Wednesday, 3 November 2010
Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill 2010: Second Stage
Ciarán Lynch (Cork South Central, Labour)
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
a) recognising the potential value for the greater Dublin area of a directly elected mayor, adequately resourced and with appropriate powers;
b) noting that the next local elections are not due to be held until 2014, and believing that it would be preferable for any election of a new mayor to be held in conjunction with those elections;
c) concerned at the potential cost of the new position and of the new regional authority for Dublin and the staffing levels that will be required to facilitate the authority and the mayor, and having regard to the serious economic crisis facing the country,
defers the Second Reading of the Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill 2010 until this date in 2012."
Am I to understand that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, who came to the House to read his speech and departed shortly afterwards, will not be listening to the contributions of the chief Opposition spokespersons in this area? I believe this is the case, and it is a great pity.
The Labour Party agrees in principle with the idea of a directly elected mayor for Dublin and recognises the potential value that such a position could bring to the greater Dublin area. However, the Bill as presented to the House today clearly demonstrates that now is not the time for such a measure. The Bill is not fit for purpose and, having examined its broader provisions, we find it falls well short of the earlier ambitions the Minister seemed to have for it and the potential that such a new office could have. What we have seen this afternoon clearly falls short of what the Minister was talking about a number of years ago.
The Minister first spoke about this Bill when the idea of a directly elected mayor in Dublin was put in the programme for Government in 2007. It was an ambitious idea to realise the potential of the greater Dublin area. However, what we now see is something that falls well short of this and is extraordinarily deficient in the way it has been presented to the House. What is being introduced to the House is a Bill that provides for the creation of a supra-bureaucratic structure, struck somewhere between the Office of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the existing local authorities, which will cost, conservatively, somewhere between €5 million and €8 million. The Minister disputed this figure earlier, but all examinations, particularly those carried out by the existing Dublin Regional Authority, have indicated that this is the case. I also note that the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, spoke earlier about the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. Its position is that it wishes to have a directly elected mayor for the Dublin region, but I understand it believes the Bill before the House is deficient. While the Minister of State might claim the Dublin Chamber of Commerce is in favour of a directly elected mayor, it is somewhat disingenuous of him to say it totally endorses the legislation before the House this afternoon.
The Bill will introduce structures that will cost between €5 million and €8 million a year. The local authorities are to be asked to meet that cost from their own resources, with no transference of funds from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. At present the four Dublin local authorities donate approximately €4 million towards the Dublin Regional Authority. The provisions in the Bill will require substantial increases in that contribution. The Minister in creating the mayoral position is now asking the four Dublin local authorities to underwrite the costs of the position while no funding is coming from the Department. While he can argue that the cost of the position will be met from existing funding, he is saying it will be met from the local authorities' budgets and there will be no transference from the Department. This is interesting and indicates no devolution from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Real reform requires change at all levels of government. If we are to reform local government we must also reform national Government. If we are to introduce a directly elected mayor for Dublin as part of a reform process it is strange that only local authorities are being financially impacted by this and the Department is not being financially impacted. Clearly no devolution is taking place.
In establishing the position of mayor, the Minister should have audited the existing Departments to analyse the activities they carry out centrally and how these could be done locally to be delivered in a more efficient and practical way. For instance, the Department of Education and Skills has a number of functions that could be far more cost-effectively delivered at a local authority level. I refer to the planning of school buildings but not the setting of the curriculum or deciding pupil-teacher ratios. Local authorities could decide where schools should be built and how educational requirements can be met bearing in mind demographic changes. I believe a Dublin mayor could have greater jurisdiction in that regard, but that opportunity was missed in the Bill. Ultimately we have got a superstructure placed between the four Dublin local authorities and the Department with significant questions as to its role.
It could be argued that the Minister has created a watchdog, acting on his Department's behalf. No actions by the mayor can be taken without the approval or sanction of the Minister. There is talk about regional planning guidelines, but there are different kinds of guidelines. Regarding planning legislation, the new mayor does not have legislative powers but has four or five years to get guidelines together and to talk to some of the different groups that might be involved. We are being sold an illusion of reform but in reality the structure of local government is regressing with the proposals in the Bill. The Minister is introducing a quasi-position operating like a sort of local commissioner over local government, double checking that those local authorities are operating under the Minister's directives, particularly statutory instruments and legislation he is issuing, and ensuring that local government is behaving itself.
With this new structure, how does the Poolbeg dilemma the Minister has created get itself resolved? Will the new mayor be able to say he or she is implementing Government policy? If the local authority were implementing Government strategy, the incinerator would be under construction at the moment. However, the Minister's position is different from Government policy and as the mayor will be required to answer to the Minister's directives, what would he or she do? If he or she were to implement Government policy he or she would have to go against the Minister's directive. This shows the absurdity of the legislation before the House this evening.
Any actions or outcomes in the mayor's job description must be sanctioned by the Minister. We could well end up with a Dublin mayor who will not be able to blow his or her nose without the permission of the Minister, Deputy Gormley.