Thursday, 13 December 2018
Local Government Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 6, line 17, to delete “the map” and substitute “the map (a true copy of which was laid before each House of the Oireachtas on 25 July 2018)”.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 relate to section 2, which is the interpretation section. They are drafting amendments that move text relating to the deposited map in respect of the relevant area. They both refer to Cork and the definition of deposited maps. It is a drafting change on page 6 of the Bill in lines 17, 31 and 32 to correct the way the Bill is drafted.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 7, line 22, after “subsection (3)” to insert “and section 41”.
This amendment is to section 3 of the Bill, which relates to regulation. It is for the purpose of including a plebiscite regulation, made under section 41 as part of the exception to section 3(4), which provides that regulations made under the Bill just require to be laid before, rather than approved by resolution of, the Houses. The amendment is needed because section 41 regulations require an approving resolution before they can be made.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 14, line 33, to delete “subsection (3)” and substitute “subsection (1)”.
Amendments Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, are technical amendments to substitute subsection (1) for the four subsection (3) references in section 16. It relates to the transfer of staff in the local authorities in Cork. The relevant provision was originally in section 16(3) but amendment No. 26 on Committee Stage deleted subsections (1) to (3), inclusive, and replaced them with a single subsection (1). It had been assumed that the updating of the references would happen automatically but because it did not, I propose the four technical amendments Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive.
Amendment No. 9 is a drafting correction to section 24(7), which refers to the annual contribution by city council to county council, to replace the reference to that section with that subsection because paragraph (b) referred to is in subsection (1).
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 17, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:“(c) the arrangements that should be made by the Cork local authorities for subsequent reviews of the Cork boundary alteration taking account of development and proposed development in the administrative area of the county council;”.
I hope this amendment provides room for a slightly wider debate on the whole issue of how we manage this new boundary treatment for Cork city and county. I am nervous because Cork Deputies would, obviously, have a much better knowledge of the issue than I would. However, I have sufficient knowledge of the city to see what has gone wrong in Cork. It is probably one of the worst examples of depopulation of a city centre with the sprawl ever outwards, the ever lengthening commute times and under-population in the city. It also has this very dysfunctional boundary that has existed between the county and the city where the county placed development without consideration of the impact on the city. As happened in Dublin and elsewhere, both jurisdictions were competing for rates space. That needs to stop and it needs to change. Cork is grinding to a halt, as are all our cities, with gridlock. It needs to start concentrating development again for social, environmental and economic reasons. This amendment would seek that in any review mechanism of the boundaries and the issue of what type of development is taking place would be looked at, and that a check would be put, in particular on the county, on using the new arrangements to continue the old ways of doing things where they were really ignoring the need for a strategic balance in how the city develops versus the county and vice versa. The amendment sets out the specific clause that consideration of what is happening in area development, especially by the county, is a key issue in the consideration of boundaries to try to put a check on that potential for continued, atrocious and unsustainable planning in the Cork city and county areas. I hope the Minister of State will accept the amendment.
I would like to speak to the amendment. Deputy Ryan is well able to speak on behalf of the people of Cork, especially as he come down to my parish to get married. I would never doubt his good intentions for the people of Cork.
The Bill will have detrimental consequences for people living in County Cork and in the constituency I represent. I have no doubt about this. I have brought this matter up time and again, including on Committee Stage with amendments I tabled and in a motion I tabled in the Dáil last year, which surprisingly got no support from any Cork Deputies, even though most of them are representing County Cork and the areas that are totally opposed to the boundary extension. This Bill is being rushed through the Dáil. On Committee Stage, some of my amendments were ruled out of order, which I found a bit strange. Other Deputies found this with regard to Galway. We are not getting enough time to debate this issue, which is very serious issue. While we might have the time to debate it now, it is like chariots with horses racing through to make sure they get across the line. On the way, tens of thousands of people will be affected.
I firmly believe the financial settlement needs to be for at least 15 years so the county can continue to grow. Anything less than that - and there is talk of reviews taking place within the first few months - will be detrimental. Reviews could affect any compensation package not already in place. It is like signing a blank cheque at the moment. We do not know what the county is going to get or what the real terms and conditions are. We felt from the initial discussions that it was going to be over a number of years. I gather that this is changing and it could be just a number of months before there are reviews. We need to have assurances that if Cork City Council is unable or unwilling to make a financial settlement, the Minister of State would guarantee that payment through his Department. We cannot find ourselves in a situation where Cork County Council and Cork City Council head into court to fight this.
It will create further unnecessary disagreements between two parties that need to work together for the betterment of city and county. Rural areas such as Blarney and Tower have said through their local representatives that they do not want to be taken in under the city expansion. This is being forced against them no matter what discussions have taken place at council level. The message relayed back to me is that Cork County Council completely opposes this. That includes every councillor from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and across the political spectrum, but they are all being ignored. Democracy is completely gone out the window here. The Government is railroading this through regardless. Approximately 6,000 signatures were handed in from the people of Ballincollig and its surrounds opposing this but they went missing and cannot be found now. This city boundary could lead to major losses in the county that I represent, where ten businesses have closed in the past two months. I am not going to go through them again as I have often raised those issues here between post offices, pubs, schools and whatever. That is rural Ireland and County Cork is haemorrhaging badly. While I accept that the cities might be building and progressing well, counties are not. In this situation County Cork is not.
We do not know what kind of compensation package is going to be put in place. We do not know for how long or what guarantees are being put in place. Cork County Council and the people of Cork county are being forced to accept a blank cheque, which will have detrimental effects going forward. It is a complete and utter land grab and nothing else. I found very few people who support it but the support unfortunately came from the powers that be within Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. They should not have supported it. They should have spoken to their councillors on the ground. It is the very same as the local authority boundary changes. We are not allowed speak about them at committee level, we are not allowed speak about them in here when Courtmacsherry, Timoleague and all those areas have been taken out without the consent of the people. The majority of the people said they wanted to stay in the Clonakilty-Skibbereen electoral area but they were moved and did not have a say. More and more, as time goes on, people's voices are not being listened to in this country. The majority of people and the local councillors are not being listened to and this is going to have a detrimental effect. I refer to the expansion of Cork city to the detriment of the county; a local boundary change for a local authority; the Castletownbere transportation plan to which people are totally opposed; and the Skibbereen plastic factory where I am going to attend a meeting later this evening. In all these cases the people feel as if their voices are not being heard.
The Minister of State has to give assurances at least if this is railroaded through and I as an elected representative have no say in it. The powers that be have decided it is a fait accompliand a job done; they just want to get it across the line quick, keep their mouths shut and move on. That might be the kind of politics they want but it is not the kind of politics that the people on the ground want or what councillors and Fine Gael supporters want. I tabled a motion in the House last year opposing this but I received no support from any Deputy from Cork. I knew what damage it was going to cause to my county and I certainly could not support anything like it. If the city council is unable or unwilling to make a financial settlement for 15 years, will the Minister of State guarantee that his Department will make it?
There are two very different issues. I will not accept the amendment but the points Deputy Eamon Ryan made are correct. The sections about Cork are included in this Bill primarily because of the issues the Deputy raised concerning the city centre being hollowed out. While much of the development of Cork in the past 30 years has happened outside the existing city boundary, to the outside observer and many public representatives who are not from Cork, that area is naturally in Cork city. There are large suburbs such as Glanmire on the north side and Togher and others on the south side which are contiguous with Cork city and which should, therefore, be in the same local authority area.
Regarding metropolitan governance in recent years, Deputy Buckley will know about the Cork area strategic plan, CASP, under which the two local authorities examined strategic planning in the areas that crossed boundaries between city and county. The metropolitan area strategic plans, which are part of the national planning framework, will provide a governance system for future development, not just within the Cork boundary as extended by this legislation, but in the catchment area outside so that the doughnut effect does not happen again. A paper will go to Cabinet shortly, I hope, on the issue of metropolitan governance itself. Currently, the Southern Regional Assembly, which is a large body stretching from Wicklow to Clare and covering everything south of that line, has responsibility for regional planning strategies. Something that is being actively considered is a dedicated part of that authority to examine Cork's planning structures into the future, not just in respect of zonings but also the transportation and retail strategies. The land use and transportation strategy, LUTS, document goes back many years and is probably well out of date now, which is why this metropolitan governance paper is being prepared. We need a national plan on how those areas will be dealt with in the future and need to ensure that where plans are out of date they will be updated.
In response to Deputy Michael Collins, nothing could be further from the truth in respect of his allegation of it being rammed through. I entered this House in 2011 and the process of reviewing the boundary between Cork city and county started at end of that year. The discussion started many years previously but in 2011, the formal process started of reports, engagement with local authorities at membership and management level, engagement with the Department and with every sort of stakeholder in Cork, particularly with people trading in the city and the county. The point we are at today is, hopefully, one of the end points in an official process that has been going on for the past eight or nine years and an argument that has gone on for 20 years.
I understand the Deputy's position when he says it is bad for Cork but it was not accidental that no other Cork Deputy voted for his motion when it came before the House. They disagree with him and people are entitled to disagree with one another on these issues and on any other issue. In response to the specific question he raised, we accepted a number of amendments on Committee Stage along the lines of what he is saying. There was a perception in County Cork that the financial settlement could be reviewed after a number of months. The Deputy said it should be 15 years and we are saying that a review mechanism will be available after ten years. That mechanism will involve both local authorities and whoever is in my role at the time. It is a significant change from what was in the first draft and relates specifically to the points the Deputy and others raised on Second Stage. On the Deputy's suggestion that I must guarantee the financial settlement, notwithstanding recent events in other places, I cannot personally guarantee any financial settlements. What we did include and what was raised, I think by Deputy Ó Broin, on Committee Stage, is the issue of contract debt.
That is a legal term to provide that the city council will have to pay the money in the future and if it does not, the county council has recourse to the same process as every citizen and organisation in the State to pursue the debt in the courts. That is why that phrase is included. Those two issues, which are legitimate concerns, were already addressed on Committee Stage.
Deputy Michael Collins referred to Blarney and Tower. I am familiar with the views of many people in those areas. I was not responsible for drawing the map. If we start unpicking different parts of it now, the necessary boundary change would fall apart. Blarney and Tower were included by the experts who were part of this group. I refute the Deputy's reference to the local electoral boundaries in west County Cork. I have received many emails from his constituents recently which indicate that his efforts have not fallen on deaf ears. An independent commission is established with no politician, former politician or anyone connected to a political party on it. It comprises statisticians, people from university political faculties and individuals with experience in local government. The Minister gives them the job of drawing up boundaries. They have made some decisions of which I cannot make head or tail.
I come from a little parish of 2,000 on the border of Kilkenny and Wexford. For the first time in the history of the State, at the next local election half of that parish will vote in the Thomastown electoral area in Kilkenny and the other half will vote in the electoral area we were always in, namely, that of Piltown. I do not agree with that. If my neighbours asked me to interfere with an independent process, I would have to inform them that I am not breaking the law. I have to say the same to the Deputy. I do not know the boundaries as intimately as he does and I have no doubt that there are legitimate concerns. However, I will not interfere with the independent process to draw up the electoral boundaries in west County Cork.
I know; I will not get involved in that one.
The Minister of State has clarified the issue on the compensation package in place between Cork City Council and Cork County Council. Cork is the biggest county in Ireland. As a result of Cork's geographic size, there was good reason to have two administrative bodies. As the Minister of State is aware, the exact opposite view was taken on the second biggest county in Ireland, namely, Galway. Unfortunately, or perhaps quite smartly, the Long Title of the Bill includes reference to the chief executive of Galway. This meant that amendments, including amendment No. 34, could not be debated on Report Stage. There is significant concern that while there is clarity on the compensation package for Cork City Council and Cork County Council, this is not the case regarding Galway, where there are significant financial concerns which have been highlighted to the Minister of State. This issue has been ongoing for a number of years. If it is moved to a unified local authority without addressing the fundamental issues of representation - remember this is the second biggest county in Ireland - and more importantly the issue of funding, this project will come a cropper. While the legislation outlines in great detail the provisions for Cork, it does not address the issues relating to Galway. However, there is a definitive provision to the effect that there will be a single unified local authority because there will be a single chief executive to operate that. That was the concern raised in the context of amendment No. 34. It is important that the local authorities have clarification on access to resources which are critical for the functioning of both local authorities and a future single local authority in County Galway.
I have listened to the debate today and I listened to what was said on Committee Stage. While I am not familiar with all the boundaries and local electoral areas involved, it is proposed to extend Cork city, taking in all the developments around the city and having the administrative areas as the Minister of State has outlined. Neither the Department nor the Minister of State seems to have a clear single vision as to how local authorities should function. The argument put forward for the extension of Cork city is an argument the Minister of State denied to Kilkenny city. I challenged him on this previously. While I was not here for his response, I read it in the local newspaper, that there was no authority council in Kilkenny city.
The Minister of State should stop dancing on the head of a pin. We had a corporation - an urban council. It struck its own rates and it was central to the economic development of the city and county. We had one manager who was the city and county manager. In the context of the description from local government, it may not have fitted that description of a council within the city, but at the same time there is a city and there are developments all around that city. The borough boundary, as it was known then, should really be extended in the same way as is being done in Cork. The city should not stand on its own but be part of the total administrative structure for the city and the county.
While the Minister of State is making the argument for Cork in the way he is, he spoke against that very argument previously. From what he is saying, it appears that there is no overall plan for the development of cities or urban centres and allowing them the recognition they deserve in the context of their population and growth. That is what happening in Kilkenny and the reverse is happening in Cork. The Minister of State refuses to deal not just with Kilkenny but with other similar centres. Why is that the case? Why did the Minister of State previously state that he was opposed to that notion? In principle, he is now addressing the same thing in the context of Cork. That does not make sense.
As Deputy Naughten stated, it does not make sense that there is no attempt to deal overall with not only the administration but also the boundaries and the election of public representatives. No effort is being made to bring back a level of local democracy throughout the country. The Minister of State spoke about the centre of cities being boarded up, etc. However, as he drives through Kilkenny, surely he can also see that the nature of High Street has changed, and that small towns and villages have changed. They need major investment to restore them to something like what they used to be while at the same time keeping up with modern developments and so on.
The same question arises with planning. When the planning authority was with Kilkenny Corporation - Kilkenny urban council - it had a direct input. It was part of a membership of 12 and now it is part of a membership of 24.
The manner in which the Minister of State is bringing forward this Bill is not right. It is an ill-thought out plan that will affect the whole country. The Government should go back to the drawing board, back to all of the good things that were happening in local authorities and restore the democratic process at local level in every city, county and urban centre, acknowledging the current growth patterns and projections for future growth. I encourage the Government to do that because as it weakens local democracy and it detaches the democratic process from the people. As we have seen in France and other places around the world, when that happens there is disquiet because there is no way of influencing the shape of a local community, city or county. The former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, divided a city in two before he left for Europe. He introduced a whole new rural part to electoral areas. It was impossible to administer and impossible for local public representatives to engage in a meaningful way with those who elected them. I encourage the Minister of State to go back and look at this again and to learn from the mistakes of the past. In that way, we can avoid making the same mistakes with Cork and Galway. The Minister of State must listen to all of the stakeholders, particularly the local communities, in order to establish what they want. We make decisions here and often exclude the most central stakeholders, namely the local communities and businesses. The Minister of State must provide leadership on this.
The Minister has said that all is well and that a strategic approach has been worked out but I will give an example of my concerns here. I am not exactly sure where the rural area of Monard fits in vis-à-visthe border between city and county but I know that a planning application was submitted to develop a 1,000 acre greenfield site for homes for 13,000 people. An Bord Pleanála approved the plan. The development was supposed to have a rail link but there is nothing in the national development plan about an extension spur off the Cork-Mallow railway line in order to provide sustainable transport. There are plans to upgrade the road network, however, which will mean an additional 10,000 people driving into Cork from north of the city. This is yet another example of the unsustainable planning that Cork has experienced for decades. While I hear the Minister of State saying that there are new mechanisms in place to avoid the mistakes of the past, this project was approved only two years ago by An Bord Pleanála but the national development plan contains no provision for rail infrastructure. Back in 2016, Monard was part of the county area and was celebrating this as a win over the city. This type of thing is still going on.
The Minister of State said that he agreed with the arguments I made but did not explain why he could not accept my amendment. The amendment is not very contentious. It simply provides that the review would look closely at this type of development practice. Why would the Minister of State oppose an amendment with which he agrees?
In his reply the Minister of State said that discussions have been going on since 2011. I was elected to this House in 2016 and before that I was a member of Cork County Council. If discussions have been going on at ground level, why was the Government not listening to the councillors? They are the people at ground level to whom the Minister of State should be listening. I was listening to the councillors and that is why I tabled an amendment here. I want to stop this from going ahead because the councillors, from Fine Gael and from all parties and none, are telling us that this is not going to work and that it represents a bad deal for the county of Cork. Nobody listened to the councillors and as the Minister of State said, nobody listened to me in this House either. Sadly, no-one from Cork listened to me in here. Deputies from Galway, Kerry, Tipperary and Dublin supported me but no-one from Cork supported me because the Tánaiste and the leader of a certain political party wag the tail. We are now left to pick up the pieces here.
The Minister of State said that there is no guarantee that the Department will pay going forward if the city is unable to pay. The only action that will be possible is to take the matter to court. Cork county could be facing the terrible situation of getting involved in a massive court case against the city. It is quite possible that will happen. The redrawing of the map to include Blarney and Tower is just another example of collar and tie pencil pushers drawing maps without consulting people. The Minister of State referred to the local authority and spoke about people with university experience but nobody has more experience than the people on the ground. Some councillors were able to tell people 12 months in advance that this was going to happen and how it was going to happen. How could that happen? Where is the democracy in that? The Minister of State has said that he does not want to interfere but he is entitled to do so. He can choose not to accept the recommendation that will result in the people of Ring, Timoleague, Courtmacsherry, Darrara and Lislevane being taken out of an electoral area in which they want to remain. I ask the Minister of State to consider that carefully because it is totally undemocratic.
Deputy Naughten spoke about the financial issues in Galway, of which I am acutely aware. The Bill refers only to the appointment of a single chief executive, which was the situation in Galway until the mid 1980s. Indeed, as Deputy McGuinness outlined, the same situation existed in Kilkenny until much later. We are still retaining two separate corporate bodies. That is why the issues relating to Cork in terms of compensatory packages are for the Galway Bill, which will be brought before the House in the middle of 2019. The next local government Bill will be primarily concerned with the merger of the two Galway authorities but the provisions in this Bill are not concerned with that. The provisions relate to the appointment of a single manager or chief executive but not to a merger of the corporate bodies. The two issues are different in the context of this Bill.
In response to Deputy McGuinness, in 1979, the year after I was born, he was elected as a member of what was then Kilkenny Corporation. He kept referring to it in his comments as a city council but it was not a city council. The Deputy may describe that as dancing on the head of a pin but I would describe it as demonstrating a level of obsessive compulsive disorder vis-à-visthe terminology used for whatever corporate bodies existed at a given time. I do not accept at all the arguments put forward by Deputy McGuinness and others about inconsistency. The issue here is that in Kilkenny there are 100,000 people and it is perfectly reasonable to think that we should have one local authority there. Deputy McGuinness believes that people in Kilkenny city should have two ballot papers whereas I believe that everyone in County Kilkenny should get one ballot paper in a local election. I call that democracy whereas the view of Deputy McGuinness is probably based on a Victorian hangover from what was there in the construction of local government in Ireland-----
We will never agree on that. The difference between Cork and Galway is that in Galway city and county we are talking about a population of just over 300,000 people but in Cork city and county, the population is heading for 1 million. This is not about geographic size but about people. I have had so many meetings with representatives from Galway at which Deputy Ó Cuív makes the case for additional councillors in Connemara but councillors represent people, not rocks. The same principle applies with local authorities. They are based on population. The allocation of councillors and the location of local authorities should be based on the population of an area. Some of the local authorities in Dublin have populations that are well in excess of the combined population of Galway city and county.
In response to Deputy Eamon Ryan, he outlined the situation in Monard which is still in the county area. He is correct that approval was granted two years ago but one of the purposes of the metropolitan governance piece which is being prepared now as part of the national planning framework is to ensure that those types of scenarios do not happen again.
I welcome the Minister of State's indication that he will review the example of ongoing bad practice that I outlined, which is not a minor example, in the light of this legislation. There are also other examples.
I return to my simple question. The Minister of State seems to agree with the intent of the amendment. Why is it not agreed in wording? It does not have any financial or other implications but rather sets out a broad policy approach with which he seems to agree. I hope he reconsiders and accepts the amendment.
Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Tommy Broughan, Pat Buckley, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Dessie Ellis, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Noel Grealish, Michael Harty, Brendan Howlin, Martin Kenny, Catherine Martin, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Jan O'Sullivan, Eoin Ó Broin, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Maurice Quinlivan, Brendan Ryan, Eamon Ryan, Brian Stanley, Mick Wallace.
Bobby Aylward, Maria Bailey, Seán Barrett, Declan Breathnach, Pat Breen, Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Catherine Byrne, Thomas Byrne, Seán Canney, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Pat Casey, Jack Chambers, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Pat Deering, Regina Doherty, Stephen Donnelly, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frances Fitzgerald, Peter Fitzpatrick, Charles Flanagan, Brendan Griffin, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Billy Kelleher, Seán Kyne, James Lawless, Josepha Madigan, Finian McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Tony McLoughlin, Aindrias Moynihan, Eoghan Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Darragh O'Brien, Kate O'Connell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Fiona O'Loughlin, John Paul Phelan, Anne Rabbitte, Michael Ring, Brendan Smith, David Stanton.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 36, line 4, after "Oireachtas" to insert "in accordance with the result of the plebiscite".
This amendment calls for the insertion of "in accordance with the result of the plebiscite". I am interested in the Minister of State's response. I opposed this section on Committee Stage and that is the reason I tabled the amendment.
Section 44 deals with the report to the Houses of the Oireachtas. It states:
The Minister shall, in respect of each administrative area in respect of which a plebiscite is held in accordance with this Part and not later than 2 years from the day appointed under subsection (2) of section 40, prepare and submit to both Houses of the Oireachtas either—(a) a report specifying proposals for the enactment of a law providing for a directly elected mayor for such administrative area, or
(b) a report specifying the reasons for his or her not preparing and submitting a report under paragraph (a).
It makes no reference whatsoever to the result of the plebiscite. As I said on Committee Stage, this suggests to me that if in the areas where a plebiscite for a directly elected mayor is held and the public decide they did not want a directly elected mayor, the Minister could proceed with the report for a law providing for a directly elected mayor and, conversely, paragraph (b) also refers to "a report specifying the reasons for his or her not preparing and submitting a report under paragraph", which means the Minister could effectively ignore a plebiscite. If the public decide they want a directly elected mayor a future Minister could decide not to proceed with the their wish. That is the reason my Fianna Fáil colleagues and I have submitted an amendment to the effect that after "Oireachtas" we would insert "in accordance with the result of the plebiscite".
I support the amendment. It makes complete sense that one would decide in accordance with the result of the plebiscite.
Amendment No. 17, which is in my name, was ruled out of order because it conflicts with the principles of the Bill not because it was a cost on the Exchequer. I want to get clarity from the Minister of State on the issue. He said in response to a previous amendment that a paper is going to the Cabinet on metropolitan governance. The reason for my amendment is that I wanted to ensure there would be a draft Bill before people vote on a plebiscite so that they would know what the functions of a directly elected mayor would be, and that they would know how the directly elected mayor would interact with elected members, the executive and other bodies operating within the administrative area. I do not understand why the amendment was ruled out of order. I did not bring it up previously because I did not want to interrupt the flow of the debate on the Galway issue. I raise it now while supporting Deputy O'Brien's amendment. Could the Minister of State clarify that the public will know what they are voting for when they vote in the plebiscite in terms of what kind of functions and relationships the directly elected mayor will have.
Prior to the most recent referendum the heads of the Bill were produced so that people knew when they were voting in the referendum what sort of legislation they were going to get after their decision was made. In a similar spirit, in voting for a plebiscite on whether to have a directly elected mayor in their city, people would know what the directly elected mayor would do.
In response to Deputy O'Brien, I am not in a position to bind my successor. Not alone that, but the result of the plebiscite will require a Government decision to move to the stage of legislating to enact to provide for the position. A plebiscite is different from a referendum by nature anyway. Deputy O'Brien might be familiar with the referendum in 1979 to extend the franchise for the university constituencies in the Seanad but it was never enacted. Since then, the legislation on holding referendums has been worded differently. The plebiscites will require further Government action, and I might not be part of the Government. I might be on the backbenches. I am not in a position to tie the hands of a future Government decision. I understand the point underlying Deputy O'Brien's amendment but I do not think it is feasible. If the electorates in the four areas vote for a directly elected mayor, it will not be politically feasible for whoever is Minister at the time not to act upon that and to report within the two years, as is provided for in the legislation.
In response to Deputy O'Sullivan, we discussed the matter at length on Committee Stage. The next step in the process of holding the plebiscites will be a memo to be discussed and, hopefully, approved by the Cabinet in the new year on the exact functions of a directly elected mayor and what his or her relationship will be with councillors and the executive. Before the memo goes to the Government, I committed to having a debate in this House and in the other House. I do not care how long that takes. I do not think there is any big difference of opinion. My view is that we should give the maximum possible powers to a directly elected mayor, but that would exclude the hiring and firing powers and would exclude certain planning functions in relation to tribunals and inquiries we have had previously. Before we produce a draft I am open to hearing the views of Members in both Houses and for people to have their say, subject to the agreement of the Business Committee of both Houses. We get very little time for local government issues because it is not one of those obviously pertinent or important issues. This is a substantial democratic question and I have no problem allowing as much time as is necessary for debates in both Houses in advance of the memo being prepared and discussed by the Cabinet. Once it is discussed by the Cabinet then a decision will be made by the Government and the memo will be the basis of the question that is put to the people.
Deputy O'Brien is correct: we have explained in the course of the debate on the Bill, and in the amendments that have been accepted on Committee Stage, that the local authorities in question will be required not later than 30 days before the holding of a plebiscite to distribute the information on what the position is. I would expect all the political parties to be knocking on people's doors at that stage for local and European elections at least, and referendums. In some areas people will have five ballot papers, which is a lot, but that is a whole other question. People will have time in advance to establish their party positions on the questions being asked and to campaign on the issues. It is not an unreasonable suggestion. I have nothing to do with the amendment being ruled out of order. We will get to discuss the issue if the Business Committees agree. There is no reason we cannot do it very early at the start of the new Dáil term, because generally that is the time when a slot might be available for such a discussion on what kind of directly elected mayors we want.
I am not trying to tie anyone's hands but I am trying to make sure that the will of the people, as expressed in the plebiscite, is reflected in the reports made by any future Government.
The Minister of State said it would not be politically feasible for someone to ignore that. I understand that a plebiscite is different from a referendum. I agree that it is important that we specify that any report that is brought should be in accordance with the vote taken by the people in the plebiscite because at the moment absolute discretion is afforded to the Minister either to bring a report that proposes to bring forward and enact legislation for directly elected mayors or not to do so, regardless of the outcome of the vote. That is how it reads and that is the issue I raised on Committee Stage. I want to tighten up the provision. I am not in any way trying to be difficult. I believe the amendment improves the Bill. I do not believe it ties anyone's hands. The amendment is in order and so it can be accepted. I went through the point at length on Committee Stage. I intend to press the amendment.
I support Deputy O'Brien. His amendment is sensible. It makes no sense whatsoever to go to the effort of having a plebiscite and then to give the Minister of the day the option of ignoring the result of the plebiscite. If it is not politically feasible, then let us not allow it to be legally possible. On that basis I am more than happy to support the amendment.
I also wish to comment on the Minister of State's response to Deputy O'Sullivan. The repeal referendum was preceded by a Citizens' Assembly, a special Oireachtas committee and the heads of a Bill. A significant amount of work went into building the consensus so that when we were out campaigning on the referendum we had a clear sense of what the legislative framework would look like. I am concerned that a Cabinet memo produced in a short period would not be of the same order. We clearly said to the Minister of State at the Oireachtas committee that we are willing to work with him. I am sure that is the case also for Deputies across the Chamber who are not on the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. It is probably a bit ambitious to think that early in the new year there could be consultation with the Members and that we would agree in principle the shape of the devolution the Minister of State is talking about to such an extent that whatever memo goes to or comes from the Cabinet would get the approval of all sides of the House.
As a result, we would be going into the plebiscites on a much less sure footing than we did in terms of the repeal referenda, when the heads of Bills had been published. I urge caution. Those of us spent a lot of time on the directly-elected mayoral fora in Dublin leading up to the non-plebiscite know how difficult it is to deal with this issue. If there is not clarity in terms of the powers and functions of the directly-elected mayors, that makes winning or losing the plebiscites much more complicated. I just want to throw that out as a caution. While we are still happy to work with the Minister of State, I am not sure he is going to be able to do what he has outlined he wants to do in the short period in advance of those plebiscites if this amendment is passed.
I take the point the Minister of State is making regarding the fact there will be discussion in the chambers and so on. However, it is very important the general public also know what they are going to be voting for in the plebiscite. I would like reassurance that there will be time for public information after whatever happens in the Dáil and when the memo goes to Cabinet. A plebiscite is not about party politics, it is about people making up their own minds about what kind of local government system they want. The functions of their directly-elected mayor will be very important in terms of people's perception of how they might vote. I am anxious the Minister of State would give us some reassurance that the public will have enough time for discussions in the various cities so they will be very clear they know what they are voting for in regard to whatever decision they make in the plebiscites that will be held.
I do not particularly disagree with the points Deputy Darragh O'Brien is making but I am not in a position to unilaterally make a Government decision binding post plebiscite. I can only try to reassure him that my position is clear that if they are passed, there must be a report. The two-year period is just a maximum period. If they are passed, I would absolutely intend to have directly-elected mayoral elections held within 12 months.
There has been a lot of shilly-shallying on the issue, some of it for legitimate reasons and some not. I want to move to a position where every local authority in the country has a directly-elected head. It is all about rebalancing the relationship between the manager, as we used to call them in my day, and the chair. Pending the Government decision, this will have no impact on the functions that are reserved for the councillors, and they would still have to approve development plans and budgets and would still be responsible for the distribution of funds in the municipal districts. I am not talking about impacting on that relationship at all. At the same time, we have this Victorian-type system in Ireland where too much power rests in an unelected official. By and large, in the history of the State these officials have been very good people, but it is all about democratic control. This goes to what Deputy McGuinness referred to earlier, namely, giving power back. That is where the power is at local government level, and I am determined to rebalance that role.
I have spoken to the Chief Whip in respect of the Business Committee allowing time early in the new year. The first week back is the best week in both Houses because it tends to be less busy legislatively. I will stay all night in both Houses if I have to. This is the biggest reform of local government I could at this stage anticipate being able to contribute to in my time, and I am not going to exclude the opinions of any person. That is not say that, ultimately, all of us will agree at the end of the discussion. At the same time, I do not think there is actually much difference of opinion between Members on all sides of the House as to what the role should be.
I thank the Minister of State. I do not doubt his bona fides but my point is that it may not be him who is sitting in that chair in two years' time to decide how to move this on. I do not want to leave it to the discretion of a Minister. As this is written, it is discretionary. I agree with Deputy Jan O'Sullivan that we have to let people know this is something that will be seen through. That is why I intend to put the amendment. While respecting what the Minister of State has said and his own personal bona fides on this, the legislation should last into the future and it should not be dependent on any Minister's good grace whether a plebiscite is adhered to or respected, or not. Therefore, I must press the amendment.
John Brady, Declan Breathnach, Tommy Broughan, Pat Buckley, Joan Burton, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Pat Casey, Jack Chambers, Joan Collins, Barry Cowen, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Clare Daly, Stephen Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Michael Fitzmaurice, Peter Fitzpatrick, Kathleen Funchion, Seán Haughey, Brendan Howlin, Billy Kelleher, Martin Kenny, James Lawless, John McGuinness, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Darragh O'Brien, Jonathan O'Brien, Louise O'Reilly, Jan O'Sullivan, Eoin Ó Broin, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Éamon Ó Cuív, Anne Rabbitte, Brendan Ryan, Eamon Ryan, Brendan Smith, Brian Stanley, Mick Wallace.
Maria Bailey, Pat Breen, Richard Bruton, Peter Burke, Catherine Byrne, Seán Canney, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Simon Coveney, Michael D'Arcy, Pat Deering, Regina Doherty, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Charles Flanagan, Brendan Griffin, Martin Heydon, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Seán Kyne, Josepha Madigan, Finian McGrath, Tony McLoughlin, Eoghan Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Kate O'Connell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, John Paul Phelan, Michael Ring, David Stanton, Leo Varadkar.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 36, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
"Amendment of Electoral Act 1992
46. The Act of 1992 is amended—(a) in section 164, by the insertion in subsection (1) of—(i) ", a plebiscite under Part 6 of the Local Government Act 2018" after “local elections”, and(b) in section 165, by—
(ii) ", plebiscite" after "such election",
and(i) the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (g) of subsection (1):"(g) the poll at a plebiscite under Part 6 of the Local Government Act 2018.",and
(ii) the insertion, in paragraph (f) of subsection (2), of "or plebiscite under Part 6 of the Local Government Act 2018" after "in the case of a local election".".
Amendment No. 19 seeks to insert a new section in Part 6 of the Bill to amend sections 164 and 165 of the Electoral Act 1992 to include plebiscites under this Bill within those provisions. Section 164 provides for the making of "special difficulty" orders which will require to be put back in-----
It will be required to put back the publication and coming into effect of the new electoral registers that will apply in Cork City Council and Cork County Council for the local elections in May 2019 if the enactment and commencement of this Bill is delayed beyond the early part of the new year. It is merely a provision to allow for the publication of the registers in Cork to be put back if this Bill is not enacted early in 2019.
Amendments Nos. 20 to 33, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 22 to 30, inclusive, are physical alternatives to No. 21; amendment No. 23 is a physical alternative to No. 22; amendment No. 25 is a physical alternative
to No. 24; amendments Nos. 25 and 27 are consequential on No. 26; amendment No. 28 is consequential on No. 29; amendment No. 29 is consequential on No. 22 or No. 23; and amendment No. 30 is consequential on No. 25. Amendments Nos. 20 to 33, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 36, to delete lines 15 to 35.
We had a very detailed debate on the urban area committees on Committee Stage. I thank the Minister of State for his engagement on this. Most of us agreed with the concept. It is a sizeable addition to the Bill at a late enough stage. I believe the Minister of State also recognises that. That was a particular concern which we discussed with my colleagues, Deputies Casey and Butler. If there are reforms to local government we want to ensure that local authorities which share boundaries, particularly in urban areas, work better together and that a better structure is put in place for that to happen. For that to happen we also need to make sure there is full consultation. As I said, we spent a great deal of time in the select committee debating this proposal and its merits. The manner in which it was introduced at a late stage has posed some difficulties. A lot needed to be teased out, particularly in the area of planning.
The Bill as it stands would give power to these urban area committees to produce local area plans that would supersede county development plans and which would be transposed. We debated this at length and discussed it with the Minister of State. I know there is a willingness to ensure proper democratisation within this, to ensure there would be oversight by the local authorities and that unelected people would not be sitting and voting on these committees, and to deal with the area of proportionality. This is also very important. We should not have one large local authority telling another smaller local authority what to do. There is a lot of merit in what the Minister of State brought to this Bill, though late in the game, but there are issues that need to be teased out. There are concerns in particular about the eight areas that have been selected. Colleagues of mine will discuss these concerns.
All of us who spoke on Committee Stage, including myself, Deputies Ó Broin, Casey and others, saw the merits in this concept and in ensuring local authorities work better together, particularly on the planning side, for the good of the citizens they serve and whom councillors represent. However, we cannot have a democratic deficit either. We need to make sure locally elected councillors are included in this process. From a planning perspective, we also have to make sure that committees are not set up which will supersede well-planned and sequenced local area plans and development plans. It is in that context that we tabled the amendments which seek to remove these sections.
I know the Minister of State has indicated a willingness to return and look at how this could be done better by way of separate legislation. That is a sensible approach. I hope the amendments we have tabled will be supported and that we can look at this again more comprehensively by way of separate legislation. I firmly believe that is what should have been done in the first place. The concept of urban area committees was too fundamental to be introduced through a Committee Stage amendment. We did our best to be constructive on this concept and to tease out the points on Committee Stage. That will help the process into the future, but we have got to make sure the local authorities named in this Bill are also consulted and that the elected members on the ground are consulted. We can come back next year with more comprehensive legislation that ensures committees like these are set up on a statutory basis in urban areas to deal with shared services, but we must consult properly and widely on that.
While I know the Minister of State has trouble on his own patch, I suggest that if he wants a rerun of the Battle of the Boyne between Louth and Meath or between Drogheda and its hinterland, not to mention the Leinster senior football final of 2010-----
I am just making reference to what Deputy Fitzpatrick said in respect of the Louth-Meath senior championship final. All of that said, to suggest that a very small number of councillors from Drogheda - probably no more than four - along with a similar number from County Meath would decide the local area plan for Drogheda without reference to other members elected to represent Drogheda is undemocratic. The local area plan would then take precedence over the county development plan, which would be forced to follow the local area plan. I cannot see any role in that proposal for the rest of the Drogheda councillors, the other members of Louth County Council, or the executive, including professional planning staff. The recent boundary commission set up by the Minister of State's predecessor made a number of recommendations in respect of Drogheda including that the two local authorities in Louth and Meath should come together to jointly make a plan for the greater Drogheda area. This work is already under way. A review of the existing joint framework plan for the greater Drogheda area was carried out some years ago. I want to put those points on record and to remind the Minister of State of the old Irish phrase "Ní neart go cur le chéile". Supporting a cohesive approach to Drogheda's development is very important, but the method which is proposed is not fit for purpose. I am certainly in favour of any amendment to delete it.
I am going to take a contrary view to most of my colleagues here. To put this in context, we also have a boundary review report in Athlone. We have a very strong community campaign which is very much opposed to the proposed land grab of part of County Roscommon and its proposed incorporation into the province of Leinster and the county of Westmeath. The community was very motivated on this. The difficulty is that the boundary commission report that was completed set a bomb ticking in respect of the recommendation. While it did not recommend that part of County Roscommon be amalgamated into County Westmeath, it did lay down a condition that, if co-operation across the River Shannon and the county boundary was not instituted within a four-year period, the incorporation of Monksland, County Roscommon, into County Westmeath would happen automatically. I cannot accept that. I need to flag to colleagues that this will come into force within the next 23 months because of the way this report was completed. The amendments brought in by the Minister of State on Committee Stage, which it is now proposed to delete, were brought in as a replacement for that ticking time bomb.
Local authority elections will take place within the next 23 months. It is difficult to see progress being made on this. While there always has been a willingness from the local authority members in the Athlone area to have a co-ordinated approach across the River Shannon, that has not been always the case across both local authorities. A person, who is on, for the sake of argument, the Mayo county boundary, has equal influence regarding the development of Athlone as a person who is on the Cavan county boundary. While the councillors locally were prepared to co-operate and work together, that was not always the case. The objective behind the urban area committee was to ensure a structure underpinned that co-operation and it replaced the recommendation on page 49 of the boundary commission report, which has caused much concern locally in Athlone. If that report remains in place, by the deletion of these particular sections, the co-operation that has been built up will be undermined and we will not see the progress that needs to be made.
Many of us here agree on the objective set out in Project Ireland 2040 that Athlone develop as a new emerging city and in that way to provide a counter balance to some of the other growth areas across the country and to give the heartlands region an opportunity to bring employment into the middle of the country which has not been the case to date. However, Athlone cannot develop without co-operation across the county boundary and the regional structures currently in place. A statutory footing is required to ensure such co-operation happens in reality. People would say that co-operation can happen anyway. We have seen in the past that where such co-operation was on a statutory basis that one of those committees ended up breaking up in disarray. While currently there is co-operation, it is on the basis that this would be put on a statutory footing.
I know I am a lone voice on this issue. Discussions have been ongoing. The key political parties are proposing that this would be put forward in separate legislation, but what happens to the recommendations on page 49 of the Athlone boundary report? I was given assurances that sections 46 and 47 of this legislation superseded the recommendations in that report, but if these sections are being removed from this legislation, what is the status of those recommendations? Are we back to a situation where a gun is being put to the heads of the councillors and officials in Roscommon County Council to co-operate or Monksland will be taken away? That should not be the case.
This legislation provides for equality of treatment regarding co-operation across boundaries. If that issue of equality is recognised in law, much progress can be made regarding engagement, but that equality has never been there to date. It has been always the case of one bigger local authority looking over the ditch at the other local authority. The solution put forward by the Minister of State's officials, the previous Government, and the former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, was to move the fence a little out and take in part of County Roscommon into County Westmeath. That has been the simple solution up to now. I am vehemently opposed to that, as are the people I represent in County Roscommon and the tens of thousands of people who signed that petition and got the support of every political party in this House at the time. How stands the position of the people who signed those petitions and were given commitments that they would not be shoehorned into County Westmeath because of a lack of equality of treatment regarding engagement. This legislation, these amendments and these sections were to provide that specific protection. They were to ensure that the town of Athlone develops in a co-ordinated manner both in County Westmeath and in County Roscommon. It was not to benefit either local authority or the local community but to benefit the region as a whole. It was to attract people to the greater heartlands region, to bring investment into that region and to at long last provide a counter-balance to the investment which, historically, has taken place only on the edges of our island. I ask the Minister of State to clarify that for colleagues in the House.
Like a number of colleagues, when these amendments were tabled late on Monday of last week, I was quite critical of them, given that they are substantive, that they propose significant changes to local government structures and powers, and that we were given them at such a late stage without adequate time for pre-legislative scrutiny or proper consideration. I acknowledge, however, the response of the Minister and his officials. He gave us a considerable amount of time last week, prior to Committee Stage, to go through this in detail. We had a very full discussion on Committee Stage and another detailed discussion with a number of members of the joint committee and others this week. While we are proposing the removal of Part 7 through these amendments, it is not because we do not accept the core principle behind what the Minister is seeking to do. Both on Committee Stage and in the subsequent discussion, all of us accepted that the intention behind the Minister's amendments is right. We have pledged to work with him on the separate legislation, which we believe can be done quite early next year, either attached to the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill or in stand-alone legislation.
I want to address some of Deputy Naughten’s concerns because he has not been privy to our considerations. His questions were directed to the Minister of State but to ensure he knows where we stand on that, and my comments will be reflective of those of many Opposition Deputies, we absolutely accept that in those 11 urban areas in particular which now cross county boundaries, we have to have a statutory requirement for a comprehensive plan and this has to involve elected members from that particular area. Leaving it to the voluntary co-operation of the local authorities will not work. It has not worked in the past, and there are many examples of that. Our concern was not that we did not want a statutory mechanism for doing this but that, given that we did not have adequate time to scrutinise the proposals and that there had not been in our view adequate consultation with elected members, sitting county managers or elected Members here, more time was required to get it right.
If it is any reassurance to Deputy Naughten, there is a commitment on the part of all the Opposition members of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, where this will rest next year to get this done in advance of the local government elections, to provide for a statutory mechanism to do the very thing he is requiring. We had detailed informal discussions and I understand the Minister and his officials were very receptive to ways of improving what is in the Bill to ensure we get it right. Nobody is arguing this should not be done before the local elections. Nobody is arguing for the blocking of the statutory requirement. It is simply about ensuring it is done correctly. There is a case for removing it now and returning to it very early next year We would more than welcome the input of those Deputies who are not members of our committee but who have a significant interest in this to ensure we get it right. In that way, when members are elected, and approximately 23 local authorities will be affected by this measure, they will understand clearly that there will be a statutory requirement for such a plan and a mechanism that puts it in place.
One of the concerns many of us had was that while it is right and proper to have a statutory requirement for such a plan and a mechanism for co-ordination among councillors across two local authorities, we must ensure also that, for example, all elected members within the municipal districts affected by these plans get input into it. That is not provided for in the original proposal from the Minister. It is important that all members of those municipal districts would get a final say. The exact mechanisms have to be teased out. It is important that the way those elected members are appointed to any such committee in the future, how decisions are made in terms of the boundary that committee would examine, the specific nature of public consultation and involvement of different sectors of the community, including the community sector, which is not included in this Bill, would be properly taken into account.
Deputies Casey and O'Brien and I were clear at the Select Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government meeting that we want something that does what this intends to do. We think there is a much better way to do it. The Minister of State is meeting us halfway, which, to my understanding, is why he will accept amendments Nos. 20, 21, 31 and 32. We will make sure as much time is provided as is needed early next year by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government to facilitate the Minister, his officials and Deputies from all the affected areas who are not members so that we have it in place before the local elections.
I welcome that the Minister of State will withdraw his amendments, which I believe are unworkable, and accept Opposition amendments. Using the example of Waterford and Kilkenny where the difficulties thrown up by boundary issues have been high profile in recent weeks, what was proposed in early stages would not work. The metropolitan area of Waterford city has a population of 47,000. The Ferrybank area of south Kilkenny has a population of 5,000. They were going to be represented by three councillors each, the chief executive of each local authority and four other people. This would have been difficult from the point of view of democracy and proportional representation. The proposed powers and functions up for consideration beggared belief, including the proposal that the local area plan could be overruled. It sent shockwaves through the local authorities, councillors and people affected. It generated a lot of mileage on the national and local airwaves, as one can imagine. I do not believe what was proposed is the correct solution for a collaborative approach going forward, but I believe we have to have an approach where local authorities can come together and work for the betterment of all the people who live in an area that straddles two different counties or districts. The proposal in its current form would only deepen the divide and drive a deeper wedge between both communities. That is the last thing we want. In practical terms, I do not know how this would have worked but I welcome that common sense has prevailed for now and that we will revisit this in the new year.
This is an important discussion, even on this Stage of the Bill. I offer my sympathies to the Minister of State who is attempting to solve a problem which is a lively issue in my constituency. I concur with much of what Deputy Naughten said. I will give a factual example to show how unworkable what has been proposed is. Drogheda is in County Louth at the moment but a significant part of the town of Drogheda is in County Meath. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, states the town of Drogheda has a population of 42,000, which makes it the largest town in the country. It is not too far behind Waterford, which has approximately 52,000 to 53,000 people. We do not have a council. We have a significant development in east Meath, which is important to the town and to everybody. In an attempt to deal with this issue, both Louth and Meath county councils produced an area development plan for the areas that we are talking about.
Notwithstanding that the professional plan had buy-in from both councils, the district council in Meath overturned that and the law was that the local council had priority. The plan, which was appropriate and proper for the area, agreed by both councils, was overruled, and a builder's charter came into force instead. Hundreds of houses were built. They did not have planning permission at the time. We also had fights over where a certain football ground might go. We had rezoning of land which was going to be zoned for housing in one plan and not in another plan. There were stories of land valued at potentially millions of euro coming and going, toing and froing - not by Deputy Breathnach. That was the cynical operation that was being done at the back of all this. Out of that came things like out of town shopping centres. We all know that out of town shopping centres have destroyed the urban fabric and heart of our towns. There were out of town shopping centres outside Drogheda, in County Meath, given permission because Meath then gets the rates income. All of that codology has gone on for years, and not just in Drogheda but everywhere else as well.
It is time to put a stop to a council taking a significant advantage of a large adjoining population and putting in items which give it an income but destroy the fabric of the other town. It is also time that we put an end to a developer who was granted extensive planning permission on a condition from An Bord Pleanála that first and foremost the road network and roundabouts to manage traffic would have to go in. As it happened, the houses were built with no damned roundabouts and people had to wait for years before they were put in place. That is another joke. Sewage was moved at night from a storage tank because the houses were occupied before proper planning permission was put in place. All that codology happened and continues to happen in counties Louth and Meath. People are arguing on both sides.
The Minister of State that there has to be a proper order and a hierarchy of plans. I agree with the hierarchy of having the county councils make the plans. There must be significant local input and it must be balanced but what the Minister of State was, and is still, trying to do is to balance that. The voice of the people in the case I am talking about was the last voice to be heard. The voice of the developers was heard and that is why we ended up with some of the disgraceful situations that people have to live with. Houses were built with no facilities, infrastructures or anything but the profit the builder made was in his back pocket. He then walked away and left houses, which in some cases he kindly built on flood plains. We know all about that around the country. We want proper, properly controlled planning, with the interests of the local people being paramount. Even though I am critical of parts of the councils' plans, they are generally excellent, and that is the appropriate place to draft them.
Whether one has a Meath or a Louth jersey, if one wants to go to a decent school in Drogheda or east Meath or to go to a shopping centre, one has a choice. Infrastructure, recreational facilities and amenities have to be properly planned. There is a demand in Drogheda for my town to be in control of its own destiny and to have its own council with full, proper powers. It is unacceptable to me and the citizens of my town that we have a population greater than the wonderful county of Longford, whom I wish well, and Leitrim. They have their infrastructure, their chief executive officers, planners, engineers and everything except the population that we have. We have absolutely nothing. That creates a significant political crisis in our area. I know Deputy Breathnach knows it well, fair dues to him. He should have been there this morning, though he can text me about that.
There is room for deep thought on this and significant collaboration among all of us for the best planning. We must put an end to cowboy plans and cowboys, and to councillors who do not act in the best interest of the public. We have evidence of that today from a Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, judgment.
We cannot and must not allow a coach and four to be driven through our planning system by people with pecuniary interests and no concern for future generations or planning. We must have no more of this codology anywhere in the country.
There has been a lot of talk of power grabs, land grabs and hostile takeovers. Dick Turpin was also mentioned. I want to deal with matters that are much less contentious and much more civilised. Waterford-Kilkenny is one example of an area that would have been subject to the proposed urban area councils. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, for his co-operation in working with the Opposition on this issue. As stated earlier by Teachta Ó Broin, we had concerns about elements of what is being proposed in terms of the composition of the committees, the powers and functions of the committees and the lack of clarity around how they would interact in a democratic way with the councils and the metropolitan districts. We also had a difficulty with the democratic deficit which we believed would have been created in what would be the urban area of the metropolitan area of Waterford and the part of south Kilkenny which would allow for the natural expansion of Waterford city, which the Minister of State will be aware crosses the county boundaries of Waterford and Kilkenny.
For the first time, we have all-party support to work to identify a process to address this issue, which is positive and important. People have their views on boundary extensions but if, as the Minister of State said boundary extensions are on hold, we now need to look at putting in place processes that will work. Sinn Féin has no difficulty with supporting a process or a structure but I agree with Teachta Naughten that it would have to be on a statutory basis. We would then have to examine the relationship between whatever structure is put in place and the local authorities it would straddle. We must get this right. We also have to have maximum consultation on the issue because we have all been contacted by CEOs of councils, councillors and others, expressing genuine concerns. Everybody wants to make sure we get this right and that we have an appropriate process. What I am hearing from people at management and council level in the more than dozen local authorities affected is that they want a fair and democratic process, one that practically will work and will deliver for people in those areas.
If we can take the heat and the emotion out of this issue and deal with it in a practical and sensible way, we can find a solution that is appropriate for everybody, especially the people who live in the areas. I thank the Minister of State for accepting the amendments. Teachta Ó Broin and I, and hopefully others, will work constructively with the Minister of State to ensure we put in place a process. Nobody is saying that we can leave things as they are because that is not sustainable. Everybody accepts that there has to be a solution. Let us come back to this in the new year and try to get this right. If we get it right, the Minister of State will have the support of Sinn Féin in getting it through the Dáil.
I thank the Minister of State and his officials for the opportunity last Tuesday to discuss this issue. Having listened to the contributions of previous speakers it is clear that the issues differ in each of the areas. The areas mentioned are Athlone, Bray, Carlow, Carrick-on-Shannon, Drogheda, Limerick, Portarlington and Waterford. We do need a statutory solution. The Minister of State has kicked off the discussion that we need to have in regard to the inclusion of these proposals in the Bill but the issue requires a lot more debate than is appropriate to a Report Stage amendment. I think the outcome of this will be that the issue will be debated in a different way.
The situation in regard to Limerick is different from that described by Deputy O'Dowd in regard to Drogheda, where there has been abuse of the system by developers. In Limerick, it is different in that only a relatively small number of houses and a piece of the university are in County Clare. We have not had the kind of larger development described in regard to Waterford-Kilkenny and Athlone. Deputy Casey gave us a lot of information about Bray. There is the potential for this abuse to occur in the Limerick-Clare situation because the new road will open up a currently undeveloped rural area and so I can understand why this provision would be needed into the future. As I said, we need coherent structures that are proportionate to the representation on both sides. I hope that we will have the opportunity to tease out this issue and the time necessary to get it right.
Fianna Fáil supports the concept of the urban committees. Everybody here acknowledges that whatever structure is required must be put in place urgently. I thank the Minister of State for making himself available to us prior to the committee meeting, during the committee and earlier this week, as those meetings provided us with an opportunity to thrash out our concerns, which the Minister of State and his officials have indicated they will take on board.
I think they have also accepted that the proposal as presented is not workable. It is a pity it was rushed in at the last minute. If it had been presented during the pre-legislative scrutiny process we could have ironed out many of the problems arising today.
Bray has been mentioned. My concern is in regard to the removal of the democratic process. For example, if I am one of the eight councillors elected to Bray County Council but not one of the three elected to the committee I would have no democratic say in how my local area plan is adopted. I also agree with Deputy Naughten's remarks in regard to proportionality. Regardless of what structure is put in place, finding a balanced solution will be difficult. This piece is missing form the debate. We have discussed with the Minister of State the idea of the municipal districts or the wards being the bodies that would sign off on plans rather than a select committee of eight people. We have offered solutions in our contributions today, which I believe the Minister of State will take on board.
We also have concerns regarding the make-up of the committees, in particular the appointment of four outsiders to the committee, although I understand they would not have voting rights. Currently, local areas plans, county plans and regional plans are adopted without outside involvement. There is no need for such people to be members of the committee because we could always call on them if we needed them. The issue of sequencing is also of concern. This issue has been driven by the national planning framework in regard to the regional plans, the county plans and the local area plans but in this instance, the sequencing is reversed, coming from the ground upwards.
Fianna Fáil, and I am sure everybody in this House, is willing to work with the Minister of State to resolve this issue and to give him time to consider it. What is being proposed is badly needed to address the boundaries issue and land grabbing, so we need to retain the good aspects of it. It creates a plan for an area that would facilitate everybody.
It is just that I and my party had a major concern about the democratic processes, the structure of the committees and the power being given to them. In fairness, we are willing to work with the Minister of State and I acknowledge that he is willing to accept our amendments. We will facilitate any legislation he wishes to introduce in respect of this matter.
Every Member present has engaged at some level during the process on this Bill and particularly on this part of the Bill. Having listened to the Committee Stage debate, I was conscious of the fact that what was proposed, particularly with regard to the local area plan, was a big change and that we should have more time for consideration. I was also conscious of the fact that nobody disagrees with the idea that we must have a joint structure for towns and cities that cross county boundaries. I agree with Deputy Cullinane regarding his desire to take the heat out of the issue we are most familiar with in our part of the world. I will not refer to Dick Turpin or anybody else in that regard.
Deputy Casey is right that the central thesis here is not going to be universally accepted even in the new year. I have told the assistant secretary in the Department that rather than eating turkey later this month, he will be drafting the relevant sections for a new short legislative measure specifically relating to urban area committees. It will refer to the structure and also the functions. There will not be universal agreement. The status quohas to change, as everybody says, but it will only change if there is acceptance on every side of these boundary areas that powers that reside with existing councils will have to be given up. There will be no fudging our ability to square that circle - powers will have to be given up.
Deputy Naughten said he is a lone voice but, as he probably realises from listening to some of the other contributions, he is not. I assure him that his is not a lone voice. He raised specific issues about the status of recommendations in the boundary report relating to Roscommon. Those recommendations are in no way binding on me or my successors. They are recommendations for action. I understand the desire on all sides of the question in Athlone for a solution to be devised. That is why as early as possible in the new year the staff in the Customs House and in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel will be drafting. There is largely agreement on the necessity for them to exist.
I am a believer in another point the Deputy made. The principle here is equality between the authorities that are devising plans of whatever status for the areas concerned. Unless that equality exists, these structures will be doomed before they come into place. Whether I use my example or other others from around the country, if there are committees in which there are eight members from one county and two from another, then, as sure as eggs, we know what the outcome will be. I accept Deputy Jan O'Sullivan's point that one size does not fit all. That is why in the functions part of the new legislation we will be discussing quite high-level pieces relating to development of these urban centres into the future. These are pieces that local authorities often do not do very well, such as the spatial planning for what should be in the Clare part of Limerick city in the future as well the areas the Deputy mentioned that will be opened up for development.
In my part of the country, most of the natural development of Waterford city will be on the north side of the Suir. I will absolutely maintain my position that a county councillor, albeit from the same county but who lives 50 or 100 miles away, should not have an input into a decision that might affect another councillor who lives ten yards away on the wrong side of the boundary. Currently, that person is excluded. Deputy Cullinane's point is correct. In the Waterford context the 18 metropolitan councillors in the Waterford city area should have the say, but the councillors living in Castlecomer and in Tallow should not have the say. Waterford city is the local town for a third of the people who live in County Kilkenny, not just the 7,000 who live in the Ferrybank area, and there will be many more living there over the next few years. Deputy O'Dowd also made that point about people living 50 miles away making the decisions as opposed to those who are representing, and living in, the area. He described it as codology. The purpose of the amendments as drafted was specifically to avoid the type of codology whereby voluntary groups would come together and draw up a plan which both sides could walk away from afterwards. Regardless of the shape it takes in the new year, that will not be contained in the Bill. This is where the democracy element Deputy Butler mentioned is paramount. The councillors from those parts of the counties in question should have the final ratification. I have very much come to that view, but that must be borne out in the drafting. I have read all the reports by the local authorities that made submissions to the four boundary committees. The central argument in favour of boundary extensions was always that the local authority needed an area included to properly plan and develop into the future. That is a substantive argument and that is what this structure will have to do in those areas.
I am accepting amendments Nos. 20, 21, 31 and 32 the effect of which is to remove Part 7 of the Bill. We will return to that as early in 2019 as the Christmas turkey allows.
I thank the Minister of State for his response and other colleagues for their comments. I do not question the bona fides of any Member of the House on this. I spoke to Deputy Eugene Murphy earlier and he also expressed concerns about the removal of the urban area committee. The difficulty is that there is no alternative on the table. I do not question that the Minister of State will bring forward a legislative measure in the new year, but we have all seen how difficult legislation can be. The Minister of State has admitted that this will not be universally accepted and we saw how a head of steam built up regarding these amendments. As we approach the local elections, I do not have the reassurance that the same head of steam will not build up again in respect of whatever is the alternative. The difficulty is that we have 99 weeks and next week we will have 98 weeks. It will be down to 90 weeks in the new year.
The boundary area report for Athlone continues to stand. The Minister of State is correct that he is not bound by it, but he will not necessarily be the Minister at the end of 2020 when the clock stops ticking in this regard. I do not know who the Minister will be. We know that if it is one of his predecessors County Roscommon would go into County Westmeath at the stroke of a pen. I do not have any assurance in that regard and that is why I am a lone voice. I am opposed to the removal of these sections until I see an alternative. I accept the assurances that have been given by the Government, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, but the clock is ticking. If they renege on putting that alternative in place, the people of County Roscommon will remember that fact when the local elections and the next general election come around. Members' colleagues throughout the country - the CEOs, councillors, council candidates and colleagues in this House - will be opposed to whatever alternative is brought forward. We need urban area committees across boundaries and they must be placed on a statutory footing. I am very supportive of co-operation, but co-operation cannot happen unless it is set out in law. Next week, we will be down to 98 weeks in the context of the Athlone area report. Every Member has now been warned of the position in that regard.
I accept the point about being forewarned but I have discussed this with Deputy Naughten on several occasions. We are absolutely committed to doing this and doing it quickly - Deputy Ó Broin also said it to the Minister - so that it would be early January. We cannot accept something that we disagree with or that we think will not work as it is intended to work. The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, has also said there were elements of the Bill he has come around to, especially with regard to the local area plan and the issue of the unelected individuals who would sit on the committee. It is our job to interrogate such aspects. It is not our job to just accept things on blind faith or, because it is needed urgently, to just take whatever is on offer.
From a Fianna Fáil perspective we will absolutely start working with this once there is a Bill prepared if that is the first week in January - as the Minister of State has referred to. We have spent hours and hours at the committee on this, along with Deputy Casey and others. The Minister of State also made himself available outside of the committee where we discussed it further. No one here is taking this lightly or just kicking the matter to touch. It does not just relate to Athlone, Kilkenny, Carlow or Waterford. If we get the structure right I would see it being used in other districts and other areas in the State. It is fundamentally important. It would be a very good reform and we want it to happen. We will not be delaying it and we certainly will not be found wanting in bringing forward alternative solutions. We have not wasted the last week because a lot of what is required to fix and improve this proposal has been debated and discussed. We got a lot of agreement, which was good. This is what we should be doing and I saw more of that at the housing committee with the Minister and his officials, where we worked in a collaborative and respectful way to bring this forward and to get a better proposal. I would hope that we will have it in early January. Fianna Fáil will not be found wanting on this.
There is nothing the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan has said with which I would disagree. I do not believe that anybody is arguing for it simply to be referred back to the two local authorities to do what they have not been able to do up to this point. I believe there should be urban area committees with a structured, formal mechanism for councillors from the municipal districts who are not on that urban area committee to participate in that process. I made a suggestion at one of the meetings with the Minister of State and his officials that if there is no ultimate agreement on the area plan, there should be some independent third party - be it An Bord Pleanála or the planning regulator if that office has the independent power to do this - to ensure that councillors would know that if they were to walk away from a final agreement on an area plan, there would be a third party to step in to ensure those plans would be insisted upon.
I am quite taken by the idea of a committee that has an equal number of members from either side of the boundary. The full membership of the municipal districts should be able, however, to submit amendments into the urban area committee and should be given a formal draft plan for final ratification, subject to the ultimate oversight of the planning regulator if an agreement cannot be reached.
I do not believe there is any disagreement between anything I have said in the public or the private housing committee meetings with the Minister of State and his officials, and anything the Minister of State has said in the House.
Deputy Naughten is right; there is no alternative in front of him so I have a lot of sympathy for his position. In the past week and a half, I have probably spoken to more city and county managers, and ex-city and county managers, from outside my constituency than I have done in quite a long time. Nobody is arguing against a structure or a statutory requirement to produce a plan for those urban areas. In no conversation I have had with people has anyone said things should be left the way they are. Many of the discussions we had during the committee and at the private sessions have been informed by some of those points of view. I am not asking the Minister of State to take us at our word, because obviously he has a legitimate concern, but I do not believe we will have the same head of steam when the Minister of State comes back with proposals. We have given a commitment, however, to get this agreed and get it through and we will certainly honour this commitment.
I believe we will have the same head of steam, and I think it will be bigger, because we are dealing with those rawest of Irish emotions, hard borders and soft borders, which are topical in other areas currently. At least we will have the opportunity for people to think about it. That is a fair assessment, but I do not believe there will ever be a situation where there would be full agreement.
I put it to Deputy Naughten that it is my intention for this to happen as soon as the Bill is drafted. I have spoken to the Chief Whip a lot over the last few days but the Business Committee decides everything now. I do not detect any political animosity to the provision of the structure. Even in the last round of contributions, there was a lot of agreement, especially on who has the ultimate say on the adoption of plans. That would be from my side. From other Deputies' sides, there was agreement on the issue of equality. That really goes to the heart of ensuring this co-operation works.
I want to place on the record the fact that Carlow town is the only place in Ireland where this kind of co-operation has been going on for decades. Laois County Council pays a contribution to Carlow at the end of each year for services provided by Carlow to Laois. As a result, when it came the boundary reports there were eight submissions. The boundary there is very much a soft border in Graiguecullen, between the Carlow part of Graiguecullen and the Laois bit of Graiguecullen. This is what we want. It is a shame that it has to be put into statute but it has to be, because we know from experience what can happen. Deputy O'Dowd gave the best example of that. If it is not in statute, people will just walk away from it on both sides. All sorts of political pressures build for that to happen. This is why we will come back early in 2019.
I do not think amendment No. 33 can be moved because it is referenced in the section that has already been deleted. I am the only Deputy that actually disagreed with the section remaining in place, but I am quite supportive of it remaining in place.