Wednesday, 23 November 2016
Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members]
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
We had a debate last night and in some ways this is a continuation of that debate and I want to use it, if I can, to explain some of the substance of the Bill. Some of the issues that are highlighted here could be the subject of the wider debate and the consultation process that we expect to happen in the next six months in advance of a Bill, hopefully this one, finally being agreed.
I will begin by looking at the structures and then set out the responsibilities. Deputy Catherine Martin will set the wider scene. The Title of the Bill is the Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill. We seek to have a mayor of Dublin not a lord mayor. It is a small detail but it is appropriate to have a mayor of Dublin in the same way as there is a mayor of New York and London. We do not need to attach the title “lord” to it. Whether Dublin City Council continues to use that title in its own mayoral office is a matter for the council. It is a mayor for all the people and that is the title whoever would win the office would have.
Most Members present yesterday seemed to broadly agree with the concept of having a mayor and from what I heard in the contributions, most would agree with the structure we have put in place in that we are not seeking to dismantle the existing four council structure in Dublin. We seek to use the structure and, as Deputy Lahart said yesterday, bring them together to co-operate rather than just compete with each other. We propose to set up a regional authority for Dublin composed of the cathaoirleach of each local authority, the lord mayor from Dublin City Council and 11 other members who would make up a regional authority of 15 members who would work with the elected mayor in terms of the overall management of the city, providing co-ordination and the various responsibilities we want to give this office.
Some might argue that perhaps there should be greater or less representation or that the structure should be different. I would be interested to hear ideas. The Bill is easily amended to provide for variations. I believe a team of 15 is about right. Most of us who work in politics recognise that if one goes much beyond that in size one gets a different breaking down of groups and it does not work as easily in meetings. There is a reason we have a Cabinet of 15 in the Executive. I think it is the appropriate number and it allows representation from the councils, including their cathaoirligh, to provide the connection and co-ordination which is what we seek.
The other advantage of this way of introducing the mayoral office and the regional authority is that we believe it could be done without putting an additional burden on the taxpayer. We all know that one cannot present an Opposition Bill which has major financial implications for the State. The structure we set out in the Bill does not do that and that is the reason we are able to present the Bill. The Bill provides a staff of six to work in the office and a chief executive officer to work with the directly-elected mayor and it allows for the possibility of bringing in additional services and staff but the process involves using the existing administrative resources in the Dublin local authority system in order to cover the costs. The answer to the question of whether we are not just creating another layer of bureaucracy and adding huge additional costs is “no”.
I wish to highlight four areas where we believe a directly-elected mayor could have real responsibility. First, the Bill allows for the establishment of a greater Dublin transport authority, which would work in conjunction with the National Transport Authority to provide strategic oversight in terms of the regional planning of transport within the city. Any Dubliner knows we face a real crisis in the city. We can see it with traffic volumes growing by at least 5% or 6% per annum with major transport infrastructure, such as the M50, now gridlocking and no prospect of providing additional capacity on the road network. We failed to deliver significant public transport projects in time and there has been a lack of funding by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, or any attention from him to the immediate need we have for investment in bus, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. There is a clear need to have an office that has real power to pull the various agencies together and to get them working in a co-ordinated way.
From a previous existence as a cycling campaigner working in the Dublin Transportation Office, my experience is that what hindered progress in terms of transport planning in the city was the lack of co-ordination, agency rivalry and fighting between Dublin Bus, the then Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, and the various councils. A co-ordinating body in transport is needed and someone who is responsible for that to make sure people do work together, think long term and deliver the sort of connected transport thinking in the city that has not been the case in my lifetime and is not the case currently.
The second area of responsibility in which we wish to give real power to the mayor is in the area of housing. The critical powers the mayor would have are in the setting and development of a regional spatial plan for the city. The mayor would have a power of direction over the four councils, which is essential so that they do not repeat what happened previously, namely, competition between the four local authorities for rates and development levies which did not provide for the co-ordinated development of the city. Such a power, which we provide for in the Bill, is badly needed.
There was an unintended consequence from an initial good idea in that when it was decided to deal with extreme poverty in the city centre it was decided to clear the slums that existed in Dublin in the early part of the 20th century and we started to move the city out. The unintended consequence is that we never stopped. Dublin continues to spread further and further out, whereby we are creating a doughnut city. That type of sprawl can no longer occur. We must start bringing life back into the centre of the city because if we do not the transport system will not work. Another factor is that quality of life will disimprove because people will have such long commutes that they will spend most of their time either on a train or in a car rather than spending time with their family or at work. Housing is the second key area in which a mayor can take the initiative and bring housing back into the centre, combined with a high quality environment, which is what people are looking for now as we move back into city centres.
The third area of responsibility for a directly-elected mayor is waste. Anyone who has been involved on Dublin City Council in particular would welcome that. In recent years we have seen that the power has been vested in an unaccountable management which completed ignored the wishes expressed by democratically elected members of the city council over the past 15 to 20 years. As a result, we have ended up with a very large incinerator in the centre of the city which is out of date and does not serve us well. We want to give the mayor power rather than the managers having power over the waste system, which is what exists at present with no accountability either to this House or to any of the councils.
Perhaps most importantly, we set out in the Bill the need for the establishment of a regional development board which would take into account not just the Cathaoirligh of the four councils but also representatives from the city from the economic community, development agencies, trade unions and those from an environmental and arts and cultural background so that we start pushing economic and cultural development of our city in a co-ordinated way. We are already good at this as a city. We are a successful city. There is no doubt that Dublin has prospered in the past 20 or 30 years because we have a strong sense of cultural identity and have developed a tech industry, a financial services industry and a very significant tourism industry but everyone who works in those industries will recognise that an opportunity has been missed to really hone and get the development of the city right by having a clear vision around what sort of digital, cultural and enterprise strategies we want to promote.
I was involved in Dublin's bid to become European City of Culture, which was won by Galway - fair play to it. I thought it was a disgrace that Dublin did not qualify for the final round. I do not understand how that came to pass because the work that was being done on the bid was exemplary. The reason it was exemplary and why the city council was doing a really good job was because it was bottom up. It engaged the citizens. It was not top down. That sort of approach is the one we want to apply with our Bill. Yes, we want to give the mayor powers but we want to do so to give the people of Dublin the power to be able to see and set out the development of our city and to have someone they can call to and hold to account if this is not happening. That is what this extensive Bill allows for.
Is cúis áthais dom é an Bille seo a thabhairt os comhair an Tí uasail seo inniu. Is é sin go mbeadh toghchán i gceist le haghaidh ról Ard-Mhéara na cathrach seo, príomhchathair na hÉireann. Léiríonn an Bille seo freisin na cumhachtaí a bheadh ag an Ard-Mhéara agus na hearnálacha agus grúpaí lena mbeadh sé nó sí ag obair. Is léir don phobal le blianta beaga anuas go bhfuil forbairt as cuimse tar éis teacht ar chathracha na tíre, ach go háirithe ar an bpríomhchathair, Baile Átha Cliath. Caithfear ceannaireacht chuí a bheith ar fáil do Bhaile Átha Cliath chun freastal ar an réimse leathan fadhbanna atá le sárú againn sa phríomhchathair, mar shampla, cúrsaí tithíochta, cúrsaí tráchta agus daoine gan dídean, dar ndóigh.
Níl ról an Ard-Mhéara in oiriúint don phobal a thuilleadh maidir le riachtanais mhuintir na cathrach seo. Conas gur féidir le hArd-Mhéara ar bith aon dul chun cinn fad-téarmach a chur i gcrích más rud é nach bhfuil sa téarma ach bliain amháin agus gan aon chumhacht acu difríocht dhearfach a dhéanamh? Tá sé criticiúil go mbeadh an deis ag Ard-Mhéara fís spreagúil a léiriú agus go dtabharfaí tréimhse chuí agus cumhacht don duine sin tionscnamh substainteach a stiúradh. Táimid ag caint faoi ról ceannródaíochta anseo. Agus cá bhfios, leis an duine ceart tofa, an méid forbairt a bheadh le feiceáil le ceannaireacht chróga chumasach? Seans go mbeadh Gaillimh, Luimneach, Port Láirge agus Corcaigh in ann a mhacasamhail a dhéanamh in am trátha sa todhchaí.
For many years, a long-standing policy position of the Green Party has been the need for and the clear benefits of a directly elected mayor for all major cities in Ireland starting with Dublin. A directly elected mayor freed from party politics and the grip of senior council officials can deliver for Dublin. Council officials have a role to play but it should not be the lead role as they have no democratic mandate and, therefore, are in no way truly accountable to the people. We need one elected individual - a readily identifiable and recognisable individual who will be the face of Dublin. We want to put a "face to a place".
This is a simple and easy way to deliver political accountability. It involves a person who will represent all of Dublin both at home and on the international stage and stand up for Dublin - a person whose sole job is to put his or her citizens first and be the focal point to drive the development and progress of the city, support its people, look out for opportunities, protect the city and its citizens against challenges and steward this city towards a long-term sustainable vision. A directly elected mayor should be a visionary leader, an ambassador who can lead their city, attracting long-term and sustainable investment and jobs. There is no reason we cannot have a mayor for Dublin followed by a mayor for Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford, Kilkenny. However, it makes sense to start with Dublin where a directly elected mayor would have a mandate from over a quarter of the State's population.
The C40 global initiative is led by mayors from over 40 world cities who are developing strategies for how each of their cities can lead the way in preventing and staving off the negative consequences of climate change. A huge number of European cities are at the table but, unfortunately, Dublin is not. Dublin is not competing with Limerick, Cork, Galway, Kilkenny or Waterford. It is competing with London, Hamburg, Warsaw and Barcelona. We need to find new ways to make Dublin and our cities places that are attractive to invest in and more satisfying for people to live in. We need to be pioneering different and innovative approaches for our cities, all built around the challenges we face.
If we look to the UK, we see that Manchester is focusing on the promotion of business creation. Sunderland is the first English city to use cloud technology to offer broadband service everywhere. Leeds has developed the concept of "civic enterprise" that mobilises public assets in partnership with the private and voluntary sectors to create innovative responses to public need, for example, the need for sustainable energy. Bristol is working to create a new social model which will enable its citizens and social institutions to create a non-state vehicle for social investment.
It is no coincidence that cities that seem to be adapting to social and technological change are cities like Chicago that are led by strong mayors like Rahm Emmanuel. Much can be learned from cities like Chicago and New York, not just about policy but also about leadership. It is striking how mayors like Michael Bloomberg and Rahm Emmanuel embody their cities without getting trapped in parochialism. They have an outward-looking, entrepreneurial focus that makes them ambitious for their cities, as well as being attuned to what makes their places special. For example the transformation of New York's Times Square has had a hugely positive impact way beyond Manhattan and shows what can be done.
We cannot change mayors every 12 months and expect coherent and effective leadership. Some longevity and continuity is vital. Sticking with the current annual ritual where political horse trading decides who gets to wear the ceremonial mayoral chain for the following year does not serve the best interest of the citizens. Our cities need real, transparent and accountable leadership and that means the office of mayor cannot remain a ceremonial role. The new role must have day-to-day executive powers and be given some real input into improving the quality of daily life of Dubliners. It needs to be not only their unified voice expressing their concerns but be empowered to resolve for example the escalating transport and safety challenges that cyclists, motorists and pedestrians face, to promote Dublin tourism on the world stage and to foster and promote the arts and literature. Dublin is uniquely placed to do much more to utilise its world renowned standing in the world of arts and literature. It is time we got the development of urban Ireland right and directly elected women and men with the vision to take on that task.
We want to give every Dubliner a vote in 2019 for a directly elected mayor. We must allow Dubliners to take greater ownership of their city, entrust the people of Dublin and give them a real say and ensure all avenues to have a better Dublin will always be fully explored and utilised. This is a real opportunity to do that. The idea of having a directly elected mayor has been talked about and investigated for almost 20 years. In those years it has received the support of many political parties and Independents. It is time for action.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:the Bill be deemed to be read a Second Time on 30 June 2017 to allow for consideration of the Bill in the context of implementation of the commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government to consider directly elected mayors in cities as part of wider potential local government reform measures and consideration of the Local Government Reform (Amendment) (Directly Elected Mayor of Dublin) Bill 2016. The programme provides that, having consulted widely with all relevant stakeholders, the Minister will, by mid-2017, prepare a report on such measures for the Government and the Oireachtas.
We are again talking about mayors. I think I outlined last night why it was both appropriate and necessary, if Dublin was to fulfil its potential, to look at providing for an office that could play a co-ordinating and a much more focused and outward-looking leadership role for the city. I am happy to work towards this. I believe Deputy John Lahart and Green Party Members, as can be seen this evening, are also working towards it.
I am pleased to participate in the debate as it provides another opportunity to take forward our discussions on local government reform in the Dublin region. The debate last night was marked by a good spirit of co-operation on all sides of the House and I look forward to this continuing as we work through the important issues involved. As the House is aware, the discussions last night were on the separate Private Members' Bill from Fianna Fáil that also concerned having a directly elected mayor for Dublin. However, the provisions of the Fianna Fáil Bill and the Bill before the House take a very different approach. While last night we were discussing a process leading to a plebiscite and a decision, the Green Party Bill proposes the establishment of a mayoral office. I understand and appreciate the intention of the Bill which seeks to provide for improved co-ordination and leadership at local government level across the Dublin region by legislating for the formal establishment of a directly elected mayor with conferred functions across a range of policy areas.
The Bill also provides for the establishment of a Dublin regional authority, as well as a Dublin regional development board and a greater Dublin area transport council, to work with the directly elected mayor in administering the conferred functions. The Bill envisages the mayor, the regional authority and other bodies taking over specific responsibilities in the areas of land use, waste management, transport and housing services planning. The specific land use functions proposed in the Bill do not take into account the fact that, under Part 10 of the Local Government Reform Act 2014, the task of preparing regional planning guidelines has been assigned to the new regional assemblies in the form of new regional spatial and economic strategies. In the case of the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly, this covers a much larger geographical area than that envisaged in the Green Party Bill. Similarly, since 2013, waste management planning has been aligned with the larger eastern and midlands area and is a function of the executives, rather than elected members, of local authorities. The transfer of such powers to a Dublin mayor would be at variance with the approach taken in the rest of the country. I am not saying it is not workable, but we need to be cognisant of it.
On transport, the Bill emphasises the role of the proposed mayor and a proposed Dublin transport council in certain statutory functions of the National Transport Authority, but it lacks clarity as regards resolving the issue of how to address satisfactorily the accountability of the NTA in the wider greater Dublin area in the preparation and implementation of a transport strategy to cover the four administrative counties of Dublin and also the counties of Meath, Kildare and Wicklow which are all intertwined from a transport policy perspective, given the number of people who work in Dublin and live in these counties.
The Bill does not fully take into account reform measures introduced by the previous Government such as the replacement of eight regional authorities by three regional assemblies in 2014.
As regards structures and governance, it is not entirely clear how the mayor would relate to and work with the four Dublin local authorities.
All of these points reflect issues with the Bill, as it stands, and explain the difficulties we on this side of the House see with it at this point. They are not necessarily fatal to the Bill, but they mean that a lot of work needs to be done with its provisions before it could be considered a workable model for a directly elected mayor.
The Bill, in particular, needs to be considered in the context of the commitment in the programme for Government which provides for a necessary period of preparation and a consultation process before a report on local government reform measures such as directly elected mayors and devolution of powers is presented to the Houses for informed consideration by the middle of next year. A Programme for a Partnership Government sets out a number of commitments regarding what the programme terms "the next wave of local government reform". This involves a report to the Government and the Oireachtas by mid-2017 on potential measures to boost local government leadership and accountability and to ensure local government structures and responsibilities strengthen local democracy. The programme also references some specific issues to be considered, including directly elected mayors. My Department has commenced work on foot of the programme commitment, with the aim of building on the measures included in the Local Government Reform Act 2014. Decisions will be a matter for the Government and the Oireachtas, as appropriate, following consideration of the report.
Particular attention will be given by my Department in the coming months to measures to enhance leadership and accountability in local government, including directly elected mayors; action to widen and strengthen the role of local government, particularly through devolution of functions from central to local level; and measures to reinforce the effectiveness of the 2014 reforms to the local government system such as the new municipal district structures in the light of a recent operational review and consideration of issues around establishment of town councils. The aim should be to have a broad, inclusive consultation process that allows robust proposals to be brought before the Houses for consideration within the framework of the commitments set out in the programme for Government. In this context, the Government is open to considering all workable proposals that will contribute to the process. Key stakeholders from the business, retail and tourism sectors should also have the opportunity to provide input, as well as the general public. To proceed without such consultation increases the risk of legislative anomalies and unintended consequences.
While my initial reaction to the Green Party Bill was that we would have to oppose it on Second Stage for the reasons I have set out, in the light of the good spirit of co-operation on all sides of the House on the matter and also because we probably want a very similar outcome, I am happy to put forward an amendment to give a Second Reading to the Bill on 30 June 2017 to allow for its consideration in the context of implementation of the relevant commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government and consideration of the Fianna Fáil Bill to which we committed last night. From my perspective, we are serious about doing this. I am conscious that there are many challenges in my Department, including housing, water, planning and local government issues and so on. However, this is a real tangible issue on which we can make significant progress relatively quickly. It is really encouraging that other political parties clearly want to do the same. By the middle of next year, if not earlier, we will have practical solutions to some of the issues raised during the debate. I will do what I can, using the resources available in my Department to facilitate that process. I would like to work with others to try to get it right.
As the Minister has said, we are here again with thanks to Deputies Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin. The Minister has spoken on some of the governmental and legislative framework contained in the Bill. I want to talk about some of the political elements. I suspect it is a reflection of his time on the city council but Deputy Ryan referred to the "city". Coming from Dublin City Council I would say that we have to avoid the exclusive use of the term "city" as used multiple times by Deputy Ryan. It excludes a whole raft of the population in Dublin. It was accidental and not deliberate but it was the language used.
I did not want to speak last night about the Bill being proposed by the Green Party when I spoke about my own party's proposals, but the Bill has some political shortcomings that would make it quite difficult to sell to people on the street. It starts in the early part of the Bill. The Deputy made the point last night about there being almost 150 pages in the Bill. I have read the Bill through, twice. I have read it from the perspective of being a good Dubliner who has an interest in this issue, as I know Deputy Ryan does and has done for a long time. More than 100 pages of the Bill are legal framework. At the outset the impression is that the Bill is 150 pages of ideas and solutions. It is not. There is a lot of legal framework, as is necessary with any Bill, but it is very short on hard, heavy functions. During the debate last night, reference was made to mayoral strategy. The Bill says that "The Mayor shall, after consultation with such public authorities or other persons as he or she considers appropriate, prepare a statement ... not later than 6 months after his or her election to the office of Mayor." That would be a strategy statement. I believe that Dubliners would expect more than that. As a Dubliner I would like to have such a statement before I cast my vote. I do not want to vote for someone who is telling me that if he or she gets as far as being mayor they would have a strategy statement within six months. This is a fundamental weakness in the Bill. The Bill also says that "The Mayor shall submit a draft of a strategy statement to the members of the Authority ... not later than 4 months after his or her having been elected Mayor." Again, I believe that the offices, functions and executive powers of the mayor should be well in place so that people have a very good idea of what a mayor would set about doing.
When we talk about the role of the deputy mayor, and I understand that these things can be amended, London discovered very quickly that it needed a night-time mayor. There have been arguments made by Dublin traders and business and community interests that Dublin needs a political voice in charge of evening life in Dublin. I believe that should form an essential part of any contribution to the Bill.
I do not believe that membership of the proposed authority is representative enough. Again, this can be open to amendment, but I keep finding issues that would have to be amended. If a previous Minister, Phil Hogan, had not expanded the four Dublin local authorities, particularly the three regional authorities, to 40 members each, then perhaps a regional assembly with two or three members from each county might have been workable. As Deputy Ó Broin will know, there are five electoral local area committees in our administrative county. Each of them would expect to be represented on a regional assembly to make it truly democratic. The objectives of the proposed authority are quite vague in a Bill that is so substantial. The language around the general functions of the authority talks about carrying out of reviews, the promotion of co-operation and the promotion of enterprise and innovation. This is vague and could be far more specific. The Bill also talks of requesting things of the local authorities. If one talks of a mayor directing the four local authorities I suspect this may present a legal issue because currently, as Members know, the only persons who can direct a local authority are its members. Even on the reserve functions the chief executive officer in most of the local authorities will only take directions from the members.
The Minister made reference to the content of the Bill with regard to the housing authority. I agree, but time has moved on since this Bill was drafted, when housing was not such a crisis. Certainly, if I was a voter in Dublin and the plebiscite had passed and the Bill was passed, come election day I would like to know that there is a body over which the mayor has considerable powers, answerable to an assembly. Here there is a plan for an agency - chaired by the mayor - to tackle housing and homelessness in Dublin, and that the mayor is responsible for ensuring the agency executes it powers and its functions.
The language used in the Bill on the greater Dublin area transport council refers to such matters as the council shall monitor, shall make recommendations and shall consider the recommendations. We, however, are concerned here with a mayor with executive powers, as with the mayors of London and other cities and towns, as Deputy Martin rightly pointed out. When we point to the challenges facing this city such as traffic congestion, housing and homelessness then someone with a lot of courage and a lot of steel is, I hope, the kind of person the Dublin electorate deserves. Some would argue that it may not be the individual that Dublin people will get. The elected mayor is going to have to make executive decisions. I am not proposing this measure, but one of the things that Ken Livingstone did as mayor was to introduce a congestion charge in London, and while a lot of planning had been done on it, he had the power to execute that decision.
I was a councillor for 17 years and Deputy Eamon Ryan spoke about councillors and the responsibility for waste management being taken from them. My memory of that period was that many councillors did not want to exercise that power with regard to difficult, political areas. I hope a mayor will be different in his or her five year term, if we are looking at that type of term. Dubliners want an individual who will make those difficult decisions, some of which may be very unpopular but necessary, if taken fairly. Ken Livingstone's decision was well executed because it was well planned, it was not clumsy and it was not done overnight. Ameliorative measures had been put in place to ensure that it worked well.
With regard to the proposed Dublin regional development board for economic development, I agree that it would be great if we got to a point where the Dublin local authorities were not competing with each other for foreign direct investment - as Deputy Curran spoke about in last night's debate on this Bill - and if they specialised in different regions of the county. Parts of county might become identified as the pharma base, the tech base or as being strong in the food area and so on. We are way behind a lot of other cities and capital cities in that respect.
I say these things as constructive criticism but I have reservations about the capacity of the Bill to deliver what is necessary. I believe it is over prescriptive and outdated in parts. Most of the proposals in the Bill focus on the period following the election of a mayor. One of the purposes of the public consultation phase is to enable all stakeholders to have a say, from the chambers of commerce, IBEC, drugs task forces and immigrant communities. Immigrants can vote in local elections and there is a big immigrant community in Dublin, yet this Bill does not speak to it at all. That would not have been the case previously with minorities. Those immigrants all have a vote.
Since the debate last night people have been on to me saying that nothing was mentioned about the Irish language in Dublin.
These are all issues that will come back from the public consultation phase. For me, what Deputy Eamon Ryan has proposed is a cathaoirleach of a regional assembly. This is what I have pictured in my head, as opposed to someone who can make things happen. I could not see particular executive powers in the Bill screaming out at me and I was looking for them. A lot of power resides in the assembly. While I agree a mayor has to be accountable and constrained, he or she also must have the ability to make particular decisions.
I mentioned areas such as the arts and culture, but there is no mention of policing, smart city and climate change functions. If the electorate is to be won over, it needs to be able to identify that the mayor will have responsibility for specifics in advance of electing him or her, not after the election. The electorate will want to know the relationship the mayor will have with the bodies or organisations which will carry out these functions on his or her behalf. The Bill has the ability to feed into this process, but it is full of gaps and deficits. As the Minister pointed out, we are all part of one conversation, which I accept, with the greater and best interests of Dubliners and Dublin at heart.
I made the point yesterday evening that we had a unique opportunity because there was a minority Government. In different circumstances a Minister in a majority Government could push his or her ideas on a directly elected mayor and a regional assembly through Parliament like a coach and four. The Minister will go to his or her officials who have all of the expertise at their disposal. They also have the authority to call in the agencies to engage in consultation with all stakeholders to ensure the ideas and proposals they bring back can be proposed and amended by Members of the House in order that the eventual offering put to the people of Dublin will be one which has been agreed to by the House.
We are debating the Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill 2016. Yesterday we debated the Local Government (Amendment) (Directly Elected Mayor of Dublin) Bill 2016 which was proposed by my colleague, Deputy John Lahart. I understand agreement has been reached to defer the vote on Second Stage of both Bills until June next year to allow further consideration by the Government of the proposals made and measures proposed. I agree with this. The citizens of Dublin will need to know the details of how a directly elected mayor would operate before voting on the principle of having such an office.
I had the honour of being Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1989 to 1990. It was a very exciting time for Dublin. We had had the Dublin millennium celebrations in 1988 and were preparing for Dublin to become a European city of culture in 1991. We also held the Presidency of the European Council. There is no doubt that the functions of the Lord Mayor of Dublin are largely ceremonial, but I would not underestimate the huge amount of goodwill there is from the citizens of Dublin for the office of Lord Mayor. The Lord Mayor of Dublin, whoever he or she is, is highly respected, despite the political cynicism of our age in communities. This is something we should not forget and something we should harness in the interests of the Dublin region as a whole. That said, the system of local government in Dublin city, of which I was a member for many years, is not working. Dublin City Council is simply too big. It has 63 members and is very fragmented politically. It has very limited powers. It is almost impossible to get anything done or any decision of any significance made. Meanwhile, the problems in housing, transport and planning, in particula,r continue to get worse. We have outlined these problems in great detail in the debate.
I believe in balanced regional development in the interests of the country as a whole, but I also believe Dublin can be the engine of the national economy and that if it does better, the national economy will also do better, provided the necessary measures are taken to ensure the benefits of economic growth are spread throughout the country. Approximately one third of the workforce is concentrated in the Dublin region, while more than 40% of Ireland's GDP is generated in Dublin. I believe, therefore, in the principle of having a directly elected mayor, but the role and functions of such an office will have to be clearly spelled out in advance of any plebiscite taking place. Above everything else, there should be no duplication, no waste and no excessive bureaucracy created. We have experience of the establishment of Irish Water and the HSE which has left a sour taste for all of us. Citizens will need to be assured the office is necessary and that scarce resources will not be squandered. It will also have to be clearly spelled out in advance what will happen with the existing mayors and councillors throughout the region and how they would be accommodated in any new reformed structure. The message is clear: no waste, no duplication, no unnecessary bureaucracy and, above all, no exorbitant salaries. These are what the citizens will be watching for when they are asked to vote on the proposals.
We will also have to trust citizens to elect the right person, a person with the necessary skills to do the job. I trust them to do this. We live in a democracy and I believe the people are very attuned to the needs of politics. We hope, therefore, some celebrity candidate without the necessary skills will not come forward, or a household name to whom people might initially be attracted but who might not have the skills to do the job. The people of the United States have just elected Donald Trump as President-elect. He has never held political office and we will have to see how it works out. The person who ultimately becomes the directly elected mayor will have to have a vision, be creative, have a strong personality and the political skills to do the job. I trust citizens to do this. I must do so as a democrat, but it is something of which we need to be conscious.
A directly accountable Dublin mayor with executive powers could improve the quality of life of all those who live in the capital, given that many of the most pressing policy challenges in areas such as transport, housing and planning are most acute in Dublin. A directly elected mayor with the capacity to make and allocate resources would enhance our ability to respond to these challenges. Therefore, it is to be hoped a directly elected mayor would contribute to efforts to tackle key strategic challenges and the promotion of continued economic development in the capital.
A directly elected mayor with executive powers would give a greater democratic mandate to decisions which shape the future strategic development of Dublin. Having one mandate from the citizens of Dublin, a directly elected mayor would be in a position to drive the development of the city. Most importantly of all, a directly elected mayor could also help to raise the profile of Dublin at an international level, given the increasingly competitive climate for foreign direct investment. In this regard, international investors would deal with one decision-making body for the city when considering to invest rather than having to deal with a multiplicity of agencies. A directly elected mayor equipped with additional powers would allow for clear political leadership at local government level. This would provide clarity for citizens as to who exactly was responsible for many of the key decisions which shaped the development of the Dublin region and the functions of local government more generally.
I thank the Green Party for bringing forward its Bill and Deputy Lahart for bringing forward his. There is great substance and some great ideas in both and I welcome the fact that the Minister will consult with a view to bringing forward measures for further consideration next year.
As I said last night, Sinn Féin has long supported the idea of a directly elected mayor but it does so in the context of local government reform. A purely symbolic position of mayor is of very little value, in and of itself, to the citizens of Dublin or anywhere else. I share the views of other speakers that we need a mayoral office with real executive powers, which give added value to the operation of political institutions. I am also strongly of the view that those powers should be devolved downwards and that we should see no loss of powers, resources or functions in the existing structures of local government, which are too weak as it is. Our vision for a mayor for Dublin, or anywhere else, is one where powers would be devolved down from Central Government Departments or Government-funded State agencies. The merit of that approach is that not only do we devolve power closer to citizens and their elected representatives, we also bring staff and budgets with it and, in the initial stages, we would be able to craft a proposition which was relatively cost-neutral to the Exchequer.
The smart thing would be to start with a limited number of powers and very clearly defined roles and responsibilities. The value of that is that it would allow the holder of the office of mayor to demonstrate their ability to deliver improved quality services for the citizens of the city and county and to win public confidence from that point on. The powers Sinn Féin would like for a mayor of Dublin would cover public transport, major roads, tourism and waste management. I take the point the Minister made on this last matter but I believe this is actually one of the attractive things about incorporating waste management into the role, notwithstanding the difficulties. Sinn Féin has also outlined proposals for an assembly not dissimilar to what is outlined today. We like the idea of a plebiscite, or a referendum, as it would engage the public and enable them to become part of the conversation and because, if and when the office was established, it would then have clear public legitimacy to support it.
I have some reflections on the so-called consultation that many of us were involved as councillors in Phil Hogan's period as Minister. We attended a lot of cross-council meetings and we found that, in the absence of propositions over the actual functions, we really did not know what we were discussing. In that context there is merit in Deputy Lahart's suggestion of having a public consultation and I supported this last night.
We must not undersell our existing local councils as many of the things Deputies Catherine Martin and Eamon Ryan spoke of were things mayors, chairs and councillors in the existing local authorities are doing to the best of their abilities. Part of the difficulty is that they do not have the power or resources to carry them onto the next level. Significant co-ordination takes place in Dublin in housing and homelessness under the auspices of the Dublin region homeless executive. While there are problems and limitations we should not undersell the value of the local authorities we have.
Sinn Féin is happy to support the Bill though I share many of the Minister's and Deputy Lahart's views on the details of the Bill. These are things we can tease out as we proceed with the consultation, outlined by the Minister as part of the programme for Government commitments, and on Committee Stage in the future. I was less convinced by the case for the Government amendment made yesterday by the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Damien English, but, having listened to the way the Minister outlined it tonight, I feel it is a very good suggestion to put it into overall Government reform and I am more than happy to support it.
On the specifics of the Green Party Bill, I feel there is too much on strategy and co-ordination and not enough about actual delivery. The Bill is about an office which seeks to co-ordinate the activities of existing players in the field, rather than giving the office real powers to oversee the actual delivery of key services, and Sinn Féin differs from the Green Party in respect of this approach. We also have suggestions which would change the nature of the assembly. While Dublin city is numerically larger in terms of population, the assembly would need to be proportionate to ensure all four local authorities felt adequately represented. In the area of transport, co-ordination is not enough and one clearly needs service delivery. I am not sure much added value would come from the office of mayor to the area of housing as it is something local authorities can and should do very well. There is a lot of sense in the proposals regarding regional planning guidelines and one of the merits of giving responsibility for that to the mayor of Dublin would be to reverse some of the many negative impacts of waste policy for the citizens of Dublin. The Bill has too much around developing plans, strategy and co-ordination and, while I am not against those things, it needs to be more ambitious. I would also like to see more defined powers. As we progressed with that and the public gained confidence and trust in the office, those powers could then increase through a process of rolling devolution.
I welcome the tone of the debate, both yesterday and today, and I think there is enough consensus that, during the Minister-led consultation and on Committee Stage, we can put together a proposition that can translate into putting the proposal into practice. We have, however, been discussing this for a very long time and I do not mean yesterday and today, nor since Phil Hogan's consultation. It is an issue to which we come back again and again and now is the time to show cross-party leadership to bring forward legislation, in the timeline outlined by the Minister, so that we can work with the city and council of Dublin to put in place an office of mayor that gives real added value to the citizens of the city and county and show that having a single point of contact in a number of key areas of public service delivery and co-ordination can make a difference to people's lives. If we can do that it will be a job well done and people will thank us for it and welcome the idea of the office taking on more powers in the future. I support the Bill and the Minister's amendment.
I also welcome the opportunity to come back to this issue. We had a wide-ranging debate last night on the Fianna Fáil Bill, while tonight we are speaking on the Green Party Bill. I addressed both last night and said there were good elements in both. I would like to see a comprehensive proposal and the Minister's point about widespread consultation fits into that scenario. I support the idea of a plebiscite in the Fianna Fáil legislation but the Green Party has given us a good deal of content to help us consider what, specifically, the functions of the directly elected mayor should be. It is really important that we get clarity on these functions and on the hierarchy of decision making because otherwise we will get confusion and a lot of structures but not many new initiatives or ideas and not much on what is best for Dublin overall, as opposed to its different bits. For example, we need clarity on what the responsibility would be for transportation planning and for the infrastructure around waste. We need a sense of the overall aims and objectives in those areas. If there is a clear function for the mayor and the other structures under the hierarchy we will get a sense of direction. In Ireland we have often had very little clarity about what we are trying to achieve and what we want this place to look like in ten years' time. What size will it be? What services will it have? Will it be choked up by traffic?
Will it be able to deal with the waste that is produced? Will it have an effective policy whereby people minimise the waste they produce and act to minimise the level of air pollution and the volume of traffic on the roads? The danger in not being very clear on this is that we would end up with many structures and individuals but not with a great deal of progress. We need clarity around this.
We spoke about the need to ensure there is widespread discussion of this issue among the citizens of Dublin and those of the other cities. I support what the Green Party said about there being no reason this should be only a proposal for Dublin.
Prior to coming to the Chamber, I spoke on the radio station of a certain well known school in Dublin. The first question I was asked was about housing while the second question was on the idea of having a directly elected mayor for Dublin. That simple example shows that people in Dublin are talking about this issue. As Deputy Ó Broin said, it has been talked about for a long time. The question is, what point will we reach with this proposal? The idea that we would deal with it again in six months' time at least indicates this will not be a debate that goes nowhere. We hope it will not be like the issue of Seanad reform or another such issue that we seemed to talk about forever and on which there were endless reports, but where we did not get around to doing anything about it. In that sense, we need to continue this debate. I am not saying we should have formalised debates like this but the debate needs to be extended to include the citizens.
During the debate on the other Bill last night, I spoke of the limited experience I have of the French model - obviously, there are other models. We need to have much more clarity on the different responsibilities between the officers and the elected members of councils. Often the system is such that the officials of a council will draft reports and proposals and bring them to the elected members who will then decide whether to reject or approve them. I would like elected members to bring forward many more initiatives. The idea of having a directly elected mayor would give such a mayor the authority to bring forward specific initiatives and put them to the other elected members and also to the people. That would need to be refined. It would mean there would be more of an onus on the elected members to show initiative and bring forward ideas based in their experience of the communities they represent.
Most of what I wanted to say on this Bill I said during the debate on the other Bill last night. We all need to think strategically around exactly how this would work. If this measure were introduced in a fuzzy or an unclear way, it would simply result in a great deal of paperwork and discussion but not necessarily in much action, and action is what we need.
I cite the example of housing where, from my experience, it takes an inordinate amount of time to get from the point when a decision is made to build houses in an area and the money is allocated to the point where the houses are constructed. There are many such delays. If we had a sense of democratic buy-in, which the proposal before us contains, we would have much more of a sense that local public representatives do not almost automatically reject proposals because they are brought forward by officials of the council. There would be much more of a sense of having to weigh up the options and ensure that the actions are delivered in accordance with policy.
I congratulate the Green Party on bringing forward this proposal. Generally, there is a sense that this proposal is a good idea. We now need to be more concrete on what the functions would involve and on the implementation of this proposal.
There was a debate on another Bill last night, and there is a debate on this Bill tonight, on the idea of having a plebiscite in Dublin and of having a Dublin mayor for the city and county, which actually exists. I am not opposed to the idea of a plebiscite or a referendum if there is a demand for such but I wish the Government would listen on other matters. This idea has been knocking around for a few years. It was certainly widely debated when I was a councillor. It sounds like a great idea to people to have a directly elected mayor for Dublin. Everyone thinks we are electing a mayor, and that is fine, but there is much more involved in this. First, there is huge potential for corruption, concentrating a wide range of powers in the hands of one person and moving decision making further away from local areas and centralising it. I cannot believe the Green Party is putting forward the idea of what essentially would be a cabinet of ten councillors for all of Dublin. I am not sure what the other 150 odd would be meant to be doing. Presumably, they would be twiddling their thumbs.
I would remind Members that Ken Livingstone, who should know something about this, spoke out about the concept of directly elected mayors. He stated:
I was always opposed to having a directly elected mayor because it concentrates all the power in one person and there is huge potential for corruption. I mean, you look at all the big developments in London, each of those decisions where it went ahead, was mine. I could easily have said ... to the developer 'I need 100 grand for this if you want it through'. That's what happens, pretty much, in America. At any one time in America there's ... at least 50 mayors in prison for corruption.
The reason I started with that reference is that I have not heard anyone talk about this aspect of it but in many cities in England people have demanded referendums to get back to the idea of not having a mayor but having a cathaoirleach and a council. Those questions have to be answered.
On the Green Party proposal of four local authorities sending ten people to surround this strong man or woman, as the case may be-----
That is the point I was making. I think it would be highly unlikely. If we take a council like Fingal, which has 40 councillors, and it has to select two people to go forward to this decision making process, how will that be done? Representatives of small parties will certainly not be selected. I am a little surprised that this proposal is emanating from a small party.
This is not the direction in which we want to go. Dublin City Council and my colleague, Joe Higgins, a former Member of this Chamber, was a councillor on the then Dublin County Council. It was a massive body. We all know about the brown paper envelopes, or rather brown paper bags, in Conway's pub. Even on rezonings and environmental decisions, the purpose of breaking that up was to break up the possibility of corruption where councillors would be more easily answerable to their own communities. I saw on my council councillors from Howth voting for rezonings in Blanchardstown, etc. This is not what we need. We do not need to take powers from local areas. We should be devolving powers more to local areas.
There is a lot wrong with local government. There has been a trend, particularly with neoliberal politics, of denuding councillors of any powers. Essentially, there is no longer a waste service, a water service and housing is not being built. Councillors vote every four years on the development plan and there is not much else they have to do. A large number of powers are already given to the chief executive officers, CEOs, as they are called now. They do not even hide the fact that it is a business oriented process.
They have a huge amount of power as it is. This is about having one CEO for the whole of Dublin city and county instead of four, yet councillors will have even less to do.
We have seen with major infrastructural projects unelected Government agencies being given huge powers over relevant decisions. A good example is Poolbeg waste energy plant which was opposed by 61 of the 63 elected members on Dublin City Council who were overruled. Councillors are largely confined now to by-laws, five-yearly development plans and trying to achieve things for people on an individual basis. Local authority budgets have been completely gutted in the course of the eight years of austerity and when one tries to get things for the people who elected one, it is extremely difficult. That is the case with things as basic as road ramps. The Anti-Austerity Alliance would certainly support the restoration of decision-making powers to the 183 councillors elected at the last election. Their numbers were actually enlarged for the election. In practice, that means the municipalisation of waste collection, democratic local authority co-ordination of water, democratic oversight of a properly funded mass local authority house building programme and the provision of other amenities. Without that and without huge investment in local authorities, this whole debate is meaningless. The silence of the Bill on that is shocking and speaks volumes.
The most dangerous idea I have heard is that we need a Boris Johnson or Michael Bloomberg style celebrity to represent Dublin on the world stage. This is clearly gearing up to be a highly paid job for some politician from one of the bigger parties. Do we really need to create another layer of bureaucracy? I am very surprised it emanates from the Green Party whose members I would at least have thought stood for the concept of devolving decision-making to local communities. I do not see how the ordinary people of Dublin will benefit. There is widespread evidence from other countries where this strong man or woman has been brought in that it makes privatisation, anti-worker policies and a right-wing trend inevitable. This is a concept that is pioneered by business and the Dublin Chamber of Commerce whereas in places like Stoke-on-Trent, Hartlepool and Torbay, people have voted in favour of going back to the old system.
I disagree with the previous speaker. One need only look at my constituency in which there are two local authorities, Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council, which operate like totally different countries in many infrastructural, planning and other matters. There is a key need to have an all-Dublin approach for the good of citizens. A lot of people in my constituency, including that part of it which is in Fingal, do not care what local authority area they live in. They live in Dublin. While there is a Fingal hurling team, there is a single "Dubs" team and a single culture.
I warmly welcome this comprehensive Bill from the Green Party and the Bill last night put forward by Fianna Fáil although I think we should create the office of mayor of Dublin for 2019. The first and second chapters of the Green Party Bill set out comprehensive provisions on the position of mayor itself and the regional authority. I am not sure that we need a CEO along with the mayor as the mayor would surely be the chief executive. The provisions on housing and transport set out in Part 4 are clearly critical. As Deputy Coppinger said, we have lost control of water and drainage and waste collection, which moves I bitterly opposed. I would restore them to local government tomorrow if I was sitting where the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is sitting. Broadly speaking, it is about having a single elected person for Dublin rather than unelected bureaucrats.
Local government really only started in this country in any shape or form in the late 19th century. For reasons known only to themselves, Fine Gael, supported later by Fianna Fáil, introduced a county manager system from the United States when we gained our independence. A lot of American areas did away with their mayors and brought in managers, which we took up as well. Now, we have a situation in which unelected bureaucrats comprise the housing authority, the planning authority, the traffic authority and were previously in charge of water and drainage also. Anyone who has served in local government, as I was very proud to do as a member of Dublin City Council for just over 12 years, including the period when I led the rainbow civic alliance with Deputy Eamon Ryan and others, knows the frustration of not being able to democratically control the council. Yet, councils were left with these strange reserved powers in regard to rezoning. Why was that power left with them or the power to fix commercial rates? While it is a great honour at the moment to be elected as mayor of one's city or county for a year, some people, like the commentator Vincent Browne, have described those who are as "Toytown mayors". One is in for a year and just beginning to get to know the system and then one is out. It is a great honour for oneself and one's community, but what can one actually achieve?
In my own experience, the dead hand of local and national civil and public servants often held back our city government. We had many very good ideas in the rainbow and civic alliance when I led the Labour Party on the council. We were joined by the Green Party and Fine Gael. The important point was that the Labour Party was, at the time, the largest party in the group. Local government has little or no role in Ireland in education, health and policing, which is all the business of local government. Stockholm has a very similar local government system to us but the mayor, Karin Björnsdotter Wanngård, has a crucial executive role for the capital of Sweden. One looks abroad and sees the mayors who have come into American cities and done a good job expressing the culture of the city. Speakers have mentioned former mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg and while one might have disagreed with their political orientation, they seemed to be able to get the city bureaucracy moving for the people. The current mayor of New York is Bill de Blasio. They did things in regard to public transport and so on that the local authority was simply not doing. Two of our twin cities when I was a councillor were San José and Liverpool. San José has always had a mayor and Liverpool will elect one next year where the distinguished politician, Mr. Andy Burnham, is the Labour candidate. In terms of the mayors of London, I am closest in my views to those of the current mayor, Sadiq Khan, and the former mayor, Ken Livingstone. It is generally agreed that Mr. Livingstone did a good job.
While one might say there is a danger of corruption where one has a single executive power, it exists in this House as well. If one looks at the Flood, Mahon and Moriarty tribunals, one can see that the House has not been immune from the ravages of corruption. Currently, there are 17 directly-elected mayors across England. I noticed in regard to this that it was the right-wing press in Britain that led vicious campaigns against regional assemblies. Many people, including the then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, wanted to have a directly-elected mayor and a regional assembly in Newcastle, but the idea was shot down mainly by campaigns by the Daily Expressand the Murdoch press. Across Europe, we have what are in effect city states like Hamburg and Bremen where there is local democratic control of local functions, which is the key issue we are discussing here.
Dublin needs a mayor. There are 1.4 million people living in the four Dublin counties and we are destined to grow to 1.8 million. I was on the greater Dublin regional authority and with our neighbouring Leinster counties, we are going to have a population equivalent to that of Wales. Having a focal point of democratic control in that context is critical. We know what we need in transport infrastructure and, above all, in housing. It has been so frustrating to come in here day after day over the last five years and watch the Government do little or nothing and produce no houses in the four counties in Dublin. I cannot believe someone who had to stand for re-election would not have done better. That is the fundamental point.
Our Green Party colleagues have set out what the office would look like. In this context democratic control is important.
We have to remember that Dublin may soon be the only European Union capital on these islands. Most of our sister capitals have seriously democratic local administrations.
I would prefer the strategy that is being adopted in the Green Party Bill, especially having a regional authority. The section of the Bill dealing with the relationship with the four counties is critical. Those counties have to be included. In the past, Fingal County Council defeated the proposal when the Green Party was in government. It should not have been in government, but it was with Fianna Fáil and the proposal was defeated.
I want to commend Deputies Lahart and Ryan and other colleagues for bringing the Bill forward. We can construct a really democratic government for this great city and it is what we need.
The debate on a directly elected mayor of Dublin has been rumbling for quite some time. The position of a directly elected mayor was legislated for as far back as 2001. The people of Dublin are still waiting to be given an opportunity to vote on whether they would like to be governed by a directly elected mayor, as the 2001 legislation was repealed shortly thereafter.
In 2014, Fingal County Council voted to reject the holding of a plebiscite on a directly elected mayor. This vote put a halt to the proposals to introduce a directly elected mayor for Dublin. Many county councillors in Fingal cited the lack of detail and a rushed plan as reasons for their objections, while others were opposed to the role altogether and said the plan was antidemocratic and open to corruption. I hope the lack of detail will not be repeated when we move on this matter.
As the Bill does not outline the role and responsibilities of an elected mayor, we have to use this opportunity to review the plans to ensure that Dublin introduces the best and most appropriate model that will have the greatest potential to reap the most reward, rather than simply introducing another layer of bureaucracy and adding to an already cumbersome local government system in Dublin.
The primary arguments in favour of a directly elected mayor are clear political leadership, accountability and enhanced visibility, which we do not have with city and county managers. I was a councillor and understand that things have become worse in Tipperary. We have to be elected and be accountable, but managers are not accountable. Strong mayors can provide strategic direction and ensure the execution of decisions made by local authorities, while also playing a strong role in representing the authority to the outside world.
Reforms in 2014 were bulldozed through by big Phil the enforcer, a former Minister. He bulldozed Tipperary together and did not care what happened. He left a trail of disaster after him. Why did he not address Dublin at that time? He addressed Limerick, Waterford and Cork. At that time, Fine Gael had a large majority, and thought it could do what it liked and did so but the people sorted it out after that.
I compliment those who proposed the Bill. I am a democrat and the people should have the ultimate role in voting. As I said, we could consider the British model. I do not agree with a lot of what the British did, but it divided Tipperary which was a wise decision because it is too long and cumbersome to be handled by one authority. The county was bulldozed together by the man I have mentioned, who has now gone to greener pastures - he is lucky he went before the election because he would be in no pasture but rather out in the long grass for a long time.
I suggest that we look further afield at successful cities such as Brisbane and Auckland. They are under the clear political control of an elected executive mayor to whom the chief executive officer and senior management report. The mayors are responsible for developing and implementing policies, leading the business of the councils, preparing the budgets which are adopted by the councils and ensuring that the councils are active in the commercial development of their respective regions. That is vital.
We have a housing crisis with which our managers cannot seem to grapple. Every local authority could build houses in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, but we cannot build a henhouse now. There are reports and funding announced for houses, but no worthwhile houses are being built. Only 30 houses were built in Tipperary, and the same applies to Kerry and other areas. We have talks, reports, reforms and a plethora of agencies, yet nothing is happening. We need a directly elected mayor and accountability above all.
Of course I disagree, because we have to prioritise the needs of the people of the country. I cannot see how this is such a priority or why parties are tripping over each other to be out front with this proposal and ensure that a lord mayor is elected in Dublin. Surely there is enough bureaucracy and layers of local government, as well as Deputies, Ministers and everything else.
I do not blame Dublin Deputies for trying to look after their patch, but there are Deputies in the parties putting forward the proposal from around the country. There is no mention of bringing back the town councils that were dismantled by Phil Hogan. It is not a priority. I will talk about priorities.
The Killarney municipal area had six crews looking after the roads, but that number has been reduced to two and no more staff can be employed. That situation is replicated right around every municipal area in Kerry and every other council. I ask that staff be replaced. We need to ensure that rather than having too many chiefs and not enough Indians that we have enough Indians to look after the needs of the people who are paying rates, motor tax and every other kind of tax. They see no value in the taxes they are currently paying.
This proposal is premature until everything else is considered in light of the abolition of town councils. A mayor in Killarney was vital and is still necessary. Many visitors from abroad want to meet the mayor, but can now only meet a cathaoirleach - they do not know what kind of giolla deacair he is. They think he is someone from the mountains who has nothing to do with local government.
I am sorry, but I will fight for that as long as I am in office because one of the things I promised I would do is try to ensure that we reinstate town councils. They cost very little and urban councillors did a lot of work. They deserved better treatment than what they got and I ask that until that issue is considered to the fullest it should not be a priority to elect a lord mayor in Dublin.
It would be much more beneficial to those who are trying to travel in and out of Dublin if Dublin Deputies built more lanes on the motorways so that people are not clogged behind each other day in and day out and cannot get into Dublin. Money should be spent on that because the proposal for an elected mayor will cost a lot of money if the Bill is passed. I ask other Members who are elected by people around the country not to vote in favour of the Bill at this time.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I compliment the Green Party on bringing it forward and I will support the proposal.
As far back as 2001, the Local Government Act provided that the mayor or cathaoirleach of city and county councils would be directly elected in 2004, but the relevant sections of the Act were repealed by the Local Government (No. 2) Act 2003 before they were to be implemented in 2004 in the local elections of that year. This proposal goes back quite some time.
Our European and American neighbours have had directly elected mayors in their cities for decades. It is a tried and trusted system, albeit in varied forms across Europe and America. There is no point in directly elected mayors, whether in Dublin or any other city or town, unless they have real power, responsibilities and, crucially, accountability.
The proposal before us is a stand-alone one that can be dealt with on its own and there is no need to defer it until 30 June as called for in the Government amendment.
There is an urgent need for wider local Government reform, which is referred to in the Government amendment. I call for the re-establishment of borough and town councils throughout the country, including those in my constituency such as the old Clonmel Borough Council and the town councils of Carrick-on-Suir, Tipperary, Cashel, Thurles, Nenagh and Templemore, and the creation of a town council for the town of Roscrea. There is now widespread acceptance that local democracy has been seriously undermined by the abolition of those town and borough councils and the amalgamation of county councils such as North Tipperary County Council and South Tipperary County Council by the former Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, and the last Fine Gael-Labour Party Government. This has been admitted by the current leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Brendan Howlin.
There is no doubt that the public in towns throughout the country feel undermined, disenfranchised, neglected and forgotten. That is the overwhelming view and message being sent to Oireachtas Members, myself included, who meet members of the public in towns throughout the country. There is an urgent necessity to re-establish the boroughs and town councils.
The Government amendment refers to a wide consultation with all relevant stakeholders prior to the announcement of proposals. I have heard nothing of such consultations. If they have been commenced, when did they commence? If not, when will they commence? What stakeholders are involved? What is the proposed timeline?
As I stated at the outset, I support the Bill.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill and, in principle, support the concept of a directly elected mayor, but I would like to see it delivered in the context of wider local government reform. Many city regions do very well. In fact, it is not something that would cost; it could be an engine for a whole lot of other things that would benefit the whole country. While a directly elected mayor for Dublin is an obvious first step, if we are serious about balanced regional development we need to put mechanisms in place that give practical effect to it. It would happen in Dublin as a first step, but would be followed in places such as Cork and Galway.
In terms of the geographic location of what is proposed, the footprint is too narrow. The functional area of Dublin is much wider than the city and county of Dublin. It has taken time for the term "the greater Dublin area" to gain acceptance, including in the Minister of State's area. Telling Meath people that they are part of the greater Dublin area takes a while to be accepted.
I listened closely to Deputy Eamon Ryan's contribution. He identified four key areas that the directly elected mayor would be responsible for or directly involved in. The first was the greater Dublin transport authority. The second was planning and housing, including land use and transportation planning. The third was waste and he spoke about the balance of power. After the Covanta experience I can well understand that. The fifth was the city of culture, which I can also understand because the city is steeped in culture and there is so much to be showcased. I agree that these ideas should be included in the mayor's remit.
However, the Dublin and mid-east region have been for many years involved in collaborative land use planning. There is or at least there should be a direct connection between land use and transportation planning. On those two critical functions, it would be an error to limit the city region to Dublin city and council. Instead, the functional area should include all or part of the surrounding counties. The same can be said in relation to waste policy.
The boundaries of counties, or shires, began to be carved out following the Anglo-Norman invasion in the 12th century. County boundaries are unresponsive to the needs of a shifting population. They were built on the supposition that a population and the land it works are permanently linked. As such, ideas such as migration and population growth are incompatible. If we consider population spread, it is clear that the greater Dublin area now spreads almost as far as the midlands. It is difficult to see how a directly elected mayor would not be constrained by a limited geographical area in dealing with most of the key issues raised.
One of the big failings in many of our public services is that most operate to their own regions, whether it is the ESB, the health service etc. If we were to design a system from scratch, the local government regions would be co-terminus with those of other service providers. That should be included in any reform package. For example, Denmark replaced 13 counties with five regions and amalgamated many municipal councils as part of a municipal reform in 2007. Denmark also changed policing districts and electoral wards as part of the process, given that they were both also based on the municipal system. Denmark is a country to which we look in terms of good local government. Also, there was reform in Northern Ireland some years ago and it is no longer based on the county system.
We need to rethink the functions of each tier of local government. Michael Lyons was commissioned in the UK to carry out an independent review of the UK's local government system. He concluded that place shaping or the creative use of powers and influence to promote the general well-being of a community and its citizens should be the primary purpose of local government. When we think of community in this country, we tend to think of it at a much lower level than county level. Organisations such as the GAA, the credit union movement and Tidy Towns all function below county level. As stated by others, in that context the abolition of the larger town councils, in particular, was a mistake. Many of them were very good on what I would describe as soft services. These services involved people and the facilitation of the creativity we see at community level. Many of the municipal districts could be recast as district councils in time. While I completely understand that Irish people identify with their counties for a variety of reasons - usually in September - that does not mean that the best way of organising and delivering local government and public services is at a county level.
A lot of work has been done and there has been a Green Paper and a White Paper on local government. Mr. John Gormley was very much the driver behind this when he was the Minister with responsibility for the environment. A mountain of work has been done on the issue and we should re-examine it rather than reinventing the wheel. We appeared to be tied into an Anglo-Norman fixation that everything has to happen at county level. This is not how people function. These are imaginary lines for many people and, if we are to have something that can work in symmetry and deliver what we want it to deliver, we must redraw them along the lines within which people actually function.
A directly elected mayor for the greater Dublin region is a good idea, but let us get it right if we put it in place.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Bill and to recognise the efforts of the Green Party in putting this issue very much back on the agenda of the Dáil as well as the broader political agenda. I also note that Fianna Fáil and Deputy John Lahart, in particular, have made proposals and given us the opportunity to discuss this proposed important reform of the way we govern the city of Dublin and local government in general.
In 2011, the Fine Gael manifesto contained a commitment that we would support the concept of a directly elected mayor of Dublin, provided that we got it right and ensured that it produced added value and improvements for the city and not just additional cost and bureaucracy.
It is a great regret that the previous Government, of which I was a member, did not hold a plebiscite on the issue or allow people in Dublin to have a say on directly electing a mayor for the city. The reason for this was that my local authority, Fingal County Council, vetoed the proposal for a plebiscite. The Government mistakenly allowed it to do so by framing the legislation in a certain way. It is a shame a plebiscite was not held at that time. I hope one will be held in this Dáil in order that people in Dublin will have their say on how they want their city and county to be governed.
I support the concept of a directly elected mayor. It would be useful to have a figure representing Dublin and advocating for the city internationally and domestically as well as in dealings with central Government and national politicians. I believe Henry Kissinger once famously asked who he should ring if he wanted to call Europe. This question, which could still be asked today in respect of Europe, can also be asked of Dublin. In other words, who does one call if one wants to speak to Dublin? Is it an interest group such as the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, the mayor of the city or one of the other Dublin local authorities or one of the senior officials in one of the four local authorities? The answer is that one cannot call anybody because no one speaks for the city as we do not have the important office of a directly elected mayor.
A directly elected mayor is an effective means of moving power from officials to elected politicians. This should occur across local government where too much power rests with the executive rather than with those who have been elected to office. The relationship between Ministers and Secretaries General is good one. The latter are permanent officials with particular responsibilities who act as Accounting Officers, whereas the Minister is an elected representative. A similar relationship could work well in local government between a mayor, who is in situ for two and a half or five years, and a chief executive. This is the type of reform I would like to take place, not only in Dublin but across local government. A directly elected mayor would herald a genuine shift in power from central to local government because the person elected would have real authority and a real electoral mandate in his or her dealings with the Government. This would be a powerful statement and change for the better.
The current position is that mayors are elected by their peers and hold office for only one year. Anyone who has held office knows it takes a couple of months to find one's find and get things started. When the office only lasts for one year it is difficult to get anything of substance done. One year is much too short and the Buggins' turn system of mayors that operates nationwide is not effective.
It is important to get the model right. I do not support the model proposed by a previous Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. John Gormley, which would essentially have created another regional authority with a mayor on top of the existing four administrative counties in Dublin. The model I prefer is more akin to that which applies in major cities such as London and Paris, where one has a single local authority with an elected mayor and another level of neighbourhood councils below this, for example, the borough councils in London and the arrondissementsin Paris. While I appreciate that Dublin is a small city and it could be argued that such a model would create too much local government in a city of only 1 million or 1.5 million people, the population of Dublin will increase to 2 million in the next couple of decades.
I welcome the opportunity presented to the House by the Green Party and Fianna Fáil to discuss this important matter. I hope and expect the Government will advance this issue in the coming years.
I thank speakers from all sides who participated in this very constructive debate. I reiterate the Government position of engaging with all interested parties in advancing this important issue. I thank the Green Party and Deputy Lahart of the Fianna Fáil Party for proposing Private Members' Bills on this issue last night and tonight.
The Government is proposing an appropriate amendment which will give a Second Stage reading also to the Green Party Bill on 30 June 2017. This will allow time for proper consideration to be given to the complex underlying issues associated with establishing a directly elected mayor for Dublin. First and foremost, it will be necessary to decide on the appropriate range of functions that could be assigned to a directly elected mayor for Dublin and from where these functions will come. This necessitates advance consultation with the bodies from which these functions may be transferred, as well as relevant sectoral interest groups and the general public.
The establishment of a directly elected mayor and regional authority would have major implications for the future of local and regional government arrangements across the greater Dublin area and these must be properly assessed. As Deputy Catherine Murphy stated, the greater Dublin area encompasses counties Meath and Kildare and other areas. With the capital expanding, it is difficult for some people living in other counties to accept that they are part of the greater Dublin region because this has consequences as well as benefits.
It will be necessary to clearly define the relationship between the directly elected mayor and the four existing local authorities in Dublin. Any proposal for a directly elected mayor and regional authority must also have full regard to cost implications and staffing issues and the associated impact on the budgets and staffing levels of the existing local authorities.
I accept the sincerity with which the Green Party, in particular, Deputy Eamon Ryan, have tabled the Bill and the Government is open to considering any workable proposals. The programme for a partnership Government includes a commitment to consider directly elected mayors as part of wider potential local government reform measures, including greater devolution and municipal governance. The programme states that, having consulted widely with all relevant stakeholders, a report for government and the Oireachtas will be prepared by mid-2017 on such measures. Work on preparing this report is already under way, with the aim of building on the progress made under the previous reform programme. Decisions will be a matter for the Government and the Oireachtas, as is appropriate, following consideration of the report.
All of us share a collective responsibility to ensure that the establishment of a directly elected mayor and regional authority will best facilitate the social and economic development of Dublin and that this will, in turn, benefit the country as a whole. The Government will approach this issue on the basis of benefits that have been identified and whether these benefits outweigh the costs that will be involved.
The Government side recognises that there could potentially be benefits to be derived from the establishment of a directly elected mayor and this warrants further serious consideration in the months ahead. We look forward to continuing to work in cooperation with all sides who have participated in recent debates to advance this important issue. The amendment we are putting forward is consistent with the commitments in the programme for Government and will provide the appropriate context for advancing to consideration of legislation on this matter.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, and all those who have made contributions to this useful debate. I am glad we introduced the Bill and welcome the Government's decision to postpone its Second Reading until 30 June 2017 as it gives time for consideration of the issue.
I wish to reflect on a couple of issues in response to previous contributions and outline some ideas on how we might progress this issue. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, is in the Seanad discussing another Green Party Bill with Senator Grace O'Sullivan. The Ministers present should convey the message to him that the Government should allow all parties to participate in the discursive process proposed between Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. Apart from Deputies Danny Healy-Rae and Ruth Coppinger, who hold a different view, the case for a directly elected mayor for Dublin enjoys the support of all parties.
The next stage in the process must be a public consultation process in the second half of 2017. Internal consultation among Deputies and Senators would also be very useful because there is no one as experienced as Oireachtas Members when it comes to the operation of our democratic and political structures. Most of us have been councillors and know how the system works. Our role is to lead on this matter, rather than leaving the matter to officials who usually develop legislation. We are better placed to tease out the choices and they should be a political call. There is a tension between the political system and the Permanent Government in terms of the design of political systems. We have a certain role to play and I welcome the Minister's stated willingness to undertake such a process.
I propose to address a couple of broad criticisms. The benefit of introducing the Bill is that it will allow us to get down to the detail and offer real choices as part of a proper debate. A couple of choices emerged from this discussion.
The Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, and Deputy Catherine Murphy, a Member representing those in Kildare outside of Dublin city, asked what the geographic confines of Dublin are. The Minister said this Bill did not take into account the changes made in 2014 by Phil Hogan's reforms. I do not like the structures the then Minister, Phil Hogan, put in place. They were fundamentally flawed and were introduced at a time when there was such an anti-political sentiment that one was doing well if one cut back political offices and structures. As a result, we ended up with three regional assemblies which are inappropriate. It is not that we do not need an eastern assembly. We do. Dublin, however, needs a separate regional authority. This would have to work with the surrounding counties. Section 40 provides that, in the development of regional plans, the directly elected mayor of Dublin would have to consult with the cathaoirleach of the mid-east regional authority to ensure it does not contradict the national spatial plan. Our Bill accounts for the need for co-ordination between the surrounding counties in Dublin. I believe the four Dublin areas require separate councils.
I fully accept that it is all of Dublin. I live in Dún Laoghaire but grew up in the city. I have never considered myself anything other than a Dubliner, no matter where I lived. Is the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, a "Fingalian" or a Dub? No one in Fingal is a "Fingalian"; we are all Dubliners. I am not a "Dún Laoghairian"; there is not even a word "Dún Laoghairian". We are all Dubliners. There is a certain co-ordinated sense of Dublin as a city. It is different from Kildare or Meath. No offence to those two counties. If one said to Kildare people that they were Dubliners, they would be equally shocked. They would go white, even lily-white.
The Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, said we have to work on this over the next few years. I do not think we have years to do it. We need to sort this issue out before this Parliament closes. We have months, not years to get this right.
Several Deputies asked if we would have a strong assembly or authority representing the city with a mayor on top of that and then local district councils below it. Deputy John Lahart said our representation of 15 members in an authority should be larger and more representative. Deputy Ruth Coppinger also agreed but said it should have 40 members. Once one goes over 15 members, one is into an assembly, a single city assembly which is a real democratic council for the whole city. That is the choice we have to make. Our Bill has made the right choice in keeping the four existing local authorities. They are embedded and have worked to different degrees. If we rank them, I think Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council would come last. Maybe that is because I am living there. The others, Fingal, Dublin City Council and South Dublin have worked well.
That is a valid approach with which I agree. I found the local area committees really worked when I was a councillor. That was an innovation introduced in 1997. I agree the local structures need to work but I do not believe we should get rid of the four existing Dublin councils. We should be strengthening that local tier at the same time as we create the city mayor.
We welcome the fact the Government will allow this Bill through Second Stage. I would prefer if the Opposition got together on the various Bills in this area. We could easily have managed to develop the legislation over the next six months. We would have agreed to Deputy John Lahart's proposal for a plebiscite. We do not have to go through the Government.
In this supposedly new politics arena, we should encourage a mechanism whereby the Opposition can genuinely present serious legislation, which is what we are doing here, and have the chance of getting it passed. If the public administration or the larger political parties do not like small parties putting forward serious legislation, then we do not have new politics. Instead, we have the same old politics, particularly in this case, with the two large parties working together but not with the rest of the Opposition to put a Bill through.
We will. It is disappointing for us that we do not have immediate legislation. Deputy Broughan spoke for me - I shared time with him on Dublin City Council - when he said this is an urgent matter and we need to get on with it. Whatever approach we take, we need to decide quickly on this and tell the administrative system. The advantage of bringing this Bill back in June is that it provides the structures and the responsibilities that we can check and see what questions need to be answered. I look forward to that debate.