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Select Sub-Committee on the Environment, Community and Local Government debate -
Tuesday, 3 Dec 2013

Local Government Bill 2013: Committee Stage


I welcome the officials from the Department and thank them for their attendance. Amendments Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 9, line 27, after “Government” to insert “Reform”.

It is appropriate in many ways that the first official amendment to be moved is to section 1(1) which deals with the Short Title of the Bill. Although straightforward in terms of text, inserting the word "Reform" signals in an unambiguous way the intent and scope of the Bill in relation to the radical reform of the functions, structures and governance of the local government system to ensure it will be at the heart of public service provision at local level. The change also takes account of the fact that the Local Government Act 2001 continues to be the core statutory basis for the local government system. The Bill provides the legislative framework to implement the reform programme and will deliver significant structural changes at county, sub-county and regional level. It will reverse the trend in past decades of marginalising local government by providing new roles for the sector in community development, enterprise support and economic development. It will deliver changes across a range of local governance and management issues, including the replacement of the traditional post of manager by a new post of chief executive and the introduction of innovative measures such as the establishment of a national oversight and audit commission. It will provide for the holding of a plebiscite on a directly elected mayor for Dublin. It will provide the legal basis for implementation of the ambitious reform programme set out in the Government's policy document, An Action Programme for Effective Local Government. It is appropriate that this be reflected in the Title of the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 2 to 6, inclusive, also amend section 1 which, in addition to the Short Title, sets out the collective citations for the various legislative codes referenced in the Bill. As a result of the numerous consequential amendments to the Acts in question provided for in the Schedules, the citations in a number of areas need to be updated.

Amendments Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, provide for the necessary changes in this regard. Section 1 also provides for the standard commencement provisions in subsection (8) and amendment No. 6 adds to these provisions which will commence on enactment to include Part 11, which deals with the local government fund and Irish Water and an amendment to the Dublin Docklands Development Authority Act 1997 provided for in Part 12. It is important that the local government fund provision is commenced as soon as possible to allow the Minister to make payments from the fund to Irish Water. This funding is required by Irish Water to make payments to local authorities for water services provided for under the service level agreements from January 2014.

The amendment in relation to the Dublin Docklands Development Authority is to provide legal certainty underpinning the fast-tracked planning process in the docklands area. Again, it is important this provision is commenced.

I apologise but I was interrupted when the Minister was referencing the Irish Water service level agreements. I would appreciate it if he could reiterate his comments in that regard. I am conscious that we are awaiting legislation in regard to many facets of Irish Water, including the transfer of assets and service level agreements in relation to staffing proposals.

The Water Services (No. 2) Bill 2013, which will be discussed in the Seanad this week and in the Dáil prior to the Christmas recess, provides for the transfer of assets and liabilities which must take effect from 1 January next. It also provides the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government with the necessary power to ensure we can agree, under the service level initiative, the necessary financial provisions for the provision of funds to local authorities by Irish Water for operation and maintenance.

I accept the premise of what the Minister says. I am sure he is right to be presumptuous in relation to the passage of legislation to allow him to do that. For the purpose of the record, in the absence of relevant legislation, can this be done?

I must ensure the changeover in terms of funding takes place. Otherwise, local authorities will be short changed by a considerable amount of money. I am providing Irish Water with the powers to do that under the service level agreements. As I understand it, €490 million, which is a significant amount of money, will be required to be transferred to local authorities as part of their Estimates process. They will need to have certainty in this regard. The legislation provides the Minister with the power to do so by way of the allocations being made by way of various measures, including the local government fund and general purpose grants.

I understand where the Minister is coming from but he is asking us to agree to the transfer of funding for service level agreements although we are not aware, and will not be, of the workings of the service level agreement until such time as we have sight of what is proposed in this regard. I accept the Minister's intentions and the good faith in which this amendment is being proposed in terms of catering for that eventuality. While I may not necessarily agree with it, I cannot blindly accept it either.

On the insertion of "Reform" into the title, while I accept this is reform, it is not the reform I believe we need. This is a huge missed opportunity. I will avail of every opportunity to make that point. The Minister would be surprised if I did not. I do not propose to labour many points because I spoke in detail on this matter on Second Stage.

I presume we will deal with the €600 million being set aside for Irish Water when we come to the amendments under Part 2. However, like Deputy Cowen, I do not understand how this amount was calculated when we do not yet know the detail of the service level agreements. How was this amount calculated? Was it a back of an envelope exercise? Clearly, this amount will be met from local property tax receipts, which is not what people had anticipated.

It will not be met from the local property tax receipts. As the Deputy will be aware, motor tax receipts have traditionally been put into the local government fund. Some of that funding has been transferred to the Exchequer for deficit reduction and the remainder will go into the local government fund for the purpose of making provision for Irish Water funding. The Deputy is wrong in saying this money will be taken from property tax receipts, rather it will be met in the traditional way. When water provision was the responsibility of local government, funding in this regard was not met through the local government fund. We want to ensure continued funding of local authorities for water provision, operation and maintenance.

What then is changing to indicate reform?

The point is that the local government fund has been decreasing since 2009 and continues to decrease. This is being backfilled by household charge and property tax receipts. The Minister is splitting hairs in terms of saying funding for Irish Water will not be met from the local government fund because the property tax receipts are being used to shore up that fund, or will be in the future.

The Exchequer is shoring it up.

That is people's taxes.

The amount collected by way of the property tax is €550 million. Some €1.7 billion in local government funding is needed. Where will the remainder of that amount come from?

Correct, motor or general taxes. As I said, €550 million is collected by way of the property tax. We need more money from other sources and are getting this from the Minister for Finance by way of general taxation and motor taxation receipts.

Based on what the Minister said, the role of local authorities in the service, maintenance and provision of water services will remain as it has been up to now, yet an additional 200 staff of similar management grade to those in the local authorities and 450 staff to manage a call centre are to be recruited.

The population-----

There was great fanfare about the reform that would take place in terms of how we maintain and provide water services, yet from what I have heard the only difference will be that it will be more costly and, ultimately, taxpayers will pay in terms of the setting of rates.

The Deputy will see as the day goes on that he is not correct in that regard.

The Minister's definition of "reform" and mine are different.

That is correct.

For that reason, I will not support the amendments proposed.

Water services are to be provided by the same staff, who will have a second master in terms of Irish Water and additional staff at a call centre operated by a company in Cork that has come to fame in the past year or two and not for the best reasons. This means that money that should be spent on fixing leaks in the system will now be spent on the creation of this new super-structure. Up to now calls were taken by a clerk in the area office. Under the new system a councillor will, as I predicted a year and a half ago, have to contact the call centre to report a burst pipe that is half or quarter of a mile from his or her house or on the same street as his or her house. The Minister, in creating this structure, is creating something that is not needed. The responsibility should be retained by the local authorities.

Amendment put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 10, lines 4 and 5, to delete "and paragraphs 1 and 14 (in so far as they relate to the Housing Act 1966) of Schedule 4" and substitute the following:

", paragraphs 1 and 14 (in so far as they relate to the Housing Act 1966) of Schedule 4 and paragraph 16 of Schedule 4".

Amendment put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 10, line 13, to delete "and Part 2 of Schedule 2" and substitute ", Part 2 of Schedule 2 and paragraphs 17 and 18 of Schedule 4".

Amendment put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 10, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:

"(7) This subsection, section 5(5) and Part 3 of Schedule 2 (in so far as it relates to the Building Control Act 1990) shall be read together as one with the Building Control Acts 1990 and 2007 and may be cited together as the Building Control Acts 1990 to 2013.".

Amendment put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 10, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:

“(8) This subsection, the amendments to the Air-Raid Precautions Act 1939 and the Civil Defence Act 2012 provided for in section 5(6) and Part 4 of Schedule 2 and the Civil Defence Acts 1939 to 2012 may be cited together as the Civil Defence Acts 1939 to 2013.

(9) This subsection, the amendments to the Control of Dogs Act 1986 and the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010 provided for in section 5(6) and Part 4 of Schedule 2, the amendment to Control of Dogs Act 1986 provided for by section 77 of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and the Control of Dogs Acts 1986 to 2010 may be cited together as the Control of Dogs Acts 1986 to 2013.

(10) This subsection, the amendment to the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 provided for in section 5(6) and Part 4 of Schedule 2 and the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Acts 1994 to 2011 may be cited together as the Criminal Justice Public Order) Acts 1994 to 2013.

(11) This subsection, the amendment to the Foreshore (Amendment) Act 1992 provided for in section 5(6) and Part 4 of Schedule 2 and the Foreshore Acts 1933 to 2011 may be cited together as the Foreshore Acts 1933 to 2013.

(12) This subsection and the amendment to the Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960 provided for in section 5(6) and Part 4 of Schedule 2 shall be included in the collective citation “Health Acts 1947 to 2013.

(13) This subsection, the amendment to the Merchant Shipping (Salvage and Wreck) Act 1993 provided for in section 5(6) and Part 4 of Schedule 2 and the Merchant Shipping Acts 1894 to 2010 may be cited together as the Merchant Shipping Acts 1894 to 2013.

(14) This subsection, the amendment to the National Monuments Act 1930 provided for in section 5(6) and Part 4 of Schedule 2 and the National Monuments Acts 1930 to 2004 may be cited together as the National Monuments Acts 1930 to 2013.

(15) This subsection, the amendments to the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001 and the Protection of Employment Act 1977 provided for in section 5(6) and Part 4 of Schedule 2, and the Protection of Employment Acts 1977 to 2007 shall be construed together as one and may be cited together as the Protection of Employment Acts 1977 to 2013.

(16) This subsection, the amendments to the Protection of Employment (Exceptional Collective Redundancies and Related Matters) Act 2007 and the Unfair Dismissal Act 1977 provided for in section 5(6) and Part 4 of Schedule 2, and the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2007 shall be construed together as one and may be cited together as the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994 to 2013.

(17) This subsection, the amendment to the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 provided for in section 5(6) and Part 4 of Schedule 2, and the Redundancy Payments Acts 1967 to 2012 shall be construed together as one and may be cited together as the Redundancy Payments Acts 1967 to 2013.

(18) This subsection, the amendments to the Sea Pollution (Amendment) Act 1999 and the Sea Pollution (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 provided for in section 5(6) and Part 4 of Schedule 2, and the Sea Pollution Acts 1991 to 2006 shall be construed together as one and may be cited together as the Sea Pollution Acts 1991 to 2013.

(19) This subsection, the amendment to the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 provided for in section 5(6) and Part 4 of Schedule 2, and the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994 to 2012 shall be construed together as one and may be cited together as the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994 to 2013.".

Amendment put and declared carried.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 10, line 19, to delete "Part 10" and substitute "Parts 10, 11 and 12".

Amendment put and declared carried.
Section 1, as amended, agreed to.
Section 2 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 11, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:

“ “town council” means a dissolved body which was, before the transfer date, a town council for the purposes of the Principal Act;”.

This amendment inserts a definition of "town council" in section 3, which is the interpretation section. Although town councils are to be dissolved, the term is used throughout the Bill and a definition is required for clarity of understanding. The definition proposed makes clear that the “town council” in the context of the Local Government Bill 2013 means a dissolved body which was, before the transfer date, a town council for the purposes of the Local Government Act 2001. It is a legal clarification.

The only reason for this amendment is to include the definition in order to dissolve the bodies later on in the Bill.

It is part of the definition.

Members will revert to this, because I oppose the abolition of the town councils and the manner in which it has been proposed.

The substantive issue will be dealt with later.

Amendment put and declared carried.
Section 3, as amended, agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 12, line 10, to delete “making the regulation or order”.

These amendments are technical in nature and correct the textual errors in section 4 of the published Bill. Amendment No. 8 deletes unnecessary text in subsection (2), amendment No. 9 is a drafting change to include the phrase “order or regulation” in place of “regulation” in the published Bill, and amendment No. 10 substitutes a revised text omitting reference to “orders” as something which may require approval in draft by both Houses, as this will not be the case under the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 12, line 22, to delete “regulation” and substitute “order or regulation”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 12, line 27, to delete “an order or regulation which is required” and substitute “regulations which are required”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 4, as amended, agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are related and will be taken together.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 12, line 35, after “amended” to insert “or repealed”.

Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are technical amendments to section 5. Section 5 is a standard provision which, together with Schedule 1 and Schedule 2, provides for repeals and amendments. Amendment No. 11 inserts the term “or repealed” after “amended” in section 5(2) for accuracy and amendment No. 12 inserts two new subsections referencing new Parts of Schedule 2 relating to amendments of the Local Government (Multi-Storey Buildings) Act 1988, the Building Control Act 1990 and the consequential amendments to a number of Acts relating to taxation matters, all of which have been identified in the drafting process.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 13, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following:

“(5) The provisions, referred to in column (3) of Part 3 of Schedule 2, of the Local Government (Multi-Storey Buildings) Act 1988 and the Building Control Act 1990 referred to in column (2) of that Part are amended in the manner referred to in column (4) of that Part opposite the reference in column (3) to the provision concerned.

(6) The provisions referred to in column (3) of Part 4 of Schedule 2, of the various acts relating to taxation referred to in column (2) of that Part are amended in the manner referred to in column (4) of that Part opposite the reference in column (3) to the provision concerned.”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 5, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 6 and 7 agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 in the name of Deputy Stanley have been ruled out of order.

Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 not moved.

May I comment briefly on that?

The Deputy may comment on the section, to which he has indicated his opposition.

Question proposed: "That section 8 stand part of the Bill."

The first I knew of these amendments being ruled out of order was this morning. I am surprised by that and note the reason being given by the apparatchiks for this is because the amendments may put a burden on the Exchequer.

The Deputy should discuss the section.

I am discussing the section.

Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 were ruled out of order and this is the Deputy's contribution in opposition to the section.

Yes. While that is the reason being given, the Minister is aware that both local elections or a local plebiscite as proposed would be paid for by the local council. Every local council meets at budget time to put aside a certain amount of money for local elections. For example, Portlaoise Town Council is doing so this afternoon and will put by some money for local elections. This does not place a burden on the Exchequer and there is no cost to Revenue in this regard. If one considers the example of Dublin, the Minister proposes to hold a plebiscite on the same day as the local elections. In other words, such plebiscites could be held on the same day as local elections, the only cost being the provision of a certain number of ballot papers and a couple of extra ballot boxes. There would be the same number of staff, election tellers and everything else. Consequently, I believe the reason these amendments have been ruled out of order does not hold up and is not valid. I argue strongly that people in Waterford, Limerick and the other areas affected should have the right to a plebiscite on whether they wish to retain the city councils. The question of a cost on the Revenue does not exist because such a plebiscite could be carried out on the same day as local elections and local councils pay for such elections.

Question put and declared carried.
Question proposed: "That section 9 stand part of the Bill."

Section 9 is opposed by Deputies Cowen and Stanley. Do members wish to comment on section 9?

This is in line with my previous comments in respect of those councils.

Question put and declared carried.
Question proposed: "That section 10 stand part of the Bill."

Section 10 is opposed by Deputy Stanley.

I oppose the amalgamation of these councils within Limerick and Waterford. Those cities are substantial entities in their own right, just like Galway and everywhere else, and people there should have been given the right to have some say in this regard. Members, by proceeding with this section of the Bill as it stands, are taking away the rights of people in those counties and cities.

Question put and declared carried.

Amendments Nos. 15 to 17, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 15, line 42, to delete “a boundary” and substitute “the boundary”.

These amendments to sections 11 and 14 are drafting and technical in nature. Both of these sections are contained in Part 2 of the Bill, which deals with the dissolution and amalgamation of authorities in Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford. Amendment No. 17 deletes the reference to Part 17 of the Local Government Act 2001, which is the principal Act, in section 11(17) of the principal Act. The Part 17 in question deals with the establishment of a town council and will no longer be relevant following dissolution of town councils as provided for in Part 3 of the Bill. The deletion of Part 17 itself is provided for in Part 1 of Schedule 1 of the Bill, which deals with miscellaneous and consequential amendments to the principal Act. Amendment No. 16 is cognate with amendment No. 17 and amendment No. 15 is a straightforward drafting change to section 11.

Amendment put and declared carried.
Section 11, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 12 and 13 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 22, to delete line 13.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 22, line 19, to delete “concerned.”.” and substitute the following: “concerned.”,


(i) in subsection (17) by substituting “or Part 21” for “, Part 17 or 21”.”.

Amendment put and declared carried.
Section 14, as amended, agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 in the name of Deputy Stanley have both been ruled out of order as they are in conflict with the principle of the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 15 stand part of the Bill."

The numbers as set out by the Minister in the Bill are out of line with local government practice across Europe. The changes will place a huge strain on part-time councillors who will be trying to represent vast new municipal districts. I tabled amendments in this regard which have been ruled to be in conflict with the Bill. Any amendment tabled by a member is in conflict with the Bill because one is seeking to have certain parts of it changed. Moreover, I seek this change in good faith, as Sinn Féin has drawn up figures based on the ratio of councillors per head of population.

We have tried to do it in a more realistic way to be more in line with what is being done in the North and in other jurisdictions across Europe. There are councillors, particularly in Kerry, west Laois and other areas, who will be representing areas that are 40 or 45 miles across bad roads. That is the reason I tabled the amendments. I am disappointed about this. Who takes the decision as to what is ruled out? Did the Minister do it or did civil servants do it for him?

The decision in relation to members is made by the Chair.

I am disappointed in the Chair as he comes from a rural constituency in west Cork which will be affected. We feel there should have been room for manoeuvre. For example, County Laois, which has 43 councillors, will be reduced to 19 councillors, which includes the abolition of the two town councillors and six fewer county councillors. Even Fine Gael councillors will be under pressure.

Before we go any further I wish to read out the thinking behind the position as regards those amendments. Members may speak on the section. Amendments Nos. 18, 19 and 196 in the name of Deputy Stanley form a composite proposal to delete the proposed amalgamations of six of the local authorities, that is, Limerick City and County, Waterford City and County, North Tipperary and South Tipperary. The merger of the three sets of local authorities is a key principle of the Bill. I know the point the Deputy is making, but in terms of the interpretation of the amendment, it would have that effect. It would also propose a number of members of local authorities to the membership proposed in the Bill. The amendment had to be ruled out because it was in conflict with the principle of the Bill. The point the Deputy is making can still be made in the context of the section. Cork South-West constituency is very long. I could get to Dublin faster than from one side of the constituency to the other, given the road network. Even though each councillor will represent approximately 7,000 people, in terms of geography that is not reflected in terms of ease of travelling. We have gone from 12 elected members to eight in a massive geographical expanse and it is a huge consideration for those who will be left to service the area. It is difficult enough to do it.

How many councillors are there?

It is difficult for full-time Members.

If one reads the section side by side with the abolition of the town council, it is clear many of the locations mentioned would have had town councils where there would have been a focus and a dedication. People will become aware of a significant difference very quickly. The point that has been made about people putting themselves forward is a valid one. There is a world of difference between representing a smaller number of people where one can manage it with a job. I do not know how many have said that the good people will drop out of the political system right across the spectrum because of this proposal. It is not that I think the distribution proposed in the amendment is great. It is trying to make a bad situation slightly better. If anything, it exposes the thinking about how communities are represented. That should have been a district council tier rather than trying to stretch people to what will be breaking point for many. It is not only rural areas that will be affected. For example, in County Kildare there is an imbalance in terms of where the population is located and, therefore, the smallest number of councillors will have a huge landmass to cover. That creates its own resentment within a local authority. We have had experience of that in the past and this proposal will exaggerate it.

I agree with the thrust of the comments made by Deputy Brian Stanley. It comes down to the fact that rural areas are under-represented while urban areas are over-represented, given the number of new councillors in Dublin as against the wide mass of geographical areas councillors have to cover in rural areas and the commitment and effort required to do that as against the over-representation in Dublin. My proposals are contained in amendment No. 21, section 22A(3), which provides for the number of members on each community council to fill the gap left by virtue of the provision proposed by the Minister which, as I said earlier, is inevitable in its process. Having said that, we are making constructive proposals to address the deficiency that will exist after the change has been made resulting in the loss of many councillors on county councils, not to mention the severe loss to town councils and local democracy. However, that is for another section and another debate. In this regard, if the Minister is not willing to reverse his proposals and the method by which he has arrived at them, I suggest he look at amendment No. 21, section 22A(3), which provides for the number of members on each community council in all towns and villages.

I wish to correct Deputy Barry Cowen. Historically, urban citizens have been grossly under-represented. I accept we all speak about distances. I accept that town councils have served the country well. However, the democratic imbalance between urban and rural has been enormous since the foundation of the State and this provision in some way rebalances the position but does not go the full way. I think there are reasons for that. I am aware rural Deputies work extremely hard, but urban councillors work almost full-time because of the volume of work per head of population. I accept there is a move to address that issue in the Bill but I would have liked it to go further. I accept there are other issues such as distances, as mentioned by the Chairman. Sometimes it takes as long in an urban area to travel a quarter of the distance the Chairman would take to travel across west Cork. When traffic does not move, it takes quite a long time, about two hours, to travel across one area.

One can travel across urban areas much more cheaply than crossing rural Ireland.

Is the-----

It is €40 per week.

I call the Minister.

I can understand the arguments in respect of geographical distances. That is a resourcing issue for councillors to be able to do their business properly. We can have a look at that as a separate issue. I inform Deputy Catherine Murphy that under the local government boundary commission, I have increased the number of councillors in County Kildare from 25 to 40.

The town council had 36.

The Deputy did not mention the fact that I have increased the numbers. I know she is looking at the issue from the point of view of the glass being half empty. An increase in the number of councillors from 25 to 40 is not bad and reflects the population. On the previous occasion when the boundaries were looked at, the Minister of the day told the local authorities to examine the boundaries themselves without changing the overall figures. I set up an independent commission to do this work, based on certain criteria. There is the notion that local authorities had an input, they made submissions but that was it. For the first time in many years, the local boundary commission looked at the issue independently and arrived at the boundaries involved. I note that Deputy Brian Stanley wants to increase the number of councillors in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown or in Fingal to 69. That is an unwieldy number of councillors. I know they will have a difficulty in Dublin City Council which has 63.

It does not have to be the same council.

Some 69 in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Council.

In the geographical area.

One must have a corporate entity.

I know all that.

In South Dublin there will be 67 councillors. There is a massive increase in the number of county councillors.

We have to have consistency.

It is just that people may not be aware of what the Deputy is proposing.

Question put and declared carried.
Sections 16 to 18, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 25, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:

“19. (1) The Minister shall as soon as is practicable and in accordance with this part establish an Advisory Panel on the Future Development of Local Government (in this Part referred to as the Panel).

(2) Membership of the Panel shall comprise three persons appointed by the Minister with the consent of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Community and Local Government.

(3) The Panel shall prepare and submit to the Minister not less than 1 year after 2014 Establishment Day, and every second year hence, a report detailing:

(a) the effectiveness of the reforms made to Regional Authorities under this Act;

(b) the effectiveness of the reforms made to Local Authorities under this Act;

(c) the effectiveness of the reforms made to Municipal Districts under this Act;

(d) a review indicating the level of adherence in the State to each provision of the European Charter of Local Self Government done at Strasbourg on the 15 October 1985, and what measures the Panel consider necessary to achieve the fullest adherence (ETS No. 122);

(e) the measures the Panel deems necessary to further devolve functions and powers to regional authorities from central government in the areas of:

(i) Planning and Development;

(ii) Environmental protection;

(iii) Sustainable economic growth;

(iv) Transport provision, including roads and public transport;

(v) Household, commercial and industrial waste;

(vi) Public Procurement;

(vii) Renewable energy capacity;

(viii) Social and community development;

(ix) Education and Training;

(x) Culture and Heritage;

(xi) Parks and Wildlife;

(f) The measures the Panel deems necessary to further devolve functions and powers to municipal district councils from local authorities in the areas of:

(i) Planning and Development;

(ii) Environmental protection;

(iii) Sustainable social and community development;

(iv) Sustainable economic growth;

(v) Energy Microgeneration;

and all powers and functions referred to in Parts 1, 2 and 3 of Schedule 14A of the Principal Act;

(g) A review of the funds, assets and resources assigned to local government on a per capita basis for each Municipal District Council, Local Authority and Regional Authority.

(4) The Panel shall publish its report within 30 days of presenting it to the Minister and it shall be laid before Dáil Éireann by the Government forthwith.

(5) The Panel shall stand dissolved only with the consent of both Houses of the Oireachtas on the request of the Government.”.

The wording for this amendment was taken from the European charter of local self-government. I am aware a national oversight and audit commission will be set up but there will only be oversight of what is being established. If local government reform is to mean anything, it should not be an event but a process. If we are to have the devolution of functions and powers from a variety of Departments, a means of doing that is required. Many of the areas I have included are covered by the European charter.

One of the things which is very different about Irish local government compared to very developed local government systems in some European countries, in particular the Nordic countries, is the lack of functions. I accept new functions will be allocated but there must be a mechanism to do this on a continuous basis. This amendment is intended to provide for that and to be consistent with the charter, which this country has signed. It is one thing to review the effectiveness of something that is static but in terms of something that will be dynamic, there needs to be something else. That is the reason behind this amendment.

I welcome the amendment. I will table amendments to sections 18 and 19 on Report Stage.

Section 19 does not state district councils. Should it state municipal district councils? Is that a typographical error or is it an effort to omit the full terminology for some unknown reason?

We will deal with that separately. There is an amendment on that later and we can deal with it at that stage.

There is a corporate entity associated with the word "council" which I will explain later, if the Deputy wishes to wait until then.

Does it have implications from a financial perspective in regard to allocations or anything like that?

Will I deal with the amendment?

There are several amendments to this section.

Will I deal with Deputy Murphy's amendment now?

I acknowledge the spirit and intent of what Deputy Murphy is trying to do with this amendment. In the policy document itself, we got agreement from the Government that no new services would be established in this State at Department or agency level without first seeing if it could be done at local level through local government. That was a major statement of intent on the part of the Government, for which we got approval. I am doing everything I possibly can in this legislation to ensure we devolve as many functions as we possibly can in the first instance to county and city level but also to municipal level. That might deal with some of the issues raised in an earlier amendment about distances to travel. Many of the functions at county and city council level currently could be devolved to municipal district level in the future.

The action programme, which sets out the policy decisions for which the Bill provides, emphasises that local government reform is an ongoing process. It has to be that way but there will always be occasions when there are new programmes or new decisions will be made by Government but we have agreement from Government now that local government will be the first port of call to see how it can be accommodated in regard to implementing a decision. Therefore, if one was to set up an advisory panel on the future development of local government, it would be contrary to that principle. The Deputy acknowledges that the national oversight and audit commission is a mechanism that could probably merge into what she has in mind.

The Bill caters for many of the objectives about which the Deputy spoke. It provides for the national oversight and audit commission which will scrutinise the performance of local government to see if it is fulfilling its national, regional and local mandates, promote value for money where State funds are channelled through local government and will look at best practice in regard to the delivery of services between local authorities and how those best practices can be implemented everywhere.

We are trying to strengthen the role and responsibility of the elected members in enabling the members to have a more effective input into the development of policy nationally, building on the work carried out by the elected members working group which I established early this year to tease out the issues in regard to this Bill. I am very grateful for their input.

The Deputy mentioned the European charter. We are subject to regular monitoring by the Council of Europe, and the most recent monitoring report was published. This report pointed out some weaknesses in Irish local government. These have built up over a long period of time and they were acknowledged in the action programme and are being addressed in this Bill. I am glad to have the opportunity to refute some of the misleading information which has been put about on this matter, even by some councillors in Strasbourg recently. The report welcomed the overall action programme and the council secretariat of the Council of Europe has specifically confirmed to my Department that references to legislation relate to the position at July 2013, when the report was approved by the congress, and not to the current Bill, as some have tried to imply. The report also specifically endorsed the changes at sub-county level, contrary to some other comments about which I read.

I strongly support devolution. We are already reversing the trend of recent decades by bringing micro-enterprise support and local and community development into local government. We are looking for wider devolution to local level and I also propose a local government proofing procedure at Government level in regard to any new public services at local level.

I know it is stated the Minister will attempt to ensure much more happens at municipal level. However, I have read through some of the sections of the Bill and have thought about how this will happen in practice. We will come to this later and I will draw attention to it then in terms of what I mean by this. I am trying to visualise how it will work in practice. For example, the local authority can remove some of the functions from the municipal authority. If one was really going to position the municipal authority as the key, in terms of where decisions will be made, that would not be possible without the need for agreement at municipal level. I can see how the officials at local authority level will, more or less, be driving that. Having sat on a local authority for years, I know how this will play out, as do most who have had that kind of involvement.

I would have liked if the Minister had accepted that there is a need to do this in a more formal way, where we look at the charter and give it a little bit of autonomy. For example, rather than things being handed down, there should be an independent assessment to try to point to areas which could be drawn down.

We all accept that Ministers are very busy people and will not go through lists of things that will be devolved to local government. If we are to have a proper devolution process we have to show how that will happen rather than rely on the goodwill of a particular Minister who is committed to doing that. This could continue for a considerable time into the future. That was the intention behind including this, to make it more dynamic and more formal, without depending on goodwill.

What the Minister said sounds very good, that the first thing that will happen in future for any new functions or bodies will be to see whether they can operate under the local government system. Councillors are very concerned, with good reason, that the new districts would not become another area committee. Some of them are very large and should be called district councils to give them their proper title and status. In some cases these districts are half a county, for example in Carlow and Leitrim, and a third of a county in the case of Laois and other counties.

I have a certain sympathy with what Deputy Murphy is bringing to our attention and I agree with her. The disagreement is about how we do it. A later amendment, No. 31, proposes to ensure the delegation of responsibility to municipal level. Maybe we should discuss it at that stage and see what we can do to implement some of the Deputy’s wishes in this amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 25, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:

19. The principal Act is amended by inserting the following Part after Part 3:



22A. (1) Every city and county council shall designate Community Council Areas throughout its local authority area.

(2) The structure of each such Community Council Area shall reflect the natural community of that area and each village and town shall have its own Community Council.

(3) The number of members on each Community Council shall be between the range of 7 to 15 (towns shall have 15 members and villages shall have 7 members).

(4) Members of the Community Council shall undertake their duties on a voluntary basis.

(5) Community Council members shall be elected annually, such election shall take place at an annual general meeting of the Community Council.

(6) Persons registered on the register of electors for the particular year shall be invited to the Annual General Meeting and each such person shall be entitled to vote to elect Community Council members.

(7) Each Community Council may extend ex-officio, non-voting positions to representatives of local community groups. Such groups shall be chosen at the Annual General Meeting.

(8) Community Councils may draft Local Area Plans in conjunction with the executive of the relevant local authority and any such plans so drafted, shall only be put to the relevant local authority for approval following a vote of persons on the register of electors of the relevant Community Council Area.

(9) Community Councils shall be consulted on any major planning applications within that Community Council’s area and shall be invited to make submissions on same to the relevant local authority.

(10) Community Councils may organise matters such as—

(a) local community events,

(b) plebiscites on matters including street name changes, and

(c) community levies for specific projects, including playgrounds, sports facilities, parks.”.”.

Deputy Stanley alluded to this point in his comments on the last amendment. We want to confirm that there is nothing underhand intended on the part of the Department to omit the word council or district council from the various references in this section. This amendment would enhance not only the image and the authority of municipal districts but would also satisfy me from a legal perspective that there is no sinister effort in drawing down funds or in respect of the transfer of assets in existing town councils. That is very important. Will the Minister say whether there are any costs associated with the transfer of ownership of assets not only in the area of public water networks but public parks and buildings and so forth? What are the legal implications? Does the Bill provide for them? Will extra costs land in the laps of the local authorities to meet these transfers?

Schedule 4 relates to the point that Deputy Cowen makes about assets being transferred to the successor authority. Is that successor authority the municipal district or is it the local authority? For example, the town council on which I sat for years was quite prudent and put money aside towards its future and in terms of securing a building, and had accumulated quite a substantial sum of money. That will go to the successor authority unless it is spent in the meantime and that requires the agreement of the Minister in our current circumstances. This is precisely the kind of issue that will cause very deep resentment especially where a local authority had been prudent and its money was to be spent or to go into a big fund to be dispersed all over the place. It may well cover the losses in other areas where local authorities had not been so prudent. A fixed asset, such as a park, is different because people will have the benefit of that. For a mobile asset, such as money, it would be important to define where that goes and which is the successor authority.

I understand Deputy Cowen’s point. Communities require a structure by which they can interact with the local authorities, whether that is a municipal district or a county or city council. I hope that before the conclusion of this legislation we will be able to consider additional advice from a working group chaired by Fr. Seán Healy to see how the community and voluntary forums, and the community in general, could interact with the local authority in a structured way. Citizens’ and community engagement is important. I am considering that. Between now and Report Stage I might have more information arising from the report of that working group next week, which will tell me what it believes is the appropriate structure to ensure proper citizen engagement and community focus through the local elected members.

At the end of the day, the elected members have to make the decisions. I presume that the Deputy is referring to how people consult with elected members, before those decisions are made. There is provision in section 128 of the Local Government Act 2001 for local authorities to declare an appropriate local body to be a recognised association. The Deputy could read that section in the principal Act to see whether that is appropriate or sufficiently robust for the purposes of consulting, providing advice and entering agreements to carry out certain functions. In light of that section we may not need to approve this amendment but I would be open-minded enough to discuss this at a later stage, having considered the matter and seen what the working group on the community and voluntary sector gives me in the next few days.

I jumped ahead of myself and dealt with three other amendments that follow this. I acknowledge the Minister’s response to my amendment and accept that when we reach Report Stage he may be in a better position to accept a variation of what I propose, which is essentially a replacement body to reflect the views and aspirations of those confined to an area such as a town council that is lost, or a town or village lost within the larger geographical spread of a municipal district council.

What I am proposing here would be voluntary by nature. I accept that a consultation process is ongoing and will be making recommendations. I hope those recommendations will reflect some of what is proposed here. While I do propose to press the amendment, I hope the Minister might be in a better position on Report Stage to accept at least some part of what I am suggesting.

We are supportive of the idea of community councils provided there is no additional cost for rate payers or the Exchequer. Deputy Cowen introduced a Bill on town centres which I opposed for that very reason. However, if his proposal for community councils can be implemented on a voluntary basis, with no extra cost arising for rate payers or taxpayers, then it would be a very worthwhile amendment.

We should not lose sight of the fact that democracy is a great leveller. That is one of the advantages of elected town councils, as opposed to voluntary fora, and it gives them a degree of authority. Having been a member of a community council prior to the establishment of the town council, I can say that there certainly was a noticeable difference between the two. Community councils are often ad hoc by nature. A structure is required in order to prevent their domination by certain groups, which can skew things and prevent them from being inclusive. While I have no difficulty with the spirit of the amendment, it is important to bear that aspect in mind.

Part of the problem I see with the municipal districts is in terms of their engagement with the various communities within those districts. Going back to my own experience in local government, I found there was a very different focus as between town and county council. In the case of the former - I accept it might just be my own particular experience - there was a great effort to be inclusive of the community, with sub-committees made up of local people which could make recommendations in the area of arts, culture, tidy towns and so on. The county council, on the other hand, was much more legalistic and stuffy in its attitude to that type of engagement. Much will depend on the functions the municipal districts will have and where their focus lies. Such initiatives as annual awards nights, people of the year events, front garden competitions and so on - the types of activities that are run of the mill for a town council - are very useful in terms of community building. The municipal districts will have to take on board some of those issues. Otherwise, they will fall to community councils, which will not have even the minor administrative powers currently available to town councils. These types of voluntary community fora can be important from the point of view of consolidating communities, but they will have to function at a much lower level than the town councils they might be replacing.

Is Deputy Cowen pressing the amendment?

I will press it. I would prefer if the Minister would agree to it now, but I understand his reason for not doing so. I will raise the issue again on Report Stage.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 22 to 24, inclusive, and 26, are related and will be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 25, line 31, to delete "districts" and substitute "district councils".

I have already set out my case for this proposal.

The usefulness of this proposal is that everybody understands what the word "council" means, while some people might not be sure what is meant by "municipal". Adopting this change would help to confer a certain status on the municipals.

We do not propose to accept this amendment on the basis that the word "council" would serve to constitute a separate corporate entity with the same legal rights as a county council. What we are seeking to achieve is an integrated system of administration with devolved functions at a municipal level. We do not want a situation where separate councils would be established in a municipal district area; that flies in the face of what we are trying to achieve. In order to eliminate duplication and administrative overhead, municipal districts will not be involved in budgets and so on to the extent to which town councils have been. We are aiming for a more integrated administrative system with proper devolved functions.

As it stands, town councils account for 70% of all local authorities and 46% of councillors, but are responsible for only 7% of local government activity and 14% of the population. We are all familiar with the arguments that can arise in regard to boundary changes. Through the municipal district system, we will eliminate that type of disagreement at local government level. I am interested in what functions the municipal districts will have, not in more administration.

The Deputy mentioned the budgetary situation in Leixlip. That is worked out every year and, especially in recent years under the troika, with reference to the general Government debt. The county manager and his officials in Kildare, with the approval of the councillors, have no option, unfortunately, other than to make do with a ceiling on the allocation to town councils. As we look forward to more flexibility in these matters from the middle of this month, I expect that town councils, like Leixlip, which have been prudent will be in a position to negotiate a better deal under the new municipal arrangements and in the context of county council budgetary arrangements. I have seen a great deal of activity in town councils recently; in many cases, they are cleaning out the decks financially. It is good that they have been prudent, but they also want the latitude to be able to spend money locally. That will be worked out in a more flexible way, working with the county manager, as part of the budgetary process.

What exact function will a municipal district council have from a budgetary perspective? Will there be a diktat or-----

We do not do diktats. That is historical.

In that case, what is the difficulty with calling them municipal district councils?

It would make them separate entities. The word "council" constitutes a separate entity legally.

What about the variation in rates across the country?

We will come to that in due course. We will be harmonising the rates downwards, not upwards.

There is significant concern that this will not prove to be the case. I suppose it all depends on the central government allocation.

The Minister is essentially saying that the successor authority to the town council will be the county council and not the municipal district. That is very clear.

For corporate purposes, yes.

I have never argued for the retention of all town councils. In fact, I have stated clearly that some are very tiny and effectively unsustainable. Clearly, however, a district council, as most people understand it, is very different from what is being proposed here. A district council tier would be autonomous, first and foremost, and that is where I see the major flaw in this legislation - that it fails to give people control over their own affairs at a level with which they can identify.

That is the case in most organisations. Most of the successful initiatives happen at a community level. People trust the organisations at community level. It is where people have chosen to live but the disappointing aspect of this opportunity for reform is that that is not the way it has played out.

On the general Government deficit, is the Minister telling us that restrictions in that regard will be relaxed once the programme has concluded next week? Is he saying there will be a difference in that respect? I am trying to understand it. If the county councils and the local authorities are part of that general Government deficit and the purse strings are relaxed for local authorities with funds on deposit, how will that play out generally? Will those restrictions be relaxed only for the town councils that will be disbanded or will that be the case generally? For example, a good deal of funds from development contributions are sitting in bank accounts and cannot be spent because of that restriction.

That constitutes how unwise I was to mention Leixlip alone as an example. At the end of the day much more flexibility will come into the system but it will be governed by what happens in Kildare County Council's budgetary process. There was much less flexibility in recent years because the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform needed to know where every euro was being spent. I suspect that in 2014 the county manager will have some more flexibility in terms of allocations to districts.

Some 70 devolved additional functions are being given to municipal districts. Some of those are minor, some major. Many more distinct functions are going to municipal districts. Seven councillors will be looking after the budgetary situation in Leixlip. They will be getting some help from Celbridge, and I know the Deputy will look after them as well, but there will be seven local authority members in a small geographical area with a large population. Obviously, the means and resources Kildare County Council will have, in conjunction with the municipal districts, in sorting out the budgetary arithmetic is a matter for the councils.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 25, line 32, after “district” to insert “council”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 24:

In page 25, line 33, after “districts” to insert “or as municipal district councils”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 25 is in the name of Deputy Stanley. Amendments Nos. 68 to 70, inclusive, are related to amendment No. 25, therefore, the amendments may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 26, to delete lines 1 to 12.

The amendment is straightforward. It relates to earlier amendments on the dissolution of Limerick City Council and Waterford City Council. We believe there is justification for retaining them as they are strong local authorities in their own right. They are major cities, and they are growing. Both of them have their own problems with which to deal. Waterford has a problem in terms of employment. Limerick is going through major regeneration and we believe Limerick City Council should be retained. Councillors from Abbeyfeale, and I have nothing against councillors from Abbeyfeale, may be a little lost in Garryowen or some of the other districts. In fairness to them, they have distinct problems in Abbeyfeale and other such areas but a councillor from the far-flung areas of west Limerick, down to Knocknagoshel, would have a different ethos and different priorities compared to the problems councillors must deal with in some of the suburbs of Limerick.

Is it in order to move amendment No. 69?

We are discussing amendment No. 25. Amendments Nos. 69 to 70, inclusive, are related and are being discussed with amendment No. 25.

Can we speak on amendment No. 69? Is that about the titles of-----

We are discussing this group of amendments.

On amendments Nos. 25, 68 and 70, I wish to advise colleagues that the Bill respects carefully the history and civic traditions associated with local government. I am pleased that Deputy Stanley also respects them. For example, it reiterates the recognition given in the Local Government Act 2001 to various historic charters for civic or ceremonial purposes. Consistent with this approach provision for the use of the titles of Lord Mayor or Mayor in respect of the city is discontinued by the Bill. Similarly, in the case of a merging authority in Limerick and Waterford, it will be open to the overall authority to adopt the title of Mayor in view of the fact that these will be city and county councils.

The Government decided also that following the mergers of Limerick City and County Council and Waterford City and County Council the municipal districts which incorporate the metropolitan areas of these two cities may continue to use the titles of Mayor and Deputy Mayor. This will provide an additional means of maintaining the identity of the cities in the context of the merged entities. Deputy Stanley's amendments would seem to have the effect of removing this entitlement in the case of the metropolitan districts.

The Bill provides that it will be a matter of democratic choice on the part of the elected members in Limerick and Waterford, both at municipal district and plenary council level, to decide on the appropriate allocation of titles. I consider that this is the most appropriate arrangement. Overall, I am satisfied that the provisions of the Bill relating to the use of mayoral titles is appropriate and, therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendments.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 19 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 27, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

“Legal Personality

22B. (a) Each Municipal District Council established in accordance with this section shall be a body corporate with perpetual succession and an official seal with a power to sue and be sued in its corporate name and to acquire, hold and dispose of land or an interest in land.

(b) Judicial notice shall be taken of the seal of a Municipal District Council and every document purporting to be an order or other instrument made by that council and to be sealed with its seal (purporting to be authenticated in the manner which shall be provided for by establishment order of the Minister on 2014 Establishment Day) shall be received in evidence and be deemed to be such order or instrument without further proof unless the contrary is shown.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 27 is in the name of the Minister. Amendments Nos. 27 to 29, inclusive, and No. 32 are related and will be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 27:

In page 28, lines 10 to 12, to delete all words from and including “for” in line 10 down to and including “2001” in line 12 and substitute the following:

“ “section 23 (as amended by the Local Government Act 2013) of the Local Government Act 2001” for “section 24 of the Local Government Act, 1994”.

These amendments to sections 20 and 21 relate to the proposed legal provisions underpinning the new sub-county legal structures and in particular those relating to the determination of municipal districts in section 20 and the assignment of functions to those districts when established in section 21.

Amendment No. 27 substitutes a new subsection (3) in section 20 to provide for a slightly updated text although the intent of the amendment remains unchanged. As the orders for local electoral areas will in future be made under section 23 of the Local Government Act 2001, this is the appropriate reference to be included in section 32(2) of the Local Government Act 1991.

Amendments Nos. 28, 29 and 32, although relatively minor, deal with key provisions in the Bill setting out the legal position relating to the functions to be exercised by municipal district members under the new sub-county configuration. Amendment No. 28 is necessary to make clear in section 63 of the Principal Act that the performance of functions by municipal district members relates to the performance of reserve functions in respect of districts as provided for in the new section 131A of the Principal Act to be inserted by section 21(3).

Amendment No. 32 inserts a new section after section 131 of the Principal Act, which deals with the reserve functions of an elected council and provides a linking reference to the new Schedule 14A to be inserted by section 21(4). The new Schedule 14A sets out a standard set of reserve functions to be performed exclusively by municipal district members in Part 1(a) of Schedule 14A, by municipal district members or by the plenary council in Part 2 of Schedule 14A, and by the local authority alone in Part 3 of Schedule 14A.

The new Schedule 14A is significant as it is the first comprehensive listing, in a single Act, of the reserved functions of local authorities. Subsection (2) of the new section 131B makes clear that the validity of the local authority function specified is not called into question because it is not listed in the new Schedule. Amendment No. 29 is consequential on amendment No. 32.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 20, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 28, line 19, after “district” to insert “pursuant to section 131A”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 29:

In page 28, line 30, to delete “or 14A” and substitute “or, subject to section 131B(1), Schedule 14A”.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 30:

In page 29, to delete lines 6 to 15 and substitute the following:

“(a) paragraphs 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (other than in respect of a joint body) of Schedule 14 and Part 1 of Schedule 14A shall be performed by each municipal district council within the administrative area of the council concerned,

(b) paragraph 7 of Schedule 14 and Part 2 of Schedule 14A, shall be performed by each municipal district council within the administrative area of the council concerned unless the members of the municipal district council by resolution decide, in their absolute discretion, to cede performance of all such functions or any function therein to the local authority,

(c) where a municipal district council decides by resolution and in accordance with paragraph (b) to cede a function or functions to the local authority, the council shall forthwith notify the elected members and the chief executive of the local authority, and

(d) a local authority shall assume performance of a function referred to in paragraph (b) immediately upon receipt of a notification in accordance with paragraph (c).”.

Essentially, the intention here is to expand the reserved functions of the municipal district council by adding many of the competencies listed in Schedule 14, which I believe to be aligned with the county council. The amendment seeks to give discretion to cede powers solely to the members of the municipal district council. This reverts to the point members were discussing earlier. Is it the case that the county council will pretty much determine what the municipal district council will do, or will the latter have significantly more power to have control over its own affairs? If people will not be travelling from one side to the other of a large county such as Cork but will deal with matters that primarily have importance to their own particular area, then they must have the power and a sufficient range of functions to so do. The intention of the amendment is to provide certainty at district council level.

The functions that may be performed by elected members at the various levels of governance are carefully set out in the Bill. Section 21 of the Bill will insert a new section 131A and a new Schedule 14A in the 2001 Act. Provision is made for certain reserved functions of a local authority to be performed in respect of each municipal district by the municipal district members concerned and others to be performed by either the municipal district members or by the overall local authority membership. However, there is nothing to prevent a local authority membership from devolving greater responsibility to the municipal district in addition to those functions listed in the Bill. Moreover, I note such municipal functions have been listed for the first time. The reserved functions listed in Part 3 of Schedule 14A can only be performed by members of the local authority sitting in plenary formation. These are functions relevant to the county as a whole. However, this brings clarity and visibility to the powers of elected members for the first time, as well as eliminating the duplication of work between the town and county councils. Councillors will now have a clear understanding of both their powers and their responsibilities. I also point out the allocation of functions that is set out in the Bill was decided almost entirely on the basis of the recommendations of the local authority members associations' working group, which gave valuable advice to the Department and its officials. I therefore am reluctant, because of the checks and balances and the debates between the Association of County and City Councils, ACCC, and the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland, AMAI, to depart from this suite of functions. However, there is nothing to stop the local authority, in plenary session, from deciding on the provision of additional functions to the municipal district level at a reserved level.

On amendment No. 31, I am happy to give consideration to the suggestion in amendment No. 31 and to a possible change. The word "consent" is highly prescriptive and with the wording, "A local authority may, by resolution and having received the prior consent", the question arises as to how one would change the consent were one to change one's mind subsequently. While it is somewhat prescriptive, I am prepared to consider amendment No. 31 before Report Stage to ascertain whether it is possible to capture the spirit of what Deputy Murphy wishes to do and to give additional certainty to the municipal district functions.

I appreciate that, because it could be used in a negative way. My essential point is that municipal districts are almost penalised in the legislation. While I do not believe that was the intention, it could be how it is applied. I accept completely that some things must be done at a county level if that is the primary unit, such as more strategic matters or combined policies that should be applied universally in respect of housing or similar functions for which there must be overall rules. The greatest level of discretion should apply outside of such cases. As for local authorities having a culture of devolving functions, I do not know how to inculcate such a culture when it has not been there from the outset. Area committees existed long before they were formalised in the Act of 2000 but all sorts of predictions were made that the world would come down on top of us were responsibilities devolved to areas because they did not have the right to make decisions. It was suggested that it might have an impact on budgets or that the impression would be given that decisions had been made which would require subsequent rubber-stamping or reversal at county level. An attempt must be made to overcome such a culture, which might be better changed by forcing the centre to have more respect for the periphery.

I agree with Deputy Murphy's sentiments on the cultural change that is required in so many different areas. This is the reason I am trying to rebalance powers in favour of both the local level and the elected members. While elected members also must have respect for one another, there has been a cultural change and shift, particularly in the community and voluntary sectors. Over the years, suspicions have grown up on both sides of the argument in respect of local authority officials versus community representatives and I wish to try to eliminate that. Putting the democratically elected council members centre stage in adopting the programmes and policy provides a significant shift in responsibilities and in respect of where power lies. However, I agree completely with Deputy Murphy that a cultural change is required. A better spirit of devolution and respect, manifested in a structured way, between the role of the elected members and the council officials would remove the need to put into legislation a great number of matters. I hope this new legislation will help to develop such a spirit over a period. Thereafter, it will be up to the councillors to use the power and responsibility they have for the first time. The area committees were formed on a non-statutory basis and while they could make recommendations, they had no power or influence. The difference between such committees and the municipal districts is that the latter will have power and opportunities to make decisions.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 29, to delete lines 25 to 28 and substitute the following:

“(b) A local authority may, by resolution and having received the prior consent of the municipal district council concerned, revoke the delegation by it under this subsection of a function, but the revocation is without prejudice to anything previously done by virtue of the delegated function.”.

Does Deputy Murphy intend to withdraw the amendment on the basis of the Minister's remarks?

While I will come back to this on Report Stage, I will withdraw the amendment on the basis that it is being examined.

The wording will be examined to establish whether we can come to some arrangement.


Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 21, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 31, to delete lines 4 to 9 and substitute the following:

"Supplemental provisions to section 131 and 131A

131B.(1) For the purposes of sections 131 and 131A, and for convenience of reference only, there is set out in column (3) of Parts 1, 2 and 3 of Schedule 14A the provisions of enactments under which reserved functions are conferred.

(2) The validity of any function on a local authority by law is not affected by the fact that it is not specified in Schedule 14 or 14A.".".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 33, 96, 98 to 105, inclusive, 184 and 185 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 31, line 30, after "authorities" to insert "(including suspension of members)".

The proposed amendment No. 103, dealing with disorderly conduct of elected members, gives stronger powers to the chair and the members to impose penalties on members who behave in a disruptive or inappropriate way at a council meeting. Elected members are to be more central to the development and oversight of policy at local level, and it is necessary to provide for a structure that can support the delivery of this wider and more substantial role.

For a council to be effective, its business must be undertaken in a professional and respectful manner. At the moment, there is no effective sanction on a member who is persistently disruptive or abusive at a meeting. At best, the meeting can “name and shame” him or her, and require him or her to leave that meeting. Should the member refuse to obey such a motion, and continue to be disruptive, the final outcome can only be a suspension of the meeting by the cathaoirleach. This may be the intention all along, but it plays into the agenda of the disruptive member. The Bill provides a mechanism section 52(c), in such circumstances, by inserting a new subparagraph (4) into Schedule 10(13), for the council to progressively reduce the expenses of a member where the behaviour persists at a meeting.

On reflection, I consider it appropriate to extend this provision, allowing the members, where the sanctions heretofore have proved ineffective, to remove the disruptive member, initially for between one and three months, and if on return the behaviour is repeated within three months, for further suspensions of between three and six months. Associated with the suspension will be suspension from facilities linked to meetings, including attendance at committee meetings, meetings of municipal district members, automatic right to receive copies of meeting papers, and the right to add his or her name to a call for a special meeting of the local authority. This is a proportionate response to address persistent unacceptable behaviour, and will only come at the end of a process during which the member will have it made abundantly clear to him or her that the behaviour is, and has continued for some time, to be unacceptable.

Elected members who disrupt meetings are doing the public no favour. It may create a few column inches and enhance a profile, but time wasted because meetings are disrupted is a direct cost on the business community and householders who fund the council through rates and the local property tax, and an indirect cost through the delay in the transaction of the business of the local authority. Councillors who have placed themselves in the position of not being able to represent the public or who are a cost on the local authority on account of their own behaviour cannot expect to be funded from public funds. Therefore it is only appropriate that any elected member who has had to be suspended must face forfeiture of his or her representational payment and expenses for the period specified in the motion imposing the suspension.

The proposed amendments Nos. 184 and 185 confirm that the suspension with a consequential cessation of payment of remuneration and expenses for the suspension period will be a reserved function. The proposed amendment No. 33 confirms that the power to suspend a disruptive elected member will also extend to municipal district members’ meetings, as part of the overall provision in section 22 applying a range of provisions in the principal Act to meetings of municipal district members. The suspension from the municipal district members meetings will not exclude the elected member from meetings of the council or committees of the council. The proposed amendment No. 105 confirms that the extension of the suspension power to a committee or joint authority will only allow the suspension to apply to that body itself.

By way of the proposed amendment No. 101, I am also amending the provision in the Bill imposing a sliding scale of penalties to any allowances for expenses incurred by the member concerned, by extending this to now include remuneration. It is appropriate that the application of the sliding scale reductions should apply to all payments to the member who has been sufficiently disruptive to be the subject of this form of censure, and not just expenses. The financial penalties will be incremental and therefore proportionate.

The proposed amendment No. 98 provides clarification that a finding that a member caused a meeting to be adjourned, and which results in a reduction of payments, must have been the decision of a resolution at a meeting. The proposed amendments Nos. 99 and 100 are necessary to ensure the correct drafting references to “sub-paragraphs” rather than “paragraphs”.

The remaining proposed amendments Nos. 96, 102 and 104 are technical amendments consequential on the insertion of new text.

I wish to comment on the proposed amendments. Reading what the Minister is proposing here one would think that council meetings down the country are a bit like the wild west. We have all seen robust exchanges in town councils and county councils. However, council meetings seldom have to be adjourned due to disruptive behaviour. Much of this is wide open to interpretation by the cathaoirleach who is elected by the majority group. This measure is wide open to abuse to penalise members of smaller parties and independents. A cathaoirleach backed by a majority grouping could impose these heavy penalties on such people. Over the years, I have seen people acting the clown and wasting time at council meetings, but they were not from the smaller groupings. They might kick the table to get attention and grab a headline, hoping the local media will pick up on it. They then go home and the job is done for another month. We have all sat through such frustrating sessions.

In general, however, there are robust exchanges at council meetings. Councillors argue their case according to their political philosophy and represent the community. It is therefore unnecessary to impose these serious penalties on councillors. By and large, councillors of all parties are committed to their civic duties. They are there to represent the public. If they behave robustly at times, a cathaoirleach - who may not like them for whatever reasons, personal or otherwise - may impose penalties like these by ramming them through. We will be opening up something that has the potential to penalise members of smaller parties and independents in particular.

I oppose the section in its entirety.

The proposed measure is draconian. I do not recognise the kind of behaviour the Minister has described, although perhaps it is just that the local authorities I was on were not like that. There certainly were robust exchanges but there was rarely a need to ask somebody to leave the meeting. If they were asked to leave, they generally did so. There may well be a perception that things are different. I would not have a problem with it if I thought there was an appeals mechanism or some way of having a different evaluation of it, other than within the local authority. It is open to abuse, however. For example, the behaviour could be described as unacceptable because of positions raised, rather than being disruptive. When I chaired a council meeting and had to ask somebody to leave, it was not a nice feeling. I fully accept that there is limited capacity to impose a sanction when somebody is not allowing the meeting to continue, but that is rare enough.

The proposed measure is heavy-handed and there is no potential counterbalance. I am concerned that the measure could be abused. I would like to see some sort of control or appeals mechanism so that the proposed powers cannot be abused. As things stand, there is a serious prospect of abuse.

I wish to ask the Minister about this issue. If a cathaoirleach is abusing a power in that regard, to what extent can he or she be overruled by the general body of the council?

This is something that will rarely be used, if ever. However, a deterrent is required for a small number of examples around the country where, if officials were behaving the same as councillors, they would probably be suspended. There is no mechanism whatsoever to oblige elected members to behave properly after a due process that has gone on for a considerable period. It can only be applied at the end of a process of members deciding that behaviour is unacceptable. It is a reserved function of the entire council and has nothing to do with the powers of the chair. The chair may have asked a particular member to recant and the member might refuse to do so. If the member comes into the following meeting and recants, there is no difficulty. There is great flexibility but the entire membership of the council is involved in this, not just one individual.

In some local authorities, public representatives are in some cases preventing local authority meetings from happening because of their behaviour. That is not acceptable.

This is targeted at a robust engagement in council chambers. We all know some councils are becoming dysfunctional because of the actions of certain individuals. There is no mechanism given to the local authority. I have received representations across all parties and none for some mechanism that would allow a council to do its business, and I have become very frustrated. I welcome the inclusion of this measure in the Bill. I agree with Deputy Murphy that there could be an appeals mechanism. We could have a look at it at a later stage to see whether we need an appeals mechanism in case it was abused. I respect the integrity of councillors and believe they will be able to use this quite efficiently. I do not envisage any councillors using it to dampen down robust debate. It is a problem where elements are using such behaviour to stop local government from functioning.

The Minister said it would be for the full council. It will be for the majority of the full council. The way it is drafted leaves it wide open to abuse. Some kind of appeals mechanism for the member would be worthwhile. If council meetings have become dysfunctional in some areas I am very disappointed to hear that because, regardless of political persuasion-----

It is not decided by the party.

I know. Regardless of their political persuasion, people should be allowed to make their contribution.

Or Independents.

There are a lot from the Minister's party. They can be a little disruptive at times.

There are, yes. Those from the Deputy's party are not too bad at it themselves.

We are all very harmonious in this committee.

We do not bring in the hurleys.

They are good at playing the man and not the ball on the Minister's side of the House.

We will allow Deputy Stanley to conclude.

The Minister is reflecting on what is going on in council chambers. A system needs to be introduced. People should not be allowed to hold up council meetings. None of us wants to see that happen, but I agree with Deputy Murphy's suggestion of an appeals mechanism. There needs to be something there. I would be concerned that it is open to abuse as it stands.

The ultimate vehicle for appeal is the District Court, but we do not want anybody going there unnecessarily. This is a very narrow sanction that applies where a local authority is unable to function because of the behaviour of an elected member. There are a small number of examples of that about which representations have been made to me.

From whom - councillors?

Councillors. Councillors are elected to do their business, and when they see a particular council member whose behaviour is not challenged by the rest of the council members, for various reasons that I do not understand, so that everyone else can do their business, the complete local government system into which they are elected to discharge their function falls apart. I know of one council that has not met since last February because of the behaviour of a councillor. The purpose of the measure is to capture that. It will not be abused in any way. It is the majority of the council that must make this provision, but if the Deputy feels that two-thirds of the council need to agree this decision, so be it. We will have a look at that. It is definitely a reserved function of the entire council and does not come within the power of any individual cathaoirleach.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 22, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 23 to 25, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 34:

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

"(2) (a) In this subsection "Joint Committee" means the County Tipperary Joint Libraries Committee established with effect from 1 January 1927 pursuant to section 3(1)

of the Public Libraries (Ireland) Act 1894 and consequent on the adoption of the Public Libraries Act (Ireland) 1855 by Tipperary North Riding and Tipperary South Riding, which Committee was continued to stand established by virtue of Article 4(1) of the Local Government Act 2001 (County Tipperary Joint Libraries Committee) Regulations 2002 (S.I. No. 214 of 2002).

(b) The Minister shall by order dissolve the Joint Committee with effect from such date as is specified in the order.

(c) The Minister may by order make provision for the transfer of the assets and liabilities of the Joint Committee in such manner as the Minister considers appropriate.

(d) An order to which paragraph (c) relates shall contain such provision as the Minister considers necessary or expedient consequential on the dissolution of the

Joint Committee and, without prejudice to the generality of the forgoing, may make provision—

(i) for the application of any of the provisions of Schedule 4 (other than paragraphs 6(2)(a), 7, 8, 12 and 13, subparagraphs (3) and (4) of paragraph 14 and paragraph 15 and such other provisions as may be specified) to the Joint Committee as if—

(I) references in that Schedule to "relevant day or date" were a reference to the date specified under paragraph (b) for the dissolution of the Joint Committee,

(II) references to a dissolved authority were references to the Joint Committee dissolved by order under paragraph (b), and

(III) in relation to the Joint Committee, references to the successor authority were to the local authority established under section 13(1)(c),


(ii) for such other matters of a transitional, supplementary or incidental nature as appears to the Minister to be necessary or expedient to facilitate the

dissolution of the Joint Committee and the transfer of its assets and liabilities.

(e) Any land to which an order under paragraph (c) relates shall, on the date specified in that order in relation to the land, vest that land in the successor

authority referred to in section 13(1)(c) without any further conveyance, transfer or assignment.".

This amendment provides for the orderly dissolution of County Tipperary Joint Libraries Committee consequential on the merger of North Tipperary County Council and South Tipperary County Council. The County Tipperary Joint Libraries Committee is the authority responsible for providing and promoting the public library service on behalf of North Tipperary County Council and South Tipperary County Council. With the merger of those authorities, this amendment provides for the orderly wind-up of the joint libraries committee and the transfer of its assets and liabilities to Tipperary County Council. The seamless transition from the joint libraries committee to Tipperary County Council will ensure that the people of Tipperary continue to have a high-quality service under the new authority.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 26, as amended, agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 35, 114 and 192 are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 34, line 8, to delete "staff" and substitute "employees".

These are textual amendments to update terminology in a number of places in the Bill - for example, by changing "staff" to "employees" in section 27 in amendment No. 35, "officers and servants" to "employees" in section 57 in amendment No. 114 and "officer" to "employee" in Schedule 4 in amendment No. 192.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 27, as amended, agreed to.
Section 28 agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 36 to 41, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 36, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

"(2) Each municipal district may in respect of that district, vary the commercial rate and Local Property Tax within the district from the amount applicable to the county council or city and county council concerned.".

In respect of section 29(2), we need an amendment so that each municipal district will have the power to vary its commercial rate and local property tax in order to carry out specific projects agreed by the members as part of their budget. I think that is self-explanatory. The Minister commented earlier about the forthcoming local government Bill. I am sure he is aware that many councils throughout the country have yet to meet to discuss their estimates in the absence of a clear indication of commitments in respect of the local property tax and the provision of water charges and in the knowledge that, for example, there are 9,000 appeals on the books in Dublin in respect of re-evaluation of commercial premises and the difficulties that exist there in the absence of an overhaul of that system of funding. The amendment asks that municipal districts have the power to vary the local property tax and the commercial rate in order to carry out specific projects agreed among themselves.

Amendment No. 38 provides that each municipal district may set an additional commercial rate for premises occupied by large commercial entities which exceed thresholds for turnover or other economic activity as may be prescribed. The intent of that is clear. It devolves to each municipal district the power to take into consideration its own area. Such businesses may have significant or lesser ability, but the people to judge that are the democratically elected councillors in that municipal district. That is why I am putting forward this amendment. I will bring forward a further amendment on Report Stage in respect of section 29.

This provision would be rarely used. Something similar was included in the 2000 Act and I do not believe it was ever used. It would most definitely come down to the judgment of the local authority members because in essence it would mean increasing the amount, which would probably be done very selectively.

This section will be quite difficult anyway as it tries to align different rates where there is a former town council or where a county and city council are amalgamated. It provides for ten years to do that. There will be difficulties anyway. The Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland, AMAI, asked us to seek this change to allow for such flexibility.

On the section overall, is it intended to send out two or more separate rates bills? How will that work in practice? I would expect considerable resentment if a larger amount is to be paid with a reduced service provided.

I can understand the thinking on the base. That being given, I ask that the Minister accept amendment No. 40 on the basis there will be a consolidation of the rate across an entire county. There are substantial differences, and as the Minister will be aware, the rate set by many town councils would be much lower than the county rate. The amendment is tabled in that spirit. We accept it will be harmonised over time. This seeks to give the municipal district members a strong input into that because it will cause problems, particularly where there is a variation of 20% or 25% between the town council rate and the overall county council rate.

Amendment No. 37 deals with applying a levy on out-of-town-centre developments to address dilapidation and difficulties in town centres. This was something I mentioned in the debate on the Bill I brought before the House a few weeks ago. This would be along the lines of the model introduced in the North where there is a 15% surcharge based on turnover or size. Municipal districts should be allowed to consider applying such a levy to address the continued decline in commercial and social activity in town centres.

Allowing a municipal district to vary the rate could result in many distortions. The council varies by plus or minus 15% and if the municipal district varied by a further percentage, it would result in greatly diminished yields. I understand the importance of local authorities having reserved functions allowing them to vary this rate. However, the same people at the municipal district level will attend the plenary session of the council. They are not different people. Many people do not understand that or do not want to. The municipal district councils have a say in budgets and financial matters, and they have a say in proposals to be made. They are the same people who will be present at the plenary session of the council where many of these matters will be decided.

There will be a single rating authority and a single valuation list with one single unified annual rate on valuation, ARV. It is the intention that the new structure of local government, including the establishment of municipal districts, will provide a coherent approach to rates and charges countywide having regard to funding requirements of each municipal district.

I do not propose to accept amendments Nos. 37 and 38 relating to large commercial entities. Rates are levied on the independent valuations applied by the Valuation Office. The proposal set out in the amendments tabled by Deputies Cowen and Stanley would result in a significant change in the operation of the rating system and would threaten the principle of equity on which both the rating and valuation systems are placed. A system that must have regard to economic factors on an ongoing basis could be considered under the Valuation Act. Local authorities need to have certainty regarding the funding of local government. It is not appropriate to use economic factors alone as a basis for increasing or decreasing these funding opportunities for local government. We need to have a stable basis for funding local government.

Amendments Nos. 39 and 40 propose to provide that the base year adjustments should be agreed with the municipal district members in the area where the base year adjustment is to apply. It is likely the boundaries of the new municipal districts will differ from the former rating authority areas or specified areas. Therefore, this proposal may not be practical in that context.

My amendment No. 41, however, seeks to ensure that municipal district members are consulted annually on the determination of the base year adjustment to be applied. The amendment ensures that where an area of a former rating authority is included in a municipal district, the municipal district members are to be consulted on the base year adjustment to apply there.

I have a problem with the word "consulted". They will be asked and may be ignored. Again, it will come down to culture.

I wish to clarify. They will be able to go to the plenary council meeting to argue their point.

I know that, but we have all been there.

We have not been there before. We have not been there in this case.

On consultation, I have been there. We will see how it works. There is still always the control mechanism.

It is controlled by the citizen.

Certain things cannot be put into legislation and I accept that. I accept this is about valuation and all the rest and cannot be accepted. However, it flags the very serious issue of the large commercial entities. It comes down to the planning decisions to position large commercial entities on the periphery of towns, which are displacing jobs and ruining the viability of town centres. Something needs to happen on that. There will be another opportunity elsewhere to make some changes in that regard. Car parking leads to the big distortion given that a big shopping centre on the periphery of the town offers free parking and typically there is inadequate provision in the town centre. There needs to be a community gain. If these entities are approved, that community gain could be through delivering better car parking arrangements for the areas that are going to be disadvantaged. We are seeing it all over the place. We are very often losing the passive security in a town centre of having shops occupied and we are losing the commercial rates from them as well. There is an issue in that regard, but it may well be for other legislation.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 37 to 39, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 40:

In page 36, to delete lines 4 to 6 and substitute the following:

"(2) The base year adjustment shall be determined in accordance with subsection (3) and (4) by a rating authority, with agreement of the members of the Municipal District Area where the base year adjustment will apply, in respect of each year of the adjustment period for each of the specified areas of the rating authority.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 41:

In page 36, line 18, after "concerned” to insert ", following consultation with municipal district members in that area,".

I will table an amendment on Report Stage.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 29, as amended, agreed to.
Section 30 agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 have been ruled out of order because of a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 31 stand part of the Bill."

This is a significant issue. I intend to oppose the section on Report Stage. This provision might be all right for a city centre where there is a great deal of activity, but significant issues will flow from it where there is a 100% liability for rates and no prospect of occupying a building.

Can we confirm that we will have the opportunity to oppose it on Report Stage? We find this-----

This is Committee Stage.

-----most detrimental to businesses across the country.

We can revisit this matter on Report Stage.

We cannot accept this directive to local authorities.

Once a matter is discussed here-----

This practice is not employed by the majority of councils, although it might be in some of the cities.

By virtue of raising it now, it can be discussed on Report Stage.

Perhaps in Kilkenny, but not in Tullamore, Birr, Edenderry or so on.

Getting set for the European elections.

The amendment proposed was to provide for discretion at local authority level in applying the 50% rebate for all vacant properties. Along with other Deputies, I consulted senior civil servants. I understand that Deputy Deasy spoke with the Minister. I would be grateful if he explained why this amendment was ruled out of order. It tries to provide as much discretion-----

I ask the Deputy to speak to the section, as the amendment has been ruled out of order.

Yes. We wanted to give as much discretion to local authorities as possible.

I wish to add my concern on the 50% rebate. I presume that the Minister is trying to achieve consistency across all local authorities but, where there are vacant properties in Waterford city, for example, the situation might not be the same as that in Dublin or Cork, where there is high demand and high levels of business. In Waterford, city centre locations are struggling and I am not sure that imposing the rebate on vacant properties is the solution. Will the Minister consider devolving this power to local authorities? I put this matter to city managers when they appeared before the committee.

That is right.

Unsurprisingly, some stated that it was an essential source of revenue for their budgets, but the reality for businesses on the ground in the current economic climate means that imposing these rebates might not be suitable. Local councillors in the new local authorities would be best placed to decide on whether a 50% rebate should apply in their areas.

I support what has been said. My party has concerns about the matter. During an economic downturn, we need incentives to get business premises back into use, not penalties while they are empty. Loans are outstanding on many of the properties in question and there is a high level of negative equity because people bought at boom time prices. I know some such people, as I am sure every other elected representative present does.

It is important that we not penalise them further. Deputy Coffey referred to leaving discretion at local level. This needs to be done.

In any town or village in the country, the vacancy rates are significant. One cannot but notice them. People are not leaving premises vacant for any reason other than insufficient income. If it is a question of applying no rates remission for vacant properties, what would be the knock-on effect? There would be no loss of income, as the local authorities would be flat out going through the District Court trying to get money that is not there in the first place. Deputy Stanley is right, in that it is a question of how to turn this situation around and use those premises. Some of this relates to the car parking issue, which is decimating some areas. I do not see how there could be a potential loss of revenue. In fact, this provision could cost a fortune in terms of administration, District Court time and so on without accruing a great deal of additional income, given the levels of vacancy.

This provision already exists in Cork, Limerick and Dublin.

Not everyone knows that.

We all know it.

Many of my constituents know.

It does not exist in all of the Dublin local authorities.

The Minister without interruption.

There are consequences for premises that are brought back into use by businesses, as I saw in the case of one council area. If A goes out of business, the premises lie empty for a while and B takes them over, B must battle with the local authority to quash the arrears, or hangover, from the previous rates. A business needs a clean slate when it starts. The situation is difficult enough and profit margins are tight. At a time when we are trying to create jobs, this will create penalties.

I am doing something about that issue.

The landlord should be responsible for arrears, not the occupier or tenant. Currently, if a tenant moves out or does a runner, the person who comes along subsequently must pick up the arrears tab. That is not fair to people who want to set up a new business and we will address it.

I will also address this provision in an amendment allowing each local authority the discretion to decide whether it wants 100% or 50% rates relief, in accordance with the spirit of the Deputies' comments.

It will remain as it is. Will it remain as it is for those local authorities that have discretion-----

They do not have discretion at the moment.

-----and can, for example, seek evidence from a property owner that he or she has sought to let a building to a third party?

They do not have discretion at the moment. It is devolved by-----

Discretion is being-----

The Minister of the day decides.

Common sense is being adhered to.

I wish to clarify the legal position. The Minister of the day decides which local authorities have that discretion. The then Minister or Ministers decided that Cork, Limerick and Dublin City Council would have that discretion. I am now devolving that functional responsibility to the elected members. Each local authority can decide. An all-party committee from Galway city met me seeking that the provision obtaining in Limerick, Cork and Dublin be applied to Galway city. I did not agree-----

I respect that, but the Minister's proposal made it plain that the provision would apply across the country. I am glad to hear that he has backed down.

No, I have not backed down on the principle.

On the question of the discretion.

The elected member will decide.

It will be a reserved function of the local authority.

That is what we wanted.

I will introduce an amendment to achieve that.

Thank you. I am delighted the Minister bowed to pressure.

I ask members to speak through the Chair.

On the devolved power, I welcome the fact that the Minister has listened to his colleagues in the Fine Gael Party who have been lobbying for this on behalf of various local authorities and that he proposes to introduce an amendment in this regard.

The legacy rates issue is a matter of concern. The Minister may or may not be aware that I introduced a Private Members' motion on this matter. The legislation in this regard, the Poor Relief (Ireland) Act 1938, provides that occupiers of commercial premises are liable for rates and that where rates are in arrears the new occupier is liable, which in this day and age is not acceptable. I am glad the Minister is addressing this issue. Will it be addressed in this or future legislation?

It will be addressed in this legislation. I expect to bring forth an amendment in that regard in the Seanad.

Am I correct that the Minister is accepting the spirit of the amendment and proposes to introduce a reworded amendment at a later stage?

Yes. I have asked that an appropriate amendment be drawn up.

I thank the Minister.

The Minister has backed down. That is great news.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 44 to 47, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 44:

In page 38, line 6, to delete “an existing valuation list for that area” and substitute the following:

“a valuation list existing for that area (together with so much of the central valuation list, within the meaning of the Valuation Act 2001, as relates to that area)”.

The apportionment of global valuations from the central valuation list provided for under section 53(8) of the Valuation Act 2001 will be made in accordance with section 32(2) of the Bill. The section provides that the apportionment of the central valuation list will be done on the basis of the dissolved authority lists until such time as a new revalued and amalgamated rating authority list is published by the Commissioner of Valuation under section 23 of the Valuation Act 2001.

These amendments are technical in nature and are intended to avoid any difficulties with the definition of an existing valuation list in so far as it is defined in the Valuation Act 2001, and to ensure that it includes any new global valuation placed on the central valuation list that may have come into existence since the commencement of the Valuation Act 2001.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 45:

In page 38, line 7, to delete "that list" and substitute "the valuation list (together with so much of the central valuation list as so relates)".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 46:

In page 38, line 7, to delete "of it".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 47:

In page 38, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:

"(3) Any valuation list so published shall not affect the continuance of the central valuation list to which this section relates.".

Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 32, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

I have a query about the impact of the Valuation Act 2001. I understand what the Minister is trying to achieve in the amalgamated valuation list. The Minister referred earlier to an entire council area being taken over by one local authority. He will be aware that the city and county councils in Waterford are amalgamating. The Minister is on record as saying that in that scenario he would not like to see rates rising. The additional complication of the revaluation under the Valuation Act 2001 is resulting in serious increases in rates for Waterford city businesses, particularly retail businesses. While I am aware that the Valuation (Amendment) Bill 2012 comes within the remit of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, in the interests of fairness and ensuring a successful amalgamation in terms of bringing stakeholders with us, including those who pay rates and have been for many years contributing revenue to the local authorities, there should be no further increases in rates during the amalgamation process, as this would cause serious problems for business. Perhaps the Minister would clarify the position in this regard.

I am aware of the serious difficulties that the revaluation process in Waterford city and county has caused for some businesses there. There will always be winners and losers in revaluation. In the case of the local authorities in Waterford, 56% of businesses have been classified as losers and the remainder as winners. One always hears from the losers and not the winners. I am unable to do anything in the context of this legislation to allay Deputy Coffey's concerns in relation to this matter. However, I have engaged and will continue to engage with the Minister, Deputy Howlin, on the matter to see what we can do to alleviate the pressure in the short term on those businesses whose rates bills have been substantially increased.

In regard to what is proposed in relation to the amalgamation in Waterford, which is a separate issue, I am anxious to harmonise the rates situation in Waterford in a quicker timeframe than the ten years set out in order to give more certainty to businesses there. I hope to harmonise rates bills downwards rather than upwards.

I thank the Minister for his clarification. Perhaps the committee might take up this issue as it is going to affect other local authorities and is related to the Valuation (Amendment) Bill 2012. Perhaps the Minister, Deputy Howlin, could be invited to this committee at a future date to discuss the implications of that legislation.

Am I correct that the Minister's commitment today is that the variation within local authorities will be downwards in all cases and that the higher rate will not be the applicable rate in any local authority?

Unless the local authority members want to change the ARV.

So the Minister is not giving a categorical commitment in this regard.

No. If councillors want to be irresponsible I cannot do much about that.

The Minister cannot give that commitment and not be able to back it up.

The purpose of all of this reform in rates is, as far as I am concerned, to harmonise rates downwards rather than upwards.

"In so far as that is possible," is as much as the Minister, no more than I, can say. The Minister cannot give a commitment in this regard.

No, I cannot, because I am devolving to councillors functions that have been in place since 1898 in order to allow them to strike the rate. Does the Deputy want me to take away that power from the councillors?

In regard to the difficulties with the revaluation in Waterford, is the Minister aware that up to 9,000 appeals have been lodged in Dublin?

Is he also aware that Dublin City Council has not yet held an estimates meeting in order to discuss the possibility of carrying out its duties?

That is not unusual. I refer the Deputy to when his party was in government and when estimates were struck in Dublin and elsewhere.

There was at least an indication of-----


The Minister has accepted Deputy Coffey's suggestions in good faith and responded to them. Deputy Coffey's suggestion that the Minister, Deputy Howlin, be asked to appear before the committee is a good one. There are difficulties with regard to the revaluation in Waterford and Dublin. Many other parts of the country have not been touched. This committee could investigate why this might be the case, following which we could make recommendations to the Minister.

The appropriate Minister.

The committee could also make recommendations to the Minister, Deputy Hogan, in regard to the funding of local authorities in the future.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, is the relevant Minister.

What we do not want is increases for people who have improved premises, which work does not result in a big increase in income. We should not be discouraging people from improving premises.

The Minister referred to councillors being irresponsible or responsible. Increases or decreases in rates will be determined by income coming from other streams, one of which is the Local Government Fund. Essentially, people are often forced into situations because there is very little discretion with regard to the funding of local authorities.

Call it responsibility.

It is not exclusively down to-----

It is devolved function.

It is not exclusively an issue for councillors. The mechanism for the distribution of funds from the Local Government Fund is nonsensical. I do not think Einstein would be able to figure out. There is no rationale for it whatsoever. As such, that responsibility is a bit of a misnomer.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 48 and 49 have been ruled out of order.

Amendments Nos. 48 and 49 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 33 stand part of the Bill."

Perhaps the Minister would explain the reason these amendments have been ruled out of order.

As the amendments have been ruled out of order, the Minister cannot speak on them. The Deputy must confine his remarks to the section.

Perhaps the Minister would address the issue of the effect of increases and decreases with regard to revaluations.

There is also the question of whether a tiered approach would be of value. The Minister also earlier referred to unpaid rates being stuck on a new tenant, and if I understood him correctly, he is very much against somebody being lumbered with rates that have not been collected from a previous occupier. Will the Minister clarify those matters?

I am in agreement with what the Deputy suggests with regard to an occupier of a premise not being lumbered with an arrears bill from somebody else before he or she takes up the tenancy. We are looking at that with a view to an amendment later in the process. With regard to the harmonisation of rates and the valuation system, I am not in a position to deal with it in this legislation because there is a Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012. That Bill is going through a long process in the Houses of the Oireachtas and there are many good provisions in it, so it will make an enormous difference to the businesses the Deputy mentioned. I hope that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, will be in a position to proceed with that. I also hope representatives of the Valuation Office could come before the full committee to have a conversation about issues relating to valuation, as they are important. There is an opportunity through the Bill that is currently before the Houses of the Oireachtas to address some of those matters.

The problem is probably greater where somebody is presented with an increase in rates, as nobody will object to a decrease in rates.

When the process is stopped we would hear from the winners.

Question put and agreed to.
Question, "That section 34 stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.

Amendments Nos. 50 to 56, inclusive, and amendments Nos. 60 to 65, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 50:

In page 41, lines 17 and 18, to delete "local and community development of" and substitute "development of the community in".

The spirit of the amendments is to encourage community development and we hope the change in the wording reflects that. Local authorities can play an important role in community development but this must be done in an inclusive way. Amendment No. 55 states: In page 43, line 32, after "inclusion" to insert "and address causes of social exclusion".

It is important that such a provision is included.

Amendment No. 56 states: In page 43, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:

"(g) the allocation of resources to areas of most social and economic disadvantage, and

(h) the specific needs of minority groups and hard to reach groups in relation to social inclusion.".

This would give local councillors discretion in how they target resources.

I have tabled amendment No. 51 on behalf of Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan. Essentially, it echoes some of the points made. The wording positions one community development committee at county level but I am concerned because community development happens at a much lower level. This changes the nature of much of what is happening.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan wanted me to speak about what happens at Dublin City Council level with regard to many of the projects that are run and enhanced by the people with a direct impact. The projects would not function without their input. These include youth projects, after-school initiatives and crèches in areas that may, for example, experience very high levels of unemployment, including generational unemployment. In essence, the point the Deputy wanted me to make is that there must be involvement by those communities within any kind of community development element. That is critical if community development projects are to be about community and not economic development.

There should be a development committee or focus at municipal level that is about building the capacity of communities. At a lower level it is much easier to understand what is required, and that varies around the country, depending on demographics, the wealth of an area and the capacity of an area to deal with issues. Having one committee per county - except if there is approval of the Minister - will position this issue in the wrong place. I am interested in the Minister's view of community development, and perhaps I have a different view on what is intended by these committees than what the Minister proposes.

There are a number of amendments in this section, including some from the Minister. We can adjourn for lunch once we have dealt with it.

Amendment No. 60 acknowledges the composition of the board would be both elected and non-elected members. I ask that there be at least three local authority members on such a board and that one of those be the chairperson of the board. In essence, this reflects the thrust of the proposition on the part of the Minister for integration of those companies into local authorities. If this is the case, there should be a maximum amount of possible accountability on the part of the board and how it disburses funds or agrees a plan to address the social exclusion areas, as detailed by Deputy Stanley. I would have no problem with the composition if it was on that basis.

I indicated that we are trying to strengthen local government functions, especially in economic and community development. In particular, I referenced the provisions for alignment of local and community development with local authorities. Most people are beginning to accept that we must have people at local level, either on a voluntary, community or statutory basis, working together. There is much interaction anyway but we want to ensure this can be underpinned by statute. This is the first time the community and voluntary sector will be recognised in statute as part of the structures of local government, although many within the community and voluntary sector do not realise that. This will not be an ad hoc committee and it will not be set up by a private company for the purpose of carrying out particular operational matters for a Europe-funded programme. It will be underpinned in statute with a relationship with local government for the first time.

The community projects mentioned by Deputy Murphy will be protected under these structures, and it is not a case of dismantling structures that are working effectively in the north side of Dublin city, where Deputy O'Sullivan has a keen interest. There is close work with local community development programmes, and that will continue to operate in a seamless fashion under these structures.

There will be no fear there. In fact, there is €47 million to be spent on the local community development programme next year. There is effectively a 1% cut, which can be found in administration. We will protect the front-line projects for next year, and the 1,650 people who work in the sector will continue to do that. There will be no difficulty whatsoever. When one hears some of the background noise in the rural areas, one would think all the structures we have in place are going to be dismantled. They are not, but they and local government, under the alignment proposal, will have to work more closely together.

Deputy Stanley's amendment refers to addressing the causes of poverty and social exclusion. I agree with him. We will look at the spirit of what he says in the amendment and address that with amendments later in the process with a view to capturing that. The local community and development plans that will be drawn up will have to undergo a major consultation process with municipal districts, and the municipal members in plenary session will have to adopt the plan. However, a great deal of consultation will have to take place with the community sector. I envisage that there will be a strong relationship with that sector. Again, however, there will have to be an enhanced cultural change at local authority level to deal with the local community sector. Over the years there has been a breakdown in the relationship between the community sector and local government and we are trying to bring that back together. They must work with each other in a more structured way and take each other's concerns into account. The democratically elected persons will be the final arbiters on policy and the disbursement of money.

There are many people working in the community and voluntary sector at present, particularly in private companies, who do not fully understand their obligations under company law and employment law. There is a burden on them now, at the end of programmes and the start of others, to realise that they have these responsibilities under company law, which perhaps they should have known before they took on the responsibilities. I know there are people leaving companies because of those responsibilities. These will now be handed over or taken more on board by the local authority structures and the people in the community sector will be able to get with the job they are best at, which is animating projects and bringing forward proposals and projects to the local community development committee, LCDC, for the purpose of financing and implementing them, based on the local community development plan which will be approved by the councillors.

Deputy Cowen mentioned the membership of the committee. Due to the bottom-up approach under the rural development programme, there must be a majority from the community on the LCDC. If there are 15 members, for example, eight of them must be from the community sector and seven from the statutory bodies, including the local authority. We have three members in mind as a proposal at present. That could be two councillors and a director of services. We are leaving that flexible to allow the local authorities to decide what the combination would be. However, certain statutory bodies in a local area would have to be represented on these committees as they will have a huge input, such as the HSE, SOLAS and the local enterprise boards. Equally, however, the community sector will have a big input, so it will have a majority of representation. If there are 15 members, for example, they will decide who will be the chairperson among themselves. It need not go to the full plenary session of the council.

There has been huge concern about this. Obviously, a major change is taking place. I have been a member of two local development companies, one of the original companies and a later one. With regard to the corporate entity, I am aware of some companies whose members are now finding themselves with responsibilities that they did not realise they had. To clarify, the funding will come to the local authority, the local authority will be the corporate body and there will not be another corporate body outside it.

That is right.

Absolutely none?

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 51:

In page 41, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:

“(b) ensure that relevant bodies including Local Community Development Projects which currently operate by local voluntary management committees, retain their management committees to ensure a level of independent management is held by the projects,

(c) ensure that Local Community Development projects are included in emerging Committees and structures through which funding for community projects is allocated, and ensure they have access to the Committee’s decision making process through consultation and participation,

(d) ensure community representation is maintained in the establishment of Local Community Development Committees and that full consultation and inclusion is granted to Local Community Development projects in the setting up of a new Committee,”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 52:

In page 42, line 1, to delete “local and” and substitute “the”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 53:

In page 42, line 11, to delete “local and”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 54:

In page 42, line 17, to delete “all local and”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 55:

In page 43, line 32, after “inclusion” to insert “and address causes of social exclusion”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 56:

In page 43, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:

“(g) the allocation of resources to areas of most social and economic disadvantage, and

(h) the specific needs of minority groups and hard to reach groups in relation to social inclusion.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment Nos. 57 to 59, inclusive, 113, 120 and 147 to 169, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

We will suspend the sitting now for lunch and return at 3 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 2.06 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.

When is it proposed to take a break?

Is it agreed that we take a break from 5.30 p.m. to 6 p.m.? Agreed.

Amendments Nos. 57 to 59, inclusive, 113, 120, 147 to 169, inclusive are related and will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 57:

In page 44, lines 6 and 7, to delete "regional planning guidelines (being guidelines" and substitute "regional spatial and economic strategy (being a strategy".

The amendments in this grouping provide for regional spatial and economic strategies in place of the regional planning guidelines, the formulation of which will be the main function of the new regional assemblies. This will ensure the full integration between planning and economic development through coherent regional spatial and economic strategies and these will be formulated by new regional assemblies in collaboration, in particular, with the various enterprise and economic development agencies. This will deliver integrated national and regional co-ordination in spatial planning and economic development in order to provide a broad framework underpinning the enhanced role of local government in economic development.

Among the main changes to the planning Acts are those made by the following amendments. Under amendment No. 120 the new regional assemblies are being provided with the power to make regional spatial and economic strategies in place of regional planning guidelines, thus providing for a strengthened economic dimension. It provides for the insertion of a new section 22A to provide for the necessary consultation, assistance and co-operation by all relevant public bodies, namely the key Departments, such as that of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, including bodies under their aegis with regional assemblies in the preparation of regional spatial and economic strategies including support and follow through in the implementation of those strategies. There will therefore be a statutory requirement on all relevant public bodies and agencies to participate fully in the adoption of the regional strategies and critically to follow through in their own functions on the measures to which they have subscribed in their strategies. It also provides that in preparing their own strategies, plans and programmes, all relevant public bodies at national, regional and local level must ensure they are consistent with the national regional objectives set out in the national spatial strategy and the regional spatial and economic strategies. This is to ensure that both the regional assemblies and the relevant public bodies engage in a process of dialogue and policy development in the formulation of the regional spatial and economic strategies while also informing each other in a two way process that will result in clearer, more integrated policies and actions. This will deliver improved co-ordination of the regional economic development policies and investment across the State and private sector in general.

It also provides for the strengthened economic dimension in the content and objectives of regional spatial and economic strategies, including the requirement to support the economic policies and objectives of the Government in this regard. For example, it provides that a regional economic strategy will address inter alia enhancement of overall regional economic performance by identifying the strengths and opportunities, having regard to economic and employment trends; proposals for augmenting the economic performance of the region across all relevant economic sectors; enhancement of regional innovation capacity, including investment in research and development.

It will also address proposals for augmenting the economic performance of the region across all relevant economic sectors; enhancement of regional innovation capacity, including investment in research and development; identifying the regional attributes most essential to enhancing regional economic performance, such as the quality of the environment, qualities of cities and towns, the infrastructure, and the social, community and cultural facilities; and proposals to maintain and-or augment such attributes in such a manner as will be implemented under the strategy through the activities of relevant public bodies, private sector investment and the community. It also provides for the insertion of a new section 25A to provide for reporting every two years on progress on implementation of the strategies by the public bodies, by each local authority and the regional assemblies. Together with an important role for the National Oversight and Audit Commission, it will make recommendations to the Minister on the relevant measures to further support implementation of the strategies.

It provides for the insertion of a new section 268A to provide for transitional provisions consequent on the enactment of the Local Government Bill, such as providing for a successor authority consequent on the dissolution of certain local authorities and the town councils; providing for all acts duly done and decisions duly made continuing to have all such force and effect; and providing for the purpose of completing any matter outstanding by the planning authority for the local government area concerned as the successor authority. It also provides, in section 21, for transitional arrangements in order that the existing regional planning guidelines 2010-22 prepared and published by a dissolved regional authority shall continue to have effect until a regional, spatial and economic strategy is prepared and adopted by the new regional assembly.

Amendments Nos. 147 to 169 are consequential amendments to the provision of regional, spatial and economic strategies in place of the regional planning guidelines. These consequential amendments are to provide primarily for: the substitution of regional assembly for regional authority; regional spatial and economic strategy instead of regional planning guidelines; and the National Transport Authority, NTA, for the Dublin Transport Authority, DTA, on foot of the change in name to the NTA pursuant to section 30 of the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009, with effect from 1 December 2009. Accordingly, amendments Nos. 147 to 149 provide for an updated definition for the Dublin Transport Authority and an associated new definition for the National Transport Authority. Amendments Nos. 57 to 59 and 113 are accordingly providing for consequential amendments to sections 35 and 57 of the Local Government Bill to provide for the substitution of regional, spatial and economic strategy for regional planning guidelines.

This is a big new section and we did not have the benefit of debating it on Second Stage. Does that pose a question in respect of Report Stage? Much of it was anticipated but it is quite a large section and I would have liked more time to give it further consideration. The Dublin and mid-east authority has worked well in respect of the spatial strategy. One reason for that is the diversity of membership. It does not work so well at official level. The engagement at council level worked well. I could see a change in culture in terms of the development plans where there was a national spatial strategy and regional guidelines linking with the development plans. It fell down at local level where there was deviation when people were dealing with the practical issue of land being rezoned. That must be closely monitored. Perhaps we need more checks and balances at county level where it functions well.

The expansion into other regions is good and the linkage of land use and transport planning is essential and positive. I would prefer to see regional authorities or regional assemblies elected. It is a better way and it creates a system of checks and balances. Nominations onto the regional authorities will be very large if large numbers are nominated from each local authority but we will not get diversity if we have an equal number coming from each county.

Deputy Kevin Humphreys made the point about the rural imbalance in the local government system. The imbalance will be carried on if we proceed in this way. Some local authorities will have been brought up to the minimum of 18. Where two people are nominated, using the western region as an example, there will be a rural bias in terms of strategic planning. That will not necessarily produce a good outcome. Most of the land that will be rezoned will be in city districts or large urban centres. Where there is an imbalance in respect of the rural focus, we will not get the outcome we are getting in the Dublin and mid-east region. They are compatible areas and there is a Dublin focus in the mid-east region.

It is not clear in the wording of some of the amendments whether planning authority refers to councillors or officials. Who will be engaging? This is a concern I have in a number of sections. I am pleased to see the phrase "consistent with" used because "have regard to" was meaningless. I also have concerns about references to being consulted at local election level, which does not mean anything. The term "consistent with" should be included because a spatial strategy should be consistent with the national spatial strategy. I presume written submissions also includes e-mail. Perhaps the Minister can reply on that point. I presume that is not a problem with definitions.

We must seriously examine the expertise required at each local authority level in respect of strategic environmental assessment. I do not have a difficulty with them being done but I would rather see a roving team, for want of a better description, carrying them out.

Shared services.

Buying in surveys on a contract basis is not producing the results I would like to see. It needs monitoring and consideration. It does not necessarily need a change in the legislation but it poses questions. Local authorities want to comply with legal requirements but sometimes, in doing so, they lose sight of, or do not have the ability to deal with, the spirit of what was intended.

I refer to relevant planning authorities and the regional authority. I would like that defined. When we talk about the relevant planning authorities, what aspect of them are we talking about? Is it the planners? Does it exclude councillors? Very often one sees something very late in the day and we had experience of that in one of the early plans in regard to the Dublin region and mid-east region where one location was designated for major development. That plan was overturned at council level. Had there been an input from both planners and councillors, I think there would have been a better outcome, so I need a definition of that.

I refer to the local area plan. I have seen the same pattern of behaviour in one particular development plan in Kildare quite recently. All of the land will be zoned at LAP level rather than at county level, where one would set out the broad framework. I am almost speaking against the point I made earlier but I am all in favour of local input. However, the area committee or, in this case, the municipal authority will work on the particular plan which will go to the full council. The area committee or the municipal authority will have done all the work on it. If it deviates from the plan adopted by the council, it will run into serious difficulties. I do not know how one would remedy this. The council will want the municipal district to do the work on it but it must be consistent at council and at regional levels. There is a fault line there. I do not know how I would frame an amendment to remedy that but there could be problems at district council level.

I have seen the same behaviour in terms of wanting to rezone piles of land outside the national spatial strategy. The culture has not changed. We have to change the culture by putting some checks and balances in place which force it back to municipal level if it is not consistent with something or other. It will come down to changing behaviour. Unless we change the behaviour, we will get the same outcomes and the same nonsensical disconnect between zoning land and the consequences of zoning it in the wrong places and in the wrong quantities. Further up the line, the Department will have to deal with it because it will not be consistent with something or other. There is a fault line there and something further is required.

Section 58 refers to the objectives of providing physical, economic and social infrastructure in a manner that promotes balanced regional development. Are we talking about balanced regional development within those regions or between the regions?

Between them.

Okay. Where is the oversight? Is it at national spatial strategy level? I can see myself proposing a few amendments on Report Stage.

It is positive that the National Transport Authority will be involved. That is critical. Are there other essential services which should be part of that framework? I see the need to link land use and transport planning but I wonder about some of the social services. This may well be about physical development but we see the relationship between many of the social supports required at community level. For example, will there be any facility to link or even redesign the health service in order that it is co-terminous with the regions? There is no point having physical plans if one does not have the ability to put the social supports in place in line with the development that will take place.

The Minister said the national spatial strategy will be replaced by the regional guidelines.

No. It has to be consistent with them.

Is the existing national spatial strategy up for review?

Any amendments will be cognisant of that review.

Yes. I mention something which came up on Second Stage - I think Deputy Humphreys and others mentioned it. The two local authority members per constituent authority will be on the regional assemblies. It does not reflect the population so we will look at that in the orders. The point would have been made that a large local authority would have the same representation as a small one, which would not be exactly fair.

There is some equalisation also.

We will take account of population but we will not go mad in terms of numbers. We will reflect the fact that population concerns raised on Second Stage might be reflected in the membership of the local authorities.

There are a lot of amendments and I suppose what we are doing is updating the language and the changes to reflect the fact there are regional economic spatial strategies. The economic dimension is much stronger in these amendments. Ultimately, it is a devolved function to the municipal level in terms of the local area plan. We cannot have it every way. The councillors have to take responsibility and, notwithstanding what Deputy Murphy said, they must be consistent with the regional and national spatial strategies and their own development plan which, ultimately, will be adjudicated on by An Bord Pleanála.

The elected members will have to be responsible and be guided in the advice they get, but equally I would like to see councillors getting independent advice from time to time on matters like planning and legal issues. They do not always have to rely on officials. Officials might have a view which might not exactly conform to what councillors might want and they might have good reason for it as well. It works both ways but, ultimately, there is a responsibility on the elected members to make the decisions at the lowest possible level and the nearest place to the citizen where it impacts. That is a summary of the concerns Deputy Murphy expressed and of the amendments we are seeking to oppose. We are trying to focus on a stronger economic dimension to the planning Acts.

On the community side, there will be a national community policy and a local authority community plan but there will have to be some consistency across the board. Not one size fits all but nevertheless there will be certain principles at national level which we would expect from a funding flow point of view and we would have national objectives we want to achieve. That will permeate down to the regional level.

I thank the Minister for acknowledging that there must be some kind of population rebalancing.

I wish to develop the point made by Deputy Catherine Murphy on local area plans. The local area plan has been very useful, especially in urban areas. The control and balance in the order plans are dealt with - the regional plan is taken first, followed by the local authority plan and then the local area plan. One has regional assemblies, local authorities and local area plans and the change in the wording from "having regard" to "be consistent with" will be useful. The wording "having regard" is just too loose. If one begins with the hierarchy of regional, local authority and local plans, the local area plan has to be consistent with the local authority and regional plans.

I welcome the change in language. Those who were councillors for a number of years would have known that the term "having regard to" was widely used and sprinkled over everything, a little like confetti at a wedding that one could shake off when going to the reception. One could then get down to the serious business. This is a welcome change.

The question of numbers will arise later, but I have another concern that I expressed on Second Stage. If one only has two representatives from each local authority, the two dominant political parties, whatever they may be, will control these positions. One must try to achieve a political balance. The Minister knows that members of smaller parties and Independents may comprise more than 50% of the members of a local authority. I know that tends to happen at town council level, but one third of the membership of the county council could be comprised of members of smaller parties and Independents, none of whom will ever see the inside of the door of a regional assembly or have an input into its meetings. I would like to see the Minister and his officials come up with some mechanism so as not to exclude them. Under the current system, at least 40% of the representatives of the electorate will be excluded. We must respect their mandate. I might not necessarily agree with the views of Independents and members of smaller parties, but there is a point in taking on board the need for broader representation.

The numbers that will change in the orders I have signed will reflect the size of the local authority in terms of population. It will mean that in the case of a great many local authorities there will be more than two representatives. In other words, only a small number of local authorities will have two representatives. The idea that a political party or Independents will not be represented in a regional assembly will not come into play. Following the results of a local election, arrangements are entered into and coalitions formed. I believe Deputy Brian Stanley was involved in one such arrangement.

That is okay in the spirit of what we are talking about, that the members of larger parties will feel benevolent towards members of smaller ones, but I have not seen too much of that during my time in local authorities.

The Deputy did not do too badly.

I was part of an arrangement, but I did ensure things were divvied out from my point of view, although it did not always work out. Let us wind back to 2009. In the minutes of Portlaoise town council one will see the extent of the generosity of spirit shown when the co-option of a member did not go ahead because no member of the Minister's party would second the motion.

That is personal.

During my ten years in the local authority it was my experience that positions were shared on the basis of proportionality in terms of the democratic mandate received.

There has been a disconnect between regional authorities and the councils they represent. I have served in a regional council, but there was no mechanism either to hold me to account at the council or for me to report to the local authority. That issue should be taken up by the local authorities so as to have a mechanism in order to report on how one is representing the local area at a regional authority. That is one way of strengthening accountability.

I would like the Minister to respond to my question on planning authorities. Does a planning authority comprise the officials, the councillors or a combination of both?

The reporting of the proceedings of regional assemblies to local authorities could be provided for by way of an amendment on Committee Stage. I know that in my local authority area there was a report once every quarter. That was very useful. It should be done because there is always some plan or other being decided on at any given time.

It is very important to get this section right, as we cannot do what we did before. What was done in the past led to scenarios where we had to pick up the pieces such as in ghost estates and land in inappropriate locations being zoned, as if it did not have a cost to society. Such zoning had a very dramatic cost in terms of servicing land for development, the provision of water and wastewater services, roads, public transport and social services and so on. The composition of the boards of regional authorities matters, as it has major significance in decision making. Because of the way it was handled in my local authority area - I do not think it was too different from the way it was done in other areas - some of us who were in favour of strategic planning were branded as the "NIMBYs" or the "anti-crowd", whereas much of what some of us were saying had a great deal of merit. If it had been replicated, perhaps we might not have ended up with the disaster that happened. The composition of regional assemblies matters if we do not want to find ourselves in the same position. I do not understand the level of resistance to electing individuals to take that responsibility. It produces a good range of checks. We are talking about three regional assemblies which must dovetail with the local authorities. People could put themselves forward in both elections and one could find a mechanism for them to do this. I accept that the Minister is looking to find a better balance. If he is not going to agree to hold separate elections to the regional assemblies, it is better that he seek to achieve a more proportionate balance. The regional assemblies will be of critical importance to the balanced and sustainable development of the country.

The core strategies we are adopting as part of the planning Acts will deal with the Deputy's concerns about planning matters. Equally, we have amended the corruption Acts to deal with the issues arising from the various tribunals to ensure that if people are caught, they will face a much more severe penalty than in the past. If I am devolving responsibility to elected members who have a mandate from the people, I want to see as much power vested in them as I possibly can give them. I do not want power to be centralised but localised and regionalised. One must trust those who have been elected by the people. With all due respect, what the Deputy is suggesting is that the councillors from the major parties who were members of the regional authorities were in some way contaminated and had no mandate.

We have to trust people who are elected. There will be punishment and penalties if something untoward goes on. They have to be consistent with their development plans, their regional spatial strategies and the national spatial strategy. Many checks and balances have to be adhered to. I have decided not to provide for directly elected regional assemblies at this time because I want to see what will happen in Dublin. The plebiscite on having a directly elected mayor that will take place in Dublin will have an important impact on the regional dimension of Dublin. It is obvious that the extent of the powers and responsibilities of that individual will have an impact on the regional dimension, especially on the east coast. If the people of Dublin vote in favour of having a directly elected mayor, I think it will lead to a newly invigorated regional dimension. I expect it would ultimately lead to a directly elected regional authority. That might be replicated in other parts of the country. The fundamental decision about reforming local government in the regional sense will be dictated to a fair extent by the result of the plebiscite in Dublin.

I would like to respond to the Minister.

I ask the Deputy to be brief because we have spent 45 minutes on this amendment.

Okay. This is a huge section.

In the planning authorities, or local authorities, will it be the councillors or the officials-----

The councillors. It is their function.

I would like to pick up on the point the Minister just made about the future of the Dublin authorities if the people decide they want a directly elected mayor. The current position, as reflected in this legislation, is that the Dublin and the mid-east are seen as a single region. Will there be a difficulty if a Dublin region is defined? How will the Dublin and mid-east region tie in with that?

I would like to say something on the same issue. The Minister can address it all together. I think the election of a mayor for Dublin would be very welcome, if that is what the people decide in the plebiscite. I ask the Minister to have a look at the time period. If the people of Dublin vote next year in favour of a single mayor for the four local authorities, they will have to wait until 2019 for that to happen. Perhaps the Minister will get an opportunity to look at that. I think it far too long to have to wait for a reform. If the people of Dublin vote in favour of this proposal in 2014, I suggest they should be allowed to directly elect a mayor for the Dublin area much earlier than 2019.

I assure the councillor that we have a provision in the legislation-----

The Minister is thinking out loud.

God be with the days when we were on the council together. I assure the Deputy that there is a provision in the legislation to bring forward the election date in order that a mayor can be directly elected earlier than 2019.

Would the Minister actively support that?

If that is what the Government chooses. There is more than one person around the Cabinet table.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 58:

In page 44, line 18, to delete "regional planning guidelines" and substitute "regional spatial and economic strategy".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 59:

In page 44, lines 28 and 29, to delete "regional planning guidelines" and substitute "regional spatial and economic strategy".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 60:

In page 44, to delete lines 33 to 44, and in page 45, to delete lines 1 to 33 and substitute the following:

"128D.(1) Subject to and in accordance with any regulations made, or general policy guidelines issued, by the Minister for the purposes of this section, the membership of a Committee shall comprise partly of persons who are and partly of persons who are not members of the local authority concerned.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), the Committee shall include at least 3 members of the local authority.

(3) The members of a Committee shall elect one of their numbers to be the chairperson who should be a member of the local authority.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 61:

In page 45, line 1, after "authorities" to insert "and statutory agencies".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 62:

In page 45, line 9, after "promoting" to insert "social inclusion and".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 63:

In page 45, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:

"(h) representatives of social partners, and

(i) communities of interest.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 64:

In page 46, line 35, after "engagement" to insert "and consultation".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 65:

In page 46, line 35, after "community" to insert "and communities of interest".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 66:

In page 48, line 8, after "Schedule 16" to insert the following:

"including the new addition of a relevant body titled the North Inner City Community Development Limited".

I am proposing this amendment on behalf of Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 67:

In page 48, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:

"(e) to recognise the right of its employees to form and be represented by a trade union for the purposes of collective bargaining.".

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 35, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 68:

In page 50, to delete lines 13 to 22.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 69:

In page 50, to delete lines 35 to 41, and in page 51, to delete lines 1 to 5 and substitute the following:

"(c) a municipal district contains the area of a town (including all the environs of the town for the purposes of the census of population concerned) the population of which, when rounded to the nearest 1,000 as shown in the latest census report of the Central Statistics Office, is equal to or greater than 20,000, then the municipal district members for such district may decide by resolution to use the title 'Mayor' or 'Deputy Mayor', to describe its office of Cathaoirleach or Leas-Chathaoirleach notwithstanding the provisions of section 31 (as amended by the Local Government Act 2013).".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 70:

In page 51, line 40, after "council" to insert ", or a municipal district".

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 36, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 37 to 39, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 71:

In page 53, line 20, after "matters" to insert "and the chairperson of such committee will be a member of the relevant Local Enterprise office".

This is a straightforward amendment. It seeks to ensure the chairperson of the committee "will be a member of the relevant Local Enterprise office". We are seeking to provide for more coherent and more focused structures as part of the effort to join up matters at local government level. I would like the Minister to take this amendment on board. I cannot see any reason not to do so.

Local enterprise offices will largely be executive offices within local authorities. They will perform functions on behalf of Enterprise Ireland under the cover of service level agreements. The directorate of economic development in each local authority area will be chaired by a local councillor. The reporting structures that will apply to the local enterprise offices and the strategic policy committees will be the vehicle by means of which the policies, operations and decisions of local authorities will be implemented by the local enterprise offices. The council will have responsibility for policy oversight.

I have heard this explanation previously. As the Minister said, this will be largely an executive function. I disagree with him on the question of whether that should be the case. I think the elected members should be able to make a stronger input. It would be useful if the chairperson of the committee could make an input.

Unlike the county enterprise boards, the local enterprise offices will not have a board structure. Each of them will be an executive office responsible for implementing the policy decisions made by the economic development directorate in the relevant local authority. That directorate will be chaired by a councillor and will be representative of a significant number of local elected members.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 72:

In page 54, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:

“(c) Where any refusal or failure by a public authority is reported to a local authority under paragraph (b), then the local authority may report such refusal or failure, together with any explanation furnished by the public authority, to any Minister of the Government—

(i) on whom functions relating to the public authority concerned stand conferred, or

(ii) who has general responsibility for the public authority concerned.”.

This amendment adds a further incentive for public authorities to assist strategic policy committees in their policy role by adding a provision that failure to meet the strategic policy committee when requested may lead to the local authority advising the appropriate Minister of this failure, while ensuring any explanation furnished is also advised. To facilitate and co-ordinate local authority activities with those of relevant public authorities, the strategic policy committee may invite the attendance of public authorities at a meeting of the committee to assist the committee in policy development. The chair of a strategic policy committee will have discretion as to whether to report to the full council on a failure or refusal of a public authority to attend. If such a refusal or failure is reported, the committee must also advise the council of the reasons for non-attendance given by the body. In this amendment, we are making an effort to enable local authorities to bring in people in the public arena, who are not part of local government at the moment, if they wish to do so. At the moment, that cannot happen unless the amending Acts in the relevant Departments are amended by the other Ministers. If I am waiting around for that to happen, it might take some time. In the meantime, I want to name and shame them if they do not come in.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 73:

In page 54, line 18, to delete "have regard to" and substitute "be consistent with".

This is essentially an issue of language. The Bill provides that the strategic policy committee "shall have regard" to the economic strategy of the appropriate regional assembly, but I suggest the term "be consistent with" would be more appropriate.

The strategic policy committees are obliged in any case to be consistent with the economic strategy of the appropriate regional assembly. While the Deputy's concern in these matters is sometimes well-founded, the legal advice available to me is that there is sufficient control in place and the requirement to "have regard to" the requirements of the development plan, regional plan and national spatial strategy is sufficient. I understand the spirit of the amendment.

The term "have regard to" is discredited, although I accept it is not in the same family of-----

I will examine the possibility of tabling an amendment on the regional spatial economic strategy when we are preparing amendments under the local economic and community plan for the Seanad.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question, "That section 40, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put and declared carried.

Amendments Nos. 74 and 127 are related and will be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 74:

In page 54, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:

“Area committees

41. The Principal Act is amended by substituting the following for section 50:

“50. (1) A local authority to which this section applies may establish by resolution a committee in respect of a local electoral area or of 2 or more adjoining such areas or any other area in its administrative area to be known by some appropriate name followed by the words ‘Area Committee’, or by such other title, as may be designated by the authority.

(2) This section applies to the following local authorities:

(a) Cork City Council;

(b) Dublin City Council;

(c) Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council;

(d) Fingal County Council;

(e) Galway City Council;

(f) South Dublin County Council.”.”.

In the published Bill, section 50 of the principal Act was mistakenly deleted. Section 50 provides that city and county councils may establish area committees for a local electoral area or group of such areas. It will be necessary to continue to provide such a provision for those local authorities where new municipal districts will not be established. These authorities are set out in the new subsection (2) of section 50. This relates to some city authorities. Area committees will not be required where municipal districts are being established.

What is intended in respect of municipal districts and area committees in city areas? It is unclear what will take place inside the Pale, whereas it is clear what will take place elsewhere.

The four mayors of the four Dublin local authorities are considering this matter in the context of the new directly elected mayor for Dublin. We have also asked them how they envisage local government in general developing in the municipal district concept. I have an open mind on how the system will operate. It appears, however, that the geographical entity we are seeking to create in a municipal sense is a good approach. Again, this will be a matter for people to decide in May when they are asked whether they want to have a directly elected mayor of Dublin. Their response will open up many additional reforms for the Dublin region and other major urban areas that have been identified in the recent Boundary Commission report. While this issue is open for discussion, we must make a fundamental decision about what powers and responsibilities the directly elected mayor will have in Dublin in the event that people in Dublin vote for that option next May.

Amendment agreed to.

Sections 41 and 42 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 75:

In page 56, line 40, to delete “approved as a reserved function” and substitute “(being a policy approved as a reserved function)”.

This is a technical amendment, which clarifies the intention that the chief executive must advise the elected council, when requested or on his or her own initiative if this is appropriate, to review any policy or its implementation. As drafted, it could be open to interpretation that the implementation of a policy is a reserved function, which clearly it is not. Nevertheless, the elected members have an oversight role regarding implementation and this is not affected by the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 43, as amended, agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 76, 79 and 81 are related and will be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 76:

In page 57, to delete lines 2 to 29 and substitute the following:

“ “(1) (a) The elected council of each local authority shall form a committee, to be known as the corporate policy group and in this section referred to as the ‘policy group’.

(b) The membership of the policy group shall be assigned proportionately according to the d’Hondt method using the share of first preference vote received by each registered political party and the combined vote of all independent members at the preceding local authority election.

(c) For the purposes of this section, ‘independent member’ means any person elected to the council who is not a member of a registered political party.”,”.

There is no reason the d'Hondt method used for deciding the membership of various committees should not be applied throughout the local authority system. I do not know where the requirement to treat registered political parties differently from independents and small parties with less than 20% of total membership comes from. It is not democratic. It is unclear from subsection (c)(i) and (ii) which size a registered political party must be. Subsection (c)(i) refers to a figure of 20%. Does this threshold also hold in subsection (c)(ii)? What is wrong with a system of allocation based on proportionality following a democratic election? Under the provision, as worded, political parties will be treated differently from political groupings. One has a wide variety of groups at local level, including single groups consisting of small political parties and independents. Such variety is positive in terms of diversity. I strongly oppose the section, which is the reason for the amendment.

I thank Deputies Catherine Murphy and Brian Stanley for their amendments. Deputy Murphy is correct that there is a danger of corporate policy groups becoming unwieldy. The unintended consequence of the amendment would be that it would remove the requirement that chairpersons of strategic policy committees, SPCs, be members of a corporate policy group, CPG. As the corporate policy group has the brief to manage the flow of business of the council and ensure an integrated approach is taken to business, its membership must include the chairpersons of the various strategic policy committees.

I have often believed that where the leaders of the political parties and groups are not represented on the corporate policy group, the group will often operate as a secret society and will not keep others fully informed. My intention in this provision was to address this issue. However, I do not want the unintended consequence to which Deputy Murphy alludes to arise, nor do I want corporate policy groups to become unwieldy with most members of the council on them. While my intentions were honourable, I do not believe the measure will work in practice. I will, therefore, remove the provision and find other more appropriate arrangements. I will introduce the relevant amendments later.

In that case, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 77, 82, 83 are related and will be discussed together by agreement by agreement.

I move amendment No. 77:

In page 57, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:

“(c) a representative of each local community development committee established in accordance with section 49A, who shall be—

(i) the chairperson of the local community development committee,


(ii) where the chairperson is employed by, or seconded to, the local authority, such other member of the local community development committee as the committee may decide,”.

The purpose of amendment No. 77 and the linked technical amendments is to include a representative from the local community development committee, LCDC, in the membership of the corporate policy group. The membership of the latter includes the chairpersons of all strategic policy committees, all of whom are elected members. The local community development committee is an important new committee of the local authority. Owing to the more diverse membership of the LCDC, there will be many instances where the chairperson will not be an elected member of a local authority.

The corporate policy group is central to the management of the business of the local authority and it will be important that the voice of the local community development committee is heard at the CPG. This amendment provides that the person representing the LCDC on the CPG will normally be the chairperson of that committee, with provision for a substitute where the members of the LCDC have selected, from their membership, an official of the local authority as chairperson. It would not be appropriate for an official of the local authority to sit on the co-ordinating body for policy making within the local authority. As drafted, this amendment reflects the importance of the local community development committee, while respecting the differentiation in roles between the elected members and officials of the council.

Amendments Nos. 78, 82 and 83 are technical amendments consequential to the insertion of the text to include representation for the LCDCs on the CPG. Once we remove provision for representation of political parties from the CPG, as I outlined, and add the representative of the LCDC, the membership of the CPG will be as follows: a cathaoirleach; the chairs of the strategic policy committee; the chair or representative of the local community development committee; and the cathaoirleach or nominee of each municipal district if a municipal district is not already represented with an SPC chair.

This will be the appropriate membership to allow the corporate policy group to discharge its role of co-ordinating the business of the council with greater efficiency.

What section is the Minister deleting?

Section 44(c) on page 57.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 78:

In page 57, line 9, to delete "(c) the leader" and substitute the following:

"(d) the leader".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 79:

In page 57, line 9, after "party" to insert "or political grouping".

I am a bit troubled about this issue. It will not affect me because I belong to a political party. The reason I sought to insert "political grouping"-----

I have dealt with that issue. I am withdrawing the reference.

Technically because it is Christmas.

Christmas is coming.

The word is out.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 80 and 81 not moved.

I move amendment No. 82:

In page 57, line 22, to delete "(d) where" and substitute the following:

"(e) where".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 83:

In page 57, line 23, to delete "paragraph (a), (b) or (c)" and substitute "paragraph (a), (b), (c) or (d)".

Amendment agreed to.

Section 44, as amended, agreed to.
Section 45 agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 84, 131 and 182 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 84:

In page 58, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:

"Local authority service delivery plans

46. The Principal Act is amended by inserting the following section after section 134:

"134A. (1) In respect of the local financial year which follows the commencement of this section and in respect of every financial year thereafter, each local authority shall prepare in accordance with subsection (5) a plan (in this section and Part 3 of Schedule 14A referred to as a 'service delivery plan') identifying the services intended to be provided by it to the public.

(2) The service delivery plan of a local authority shall be consistent with the provisions in the local authority budget of the expenditure estimated to be necessary for the local authority to carry out its functions during the local financial year to which that plan relates.

(3) The service delivery plan of a local authority shall take account of best practice in service delivery (including, where appropriate in relation to the delivery of services, best practice having regard to performance of functions identified pursuant to section 126C(1)(c) and that plan shall include-

(a) a statement of the principal services that will either continue to be provided or will otherwise be provided by the local authority in respect of the local financial year to which the plan relates,

(b) the objectives and priorities for the delivery of each of the services to which paragraph (a) relates, and the strategies for achieving those objectives and priorities,

(c) the performance standards intended to be met in the delivery of services, including reference to each appropriate performance standard prescribed by the Minister,

(d) the manner in which the local authority proposes to assess its performance in respect of the delivery of services, including identification of the relevant indicators for the purposes of section 126C(1)(a) and the performance indicators and performance standards prescribed by the Minister under subsection (7) as are appropriate to each service in the service delivery plan, and (e) such other matters as may be provided for by the Minister under subsection (7) or (8),

(4) In preparing its service delivery plan a local authority shall-

(a) take account of such policies and objectives in relation to any of its functional programmes that are set out in-

(i) any other plan, statement or strategy under the Local Government Acts 1925 to 2013,

(ii) any service level agreements, or

(iii) any other document prepared by it under this Act or any other enactment,

and in so preparing its plan the local authority shall comply with sections 69 and 71, and

(b) having regard to the outcome of any assessment carried out pursuant to subsection (6), indicate the actions proposed to be taken to meet any performance standard prescribed by the Minister under subsection (7) or as a result of a comparison with any relevant indicator identified by the National Oversight and Audit Commission or prescribed by the Minister under section 126C(1).

(5) (a) As soon as may be following the adoption of the local authority budget, the service delivery plan shall be-

(i) prepared, in consultation with the elected members, under the direction of the chief executive in such manner, and in accordance with the timescale and format as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Minister, and (ii) considered by the elected members and be adopted by resolution, with or without amendment, within such time limit and in accordance with such conditions and requirements, as may be so prescribed.

(b) In making an amendment under paragraph (a)(ii), the elected members shall have regard to the local authority budget adopted in accordance with section 103(9).

(c) The adoption of the service delivery plan, with or without amendments, is a reserved function.

(6) A local authority shall include in its annual report an assessment of its delivery of services during the year concerned when compared with its service delivery plan for that year, including reference to those performance standards and performance indicators specified in regulations made under this section and such relevant indicators identified by the National Oversight and Audit Commission or prescribed by the Minister under section 126C(1) as are appropriate.

(7) (a) The Minister may make regulations for one or more of the following matters:

(i) performance standards against which the effectiveness and efficiency of the delivery of services may be measured, and performance indicators to facilitate the evaluation of the performance of the local authority;

(ii) the comparison of one local authority, or class of local authorities, to another local authority or class of local authorities, as the case may be, in the delivery of services, and as appropriate, against any performance standard specified;

(iii) such other matters as the Minister may consider appropriate in relation to the preparation of service delivery plans.

(b) Before making regulations under this subsection, the Minister shall consult with the National Oversight and Audit Commission, and with any other Minister of the Government in respect of services provided by a local authority for which that other Minister is responsible.

(c) Regulations made by the Minister under this subsection shall be without prejudice to relevant indicators specified by the National Oversight and Audit Commission or prescribed by the Minister under section 126C(1).

(8)(a) The Minister may issue guidelines in respect of-

(i) the content and preparation of service delivery plans,

(ii) publication of service delivery plans,

(iii) such other matters as the Minister may consider appropriate and each local authority shall have regard to such guidelines.

(b) Guidelines under this subsection may provide for a service delivery plan of a local authority to take account of and to reflect the principal activities of municipal district members within its administrative area and for necessary consultation for that purpose.".".

For the first time, the statutory powers of elected members are being set out clearly in one Act by way of comprehensive a schedule of reserved functions. The increase in the number of reserved functions gives greater power, responsibility and accountability to the elected members and is recognition of their role within the council. The provision of customer service delivery plans is a key element of the continuing focus on implementing the local government efficiency agenda.

Service delivery plans provide for a new methodology whereby local authorities can clearly identify the services they will be providing, and the standards to which these are expected to be provided. It is increasingly important that citizens and communities can see what services they are getting for the taxes they pay for local authority services, via the local property tax. They must also be able to see whether the local authority has delivered what it promised, and whether they are getting value for money compared to the services provided in neighbouring or similar local authorities.

Accordingly, ongoing evaluation on performance, and year-on-year assessment of how delivery can be improved, is a critical element of this provision. The service delivery plans will be tied in closely with the proposed move from the current service indicators reporting system to a more qualitative performance indicator-performance standard model. Service delivery plans must be based on a realistic understanding of the choices made by the local authority in finalising its annual budget and reflect the prioritisation of the elected members.

Accordingly, the service delivery plans will be adopted promptly after the finalisation of the budget and I will be providing for timeframes for this to be done. Ideally, the plans will be prepared as much as possible in parallel with the annual budgetary cycle, to maintain a realistic link between the services the local authority needs to or would like, to provide, in the context of the budgetary decisions made. It is intended that the service delivery plans will reference and recognise the work of the National Oversight and Audit Commission being established under the Bill.

Furthermore, each local authority annual report will include a comprehensive review of performance of the service plans against certain performance standards by reference to the performance indicators. Reporting on the annual service delivery plans will show where a local authority is improving, or not improving, as the case may be. This will allow the public see how local authorities are performing against their agreed targets and decide for themselves whether they consider that their local authority is providing real value for money.

Amendment No. 131 is a related numbering change. Amendment No. 182 provides for the insertion in the schedule listing the reserved functions of the local authority that the adoption of a local authority service delivery plan is such a function.

Obviously it is important there is a quality of service and the performance indicators are a good way of doing that. I have been looking at the issue from a practical point of view. The delivery of service requires people. There is a very unequal distribution of local government staffing. I realise that issue cannot be rectified overnight. For example, Meath, which is a rapidly growing area, has half the staffing level that is available in Kerry, although Meath has 40,000 more people. It is not possible to deliver services without people. It will be a real challenge to service the municipal districts where the staffing is at skeletal level. There will have to be a relaxation of the embargo and a rebalancing of the local government fund to take account of that issue. That imbalance occurs mostly in the more highly populated areas; Not only in the periphery of Dublin but also of Galway and Cork one will find the same scenarios. Clearly the distribution of the general purposes grant shows the areas positioned on a per capita basis on the lowest level are those that are in those particular locations. The staffing and funding elements cannot be ignored in the context of the outcomes sought. We cannot compare like with like around the country. There will have to be a minimum level of service that people can expect to get.

A more critical look will be taken at local authorities. Already, people are asking what they are getting. They see a direct relationship with payment of the local property tax. If they see that vastly better services are provided in one location over another and if the origin of the problem is that the staffing level is half that in an area that has a larger population they would have every reason to feel aggrieved. As the local government fund will continue to be part of the funding mix there has got to be a review of how it is distributed.

I do not have any difficulty with an equalisation element but a number of issues are not taken into account in the needs of the resources model. For example, population increases have been inadequately counted. For example, if a county has four swimming pools it has a need to fund four swimming pools. If it happens to have two swimming pools then it does not have to maintain four swimming pools. Essentially, it must be funded on the basis of two as opposed to four, when in fact it needs four.

The section is meaningless unless other things come with it. I do not disagree that it is needed but if there are to be outcomes that will be visible to people, there has got to be a commitment to the other issues.

My comments are in much the same vein. It is a peculiar sort of exercise.

The county development plan is a service delivery plan which sets outs the aspirations and goals of the local authority, the mechanisms that govern it and the way in which it does business over five or six years. The roads programme in any given year is a service delivery plan, as are the arts programme and the housing programme and the means and mechanisms by which these programmes are implemented are determined by the amount of funding that is made available to the local authority. I hope, therefore, that when the Minister is measuring service delivery plans, he will leave a large space available to examine the lack of available funds to carry out the function for which they were put in place. This should be measured so that responsibility and political accountability can be measured by the public, rather than lay the failure to deliver at the feet of the local authority members. The failure lies at the feet of central government which did not make the funds available to deliver many of the programmes.

I will deal with Deputy Cowen's point first. Any lack of funds will have to be taken into account. If authorities do not get the money at national level they feel they should get for a particular key piece of infrastructure, that is important. However, local authorities will fund themselves a lot more than previously, through the provision of the local property tax. There will be a responsibility and obligation with that.

I would say there will be a significant gap between what they need and what they get.

If there is a significant gap, that will have to be taken into account. The delivery will be assessed based on the criteria the local authority has laid down in terms of how it wants to measure itself.

Let me explain where I come from on this. Whether it was a privilege or an honour, I was once a member of the south eastern health board, for a period of nine years. The way the board worked out its budget during those years, between 1991 and 1999, was an eye-opener for me in terms of service delivery plans. One could see exactly where the money was earmarked for delivery, to the extent that if one was on the community care committee, one could see which organisations were getting money and how much. As a member of the health board, one could suggest changes and get support to change an allocation.

This was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the pressure points and prioritise which area to which moneys should be allocated. I believe this is a principle by which local authorities and their committees could operate also and that is where I am coming from on this. I saw at first hand how people could be given discretion to move moneys allocated around to deliver results for key organisations that had been ignored by bureaucracy for far too long. This also provided an opportunity for outcomes to be measured and if necessary, one could come along the following year and say this or that did or did not work or was not implemented properly. Adjustments could be made or other areas could be prioritised. The service plan concept worked well in the old health board system. While that system had problems, it did not have as many as people see in the system since then.

To return to the issue raised by Deputy Murphy, a workforce plan is required in each local authority. That work is going on currently in the context of the reform. Far less administration work will be required because of the changes we are making in the context of the town councils. Tipperary, for example, has seven town councils and two county councils. This ties up a lot of people, but that will not be necessary in the new arrangements, in a Tipperary county council entity. These people will be able to do other things, apart from being tied up in administrative arrangements such as annual reports, annual audits, corporate plans, development plans and so on. This will no longer be necessary because that will be done at county level. This is the raison d'être of what we want to achieve, to have an integrated approach, less duplication and less waste and administration so that we can prioritise the areas the Deputy spoke about, in terms of administrative structures.

Officials from my Department have been working with local authorities on a workforce planning exercise for the past year. Hopefully, in the context of the employment ceilings in place, they will be able to release staff from some duties and place them in the priority areas mentioned by the Deputy.

There were 26 town councils but they usually only had a person on half time. Therefore, the number of people that will be freed up may not be as large as the Minister thinks.

The Deputy would be amazed by the number, judging from the exercise we are doing now.

Okay. I welcome the fact the Department is doing some workforce planning, because the fault-lines will be seen. There are areas that need attention, such as the planning system which is discredited due to large numbers of unauthorised developments. It is taking forever to deal with the estates that have not been taken in charge in a timely way. These areas must be part of the performance indicators because they affect people significantly. It is areas such as this where the local authority has no legal responsibility that need attention. If there is a legal responsibility to deal with an issue, such as to deal with a planning application, that responsibility will always be met. However, other issues get pushed aside when staffing is inadequate. While the staff in the local authorities may be very good, if there is not enough staff, we run into difficulties.

The Minister stated there will be more independent funding. Since 2008, there was €1 billion in the general purposes grant. That is down to €640 million this year. It is proposed to take moneys from the motor tax fund, which had been ring-fenced previously, so that is, essentially, a diminishing fund. It may well be the moneys available are different moneys, but that does not mean there is more. I cannot see there is any more money. Will the Minister give us a run-down of the moneys?

I did not say there was going to be more money.

The Minister said there would be more independent money. Perhaps I need to listen more carefully to what the Minister says.

The local authorities will have the ability to raise more money themselves locally. They will have a lot more discretion.

An ability to raise more money from people who do not have it.

I heard that during the Celtic tiger era also.

We are not in the Celtic tiger times now.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 85 and 86, in the name of the Minister, are related and will be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 85:

In page 59, line 10, to delete “strategic policy committee” and substitute “committee”.

These are technical amendments. At line 6, "committee" refers to both strategic policy committees and the local community development committee and at line 10 the same word should be used. This will prevent unnecessary confusion in operating the important extension of the powers of the elected council to request information from the chief executive to allowing all operational levels of the elected members to seek information in a similar manner.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 86:

In page 59, line 10, after “body” to insert “(as the case may be)”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 46, as amended, agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 87 to 89, inclusive, and amendment No. 129 are related and will be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 87:

In page 60, line 9, to delete “inserting the following after paragraph (d)” and substitute “substituting the following for paragraph (d)”.

These are technical amendments that are required to correct an element of overlap in the published Bill, between section 47 (d) and Part 1 of Schedule 1, relating to an amendment to section 140 of the Local Government Act 2001. The main changes to section 140 will now be carried in the main part of the Bill, in section 47. A number of minor amendments changing the term "manager" to "chief executive" remain in Schedule 1. Amendment No. 129 is related to amendments Nos. 87 to 89 and provides for the deletion of the text in the Schedule causing the overlap.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 88:

In page 60, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:

“ “(d) so as to prevent the performance of any function of a local authority which the authority or the chief executive is required by law or by order of a court to perform,”.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 89:

In page 60, line 10, to delete “ “(e) to any act” and substitute “(e) to any act”.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 47, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 90:

In page 62, lines 22 to 24, to delete all words from and including “providing” in line 22 down to and including “allowances)” in line 24 and substitute the following:

“providing for a reduction in remuneration or any allowances for expenses (including the amount of such reduction expressed as a percentage of specified remuneration or allowances for expenses, as the case may be)”.

The purpose of the amendment is to provide for a commonality of approach in the reductions in expenses to include remuneration also should the, hopefully unlikely, necessity arise where a member fails to comply with regulations on attendance at training provided for councillors. Better training for elected members will be necessary to ensure they have the skills and expertise to better discharge their enhanced policy development role and their greater role in the oversight of delivery of policy. The amendment will complete the provision to reduce expenses in the event of a member not attending training, if required in the regulations, to include the option for a reduction in remuneration, such as the representational payment. The ACC and AMAI view the provision of better training for councillors as important for the new intake of councillors in June 2014 and I agree with them. Once the structured training and development programme is agreed with the amalgamated association, I will be disappointed if elected members fail to attend. This amendment, which provides for reductions of expenses and remuneration, will act as a financial incentive to ensure attendance.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 48, as amended, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 91:

In page 65, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:

“(7) The Chief Executive will refer the establishment of all new local authority committees to the approval of a full meeting of the council.”.

This amendment proposes that the establishment of any new local authority committee should be put before a full meeting of the council for approval rather than be an executive function of the chief executive.

The other committees have to get the sanction of the full council. The only exception to this for reasons of funding is the local community development committee, LCDC. If we want to establish a local community development committee as a local action group to draw down European funds, we must have a bottom-up approach. This was the position agreed with the authorities in Brussels as the appropriate way in which it should be done in order that we constitute the LCDCs as local action groups. Under the rural development programme there are specific European regulations covering these funds. The LCDC is the only committee that requires to do the business in an independent way.

Should we state that?

Should we state this is the reason we are doing it?

Should we state that is the only instance where this would be the case?

It is already there. There is a reference to the fact that this is the only committee where it is required to align community with local government. Deputy Cowen is suggesting that we state this is the only one we have in mind.

Will the Minister point out where it is already there?

There is a reference to how the chief officer of the committee shall in consultation with the corporate policy group seek and select the nominees to the committee. There is a further reference to how a local authority may, if it considers it appropriate, by resolution establish either or both one or more of the committees. Local authorities have the power by reserve function to set up any committee of the council at the moment. This is the only exception.

The chief executive has this exception. In this case, the chief executive does not need the authority of the members for the reasons the Minister has stated.

It is in the 2001 Act.

I would rather if the reasons the Minister has stated were inserted in the Bill in order that there is no ambiguity and that this will be the only instance where it can occur.

Section 128D(3)(a) states "The chief officer of the Committee shall seek and select nominees to the Committee, from time to time, in accordance with subsection (2) and any regulations made, or general policy guidelines issued, by the Minister for that purpose, and shall submit a list of recommended nominees to the members of the local authority for their consideration." When amended, the section will read "The chief officer of the Committee shall in consultation with the corporate policy group seek and select the nominees to the committee..." The purpose is to amend the 2001 Act to give it a little more clarity along the lines Deputy Cowen is seeking.

I would go a little further.

Deputy Cowen would go further and have it as a reserve function of the full council. I cannot do it under the EU regulations for the LCDCs.

The Minister could do it in this Bill to highlight to members that it is only in the instance where by virtue of EU rules-----

It is already in there.

I am not convinced.

Deputy Cowen wants to come at it from a different way.

I want this to be the only exception and it needs to be stated.

Okay. We will examine that for the next occasion. In the meantime, we will get clarity for Deputy Cowen in respect of the legal provisions in place. If Deputy Cowen wishes to make exceptions for EU-funded programmes where we need a bottom-up approach, we will examine it.

That is funding coming from an outside source into the local authority. Local authority members are elected by the public to transact public funds within the State.

Are you withdrawing the amendment, Deputy?

I will withdraw it on the basis that a reference be made to it on Report Stage.

We will check the legal advice and come back to Deputy Cowen on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 92 and 93 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 92:

In page 68, delete lines 7 to 11 and substitute the following:

“(a) whose tenure is governed by an order under section 47 of the Local Government Act 1991 (in this subsection referred to as the ‘Act of 1991’), or”.

The amendment is required as there are no serving city or county managers soon to be chief executives appointed before the commencement of the 1991 Act.

Amendment agreed to.