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Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs debate -
Wednesday, 1 Dec 1993


Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 21 are composite and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 14, subsection (1), line 27, to delete "The" and substitute "Pending the holding of the next Elections to the Councils, the".

These amendments concern the size of the membership of the three councils and the Bill proposes the following membership for each: 26 members for South Dublin, 24 members for Fingal and 28 members for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. There are two difficulties in regard to the size of the membership proposed in the Bill. First, citizens of these three council areas will be proportionately under-represented at local government level in comparison to those in other parts of the country; the ratio of council seats to population will be approximately 1:6,000-6,500. That is an unfavourable ratio compared to general ratios of elected representatives to population throughout the country.

I accept one must take into account the geographic factor outside Dublin. However, this is being taking to extremes when one finds the difference in the ratio between the chairman's county, for example, and the ratios here is approximately 5,000 or 6,000:1; the ratio in County Leitrim is approximately 1: 1,200 and in County Cavan 1:1,400. The ratio in most county councils is approximately 1:2,500 and 1:3,000 in larger counties. Dublin is under-represented and that is reflected in, for example, elections to the Seanad where the value of a vote is less for a citizen of Dublin than it is for other citizens.

Second, as these counties develop and grow — the Minister can correct me — it will not be possible to change the size of the membership of these councils without amending legislation as the numbers are fixed in this legislation. I understand it will be possible to vary electoral boundaries within those figures, but the size of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal or South Dublin will be stated in the legislation. If we look at the electoral area of Glencullen, according to the last census — I am not selecting it because it is the electoral area where the Carrickmines Valley sewer will be located — its population is greater than the Chairman's county, County Leitrim. Three members are elected in the electoral area of Glencullen. That is its entitlement at present.

Existing development around, for example, the Leopardstown-Ballyogan area where an additional 10,000 people are provided for over the next five years, will give rise to the question of changing the level of representation that area has on the county council. How will that be done? With the exception of one electoral area where there has been no change in the population, all other areas in that county showed a population increase in the last census. Perhaps the formula I put forward is crude. I simply added one extra seat to have electoral area in the three counties but on the basis of proportionality, there are grounds for increasing the number of seats in the three counties.

These figures were arrived at in 1985. Since then there has been a lot of development and because of an increase in population in that area an increase in membership can be justified. On the grounds of proportionality and flexibility and in order to give fair representation to the various parts of these new counties, measures will have to be taken or a mechanism will have to be built into the Bill which will provide for an increase in the size of the councils without amending legislation.

As Glencullen and Carrickmines have been mentioned, it is no harm to say that according to my figures, it would appear that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, with a smaller population than South Dublin, would have more seats under Deputy Gilmore's proposals. This is a matter which should start at local level, it should be part of what one would do in a general local government Bill.

If one is tidying up the relationship between elector and elected councillor, it is not appropriate to do that only in relation to Dublin county. One must look at the entire country to see what checks and balances could be included in a new provision which would take account of disparities — some of which I recognise — which have arisen over time. I believe Deputy Gilmore accepts this would be necessary, given the dispersed population in many rural areas and the difficulty in servicing such areas. This week I had discussions with councillors. Part of their electoral area stretched as far as 45 miles. That is an extraordinary constituency at local election level.

In the city there is a larger population and there is room for improvement, but it is something I would consider in the context of a local government Bill for the entire county. In relation to this matter, it is for the reorganised Dublin area and the local elected members to give me their views. Again, it is an area where there was no suggestion of any particular change at this time. I am prepared and open to listen to considerations of that kind when they emerge at local level. If that does not happen I will be taking account of some of these matters for the country as a whole in the next local government Bill.

I tend to support the Minister's view on this issue. It can be part of the reorganisation in the next local authority Bill. On the basis of what we are being told here today, it could be a fairly comprehensive Bill but it is necessary. It will require much time to tease out what is best for local government going into the next century and beyond. It will have to be addressed.

The breakdown of the membership refers to the 1985 legislation and on that basis the Minister and his Department are taking the existing figures. If we were to deal in a serious manner with the proposals in the amendment, I would have expected Deputy Gilmore to address the imbalance that exists at the moment. His proposed figures do not regularise the situation. The population, for example, of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, is smaller than South Dublin but he is proposing to give extra representation to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown as against South Dublin. I am not saying he is unjustified in taking Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown in isolation but anybody can produce figures. This should be part of an overall plan.

I support the principle put forward by Deputy Gilmore. I hope the Minister will not have many hostages to fortune by the time we finish this Bill. There will be a number of issues to be addressed in the local government Bill the Minister proposes to bring forward next year. The issue of proportionality should be addressed in a more comprehensive manner but there is no doubt that the representation and proportionality of the type of urban councils we want should be addressed. I do not know whether Deputy Gilmore intends to press this amendment but I will support him if he does because this principle must be addressed if not here now then in the future.

I might not have clarified the position as well as I could and should when I replied to Deputy Gilmore. I hope I will not have any hostages to fortune. It is an area where everybody recognises there is room for a more comprehensive provision for the country as a whole. However, in relation to the three county councils situation in Dublin, if I have a proposal from a local authority there is a mechanism in an Act passed in the latter days of the last century which can be updated. The mechanism for me to increase the number is already there, provided that there is a recommendation from the local authority. As I said, I am prepared to listen to that consideration, notwithstanding the fact that I hope to cover the general provisions in the local government Bill. I want to make it absolutely clear that if the recommendation comes from the council in relation to this matter there is a mechanism already there. This is not something that is initiated at the centre.

When we talk about revising proportionality as between the elected member and the elector it would be logical and rational if we were to look for a national average in terms of members to electors. There will be many councils whose number of councillors will drop and when it comes to revision that might not be a popular proposal. We have mentioned some of the less populous areas this evening so we are about to vote for your elimination, Chairman.

I have to question the people who voted for you in the Seanad election.

If we push it logically you are voting for elimination. The rational follow on of the point we are making is if there is an increase when there is increased population, likewise if there is a dramatic decrease below a tolerance level, the number of councillors will also decrease. I would not like to be the Minister for the Environment mooting that. I hope he will never be looking for a Seanad vote.

It is important for Deputy Doyle to realise that this number can move up or down.

That is what I am saying. There are two sides to this story.

One does not necessarily have to get proportionality on the basis of losing members. Many people have suggested that the numbers should be increased. Do not look at this on the basis that there is only one direction in which the numbers can go.

My understanding is that there will be a Bill next year dealing with local government generally. Obviously the intention is that it will be in advance of the next local elections. The Minister also mentioned there was a mechanism whereby, if a submission was made to him by the Dublin councils, or by any other council for that matter, he could respond to it in the context of this Bill, even without the new legislation.

Not in the context of this Bill but in a stand alone situation. This Bill will presumably be passed and the local authority will decide if it wants to make a recommendation on the basis of increased membership. The mechanism to accept that proposal initiated at local level already exists.

In that case I will not press the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 20 to 22, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 14, subsection (3), line 39, to delete "Minister" and substitute "Cathaoirleach".

Under section 12 (3), the Minister would convene the first meeting of the council.

On Report Stage I would be happy to put down an amendment allowing the Cathaoirleach to set the date of the first meeting.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 12 agreed to.