Thursday, 13 December 2018
Local Government Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages
I do not particularly disagree with the points Deputy Darragh O'Brien is making but I am not in a position to unilaterally make a Government decision binding post plebiscite. I can only try to reassure him that my position is clear that if they are passed, there must be a report. The two-year period is just a maximum period. If they are passed, I would absolutely intend to have directly-elected mayoral elections held within 12 months.
There has been a lot of shilly-shallying on the issue, some of it for legitimate reasons and some not. I want to move to a position where every local authority in the country has a directly-elected head. It is all about rebalancing the relationship between the manager, as we used to call them in my day, and the chair. Pending the Government decision, this will have no impact on the functions that are reserved for the councillors, and they would still have to approve development plans and budgets and would still be responsible for the distribution of funds in the municipal districts. I am not talking about impacting on that relationship at all. At the same time, we have this Victorian-type system in Ireland where too much power rests in an unelected official. By and large, in the history of the State these officials have been very good people, but it is all about democratic control. This goes to what Deputy McGuinness referred to earlier, namely, giving power back. That is where the power is at local government level, and I am determined to rebalance that role.
I have spoken to the Chief Whip in respect of the Business Committee allowing time early in the new year. The first week back is the best week in both Houses because it tends to be less busy legislatively. I will stay all night in both Houses if I have to. This is the biggest reform of local government I could at this stage anticipate being able to contribute to in my time, and I am not going to exclude the opinions of any person. That is not say that, ultimately, all of us will agree at the end of the discussion. At the same time, I do not think there is actually much difference of opinion between Members on all sides of the House as to what the role should be.