Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Local Authority Boundaries Review.

Godfrey Timmins

Ceist:

10 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for the Environment when he proposes to establish the independent advisory committee to review local authority boundaries including the local electoral area boundaries.

Edward Nealon

Ceist:

17 Mr. Nealon asked the Minister for the Environment when he proposes to establish the independent advisory committee to review local authority boundaries including the local electoral area boundaries.

Garrett Fitzgerald

Ceist:

19 Dr. G. FitzGerald asked the Minister for the Environment when he proposes to establish the independent advisory committee to review local authority boundaries including the local electoral area boundaries.

Fergus O'Brien

Ceist:

21 Mr. O'Brien asked the Minister for the Environment if he will outline (1) the composition of the ministerial group which considered the issue of sub-county local authorities and (2) the date of completion of their report.

Louis J. Belton

Ceist:

24 Mr. Belton asked the Minister for the Environment if he will clarify whether the Government are still committed to a new tier of local authorities described as district councils; and if so, when it is likely that elections to these councils will be held.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

30 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for the Environment when he proposes to establish the independent advisory committee to review local authority boundaries including the local electoral area boundaries.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

33 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for the Environment if he will confirm that the Government have decided not to hold elections in 1992 for the sub-county structures as proposed in the Local Government Act, 1991; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Dick Spring

Ceist:

47 Mr. Spring asked the Minister for the Environment whether he is prepared to use the polling day of 18 June 1992 which will be used for the Maastricht Referendum, as an opportunity to renew the democratic mandate of those urban authorities which did not have a vote last year; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Michael Bell

Ceist:

48 Mr. Bell asked the Minister for the Environment when the Bill on the subcounty structure of local government will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Donal Carey

Ceist:

49 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for the Environment if he will outline (1) the composition of the ministerial group which considered the issue of sub-county local authorities and (2) the date of completion of their report.

Fergus O'Brien

Ceist:

52 Mr. O'Brien asked the Minister for the Environment when he proposes to establish the independent advisory committee to review local authority boundaries including the local electoral area boundaries.

Austin Currie

Ceist:

66 Mr. Currie asked the Minister for the Environment if he will outline (1) the composition of the ministerial group which considered the issue of sub-county local authorities and (2) the date of completion of their report.

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

81 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for the Environment if, in view of the statement by the Taoiseach that it was unlikely that legislation would be published to allow for the implementation of new local government structures this year, any new deadline has been set for the implementation of these structures; whether elections will now be held under the old structures this year for urban district councils and town commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

John Bruton

Ceist:

84 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment if he will outline (1) the composition of the ministerial groups which considered the issue of sub-county local authorities and (2) the date of completion of their report.

Andrew Boylan

Ceist:

88 Mr. Boylan asked the Minister for the Environment if he will outline (1) the composition of the ministerial groups which considered the issue of sub-county local authorities and (2) the date of completion of their report.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

191 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for the Environment whether, in the light of the decision to postpone local elections this year, it is now proposed that corporations, urban councils and town commissions will be retained.

John Bruton

Ceist:

195 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment when he proposes to establish the independent advisory committee to review local authority boundaries including the local electoral area boundaries.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10, 17, 19, 21, 24, 30, 33, 47, 48, 49, 52, 66, 81, 84, 88, 191 and 195 together.

The Advisory Expert Committee on Local Government Reorganisation and Reform failed to agree on the question of the most appropriate local government structures at the sub-county level. The Local Government Act, 1991, postponed local elections at this level to allow for a comprehensive review of the various issues. The ministerial group established by the former Government to consider this matter had not completed their work when the present Government took office. The group comprised of the Ministers for the Environment, Education, Energy, Foreign Affairs, Health, Industry and Commerce, Justice and Minister of State, Deputy Harney.

Of course the matter is a complex one involving, as it does, the related questions of the devolution of functions and cost considerations, obviously it will take some time to bring these considerations to a conclusion. In these circumstances, it is not proposed to hold local elections this year at sub-county level. The provisions of the Local Government Act, 1991, postponing such elections continue to apply. Neither would it be appropriate to establish a boundary advisory committee pending the formulation of definitive proposals as to structures and publication of the necessary detailed 1991 census data.

A new ministerial committee was established last March to consider sub-county local government structures and devolution of functions to local authorities. This committee will complete their work as soon as possible and report to the Government who will decide what legislative proposals should be brought forward.

Would the Minister clarify his view of sub-county structures? For example, is he completely committed to the abolition of urban district councils, town commissions and borough councils? Is he also committed to their substitution by district councils? What are his views on these issues?

I have made it absolutely clear on a number of occasions that I am concerned to ensure that there would continue to be locally elected members to serve the various towns and townlands nationwide. Clearly there is the established county system. Then the question of sub-county structures has to be developed in the light of changing circumstances, population, extending town boundaries and the number of towns and other areas nationwide that do not have available to them local councils. All these matters are being considered by the ministerial subcommittee. We will be reporting to Government with definite proposals as soon as possible. We envisage being in a position to make a final report towards the end of this year.

The Minister's response sounded like a very definite maybe or maybe not. If there is no decision taken to proceed with the abolition of the three types of town councils, would he confirm that it is the Government's intention to proceed with the elections to those town councils next year and that they will not be further postponed?

I do not want to prejudge decisions the Government will take in this area. Clearly, the question of sub-county structures and that of devolution are strung together. In turn, the Barrington Committee envisages some difficulties, even delay, in deciding on the question of devolution. It is very important not only to decide on local structures but also to have a very clear view of their ultimate functions. Therefore both issues need to be considered together. We will not be rushed into taking any decisions with regard to these matters until we have finalised comprehensive views as to how these local authorities can be energised and serve their local areas in a new, different and more comprehensive manner. However, I have no difficulty in saying that I believe fundamentally in that type of devolution and in local democracy.

May I draw the Minister back to the commitment given in the Programme for Government which promised that this legislation would be in place by March of this year? Would he say how it is that, within a matter of months of having agreed this date, the Minister now finds the matters are so complex it will be at least the end of this year before a report is produced? Surely it is only fair to those serving on town commissions and urban district councils that they would know whether they would be standing for election to those bodies next year and, indeed, whether those bodies will then exist? Surely a decision in principle should be taken at this point without awaiting the details?

I do not want to go into the background of the position vis-à-vis the Programme for Government — clearly that was a statement made at the time with a view to implementation — but, in fairness to all sides, I should say there were a number of changes in my Department alone which would have militated against the production of a final report on the lines anticipated earlier last year. As far as an indication to people at present serving on local authorities are concerned, clearly they have been given a good opportunity to serve their respective local constituencies. They do not seem to be complaining to me about any necessity to indicate formally to them what the position will be a year hence.

Will this review committee also examine overall funding of local authorities? In relation to Dublin, can the Minister say when the three new county councils will be formally established on a statutory basis in view of the fact that the local elections were fought on the basis of there being three new local authorities in Dublin? In view of the fact that the new county councils are due to be established on a statutory basis, would the Minister not agree it would be proper that the development plan currently under discussion in County Dublin be postponed and rather dealt with by the three new county councils?

That would appear to be a separate question. However, the question of the establishment of three local authorities in Dublin is moving ahead. As the Deputy will know, the managers have been appointed, the various committees serving and reporting. I cannot give a specific deadline, in that certain difficulties have emerged that must be ironed out, but it is our intention to ensure that the planning and finalisation of these matters be brought to a conclusion as soon as possible.

With regard to the financing of local authorities, part of that consideration was included in the earlier committee's activities in that the Barrington Committee requested fiscal studies of the equalisation aspect of the rates support grant. However, the wider financial considerations did not form part of the remit of the earlier committee, though it does appear to me that the closer one examines both the structures and functions the more one comes to the view that the tertiary question of finance also ultimately must enter into that equation.

Will the Minister say whether the nine Irish representatives on the new committee which will represent local authorities in Europe after the Maastricht Referendum — assuming the Maastricht Referendum will be passed — will ensure that their boundaries and areas are related to any such review of local authority boundaries or new structures?

Deputies are making odd jumps in questions. However, that seems to be the order for today——

I hope it will be local authority members and not county managers who are selected.

There will be nine Irish representatives out of a total of 109 on the new regional committee. The question of the regions to be represented has to be decided internally first. I will be bringing proposals in this regard before the Government during the next few weeks. There are two issues which have to be taken into consideration in regard to the regional boundaries, but one way or the other we will have nine representatives who clearly will be selected from most of the individual regions.

Will they be elected local authority members or county managers?

It seems that these committees will be primarily confined to elected representatives, as the Deputy knows.

I hope so.

I am glad to hear the Minister put it on the record that these committees are confined to elected representatives. However, I will not go into that debate now. I suggest to the Minister that it would be better government for him to admit now that there is no intention of going ahead with new sub-structures because of opposition, virtually across the political spectrum, from elected representatives who fear the abolition of urban district councils and town commissioners. It would make more sense at this stage for the boundaries of urban district councils to be regularised to include urban areas which are currently outside them, so that the administrative problems which many people have as a result of being outside urban areas, although living in an urban area, can be dealt with.

Even if one had reached that conclusion, I do not think this is the appropriate time to deal with it I have met representatives of the municipal authorities and councils, and there are differing views on this issue. My responsibility is to ensure that the changes which are necessary in the framework for local administration are developmental and will enable local authorities to carry new and much more onerous functions. Undoubtedly there is at present within Government systems an obligation to make decisions on matters which would better reside with local elected representatives. All of these matters will have to be teased out so as to ensure that the changes are workable, effective and efficient and will enhance development in all of the local areas. So far as I am concerned, that will be the primary consideration. I am afraid that in some cases local representatives want to keep their present functions, without consideration of the changes which are taking place and the necessity for changes. I will take the overall situation into account and make the system workable and effective as soon as possible.

These are all very fine words from the Minister, but he is the third Minister during the past year to repeat them. Would the Minister not accept that what he has said flies in the face of the daily experience of all members of local authorities? Would he not further accept that many of the things councils have resolved to do require, even for minor matters, the permission of the Minister? When a proposal is sent to the Minister in the Custom House it gets clogged up. I will give some examples. First, there is the £5 million fund from parking fees in the name of Dublin Corporation. We have a long list of traffic control measures which we want to implement. These have been approved by the Garda Commissioner for the past three years but we cannot get approval from the Minister to spend a penny of this money. I believe the money should be released and councils allowed to make the decisions. Second, problems also arise in relation to minor issues. If we want to build two houses in Smithfield we have to wait for months for the Minister's permission for an infill site. Does the Minister not agree that local authorities should be allowed to make these decisions themselves?

I am concerned to ensure that workable changes are put in place as soon as possible. As I have said on numerous occasions, I believe that the decision-making process should be devolved to local regions while at the same time having regard to national demands on financial resources, etc. The Deputy said that he had to deal with three Ministers over the past year but I should point out that when his party were in Government the only function given to local authorities was the issuing of dog licences.

That may be true and, if so, this was wrong.