Thursday, 13 December 2018
Local Government Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages
The Minister of State should stop dancing on the head of a pin. We had a corporation - an urban council. It struck its own rates and it was central to the economic development of the city and county. We had one manager who was the city and county manager. In the context of the description from local government, it may not have fitted that description of a council within the city, but at the same time there is a city and there are developments all around that city. The borough boundary, as it was known then, should really be extended in the same way as is being done in Cork. The city should not stand on its own but be part of the total administrative structure for the city and the county.
While the Minister of State is making the argument for Cork in the way he is, he spoke against that very argument previously. From what he is saying, it appears that there is no overall plan for the development of cities or urban centres and allowing them the recognition they deserve in the context of their population and growth. That is what happening in Kilkenny and the reverse is happening in Cork. The Minister of State refuses to deal not just with Kilkenny but with other similar centres. Why is that the case? Why did the Minister of State previously state that he was opposed to that notion? In principle, he is now addressing the same thing in the context of Cork. That does not make sense.
As Deputy Naughten stated, it does not make sense that there is no attempt to deal overall with not only the administration but also the boundaries and the election of public representatives. No effort is being made to bring back a level of local democracy throughout the country. The Minister of State spoke about the centre of cities being boarded up, etc. However, as he drives through Kilkenny, surely he can also see that the nature of High Street has changed, and that small towns and villages have changed. They need major investment to restore them to something like what they used to be while at the same time keeping up with modern developments and so on.
The same question arises with planning. When the planning authority was with Kilkenny Corporation - Kilkenny urban council - it had a direct input. It was part of a membership of 12 and now it is part of a membership of 24.
The manner in which the Minister of State is bringing forward this Bill is not right. It is an ill-thought out plan that will affect the whole country. The Government should go back to the drawing board, back to all of the good things that were happening in local authorities and restore the democratic process at local level in every city, county and urban centre, acknowledging the current growth patterns and projections for future growth. I encourage the Government to do that because as it weakens local democracy and it detaches the democratic process from the people. As we have seen in France and other places around the world, when that happens there is disquiet because there is no way of influencing the shape of a local community, city or county. The former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, divided a city in two before he left for Europe. He introduced a whole new rural part to electoral areas. It was impossible to administer and impossible for local public representatives to engage in a meaningful way with those who elected them. I encourage the Minister of State to go back and look at this again and to learn from the mistakes of the past. In that way, we can avoid making the same mistakes with Cork and Galway. The Minister of State must listen to all of the stakeholders, particularly the local communities, in order to establish what they want. We make decisions here and often exclude the most central stakeholders, namely the local communities and businesses. The Minister of State must provide leadership on this.