Recommittal is necessary in respect of amendments Nos. 1, and 208 to 212, inclusive, as they do not arise out of Committee Stage proceedings.
Local Government Bill, 2000: Report Stage.
Amendments Nos. 208 to 212, inclusive, are related to amendment No. 1 and all may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 17, line 14, to delete "Part 23” and substitute “Parts 23 and 24”.
Amendment No. 1 concerns section 1, the collective citation, and the new Part 23, which is an amendment to the Temple Bar Area Renewal and Development Act, 1991. Amendments Nos. 208 to 212, inclusive, provide for the transfer of the Minister's shareholding in Temple Bar Properties Limited to Dublin Corporation.
As I understand it, we are now back on Committee Stage. These are new amendments and require to be recommitted. This is entirely new material being introduced by the Government. I have not had an opportunity to study it and do not know what it is about. The Labour Party takes its responsibilities in respect of legislation very seriously. We believe it is our function, as legislators, to scrutinise the legislation brought before the House by the Government, to propose our own Bills where we believe this is necessary, to critically examine legislation when brought before the House and to take our jobs, as legislators, seriously. I have been a Member of the House for 12 years and during that time I have striven to perform that function as effectively as I could, as have all my colleagues. This evening a book was presented to us with 233 amendments for our consideration. The first six are completely new amendments which require recommittal to Committee Stage. I have not studied these amendments – and I want to explain to the House why. These amendments were circulated yesterday, through no fault of the House, or the staff of the House, or indeed the Minister's own staff – it is the fault of the Government.
From 2.30 p.m. yesterday we had Question Time. I was on duty, as was my colleague, Deputy Mitchell, asking questions of the Minister of State in respect of his responsibilities in the Department of the Environment and Local Government. It is part of our function to make Government and the executive accountable. That was followed by the Order of Business and immediately follow ing that at 4.45 p.m. yesterday we went to the Select Committee on the Environment and Local Government to deal with the waste management Bill, which we debated until 10 p.m. We resumed at 10 a.m. today and continued until 2 p.m. At 3 p.m. we had a further meeting of the Select Committee on the Environment and Local Government to consider a motion which had been referred to it by the House dealing with the appointment of additional members to An Bord Pleanála. That meeting only finished within the last hour.
Where in that period of time is an Opposition spokesperson supposed to even read amendments for Report Stage that were circulated yesterday, much less reconcile them with the text of the Bill, get advice on them, consult with different groups who have an interest in this outside of the House and form a view on them? It is not possible. What we are invited to do here this evening is an utter charade as far as parliamentary procedures are concerned. We are being asked to debate 233 amendments, six of them completely new Government amendments, without any opportunity to consider their text or implications.
You have made your point. You must address the amendments.
I am addressing amendment No. 1. I am addressing these six amendments – I do not know what they are about.
You must address the substance of them.
They are something about transferring the ownership of Temple Bar. The Minister says it is transferred to Dublin Corporation. I have not had an opportunity to study this – it is an important matter. As a Member of this House, I am not going to allow myself or my party to be backed into a situation where we are asked to deal with legislation on a wing and a prayer. It is not fair to us as Members of the House, and is not fair to the public we represent.
Almost three months ago, I stated publicly and in this House that my party would co-operate with the Government in having the local government Bill enacted. The Government has had three months to have a debate in this House on the Bill but chose not to do so. It also chose not to do so on the waste management Bill and the electoral Bill because it decided for strategic political purposes that it would ram these Bills through in the last couple of weeks of the session. It thought the public would not notice what is going on and so it would minimise the amount of embarrassment that this legislation is going to cause for the Government but in the process it is denying to the Opposition our constitutional and legislative right to scrutinise this legislation properly.
I will not be a party to that. I will not play a part in what is no more than a token nod to parliamentary scrutiny of this legislation. This is not proper parliamentary scrutiny of legislation – it is forcing the House to deal with legislation in an unsatisfactory way and my party leader indicated that this morning. The Labour Party will not co-operate with this; we have been willing to co-operate with the Government for the last three months in regard to the local government Bill, and when we were concluding Committee Stage last week , I said to the Minister that I had co-operated at Committee Stage to get through the amendments but that I would not tolerate a guillotining of the Report Stage debate, which is what we are getting. Worse than this, we are getting a Report Stage debate set up in such a way that I cannot meaningfully contribute to it because I have not had the time or the opportunity to study the amendments that are before us. I will not participate and I propose to withdraw from the House in protest.
I concur with what Deputy Gilmore said. It is unconscionable for us to be putting through legislation in this manner. The three Bills that come under the remit of the Department of the Environment and Local Government have been rammed through. We are almost at the stage now that we do not know what Bill we are talking about, or which position we are taking. We are getting amendments from the Government hot off the press. This 38 page book which was published this morning contains more amendments than there were on Committee Stage. I have been in committee twice today, apart from all my other duties, and have no idea what is being proposed. There are new amendments, some of which I know are a response to ones we put down on Committee Stage, but I do not know for sure as I have not read them.
This is the most important Bill as far as local government is concerned. It has been three years in gestation and deserves some scrutiny in the House. There was very little in the Bill that was of any value, and what was of value was taken out at the behest of the Independents who have not even had the gumption to come and defend their position. With Deputies Gilmore and Ó Caoláin, I have tried to make something of the Bill by way of amendment – to try and salvage something for local government in this country. We are not being given the opportunity with two hours left to discuss a book of amendments. There is no opportunity for proper scrutiny or debate on what is being proposed. This legislation will not stand the test of time because it has been rushed through. I am sure the Minister of State is as lacking in familiarity with it as I am and I do not know what contribution we can make to legislation under those conditions.
At the same time there are important Bills going through that would merit equal attention such as the election or waste management Bills. We put a tax on every individual household—
The Deputy is moving well away from amendment No. I.
I am pointing out the importance of the work that is happening today – new taxes are being imposed. I am faced with the same choice as Deputy Gilmore – whether I have a minimal input or no input. I choose to stay out of deference to the Minister of State who, I understand, has made some effort to respond to some of our amendments. I am not in a position to give the proper attention to these amendments and can only deal meaningfully with my own amendments.
I must make the same protest.
The point has been made on behalf of your party.
May I just make the following points?
Very briefly because we cannot have a debate outside Committee Stage.
This Bill was brought before the House about a year ago. We begged the Minister to bring the Bill so that it could be properly debated. The Dáil is going into recess on Friday and we are asked to go through 233 amendments to a Bill that is so important. The Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, as a representative of local government organisations over many years, knows well that this is the most important legislation to come before the House in the last 12 months. Second Stage was rushed through, every Stage has been rushed through, but this is the last straw – to come along with 233 amendments in the last two days of the sitting of the Dáil.
Will the Deputy address the amendments before us?
It is impossible to address the amendments—
As you have pointed out there are a number of amendments and a limited time in which to deal with them.
I accept that. I had two committees meetings yesterday and spent all day in them and had no chance to address the amendments and research them.
The point has already been made by Deputy Mitchell. I spent all day at those committees. We have had very little opportunity to address the amendments or to carry out research on them.
That point has already been made by Deputy Olivia Mitchell on behalf of the Deputy's party.
It is scandalous the way this Bill is being axed.
I wish to address the amendments. As a lone Deputy—
We are all alone, Deputy.
—it has been a very taxing time endeavouring to address this and all the other Bills that have been before us as members of the local government and the environment committee. The Minister will know the earnest engagement we have all sought to bring to the process on Committee Stage.
It is unsatisfactory and I am no better informed than any of my colleagues regarding the purpose, intent and effect of the amendments presented by the Minister. I have no doubt the renewal and development of the Temple Bar area is of significant importance not only in the city of Dublin, but in a much wider context. Therefore, it merits, at the very outset, a full explanation by the Minister of the intent and effect of the inclusion of these amendments of which we have not had prior sight or the opportunity to engage with the Minister.
If this is still Committee Stage, as I understand the Leas-Cheann Comhairle indicated, I ask that the Minister now address the amendments before us in the way he has done on Committee Stage over the past number of days and afford us an insight into what I have described as the purpose, intent and effect of these amendments. In that way, we may be able to appraise what is actually at the heart of these propositions.
Bar one, I am the longest serving Member of this House, and I know the practices that have been applied here over the years. At this time of the year, it is not unusual for legislation to be brought forward with the intention of having it completed before the Dáil goes into recess for the summer. What is happening here was a common feature during the life of the previous Government and several Governments before that. It was a practice that built up and was accepted by all parties because they have all been in and out of Government in the past ten years. Bills are brought in with time limitations on them on Report Stage.
On a point of order, this legislation has been ready for 12 months—
An tAire to continue.
—and the Minister failed to bring it before us.
Deputy D'Arcy, the Minister cannot go outside the amendments into a general debate. We are dealing with amendment No. 1 and the Minister, like everyone else, must address the amendment.
He was not dealing with amendment No. 1.
I will return to amendment No. 1.
Temple Bar Properties was founded as a limited company under the Temple Bar Area Renewal and Development Act, 1991, to undertake the regeneration and development of the Temple Bar area of Dublin. This development was to take place in the context of a range of tax incentives for residential and commercial projects. The final date by which qualifying development work had to take place was 31 December 1999. Development in the area has also been supported by the provision of direct grants to the amount of £42.77 million, £22.47 million in European Regional Development Fund funding and the balance, £20.29 million, from the Exchequer.
At the time of its establishment, it was considered that a limited company provided the right structure and degree of independence required to ensure the initiatives required to progress the regeneration of the area would be put in place. This proved to be a good decision as the successful development of the area now shows.
In the period since 1991, considerable development work was undertaken, including the development of residential, retail and commercial units and, perhaps most significantly in the longer-term, the development of a number of purpose designed cultural centres such as the Ark, the film centre and art house. Now that the development of physical infrastructure in the area has been completed, the responsibilities of Temple Bar Properties in the future would be to manage the property portfolio of the company, to develop an administrative and cultural programme for the area and to administer the voluntary contribution paid by local traders in the area to fund the cultural programme. This is not a structured contribution and each trader decides what he or she will contribute.
The proposed amendment of the Temple Bar Area Renewal and Development Act, 1991, will provide for the transfer of the Minister's shareholding to Dublin Corporation, the deletion of certain powers in relation to compulsory purchase orders and guarantee of borrowings by the State and the deletion of powers relating to the audit of the company the Comptroller and Auditor General. The amendment was put forward to give effect to the Government decision to bring Temple Bar Properties Limited under the aegis of Dublin Corporation. The transfer of the ownership to Dublin Corporation is proposed on the basis that the company has completed its major functions as developer for the area and the exercise of its remaining functions would be more appropriately dealt with under the umbrella of the local authority. Currently, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, through his nominee, is the sole shareholder in Temple Bar Properties Limited and, as share holder, appoints the board and chairman of the company.
Discussions have taken place at the board of Temple Bar Properties Limited, comprising representatives with expertise in arts, culture and commercial fields and on which the Minister and Dublin Corporation are represented, to determine appropriate transfer arrangements. The amendments proposed reflect these discussions.
There are no implications in relation to pay or conditions of staff employed by the board. Specifically, the new Part 23 of the Bill provides for the transfer of the Minister's shareholding in the company to Dublin Corporation from a date to be decided and the sole shareholding to be held by Dublin Corporation from the date of transfer – I understand the request for this has come from Dublin Corporation – the deletion of section 12 and the Third Schedule of the Act of 1991 dealing with the compulsory purchase powers of the company, the powers of Dublin Corporation will be relied on in future should the need arise; the deletion of section 13 dealing with the guarantee by the Minister of borrowings by Temple Bar Properties Limited, future borrowings will now be guaranteed by the State; the deletion of section 14 is consequent on the deletion of section 13 and provides for the removal of the provision enabling the Minister to depend on the central loans fund for the guarantees to which I have referred; and the deletion of 16 dealing with existing provisions in relation to the accounts of the company, in future these will be audited under the companies Acts rather than by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
I have outlined the changes proposed and at this point I should clarify the position under the revised arrangements. Dublin Corporation, through its nominees, will be the sole shareholder in the company. The board and chairman will be appointed by Dublin Corporation as the sole shareholder. The chief executive will continue to be recruited by the board, the staff of Temple Bar Properties will continue to be appointed and employed by the company. Remuneration of the board, chairman, chief executive and staff will continue to be determined, as at present, by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and the Minister for Finance. The company will continue to operate as an independent company with its own staffing structure and, therefore, at arms length from Dublin Corporation. The audit of the company's annual accounts will be carried out under the Companies Acts, 1963 to 1999, by an auditor to be appointed by the shareholder or nominees.
It is now appropriate to transfer the major responsibility for the management of the area as a cultural district to Dublin Corporation within whose function and area of Temple Bar is situated. As I have already outlined, the structure of the limited company will be retained to carry out this function, to underline the commitment to the area's distinct character and needs and to maintain the flexibility and expertise of the current arrangements. This proposal reflects the Minister's commitment to strengthening the local government system by devolving functions to local authorities where practical and feasible to do so. In addition, amendment No. 1 is a technical amendment to exclude this Part 23 from being collectively cited with local government Acts. Amendment No. 3, which I will come to later, deals with citations.
Those opposite criticised the number of Government amendments. A great deal of my amendments are as a result of the Second Stage debate. A great deal of the Opposition's amendments deal with issues that have already been debated and which have been re-entered here. The Second Stage debate took eight hours, which is quite a long period, and a lot of Deputies contributed. The Committee Stage was held over three days. There is no question of the Bill being rushed through. We are on Report Stage where I am seeking to implement any commitments I made and about which I could do something. Many of these amendments are grouped. As Deputies can see, they are similar. The number may seem high but we could accommodate debate if we proceeded expeditiously. I accept it is a difficult task and we should get on with it.
None of us knew what was in the list of amendments which was only published this morning and we have not had sufficient time to ascertain whether its contents constitute responses to suggested amendments. Are rates payable on commercial and retail properties in the Temple Bar area and are there any financial implications for Dublin Corporation as a result of transfer of the company? If so, was this done with the full agreement of Dublin Corporation? Did it hand over the company of its own volition or was this a Government decision?
The Minister of State indicated in his outline response to our initial questions that the transfer occurred in response to a request from Dublin Corporation. Will he clarify whether he refers to the corporation's executive or whether the decision was democratically made by the corporation's elected members? Is it in the Minister of State's gift to outline the actual effect this will have in terms of the corporation's roles and responsibilities? Are there any anticipated downsides in terms of its new remit? In the absence of the detail essential to make an informed assessment of this proposal, I will record that it is my preference in principle that these areas of responsibility would be under the control of the relevant local authorities. There are many questions which the Minister of State has not addressed and we cannot anticipate all of them in the limited time afforded to us this evening.
What consultation has occurred between the interested parties? Has agreement been reached and, if so, by whom?
Dublin Corporation made this request and agreement was reached resulting in the proposal before the House. The objective of redeveloping Temple Bar has been more or less achieved and the timescale outlined to bring it about has been completed. Rates are being paid directly to the local authority which will now manage the portfolio instead of the company.
Amendment Nos. 2, 51 to 53, inclusive, 213 and 219 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 17, line 25, after "Part 5” to insert “, section 241”.
This group of amendments relate directly or indirectly to various aspects of local electoral law. For purposes of clarity, I would first like to discuss the Government amendments relating to the substitution of a new section 42 – amendment No. 51 – and the insertion of a new Schedule 9 – amendment No. 219. Amendment No. 51 deals with the revised section 42 which, in turn, relates to the new Schedule 9 which deals with certain amendments to the Electoral Acts of 1992 and 1997 and the Litter Pollution Act, 1997. Schedule 9 relates to amendments required primarily to the Electoral Acts, 1992 and 1997, to ensure the more detailed electoral mechanics which currently apply to local elections will apply also to direct elections of the cathaoirleach. Therefore, the amendments which involve the insertion of the words "direct election" into various electoral provisions will cover such areas as register of electors, polling districts, where two or more polls are held on the same day etc.
The amendments to the Litter Pollution Act, 1997, set out in part 3 of the new Schedule 9 relate primarily to the inclusion of "direct elections" in the protection against an offence under the Litter Pollution Act, 1997, for election material, provided it is removed by the sixth day after polling day. It also provides that local authorities' powers to make by-laws prohibiting the distribution of advertising material do not relate to election advertising material for direct elections.
Given the number of such technical amendments to the electoral code, it was felt that the best approach was to combine all of them and insert them into a separate Schedule. The new Schedule 9 now also contains the provision previously contained in the old section 42 relating to the restriction on a directly elected chair seeking nomination as a Dáil candidate. I note that Deputy Gilmore's amendment No. 52 seeks the deletion of that provision.
Amendment No. 53 in Deputy Gilmore's name relates to the question of an elected chair, on being elected to the Dáil, having to stand down or vice versa. These two amendments were discussed on Committee Stage. The Bill, as published, provides that the directly elected chair shall be disqualified from nomination for the Dáil during his or her term of office as chair and for a 12 month period thereafter. Deputy Gilmore's amendment seeks to drop this restriction and provide alternatively that an elected chair, on election to the Dáil, would cease to be chair of the local authority and vice versa. This would have the effect of creating considerable instability in the system.
One of the advantages of our provisions is that the chair holds office for five years, the full life of the council. This five year term is an important balancing factor in the dynamics between the chair, the council and the manager. The five year term ensures the chair will develop considerable experience and knowledge in his or her role. The Deputy's amendment could result in people using the position of elected chair solely as a platform for election to the Dáil. By leaving before the end of their five year term, they would create instability. The directly elected chair provisions are designed to attract candidates who are willing to give at least five years to local government, thereby forging a greater profile for and interest in local government.
The amendment also refers to "a vice versa situation” which I take to mean that a Deputy may be elected as a chair but must cease to be a Deputy upon election. The existing law provides that a Deputy or Senator is disqualified from being elected to the position of chair or from being a chair or vice-chair of a local authority. It is proposed to continue this arrangement. This means, in effect, that a person must choose at an early stage in his or her career whether to pursue his or her career as a cathaoirleach or in national politics. In these circumstances, I ask Deputy Gilmore to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment No. 2 is a technical amendment to ensure the revised collective citation for the electoral Acts will take account of the new section 241. The new section 241 is set out in amendment No. 213 which provides for an updated reference to the meaning of "local authority" within the Electoral Act, 1992, which will now be construed by reference to the Local Government Bill. The new Schedule 9 is already covered by virtue of the citation of Part 5.
Does the Minister of State agree there is something of an inconsistency in the provision that a directly elected chair cannot seek election to the Dáil unless he or she serves a full five year term when, at the same time, somebody seeking election to the position of chair is not required to be a local authority member for five years? The Minister of State implied that to insert a provision to the effect that people should have five years' experience as local auth ority members would be somewhat unconstitutional. Are we not creating impediments in both cases to people running for public office?
I do not believe we are. We debated the question of who would be eligible to stand for direct election to the position of cathaoirleach or mayor on Committee Stage. It was decided that anybody entitled to stand for election to a local authority would also be entitled to stand for election to the position of mayor and that no prequalifying conditions would be laid down. It was suggested that people should have five years' experience but that was not adopted. We are now pursuing the democratic option of leaving it open to anyone who wishes to run for election to do so. It is for members of the electorate to decide who to elect. Anyone wishing to stand for election to the position of mayor will be aware in advance that he or she, if elected, will be debarred from election to the Dáil for the five year duration of the mayorship and the following year. This provision is included to facilitate the establishment of this new office and the development of a stronger local government system.
Any chairman of a local authority can offer himself or herself to be a candidate for election to the Dáil. I do not know why the Minister of State is singling out an elected mayor or chairperson and I do not agree with it. It is superfluous at this stage. Another layer of bureaucracy is being added to what is already there and it will be of no benefit to the local authority. The Minister of State is creating a buffer between the elected members and the management of every council. I do not agree with that. Any chairman of a council or urban district council can offer himself or herself to be a candidate for election to the Dáil, yet the Minister of State is saying that an elected mayor or chairperson of a county council will not be eligible to do that. That is inconsistent, wrong and discriminatory. That person may have served on the local authority for one or two years and made good progress and there is nothing wrong with that person offering himself or herself to be a candidate for election to the Dáil. I do not agree with what the Minister proposes. He should withdraw his amendment.
This is inconsistent because it denies the right of a sitting Cathaoirleach or mayor to offer himself or herself for election to the Oireachtas, and I assume that applies to both Houses. If such a person were to do so, the flaw in this is that it is not accepted that the person would have to forego his or her position of chair or mayor as the case may be. It is wrong to draw a line and say people holding these offices cannot offer themselves for election not only for the five year term of their office but for the subsequent year. That is a further imposition and it seems – we have touched on this phraseology on several occasions in recent days – unconstitutional to deny a person the right to offer him self or herself to be a candidate. Someone holding the position of chair or mayor who is subsequently elected to either House of the Oireachtas should relinquish that office. That would be acceptable, but the Minister of State's proposal to exclude people serving at local authority level from moving on to give national service for the term of that person's office and for a further 12 months is punitive, undemocratic and unconstitutional.
There is no doubt about the constitutionality of this proposal.
The candidacy requirements for the office of directly elected Cathaoirleach of a county or city council was a subject of discussion and proposed amendment on Committee Stage. At the time the Minister, Deputy Smith, was taking the Committee discussion and he indicated he would contact the select committee with regard to advice received from the Attorney General with whom this general matter had been raised on foot of representations from various local government elected organisations, and as we know there are three. I am not sure if they all made representations but I think they did.
The proposal on which advice was sought involved the question of limiting eligibility of candidacy to those with some prior experience of elected office and the association's suggestion of five years was indicated. The advice received in reply set out clearly the position of the Attorney General conveying "his very strong view that the measure proposed is unconstitutional and, accordingly, the Attorney General strongly advises that you do not limit eligibility requirements in the manner proposed". That decided the issue once and for all.
When one tries to introduce something new, concerns will always be expressed by some people who may not want change. If we aspire to build a strong local government system, we would recognise the system needs major change from top to bottom. Successive Governments during the past 15 years have been making certain changes and this Government has made substantial improvements to the local government system in an attempt to strengthen it.
The person who will be elected will be a full-time official. He or she will carry out his or her duties on a full-time basis for the full five year term. There will be no other person appointed to that position. That is the terms under which the election will be held.
Assuming the passing of this legislation into law, these procedures will commence at the time of the next local elections in 2004. Many good citizens are organising themselves to contest those elections and have made known their interest in doing so. That is a good sign because we often hear in such debates of the difficulty of attracting people to participate in public life, in local authority elections or to go forward for the Dáil. This is a healthy sign for local democracy.
It is hoped the role of elected mayor will evolve over time into one where he or she will have a series of important functions to perform. The executive functions are currently performed by the manager, but in time there will be a sharing of those functions and a stronger local government system will emerge with strong leadership at local level. It is not possible to achieve that if every June someone else is put into the chair and it remains merely a ceremonial office in many cases.
This is being done with a firm intent. I understand there was a good deal of support for it across the political spectrum, as shown by the number of people who indicated their willingness to go forward for this position, but that is a matter for another day.
Is the amendment being pressed?
Is the amendment agreed?
Not if it is consequential on amendments Nos. 213 and 219.
Amendments Nos. 213 and 219 will be voted on when they are reached. We are dealing only with amendment No. 2.
Amendment No. 214 is related to amendment No. 3 and they may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 17, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:
"(6) Part 23 and the Temple Bar Area Renewal and Development Act, 1991, may be cited together as the Temple Bar Area Renewal and Development Acts, 1991 and 2001, and shall be read together as one.
(7) Sections 2, 5(3) and Schedule 4 (in so far as they relate to the Act of 2000), section 244 and the Act of 2000 may be cited together as the Planning and Development Acts, 2000 and 2001.”.
Amendment No. 3 provides for a new subsection (6) to be inserted in section 1 and it is consequential on the inclusion of provisions in this Bill by way of amendments Nos. 1, 208, 209, etc. to amend the Temple Bar Area Renewal and Development Act, 1991, to provide for the transfer of the Minister's shareholding in Temple Bar Properties to Dublin Corporation. Amendment No. 3 provides for the updated collective citation of the Temple Bar Act with the new Part 23 dealing with Temple Bar.
Amendments Nos. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 65, 67, 69, 72, 98, 99, 100, 114 and 130 are related and are to be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 18, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:
"‘community development' means a process through which local community life is enhanced through the work of a wide range of community based/voluntary organisations engaged in a variety of services and includes a focus on disadvantaged, marginalised communities and an emphasis on capacity-building and anti-poverty work;".
This is a lumpen mass of amendments that requires a number of contributions.
The Minister undertook on Committee Stage to meet some of the concerns reflected by Members. Amendments Nos. 4, 7 and 8, which I put down on Committee Stage and have tabled here again reflect the failure of the initial Bill as presented on Committee Stage to properly define the critical areas in relation to poverty proofing and social exclusion. The Minister undertook to put down an amendment that would seek to address these under the focus of social inclusion and I accept that amendment No. 9 goes some way to address the areas I had hoped to see dealt with in the Bill. I will withdraw my amendments Nos. 4, 7 and 8 in accepting the Minister of State's amendment No. 9, which addresses social inclusion and the critical areas in terms of marginalised groups and the social, economic and cultural life of local communities.
Amendments No. 65 and 72 seek to reflect the importance of engagement with communities in the Bill. It is very important, having properly defined our purpose and intent to tackle the needs of the marginalised in society, that we take a pro-active position to creating, where appropriate, structures of participation that maximise engagement with the democratic system. That is what amendment No. 65 seeks to achieve and it should be accepted. Amendment No. 72, proposes to insert:
f2>(h) the need to tackle social exclusion and poverty . . .
(i) the need for consultation with service users . . .
(j)the need to poverty-proof' local authority decisions, policies and programmes at the design and review stages.
Accordingly, I will press the other amendments in my name but am willing to withdraw amendments Nos. 4, 7 and 8 in line with the commitment on Committee Stage, which I welcome in amendment No. 9.
Before addressing the issue, I bring the Chair's attention to a typographical error in sections 2 and 4, which are amended by amendments 2 and 3. Paragraph (g) of sections 2 and 4 on page 32 of the list of amendments refers to a substitution of the Environmental Protection Act. The typographical error describes that Act as a 1990 Act when it should read “1992”.
Is the correction agreed? Agreed.
We had a lengthy and valuable debate on Committee Stage regarding the whole area of social inclusion. The Minister put down two amendments to section 66(3)(b) and 68(1)(g) reflecting Government policy on this important issue. However, Opposition Deputies, and Deputy Ó Caoláin in particular, felt there was a real need to include an appropriate definition of social inclusion, a definition which could convey a sense of the issues which it was intended to encapsulate.
I am pleased to hear the Deputy indicate recognition of the fact that I took heed of what he was saying and I hope he accepts that the definition now proposed to be inserted in amendment No. 9 is an honest and genuine effort to reflect the views they expressed. Definitions are invariably difficult but this definition not only reflects the views of the Deputies concerned, but takes account of the views put forward by specialised bodies such as the Combat Poverty Agency and the Community Workers Co-operative during dialogue with them on the Bill. I had discussions with them on this matter and am satisfied the views of the wider community are represented and I hope the amendment is accepted in that spirit. I think it has been and I thank the Deputy for that. Many of the issues he has raised in the other amendments were raised by the Community Workers Co-operative but from my discussions with them I feel they will be quite pleased with the recognition in this amendment.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 21, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:
"(5) In this Act, except where the context otherwise requires, a reference to social inclusion or its promotion shall be read as including a reference to any policy, objective, measure or activity designed to counteract poverty or other social deprivation or to facilitate greater participation by marginalised groups in the social, economic and cultural life of the local community.".
Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 are related and are to be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 23, line 34, to delete "sections 14,” and substitute “Part 2, section 9 of which provides for an establishment day order in respect of that Part, and except section”.
Does the Minister of State agree that this really relates to section 14? Some amendments in the next grouping relate to this. Would it be appropriate to take them together?
We are taking amendments Nos. 10 and 11 together at present.
Section 7 is a commencement section and two official amendments are consequential here, one on the deletion of section 14 and the other on the establishment day or an order rather than a commencement order to commence Part 2.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 23, lines 35 and 36, to delete "each of those sections and in that Chapter" and substitute "that section and Chapter, respectively".
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 27, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
"12.–A member of a local authority who is employed in any office or employment shall be entitled to such unpaid leave from the office or employment in question as is necessary to enable him or her to attend meetings of the authority or committees thereof.".
This amendment relates to the right to leave from employment. I raised this on Committee Stage and it is one of the few issues I felt was really important in local government, which is why I resubmitted it. Some of the fundamental questions to be asked, which are probably even more important than any legislation we are putting through, are where the next generation of councillors is to come from, where they will get the character, nature and enthusiasm for the job and the extent to which they represent the people that elect them. Society has changed so much that the day of the gentleman public representative or the man or woman of means who could afford to engage in local representation almost as a hobby, is long gone. It is becoming increasingly difficult to draw people with the time to give. Involvement in local government takes up considerable time. Virtually no one is unemployed anymore. Many of the self-employed cannot take time off and the sacrifice is too great.
What really concerns me is the imbalance in representation. There is a huge imbalance – farmers are very well represented, as are teachers. The rest of the PAYE sector is, however, virtually without representation in both urban and rural authorities. The thousands employed in companies such as Intel, Dell and Hewlett Packard do not feature as local representatives, yet they make up a huge percentage of the population. The very minimum required is to allow them take unpaid leave to perform their functions as local representatives. There is the other area, the remuneration and expenses which should be accorded to public representatives at local level, but I will not get into that. They need to be able to take time off work and not suffer in their jobs as a result or have to take their scant holiday leave. This is an important measure which I will press.
I support Deputy Olivia Mitchell's amendment. It is not beyond the compass of Members in this Chamber to recognise many areas within our respective communities where people are excluded from participation in the democratic process by virtue of their employment. The measures in the Bill that go some way towards a level of remuneration for elected representatives fail to allow for the option of full-time participation. Therefore, the requirement of employment remains critical for anyone who is public spirited enough to offer themselves for elected office.
This is not the case only in the information technology sector, as alluded to by Deputy Mitchell, but at every level. I would like to see that a young girl at a supermarket checkout, or anyone in any other sector of employment, has sufficient opportunity to participate. One of the critical things that they need is for their employment not to be put at risk. There are many instances that can be quoted where people are excluded by virtue of the conditions of their employment. That is discrimination and a major obstacle to full and open participation in the electoral process. The system, and democracy as a whole, is severely affected as a result.
I hope the Minister of State, even at this late stage and having heard the arguments on Committee Stage, recognises the import of empowering everyone, without exception, with the opportunity to participate. There will be many other hurdles and difficulties, but one of the critical things which we must first establish is the right of everyone, irrespective of their employment, to take their place before the electorate at all tiers of elected representation. I strongly support the amendment and urge the Minister of State to accept it.
I fully support what has been said about seeking to attract people to stand for election to their local authority and other elected offices. There is a need to try to find some way around the fact that some people, in certain employments, seem to be debarred from putting their names forward.
We had a good discussion on this matter on Committee Stage when I indicated that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, had considered the issue of inserting a statutory requirement to provide for time off from employment for local representatives. He was not convinced, however, that was appropriate for legislation as there could be constitutional difficulties with regard to private employers. It is unlikely that they could be compelled to release their staff. The Minister has suggested that the best way to proceed is by agreement. The issue has been raised in a preliminary way in the context of the PPF talks. I know that the Minister intends to pursue it within that context in order that all relevant parties, employers, trade unions and others, are involved. That is the most productive way in which to proceed. The Government has given that commitment and every effort will be made to make progress in that area.
I am conscious of upstanding citizens who have put themselves out in order to serve their local communities on local authorities. The more of them that can qualify for membership, by ensuring some provision and recognition is made, the more the system will benefit. There is good work being done in strengthening the local authority system. There is a long way to go but these kinds of changes help in accelerating progress in this area. However, I cannot accept the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 14, 15, 25, 26, 47, 48, 59 and 164 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 27, line 10, to delete "the disqualifications set out in sections 13 and 14" and substitute "section 14 and to the disqualifications set out in section 13".
Since section 12 sets out the eligibility requirements for local authority membership, the reference to a disqualification in section 14 is being deleted on the basis that it related to the dual mandate. By coincidence, a reference to the replacement section 14, inserted on Committee Stage, which prohibits multiple membership of local authorities is still required in this section.
Amendment No. 15 relates to section 13 which, in turn, deals with the disqualification and the consequences of the deletion of section 14. Section 13 lists disqualifications from local authority membership. The reference, subject to section 14(3) in the context of a Minister, Mini ster of State, or the Chairman of the Dáil or Seanad, is no longer required given the deletion of section 14. The reference pointed out that such a disqualification was to be read from 2004, as it simply referred to a Member of the Dáil or Seanad. This must now be deleted to retain the status quo.
I wish to refer to amendment No. 25 which is the hub of the entire Bill. It refers to the famous section 14 deleted on Committee Stage. Only a week prior to that it was the cornerstone of the Bill. It is a vain hope on our part to resubmit the amendment but it is important and everyone involved in local government had pinned their hopes on the measure.
If we have learned anything during the years, it is that, if we are ever to have truly meaningful local government, we must make the break between central and local government and between their responsibilities, remit and authority. A single mandate is not a solution to the problems of local government. I would have sought a single meaningful mandate but we are not even getting the single mandate, a necessary, albeit insufficient, condition for any improvement in local government.
To try to hammer back in the cornerstone of the Bill is probably unrealistic at this stage, but we must make our protest known at the way in which the Government sacrificed the future of local government. The only meaningful measure in the Bill which might have made a difference to local government in the long-term was sacrificed at the whim of a few individuals who did not even have the gumption to defend their position in the House.
Will the Minister of State consider, even at this late stage, reinstating section 14 as previously envisaged and make the break between central and local government? If we want local government to grow and prosper and act independently, as the Minister of State often says is required of it, it must be let off on its own. Members of local authorities must be allowed make mistakes because it is the only way people will take responsibility.
The measure is essential for the future of local government and the only thing that made the Bill significant. Everything else underpins what is already in place and, in some cases, will destroy local government. The directly elected mayors will destroy the decision making process in many counties and cities throughout the country. This measure was the one thing on which everyone pinned their hopes. Will the Minister of State reconsider it at this stage?
Legislative farce was the phrase I used when this decision was first made known to members of the committee and Members of the House. It is strange that three members of parties not in government have tabled an amendment which seeks to reinsert a section that was in the Government's original proposal.
It is serious that the influence of a small number of Members whose real purpose and intent is questionable has ensured the extraction of one of the key and critical components of the Minister's Bill as originally presented to the House. The effect of this will be far reaching. It will delay and set back in many ways any purposeful attempt at the reform of local government. This key and core value at the heart of the Bill has been extracted leaving us with very hollow legislation.
There have been substantial changes in local government with the introduction of strategic policy committees, the corporate policy group, and the new style of management which allows for inclusion and access for unelected people to the SPC system. These are innovative, welcome and important. There is no local authority member who does not fully appreciate and understand the new demands on time and the new roles and responsibilities that come with membership of local authorities. We hope this is only the embryonic stage because the Bill does not allow for further empowering of local authority members. We hope that all that is only a beginning.
Despite this, we will see into perpetuity a situation where members of local government and Members of all parties in both Houses will, by virtue of party pressure, find themselves forced into a situation of dual mandates and against their real intent. The measure in the Bill was the way to deal with this. It was one of the elements about which I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, some time ago and indicated my support. It greatly disappointed me when, under pressure from the so-called independent wing of the Government, this central tenet of the Bill was whipped out from under his nose.
I join other Members in sending the Minister good wishes for recovery from his current indisposition. I have no doubt that he would be a discomforted Minister in addressing this issue this evening. I strongly recommend the reinsertion of section 14 so that we can have something substantial and substantive to address and to offer local government after these several weeks and months of work.
Deputies Mitchell and Ó Caoláin seek to reopen the debate on the dual mandate by tabling amendment No. 25. I do not intend to give a lengthy discourse in reply. We dealt with this on Committee Stage when the Deputies were fully informed about the background and the political realities which gave rise to the deletion of that section on Committee Stage. It is realistic to expect that there will be areas or points of disagreement in a Bill of this size and importance.
We are realists. The Government is a coalition Government and the implementation of the joint programme is making good progress as evidenced by the substantial social and economic advances achieved so far. We are supported by four Independent Members who clearly indicated that they are implacably opposed to the ending of the dual mandate. If the Government had persisted with the proposal, it would have resulted in the withdrawal of their support with obvious consequences. The issues had to be weighed up and it was agreed to continue with our joint programme which has delivered so much.
The Bill is major legislation and underpins new and recent initiatives in local government. The ban on the dual mandate was an important reform, but we must move on and ensure other elements of the local government reform programme are given the opportunity to develop and evolve. As was pointed out by Deputy Ahern on Committee Stage, it is open to all parties in favour of banning the dual mandate to adopt and implement a policy in respect of this matter. The options remain for either parties or individuals to withdraw from local authority positions.
I understand the elimination of the dual mandate is party policy for all major parties. My party was instrumental in the first moves in this direction by way of the Local Government Act, 1991, which disqualified Ministers and Ministers of State from holding office in local government. One does not achieve all one's political aims. Beidh lá eile ag an bPaorach.
As the Minister of State said, one does not always achieve one's political objectives. We are in the final 12 months of the full term of the Dáil. To say it was the four Independents who held the Government to check on this issue is to patently peddle half truths. The Government could have faced them down on this issue. This would have been an ideal time to do so had the will been there. I do not believe it was because it was not only the Independents who took that position. It was evident on Second Stage that many of the Minister of State's backbench colleagues were equally intent in their opposition.