Thursday, 11 November 2010
Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill 2010: Second Stage (Resumed)
I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this important debate. Now that the House is so peaceful following this morning's excitement, I am almost tempted to check whether I can stir people's emotions by announcing that I intend to be a candidate in the Dublin mayoral election. I am sure some of my colleagues will be happy to hear-----
I appreciate the words of those who have been kind enough to raise the matter with me. As we all know, the Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill 2010 will create a new directly elected office of the mayor of Dublin within the current local government framework. The Bill sets out the criteria for the eligibility of candidates and other electoral matters. It provides that the mayor will have specific powers with regard to regional strategy on planning, transport, water and waste services. The Bill also deals with the establishment, powers and responsibilities of the regional authority of Dublin, which I understand will be chaired by the directly elected mayor. The regional authority will replace the Dublin regional authority.
The reaction to the introduction of this legislation has been varied. I suppose the jury is still out on it. As a member of Fianna Fáil, I will support this Bill as an element of the programme for Government. Nobody should misinterpret the fact that I am speaking from behind the Labour Party benches, as this is where I sit. The election of a directly elected mayor is one aspect of the local government reforms set out in the 2007 programme for Government, to which I strongly subscribe. I am aware that the Green Paper on Local Government, Stronger Local Democracy: Options for Change, was published in April 2008. It outlines the options for the direct election of the mayor of Dublin. In May 2009, the Government announced its decision to introduce a directly elected mayor for the Dublin region in 2010, which was a year earlier than previously proposed. I understand that a Cabinet committee is currently finalising the policy decisions that will be contained in the White Paper.
This Bill was published last month by our colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley. On the day of its publication, the Minister said, "the election of the Dublin mayor will be the most significant change in Irish local government since the 19th century". I do not refer to the Minister's comments to upset my colleagues from rural constituencies. I should state, in case people cannot recognise it from my accent, that I am a proud Dubliner. I was not born in Tallaght, strangely enough, but in Holles Street, which is near Leinster House in the city centre. I lived in Stephen Street with my family and went to school in Clarendon Street. I moved to Tallaght 40 years ago. Deputy Upton often reminds me that I spent a considerable part of my formative years in Crumlin.
I might not have emerged as a Fianna Fáil member were it not for my experiences in the constituency shared by Deputies Upton, Ó Snodaigh and others. I will not deny my Dublin roots.
As the Minister stated:
The citizens of Dublin will elect a local government leader equipped with a democratic mandate unsurpassed in the history of the city. The Mayor will be elected to drive improvements and efficiencies in the Region's local government, and will champion Dublin, at home and abroad, as a good place to live, work and invest.
I understand that a directly elected mayor "will also deliver significantly strengthened leadership for the city and region, with enhanced accountability and a direct connection with the citizen, thereby reinvigorating local government".
I feel strongly about the development of local government in my city and in my region. I was not born a politician nor did I set out to be one but when I moved to Tallaght, I became involved in local issues. I pointed out at a committee meeting yesterday that the then parish priest of Springfield, Dr. Richard Sherry, did not share my politics. One does not usually know the politics of a priest but he told me about his. I do not know if this will embarrass him in his retirement in Donnybrook but he was the man who first suggested to me that some day I might make a reasonable politician and he appointed me to the local school board.
I then became involved locally in educational, social and environmental issues and other issues people want us to deal with on a daily basis that upset them. My progress through the political system was slow and I ended up on the local authority in 1991. I was a little older than most starting out. I am not ashamed of that and I was delighted to be a member of Dublin County Council. I strongly supported the reorganisation of local government in 1994 because I believed the break up of the large council and the establishment of smaller councils in south Dublin, where I live, Dún Laoghaire and Fingal with the retention of the city council was important.
In recent times, people commenting on the scope of local government in the region have said there are too many councillors and the structure is unwieldy. However, I believed in 1994 that this was a good idea because it involved bringing local government to the people. People often said to me, for example, when I was on the old county council that I, as a Tallaght-based councillor, was making decisions about Swords and other towns far from Tallaght and the reverse was also the case. There was a great deal of criticism in the wider community about decisions being made by local authority members who had no contact with the areas affected. Smaller councils were a better idea and, over the years, even though there has been criticism, they have worked. I was delighted to be re-elected to the council in 1999 and I became cathaoirleach, which was an important milestone in my attempt to contribute to local democracy.
I do not wish to be disloyal to the Government but I was as upset as many other local councillors when I became a Dáil Deputy and could not continue as a member of the local authority. I understand why the decision was taken but I believed it put us at a disadvantage. I do not know whether other Members will admit it. Deputies Upton and Ó Snodaigh served on Dublin local authorities. I do not know whether it is right or wrong but not a day goes by without my office being contacted about issues relating to the local authority. People always say that they know I am a TD and that I have moved on in that sense, but they still want me to deal with issues of concern to them.
On any given day, constituents will contact Members about roadworks, street lighting and the pruning of trees. I conducted an analysis recently of the calls I have received over the past number of months and, amazingly, I got more calls about bin collections in south Dublin than anything else. People in communities feel strongly about the development of local services and local authorities and it is important in the context of this Bill to acknowledge that. I am not ashamed that, as a Dáil Deputy, these are the issues constituents come to me about and these are the challenges they want me to deal with. However, they are also in contact about social welfare issues and so on.
Tallaght is the third largest population centre in the country. It did not fall out of the sky 30 years ago, as some people think. It has been there forever and it has a rich heritage but it had particular challenges. The Square celebrated its 20th birthday a few weeks ago. When it was built, Tallaght turned a corner and there has been great progress in my town in recent years, with the development of the hospital, the transfer of the local authority to the town and the development of many other services one would expect in a major town. I look forward to cheering on Shamrock Rovers next Sunday. I hope the nice people of Sligo and, particularly their public representatives, enjoy their day out but I also hope Shamrock Rovers bring the cup back to Tallaght.
I get many calls about the development of Tallaght and, in particular, about the number of unused and unoccupied apartments. Many towns and villages have the same problem. The property boom resulted in the development of many accommodation units. Tallaght is no different from anywhere else but this is an issue. I get many calls from people who say there should be a better way to deal with planning applications. They ask why the Government does not take developments over. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle was a progressive Minister for the Environment but even he held the view that the development of communities should be orchestrated primarily at local level.
I recall being the lone Fianna Fáil member of the devolution commission established by the former Taoiseach, John Bruton, in 1995. I am proud of the work we did because what we did was right. We tried to create a scenario where powers were devolved from central government to local authorities. Nowadays, I receive representations from people in Tallaght who want this reversed because decisions taken at local level by the county manager under the Housing Acts were not suitable. The criticism is justified in that there are many unoccupied apartments in Tallaght village. There is an unoccupied ten-storey block at the corner of the bypass and this affects the image of the town, as we try to attract people. The issue of who should be responsible for planning and whether it should be administered by a local office or a national office, which I do not favour, is relevant to this Bill. People who claim the Minister of the day would make different decisions might find that it is not way everything works. With regard to the development of powers for the directly-elected mayor of Dublin, it is important to understand that.
A number of colleagues spoke about possible candidates who might run for mayor. Prior to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle resuming the Chair, I said that while I am interested in the position-----
-----because it is important one and I am fan of the role of such an office, I do not intend to be a candidate. If that is a relief to some of my colleagues, I am happy for them. I am sure Deputy Brian Hayes will not mind me saying that he has expressed an interest in the position. If he wants to be mayor of Dublin-----
-----and leave my constituency, he will have all my good will and he knows that.
The Minister needs to return to the House to outline the powers of the office. The position should carry more powers. The Minister has risen to the points made about the confusion that might exist in having a directly elected mayor of Dublin, the positions held by the mayors of the local authority areas of south Dublin, Fingal and Dún Laoghaire and the position of Lord Mayor of the city. The question of the occupation of the Mansion House has cleared up some of the confusion but other views have been expressed that must be addressed. I hope the Minister will continue to give this Bill and these aspects of it his attention. He needs to tell us the powers a mayor will have.
I mentioned that I am a fan of the position. Major cities in the world have proved that having a major is a good idea. I had the opportunity during recent years of meeting Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, the former and current London Mayor, respectively. I note they will run head to head again for the position in the next election. Both of them did the job and demonstrated the manner in which a directly elected mayor can operate. It is important that the Minister understands the concerns of those of us who believe that the position, which is shrouded in controversy, should have real powers. I hope he will deal with those issues.
I read media speculation recently that there are issues to be dealt with in regard to the future transport needs of the city and how a mayor would deal with that issue. It is important that point is made. The transport needs of the city are particularly important. I use public transport when I can, although it is not always possible because of the nature of what we do. If I leave Leinster House to go back to Tallaght, I can walk down to O'Connell Street, jump on the Luas and go straight to Tallaght - no problem. However, if I want to go to other parts of my constituency - I do not have the same challenges as other colleagues in that I do not have to travel 60 miles across my constituency because, like other Dublin constituencies, it is quite small although it has a high population density - such as Crumlin, Walkinstown-----
-----Templeogue and even Firhouse. I cannot take the Luas as it does not serve those areas. It is a little more difficult to travel to those areas by public transport. The question of the future transport needs of this city are important. I hope the Minister's proposals will embrace that issue in terms of the role of a mayor. I note the different responsibilities the Minister will assign to a directly elected major of Dublin. The transport needs of the city need to be examined in a special way.
I was born in an age, and I do not mind admitting my age, where I remember horse drawn carriages and tramlines being pulled in Aungier Street and George's Street. Bad mistakes were made at that time at the beginning of my life and I hope similar mistakes will not be made again.
I will tell the Members this if they do not tell anybody about it - I remember as a small child living on the corner of Stephen's Street and George's Street and my granny running down the street when she heard that Alfie Byrne, that great Dublin man, was rambling up the street. He used to do that. I do not know whether many of today's politicians ramble around the streets and I do not want to give away my secrets. I could invoke the names of many people who held the position of Lord Mayor of Dublin down the years who I remember and respect, not all of whom were from Fianna Fáil. I remember Alfie Byrne, Robert Briscoe and many of those men of that generation. Those men and women would have fitted nicely into the position of being a directly elected mayor.
The jury is still out on this legislation and the debate on it is ongoing. It is important legislation and I know the reaction to it in the House will be mixed. I look forward to the Minister returning to the House and telling us more about his proposals. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his courtesy.
-----and some of the substantial issues in terms of what this legislation is about. We are all citizens of this city, of which we are all proud, and we are also proud to be public representatives, in my case and that of Deputies O'Connor and Ó Snodaigh, in Dublin constituencies. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation both as a citizen of the city and as a public representative for a constituency.
The proposal is one that I and the Labour Party support in general but not in its current format. Unfortunately, it leaves much to be desired in terms of detail and setting out what the levels of responsibilities and accountability will be. It is sufficiently flawed as it stands to make it ineffective and if it were to go ahead it could be counterproductive. What is clearly required is an office that is accountable to the electorate and that has statutory instruments available to it to address all the aspects of governing a 21st century city region but this Bill clearly do not provide for that. We are dealing with a very developed city in many ways in which there has been huge progress, a huge increase in population and great diversity but many challenges have to faced. Unless they are clearly spelled out in regard to the role and responsibilities of an elected mayor we are possibly duplicating much of what is already in place but we have not been given a formula from which we can expect to operate and to know precisely what those responsibilities area.
The Dublin city and county area is the home to more than 1.1 million people but the greater Dublin area, which takes in the local authority areas of Dublin as well as those of Kildare, Meath and Wicklow, has a population of the order of 1.6 million. Therefore, we are talking about a substantial area in terms of population. The region is the gateway to our country, our administrative centre and it is largely the driver of the economy because of the scale of it. The fundamental issues we face in the city and the region relating to water services, waste management, land use and transportation policy are all regional issues. For this reason we must have the governance structures in place to effectively co-ordinate their provision.
As Dublin is unique in Ireland due to its relative size, its challenges are also unique and an office with effective powers and responsibilities to drive the development of the city and the region is required. However, what is proposed in this Bill is one layer of bureaucracy that will be placed on top of the existing local governance system without addressing any of the underlying issues. These range from devolving more responsibility to local elected representatives and addressing the issue of duplication of responsibility with regard to governance functions and the fundamental issue of funding of local government. That issue of exactly how local government is to be funded is becoming more acute, especially in the current climate. There is a critical need to ensure such funding is available and can be delivered to keep our local government areas working effectively.
We need a results driven system where the decision makers are accountable to the electorate as the existing system of part-time councillors trying to interact with full-time professionals does little for democratic accountability. What is essentially being proposed is grafting an electoral mayoral office onto the existing system of councils, county manager and a regional authority. It is a top-down approach that promises a substantial amount but, ultimately, delivers little when one delves into the detail that is described. Local government reform is a far more pressing issue than introducing a flawed Bill for a mayor office to satisfy the demands of a Government coalition partner.
One of the most striking flaws in the Bill is that the proposed mayor will have planning powers over counties where residents will not have a right to vote in the mayoral election. Land use and transportation are among the most important issues over which the proposed post of elected mayor will have powers. For the office of the mayor to be effective in co-ordinating land use and transportation policy, it must intervene in areas outside the Dublin city and county area. How will the residents of these areas feel about tough planning policy being prepared on their behalf by someone for whom they are not entitled to vote? This failing in the legislation leaves open the possibility of a perceived Dublin bias among residents in these areas who may believe policy is being formulated for the benefit of Dublin rather than their countries. The legitimacy of the proposed office will come into question on this basis.
Much like the intention to create the Dublin transportation authority, which quickly morphed into the National Transportation Authority, the Bill is being moved with excessive haste and fundamental issues are being overlooked in the interests of political expediency. We have an opportunity to create an accountable and effective office for the region which would form the basis for similar offices in other urban areas. This is how matters should be but what we are likely to get instead is an office whose legislative powers will require significant revision and alteration to keep up with local government reforms and, as such, will be incapable of addressing the strategic challenges facing the Dublin region.
The elected mayor will not be Rudy Giuliani, Boris Johnston or even Ken Livingstone, to whom Deputy O'Connor referred. He or she will have limited powers and little accountability and the office will generate substantial but as yet unknown costs to the Exchequer. The mayor will not be independent of the Minister, city managers or the new offices and structures which will evolve from this new toothless tiger. Surely what is needed for the capital city and, possibly at some future date, for other cities is a clearly defined role, clear powers and responsibilities, a defined budget proposal and transparent functions. The citizens of the city must be protected from this costly indulgence by the Minister.
I and my colleagues who either live in Dublin or represent the Dublin area feel strongly about how our city is run. We are all very proud to be Dubliners or "Dubs" of one kind or another. Even if some of us are not originally from the city, we are proud of where we live and, in particular, the areas and constituents we represent.
It is our responsibility to ensure the constituents we represent are provided with a good service.
A significant number of practical issues must be addressed. For instance, constituency boundary areas are not coterminous with policing or health service areas, which means one finds it difficult to define where an area fits. There is no reason such practical matters cannot be addressed in the first instance, with a view to making life a little simpler for constituents and electors who are trying to identify who precisely they must contact in a particular set of circumstances.
In the constituency I share with Deputy Ó Snodaigh an extraordinary decision was taken to shift the boundaries of the local authority area. This resulted in one part of Drimnagh being transferred to the Ballyfermot area with the remainder left in Crumlin-Kimmage. This decision did not make sense. One must ask what is the driving force behind subdivisions of this type and why are practical matters of this nature not addressed. While the change has bedded down and people are slowly but surely being accustomed to it, questions are still being asked about whom one needs to contact to elicit certain information and whether for certain purposes one is in Drimnagh, Ballyfermot or the Crumlin-Kimmage area. This is a simple, practical issue which should have been addressed.
Given that the city is the place where we live, work, socialise and send our children to school, it is important that we get the legislation right on behalf of citizens. As it stands, the Bill will not tackle the fundamental issues that arise and contains too many gaps, especially in the area of accountability. Moreover, a significant problem arises with regard to duplication and we do not have any idea what form of budgeting facilities or services will be in place.
Tá sé go maith go bhfuil an deis agam labhairt ar an Bhille Rialtais Áitiúil (Méara agus Údarás Réigiúnach Bhaile Átha Cliath) mar measaim go bhfuil sé tábhachtacht in ainneoin nach bhfeicim go bhfuil an Bille seo ag dul fada go leor. Measaim go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go bhfuil plé á dhéanamh ar an Bhille seo agus ar an choincheap go mbeadh méara tofa ann do Bhaile Átha Cliath. Measaim gur cuid den déantús den údarás áitiúil a ba chóir a bheith ann le tamall maith de bhlianta ó shin agus measaim go bhfuil sé go maith chomh maith go mbeadh an toghchán ar an lá céanna agus a bheidh toghchán na hEorpa agus toghchán na n-údarás áitiúil mar measaim go bhfuil sé tábhachtach pé duine a théann isteach sa phost seo in ainneoin na bhfadhbanna atá agam leis an Bille seo go mbeadh sé nó sí gafa go huile agus go hiomlán leis an ról atá á leagan amach do mhéara Átha Cliath.
Post mór atá i gceist, seo an ceantar is mó daonra sa tír. Tá a lán de sheirbhísí na tíre lonnaithe ann agus comhlachtaí na tíre lonnaithe ann. An iomarca, tá a fhios agam a deir roinnt daoine ó lasmuigh de Bhaile Átha Cliath agus b'fhéidir go bhfuil an ceart acu. Sa deireadh thiar thall is céim chun tosaigh a ba chóir a bheith ann agus muid ag moladh go mbeadh méara tofa, faoi mar atá an Bille curtha le chéile anois, níl céim chun tosaigh mór go leor i gceist, ní bheidh an t-athrú chomh suntusach agus atá an tAire ag tuar. Measaim féin go ndearna sé iarracht ach gur theip go huile agus hiomlán air toisc nach raibh sé chomh dáiríre agus a lig sé air.
The Bill before us has been a pet project of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, for a long time. We have been led to believe throughout that it was deal-breaking legislation for the Green Party and that its passage will be vital for the continuation of that party in the coalition with the Fianna Fáil Party. I remember the promises made by the Green Party on local government reform when it was on the Opposition benches. If this Bill is the full extent of its local government reforms, its policy in this area, like many of its other policies, lies in the dustbin or is about to be consigned to the dustbin.
While the concept and policy behind the Bill may be good, the content is fundamentally flawed because it does not address the need for local government reform or the key issues of funding for and the powers and duties of local government. It will create a mayor and another layer of bureaucracy around the mayoral office which the local councils in Dublin will be required to fund out of meagre and declining resources, a decline caused not only by the recession but also continuous Government cutbacks in capital funding.
In 1977, long before I entered political office but not before I became involved in politics, Fianna Fáil abolished household rates and promised that henceforth local government would be funded from the central purse and the role of local authorities would be protected and encouraged through increasing funds from the Exchequer. This has not been the case and the pot continues to decline to the extent that it does not cover the costs of the duties, responsibilities and needs of local authorities. As any Member who tracks local authorities in Dublin and elsewhere will be aware, the greatest challenge facing local government each year is the annual estimates because local authorities have been starved of funds.
This is a weak Bill which provides for the election of a new or renewed regional authority of Dublin. It establishes the bureaucracy but will have very few powers. The powers that should be taken from the city and county managers are not being transferred to someone who is accountable to the public. The four existing councils in Dublin will be required to fund this authority from their own budgets and I take issue with the manner in which the authority will be appointed. Although its members also perhaps should be elected, instead they will be appointed from the membership of the four local authorities, with five from Dublin City Council and two each from South Dublin, Fingal and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county councils. It is clear that the places for the 15 ordinary members will be divvied up among the large parties because there is nothing to dictate how this divvying up will take place. For instance, there is not even an acknowledgement along the lines of the formula used within joint policing committees to the effect that appointments should reflect the party composition of the council or that it would be desirable for the authority to reflect all parties within the city. Moreover, given that a layer of policing committees has been established, I note there does not appear to be any role for the mayor or the regional authority with regard to policing. Although this issue must be considered, it is not in the Bill.
There are quite a number of other omissions. For instance, where is the role in respect of tourism? The logic of establishing a Dublin regional authority is that it should deal with all tourism matters handled by Dublin Tourism in the past. I attended a briefing by the city manager recently on how Dublin City Council laudably is becoming increasingly involved in trying to encourage and attract more business for the city. However, if one sets up a regional authority and a mayoral office, this should be one of the duties and responsibilities of that office. The vocational education committee is another such omission and consideration should be given to whether the mayor should have roles regarding an overarching Dublin VEC.
I have a query that again shows the absolute failure of the Green Party to deliver on what it proposes. It concerns the mechanism for by-elections, about which there has been much talk lately. The Bill provides for the holding of a by-election in the event of the death or resignation of a member but does not set the timeframe for that by-election. Surely, given the recent furore, it should be stated that in the event of a vacancy arising, a by-election should take place within a set period.
Alternatively, provision could be made for not having a by-election. In the future, this election will be held on the same day as the European Parliament and local elections. No by-election takes place in the case of a vacancy arising on local authorities as the party concerned nominates a successor and perhaps this mechanism could be used. Alternatively, one could avail of the substitute list mechanism used in the European Parliament. These are ways in which one can have a continuation rather than an absence in the event of a person dying or resigning in office. This issue needs to be considered and freeing local authorities from the obligation to run a second or third election within a specific term would constitute a huge saving.
I am very disappointed about an issue I discussed previously with the Minister, who stated he would address a point I had made. This Bill is the first opportunity at which it could be addressed because it proposes to change the electoral laws. At present, the rules regarding the supplementary register require those who had not noticed their absence from the register but who wish to be on it to go to a police station or to a local authority. In the vast majority of working class areas, people simply could not be bothered. The previous system was ideal, whereby in the run-up to an election and between the sign-off on the registers, a person could fill out a form. If required, one could specify that such people would be obliged to produce photographic identification. This is already contained in the Bill but if one wished, one could amend it to apply to everyone. When they knock on doors, all candidates in any election will encounter someone who has not registered. Given the extent of computerisation, it should be extremely easy to implement such a change and I urge the Minister to revert to the original method of operating the supplementary register.
While I have much more to say on this Bill in respect of the failure to roll out proper local government structures, I will wait until Committee Stage. Although Sinn Féin made a submission to the Minister's Green Paper on local government reform, some of its points are not reflected in this legislation, which therefore is a missed opportunity.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the proposal for a directly-elected mayor for Dublin. While one might ask what interest is it of mine, I am an elected representative from south County Tipperary and am interested both in the concept and its roll-out to other parts of the country. Under this Bill, the mayor will have a range of substantial powers to establish and deliver a vision for Dublin. The mayor's election, from a population base of 1.2 million, will also give him or her a unique mandate in Irish political life to act as leader and advocate for that electorate. Under the new powers, the mayor will develop and oversee policy for the Dublin region in respect of land use planning, housing, waste management and water services. The mayor also will have a strong role in transport and traffic management throughout the region. The legislation will give the mayor the authority and powers to implement the policies the mayor and the revamped Dublin regional authority will lay down. The mayor will also have a role in the annual budgetary process for the Dublin local authorities and will have the power to direct any of the four Dublin councils and their managers in respect of policy issues. I consider this to be a fundamental part of the new Bill. The mayor will also chair a powerful regional development board that will include major public sector, educational and enterprise interests from across the Dublin region. It is vital to bring into sharper focus many of these organisations and to bring them into close proximity to work together in the interests of the public.
The Minister, Deputy Gormley, stated that the mayor of Dublin will enhance local democratic leadership and civic engagement in the Dublin region and I certainly hope so. He also noted the office will raise the profile of Dublin, nationally and internationally, and will assist local government in taking the initiative in Dublin to support local and national economic recovery and to drive and lead local development to hasten this recovery. As Members are aware, this is very badly needed. Dublin's business community has long pressed for the introduction of a directly-elected mayor for precisely these reasons, as such groups represent the public who will pay the wages of both the mayor and all the officials.
The introduction of a mayor will change the role of the city and county managers. Powers such as the control of waste management, which several years ago were taken from councillors and given to the managers, will be returned to the mayor. I am unsure whether that has worked out to the benefit of the public because at least elected representatives are obliged to revert to the electorate on a regular five-year basis as is laid down in law. The mayor will be the head man or woman and this will be a new departure as up until now, the manager was the person who had the power in Irish local government. Anyone in public life, whether in the countryside or in towns and cities, is well aware of this point and it will be important to strike a balance because the manager is often not answerable to the elected representatives.
The mayor will have powers to draw up strategic plans in areas of land use planning, and therefore housing, waste management and water services for implementation at the local level. The Dublin local authorities will be obliged to comply with these plans. I note that when publishing details of this legislation last February, the Minister used the word "obliged". Hopefully that will be the position and there will be no further delays. The mayor will be supported by a more focused 16-member regional authority, reduced from the present number of 30 members. Anyone who has sat on or chaired a county development board - as I did for a year - knows that a board of 30 members or more is completely unworkable, as it has too many members. We have a huge board in the South Tipperary Development Company and it is leading to some difficulties. Five of the 16 member authority will come from Dublin City Council and two each from the other three local authorities. The remaining three seats will be filled ex officio by the Lord Mayor and the Cathaoirligh of the local authorities.
We are told the introduction of the Mayor will not cost the taxpayer a single additional cent. This is an interesting concept but I will believe it when I see it. The introduction of the Dublin Mayor is occurring in concert with efficiency and saving measures being pursued across the local government sector arising from the report of the local government efficiency review group and related initiatives. In Dublin alone, these savings are estimated at €40 million per annum. I wonder where will the Croke Park agreement fit into this arrangement? I question that seriously. Has it been factored in? The Croke Park agreement is an unworkable venture if we are to have any type of change. I do not say this lightly.
The Mayor will also have a role in the annual budgetary process for the Dublin local authorities and a power to direct any of the four Dublin local authorities - directions which must be complied with. I love the word, "must" here. I hope it happens.
In the normal course, the Mayor will work in partnership with the Dublin local authorities, and the need to issue a direction is unlikely. I wonder. However, the Mayor will have the facility to do so should the need arise. It is a pity Deputy O'Connor is not in the Chamber. He said he is not interested in being Mayor. I hope whoever gets the position will be a man or woman of courage, take these necessary decisions and fulfil his or her role in that area.
The introduction of the Dublin Mayor is just one of many changes to local government, including the forthcoming White Paper on local government. That reform is badly needed. I spoke to the Minister this morning and I will have further meetings with him on the roll-out of elections for mayors or cathaoirligh in other towns and cities throughout the country.
The Bill also provides for a review of the objectives and functions of the Dublin Regional Authority not later than two years after the authority has been set up. I would say one year would be a more appropriate time. The authority will be responsible for adopting plans proposed by the Mayor, but subject to a procedure which allows for mayoral adoption where the Mayor considers an inappropriate plan would be adopted, and it will oversee, advise and provide a forum for the Mayor to account for his or her actions. The Mayor will, ultimately, account for his or her actions to the electorate every five years, which is very important. This is unlike the situation of managers who are appointed and often re-appointed.
In that regard, I pay tribute to Mr. Ned O'Connor, our manager in South Tipperary, who is about to retire next year. He has given long and dedicated service to South Tipperary County Council and to the public.
The new authority will provide a direct and ongoing institutional link between the major Dublin local authorities and the Mayor. Joined-up thinking is a buzz-word but we badly need it. This development will be useful. We will watch closely to see if it happens, and I hope it will. We are told anything is possible under the Croke Park agreement. I am not talking about Tipperary beating Kilkenny in the All-Ireland hurling final, which we did. We will be celebrating that tonight in the county, north and south. We already have joined-up thinking in Tipperary.
The authority will develop the Dublin region in a manner which contributes to environmental sustainability, economic progress, social cohesion and the cultural vitality of the region. This will, at long last, give the ratepayers - mainly business people and property owners - some bang for their buck. At the end of a period of office they can reject the first citizen if they are not happy with the situation. Anyone who meets ratepayers on a daily basis knows they are not happy with the way their money is being spent. In many cases the money is not spent efficiently, although it is hard-earned by business people, and is another added charge with which they cannot cope. They do not mind paying charges if they are getting proper services, value for money and some appreciation of the effort they put in to earn the income to pay those rates.
There must be a clear, transparent and user-friendly system embodied in the set-up of the new position. The Mayor will promote the Dublin region efficiently and cleverly and to the benefit of society. Other mayors will promote their respective regions in due course.
The Mayor and regional authority will work closely with the four major Dublin local authorities in pursuing these objectives. I wonder how this transition will work. When I became a member of South Tipperary County Council in 1991, we had a county manager, a county engineer, a country secretary and a finance officer. Now, we have a manager and six directors of services with whole teams around them. We have become too bureaucratic and too much power is vested in these people. Elected councillors, or Deputies, do not have a say.
I am querying this. I will not vote for it blindfolded. I have issues. I met the Minister and I will meet him again next week. We must have a changed system. I do not believe we are giving more powers to bureaucrats. If this Bill is worth the paper on which it is written it will vest powers in the Mayor and not in the manager.
A new regional development board will be chaired by the Mayor and will replace four city and county development boards. I welcome that. The new regional development board will bring together leaders in local government, commerce, education, enterprise and other key partners. Ratepayers should be included, as key stakeholders. The Mayor's mandate will give him or her the authority to hold these sectors to account in delivering for Dublin and, by extension, for other parts of the country. That is vital.
The staff of the Mayor's office will provide administrative support to the Mayor and the authority and will be composed of approximately 30 personnel. A senior advisory team will be appointed directly by the Mayor for the duration of his or her tenure; the remainder of the office staff will consist of personnel seconded or transferred from Dublin local authorities, including the existing staff of the Dublin Regional Authority.
I hope we will not have all chiefs and no indians and that there will be meaningful work for these people. I am not knocking all public servants, but we need visionary staff. I believe we need staff from the private sector. I know the Mayor has the option of appointing some staff. We need new thinking in local government. We need visionary people and business ideas. We need to motivate and stimulate and be the movers and shakers. Business people must be supported. Initiatives that come must be grasped and dealt with. Those with initiative should be helped rather than met with layers of bureaucracy, sent from one agency to another and given no support until they leave when their enthusiasm and ideas have faded away. I hope the office of the Mayor will be independent-minded. It will certainly have to be independent of the managers of the Dublin local authorities.
Last year's severe weather damage highlighted the challenges facing the Mayor of Dublin, or of any region. The Mayor will set down the water services strategy to cater for the region's needs. The Government is committed to capital support for these vital services. I have questions here, as I have in my own county, about keeping the local contribution in line with Government investment in these chastened times. The polluter pays principle and the water-in/water-out method of payment are hard and difficult on business people, the only people who are paying water rates. Even businesses that are not operating are being issued with rate demands. I also want the valuations office to be examined. This is a national rather than a Mayoral issue but the method of assessing properties for valuation needs to be reviewed.
The introduction of the Mayor will not cost the taxpayer a single additional cent. The costs of the Mayor will be met entirely from within existing local government resources. However, we know they are strained. I do not believe the office of the Mayor will not cost a single cent. It will cost money, but if stakeholders, including ratepayers, are involved and get value for money they will not mind it costing money.
When the Bill was published earlier this year one of the criticisms made was that no discretionary budget will be available for the directly elected Mayor, making the role toothless. This has raised doubts over how powerful will be the directly elected Mayor. We must thrash that out and deal with it on Committee Stage to achieve clarity. The new mayor of Dublin will not need his or her own budget but, because the four local authorities already have a combined budget of €1.5 billion, not counting capital expenditure of €1.5 billion, we know how many demands there will be on resources. I live in the real world. The local authorities will continue to use this fund to fund all operational activities but these activities will take place within the policy framework set out by the mayor. When necessary, he or she will direct that the policy framework be followed. I am sure the Dublin electorate will make a wise decision. We need a very strong, independent thinker as mayor. I wish that person the best in his or her role.
Some members have drawn comparisons with the alleged superior budgetary powers of the Mayor of London. We do not have to watch what the Mayor of London does and should be able to set our own course for our own capital city in this independent country. This is very important.
More clarity is required in respect of defining constituency boundaries. More thought must be put into this and the boundaries should be aligned with the Garda divisional boundaries, HSE area boundaries and others so there will be no crisscrossing. We need to be able to focus clearly. Members of the electorate need to know where the boundaries are and will need to know whether they have a vote in the election of a directly-elected mayor.
The register of electors was mentioned. It has been abused in some cases. Perhaps the mayor of Dublin could advocate bringing the electoral registration system into the 21st century. The current system is archaic, outdated and very expensive. With modern technology, people should be able to register within days of an election and should be able to vote from abroad, as occurs in other countries. I do not know why we cannot achieve this now.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, is in charge of the e-voting machines. I begged him to put the machines, whose storage costs a fortune, into use in the community. The new mayor could take on a role in this regard. The machines could be used in schools and community development projects rather than paying somebody to store them and, eventually, to destroy them.
I do not know what the Corkman is saying. I missed that.
A constituent of mine who lives in Cashel quite close to Deputy Tom Hayes got two e-voting machines despite of my failure to get my hands on a machine for him. He is a computer expert and has concluded that, with very few software changes, they could be adapted for any purpose in schools, community centres or resource centres. I am engaging in robust debate with the Minister so as not to have the machines stored at enormous expense or, as I am now hearing, given back to the company that supplied them. We should bear in mind that they were not fit for purpose on the first day. I do not know what famous people, along with the Minister, made the decision to buy a pig in a poke. I am now told the machines are to be given back to those who supplied them according to the contract. I propose a meaningful use for the machines. In this regard, the new mayor could show the leadership that is required and demanded by the public, especially the rate-paying public.
I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak on the Government's, or Green Party's, proposal to have a mayor of Dublin. Not being from Dublin, I am asked why I am so interested in this matter. I am so interested because, over recent months, I have listened to the debate with interest as an outsider. In a time of terrible economic crisis, the Government is wasting time and proposing to waste money on setting up an institution that represents another layer of bureaucracy and which will cost us a fortune. Shame on the Government and anybody else who is proposing this at this time.
I have no issue with Dublin people having a singular voice. I have no issue with an area having its own mayor but the proposal before us is to add a layer of bureaucracy that will cost a considerable amount. This is at a time when local authorities need to be reformed. As with many other Members, I am a former member of a local authority.
Only last year we had local elections that required us to listen to what the people had to say about local government. In recent weeks and months, employees in local authorities have become frightened about their futures. They do not know where their future lies. There is a real crisis in local government and at local level in every county. Very committed people are working in local authorities are not sure of their futures. Newly-elected councillors are frustrated over their input into decision-making. It is unfair that the voices of those who have devoted a lot of their time voluntarily to public service at local level for very little remuneration are not being heard. Last year, the people voted in their masses to elect new councillors to local authorities. They made their voice heard but their will cannot be acted upon because of the structures in local authorities.
A very simple measure that would not cost anything is a proposal, to be put before this House and put into law, that would have a great influence on the way in which local authorities do their business. It involves making the chairman of each local authority part of the management structure. It is a disgrace that the chairman of a local authority cannot be part of the management team that meets weekly. These teams comprise a county manager and the heads of each section. No other board or organisation of which I know precludes the chairman from engaging in administrative duties. It would not cost one shilling to address this and it would bring democracy back to local authorities. If the Green Party were serious about giving a voice to the people who voted last June, the local authority chairmen, or mayors, would be part of the management structure.
In this cash-strapped society, I appeal to the Green Party to cop itself on and listen to what its grassroots members and most Fianna Fáil members around Leinster House think of its proposal. The latter believe they must vote for it because it is in the programme for Government but they actually believe it is ridiculous. I ask people to be more honest. At a time when we need every single shilling to be kept within the structures rather than wasting money, we are implementing a proposal that will involve great wastage and not help democracy in any way.
There are many changes required in local authorities and many challenges to be met.
There is a major opportunity for people to have an input into their local authorities and there are many ways in which we can change how business is done.
That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders or the Order of the Dáil of this day, the Dáil shall sit later than 4.45 p.m. and business shall be interrupted not later than 6.10 p.m., and the proceedings in regard to No. 14a, statements on EU sugar market reform shall be taken at 4.45 p.m and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 6.10 p.m. and the following arrangements shall apply: (i) the statements shall be confined to a Minister or Minister of State and to the main spokespersons for Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order and who may share their time, which shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; (ii) a Minister or Minister of State shall take questions for period not exceeding 40 minutes and (iii) a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes.