Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Questions (13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18)

Micheál Martin

Question:

13. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the Citizens' Assembly on the Dublin mayor; and the way in which the work has progressed on same. [23902/19]

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Brendan Howlin

Question:

14. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the proposals for a Citizens' Assembly on a Dublin mayor. [24991/19]

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Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

15. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the proposed Citizens' Assembly in respect of a directly elected mayor of Dublin. [25072/19]

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Joan Burton

Question:

16. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his plans for a Citizens' Assembly on the future of a Dublin mayor. [25167/19]

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Micheál Martin

Question:

17. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the two citizens' assemblies recently agreed on gender equality and the election of a Dublin mayor; when they will be set up; and the terms of reference of same. [25192/19]

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Michael Moynihan

Question:

18. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the new Citizens' Assembly on Dublin local authorities and directly elected mayors; the terms of reference; and when it will be concluded. [25597/19]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 to 18, inclusive, together.

The Government recently agreed that a Citizens’ Assembly be convened to bring forward proposals to advance gender equality that challenge the remaining barriers, social norms and attitudes that facilitate gender discrimination towards girls and boys, women and men; in particular, to seek to ensure women's full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in the workplace, politics and public life; that recognise the importance of early years parental care and seek to facilitate greater work-life balance; to examine the social responsibility of care and women and men's co-responsibility for care, especially within the family; and following on from that to prioritise the proposals, which may include policy, legislative or constitutional change, having regard to the legal requirements and the costs versus the potential impact. Following an establishment phase, it is expected that the assembly will be up and running by end October 2019 and will run for a maximum of six months.

Following consideration of the outcome of the plebiscites on directly elected mayors for Limerick, Cork and Waterford on 24 May, a further Dublin Citizens' Assembly will be convened to consider the best model of local government for Dublin and, in particular, the issue, but not exclusively, of a directly elected mayor and his or her powers. This assembly will run subsequent to the assembly on gender equality. When it comes to local government, Dublin is much more complicated than Cork, Limerick and Galway because of the existence in Dublin of four authorities with four mayors. We will need to consider different ideas on an appropriate model for how local government could work given that there are four local authorities to which many people feel a connection, but others do not.

A Citizens’ Assembly may be valuable as a way to ask the people of Dublin what they believe could work best. I will bring the detailed proposals of the Dublin assembly to Government shortly. As with the Convention on the Constitution and the previous Citizens’ Assembly, I expect the establishment of these assemblies will be the subject of a resolution of each House of the Oireachtas and that the assemblies will also report to both Houses of the Oireachtas and not just to the Government.

I would like some clarity on the Citizens' Assembly in respect of the Dublin mayoralty. Is the Taoiseach suggesting that the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality will have to completed its work before the Citizens' Assembly on the Dublin mayoralty can proceed, which would be postponing any action on a Dublin mayor for a long time? When John Gormley was Minister he brought forward detailed plans for a Dublin mayoralty. Last week, following on from the local elections, the Taoiseach has doubled down in terms of his partisan and rather defensive approach to politics and blamed the Opposition, yours truly in particular, for the defeat of the plebiscites in Waterford and Cork, notwithstanding that I had spoken to him in the House approximately eight weeks beforehand decrying the lack of any published material or White Paper. It seems to me that in terms of changes and the introduction of a mayoral system, we do not need plebiscites or a Citizens' Assembly. The Government could bring forward proposals to the Oireachtas for a change of legislation. In the first instance, whatever the chosen model, whether a Citizens' Assembly or a plebiscite, a basic prerequisite is the publication of a White Paper setting out in detail the proposals well in advance so that an informed public debate can take place, followed by legislative proposals. To me, this is a basic requirement for plebiscites and referendums. Furthermore, I do not believe these should be held on the same day as elections. In the debate on Europe and the local elections, the opportunity or space to have an informed discussion on issues such as a mayoralty does not exist. A plebiscite is not about scraping a majority. Rather, it is about achieving a comprehensive consensus in favour of a set of proposals as happened in London. In regard to the London mayoralty, full information was published well in advance and broad based support was nurtured and developed and over three-quarters of the public voted in favour of it. What happened here in terms of how the people were presented with the set of proposals was, in my view, shambolic and incompetent. I say that objectively, and I said it in advance of the plebiscite. Having voted for it and having consistently supported the directly elected mayor concept, as I still do, it seems to me that in respect of Dublin, given it will take six months from October 2019 for the Citizens' Assembly to complete its work on the first issue, which I support, we are a long way off any consideration of a directly elected mayor in Dublin. In terms of what is proposed, it is a case of kicking the can down the road.

In the interim, I ask that the Government produce a White Paper on the Dublin mayoralty which could feed into any process such as a Citizens' Assembly that may eventually happen.

This Government has become famous for its policy of kicking the can down the road. The Citizens' Assembly proposal for Dublin seems to fit into that policy. On a technical point, will the gathering of citizens be from all over Ireland or from the Dublin region? We need to know the answer to that question? Dublin is experiencing a number of crises which require urgent action by Government and by councils, including the homelessness crisis, the failure of the Government to develop land on which to build social and affordable housing and the deterioration in the air quality in Dublin, which is leading to an increase in the number of asthma cases. I draw to the Taoiseach's attention the publication of the air statistics, which report four recent breaches in the Castleknock-Blanchardstown area of the minimum air quality; two breaches in the Phoenix Park - the most tree full area of Dublin, for which this Government has tourism plans - and 11 breaches in Ringsend, which is as high as for Enniscorthy where we know there is a smoky coal problem. I ask the Taoiseach to clarify what Government proposes to ask of the Citizens' Assembly.

Like the Taoiseach, I am a former member of Fingal County Council. One of the reasons people voted against an overall mayor of Dublin was their fear that Dublin City Council would dominate to the exclusion of the interests of the former county council areas, which is understandable. It is a Mansion House-centric proposal that this Government appears to be following. What will be different in the Government's proposals, which I think the Taoiseach should share?

I want to focus on the directly elected mayors and the Citizens' Assembly. The Taoiseach has announced a Citizens' Assembly in respect of the directly elected mayor for Dublin. It strikes me as odd that a similar process was not put in place in advance of the plebiscites in Cork, Waterford and Limerick. The people of Galway are also to have the question put to them without any meaningful consultation on it. We could potentially arrive at the slightly bizarre situation where Limerick becomes the only city with a directly elected mayor while other cities are left behind in that regard, all for the want of some element of cop-on on the part of Government. What will happen to Limerick in that situation?

That is a long way off too.

We need some direction on it. What is the timeframe in regard to the Citizens' Assembly in Dublin? Are there similar processes proposed for other cities that have not been put in place for Galway? What is the situation with regard to other large urban centres throughout the country? Is it envisaged that if the process of directly elected mayors for Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway and Dublin works, the process will be rolled out to other areas? Where are we at in respect of this proposal?

I thank the Deputies for their questions, which I will do my best to answer. In terms of an indicative timeline, we all appreciate that these things can change but the indicative timeline at the moment would be for the preliminary work on the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality to start immediately. We will want to put a resolution to both Houses before that, which we propose to do in the next couple of weeks. The assembly would sit from October 2019 to March 2020. We are giving it roughly six months to do its work. The Dublin local government reform assembly would sit for the following six months, between April and September 2020, which would allow for a plebiscite to happen in 2021, probably on the same day that Limerick elects its mayor and, possibly, subject to the merger happening and working out in Galway, a plebiscite being put to people there as well.

There is plenty of time to get it right. Limerick can be the pilot to see how this works and to demonstrate that it can work and be a success. Perhaps other cities will want to follow on from that. I would be keen to have that legislation done well in advance of the election of the Limerick mayor in 2021 and to put in a package of additional resources and supports for that Limerick mayor, providing a budget from the local government fund not just to pay for the office but also to provide additional funding to be able to take actions as mayor to be able to improve the city and county. It is a real opportunity for the people of Limerick and I am glad that they voted in favour of doing it.

Dublin is different, which I think we all appreciate. Dublin has four local authorities with four mayors. The model put forward by former Minister, John Gormley, which I do not think ever became law, having maybe gone through one House but not the other, was to have a fifth mayor, a sort of super-mayor above the four mayors. Maybe that is the best model, although I am not sure that it is. That is why I think it is a good idea to have a Citizens' Assembly to consult with 100 citizens from Dublin, not from around the country, about what they think the best model might be. There are models that can be considered, such as the five-mayor model, keeping the four mayors and having a fifth mayor and super-authority over that. There is potentially the London or Paris model, having a single new assembly for Dublin with borough councils or local councils under that, maybe aligned with the postal districts such as in Paris with its arrondissements or the London boroughs. We also want them to examine the powers because certain powers held by central Government could potentially be transferred to local government in Dublin. I think that could also happen in Limerick. For example, the tendering of bus services in Limerick could become a function of the local authority rather than the NTA but of course the money would have to follow. They are the kinds of things that I am thinking of but I am not prescribing the solutions here. There will be deep engagement in Limerick in particular about the legislation as we work through it, and also in Dublin with this assembly. We need to make an options paper for the Citizens' Assembly so that people have a chance to consider the different options and models but it is not my intention to prescribe it in the way that Deputy Micheál Martin suggests. I think we should put the different models and options that exist around the world to the Citizens' Assembly and see what the people of Dublin have to say about it through the Citizens' Assembly.

I noted again that Deputy Martin accused me of being partisan. It has become one of his speaking points and go-to lines lately. The simple solution to that is for Deputy Martin to lead by example and stop being partisan. I am very happy to be non-partisan. Let us both agree today not to be personal or partisan. I would be happy to agree to that if the Deputy is able to agree to it but we will see.

With regard to air quality, I think that Deputies will be aware that in budget 2019, we increased the tax on diesel imports. That was an example of a budget measure in the most recent budget to put an additional tax on the import of diesel vehicles, because we all know the damage that diesel vehicles do to our air quality. In the future, we can disincentivise the use of diesel vehicles. We indicated how that can be done in the climate plan, by equalising excise and changing the motor tax regime to incentivise hybrids and electric vehicles over diesel. There is also the bus fleet. As I mentioned earlier, three of the hybrid buses have now arrived and will be in service on the Lucan route. I think six will arrive in the next week or so. They will all work on the Lucan route and I think that they will work well. Sitting on it, it seemed like any other bus. We will check them out in case there are problems but there are now 600 on order as part of that process.

There are 3,000 in London.

Another matter is the electrification of the railways. I know that the contribution that will make to improving air quality is small but there are other advantages to it too. Those are just a few examples of what is in train.