Thursday, 13 December 2018
Local Government Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages
Like a number of colleagues, when these amendments were tabled late on Monday of last week, I was quite critical of them, given that they are substantive, that they propose significant changes to local government structures and powers, and that we were given them at such a late stage without adequate time for pre-legislative scrutiny or proper consideration. I acknowledge, however, the response of the Minister and his officials. He gave us a considerable amount of time last week, prior to Committee Stage, to go through this in detail. We had a very full discussion on Committee Stage and another detailed discussion with a number of members of the joint committee and others this week. While we are proposing the removal of Part 7 through these amendments, it is not because we do not accept the core principle behind what the Minister is seeking to do. Both on Committee Stage and in the subsequent discussion, all of us accepted that the intention behind the Minister's amendments is right. We have pledged to work with him on the separate legislation, which we believe can be done quite early next year, either attached to the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill or in stand-alone legislation.
I want to address some of Deputy Naughten’s concerns because he has not been privy to our considerations. His questions were directed to the Minister of State but to ensure he knows where we stand on that, and my comments will be reflective of those of many Opposition Deputies, we absolutely accept that in those 11 urban areas in particular which now cross county boundaries, we have to have a statutory requirement for a comprehensive plan and this has to involve elected members from that particular area. Leaving it to the voluntary co-operation of the local authorities will not work. It has not worked in the past, and there are many examples of that. Our concern was not that we did not want a statutory mechanism for doing this but that, given that we did not have adequate time to scrutinise the proposals and that there had not been in our view adequate consultation with elected members, sitting county managers or elected Members here, more time was required to get it right.
If it is any reassurance to Deputy Naughten, there is a commitment on the part of all the Opposition members of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, where this will rest next year to get this done in advance of the local government elections, to provide for a statutory mechanism to do the very thing he is requiring. We had detailed informal discussions and I understand the Minister and his officials were very receptive to ways of improving what is in the Bill to ensure we get it right. Nobody is arguing this should not be done before the local elections. Nobody is arguing for the blocking of the statutory requirement. It is simply about ensuring it is done correctly. There is a case for removing it now and returning to it very early next year We would more than welcome the input of those Deputies who are not members of our committee but who have a significant interest in this to ensure we get it right. In that way, when members are elected, and approximately 23 local authorities will be affected by this measure, they will understand clearly that there will be a statutory requirement for such a plan and a mechanism that puts it in place.
One of the concerns many of us had was that while it is right and proper to have a statutory requirement for such a plan and a mechanism for co-ordination among councillors across two local authorities, we must ensure also that, for example, all elected members within the municipal districts affected by these plans get input into it. That is not provided for in the original proposal from the Minister. It is important that all members of those municipal districts would get a final say. The exact mechanisms have to be teased out. It is important that the way those elected members are appointed to any such committee in the future, how decisions are made in terms of the boundary that committee would examine, the specific nature of public consultation and involvement of different sectors of the community, including the community sector, which is not included in this Bill, would be properly taken into account.
Deputies Casey and O'Brien and I were clear at the Select Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government meeting that we want something that does what this intends to do. We think there is a much better way to do it. The Minister of State is meeting us halfway, which, to my understanding, is why he will accept amendments Nos. 20, 21, 31 and 32. We will make sure as much time is provided as is needed early next year by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government to facilitate the Minister, his officials and Deputies from all the affected areas who are not members so that we have it in place before the local elections.