Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill 2010: Second Stage (Resumed)
This Bill has been a damp squib since its publication. As a former lord mayor of Cork city, I have been a supporter of the provision of an elected office of lord mayor for the city of Dublin. I suggested that this provision be extended to other cities because it is a valuable proposal. We were told it would be similar to the strong mayoral offices in London and Barcelona. In New York, for example, we saw how well former mayor Rudy Giuliani performed following the terrorist attack of 9 September 2001.
However, the Bill is a damp squib. It offers nothing of ambition for the proposed office. Indeed, the DÃ¡il's timing in debating the creation of the position of a directly elected mayor is bizarre and out of kilter with ongoing events, given the financial situation. I am sure people are watching us and wondering whether we have anything better to do than to discuss such a proposal at a time when the country's economic affairs are in dire straits. Our nation has triggered a crisis across the eurozone and our banking policy is seen to be in tatters. Businesses throughout the country are under severe pressure and businesses in Dublin are closing daily. Many operators are wondering from where they will get funding to keep going and pay staff and commercial rates, which are an excessive demand from local authorities, yet an office like this is being loaded onto them. It will need to be paid for by increases in taxation or in charges on businesses or households.
The powers of the mayor will be limited under the Bill. We were promised the mayor would have power over day-to-day transport operations and water services, yet this is not the case. We need complete electoral reform in this country, for both Houses of the Oireachtas and as regards local authority structures. An office such as this could be described as another quango and is just another layer of consultation that will have no power. It is useless and is not what is needed at this time.
The Bill proposes an election in 2011, six or seven months from now, which is out of synch with local authority elections which are not due again for another three and a half years. It would have been sensible to have held the election for mayor at the same time as the local and European elections. The proposal to have an election for this office within the next year does not make sense. The fact of establishing new bureaucracies and layers of consultation will not go down well with the electorate. People will wonder whether we have anything better to do.
The funding of this new office is also being questioned. I am speaking to councillors in both Cork city and county at the moment who are in consultation with their managers as regards the Estimates, and find themselves in a very difficult situation. They have to consider whether there will be a forced reduction in the commercial rates being collected by their local authorities, for example. I have heard the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley both indicating there would be good news for businesses with regard to reductions in commercial rates in the forthcoming budget. Therefore, local authorities are having to plan on that basis.
The local authorities in Dublin have had to build into their plans the possibility that they might have to fund the office of mayor in the coming year. The issue of costing has been raised but it is not very clear. Fingal County Council estimates that it could cost â¬10 million the first year and â¬8 million in subsequent years. I believe Deputy Gogarty indicated it could cost up to â¬5 million for one local authority alone, in Dublin, and we are dealing with four. The cost will ultimately be borne by businesses because the local government contribution to local authorities is, if anything, reducing. It will not be increased to accommodate this office. Therefore, the costing does not make sense at this time.
One of the areas within which a mayor can normally operate is in directing transport policy. We have seen this in London with regard to the underground and congestion charges. Deputies were under the impression that this office was to have a major role in directing transport for Dublin but from the contents of the legislation it seems to go far short of what was promised. We thought the mayor would chair the Dublin Transport Authority but that has been replaced by the National Transport Authority.
The Bill seems to be struggling to find a role that the mayor can play with regard to Dublin transport policy. I should have expected that such an office would have a stronger role and be able to intervene in the operations of bus and rail services in the capital. The office should have a role to play in the cost of public transport fares, to encourage the public to use this method of travel rather than depending on cars. It should have a strong role to play on the issue of taxi ranks and how they operate and also on the question of congestion charges. However, the proposals in the Bill fly in the face of all the promises that were made on transforming the transport infrastructure of Dublin city and the greater Dublin area.
The Bill is a damp squib in terms of the powers and opportunities that might have been allocated to an office such as that of mayor in terms of playing a leading role in the development of transport policies for the greater Dublin area. The powers are limited and the mayor will only have an opportunity to oversee the preparation of the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area. The National Transport Authority will prepare a draft transport strategy directed by the council and then submit this to the local authority for approval. The Minister for Transport will still have the power to issue any directives in regard to Dublin transport policy. That is the way it was before publication of this Bill, and sadly, that is how it will be after its enactment.
Once the transport plans are set the council can only monitor their implementation. Again, the opportunity that existed to give somebody a leading role in the development of transport in the capital has been missed. Transport in Dublin is very important, particularly in the greater Dublin area, if we are to make the city a leading European capital, to which people want to come and do business, a place where citizens can live in relative comfort, knowing they can get easy access to its facilities whether by bus, rail, DART or Luas. In this projection, people could fly into Dublin Airport and have ready access to the city centre and use any of the main rail stations to get access to and from the regions. There was an opportunity for the office of mayor to play a strong role in this regard, in keeping the city moving. However, perhaps the Minister did not have sufficient confidence in any of the individuals who proposed to put themselves forward for the position. Now, what we have is a totally missed opportunity and we are left merely with a mayor who will preside over yet another quango and rubber stamp proposals from the council.
The other area of concern is planning. Again, there is no change in terms of planning. The regional authorities of Dublin and the mid-east regional authority will continue to make the planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area. The balance of power in regard to planning will remain with the regional authorities and the Minister, not with the mayor. The mayor will have the power to initiate the regional planning guidelines but this is merely a consultative role in terms of giving public notice and inviting written submissions. This covers the provision "to consider all submissions".
This power is similar to the powers that exist for members of local authorities in terms of the chairing roles in such bodies. However, there is no fundamental change in terms of planning, no opportunity for somebody with ambition in the office of mayor to prepare a draft manifesto spelling out how he or she believes the city can operate in terms of planning, improved transport, waste policy, water policy, etc. There is no opportunity whatsoever for an individual to put his or her stamp on it. What we wanted from this legislation was a mayor with strong ambition for the city, a person who would put his or her manifesto to the people, get their approval and therefore have the authority to implement that manifesto. However, that is not what we got. What we have is more of the same old rubber stamping, overseeing and opportunities to initiate consultation. The power remains where it lay before publication of this Bill and where it will be when it is enacted. This legislation is merely the Government pushing a Bill through the Houses attempting to establish the office of mayor of Dublin. It is in fact only establishing another quango with little power, adding to the expense of running the city and these authorities.
I do not know where to start. There has been so much misinformation thrown around in the contributions of some Opposition Deputies that one could spend hours refuting them.
I will start with the context of this debate and when it is being held. The legislation took longer than expected to draft. Whereas normally one person would allocate half his or her time to drafting legislation, two people were assigned to drafting this Bill. In setting out the roles and functions of the mayor, one must also set out the specifics in terms of how the mayoral election will be held. As a result, the legislation was delayed.
Even at this time of economic uncertainty, it is not wise to pooh-pooh a progressive idea. This is the first phase of a radical transformation in terms of how local government carries out its functions. During the next couple of years we will, as agreed in the renewed programme for Government, see far-reaching reforms in this area. The easiest and therefore first item on the reform agenda was the Dublin mayor because there is already in situ a Dublin regional authority. The White Paper on local government, when released, will set out the other half of the equation in terms of the potential to elect mayors for a five year term in each of the local authority areas and to make the local authorities more powerful by subsuming their power upwards where practical to create regional authorities as opposed to little town councils. Town councils as they currently stand will become district councils. The hope is that real decisions will be made about areas and that we will no longer have a system which is the legacy of the British empire. We wanted a new way of looking at local government and this is part of our response in that regard.
I was unable to participate in the debate earlier on the economic situation we are in. However, let us be blunt. There are speculators who are trying to bring Ireland down, following which they will move on to other European countries. In that context, the Government is fighting an action to protect our sovereignty and to stand up for us. We do not need a bailout. Reference has been made in the news to a banking bailout under the cover of a broader bailout. We do not want a bailout. We do not want to take the medicine and we should not, therefore, be prescribed conditions. That is the battle we face.
I have full confidence in the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, doing his best on behalf of the country. I believe we should all stand together on this issue. However, the fact that our economic sovereignty is under threat does not mean we cannot examine other areas. I attended a committee last week which discussed the vision for the arts and how arts could benefit the country. I referred at that committee meeting to the Wexford Opera which was started from scratch in the 1950s. It is now an internationally renounced festival which brings jobs to the south-east region and tourists to Ireland. The Wexford Opera was started at a time when Ireland was a semi-medieval country with no facilities of which to speak, a time when people thought bigger and had vision. This is what we are speaking of in the context of this legislation. We might be in the economic mire but that does not mean we must all wallow in it and paint all the bad news stories. I accept the situation is tough.
I recently said on radio - I make no apologies for this - that people need to be afraid. It is only when presented with a reality check that one realises the tough situation one is in. I also said on that occasion that there is light at the end of the tunnel. That light is in part us having faith in ourselves as a people to get out of the mess we are in. I believe the right type of Dublin mayor can assist Dubliners in creating jobs and bringing tourism and investment to the country. This legislation is about looking beyond the current economic recession. It is about looking to the future and being bold, decisive and brave about it. We should not wait until 2014 to do this. We should plan it now because it might not be until 2014 that the real positive benefits of this position in situ will be achieved. Whoever is the mayor of Dublin at that time will ride on the crest of the wave of progress made.
This legislation does not hamper someone with the right mindset, vision, tools and ability to communicate and interact with people making Dublin a better place. The reasons for this are clear. This mayoralty is about bringing the power in terms of how Dublin is operated back to the people. We currently have four Dublin city and county authorities. These were set up under the British system. Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown and South Dublin-Fingal were split from the former Dublin County Council into individual entities not because of any vision for great progress in local authority, but because of the corruption that was going on, the dodgy deals being done in Conways and the type of people who attacked former Green Party leader, Deputy Sargent, and waved a cheque in front of him. That is the type of bull that was going on in our county. The authorities were split up because it was believed doing so would make them more manageable. Since that split, we have seen the same rezoning frenzies from, in particular, the two largest parties. We have had the same politicians happy to take money from developers and happy to have pro-development policies. While there is nothing wrong with pro-development policies, if one is taking money the question, "Why did you take it?", will always be asked.
A Fine Gael councillor in my area was given Â£1,000 for supporting the rezoning of a piece of land in Lucan. The councillor said she supported the rezoning of that land and that the fact that she took Â£1,000 from the developer had nothing to do with it.
I did not mention a name.
The point I am making is that if there is in place a directly elected Dublin mayor, allowing for the fact that it is incompetence or stupidity rather than corruption leads to the rezoning of ghost estates around Dublin, he or she, if worth their own salt, might be able to question the reason housing estates or retail parks are being built in, say, Fingal, where they are not needed, rather than in Dun Laoghaire where they are needed, or vice versa. One must have strategic vision in terms of the type of proper planning that has not happened in Dublin for a long time. In that context, the mayor can impact in a positive way on the city and county.
As far as I can see the Green Party is the only party that is trying to engage with the public on this issue. It is doing so through the www.Mayor4Dublin.ie website and by distributing leaflets around the city and hubs. The other parties appear to be rubbishing the idea and saying it will cost more money.
So be it. Let us all get behind it. Do not be afraid to do so. It has been stated that other issues are more important. Earlier this summer, Deputy Broughan had the balls and courage not to support the flip-flop policies of his party leader on the issue of animal rights.
Deputy Broughan did not on that occasion suggest that because the economy is in tatters we could not talk about animal rights, civil partnership or child abuse. We can talk about everything in this House. This is the forum where issues can be discussed. Just because we are overshadowed by a pressing fiscal crisis does not mean we cannot talk about other issues, including issues of vision that can get us out of the mess we are in. I make no apologies for doing so.
Let us address some of the issues. Fine Gael used the Fingal example saying this will cost â¬8 million. That report was discredited and Fingal County Council, FCC, admitted this. It then tried to drive a wedge between my party leader and myself. Deputy Gormley said it would not cost anything and I mentioned a cost of â¬5 million. I was referring to the running cost of an office, staff and so on. Most of the 30 employees will come from within the existing staff complement and, therefore, the cost will be much lower. The Dublin Regional Authority has offices in Swords and even if it relocates and the offices are sold, the cost will still not be great. The authority has staff and under this legislation, it will become a more powerful authority with 16 rather than 13 members who initially will be appointed from the constituent local authorities. However, it is part of the vision for local government reform in the programme for Government that these regional representatives will eventually be directly elected and they will have clout working in consultation with the mayor.
If the regional assembly does not set in train the strategic plan, the mayor will have the power to implement it. That is clear in the legislation. Currently, city and county managers are at odds with each other regarding how Dublin should be developed. The city manager is trying to the fight the change in Government strategy on incineration and councillors from various parties are saying, "This is terrible. Why isn't Minister Gormley stopping the incinerator?", while knowing full well that they voted for the damn regional waste policy in the first place several years ago.
The mayor will have an opportunity to take the bull by the horns and to say this is a national strategy and we have the opportunity to get rid of an incinerator. That would be a clear power.
Deputy Hogan asked why the Minister will not wait until 2014. Within six months of the establishment of this new office, the mayor has to set out a strategic plan and, after two years of operation, there will be an opportunity to examine the powers, review them, see if more powers are needed and, if so, in what areas. If one started this process in 2014 when a new constituent council is elected, it would not make sense because the office would not be up and running until halfway through the mayoral term and people would not be able to get a grip on it. It makes much more sense when the election is held next year for the mayor to set out his or her stall and have it finely tuned in order that when the first five-year mayoral term begins in 2014, everyone will know the powers, positions and opportunities that exist.
The opportunity is available to provide for proper planning. I mentioned the issue of where development should take place or where Dublin Port should be located. FCC proposes to move the port further up the coastline. Does that make sense? There was a major issue in the media recently about a retail park in DÃºn Laoghaire. Was that a good decision? Perhaps, members of South Dublin County Council, SDCC, or FCC want to put a conference centre on some of Jim Mansfield's land. A mayor would consider all these issues and recognise that the hub of software development is in the digital hub in the city centre but our pharmaceuticals expertise is in south Dublin. Our greatest tourism potential is in south Dublin and DÃºn Laoghaire, our market gardening centre is in Fingal and there are cultural and heritage sites throughout the county. How do we strategically manage them? If four councils are competing against each other, that means additional costs.
Having clarified the issue of the running costs of the mayor's office, I refer to the opportunities for savings. The McLoughlin report on local government estimated that up to â¬40 million could be saved through greater efficiencies in this sector. In the context of the current public service debate, it is not unfair to say that may involve a number of job losses but, crucially, it will create an opportunity to deploy staff where they are best needed rather than each council having a set complement. A mayor could oversee that in consultation with county managers and the regional authority and move staff around. For example, SDCC, of which I am a former member, has six litter wardens trying to cover illegal dumping and a multitude of litter problems. We, therefore, need more litter wardens and higher fines and we need to ensure the cost of running the service is met through fines. The mayor could examine this in consultation with the constituent councils. A proposal could then go to the Minister about national fines for littering. It could well be that there are too many employees and, in that context, some would have to be redeployed or lose out in the current economic climate. That is where the mayor could save money.
The issue of transport was mentioned. Deputy Clune referred to the Dublin Transport Authority and National Transport Authority, NTA. The NTA considers the national issue. Much as we like to think it, Dublin is not an independent city state that tells the rest of the mullahs what to do. That is not the way it operates. Dublin is part of Ireland. It may be the capital city and the commercial centre but, at the same time, transport must be planned on a national rather than a regional basis. In that context, the mayor can never control the authority. However, he or she will chair the Dublin transport council and will have great power. For example, Dublin City Council manages most of the traffic operations, including motor taxation, on behalf of the other local authorities in Dublin. With the input of the mayor, the existing powers of the city council could be expanded and issues such as congestion charges, if deemed necessary, or other specific proposals to enhance transportation within the region could be set out. The powers may be relatively limited, as stated by other Members, by dint of the mayor not being in charge of a national body but he or she will be the only directly elected representative of that stature on the Dublin transport council and on the national body. Representing more than 1 million citizens, he or she will have great clout and if her or she is not listened to, nobody will be listened to.
The mayor could provide for greater coherence in the provision of waste and water services. There were water shortages in parts of Palmerstown, Clondalkin and Lucan earlier this year because Dublin City Council was taking water from the SDCC area because it controls the water supply in the greater Dublin area. In a fairer system, there would be a fairer way to allocate water throughout the city and county. Those living in the three county council areas feel they are not considered to be part of Dublin because Dublin City Council rules the roost and controls how things go. I hope the new mayor will ensure the county is represented in an integrated way. An audit of sports facilities could also be beneficial in attracting international events such as the Olympics, which Deputy Mitchell has mentioned on a number of occasions. That is something a mayor could push successfully, similar to the mayor in Barcelona. Tourism is another area in which a coherent strategy could be employed. Dublin has a great deal to offer other than the Molly Malone statue, Trinity College and the GPO. Significant attractions are not being marketed properly because Dublin is not seen as an entity in its own right.
This new position presents the best opportunity for job creation. Industrial units throughout the city and county are under-utilised. They can become centres for incubation and development of new business opportunities. There is an opportunity through the mayor's office to ensure rates are maintained at a reasonable level. This is why the proposal is supported by the business community in Dublin. Businesses see the office as a way to make Dublin more attractive for business and creating jobs. Industrial units could be targeted in a better fashion and used where they are vacant as art hubs. As I indicated in the committee dealing with the arts last week, there is under-used potential in the city and county which the mayor could co-ordinate, which is the idea.
The mayor will not be a panacea for the ills of the economy or Dublin but the position will not be a damp squib if the right person with the appropriate political experience and understanding of planning and other issues is involved. The unelected county and city managers will be instructed where to go if they do not find the proper strategies by dint of the popular mandate of the mayor. That is important. Councillors often complain they have no power over local authorities and are overruled by managers but now is the time for a mayor to indicate to a manager how Dublin will operate. If the manager does not like it, he or she can lump it.
I hope people will continue to contribute to the mayor for Dublin website and send in ideas that can feed into legislation. This legislation is not finished and even when the mayor is in office the Act will be reviewed after two years. It will be a work in progress but we should have the vision to get it started now rather than pooh-poohing a good idea for political expediency.
I remind Deputy Gogarty of where we are. Three years ago the national debt was â¬35 billion and by the end of this year it will be â¬95 billion, with an additional â¬50 billion in liability for the banks and another â¬40 billion to â¬50 billion in liability for NAMA, again resulting from the actions of banks. We have gone from approximately â¬35 billion to â¬180 billion in a matter of years.
That is where we are here and now. I poked some harmless fun at the Greens when they went into Government and I hoped it would be taken in good humour. I quoted Groucho Marx - not Karl Marx - in saying that the Greens would not worry about "those" principles as they had others. The Greens forgot about the Shell to Sea campaign, neutrality, the motorway going through the Tara Valley and issues of that nature which the party had considered core. The party found others.
I thought I was being a little funny but by God they found other issues. This legislation is an indulgence and trophy piece that is not required. Deputy Gogarty spoke about people acting in ways that would be distasteful to this House, setting out conditions that would be difficult. It would be impossible to implement those conditions because if we are to continue paying salaries to doctors, nurses, gardaÃ and schoolteachers, we will be obliged to start in this House with reform. Such reform will eliminate structures, perhaps even those involved in the State like the Seanad or presidency. To bring forward legislation like this now is extravagant.
I will refer to other issues. We can talk about Deputies being out of touch. It has been mentioned that the mayor of Dublin could be a focal point in consideration of an Olympics bid. Olympics costs tens of millions of euro and this is a time when we face bankruptcy.
I do not want to be too critical of Deputy Gogarty but we in this Chamber must wake up and realise the reality facing the State. With regard to the cost of the mayor's office, we are considering paying the mayor more than the President of the United States at a time when-----
-----we could be facing reduction in the old-age pensions, children's allowance and public sector salaries. Those are the likely conditions that will be insisted upon by the European Stabilisation Fund, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and others in order to ensure we continue to pay our State salaries.
One aspect relating to postal voting should be considered. We have not given enough consideration in this jurisdiction to making it more convenient for people to cast their ballots. The Government certainly does not want to make this convenient, as we can see from the by-election to be held tomorrow week. It is to be held on a Thursday instead of giving people the opportunity to vote on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, when students or other people return to the constituency. There are many opportunities to vote in the United States through postal ballots, and approximately 40% of the votes there in the mid-term elections two weeks ago were cast before election day. If we are to go ahead with this and the Greens insist on the office being established, with Fianna FÃ¡il rolling over to facilitate this indulgence and extravagance, we should at least use the opportunity to consider a postal ballot for what is a rather irrelevant office. We could then consider it for general elections or by-elections. I am trying to take something positive from this but I am finding it very difficult.
We touched upon how the election could potentially cost â¬1 million and the per annum cost of the regional authority being â¬8 million. We have the opportunity not to spend that money. There are approximately 900,000 people on the voting register and we should take this opportunity to tidy up. It is a difficulty not just in Dublin but around the country and we must ensure the register is sorted out.
There is the matter of reimbursement of donations. A minimum of â¬33,140 will be reimbursed if somebody achieves a certain percentage of the quota. We would be giving out money from the Standards in Public Office Commission, and in these economic times paying money of that magnitude is just madness.
It is ironic that we will establish a regional authority of Dublin, RAD, while dissolving the Dublin Regional Authority, DRA. We will replace the DRA with the RAD; there is a word which comes to mind for this, which is M-A-D.
This should not continue. This is the craziest legislation I have seen in a long time. The figure quoted in the document is â¬8 million and there will be a CEO, staff and other cronies. I ask the Minister not to continue with this as it will not fly at a time when Commissioner Rehn is not long gone from our shores. He has left Ireland thinking there is no way the Government is accepting the reality for our nation. Our State should not continue to waste money.
There was some discussion about rates. Businesses are hard pressed currently and rates should not be wasted in the current manner. I would make the positive suggestion that if we are to spend money, we should not spend it on the mayor. The Minister for Finance has the power within the Finance Bills to reduce rates by 10%. In the past, the opportunity has been taken by the Minister for Finance to reduce the grant from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to each local authority. That might save tens or perhaps hundreds of millions of euro for the great black hole that is the Exchequer.
I ask that, instead of cutting the grant, the Minister would consider cutting the rate. If he does so, the sum of the reductions that will be obliged to be made by the local authorities will not go into that great black hole of the Exchequer but to the ratepayers. If the Minister wants to give hard-pressed businesses the opportunity to have some small reduction in what is paid, this is an opportunity. The rates bill is a little over â¬1 billion and the Minister has the power to cut it by 10%, which would mean â¬100 million going directly back into the pockets of ratepayers and businesspeople throughout the country in 2011.
This is a waste of time. While I am trying not to be overly political and trying to be positive, it is difficult. It is wrong to continue wasting money in this way. As I said, the gentlemen from the IMF and the European Stabilisation Fund will come here and slaughter a few sacred cows. Those sacred cows will have to be found in the Oireachtas first, whether it is in regard to the Seanad, the Presidency or otherwise.
This Bill will never be enacted. I know Fianna FÃ¡il is playing the game with its partners in government that it will continue with this, move it through Second Stage and on until it goes to Committee Stage for further consideration, but it will never be enacted. As long as we continue to play the old political game in this Chamber, we will not get the people to support what is required to save the State. That is where we are nationally and internationally. It was where we were over the weekend, with Reuters and the BBC reporting that the negotiations had begun with State officials regarding a bailout, which they had. Nonetheless, in the old way, the Ministers stepped up to the plate on Sunday, including Deputy Batt O'Keeffe on the one o'clock news and, later, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who said on "The Week in Politics" that there were no negotiations. A couple of days later, it was admitted there were negotiations, not in regard to the sovereign debt but only in regard to trying to find a solution to the liquidity of the banks. I heard the same words from the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, when he said we did not have a capitalisation problem, purely a liquidity problem.
The old way of politics and the way things used to be done will die in the coming general election, rightly so. It is that way which has our nation in the state it is in, with others from Frankfurt, Washington and Luxembourg about to come in. They will not ask for permission, consensus or the agreement of all parties. They will set down the preconditions, which will be difficult and distasteful. What the public will not accept is the indulgence and the extravagance of this House playing a game that has to end.
I sometimes wonder if we are living in the real world at all, and I certainly think it today. Here we are, with the IMF at the gates of the city and the limousines ready to pound their way in from the airport, past the DÃ¡il and into Government Buildings. Those from the IMF will no doubt be interested in what we are discussing here. In their minds will be the notion of all-night debates on the state of the banks, the enormous sum of â¬130 billion in funding from the ECB and the efforts to stabilise the finances of the country. Instead, what are we talking about? We are talking about an office which, in the current context, is utterly irrelevant to the situation of the country.
Whatever about the gnomes of Zurich, as they once were, we now have the gnomes of Frankfurt and Brussels. What are the people of this country thinking? Although I do not know how long more we will be sovereign, this is the sovereign Parliament yet what we are talking about in this moment of crisis in the history of our country is reminiscent of guild halls, gilded coaches, ancient titles and the establishment of an office that is utterly irrelevant to the problems confronting the country.
Is this because the Government wants an election? That cannot be so. The Government turned and twisted for so long to try to avoid a by-election in Donegal South-West and ultimately had to be forced by the courts to live up to its constitutional duty. Is it because the Government is interested in the whole issue of quangos and the views that emerged from An Bord Snip Nua? Our attitude to quangos should be cut, cut, cut. What do we do? The Government, allegedly representing the will of the people, comes along with this unnecessary and irrelevant office at this time.
Great efforts are being made to suggest this whole process will be cost free. Who does the Government think it is codding? No matter what one sets up will cost money, and whether that money comes directly or indirectly, it comes from the people. The suggestion it is cost free is a joke as it cannot be cost free, whether it is â¬5 million or â¬10 million a year. I do not know the true sum as we have not been told. In reply to a parliamentary question, the Minister, Deputy Gormley, said it was impossible to estimate as precise costing is impossible at this time, yet we are going ahead with the creation of this office when every bob, shilling and cent takes from the stabilisation of our finances.
There is generally a case for an overall review of local government that might involve the merger of bodies, including in this area. There may be a case for elected mayors and, in general, in the context of such an overall review, it is something we should consider. However, to superimpose an extra layer at this stage is pure madness and utterly out of order. It is thumbing the nose at the suffering and disillusioned people of this country to even have the temerity to introduce it to the Chamber at this time. Very simply, the onus of proof is on the Government to suggest that this is necessary and that we must have another mayor on top of the four mayors in Dublin at present. That onus has not been discharged and my clear message from the heart of west Cork, although I have spent much of the past 33 years in Dublin while attending the DÃ¡il, is to stand back from this for the moment as this is not the time to have such legislation on the Statute Book.
As a final point, I make a genuine plea to the Government, as a long-standing Member of the House, to review the situation in regard to this legislation, which is utterly unnecessary at this time. I understand that if the legislation goes ahead and there is this unnecessary election for an additional mayor in Dublin in the short term - what we want is a general election to clean out the stables - there is a proposal that the situation would be reviewed in two years time, perhaps at a time when there should be local elections. I have one simple suggestion, namely, park this legislation for two years. Let us deal with the genuine and serious crisis in the country at this time, bring forward whatever proposals we want, debate the issues and consider the full facts, which we do not have before us as yet. Let us try to find some common purpose in resolving these problems. However, the Government must not fly in the face of the people and proceed with this utterly unnecessary and irrelevant legislation. For that reason, I am totally opposed to proceeding with it at this time.
I was a member of a local authority, Dublin City Council, for 17 years. Generally, I regard that period as a positive time for me. I began to get involved in and learn the ropes of politics. It often surprises me when I hear people of all sides criticising, lamenting or complaining about their time in local authorities. Before the dual mandate was done away with many of us served on a local authority. It baffles me that people criticise their time on the authorities and the local authority system. I am a strong believer in the local authority system and I have held such views for several years.
I realise it is different and perhaps easier now in some respects with the advent of area committees. When I first joined the local authority I had developed a good view of some of the issues it addressed from being on residents committees and sports clubs. However, I was exposed to other issues which had not arisen in my background. Among the city council standing committees were the cultural committee, which I recall sitting on and from which I made on-site visits to places to which tourists to the city went but where I had never been in all my years; the planning committee; the general purposes committee; and the housing committee, which is relevant to my constituency. I found this work interesting. The general debate at local authority level is satisfying and there is more debate and interaction than standing up here and talking to the four walls for 20 minutes.
I am an absolute and strong believer in the local authority system. However, I am underwhelmed by this legislation. I have examined the Minister's speech and the memorandum but it is difficult to get the hang of it. One keeps reading and searching for the real meat and the great issues. There are many sections and the Bill is large enough but it is difficult to find the real issues of substance. Perhaps I should read it from cover to cover but I found it hard to come across the body of it. The Bill is high on aspiration and hope and perhaps it will develop in time but it is low on content and it is difficult to grasp the key issues involved.
Members of local authorities will point out the difference between reserved and managerial functions. Local authority members always complain of the lack of power they have and maintain they would prefer to have more reserved functions etc. When some of them complain, they do not realise the powers they have and if they studied and worked harder they would realise they have more powers and could do more if they worked with what they have. While I express my support for the general local authority system I do not maintain it is perfect or that it could not be improved - of course it could.
From listening to Deputy Gogarty and others discuss places outside the city and the other three local authorities, it appears the structure in the city works rather well and we should be slow to change it or, at least, we should reflect deeply and long and be sure of what we are doing. People may seek a change in the political structures, to reform local government and the way Dublin city and county work, then report back to the effect that issues have been transformed and great new legislation has been introduced and claim they are wonderful because they have grasped the nettle. That is all very well but let us hasten slowly and ensure what we are doing is right and serves the city.
The most fundamental need for reform involves the transfer of some power from the manager but I cannot find reference to this in the legislation. There is much aspiration, the mayor will be involved in this and that, he or she will chair meetings and consult with various groups and influence people and so on but I cannot see it. Will the Minister indicate in his closing remarks or on Committee Stage what is envisaged? I realise the City and County Management (Amendment) Act dates back to 1924 or 1927 and that the county managers are a powerful body but was there any attempt to take power from them? Did we back off or chicken out or did we deal with the issue? I do not foresee the management structure handing over any of its power to the new mayor, which, we hope, will be all-powerful and develop into an important role in future. I am doubtful whether this aspect has been sufficiently covered.
There are many references in the Minister's speech to the effect that Dublin is now a region, that it is not competing with Donegal or Galway but with other cities in Europe and worldwide and that we must have someone to champion Dublin and give leadership and I go along with this thinking . We have dealt with that, we have done it and we continue to do it on a day-to-day basis. Previously, Dublin was under one authority. The county council was under the city council and under the control of an assistant city manager. Therefore, there was integration and co-ordination at one stage. However, change was foisted on us for reasons related to the what took place in the county. There were no zoning problems in my time on the city council. There may have been re-zoning decisions but they were taken for the good of the city as we perceived it and they were not controversial in the context of other places.
As Dubliners and regardless of whatever role we have undertaken in the past, whether as Deputies, councillors, Lord Mayors, Ministers or Ministers of State, we act and speak in whatever forum or platform we are given to promote Dublin. We have done this in the past and if one wished to formalise this in some way there are other ways to do so. There could be a Minister of State for Dublin. I realise there are some Ministers of State from Dublin and I believe that when they travel throughout or outside the country, in addition to carrying out their role in their Departments, whatever it may be, they also represent their country as well and they push the right buttons for their city. I refer to the Minister of State with responsibility for trade in this regard.
We could have done this in a more economic way. I have heard some of the comments from across the floor. It is amazing how some people manage to discuss other crises and problems when what is at issue is this legislation. However, we must be aware of public opinion as well.
We must be sure of what we are doing and not simply introduce a whole new system that does not really work. We are trying to streamline the political system, to give better value, to cut costs and we must watch out and be careful in this regard. We have no wish for this to become another HSE whereby it would be set up with the hope to reform it subsequently by introducing cuts here and there; the intention would be to do things in an efficient manner later but then one might lose it. Having elected a Lord Mayor one should leave him or her to begin his or her work. We must be careful about what we are doing. Dublin has a long record and the position of Lord Mayor has been in place for several hundred years. I am unsure whether Isaac Butt was the first Lord Mayor because I have not seen the list for some time. I should go to the Oak Room to see it.
In recent years the trend has been that the Lord Mayor is only in the role for one year but that has not always been the case nor is there any obligation for this to be the case under the existing legislation. If the colleagues of the Lord Mayor on the council wish to put him or her in place for two, three or five years, it can be done. If one looks at the list in the Oak Room, one will see there have been Lord Mayors in the past who represented the city for a number of years. This notion that we could not have a mayor in office for a number of years is mistaken. It could happen.
Some sections of the Bill caught my eye. There is one that states that the mayor shall personally appoint five people to his or her office. According to the Minister's speech, the mayor's office will be a tightly knit group of about 30 people. In view of this, five people appointed by the mayor seems excessive. I wonder deeply about that. We all know that Ministers have two staff and Deputy Gormley, as a party leader, perhaps has four or five. They are in a big Department over at the Custom House. Whatever the number of staff over there, it is big enough that five appointees would be sufficiently spread around. However, five appointees by the mayor - who is in office for one year - in an office of 30 is crazy. Somebody should have talked to senior people - and those not so senior - in the HSE, which is a body of around 10,000 people. I hear lots of stories about the five or six experts brought in by the previous chief executive over the last five years, who totally destroyed morale and ruined the bloody place because they undermined other senior staff. I am glad to see the new chief executive has not repeated that mistake. It is one thing to bring five people to an organisation of 100,000; to bring five people from outside to an office of 30 people would be inappropriate. There would be no continuity from one five-year period to another. It is wrong and it should be reconsidered. It is nothing to do with who the mayor is - nobody knows who he or she will be in any year - but it does not seem proper.
I have serious concerns about the whole process of a direct election for mayor. I do not think it will fit into our existing system. We do not have a directly elected Taoiseach. We do not do our business in that way. Whether one is in this House or any local authority chamber, the Taoiseach or mayor is the person who has the support of his or her party or a coalition of parties. That is how this country is structured and we should be careful about moving away from it and having some form of dictator, who may, in an office of 30 people of whom five or six have been appointed by himself or herself, feel that great work is being done. If he or she does not have alliances with and the co-operation of colleagues up and down the chain, I do not see how anything can happen.
I have major reservations about the nomination process for mayor as described in sections 94 and 95 of the Bill. It needs to be tightened and the process needs to be controlled. It is fine to say that any recognised party of a reasonable size can nominate somebody, but to say that independent candidates can be nominated by 60 voters is crazy. It is looking for trouble. We cannot do that. Anybody can be elected to a city or county council as an Independent; maybe one can come in here as an Independent, but one is not coming in as Taoiseach. The city council has 52 members and the others have, I think, 24 each. There are probably 110 or 120 councillors across the four council areas. Perhaps the approval of 10% of these - that is, 10 or 12 councillors - should be required.
I do not want to suggest that it be so tightly controlled that small parties and those who come together independently do not have a chance of nominating anybody, but a process in which anybody can walk in off the street with 60 signatures and get a nomination is too loose. It is all right to say that people are very intelligent and we cannot control who they wish to vote for. However, I see groups in the media and elsewhere that love the challenge of putting up somebody who has no knowledge of politics, not to mind anything else. We need to manage it in some way so that the man or woman who attains this office has some knowledge of politics and some influence with the other councillors in the regional authority and the city and county council. I am just saying that it needs a lot of consideration on Committee Stage. Some people will see this as another layer of management, and we must make sure this is not the case.
I am surprised at what I see in some of the sections of the Bill. Section 165 specifies a maximum campaign expenditure of â¬200,000. That is big money. We need to be careful about what we are doing here. The section also mentions expenditure in the 45 days coming up to an election. There are many sections in this Bill - I suppose they have to be there - that appear to be transcribed from electoral legislation generally. In recent years we have become very good at putting such things into legislation, but I wonder whether anyone observes these rules. I remember, at the time of the last general election, driving around different constituencies and noting the number of posters put up by some of the candidates. I knew I had a thousand posters up, but I felt these candidates must have had 10,000. Nine months afterwards, when people lodge the details of their expenditure, they claim to have had only 500. If we have all these rules and regulations, there must be a system implemented by the Department, the local authorities or the Standards in Public Office Commission under which they are enforced.
I also have concerns about the provisions pertaining to the regional authority, and we should consider some amendments in this regard. The new regional authority will be smaller than the old one, with the mayor and 15 ordinary members. Although we are trying to achieve continuity, four of those ordinary members will be changing every year because they will be the cathaoirligh of the individual councils. The Dublin Regional Authority sometimes sits in joint session with the Mid-East Regional Authority, which is not being touched by this legislation. Only one of the eight regional authorities - the Dublin one - will be affected. When the Dublin and Mid-East Regional Authorities sit in joint session, the Dublin one will have fewer members, although it represents three times the population. I do not think we have considered the nitty gritty of some of these provisions, or the follow-on effects they will have. These issues need to be discussed. In this case, the provisions may result in the Mid-East Regional Authority having 22 members at a meeting, representing a population of half a million, while the Dublin Regional Authority, representing a million and a quarter, has significantly fewer members.
I have a number of concerns about the regional authority and there are several things that need to be tightened up. One of these concerns is funding. We have to sort out all these things; we cannot just rush ahead, have an election and elect a mayor. We could say there will be three years for things to settle down, but that is not the way to do things. Once a person is elected, he or she will want to get things up and running, and the time to sort out all these things is before the election. While I have major reservations about the Bill, I hope that, with appropriate amendments to make it relevant to our current system, it will be a success. The model should be the way we do our business in this country and not looking at mayors in other countries. It will need much consideration and time; rushing into passing this Bill and rushing into an election will lead us into a mess down the road. I urge that we take our time.
It is with a heavy heart that I speak on the Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill because I find it impossible to support the Bill in its present format. The fundamental lesson I learned from more than 12 years on Dublin City Council is that the city and county managers system must be abolished. It is impossible to have democratic and efficient local government without democratically elected leaders with a clear mandate at local level. As the Minister, Deputy Gormley, well knows, I have repeatedly proposed a Dublin regional mayor elected by and answerable to all the people of the greater Dublin region. I believe that similar democratic, decentralised and regional leadership should be established for Cork and Munster, Galway and Connacht, south Leinster and our three Ulster counties, with the latter increasingly integrating with the rest of Ulster as the two Irish administrations move closer together.
I led the Labour Party and Rainbow Civic Alliance on Dublin City Council for approximately eight years and I always articulated the idea of a directly elected mayor and strong local administration focusing on the needs of the Dublin region. The Dublin region is the critical economic and social dynamo for the entire State, but greater Dublin is a great region and deserves a great mayor, its own leader. Members should think of the iconic past and present mayors, both famous and notorious, who have led and promoted similar great cities throughout the world, including Ken Livingstone of London, Willy Brandt of West Berlin, Richard Daley of Chicago, Yuri Luzhkov of Moscow, Michael Bloomberg of New York and Joan Clos i Matheu of Barcelona. In all of those cities the buck stops with the mayor as even the great Ken Livingstone found out in the last London mayoral elections. Unlike the barren, bureaucratic stagnation presided over by successive city and county managers, those cities have been often blessed with dynamic democratically elected leaders with impressive achievements in planning and design, housing, public transport, water and waste facilities and other key urban services.
The legislation the Minister, Deputy Gormley, has produced, however, will simply not deliver a mayor that can achieve similar results because this legislation is grossly deficient. As a former colleague of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, on Dublin City Council, I am very disappointed to see the totally watered down proposal for Dublin mayor that the Minister has presented to the House.
A key governance issue for Dubliners and the Dublin region is its sheer size compared with the rest of Ireland. Quite clearly an elected mayor with real and significant power will create a new major power centre, as is the case in London, Barcelona and Moscow, which could and will rival the power of the national government. For that reason Fianna FÃ¡il and Fine Gael have been always bitterly opposed to real devolved government in Dublin. Thus it was no surprise to me that Deputy Hogan opposed the office of the Dublin mayor from the word go and other Deputies, including Deputy Creighton, are fiercely opposed to it. Likewise Fianna FÃ¡il will not tolerate a strong and viable Dublin mayoralty and prefers, as Professor Damien Kiberd famously expressed it years ago, that Dublin should remain a "centre dominated by a periphery" unlike all of the other great cities of the EU. As I have always been conscious of the vicious bias against the greater Dublin region of the two conservative parties, I believe a new office of the Dublin mayor might be placed in the context of strong regional government for the entire Republic. The federal model of Austria with its large capital Vienna and eight other states and regions might be a useful exemplar.
It is surprising and shocking, however, that the Green Party and the Minister, Deputy Gormley, would acquiesce with the anti-democratic agenda of the two conservative parties and provide the people of Dublin with little more than an empty suit. It is clear that the Minister knows the writing is on the wall for himself and his utterly discredited Green Party and is now desperately scrambling around for anything to shore up its devastated reputation before it departs the Irish political scene forever.
The core of the Bill is the section on the powers and responsibilities with which the Dublin mayor would be mandated under this legislation. I welcome the role given to the mayor under Part 3, Chapter 2 on waste management plans and under Part 3, Chapter 3 on bringing forward a new water services strategic plan for the Dublin region, for example. I also believe the power of the mayor to direct a local authority in Part 3, section 1, that it is not acting in accordance with a regional planning guideline is positive.
Overall, however, there are major and insuperable deficiencies in the type of mayoral system the Minister, Deputy Gormley, proposes under this legislation. The mayoralty that the Minister wants to establish will be able to make endless recommendations and comments on central and local government policies, but it is clear the elected mayor will have little or no real power to make life and the city work better for all residents of the Dublin region. I passionately believe the creation of an effective office of Dublin mayor is a critical necessity for the revival and reinvigoration of the Republic, but the legislation does not give us such an office.
Part 4, Chapter 2 of the Bill deals with transport, which is one of the most critical policy areas for the mayor of any city. Transport and traffic matters need a clear overarching directly elected official who has the power to knock heads together and get things done and the city moving. As a former transport spokesperson, I invigilated the legislation establishing the Dublin Transport Authority and National Transport Authority on behalf of the Labour Party. It was intimated through all of those debates that the new Dublin mayor would be the chairperson of the Dublin Transport Authority and hold a powerful traffic and transport Czar-type role like the mayor of London. Yet, the Minister's proposed mayor will now merely be the head of a 12-person greater Dublin area transport council to make recommendations on transport and traffic matters in the greater Dublin area. Ultimate power under this legislation for transport matters still rests with the unelected National Transport Authority rather than with a mayor who answers directly to the people of Dublin. During the debate on the Dublin Transport Authority Bill, I submitted a number of amendments on behalf of the Labour Party that would have facilitated the direct election of members of the DTA board by the people of the greater Dublin area. Unfortunately, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, and all of his Fianna FÃ¡il and Green colleagues voted me down.
Similarly, the mayor's proposed role under Part 4, Chapter 1, on housing issues is exceptionally poor. The Bill allows only for the regional authority to make recommendations to the four local authorities in terms of their housing policies. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, should know there is an unprecedented housing crisis across the Dublin region in terms of homelessness and there are perhaps up to 50,000 individuals and families on social housing lists even though there are approximately 2,000 empty apartments in my constituency. Why can the mayor not be given the lead role to direct housing policy and sort out the unacceptable homeless and waiting list situation once and for all?
The Bill as proposed is therefore a near-total sell-out by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and once again unfortunately in this Government, the Greens have turned yellow. For example, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government of the day appears to be able to overrule the mayor on practically every single issue if he or she so wishes. It is depressing that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, of all people would go along with the creation of a mayor for Dublin that could end up being so weak, pliable and ineffective.
The most ridiculous document that was produced in the recent debate on the Dublin mayoralty was produced by officials of Fingal County Council. The document seems to have been the basis for Deputy Hogan's ludicrous statement referring to an â¬8 million figure for the essential costs of the office. That document also had the brass neck to state that "the vesting of such incredible authority in a single individual as is proposed in the new mayoral proposals is without precedent in the State." Of course the direct opposite is true. There are many such precedents and they include the offices of city and county managers established under the 1929 legislation which copied US law when it was felt best that apparatchik-type business leaders should run local government without the messy involvement of the people.
The cost of running the mayoral office in terms of the salary of the mayor and the financing of the regional authority, for example, is outlined in Chapter 2 of Part 1. The mayor and the authority will be funded primarily through the budgets of the four local authorities involved, Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council, South Dublin County Council and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. Yet all of the local authorities are already under severe financial pressure to provide even some of their most basic services to local residents. Will Dublin residents face even more cutbacks to their local services because of the funding model the Minister, Deputy Gormley, is imposing?
The Minister should have introduced a self-financing, cost-neutral model for financing the mayor. In my own original mayoral proposals, which I made a number of years ago, I called for a review of the more than 50 directors of services and senior executive manager positions across the local authorities, which needs to be greatly streamlined. I also strongly believe that the profoundly anti-democratic city and county manager positions should be abolished and the savings on both of these reforms used to fund a truly democratic elected mayoral-led local government system. The administration of each of the four counties could be simply headed by the senior director of services concerned.
One of the key problems with the Bill is the lack of an all-Dublin assembly, unlike the local assemblies of the other great cities I mentioned earlier. I am a former member not only of Dublin City Council, but also of the Dublin Regional Authority. That the members of the new authority are indirectly elected is a serious weakness of the Minister's model in contrast with the London Assembly. Why not simply make the mayor answerable to all 127 councillors of the four Dublin counties meeting as one body perhaps four to six times per year? No extra costly structure would be necessary with such an arrangement and all elected Dublin councillors would have a fundamental role in approving the mayor's strategic plans and policies.
I come from the rural part of south Dublin outside Clondalkin. I represented Coolock-Artane and Donaghmede-Raheny on Dublin City Council for 12 years, where I was the leader of the council. I live in Fingal and have many relatives in DÃºn Laoghaire Rathdown. I would passionately favour strong regional autonomy for Dublin, at least analogous to that of London, Paris or Barcelona. Indeed, that Dublin requires some form of autonomy is my firm view after nearly 20 years in representative politics. I and the Labour Party are strongly committed to making the administration of the Dublin region more democratic, effective and responsive. For those reasons I cannot support the Bill.
This legislation is premature and has not been thought through properly. These are also the sentiments expressed by Deputy Noel Ahern, as I understood him. It is interesting that the concerns he expressed are, according to reports, held by many other Fianna FÃ¡il backbenchers and possibly some Ministers and Ministers of State. It indicates that this legislation is being pushed because the Green Party wants it. I do not believe the Fianna FÃ¡il Party wants it but is just supporting it to keep the Green Party on board for the budget and so forth. It will be interesting to see whether the legislation will be a deal breaker. If there is a vote on it, will Deputy Noel Ahern adhere to the principles he has just expressed or will he simply go through the lobbies with his colleagues? I believe he means what he says. I was a county councillor at the same time as Deputy Noel Ahern and was on the Dublin Regional Authority with him as well.
It is not good if this Bill is going to be railroaded through just to keep the Green Party in the Government and at the expense of local democracy. There are fundamental problems in this Bill with regard to local democracy and a number of them have been raised in this debate. No local government reform is being discussed. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government promised local government reform and a White Paper on local government. He was due to bring forward proposal a couple of years ago but they have not been produced. If there was local government reform, what would happen to the present structures of county, city and town councils? This legislation is brought forward before any of the other work has been done on local government reform. For that reason it is premature.
It is also being superimposed. The example of the HSE was mentioned by another speaker. The HSE was imposed on the health boards. It is the same in this case in that this position is being imposed on the existing local government structures, which might or might not be reformed in the future. There is an imbalance in proposing the new Dublin regional authority to replace the existing one and a new position of directly elected Dublin regional mayor. The seven or eight other regional authorities will not have directly elected mayors. There will be a disproportionate number of representatives on the Dublin Regional Authority compared with the other regional authorities. What will be the relationship between the two?
If we decided in the future to devise a hybrid of town, county and city councils to try to make local government more local and based around organic local areas, where will this new Dublin Regional Authority and the mayor position fit into that? The Labour Party supported the concept of a directly elected mayor but not what is being proposed in this legislation. The party would never have imagined that something could be just plonked down in this way, without being properly thought through or subject to consultation. That is the other concern. The original proposals were brought forward last February. The party consulted at that stage but it was very much presented as a fait accompli, to which some minor amendments were made subsequently. That is not proper consultation about what a directly elected mayor would entail.
I have my doubts about introducing this for only one region, and leaving out the other regions. There should have been a framework. In Britain, for example, I understand legislation was introduced to allow a local authority to decide to have a directly elected mayor and to hold a referendum on it. Some areas in Britain voted not to have a directly elected mayor. I will discuss that further later.
I do not accept there is such an urgent need for this legislation that it should be rushed through. I attended a presentation by Dr. Aodh Quinlivan in UCC about the experience of trying to introduce this model in other countries. It has not always been like the experience with Ken Livingstone in London or the other places that have been mentioned. It has gone wrong in many areas. Many people have voted against having a directly elected local authority mayor when the option was put to them. The voters have said "No". That is one issue. Second, some areas have had to abandon it and reverse the decision to have a directly elected mayor. In some areas, joke candidates have been elected. There have been many bad experiences with this process but none of that has been taken on board. There is a terrible political correctness, particularly coming from the Green Party, that one must agree to something and must not question these great wisdoms, such as with regard to a directly elected mayor for Dublin. One must do this and one must do that.
I do not necessarily agree with my colleague, Deputy Broughan, regarding his dislike of the arrangement that exists at present between the councillor and the city manager. This is something that exists in other countries, such as America, and many places have decided to continue with it. Very often it works quite well. It is a fact that councillors often have more power on local authorities than Government backbenchers or Members of the Opposition have in the DÃ¡il. They can get things done that make life better for the people they represent in the locality. Deputy Gogarty spoke very cynically about local councillors. He was a councillor with me on South Dublin County Council and he achieved things on that council, as I did.
Very positive work is carried out by local authorities such as South Dublin County Council. They are trying to deal with unemployment by setting up local jobs task forces, devising campaigns to encourage people to buy in local businesses and housing Travellers. There are often campaigns against Traveller accommodation but councillors are doing the right thing. The Adamstown strategic development zone was adopted by South Dublin County Council when Deputy Gogarty and I were on that council. It was a major step forward in planning local towns.
We need to stop doing ourselves down and doing down the value of the work that is done by representatives and institutions. It is a general issue. I read an article by Conor Brady in The Irish Times yesterday. At last, somebody has said we have a relatively stable political democracy and stable institutions in this country. We take that fact for granted at our peril. We have come out of a civil war, solved another war on the island and many positive things have been delivered by our politics and our elected representatives over the years. We have not had a fascist party rise to prominence or a fascist dictator in power. We must think about that and the direction in which we are headed. This Bill is about more centralisation; it is about one figure who is supposed to be benign and wonderful, a messiah for the future. I have my doubts about that type of approach.
Many questions have been raised about the Bill. The Dublin Regional Authority has raised many practical questions that will have to be examined on Committee Stage. What will happen to the existing staff of the regional authority? The mayor can appoint five staff members. I believe that could be patronage or cronyism. It could be totally anti-democratic. Would they constitute a cabinet and where would that leave the other members of the Dublin Regional Authority? The Bill leaves out lots of the current responsibilities. The Dublin Regional Authority has outlined that and I am sure the Minister has a copy of its comments.
The Bill is a damp squib. The powers are very weak and the functions do not seem to be different from what is already in place. However, the mayor would have some very draconian powers. For at least a year before the end of the mayor's term, if he or she vacates the office the Minister can appoint a mayor without holding an election. That is neither right nor democratic but the very opposite.
The mayor will be able to make directions to transfer property from one local authority area to another and, as far as I can see, will have great powers in regard to the regional panelling guidelines, even if he or she disagrees with other local authorities or those on the Dublin Regional Authority. There are serious problems. If this is so urgent why is it not urgent to the Green Party? We are all elected on an equal basis. We were founded in 1922 and every person in this country gets to hold us all accountable and vote for us. It is not important to the Government that the four vacant seats in this House are filled yet this Bill is being given priority.
I listened to the previous speakers. I am sorry I do not agree with my colleague, Deputy Broughan, who gave a very impassioned speech and warmed to the subject. We agree on many things but I would be more inclined to agree with Deputy Tuffy. This Bill is a sham and a distraction brought into the House at this time to distract people from other issues and direct them to something which they can say is wonderful and could be good for the country. It is another tier of administration and expense for the poor unfortunate people of the country at a time when they cannot afford extra costs.
Since I came into the House every reform I have seen has resulted in less of what was wanted by the people or desirable. For example, the City and County Management Act and the Local Government Act were the relevant Acts, but lo and behold we began to say they were no longer relevant and fit for purpose and would have to be changed. The better local government initiative was introduced by a Minister on the other side of the House who is still here. It became an appalling disaster and excuse for democracy and accountability and means absolutely nothing.
Members of the Oireachtas are virtually barred from having any meaningful dialogue with officials in local authorities despite the fact that two Ministers gave firm undertakings in this House that there would be no change, exclusion and lack of accountability. There has been an appalling abdication of responsibilities and an attempt is being made to do nothing other than pretend something new is coming down the tracks which is beneficial to the people.
Deputy Tuffy referred to centralisation and she was absolutely right. The whole idea nowadays is to centralise everything and have power in the hands of one person who of course has to be an expert and will call on other experts. The attitude of some people seems to be: "To hell with that old thing called democracy; it does not make any difference any more. What you need is a real hitman that will do the job in the way that it should have been done." They are wrong, have been proved wrong many times in the past and will be proved wrong again.
Other speakers mentioned the cost of the current administration. I have examined the Bill and listened to the proposals. There is an amazing dearth of Green Party Members, who are the natural fathers of this Bill, in the House. I cannot understand it. I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State; he would not have put forward the proposal. I thought the Green Party would be represented in the House for the duration of the debate since the Bill comes from its stable.
I wonder how waste management and disposal would operate in the new mayoralty which would have control over the whole region. Would it be the case that one could not have waste disposal procedures within the new territory of the mayoralty? I presume it would be the same as the current proposals. I am not in favour of incineration, however it is remarkable that it is totally barred in the city but there is nothing wrong with it being transported to country to us poor rural folk and dealt with it in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Bog of Allen. It is a crazy idea.
Incineration has the greater potential to do irreversible environmental damage. That is an important question. What is the current position? Will it be the same or will the sponsoring Minister say we will take responsibility for this ourselves and look after our own from here on? Will we be open and decide that we will treat all of the people equally?
It is true that modernisation of legislation is required from time to time. Like Deputy Tuffy, I would be of the opinion that a lot of improvements need to be carried out on so-called better local government legislation. We need to go back to the old ways. I listened to a group of experts recently at a meeting in Brussels which a senior major player on the scene addressed. The heavy hitters in the worlds of business, academic, journalism and high finance were all there. The conclusion was that the whole economic crisis which has befallen the globe came about because the old ways did not work and new ways had to be found. Some of the new ways they suggested smacked of old ways which had failed dramatically in the past.
For example, they said that people had lost confidence in the political system. It is a dangerous comment which one should always think about. What happens when the people lost confidence in the political system in the past? We had a serious war. A man decided to respond to the meeting and said: "Messieurs, you are all wrong. There were ways that were true and tried and tested but they are ignored and you introduced new methodology that failed, only now you know." It was interesting. Let us be very careful about what we do about this Bill.
This legislation has the potential to put another huge burden on the backs of the people in the city of Dublin and the local authorities which are already in existence and become powerful, unwieldy, unwilling to change or unwilling to bow to anybody's democratic view. It is a very serious mistake, in particular at this moment in time, to introduce a Bill on the basis that it will reform or improve the existing system because it will not. That is not its intention.