Tairgim leasú a 1:
I gCuid I, leathanach 7, líne 5, "an ról atá ag rialtas áitiúil" a scriosadh agus "prionsabal an daonlathais áitiúil agus uime sin beidh an príomhról ag rialtas áitiúil" a chur ina ionad,
i guid II, leathanach 7, líne 26, "role of local government" a scriosadh agus "principle of local democracy and therefore local government shall have the main role" a chur ina ionad.
I move amendment No. 1:
In Part I, page 6, line 5, to delete "an ról atá ag rialtas áitiúil" and substitute "prionsabal an daonlathais áitiúil agus uime sin beidh an príomhról ag rialtas áitiúil",
in Part II, page 6, line 26, to delete "role of local government" and substitute "principle of local democracy and therefore local government shall have the main role".
Amendment No. 1 relates to the criticism I made of section 1 of the proposed new article on Second Stage. I stated it would be far more desirable and effective to have a recognition of the principle of local government, rather than a recognition by one part of the State of another part of the State. I am seeking in this amendment to address that in two ways.
The first part of the amendment seeks to delete the term "role of local government" and substitute that the State recognises the "principle of local democracy". That meets more strongly the aspirations of the European charter on local self government because it recognises the principle of local democracy.
The second part of the amendment is intended to clarify the situation. There is an increasing number of local groups which speak on various issues and are receiving deserved attention and recognition from the State. An example of this is the current use of European Structural Funds to support local development in the Operational Programme for Local Urban and Rural Development. Many groups have been assisted in their establishment under that programme. Another example is the efforts being made by the Minister's Department and others to integrate the systems of local government and local development under the city and county development boards.
My concern is that, despite the welcome development of such groups and the desire to integrate local development and local government, we should state that the principal role in exercising local democracy is played by local government. I know, from attending meetings, that others rightly claim to be participating in local democracy and local government through their involvement in local development groups, partnership groups and many other groups. I want to make it clear that I am not against that. However, I want it enshrined in any recognition that we give of local government that the democratically elected local government, as we find in our urban and county councils, has the main role in the exercise of local democracy.
I do not think the Minister can have any objection to that in principle because he clearly stated on Second Stage that the city and county development boards would operate under the umbrella of the local government system and that they would be recognised in the local government legislation which is due to come before these Houses. We are recognising and promoting other forms of participation in local government but we should also state that the main role still lies with the elected members and councils, which is what the second part of the amendment seeks to do.
The purpose of amendment No. 2 is to include recognition of regional government. Since the last major local government Act, principles have been set out for the establishment of regional authorities, which is are type of regional government. Anyone familiar with them will see they have a role to play in promoting the development of our regions. However, it is unfortunate that their role to date, and their potential to develop that in the future, has, over the past year in particular, been obscured by the debate on the division of this country for the purposes of Objective One EU funding. The new article should state that regional government is also recognised.
Reports to Government have been produced on an almost weekly basis seeking greater co-ordination in planning, transport and infrastructure. There is a case for recognising regional government, which should itself be democratically accountable. If that were established, with the protection of the Constitution, our regional structures could be developed in an enhanced and more integrated fashion and would better survive the type of robust debate we have seen over the past year.
The members of regional authorities, or of any the bodies constituted under them, are not sure what the future holds for them. One member told me last week they were assured by the Department of Finance that they will remain for the moment. That is not good enough. Regional government has a role to play in the administration and government of this country. The form it takes should not be subjected to the vagaries of the type of debate we have seen in the past year. I would like to see it established on a more formal footing, with constitutional recognition similar to that of local government.