Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 26 May 1998

Vol. 491 No. 3

Local Government Bill, 1998: Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, line 7, after "under" to insert "subsection (3) of this section, section 11,".

This amendment is consequential on one I have tabled to section 11. It has to do with the reference to regulations or orders made under the Act. I will propose later on that we take a different view of section 11 of this Bill. It is my contention that orders to be made under that section should not be of the passive kind envisaged here but, rather, should be of an active kind that would require the specific agreement of the Houses. That is a better procedure for orders of the importance of those that are contemplated here. Will the Minister accept this? We had some discussion on this matter on Committee Stage when the Minister seemed to be disposed to reconsider the matter.

Deputy Dukes has again tabled an amendment which he originally proposed on Committee Stage. The amendment would remove the scope of section 2(5) with regard to regulations made under two sections. The first one would be regulations under section 2(3) which the Minister is empowered to make in respect of removing difficulties in bringing any provision of the Bill into operation.

The second concerns regulations under section 11. It is more appropriate to discuss section 11 separately because there are a number of amendments to it. Section 11 does not refer to the making of any orders or regulations. Presumably, the Deputy is referring to section 2 of the Local Authority Officers and Employees Act, 1926, under which the Minister may, with the concurrence of the Local Appointments Commission, specify which posts are to be filled by the LAC.

The amendment as drafted would mean that regulations under section 2(3) would not have to be laid before the Oireachtas. I do not think that is the Deputy's intent but that would be the effect of that amendment.

Last week, during the debate on the Deputy's amendment at the select committee, I explained that the effect of that amendment would be to remove altogether the requirement for certain regulations to be laid before the House at any stage. Given the fact that, I understand, the Deputy wants them to be laid before the House, and the Deputy himself accepted at that stage that his wording was a bit wayward, I am puzzled as to why the amendment should have been tabled again in the same format.

May I explain that to the Minister?

I would be delighted if the Deputy would do so.

Just to save him the lecture.

It is not a lecture, I am just pointing that out.

The only reason for putting down the amendment was that the Minister indicated on Committee Stage that he might reconsider this matter. It seems to me that the form of the amendment is irrelevant. The Minister went through all that last week and we have had the benefit of his wisdom. However, I would like to ask him now if he has thought again about the discussion we had on the form of orders to be made and the circumstances in which orders would be made. Does he have any new thinking to tell us about at this stage? I note from the amendments tabled that the Minister is not proposing any amendment. Maybe when we get to section 11 the Minister might think again about it.

The Deputy seems to be as confused as I am about this amendment that he has tabled again. At no stage did I say I would reconsider the amendment. I thought the Deputy understood the point I was making; that his amendment would have the opposite effect to the one he intended.

I am not arguing with that. The amendment is only there as a means of raising the matter on Report Stage.

I am not trying to give the Deputy a lecture. I am just trying to refresh his memory on these matters. If the only reason he has tabled the amendment is to have another discussion on the matter, I accept that and also accept he will not press the amendment. I will not say anything more about it for fear that it will cause him further embarrassment.

I am neither embarrassed nor refreshed.

I made the point before that it is very difficult to embarrass the Deputy, so may I pass on?

It is more difficult to refresh me.

I am sure. On the regulations under section 11, a number of points were made which I have considered. The Deputy has accepted that I have tabled a number of amendments in light of the previous discussion. It would be more proper to discuss them at that stage.

Requiring each and every order that may be made under section 11 to be subject to an affirming resolution in both Houses of the Oireachtas does not make sense. For example, if the Department was to create a new type of post in the local authority service, or if the title of an existing post was to be changed, then I as Minister would have to make the necessary order to specify that the posts are to be filled by the LAC. It would be a waste of national parliamentary time to stipulate that an order would have to be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas by way of positive resolution so that the LAC could hold a competition for what, in many cases, may be a single post.

While the Deputy made some valid points on Committee Stage about the wider issue of whether we should have positive or negative motions on orders, I am satisfied that in this case the Houses of the Oireachtas should not be involved in what is a minor housekeeping matter. I am also satisfied that the requirement that will be included in section 11, if it is passed by the House, to inform the Oireachtas of decisions on section 11 — using the mechanism of posting the orders after the event, which can subsequently be annulled — is appropriate. It will provide sufficient safeguards to allay any fears Deputies might have.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are out of order. Amendment No. 4 is an alternative to amendment No. 3a. Amendments Nos. 3a and 4 may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 3a:

In page 7, to delete lines 41 to 45 and substitute the following:

"(2) The Minister may as respects an amount of moneys paid by him or her out of the Fund under subsection (1) require the local authority or local authorities concerned to apply the amount or a part thereof in a specified manner in respect of the performance by that local authority or those local authorities of its or their functions in relation to—

(a)public roads, other than national roads within the meaning of the Roads Act, 1993,

(b) the carrying out of works under the Local Government (Roads and Drainage) Act, 1968, or

(c) such other matters as the Minister may, from time to time, determine in writing, and the local authority or local authorities shall comply with such a requirement.

(3) The Minister shall cause to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas a copy of any determination under subsection (2)(c) as soon as may be after the determination is made.".

This amendment arises because of concerns expressed by Deputy Dukes that the subsection, as initially drafted, represented a threat to local discretion, would lead to increased centralisation and would open the door for ministerial interference in the affairs of individual local authorities. The Deputy was gracious to accept my word that that was not my intention. He made the point on Committee Stage that we are all birds of passage in this House and that others will come after us. I reiterate that I have no intention of legislating for increased centralisation in local authority operations.

The Deputy has accepted the thrust of these legislative proposals to provide local authorities with more money now and in the future to enable them to perform their functions better and to enhance local autonomy and discretion by at least providing them with resources which will give them real choices when making decisions on spending and priorities. I agreed to look again at the subsection to see if I could meet the point the Deputy made and try to improve it. This amendment will make the intentions behind the subsection clearer than they were before. I hope it mitigates the concerns expressed by Deputy Dukes and others on Committee Stage.

In considering this issue it is important to realise that the new local government fund will be different from the equalisation fund which was established under the current funding system. Not only will it be used to contribute towards the general purposes already set out in the previous Bill, but it will also be used to fund the non-national roads programme. The primary purpose of section 6(2) is to facilitate the Minister to direct moneys to that non-national roads programme. Motor tax will go into the general fund and the Minister must have power to direct that. Subsection (2)(c), which refers to the "carrying out of works under the Local Government (Roads and Drainage) Act, 1968," is related to that in that it covers local improvement schemes.

During discussions on the subsection on Committee Stage I indicated that the local government fund might be used to finance measures designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of local authority operations or to finance initiatives aimed at improving the quality of services provided by them. The nature of such measures and initiatives will differ from one local authority to another. A degree of flexibility is needed, therefore, if the fund is to operate to best effect. For that reason, I propose in subsection (2)(c) that the Minister may, from time to time, determine in writing other matters in respect of which local authorities may be required to use moneys allocated from the fund. The flexibility which that paragraph facilitates will be necessary to cater for situations where the fund is adjusted in future years in accordance with section 4(3) and (4).

It is envisaged, as part of the ringfencing and financing of local government, that if a new function is imposed on a local authority, money will have to be provided by the Exchequer and paid into the local government fund. I or any future Minister would need, at least initially, the power to direct a local authority to pay that money out of the fund for a particular purpose. I said on Committee Stage that £300,000 is being put into the fund, in addition to the £270 million for the architectural heritage package we announced. The Minister must be in a position to direct that the £300,000 be used for that purpose. It will then be subsumed into the general expenditure of the local authority. For that reason there must be a mechanism whereby if extra funding is provided for specific purposes, such as happened in relation to the Abattoirs Act, 1988, the Minister can specify that when making payments out of the fund. I am trying to balance that with the Deputy's point about the dangers of centralisation and a Minister totally strangling local government, a scenario from which Members on all sides of the House said they want to move away.

I hope this amendment meets the Deputy's concerns. It may not be able to meet his suggestions on Committee Stage to the letter but it should meet their spirit. I commend the amendment to the House.

I congratulate the Minister for giving some further specifications. The amendment goes as far as it is possible to go within the overall limits and constraints of the present funding system. It is useful that the Minister has taken the opportunity to be more specific about certain uses to which funds could be put. I appreciate his point about the £300,000 and the need for the Minister to be able to direct that funding to be used for specific purposes. I would like to see a more open position in relation to local authority funding but within the context of the legislation. We cannot look at this legislation outside that context. The Minister has gone quite a distance and as far as is reasonably possible to meet the types of concerns I and other Members expressed last week on Committee Stage.

In the general interests of public information and for the information of Members of this House, the provision the Minister has included in the new subsection (3) of this amendment is useful. I am not prepared to bet that copies of the determinations made under this subsection will be the most read documents in the House, but at least the information will be available for those who have an interest in it. That is a substantial advance on the present situation.

I commend the Minister for having gone so far as to meet the spirit of what was discussed on Committee Stage.

(Dublin West): This amendment gives the Minister the power to direct local authorities to use moneys out of the fund. Why did he confine the use of such moneys to roads? I regret that the Minister did not include local authority housing. Why has he ignored the current dreadful crisis in local authority housing? Is the Minister aware that in virtually every local authority area large numbers of families on local authority housing lists are suffering while the Government provides pathetic amounts of money to build local authority homes? In the case of Fingal County Council——

The Deputy should speak to the amendment.

(Dublin West): I was illustrating the background to the point. Last year 85 homes were provided while there was a waiting list for 1,500. The previous Government had a similar record. Will the Minister think again about committing substantial funds, in addition to the £270 million provided in this Bill, to an emergency programme to end the housing crisis and the suffering for those on local authority housing lists?

The reason the Bill specified roads and drainage is simply because part of the local government fund is made up from motor tax and, as I explained to Deputy Dukes, the Minister wants to retain a power. It is necessary to retain the power to specify that the money should be spent on roads.

On Deputy Higgins's point about the alleged housing crisis, to which he continually refers, it is easy to talk about and to talk up a housing crisis. Members on all sides are aware of the plight of those on local authority housing lists. Particularly during the past four or five years successive Governments have stepped up the output under social housing and endeavoured to meet the problems of those living in conditions which are not acceptable in a civilised society. The use of words such as "crisis" etc., is over the top.

(Dublin West): It is not. I hear it at my clinics.

I too have clinics and quite a number of people come to me about housing issues and their desire to get a local authority house. The Deputy has quoted 3,900 houses as the sum total of this Government's or the previous Government's efforts at tackling the social housing problem while there are 27,000 on the local authority housing waiting list and said it would be 20 or 30 years before the housing list is cleared. In the real world we all know the housing list will never be cleared. There will always be a need for social housing. As people are housed off the social housing list, others will come on it. I will not insult the Deputy by saying he is not aware of the problem but he is trying to ignore the fact that since 1990 or 1991 successive Governments have undertaken an extensive social housing policy where almost 10,000 people are taken off the housing list each year under the various initiatives. These include almost 4,000 houses built by local authorities. There is huge support for voluntary and co-operative housing and various improvements have been made in that area. Taxpayers' money is used to pay for these initiatives. Last year £214 million was provided by the Government to local authorities, they were notified of their allocations early in January, six weeks earlier than usual. That £214 million included an increase of £34 million or 19 per cent on that provided previously. That is an example of the commitment of this Government and of the previous Governments given that the allocation increased substantially since the early 1990s. There are financial allocations in the housing programme for remedial works, improvement works in lieu, sites and extension schemes and co-operative housing. This is a side issue in that it is not directly related to this section but it is one I could not leave unanswered. Housing is not dealt with specifically in this Bill. The reason roads are included is that the fund includes motor tax money. Local authorities are being given direct control over the spending of that money on non-national roads. For that reason it is a good Bill.

What is the Minister's position on DPG grants as operated by the various councils? It has come to my attention that the concessionary grants which were available to the area administrators of health boards has ceased. Those who have to apply for the DPG grants can receive only two thirds of that grant from the county council. In many cases, because this concessionary grant has ceased, they cannot give evidence that they have the financial facility to pay the extra one third and are suffering as a result.

The Deputy's point is not relevant to the amendment.

In fairness, the Minister referred to the housing situation. This is as important and probably more important given that the Minister is doing something in relation to the housing crisis.

I am not saying it is not important but it is not relevant to the amendment. The time available to deal with this Bill is limited and there are other amendments. If we deal with matters that are not relevant to the amendments we will not deal with matters that are relevant at a later stage.

I ask the Minister to have a look at the matter which is in crisis.

I will not be out of order but if the Deputy communicates with me directly I will have a look at it.

That is the correct way to proceed.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 4 not moved.

We come to amendment No. 4a. Amendment No. 5 is an alternative. I suggest amendments Nos. 4a and 5 be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 4a:

In page 8, to delete lines 20 to 24 and substitute the following:

"(6) The Minister may establish a committee to advise the Minister with respect to the performance by him or her of the functions under subsection (1) or (3) and a committee so established may advise the Minister accordingly.

(7) Such a committee shall include such and so many officers or members of local authorities as the Minister shall determine for the purposes of this subsection, and may also include such other persons as the Minister determines for that purpose and whom he or she considers otherwise possess qualifications or experience that make them suitable for appointment as such members.".

This amendment arose out of Committee Stage. Deputy Dukes spoke on this topic. I indicated to him I saw some merit in the amendment he proposed which would extend the scope of the committee to enable it to advise the Minister with regard to the performance of functions conferred on the Minister by section 6(3). Those particular functions include steps which might be taken to promote improvement in the quality of local authority services or to encourage economy, efficiency and effective performance by local authorities. On Committee Stage I indicated to the Deputy that his proposed amendment might be a little inflexible in that it would mean the Minister of the day would have to deal with subsections (1) and (3) but might wish the committee to advise on either one or the other. I fully acknowledge the amendment put down by Deputy Dukes but I am advised by the parliamentary draftsman that this is a better way to proceed. It encompasses fully what Deputy Dukes intended but also introduces an element of flexibility into the potential operation of the committee.

Section 6(6), as drafted, provides that a committee established under this section may include officers or members of local authorities. During the debate on Committee Stage, Deputies Dukes and Howlin were of the view that we needed to strengthen that section to read "shall" include officers or members of local authorities. I indicated my willingness to examine that and consider bringing forward an amendment on Report Stage to cater for it. That is the purpose of this amendment.

In regard to the committee established under section 6, Deputy Howlin raised on Committee Stage the question of providing for possible inclusion in such a committee members whom the Minister considers possess qualifications or experience that would make them suitable for appointment as such members. That was already provided for in the 1997 Bill in relation to the local government equalisation council. Again I indicated I would be amenable to taking on board that suggestion and the amendment I propose does that.

The amendments to section 6(6) reflect the consensus reached in the select committee as regards the committee which can be established to advise Ministers, and on that basis I recommend them to the House. I acknowledge the contributions made by the Deputies on Committee Stage to improving this section.

Again the Minister has moved a good deal to meet the concerns expressed on Committee Stage. The Minister's motivation of the amendment as it currently stands, which deals with the various issues raised on Committee Stage, is perfectly acceptable and I commend him for having brought it forward.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 5 not moved.

I move amendment No. 5a:

In page 11, line 39, after "of" to insert "a". This is a typographical amendment to insert "a" after "of". It has no other effect.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 6 is in the name of Deputy Joe Higgins. It is proposed to take amendments Nos. 6, 6a, 7 and 8 together.

(Dublin West): I move amendment No. 6:

In page 12, to delete lines 1 to 32.

I will address all the issues for the sake of rationality. I am strenuously opposed to the Government's proposal in the Bill to defer local government elections for a further year. This is a crucial part of the Bill and I regard it as a further attack on local democracy after postponements by a previous Government.

On Committee Stage there was an outbreak of righteous aspirations in regard to this issue from the spokespersons for the main political parties. Various arguments were made, with which I agree, that it was not in the interest of local government or local democracy and that it should not happen again. Unfortunately, as far as the Minister is concerned, that will not be the case this time. The other parties were not very forthcoming in pressing the Government to ensure there were no more postponements of local elections. Young Augustines all, virtuous, but not yet.

If this Bill is enacted, eight years will have passed since the previous elections by the time the local government elections are held. Any dictatorship would consider itself lucky to get such a stretch without being overturned or subjected to scrutiny by the ordinary people.

Currently there is a serious deficit in regard to local democracy because of these postponements. The Minister must know from his own experience that in some county councils, up to 20 per cent and perhaps even 25 per cent of the membership elected in 1991 has been changed without any reference to the people by the process of resignation, the death of councillors and so on. A significant number of councils, therefore, have been appointed merely by way of a vote in the council or an arrangement between parties without reference to the people.

Increasingly, local communities are being disenfranchised by these ongoing postponements. At the same time, with councils now having gone beyond their original mandate time, serious decisions are being taken that affect communities within the administrative areas of local authorities. These include strategies in regard to waste disposal and landfill sites as well as rezonings of crucial areas of land. These decisions are being made in an ongoing way by these councils.

My amendment proposes that the new development plans of local authorities should not be finally voted on and a decision made until after the next local elections, whenever they might be. I appeal to the Minister to accept this amendment in the interest of local communities, good planning and local democracy. Everyone knows the development plans have major implications for existing communities in regard to the way in which their environment will be developed in future. As soon as development decisions have been put into effect, they cannot be reversed.

In 1993, the then Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, the Minister's predecessor and a member of Fianna Fáil, referring to planning in Dublin county and particularly to a spate of rezonings, said that in the Dublin context these rezonings were a debased currency. He was correct in that outrageous decisions were made. Fortunately, other outrageous proposals collapsed by virtue of opposition from communities and councillors representing those communities. There was a wholesale ignoring of the wishes of local communities by a rezoning coalition of councillors from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats, with some exceptions in each of those parties — who consistently stood out.

I must remind the Deputy that in addition to addressing his remarks to amendment No. 6, he should also speak to amendments Nos. 7 and 8 because he can only formally move those amendments when we reach them.

(Dublin West): I am now speaking to amendment No. 7.

The democratic wish of communities was ignored. There was an infamous case in Laraghcon on the slopes of the Liffey Valley beside Lucan where in a subsequent local referendum thousands of people deplored and voted against luxury houses being built on a crucial green break between two massively built up communities, greater Blanchardstown and Lucan. A tiny handful voted in favour of that and yet the councillors put that through, understanding that such opposition existed.

My point in amendment No. 7 is that councils going into their eighth year in some cases are considering new development plans. That is the case in Fingal County Council, South Dublin County Council and possibly many more councils. Those are obviously two important areas. Going into their eighth year with 20 or 25 per cent of the members not elected by the people, they are intending to make crucial decisions on this development plan which will involve undemocratic large-scale further rezonings of land.

The Minister is trying to encourage a major shake out of members of the councils in the next election and he has provisions in this Bill to that end. It probably means that many more councillors do not intend to stand again in the upcoming local elections. How receptive will they be to the pleadings to their communities and their electorate given that they do not intend to stand again? Many of them will be even less receptive than they were at the earlier stage of the life of these councils in 1993 and 1994. The real threat is that the rezoning juggernaut, that is Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats, will once again roll over areas of greenery which should be preserved as a breathing lung for the people of greater Dublin.

It will be argued that the current obscene price of houses is because of a shortage of zoned land. That is a myth. The South Dublin County Council and Fingal County Council have stated clearly in their preliminary to the development plans that there is enough land zoned for years to come for housing, so that is not an argument.

To have development plans which can command real public support and the maximum input of the local communities and people whose lives they will affect the most democratic way to approach it would be to have discussion of the proposals for the development plan, for rezonings or for other issues relating to development. They should be debated in the run up to the next local elections as part of the election campaign. No decision should be taken until after the local elections. Therefore, the communities will have the opportunity of voting for their development plans in an informed manner because they will have the opportunity of hearing from the candidates from all parties and their views on development, rezonings, the preservation of green belts and other crucial issues much wider than that which the development plan takes into account.

In that way, the communities would be guaranteed the election to the councils of those who really represent their wishes and, therefore, would get a development plan which sets the scene for decades to come which reflects the democratic wishes of the community. Although the Minister was not inclined to take on board this point on Committee Stage, I ask him to do so now.

This issue was debated on Committee Stage. Although there is a great deal of room for argument in what Deputy Higgins stated and, whatever else he does, he never short changes the House on his tirades, it is a basic nonsense for the Deputy to propose that development plans should be held up because the lives of councils have been extended and there are people who are now members of those councils who were not elected but who have been co-opted according to the provisions in law. It would be a nonsense to propose that any elected body, because it is coming towards the end of its life, whether or not that life has been extended, should refuse or be deprived of the opportunity to exercise part of its functions. I do not see any reason that should be the case.

Deputy Higgins is proposing, for example, that a Government which is coming within a few months of a general election should not make significant decisions. He is proposing that no local authority, even if it lasts no longer than the statutory lifetime——

(Dublin West): I did not say that.

—to which I think we should stick, should not make decisions. He is proposing that no local authority which has had the misfortune of having several members die during its normal period of office to be replaced by people co-opted according to the law should make substantial decisions. That is nonsense.

This amendment flies in the face of every provision in the Constitution and in law relating to the notion of the continuity of responsibility of elected bodies for the functions which they are given.

I appreciate that Deputy Higgins has arguments to make about rezonings although I feel that he ought to read the Bacon report again. It is not the case that that report confirms that there is enough land zoned for years to come around Dublin. That kind of simplistic toe-thumping will not solve the housing problem anymore than the action which has been taken will solve the problem of house prices.

These amendments are without merit. To propose that we, in this House, should deprive local authorities because of accidents of time and history of the exercise of their proper functions is bizarre and cannot come from any real effective concern with democracy but from some rather bent notion of a form of democracy which got its answer in Mexico a good many years ago.

My amendment, amendment No. 6a, is part of this group.

To reiterate what I stated on Committee Stage, I agree with the basic premise which Deputy Higgins has put forward in relation to the postponement of local elections. It is not a pious aspiration. I said on Committee Stage that I intended to put a constitutional guarantee for local government before the electorate and to try to ensure as a result that local elections will not be postponed in the future. I can only deal with the future.

I also stated on Committee Stage that there are any number of justifications for postponing the local government elections in this case for one year, irrespective of what might have happened during the lifetime of previous Governments and the motivations, political or otherwise, for the postponement of local elections. Deputy Higgins spoke about democracy and doing things properly. The reasons I gave for postponing the local government elections, and they are reasons, not excuses, were that we have a major programme of local government renewal spanning a number of years now under way which started some time back. The funding arrangements in this Bill are part of it, and the establishment of SPCs are another part of it. Over the next 12 months I hope to signal further elements of the programme, including a fairly detailed local government reform Bill that will radically alter local government as we know it. In that context it is only right that those who intend to stand for local election should know exactly the format of the local government system in which they intend to stand for election, and the electorate should know exactly the type of system we will have and the changes that will be put in place so that they can make the choice as to the type of person they want to see on their local authority. Nothing could be more democratic than that.

It is widely recognised by Members, and I am sure by the Deputy, that there is need for new blood in the system, but new blood, whether young people, women or representatives of other sectors of the community, will not come into the system just because we encourage people who have been in the system for a long time to leave it, as proposed in a later section of the Bill. There has to be a system that will attract people and convey clearly to them that by standing for local government they will be able to make a meaningful contribution to their local community. The postponement of local elections will facilitate that. It would be wrong to have elections this year and then to attempt to change utterly the local government system. That would be unfair to people who contested the elections under the current system.

I also made the point on Committee Stage that currently the electoral areas with which we are dealing were drawn up in 1985 and that there are various discrepancies. The boundary commissions will deal with at least one of those discrepancies in population within each of the local authority areas. There might be a need to go further, but certainly within local authority areas the review of the local electoral areas should be in place and clear to everybody before the next local elections. That would not have been possible within the timescale we envisage. For those reasons democracy in this case is better served by waiting rather than by having an election this year and having major upheaval in the following years in reforming the local government system.

I fundamentally disagree with Deputy Higgins in relation to development plans. He is doing no service to the development planning process or to the process generally by trying to link the development plan to local elections. A development plan is meant to be a plan for the entire county or borough area. It is not a plan under which each community will have a veto on everything that happens in its own area. That is what the Deputy is proposing by suggesting that we should have an election campaign based on the development plan. If we were to go down that route there would be a mishmash of development or a total lack of development or forward planning. The development planning process is wide open to public participation. I strongly believe that people should participate in it. I intend, in the legislation currently being drafted in the Department, to ensure that they will have a greater say — not post the draft development plan period — but prior to it. Local communities should be consulted on that, but it would not be in the interests of the public, the local authorities or the counties in general to postpone work on county development plans so that people can stand for election on the basis of whether they oppose particular developments. I made the point on Committee Stage that the very fact that a considerable number of people will face the electorate next June is probably one very good way of concentrating their minds to make sure they make good planning and development decisions over the coming months. Policy that involves people continually saying "no" or "not in my back yard" is not good planning policy. We have to ensure that we have sustainable development and good planning, not a situation where people have a veto. The proposal Deputy Higgins put forward in his amendments would lead to that. Deputy Dukes has eloquently argued that we would all be totally tied up and unable to make decisions in the last six to 12 months of our terms of office if we accepted the principle outlined in these amendments. Therefore, I cannot accept the amendments. If we accepted the principle in these amendments we would end up with lame duck administrations.

(Dublin West): I see that I have brought out the grand coalition of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on important matters, and it is not a pretty sight.

No, the Deputy has provoked a reaction of common sense to a lunatic proposal.

(Dublin West): Deputy Dukes's intervention——

On a point of order, does the House really have to listen to these moralistic comments about lack of pretty sights from a person whose political doctrine was terminated when an ice pick was put into Leon Trotsky's head?

That is not a point of order.

(Dublin West): When Deputy Dukes's spoke earlier about some bent form of democracy which got its answer in Mexico, I presumed he was referring to some type of regime but could not remember which.

The Deputy never knew. It was all a sham.

(Dublin West): I see now that he was referring to the murder of Leon Trotsky.

It would be advisable to come back to the amendment.

(Dublin West): Deputy Dukes's aversion to anything socialist is quite palpable, but to stand in this Dáil and justify the murder of a leading socialist in a historical movement is incredible.

He was murdered by other socialists, by communists.

(Dublin West): In view of the gangsters who carried out that murder, Stalin and his agents, the Deputy should withdraw the comments he made because they are a disgrace.

They never had much to say about rezoning either.

(Dublin West): I would like to see Deputy Dukes's reaction if someone justified the murder of Michael Collins.

The Deputy should not talk about rezoning——

(Dublin West): The Minister referred to bringing new blood into the system and making local government responsive. I am sure he also means to make it relevant. However, people would be more likely to stand for election if there is debate on the real issues which confront communities. I see nothing wrong with having major debates on the likely shape of the development plan in the lead-up to an election when people have an opportunity to go before the people. We have had too much of people not stating their real views and flying in the face of communities when elected. Local communities are disenfranchised and people are angry when county councils go into their eighth year. They will be angered at many of the decisions made in the development plan without reference to them after almost eight years.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put, and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 6a:

In page 12, line 6, after "so" to insert "as".

Amendment put and declared carried.

(Dublin West): I move amendment No. 7:

In page 12, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:

"(4) Each local authority shall postpone adoption of its Development Plan until after the local election which takes place following the commencement of this Act.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

(Dublin West): I move amendment No. 8:

In page 12, to delete lines 33 to 50 and in page 13, to delete lines 1 to 20.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 9 is in the name of Deputies Howlin and

Wall. Amendments Nos. 9a and 10 are alternatives to amendment No. 9. Amendments Nos. 9, 9a and 10 may be taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 13, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:

11. — Where immediately prior to the passing of this Act a person held a temporary appointment to perform the functions of an office or employment to which section 2(1)(b) of the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Act, 1926, would have applied but for the temporary nature of the appointment, the appointment, during the two years commencing on such passing, of that person to the office or employment, being an office or employment up to and including the grade of Executive Engineer and cognate grades, on a permanent basis shall not be deemed to be an appointment to an office to which the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) Act, 1926, applies.".

I have had numerous representations on this section which has caused major concern among many associations and unions. The Irish Planning Institute and SIPTU are among the organisations which have contacted me. They feel that appointments should not be removed from the LAC as this would remove some of the seriousness of the situation concerning these appointments. If this was brought to a local level there would be major problems concerning appointments to posts such as executive engineers. The Minister should accept this amendment as it would overcome the problem of people such as engineers being on temporary contracts with local authorities and UDCs. On Committee Stage the Minister stated that temporary employment was one of the problems he had with the LAC and was resulting in an overload of work.

My amendment No. 10 is an alternative to this amendment but I will listen to what the Minister says before explaining it.

There was much debate on section 11 in the select committee. My amendment addresses these issues. Much of the concern expressed to Deputy Wall and other Members on this section is misplaced and based on a misunderstanding. However, the concern exists and I accept the Deputy's comments. When examining section 11 on Committee Stage, Deputies Dukes and Howlin tabled amendments which have now been re-entered. Their concerns were to incorporate changes in the Bill which I said at the time were unnecessary and inappropriate in primary legislation. I made it clear and reiterate that it was my intention to have the Local Appointments Commission continue to fill all the senior technical and administrative posts in local authorities at and above the level of county secretary and senior executive engineer. This is roughly the equivalent of assistant principal officer in the Civil Service. I undertook to re-examine the matter in light of the views expressed in the select committee.

I am now proposing to amend the original section of the Bill to provide a statutory basis for specifying posts in local authorities which are to be filled by the Local Appointment Commission. The new subsection (1)(a) provides that in future the Minister will declare by order the posts which are to be filled by the Local Appointments Commission, that is all the posts which are subject to the general provisions of the 1926 Act referred to in Select Committee. Every order made by the Minister must be made with the concurrence of the local appointments commissioners. They have to be consulted in every case. Paragraph (c) requires every order made to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. An order may be annulled by a resolution of either House.

Subsection (2) is a consequential provision discontinuing the application of section 4 of the Local Authorities (Officers and Employees) (Amendment) Act, 1926, which empowers the Minister to revoke, wholly or in part, declarations of offices to be filled by the Local Appointments Commission.

The purpose of the amendment which meets the Deputies' concerns is to remove the absolute statutory requirement that every permanent local authority office for which a professional qualification is required must be filled by the Local Appointments Commission. It is an archaic provision which has long outlived its usefulness. It imposes on the commission an undue burden in filling lower level technical posts at salary levels equivalent to or below the level of HEO in the Civil Service.

There has been much talk about devolving powers to the local authorities and giving them more responsibility. In this instance we are giving them the power to appoint their own staff below a certain level.

Who will make the decisions — the manager or the members?

The recruitment of staff is a matter for the manager and the personnel section. It is a managerial or executive function. It is not a function of members——

The Minister is not, therefore, devolving powers to the local authorities.

Not to members. I received a submission from the Institute of Planners to which Deputy Wall referred and it appeared to be of the opinion that local authority members would make the decisions as to who would be appointed.

The new provision puts posts for which a professional qualification is required on a par with administrative posts. The Minister will make a statutory order specifying the posts that will continue to be filled by the Local Appointments Commission. It is my intention that the commission will continue to fill all senior technical and administrative posts at and above the level of county secretary and senior executive engineer. The equivalent post in the Civil Service is assistant principal. We must be amenable to changing circumstances. It would be inappropriate to lock ourselves into a system where restructuring and the regrading of posts in the local authorities could not take place without amending legislation.

I have listened carefully to what the Deputies have had to say. It was the fear of what might happen rather than the contents of the Bill which caused outside bodies to express concerns. The approach I have adopted for making statutory orders is the correct one. Every order made will be laid before the House. The first set of orders I make will reflect the commitment I have given in relation to the posts that will continue to be filled by the Local Appointments Commission.

I will not rehash the arguments I made about the number of posts that remain to be filled by the Local Appointments Commission but let me give one statistic. There are 650 applicants for the two executive engineer positions currently being filled by the commission. The system is clogged up. For that reason I commend the amendment in my name to the House. It incorporates the spirit, if not the letter, of the amendments tabled by the Deputies. I have gone as far as I can to meet their concerns.

I am puzzled as to the order in which the amendments are being taken. I am not criticising anybody but seeking information. I am always thirsty for new knowledge and information. I am puzzled as to how amendment No. 9 in the name of Deputy Wall which deals with one corner of the problem we are discussing should take precedence over amendment No. 10 in my name which is of a more general nature. As it deals with a wider issue, amendment No. 10 should be taken first. There is probably a very good reason they are being taken in this way but it has not been revealed to me. Clearly, amendment No. 9a in the name of the Minister takes precedence over amendment No. 10 as it is an alternative.

I perked up a little when it appeared the Minister was about to say that, on reflection, he would accept amendment No. 10 but he then outlined the good reasons for including the provisions set out in amendment No. 9a. I do not intend to deal with this matter at great length except to say that I accept the Minister aims to deal with the problems which have been highlighted. Has he given any consideration to an issue raised during the course of the discussion on Committee Stage, that is, whether provision should be made for an oversight or monitoring by the Local Appointments Commission of the exercise of the managerial or executive function in making appointments and organising competitions and so on? The Minister told us on Committee Stage he was happy that the operation, implementation and execution of local competitions had been carried out in a proper way, but there are occasions when, with or without justification, people feel that may not always be the case. For that reason since we have an LAC, which is about to be relieved of some of its burden by the provisions of this Bill, will the Minister reconsider making some provision for oversight, monitoring or some involvement by the LAC in the organisation of those competitions to ensure all those who have an interest in such competitions can be content they are being carried out strictly according to the rubric?

I thank the Deputy for his comments. I have given some thought to his question about the oversight of the managerial function in regard to implementing the new powers, but I have not come up with a solution. I am amenable to his suggestion provided it does not need to be written into legislation. There is a possibility somebody appointed by the LAC could monitor a number of appointments that might be made under the new system, even on a spot check basis. I will reconsider the matter and revert to him on it. There may be value in what he said, particularly when we are changing to a revised system. All Members are committed to devolving power to local authorities to allow them deal with their own business. We want them to take responsibility for their functions and this legislation will allow them to do that. It is normally the function of the Department to ensure local authorities carry out their functions properly in the broadest sense and in that context there may be a role for the Local Appointments Commission. I will examine the matter to see if we can devise some system to do that.

Following the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act applicants for such posts would have the right to apply to a local authority to find out their position on a panel in relation to the other applicants. Will the Minister consider the possibility of using the LAC as a process of appeal for any applicants who might feel aggrieved? My proposal is similar to that put forward by Deputy Dukes and covers the position on information to which future applicants would be legally entitled.

In the case of local authorities the Freedom of Information Act does not come into force until October. As I said, I am amenable to some degree of oversight to ensure people in the system are not hard done by. The Deputy's point is the same as that made by Deputy Dukes.

Amendment put and declared lost.

As it is now 6.45 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with an Order of the Dáil of this day: "That the amendments set down by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill, Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed".

Is it order to ask a question in relation to amendments Nos. 12 and 13 which were not moved?

While it is not in order, I will allow the Deputy to ask a brief question.

I want to clarify a point and I hope the Minister will be able to reassure me on it. Some of these changes are designed to bring new blood into local authorities. There is concern among councillors that under this legislation, unless there are changes to it, those who decide to run for election and are defeated will be treated differently from those who are made redundant by the Minister rather than by the electorate.

In that case it is better to have stood and lost than never to have stood at all.

Many councillors have raised this question. The Minister is aware of their concern and submissions were made by local authorities and their associations. Councillors who are a member of more than one local authority can be compensated only in respect of one authority. What would the position be if a councillor decided to run for one local authority and retire from the other?

If the Deputy read the amendments carefully he would note the answers are contained in them. I am not proposing to make any councillor redundant, but members of local authorities, who have a minimum of five years' service, will have the option of deciding in a period, probably between June and 1 September 1998, whether they want to declare they are not standing for election again. If they make such a declaration, they will be given a certificate to show they are entitled to a gratuity in recognition of their service to their local community through the local government system. All local authority members will have that opportunity but if councillors do not avail of it, run for election and are defeated, their years of service will go unrecognised. I do not believe I can be accused of equivocation on this matter and I know the Deputy was not implying that. Councillors cannot have a two way bet on this.

On the Deputy's second point, that provision is intended to recognise service to local government. If councillors are a member of an urban council, a borough corporation, a corporation or a town commissioner and a county council they will have to resign from local government. If they resign from one and not the other, they will contest the election and will not be eligible for the gratuity. When I have finalised regulations I will circulate the details to Members.

I thank the Members of the Opposition for their help and co-operation in getting this Bill through and for a constructive debate. It shows that Members are very concerned about local government and its advancement. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the staff of his office and my own staff for their help.

Question put and agreed to.

The Bill will now be sent to the Seanad.