Thursday, 13 December 2018
Local Government Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages
In response to Deputy O'Brien, I am not in a position to bind my successor. Not alone that, but the result of the plebiscite will require a Government decision to move to the stage of legislating to enact to provide for the position. A plebiscite is different from a referendum by nature anyway. Deputy O'Brien might be familiar with the referendum in 1979 to extend the franchise for the university constituencies in the Seanad but it was never enacted. Since then, the legislation on holding referendums has been worded differently. The plebiscites will require further Government action, and I might not be part of the Government. I might be on the backbenches. I am not in a position to tie the hands of a future Government decision. I understand the point underlying Deputy O'Brien's amendment but I do not think it is feasible. If the electorates in the four areas vote for a directly elected mayor, it will not be politically feasible for whoever is Minister at the time not to act upon that and to report within the two years, as is provided for in the legislation.
In response to Deputy O'Sullivan, we discussed the matter at length on Committee Stage. The next step in the process of holding the plebiscites will be a memo to be discussed and, hopefully, approved by the Cabinet in the new year on the exact functions of a directly elected mayor and what his or her relationship will be with councillors and the executive. Before the memo goes to the Government, I committed to having a debate in this House and in the other House. I do not care how long that takes. I do not think there is any big difference of opinion. My view is that we should give the maximum possible powers to a directly elected mayor, but that would exclude the hiring and firing powers and would exclude certain planning functions in relation to tribunals and inquiries we have had previously. Before we produce a draft I am open to hearing the views of Members in both Houses and for people to have their say, subject to the agreement of the Business Committee of both Houses. We get very little time for local government issues because it is not one of those obviously pertinent or important issues. This is a substantial democratic question and I have no problem allowing as much time as is necessary for debates in both Houses in advance of the memo being prepared and discussed by the Cabinet. Once it is discussed by the Cabinet then a decision will be made by the Government and the memo will be the basis of the question that is put to the people.
Deputy O'Brien is correct: we have explained in the course of the debate on the Bill, and in the amendments that have been accepted on Committee Stage, that the local authorities in question will be required not later than 30 days before the holding of a plebiscite to distribute the information on what the position is. I would expect all the political parties to be knocking on people's doors at that stage for local and European elections at least, and referendums. In some areas people will have five ballot papers, which is a lot, but that is a whole other question. People will have time in advance to establish their party positions on the questions being asked and to campaign on the issues. It is not an unreasonable suggestion. I have nothing to do with the amendment being ruled out of order. We will get to discuss the issue if the Business Committees agree. There is no reason we cannot do it very early at the start of the new Dáil term, because generally that is the time when a slot might be available for such a discussion on what kind of directly elected mayors we want.