Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 1 Dec 1993


Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 are alternatives to amendment No. 33. Amendment No. 38 is cognate and amendments Nos. 36 and 37 are related. Amendments Nos. 33 to 38, inclusive, may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 19, subsection (1), line 12, to delete "borough" and substitute "Dublin County of Dún Laoghaire".

We discussed this issue before. It relates to an anomaly where there is a school attendance board and officer for the borough area, but this does not apply in the county area. It is inappropriate that there should be a distinction between several parts of a county. I experienced this when I was a guidance counsellor. It is important that children from disadvantaged areas, whether they are delinquents or deprived children, are able to contact a school attendance officer. It is unacceptable — I am not only speaking about the new county of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, but also for the two other counties — in this day and age that gardaí should be responsible for looking after children's welfare because it is not their job. We should have school attendance officers and the Minister should be willing to liaise with the Minister for Education. It is not a simple matter of not wanting a distinction between one part of the county and another; it is a vital part of our educational system and it should work in conjunction with our local authority. This is an important principle.

I do not know what the Minister is prepared to do about this, but we would be reneging on our responsibilities if we did not agree to the establishment of school attendance areas in the three councils. In addition to school attendance officers, a terrible name, there should be a welfare officer or officers with responsibility for children in these areas. In our area, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, it is ironic that some of the more socially deprived areas will not have a school attendance officer available whereas another area will. No distinction should be made. Even if the Minister will not agree to these amendments I ask him to come back on Report Stage and give some hope for the children of our area.

I agree with Deputy Keogh. A number of matters arise in the context of this amendment, the first, the question of what is termed the borough area. The members, management and staff of Dún Laoghaire Corporation and the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area committee have worked hard since 1991 to merge the two sides of this local government marriage, the part of the old county council that administered the Rathdown area and Dún Laoghaire Corporation. In doing so many members of the council and staff felt certain concerns about the identity of the knew Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown entity. Members of the council and of the public from outside the old Dún Laoghaire borough were worried that Dún Laoghaire Borough was absorbing the rest of the county and that their identity and sense of being part of a wider county would be affected in this extended borough. We worked hard to be able to say that when this new county council was established the borough would be no more and that we had a county council.

It is disappointing to see the borough concept being kept alive in the legislation before us. Despite the efforts we have made at local level to move beyond a borough area and a county area, the legislation provides that certain matters will apply in the borough and not elsewhere. We thought that when the new county council was established the same writ would apply everywhere.

This will cause many difficulties. For example, there are two sets of rates and provision is made in this legislation for their convergence. At present there are water rates in the borough area and none in the other area. That matter will obviously be a cause for debate in the new year.

There are two systems in regard to housing administration with differences in housing lists, points systems for housing allocations, rent systems for housing, development plans and densities of housing for planning permission. We are working to converge those. The last thing we needed was a provision in the Bill which says that for school meals there would be one rule in the old borough area and another rule elsewhere.

Although school attendance and school meals are not mentioned in this section they are related to it and the same point can be made about both. Having a school attendance committee for one part of this new county and not the other cannot be justified simply because, historically, that part of the county had school attendance committees. These amendments propose to make the entire county a school attendance area for the purposes of the 1926 Act. Council members are anxious to have that function applied right across the county and not just in the old borough area.

It is also hard to justify the provision in relation to school meals. I gave the example this morning of two schools less than half a mile from each other in the Ballybrack-Loughlinstown area, the same area for local election purposes. All that separates them is a dual carriageway. the combined community of what used to be generally called Ballybrack was divided by the county boundary on the dual carriageway. Loughlinstown is now on one side with Ballybrack on the other. The primary schools in Loughlinstown get school meals but the primary school in Ballybrack does not although the circumstances of the children are exactly the same.

Up to now when people asked why one school had meals and another did not the answer was that one was in the county and the other in the borough. This was because we inherited an out of date 19th century form of local government organisation in Dublin and all this was supposed to be put right when new county councils were set up. This legislation will set up the new county councils and on 1 January we will have to tell the people the same thing again. Notwithstanding the new county councils, school meals will be provided on one side of the road and not on the other. That cannot be justified and does not make sense. The same rules must apply on a county wide basis. The members and management of this new authority have stopped thinking in terms of borough area and county area and it would be a great pity if a provision like this drove us back into that again. I ask the Minister to enact this legislation on a countywide basis.

I have great sympathy for what Deputy Gilmore said about the efforts in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and the other two county areas to achieve the greatest cohesion possible in administration of the local authority and other attendant functions which have fallen to councils over the years.

Nationally speaking, county councls are generally not involved in this area. It is a matter for the Department of Education and is primarily administered locally by the Garda. I had the option when establishing new county councils to have the same provision in those counties as in counties throughout the country. That would mean local committees under the borough being replaced by the Garda. That is what happens elsewhere.

We chose not to take that option but in its place have a temporary provision so the operation of this system in the borough area would continue until such time as a decision is taken following a review in the Department of Education as to how these matters are to be handled for the future. I emphasise it is a temporary provision. There are only two choices; to disband the existing system and, therefore, affect the borough tradition, or decide to extend to the county area what was provided by the borough in the past and do that in circumstances when we knew the Department of Education was reviewing this matter. We are maintaining the status quo pending the outcome of the review. I believe that argument is basically sound.

Let us look at the greater Dublin context. If we accept Deputy Gilmore's proposal and extend those provisions in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, what happens in Fingal and South Dublin? I emphasised earlier today in a debate on another amendment — and the Deputy referred to this himself — that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown has certain types of service charges which do not exist in the county. These anomalous situations exist and there are arguments in counties adjoining Dublin about these matters. It is not as simple as just extending what was part and parcel of the borough to the rest of the county. We are maintaining the existing position until the review is carried out. I must emphasise again that I have no wish to divide that county. I respect the work which was done to put the unit together and I would like the division of responsibility in terms of this area to end as soon as possible, certainly between now and the next local elections in 1996.

The Minister's thinking is coloured to an extent by the kind of discussion we had earlier on section 11 where we talked about the different traditions. It seems that the Minister is trying to superimpose the legal standing, style of operation and traditions of the traditional county council on the county of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. I made the point this morning that the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county, which is the only one we are speaking about in the context of this amendment, will be an urban county. It is the only county being created in this legislation where there is a merger of two old authorities. I do not know when, if ever, there was a merger of two local authorities at this level. I certainly cannot recall when there was a merger of an urban borough authority and a county authority. As I have already emphasised, much work has been done to bring about a convergence at local level.

The road the Minister is suggesting has many dangerous ramifications for the success of this project. He is suggesting the status quo pending various reviews or the introduction of other legislation. If that applies in the case of school attendance and school meals, why should the same not apply to issues such as housing? I am sure the Minister will appreciate the pressures which members of local authorities come under where there are two different housing lists and it is asked if people should be eligible for housing in other areas.

Is the Minister suggesting that we should deal with that by having two lists — a borough area list and another list — and that we should have the same arrangement in the delivery of every other service? If it holds for school attendance, which is an important function but is not a central function of a local authority, and school meals, then why should it not hold for everything else? The introduction of such thinking will hold back the convergence of the whole project and if that happens, the momentum which was built up over the last year and a half, particularly by the members of the authority, will be lost.

I must emphasise at this point that many members of this new authority, particularly members from outside the old borough area, had many reservations about this project, which is understandable. I would find it difficult, as I am sure the Minister would, to explain to people in Dundrum, for example, why there should be one law on school attendance in Dundrum and another in Dún Laoghaire, or why children in Dundrum should not be entitled to school meals which are available to children in the same socio-economic circumstances in Blackrock or Dalkey simply on an historic basis.

The next year or two will be a critical period for public acceptance of this idea. People will have to see in practice that this new county council does mean change. There is a demand in this area for a change in local government organisation because the old borough county boundary was creating huge anomalies and dividing communities. For example, in Sallynoggin and Glenageary some houses are in the borough and some in the county and are subject to different rules. People demanded that this be sorted out and a logical form of local government organisation put in place. We are now putting this logical form of local government organisation in place but unless people can see that in practice the same services will be provided in all parts of the community, it will make a nonsense of it and undermine public confidence. It will greatly demoralise the members of the council who have worked to bring the whole project together. I ask the Minister to please rethink this idea to keep the borough area concept in this legislation because it will then stay as a concept in practice and it will not be possible to knit together the two sides which will have to make up this new local authority.

With regard to the issue of school attendance, the Minister will be waiting a long time for a review of this area by the Department of Education because a review of the whole system was being undertaken in the early days of my teaching career in the mid-1970s. The Minister may know something about this which I do not, perhaps it is part of the discussions on education, but I would not hold my breath waiting for something to happen on this issue.

What we are doing with Dublin is unique. It will be difficult for the counties of Fingal and South Dublin to establish an identity but it will be much more difficult for an area which has a fusion of two different identities. As Deputy Gilmore said, at times there was almost an antagonism between councillors from the two areas. There was a fear of the unknown and councillors had many misgivings, in particular, the councillors from the Rathdown area of the proposed county who saw that the identity of the borough would prevail rather than there being a new start.

It is important that from the beginning the identity of the county should reflect a cohesiveness and singularity in all aspects. The Minister is hampering the development of the county. There will be problems anyway but discrepancies between counties will make it difficult to make the arrangement work. The amendments we have tabled are relatively minor in the scheme of things but the Minister will send out the wrong signals if he does not take them on board. The Minister is saying that there are distinctions between different parts of a county. People will not accept that because it is not appropriate. Sallynoggin was a good example. I represent the Ballybrack ward which also includes part of Sallynoggin and is in the county area. It is crazy that there should be a distinction between them. This is a plea to make the system work. We have worked very hard on this as local representatives and I know the Minister wants to make it work. He should try to understand the thinking behind this, which is that we are fearful of these distinctions.

I have great sympathy for the type of case being put forward by Deputy Gilmore and Deputy Keogh. The most desirable situation would be to eliminate all the differences that exist between the borough and the county, if that were possible. Both Deputies will appreciate that all differences cannot be eliminated overnight. It has to be done on a phased basis, particularly where another Department is simultaneously conducting reviews and examinations of these areas. In the debate on the difference between the levels of rates in the borough area and the county area, the council is deciding on a phased arrangement which would take account of those differences so there would not be an immediate excessive impact in one area by virtue of linking to another. I understand that and think it is desirable.

In this instance, I am anxious to eliminate differences as quickly as possible. I will help to have them eliminated by having further discussions with my colleague, the Minister for Education, about the thinking in her Department on this area. We will, between now and the elections in 1996, reach an accommodation where we have a level playing field as far as that is humanly possible. In the interim and for the shortest time possible we will have a temporary provision which takes account of what is happening and what is likely to happen in the future. I am unable to go further than that.

Many of these areas are not precisely within the control of the Department of the Environment. If I were to follow the tradition in my Department with regard to councils, I would ask that the situation be changed and visit on the borough circumstances which are appropriate to and operated by the majority of county councils throughout the country, which is that this matter is not in the remit of the local authority

There have been difference between the operation of borough councils and county councils, not only in tradition but in other ways. In all modern local government law I have seen to it that we no longer follow that course, and that has been the case in other Departments. For example, there is greater synchronisation in the areas of unemployment assistance, the free fuel scheme and education grants. Modern law and regulations are dealing with anomalous situations as they are encountered and progressive legislation should always take account of that.

It is with some regret that I find myself having to delay that kind of implementation in the whole county area but I do not have a choice. It is necessary to listen to what is happening in other areas and await the findings of the review. A practical deadline has been imposed on the completion of that review.

It is getting late but the Minister's stubbornness on this issue is beginning to aggravate me. I understand that there are areas where we have to wait, for example, the establishment of the vocational education committees which we discussed and I have no problem with it but this is not an issue where we have to wait. It can be done in this legislation by giving the new county council the right to appoint school attendance committees to deal with school attendance as Dún Laoghaire Borough dealt with them in the past and by making school meals available across the county.

I am becoming concerned for a number of reasons. The Minister is insensitive to the complex situation in which we find ourselves. The members of the new Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Council are being handed legislation and a formula for reorganisation and being told to make it work.We have done that as best we can. In every area where effort is required on the part of the Minister or some Department, we are told we cannot disturb the way things are being done and we must await the outcome of a review. If the elected members and the management of the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Council were to take a leaf out of the Minister's book and apply that formula to all the services and areas for which we are responsible, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council would sink like a stone.

I am becoming alarmed — and it relates to what I said on section 11 — because what is being foisted on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown is a tired, battered, old traditional county council formula. If what is being offered is that whatever applied in the borough area could continue to apply until some Minister, Department or working group got around to sorting it out, the Minister can forget about it because it will not work. We must sort out the problem of school attendance and school meals. It probably is not the biggest issue but it is indicative of the thinking here. If that is what we are doing, then my approach to what is being done here will change very dramatically.

I ask the Minister to rethink the question of school attendance and school meals. There is a willingness and a demand on the part of the members. I chaired the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area committee over the past year and we had meetings about all aspects of the reorganisation. There were members on the area committee representing Clonskeagh and Dundrum who initially were actively considering making a submission to the Minister that they be excluded from the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and included in South County Dublin. There was that degree of reluctance on the part of some members of the council and members of the public to go along with the project.

We made progress on the basis that there would be equal treatment across the county with no special arrangements for the borough and other arrangements for the old county area. If we have differences enshrined in legislation, whether they relate to school attendance or school meals, we will be back to square one. Perhaps we have not made this clear to the Minister. We have come too far at local level in marrying the two systems to find ourselves hauled back into the old situation where there is one rule for the borough and another for the county.

I hope the Minister listens to what we are saying and will accept it. As a new county council we cannot afford to have a two tier council or a perception that it is a two tier council. I have made many points already about wanting this to work. Working with colleagues on the council who have grave misgivings. I came away from this debate — and I am sure Deputy Gilmore did the same — and tried to defend the indefensible. Colleagues on all sides would be extremely disappointed if we tried to justify it and they would be extremely disappointed by the Minister's reluctance.

The matters we have discussed appear to be relatively minor but the Minister is reluctant to go that step further. He says he accepts and recognises the work that has been done. That is nice to hear and we appreciate it but the evidence has to be there even in these matters. We heard the arguments from all sides. I believe that, for the sake of establishing a new county and getting the cohesion right, these matters are extremely important.

I was accused this morning of having a mad rush to the head when I said something. Deputy Gilmore's understanding of what I said is to say the least, in the same category as my contribution before lunch. There is no basic difference between us; the only difference lies in the timing. It is reasonable to accept that when a review is currently undertaken in another Department, and Deputies know that is happening, that we would await that review. I have put beside that the absolute necessity to resolve these matters between now and the next local elections. I cannot go any further than that.

I have no basic argument or difference with what Deputies are saying. We cannot eliminate all those problems at once but they will be eliminated as quickly as possible in consultation with the Department with primary responsibility in this area, in circumstances where that Department is currently reviewing that whole scheme. This is not intransigence or stubborness, it is not any reluctance on my part to help; it is the reality of the situation. It is of a temporary nature and I have no wish to divide that county a day longer than absolutely necessary either in this area or in any others.

Is amendment No. 33 in the name of Deputy Doyle being pressed?

We are not finished with this. If it is a temporary arrangement, it could apply equally by allowing the county council to have a school attendance committee. If that is superseded in time by whatever comes from the review, it can be replaced at that stage, just as the arrangements proposed here can be replaced; the same can apply to arrangements in regard to school meals.

That is true, except that any normal business person or politician would always do it the other way and be certain that when something is put in place, it is permanent.

The Minister is saying leave things as they are. Things cannot be left as they are when he is asking two authorities to merge. There is a certain amount of grief and pain involved in trying to put things together. We have heard a lot of waffle during this debate about taking into account the wishes of the members of the local authorities. The members of the local authorities, for all the reasons spelled out here have a very clear wish in this regard, one that can very easily be conceded and there is no reason not to concede it.

If the review of the School Attendance Acts comes up with a different arrangement it will require legislation. When the amending legislation comes before the Oireachtas, it can just as easily amend section 21 of the Local Government (Dublin) Bill which says the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County. It is the same amendment. It will just mean the county will be unable to do what it wants.

I agree with Deputy Gilmore. Normally I can follow the Minister's argument but in this case I cannot accept that he is just carrying out a division into separate county areas and he is just leaving the status quo in relation to these areas which will, of their nature, point to divisions.

I support the cases made by Deputy Gilmore and Deputy Keogh. It is a measure of the willingness of the Minister to accommodate the views of members of the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and to put into practice what he has been preaching to us and refuting other amendments all day. The Minister wants to devolve functions, particularly minor functions in the overall scheme of local government, to the local authorities to make the decisions. If school meals or attendance officers cannot be trusted to the new county council, what can? We cannot have it both ways. We cannot argue for a principle on one amendment and against it on another as the Minister appears to be doing. I ask the Minister on this relatively small issue in the overall scheme of local government — although it is not small to the people who are receiving the service — to concede the principle of these amendments.

Everywhere I have a primary responsibility and a case is made to me where I have full control over the decision to be taken in relation to that matter, I am very happy to respond to the locally elected representatives and the democratic wishes of the people. However, where a wider question is at issue, as this necssarily is, involving a review in another Department about this particular scheme, that is a different question.

Can the Minister tell us when this review will be complete?

I have indicated that it is essential that a specific set of circumstances develop between now and the elections of 1996. I have no wish to maintain the division in the county of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown a day longer than is absolutely necessary in this or other areas. Deputies will appreciate this when we come on to later amendments. This is not the only area where a transitional arrangement will apply, an arrangement which will be replaced by a permanent future. This will be done as early as possible, certainly between now and the local elections of 1996.

Could the Minister come back to us between now and Report Stage with an indication from his colleague, the Minister for Education, to whom I presume he is referring — we are now talking about a review — and indicate what steps are in train to resolve the anomalies in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, as a result of this legislation, in the areas of school attendance and school meals?

As I understand it, we will not have a lot of time on Report Stage but I am happy to go as far as I can.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 34:

In page 19, subsection (1), line 12, to delete "borough" and substitute "Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Council".

I would prefer to press this amendment but does that mean I cannot re-enter it on Report Stage?

I would prefer to hold off on this amendment because it is so important. Perhaps it would give the Minister a little more time to reflect on it and also, if possible, to consult the Minister for Education.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 19, subsection (1), line 12, to delete "Borough" and substitute "Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County".

Like the proposers of the two previous amendments, I would be astonished if the Minister is saying that the Minister for Education is the obstacle to this because I know she is highly committed to the project of the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. I ask him to go back and clear up this matter because if that were to be the case, it would be a matter of great surprise. I will withdraw the amendment until Report Stage to get that clarified.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments 36 to 38, inclusive, not moved.
Section 21 agreed to.
Section 22 agreed to.