 182. Section 182 deals with notifications of land disposals to elected members. The effect of the amendment is to apply the same type of notifications to members in relation to land acquisitions by the authorities as applies to land disposals. This issue needs careful consideration. It was raised by the members' representative association during consultations on the Bill. Section 182, which deals with land disposals, largely restates the current law. Details of proposed land disposals by the authority must be given to members in advance and members may then resolve to veto the disposal or to make it subject to conditions.
On the face of it, land acquisitions may at first seem to be a parallel situation. However, proposed acquisitions present many distinguishing issues. It is not possible to equate disposal and acquisition and provide the same legislative provisions as regards members' involvement. The reasons are mainly ones of practicality, but they are nonetheless compelling. By their nature, negotiations for land purchase must be conducted in confidence, not in public. Land owners would be reluctant to go into negotiations for the sale of land to local authorities if they thought every detail would be considered in public by elected members before a decision could be made. There are also situations where ability to make quick decisions are paramount if a deal is to be struck. There is also the possibility that land purchased for essential social or economic development, such as roads, social housing, halting sites and waste facilities, would be blocked as councillors might come under severe pressure from the start to veto the proposal.
It is accepted that the purchase and disposal of land are significant issues about which members must have information. This information is already guaranteed by a provision in the Bill, as drafted. Land purchase is effective by a manager's order by virtue of section 150(2) and Schedule 14. Every manager's order will be available to members by virtue of section 150(4) and (5). Many other sections of the Bill ensure that members are kept informed generally. Section 137 is particularly relevant in this context as it requires the manager to inform the elected councillors before any works are undertaken or before committing the local authority to any expenditure on works. This provision will encompass most decisions to purchase land and will ensure that members have appropriate information on significant matters. Section 137(2) also permits a council to direct a manager to inform it in relation to any specified executive function. This provision could be used by any council to seek information not already available to members.
I expect that in most councils a good working relationship between council and management means that information systems work well. I am sure this Bill does not have to legislate for people to talk to each other. For this reason, but mainly for reasons relating to the need to protect confidentiality of early negotiations on land purchase, which is a subject we discussed in detail yesterday, I do not propose to accept the Deputy's amendment. I ask him to withdraw it because I am confident that sufficient information is already available to members on the significant matter of land purchase.
I will withdraw the amendment, but I intend to reintroduce it on Report Stage. We had a long discussion on it yesterday.
Amendments Nos. 183, 184, 185 and 186 are related. Amendments Nos. 183 to 186, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 183:
In page 141, subsection (2)(a), line 39, to delete “7,500” and substitute “15,000”.
I tabled this amendment because we must proceed with care in terms of the further fragmentation of the network of councils around the country. I realise I do not have the support of all my colleagues on this issue, but it is in the interests of the greater number that we do not fragment local authorities unnecessarily. Efficiencies of scale and moral powers are conferred on the larger local authorities, but they are not conferred on the smaller town councils, as they will now be known. I foresee problems with that. I am sure if this threshold is maintained in urban authorities, such as my own and that of Deputy Gilmore, at least 12 town council applications could be made when this Bill becomes law. However, that is not in anyone's interest. I support the idea of immediate local government but it must be achieved within the local area committees. They could be smaller than they are at present. I do not support fragmenting the councils, particularly in urban areas where a suburb may have grown out of a town or village but the distinction between the two no longer exists. I understand the thrust of the Bill is to maintain the supremacy of the county as the prime unit of local government in terms of structure and administration. This is contrary to that objective.
I apologise to you, Chairman, and to the Minister because I must leave the meeting. I thank the Chairman, the Minister and the staff for their courtesy in recent days. My colleague is anxious to contradict my views on this matter. I will not press amendment No. 184.
As regards amendment No. 183, perhaps we could look at this issue again on Report Stage. I appreciate the points made by Deputy Olivia Mitchell. Perhaps it is applicable to County Dublin or Cork where there is a huge population and many satellite towns. However, there is an anomaly. One half of Wicklow, for example, has 30 urban councillors, nine town commissioners and 16 county councillors, while the other half has only eight county councillors servicing it. The eight county councillors must cover approximately two thirds of the area. Perhaps the Minister of State is familiar with that in the greater Connemara area. Is it feasible to examine the possibility of having a regional rural council for an area which can be isolated? This would be applicable to areas, such as west Cork or parts of Donegal.
I thank Deputy Olivia Mitchell for her contribution to this debate, although I disagree with her on this issue. I see a lot of potential in Part 17. The Barrington reports on local government provided for the development of a sub-county layer of local government, such as town councils. They recommended what Deputy Timmins referred to, namely, the establishment of district councils. Rather than increasing the threshold from 7,500——
Before Deputy Olivia Mitchell leaves, I thank her for her contribution to the debate.
I thank the Minister of State.
I also thank her for her contribution in recent days.
I thank you, Chairman.
Rather than increasing the threshold from 7,500 to 15,000, there is probably an argument for going the other way. I wondered if 7,500 was merely putting the peg a little high. A town, whether it is a stand alone town outside the context of a city or a definable town within a city, should have the right to petition for town status. I know this provision is confined to counties, but it should also apply to cities. If the people of Finglas, for example, want to have a town council with which they can identify, I do not see any reason they should not petition to have it. It can go through the process the same as everyone else. The Bill states that 100 electors are entitled to petition at present. That is too low. I propose an amendment to that to ensure it is 10% of electors. The application should show that there is a substantial body within a town requesting it. The requirement that they must lodge a deposit of £1,000, which is included in subsection (3), should be removed. We should not tie a democratic application to the lodgement of money. Perhaps the threshold at which the application is made should be raised in terms of the number of electors required, but we should remove the money element from it. This provision should apply to cities as well as to counties.
Section 183(2)(a) provides a mechanism to establish a town council where one does not exist in a town with a population threshold of 7,500. This was the threshold recommended in the report of the Commission on Town Local Government. The amendment proposed by Deputy Olivia Mitchell seeks to raise this population threshold to 15,000. Such a threshold is unrealistic. Under the 1996 figures, only one new town would meet that threshold. A population threshold of 7,500 means there is the potential for 13 new town councils to be established. To raise the threshold to 15,000, as proposed, would have implications for local democracy in all these towns and would conflict with the principles of the Bill of enhanced democratic and representative democracy for local communities. In the circumstances, I do not propose to accept the amendment to increase the threshold to 15,000. My own instinct would be to go the other way.
Deputy Olivia Mitchell said she will withdraw amendment No. 184. Amendment No. 185 deals with subsection (2)(b)(ii). This subsection states that a proposal to establish a new town council must be signed by at least 100 qualified electors for the town. The proposed amendment suggests that the requirement should be at least 10% of the registered electorate of the town, subject to there not being less than 100 electors. I do not have an objection to amendment No. 185 which seems reasonable and strikes a fair balance. I will accept the amendment regarding the 10% requirement. The other point about there not being less than 100 electors is superfluous given that at least 10% of 7,500 would be 750 electors.
Amendment No. 186 requests the deletion of subsection (3), which would mean that the current requirement for a payment of £1,000 to accompany any application for the establishment of a new town council would be dropped. The sum of £1,000 does not seem onerous, particularly in view of amendment No. 185, which I will accept. The previous amendment had the effect of requiring a minimum of 750 qualified electors to put forward a proposal. That works out at approximately £1.30 per head. More importantly, this money will benefit the town. If a new town council is established, the £1,000 must be given to it by the county council to help it get up and running. If a town council is not established, the county council must use the money specifically on works or projects to benefit the local community within the town. It cannot be diverted elsewhere. That is a win win situation. In the circumstances, I do not propose to accept amendment No. 186, but I will accept amendment No. 185.
I thank the Minister of State and I will withdraw amendment No. 186.
Having listened to the Minister of State and to Deputy Gilmore, I will withdraw amendment No. 183.
I move amendment No. 185:
In page 142, subsection (2)(b)(ii), line 2, after “town” to insert “or 10 per cent of the total number of such electors, whichever is greater”.
Amendment No. 189. Amendments Nos. 190, 192, 193, 195, 196, 197 and 200 are related to amendment No. 189. Amendments Nos. 189, 190, 192, 193, 195 to 197, inclusive, and 200 may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 189:
In page 146, subsection (2), between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
"(d) a town council will ensure that any proposed new name shall be based on local and indigenous traditions and that the Irish version of the proposed new name will be given the same prominence on all signage as the English version,”.
This amendment deals with the naming of a town. I expressed the opinion when we debated the Planning and Development Act that the naming of towns, streets, areas and housing estates should be based on the local indigenous names. The practice, which is less common now than it was, of using totally unrelated and fanciful market driven names for areas to which the name does not bear a relationship should be ended. Developers, auctioneers and people who sell housing estates are great at doing this. They use names such as Aylesbury Lawns or Westminster Lawns which sound posh because they expect they will be easier to market. That should not be permitted. There should be a name appropriate to the naming of places, in this case the naming of towns, which is based on local names. There is a fantastic history to most areas. The names of fields have also been lost. Virtually every field in the countryside used to have a name and it made sense. It told people about the history of it. That should not be lost. It is important to protect that. This is another attempt to do the same thing.
These amendments relate to Part 18 which sets out updated provisions regarding the powers of local authorities to change the names of towns, townlands and other areas to ensure that local indigenous traditions are respected and also that new names be proposed in Irish. The provisions require a consultation process. This will involve notification of specified persons which will include An Coimisiún Logainmneacha as well as a public consultation process. As has been pointed out already, a substantive Report Stage amendment will be brought forward to deal with the issue of the Irish language and local authorities. Section 34 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, provides that when granting planning permission a planning authority may attach a condition regarding the naming of a development. Guidance notes on the Act are currently being prepared and will highlight the need to ensure that proper regard is had to local tradition when attaching such conditions. It will also draw attention to the guidelines in this regard which have issued from An Coimisiún Logainmneacha.
I will await the Report Stage amendment.
I move amendment No. 198:
In page 150, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following subsection:
"(5)Section 188(4) shall apply with any necessary modifications.”.
This section relates to the change of names. I propose that section 188(4), which relates to the changing of the names of townlands or non-municipal towns situated wholly within one county, should apply with any necessary modifications to the change of name in section 194. Where a county or city council adopts a proposal to change the name, it should notify such persons as may be prescribed by the Minister. Those persons will then be entitled to make any submissions within a period of two months from the date of notification. A public notice would also be placed inviting such submissions.
This section deals with the regulations setting out the general provisions regarding the change of names. The impact of Deputy Gilmore's amendment would mean the consultation and submission procedure applicable to the changing of names of townlands would also apply to streets.
The section sets out a procedure for changing the name of a street, which can only be achieved with the consent of the majority of the qualified electorate, the local government electorate and rated occupiers. It enables the Minister to make regulations providing for the notification of specified persons. I will introduce an amendment on Report Stage to expand this provision to allow for an improved consultative procedure.
I will withdraw the amendment on that basis.
I move amendment No. 199:
In page 150, line 35, after "street" to insert ", place or area".
This follows submissions by the General Council of County Councils to expand the section which empowers a local authority to display a name of a street on a building or other structure or land. This section will now facilitate local authority signage in relation to other areas or places in addition to streets.
I move amendment No. 201:
In page 151, subsection (1), line 16, after "matter." to insert "A local authority shall consult with Údarás na Gaeltachta where a bye-law concerns a Gaeltacht area.".
This is concerned with the making of council by-laws. The amendment seeks to provide that a local authority should consult Údarás na Gaeltachta where the by-law concerns a Gaeltacht area. The reasons for this are obvious. A number of local authorities would be affected by it, including Galway, Kerry, Donegal, Mayo, Cork County Council, Waterford and Meath. This amendment is to ensure that the Gaeltacht dimension to these counties is recognised in the making of by-laws. For example, they may have views on the language in which the by-law is presented.
The provisions of section 198(3) enable the Minister to prescribe in regulations persons who shall be notified of by-laws. In this context it would be appropriate that Údarás na Gaeltachta would be notified in relation to the by-laws. It would be a matter for the regulations to be made following the enactment of the Bill. This will facilitate Údarás na Gaeltachta in making submissions to local authorities in relation to such by-laws. In the circumstances I do not consider that the Deputy's amendment is necessary.
In view of the Minister of State's assurances I will withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No 205:
In page 158, lines 48 to 50 and in page 159, lines 1 to 6, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following:
"(1) The Minister may cause such public local inquiries to be held as he or she may consider necessary or desirable-
(a) for the purposes of section 214(1)(a) or the functions conferred on him or her or by any other enactment, or
(b) in relation to the performance of the functions of any local authority.”.
This technical amendment arises from the need to delete the reference to section 58(2) of the Roads Act, 1992, lines 5 and 6, page 159, which deals with toll inquiries. This is because section 272 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, provides that such toll inquiries which were held by the Minister are now oral hearings to be held by the relevant road authority. It was considered that the best way to effect this amendment was to provide for a substitute subsection (1).
I move amendment No. 208:
In page 163, subsection (1), lines 33 to 43, to delete paragraphs (b), (c), (d), and (e).
This section deals with the power of the Minister to remove from office the members of a local authority in certain circumstances. The circumstances which most often give rise to the exercise of this power, or the threatened exercise of it, are where the council does not adopt an estimate of expenses or where the Minister considers the estimate of expenses to be insufficient.
This section provides for a number of other circumstances where that would also apply. For example, it applies where a local authority refuses or neglects to comply with a judgment, order or decree of any court, where a local authority fails to comply with a requirement by notification under subsection (1) of section 10A within 21 days of notification and where a local authority refuses or wilfully neglects to comply with any other express requirement which is imposed on it by any other enactment including this Act.
There is an issue of principle here. A local authority is a democratically elected forum. The only people who should be entitled to remove a democratically elected forum from office are the people who elected it. If the people of a town or county elect a council, a Minister should not be able to remove it from office, deprive the people of the town or county of their elected representatives and replace it with a commissioner who will do the Minister's bidding.
I believe these provisions, which have been in local government law for some time, are now unconstitutional. I believe the constitutional amendment which was passed some time ago and which gives constitutional recognition to local government makes the power of the Minister to remove a locally elected council from office unconstitutional. If this section is passed in its present form it may well be found to be unconstitutional, by way of reference to the Supreme Court by the President or by way of challenge.
The sections in which it is proposed to remove a council from office by the Minister are open to serious question. There has been much argument about the question of the estimate but this tends to be debated in the public domain when the issue arises. Let us, however, examine the issue of a local authority which refuses or neglects to comply with a judgment, order or decree of any court. Let me give a practical example. Some years ago, when I was a member of Dublin County Council, a court ordered the council to pay the largest sum in planning compensation every awarded against a local authority. I believe the award was made to one of the Brennan and McGowan companies for land near Swords in County Dublin. Some members argued strongly that the council should not comply with the order. The then assistant county manager, Mr. George Redmond, argued that we could not do so and proceeded to make the payment. Let us suppose the council had decided not to pay. Under this provision, it could have been removed from office by the Minister.
There is, in subsection (a), a provision for the removal from office where the Minister holds a public local inquiry into the performance of the local authority and is satisfied that it should be removed from office. That, at a minimum, should be required. Whether the removal is because of failure to comply with a court order, is in relation to estimates or otherwise, the holding of a public local inquiry should be a minimum requirement. Only after a public inquiry and in exceptional circumstances, perhaps the council should be removed. I say perhaps, because an issue of democratic principle is involved. The automatic removal of a council from office in the circumstances described in paragraphs (b), (c), (d) and (e) should not be permitted. It is bad in terms of democratic principle, on a practical level - I have cited one example - it is questionable and following the change in the Constitution giving recognition to local government it is, in my opinion, unconstitutional.
Existing local government legislation allows for the removal from office of the elected members in exceptional circumstances. However, since 1942 only four local authorities have been removed, with only one removal - Naas Urban District Council - in the past 25 years.
The Bill continues this existing law and sets out the following reasons for removal from office - following a public local inquiry where it is identified that there is a failure to perform duties effectively, following failure to comply with a court order, where a number of members qualified to act is less than the quorum, on refusal or wilful neglect to comply with an express statutory requirement or on failure to comply with a ministerial requirement to amend the estimate to make it adequate to meet the essential expenditure needs or the adoption of a revised insufficient estimate.
These are all extreme cases and some final sanction is required to ensure the stable functioning of local government and the provision of essential services. The fact that there is a clear final sanction available to discourage irresponsible behaviour represents a powerful reality check at estimate time.
These provisions have only ever been used in exceptional circumstances and where it is absolutely necessary in order to avoid serious hardship to the general public which would be caused by serious disruption of essential local authority services and also to safeguard the position of employees of the local authority concerned. If the finances were to collapse there would be serious consequences for services and for employees. On most occasions when difficulties are being experienced it is the threat of removal which concentrates the minds of councillors towards adopting an estimate. This reserved power is necessary as a clear and final sanction to discourage irresponsible behaviour. The constitutional amendment now ensures local elections must be held every five years, irrespective of any removal.
The effect of Deputy Gilmore's amendment would be to confine removal from office to circumstances set out in section 214(1)(a), where the local authority is not carrying out its functions duly and effectively and after a public local inquiry. There will clearly be cases when a local authority wilfully neglects its statutory functions and there will be no need to hold a public inquiry as this will be a clear fact. The most common examples of this in recent years were failures to adopt a budget. A local authority, like every organisation, must adopt an annual budget or estimate to meet its expenditure needs. If the budget is not adopted how can it function, maintain essential services or pay staff? Not only would there be no need to hold a public inquiry, there would be no time to do so if essential services were to be maintained.
In these circumstances it would be inappropriate for me to accept the amendment as proposed.
The Minister did not respond to the argument I made in relation to the constitutionality of this provision.
I am satisfied that the constitutional provision which now relates to local government is not being contravened by the implementation in law of these provisions and that they are a necessary part of ensuring the stability of the local government system.
I differ from that. These provisions are rewritten from a time which pre-dates the amendment of the Constitution. If the constitutional guarantee of local government is to mean anything, it must mean the protection of the elected councils. The formula I propose is fairer. If there are exceptional circumstances and the Minister feels the council is wilfully neglecting its duties, breaking the law or otherwise not fulfilling its duties, he should hold a public local inquiry into the matter, as provided for in the earlier section. That would allow the council and the local community to state their views on the issue. I have provided for the earlier section. That would allow the council to state its view and may well allow the local community to state its views in relation to it. Then, following the report of that inquiry, the Minister would still have the power to make the decision. What I am seeking to excise here is where the Minister without holding any inquiry, without giving any opportunity to the council to state its case, could remove it from office. Suppose, for example, way back in perhaps 1987 I forget the date, the then Dublin County Council decided that it would not pay the compensation money and the then Minister decided that he would remove the council from office without any inquiry. Looking back on it now, it would not have been a terribly wise decision and at least, an inquiry would have allowed for the airing of opinion and comment on that particular issue. I mention that as a practical example. At the very least, in the interests of natural justice - and I would expect that if there were to be a constitutional challenge in relation to this, I suspect that the question of natural justice would come into the consideration - there should be an inquiry and an opportunity for the council or its members to state their position before being unilaterally sacked by a Minister.
The furthest I could probably go down the road with the Deputy is in regard to paragraphs (b) and (e). I will look at them to see if the provision about which he is anxious could apply in the case of paragraphs (b) and (e). I will see about having something on Report Stage if it is possible.
There is a fundamental issue here which may be discussed elsewhere at some point. I intend to press the issue on Report Stage. I will withdraw the amendment and re-enter it on Report Stage.
We are dealing with quite serious matters. Paragraph (b) is about a local authority refusing to comply with a court judgment and paragraph (e) deals with failing to comply with an express statutory requirement. The Deputy’s argument is that there should be some kind of an inquiry in between before the final decision is made to abolish the council.
If a local authority refuses to comply with a judgment of a court, there is redress for whoever the court has found in favour of. The Minister must be familiar with the case in Galway on a matter relating to waste where either the county or city manager and senior officials were in non-compliance with court orders. I understand the argument and I do not wish to comment on the particular case. There are occasions where a local authority will find itself at odds with——
It was non-compliance with the conditions of planning permission.
It was over a dump or the closure of a dump. The court had ordered the closure of a dump and the manager had not complied with the order. Would the Minister abolish the council in those circumstances? There was a case where a local authority had not complied with a court order.
We can have a look at something for Report Stage.
I was at a meeting of Dublin Corporation with Deputy Cluskey in the Chair
which refused to strike a rate and had itself abolished. My predecessor, Kevin Boland, did it but the members of Dublin Corporation forever regretted going that far down the road.
Amendments Nos. 210 and 211 may be taken together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 210:
In page 168, subsection (4), lines 6 to 9, to delete paragraph (a) and substitute the following:
"(4)(a) Copies of the annual report of a county council or city council shall be made available-
(i) at its principal offices during normal office hours for inspection or purchase by members of the public, and
(ii) in public libraries within the county or city concerned.".
I undertook two amendments in response to suggestions from the Local Authority Representatives' Association to provide for the availability of the annual reports in public libraries within the city or county concerned. This reflects the general thrust of the Bill with regard to achieving the widest possible dissemination of information to the public at large in keeping with the principles of transparency and accountability. As this substantially meets the Deputies' requests, I ask them to consider withdrawing the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 212 and 213 may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 212:
In page 169, subsection (3), between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:
"(b) the promotion of education and training,”.
I will not move the rest of the amendments. We can re-enter them on Report Stage.
Thank you. I appreciate that.
I understand that reclaimed land will be part of the local authority area. I want to clarify a matter relating to the Planning and Development Act, 2000, about an application by Dublin Port to infill 52 acres of Dublin Bay. It has applied for a foreshore licence. At the time, the then Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Woods, referred to the fact that the port would have to get planning permission for the proposed development before a foreshore licence could be issued. Much confusion has arisen in relation to that decision. Has this section anything to do with the amendments tabled in the context of the Planning and Development Act? Will the Minister of State investigate my query?
The section deals with reclaimed land on the maritime boundary of a local authority. It provides that the maritime boundary of a local authority is the high water mark for the time being, unless it already extends further and that reclaimed land and structures will automatically form part of the local authority area. Any increase in the land boundary is within the boundary of the authority.
Land that has not been reclaimed is not part of the local authority area at present.
When it is reclaimed it is.
Only when it is reclaimed.
Planning permission would have to be obtained to carry out major reclamation.
I move amendment No. 216:
In page 179, column 2, line 9, to delete "Town" and substitute "Borough".
I move amendment No. 217:
In page 179, column 2, line 24, to delete "Town council of a town" and substitute"Borough council of a borough".
I move amendment No. 218:
In page 184, after line 57, to insert thefollowing -
"No. 30 of 2000Planning and Development Act, 2000In subsections (6)(c) and (7) of section 34, substitute 'section 139 of the Local Government Act, 2001' for 'section 4 of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955' and in paragraph (a) of the said subsection (7), substitute 'subsection (3)' for 'subsection (2)'.
In section 179(5), substitute 'Sections 137, 138 and 139 of the Local Government Act, 2001,’ for ’Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955’.
I move amendment No. 221:
In page 191, paragraph 6(1)(a), line 29, to delete “on his or her own behalf,”.
I move amendment No. 225:
In page 193, paragraph 8(3), line 33, after "locations" to insert ", including but not limited to public libraries,".
I move amendment No. 226:
In page 195, paragraph 13(2), line 20, after "meeting" to insert "on that day".
I move amendment No. 227:
In page 196, paragraph 16(1)(a), to delete line 46 and substitute “meetings and proceedings.”.
I move amendment No. 230:
In page 206, line 25, column 2, to delete "urban" and substitute "local".
I would appreciate if the Minister would agree to send me a note clarifying the position in regard to the disposal of property and whether it is a reserve function or a managerial function.
I thank the Minister and his officials for their input into this substantial Bill. Members of the committee are to be complimented for the official manner in which they discharged their duties. I thank in particular Deputies Gilmore, Timmins, Jim Mitchell, Ó Caoláin and Kelleher for their contributions. I also thank Deputy Haughey for standing in for me on a number of occasions over the past couple of days.
I thank you, Chairman, for the efficient and expeditious manner in which you handled the extensive debates which have taken place over the past couple of days. As members are aware, I am here in place of my colleague who is indisposed. I thank Deputies for the spirit in which they co-operated and I hope it was reciprocated on this side. We have accepted some amendments and will look again at others for Report Stage. I too thank Deputies Jim Mitchell, Timmins, Gilmore, Kelleher and Haughey for their co-operation in dealing with this Bill.
I also thank my officials who have been very diligent in leading me through the debate on this Bill that will make a major contribution to the ongoing work of reforming local government which has been under way for a number of years. We have quite a distance to go before local government reaches its full capability in local areas. The subsidiarity principle, to strengthen the arm of Government at local level, is of extreme importance to everyone, particularly at a time of such economic growth. There is great pressure on local authorities to provide facilities ranging from basic infrastructure to houses and amenities. I take this opportunity to express the Government's appreciation of the work done by local councillors, which is of enormous value to the country. Due recognition is given to that work in this Bill.
I appreciate the Minister of State is under time pressure. I thank the Chairman and Deputy Haughey for the very fair way they chaired the meetings. I thank the officials of the committee for their assistance during the meetings and beforehand in ordering our business. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, and the Minister for Defence, Deputy Smith, and their officials for the manner in which they dealt with this Bill. I know it posed great difficulties for them as they were handling a Bill they had not drafted but for which they had collective responsibility. However, both Ministers have extensive experience of local government.
I also express thanks to my colleagues from both sides of the House for their contributions. Deputy Mitchell, on behalf of Fine Gael, facilitated and co-operated with us on Committee Stage of this Bill. Members have serious difficulties with some aspects of the Bill. We passed Committee Stage of the Bill reasonably quickly given its size and I do not want to see a guillotined debate on Report Stage. There are major issues in the Bill which I would like the House, as a whole, to decide upon. I will, therefore, oppose any attempt to guillotine Report Stage. That does not mean we will not be co-operative in ensuring the expeditious passage of the Bill. I am merely mentioning this as we are under pressure for time coming up to the summer recess. We have been co-operative in passing Committee Stage and will not accept a guillotine debate on Report Stage. People will have to use a little shoe leather through the lobbies on some of the provisions of the Bill and I do not wish any attempt to be made to stifle, truncate or obstruct that in any way.
I will be brief. I feel a little like the imposter who came into the stadium for the last lap of the marathon.
The Deputy did it in Munich.
I thank everybody concerned. There are many contentious issues in this Bill that may cause difficulties even between parties. I am not in agreement with many of the amendments tabled by Deputy Mitchell. It is important that adequate time is given to debating Report Stage of the Bill.
I would like to add Deputy ÓCaoláin and my colleague, the Minister for Defence, Deputy Smith, to the list of those to whom I express my thanks.
I too thank the Minister, Deputy Smith, for his assistance. We would never have arrived at this stage without the co-operation of the Clerk to the committee, to whom I express my thanks also.