Thursday, 13 December 2018
Local Government Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages
Every Member present has engaged at some level during the process on this Bill and particularly on this part of the Bill. Having listened to the Committee Stage debate, I was conscious of the fact that what was proposed, particularly with regard to the local area plan, was a big change and that we should have more time for consideration. I was also conscious of the fact that nobody disagrees with the idea that we must have a joint structure for towns and cities that cross county boundaries. I agree with Deputy Cullinane regarding his desire to take the heat out of the issue we are most familiar with in our part of the world. I will not refer to Dick Turpin or anybody else in that regard.
Deputy Casey is right that the central thesis here is not going to be universally accepted even in the new year. I have told the assistant secretary in the Department that rather than eating turkey later this month, he will be drafting the relevant sections for a new short legislative measure specifically relating to urban area committees. It will refer to the structure and also the functions. There will not be universal agreement. The status quohas to change, as everybody says, but it will only change if there is acceptance on every side of these boundary areas that powers that reside with existing councils will have to be given up. There will be no fudging our ability to square that circle - powers will have to be given up.
Deputy Naughten said he is a lone voice but, as he probably realises from listening to some of the other contributions, he is not. I assure him that his is not a lone voice. He raised specific issues about the status of recommendations in the boundary report relating to Roscommon. Those recommendations are in no way binding on me or my successors. They are recommendations for action. I understand the desire on all sides of the question in Athlone for a solution to be devised. That is why as early as possible in the new year the staff in the Customs House and in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel will be drafting. There is largely agreement on the necessity for them to exist.
I am a believer in another point the Deputy made. The principle here is equality between the authorities that are devising plans of whatever status for the areas concerned. Unless that equality exists, these structures will be doomed before they come into place. Whether I use my example or other others from around the country, if there are committees in which there are eight members from one county and two from another, then, as sure as eggs, we know what the outcome will be. I accept Deputy Jan O'Sullivan's point that one size does not fit all. That is why in the functions part of the new legislation we will be discussing quite high-level pieces relating to development of these urban centres into the future. These are pieces that local authorities often do not do very well, such as the spatial planning for what should be in the Clare part of Limerick city in the future as well the areas the Deputy mentioned that will be opened up for development.
In my part of the country, most of the natural development of Waterford city will be on the north side of the Suir. I will absolutely maintain my position that a county councillor, albeit from the same county but who lives 50 or 100 miles away, should not have an input into a decision that might affect another councillor who lives ten yards away on the wrong side of the boundary. Currently, that person is excluded. Deputy Cullinane's point is correct. In the Waterford context the 18 metropolitan councillors in the Waterford city area should have the say, but the councillors living in Castlecomer and in Tallow should not have the say. Waterford city is the local town for a third of the people who live in County Kilkenny, not just the 7,000 who live in the Ferrybank area, and there will be many more living there over the next few years. Deputy O'Dowd also made that point about people living 50 miles away making the decisions as opposed to those who are representing, and living in, the area. He described it as codology. The purpose of the amendments as drafted was specifically to avoid the type of codology whereby voluntary groups would come together and draw up a plan which both sides could walk away from afterwards. Regardless of the shape it takes in the new year, that will not be contained in the Bill. This is where the democracy element Deputy Butler mentioned is paramount. The councillors from those parts of the counties in question should have the final ratification. I have very much come to that view, but that must be borne out in the drafting. I have read all the reports by the local authorities that made submissions to the four boundary committees. The central argument in favour of boundary extensions was always that the local authority needed an area included to properly plan and develop into the future. That is a substantive argument and that is what this structure will have to do in those areas.
I am accepting amendments Nos. 20, 21, 31 and 32 the effect of which is to remove Part 7 of the Bill. We will return to that as early in 2019 as the Christmas turkey allows.