Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Questions (107)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

107. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the reason that, even though the report of the working group on active citizenship is imminent, the working group did not carry out any consultation with the community sector, those involved with community work or community groups; the reason his Department also bypassed the structures established by the State itself, including the community and voluntary pillar, when establishing the membership of the working group, disregarding the normal arrangement for participation, transparency and accountability in the drafting of the Local Government Reform Bill 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4929/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I set up the Working Group on citizen engagement with local government, under the chairmanship of Fr. Sean Healy, in September 2013 to make recommendations on more extensive and diverse input by citizens into the decision-making process and to allow for facilitation of input by citizens into decision making at the local government level. The members of the group were chosen for their extensive experience and expertise in community engagement over many years; indeed a number of the group engage with my Department on an on-going basis through the community and voluntary and environmental pillars. I am satisfied that the Group used that experience and expertise wisely in their deliberations over the months during which they met. I received the working group's report towards the end of December 2013 I am currently considering it in the context of the Local Government reform programme. I intend that it will be published on my Department's website at an early date.

In this connection, the Local Government Reform Act 2014 has been a major undertaking involving input from a range of sources, including the community and voluntary sector. Section 46 of the 2014 Act replaces section 127 of the Local Government Act 2001 with a new section which enables local authorities to take all appropriate steps to consult with and promote effective participation of local communities in local government. One of the principal implementing provisions will be the adoption by each local authority, in accordance with Regulations to be made under the Act, of a framework for public participation in local government, which will set out the mechanism by which citizens and communities will be encouraged and supported to participate in the decision-making processes of the local authority.

It is clear to me that the participation of citizens and communities in local government, whether as individuals or as members of local sectoral, community or other groups in public life and their right to influence the decisions that affect their lives and communities is at the centre of democracy. Open and inclusive policy-making, enhances transparency and accountability, and builds civic capacity.  I am satisfied that the new Local Government Reform Act 2014 facilitates local authorities in building more effective and inclusive relationships with all sections of society and that consultation and participation will, as part of the overall reform, be at the heart of our local government system.