Dáil debates

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Local Government Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages


2:35 pm

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

There are two very different issues. I will not accept the amendment but the points Deputy Eamon Ryan made are correct. The sections about Cork are included in this Bill primarily because of the issues the Deputy raised concerning the city centre being hollowed out. While much of the development of Cork in the past 30 years has happened outside the existing city boundary, to the outside observer and many public representatives who are not from Cork, that area is naturally in Cork city. There are large suburbs such as Glanmire on the north side and Togher and others on the south side which are contiguous with Cork city and which should, therefore, be in the same local authority area.

Regarding metropolitan governance in recent years, Deputy Buckley will know about the Cork area strategic plan, CASP, under which the two local authorities examined strategic planning in the areas that crossed boundaries between city and county. The metropolitan area strategic plans, which are part of the national planning framework, will provide a governance system for future development, not just within the Cork boundary as extended by this legislation, but in the catchment area outside so that the doughnut effect does not happen again. A paper will go to Cabinet shortly, I hope, on the issue of metropolitan governance itself. Currently, the Southern Regional Assembly, which is a large body stretching from Wicklow to Clare and covering everything south of that line, has responsibility for regional planning strategies. Something that is being actively considered is a dedicated part of that authority to examine Cork's planning structures into the future, not just in respect of zonings but also the transportation and retail strategies. The land use and transportation strategy, LUTS, document goes back many years and is probably well out of date now, which is why this metropolitan governance paper is being prepared. We need a national plan on how those areas will be dealt with in the future and need to ensure that where plans are out of date they will be updated.

In response to Deputy Michael Collins, nothing could be further from the truth in respect of his allegation of it being rammed through. I entered this House in 2011 and the process of reviewing the boundary between Cork city and county started at end of that year. The discussion started many years previously but in 2011, the formal process started of reports, engagement with local authorities at membership and management level, engagement with the Department and with every sort of stakeholder in Cork, particularly with people trading in the city and the county. The point we are at today is, hopefully, one of the end points in an official process that has been going on for the past eight or nine years and an argument that has gone on for 20 years.

I understand the Deputy's position when he says it is bad for Cork but it was not accidental that no other Cork Deputy voted for his motion when it came before the House. They disagree with him and people are entitled to disagree with one another on these issues and on any other issue. In response to the specific question he raised, we accepted a number of amendments on Committee Stage along the lines of what he is saying. There was a perception in County Cork that the financial settlement could be reviewed after a number of months. The Deputy said it should be 15 years and we are saying that a review mechanism will be available after ten years. That mechanism will involve both local authorities and whoever is in my role at the time. It is a significant change from what was in the first draft and relates specifically to the points the Deputy and others raised on Second Stage. On the Deputy's suggestion that I must guarantee the financial settlement, notwithstanding recent events in other places, I cannot personally guarantee any financial settlements. What we did include and what was raised, I think by Deputy Ó Broin, on Committee Stage, is the issue of contract debt.

That is a legal term to provide that the city council will have to pay the money in the future and if it does not, the county council has recourse to the same process as every citizen and organisation in the State to pursue the debt in the courts. That is why that phrase is included. Those two issues, which are legitimate concerns, were already addressed on Committee Stage.

Deputy Michael Collins referred to Blarney and Tower. I am familiar with the views of many people in those areas. I was not responsible for drawing the map. If we start unpicking different parts of it now, the necessary boundary change would fall apart. Blarney and Tower were included by the experts who were part of this group. I refute the Deputy's reference to the local electoral boundaries in west County Cork. I have received many emails from his constituents recently which indicate that his efforts have not fallen on deaf ears. An independent commission is established with no politician, former politician or anyone connected to a political party on it. It comprises statisticians, people from university political faculties and individuals with experience in local government. The Minister gives them the job of drawing up boundaries. They have made some decisions of which I cannot make head or tail.

I come from a little parish of 2,000 on the border of Kilkenny and Wexford. For the first time in the history of the State, at the next local election half of that parish will vote in the Thomastown electoral area in Kilkenny and the other half will vote in the electoral area we were always in, namely, that of Piltown. I do not agree with that. If my neighbours asked me to interfere with an independent process, I would have to inform them that I am not breaking the law. I have to say the same to the Deputy. I do not know the boundaries as intimately as he does and I have no doubt that there are legitimate concerns. However, I will not interfere with the independent process to draw up the electoral boundaries in west County Cork.


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