Thursday, 13 December 2018
Local Government Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages
There has been a lot of talk of power grabs, land grabs and hostile takeovers. Dick Turpin was also mentioned. I want to deal with matters that are much less contentious and much more civilised. Waterford-Kilkenny is one example of an area that would have been subject to the proposed urban area councils. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, for his co-operation in working with the Opposition on this issue. As stated earlier by Teachta Ó Broin, we had concerns about elements of what is being proposed in terms of the composition of the committees, the powers and functions of the committees and the lack of clarity around how they would interact in a democratic way with the councils and the metropolitan districts. We also had a difficulty with the democratic deficit which we believed would have been created in what would be the urban area of the metropolitan area of Waterford and the part of south Kilkenny which would allow for the natural expansion of Waterford city, which the Minister of State will be aware crosses the county boundaries of Waterford and Kilkenny.
For the first time, we have all-party support to work to identify a process to address this issue, which is positive and important. People have their views on boundary extensions but if, as the Minister of State said boundary extensions are on hold, we now need to look at putting in place processes that will work. Sinn Féin has no difficulty with supporting a process or a structure but I agree with Teachta Naughten that it would have to be on a statutory basis. We would then have to examine the relationship between whatever structure is put in place and the local authorities it would straddle. We must get this right. We also have to have maximum consultation on the issue because we have all been contacted by CEOs of councils, councillors and others, expressing genuine concerns. Everybody wants to make sure we get this right and that we have an appropriate process. What I am hearing from people at management and council level in the more than dozen local authorities affected is that they want a fair and democratic process, one that practically will work and will deliver for people in those areas.
If we can take the heat and the emotion out of this issue and deal with it in a practical and sensible way, we can find a solution that is appropriate for everybody, especially the people who live in the areas. I thank the Minister of State for accepting the amendments. Teachta Ó Broin and I, and hopefully others, will work constructively with the Minister of State to ensure we put in place a process. Nobody is saying that we can leave things as they are because that is not sustainable. Everybody accepts that there has to be a solution. Let us come back to this in the new year and try to get this right. If we get it right, the Minister of State will have the support of Sinn Féin in getting it through the Dáil.