Dáil debates

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Direct Election of Mayor Plebiscite Regulations 2019: Motion

 

4:20 pm

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:Direct Election of Mayor Plebiscite Regulations 2019,a copy of which was laid in draft form before Dáil Éireann on 1st April, 2019.”

I welcome the opportunity to address the House on the draft direct election of mayor plebiscite regulations 2019. I will set out the background. Part 6 of the Local Government Act 2019 provides for the holding of plebiscites on the direct election of mayors in Cork city, Limerick city and county as well as Waterford city and county. Section 41 provides that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government may make regulations for the purposes of holding a plebiscite. It also provides that, where regulations are proposed to be made, a draft of the regulations shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the regulations shall not be made until a resolution approving the draft has been passed by each such House. The draft regulations were laid before both Houses on 1 April 2019.

It is intended that the plebiscites will take place on the same day as the European Parliament and local elections on Friday, 24 May 2019.

These draft regulations provide for procedural and administrative matters relating to the conduct of the plebiscites. They set out the statutory arrangements for the taking of the plebiscites, the counting of votes and electoral offences. The provisions relating to the conduct of the plebiscites set out in the draft regulations apply many of the provisions of the Local Elections Regulations 1995. They provide that the local authority returning officer, who is responsible for the conduct of local elections, would be appointed as the plebiscite returning officer with responsibility for the conduct of the plebiscite. They set out the form of the ballot paper, including the question to be put at the plebiscites. They also provide that the plebiscite returning officer is responsible for giving public notice of the holding of the plebiscite; the distribution of information for voters; the printing of ballot papers; and making arrangements for postal and special voting. Provision is also made for matters such as the secrecy of the ballot; the official mark on the ballot paper; the security of ballot boxes; the procedure for voting; arrangements to deal with spoilt ballot papers; and voting by those who are visually impaired. The arrangements for the counting of votes at the plebiscites are also set out in the draft regulations. These include the time and date of the count; the appointment of a place for the count, including practical arrangements such as the provision of furniture and equipment; and the arrangements for the safe custody of the ballot papers and documents relating to the plebiscites. The draft regulations set out who can attend the counting of votes; who can handle ballot papers; and the arrangements for opening, extracting and counting ballot papers as well as ensuring that the number of ballot papers tally with the information on the ballot paper account that accompanies each ballot box. Provision is also made for mixing the ballot papers; identifying invalid ballot papers; and arrangements for counting the votes and recounts, if necessary. On completion of the count, the draft regulations set out the procedures that must be followed by the plebiscite returning officer, including the retention and disposal of documents and the preparation and signature of a plebiscite certificate. This certificate, which states the number of votes recorded in favour of and against the proposal, must be published in Iris Oifìgiúiland a copy must be also sent to the Minister and the relevant local authority. Electoral offences set out in the draft regulations apply many of the provisions regarding electoral offences contained in the Local Elections Regulations 1995. These include matters such as breach of secrecy; offences relating to ballot boxes, ballot papers and official marks; and obstruction of the poll and interference with electors.

The Department, under instruction from the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, and myself, has established a committee chaired by Henry Abbott, a former High Court judge and Member of both Houses of the Oireachtas as well as a former local authority member. The committee includes local government section officials and representatives from the three local authorities where the plebiscites will take place. The committee is in place to ensure that the public information issued as part of the plebiscite campaign is in line with the McCrystal and McKenna judgments, which also apply for the plebiscites.

I understand that early next week in each area where the plebiscites are taking place, the committee will launch its public information campaign. I know that next week Fine Gael will launch its plebiscite campaigns in the three local authority areas where the plebiscites are taking place.

The only criticism of the plebiscites thus far has been of the public information campaign. I ask the House to note that, at this stage, it looks quite likely, notwithstanding the fact that all Stages of the referendum legislation are to be taken in the Seanad tomorrow, the public information campaign for the plebiscites will commence before the public information campaign for the referendum. The argument that there is not sufficient time and that insufficient information will be made available does not stand up to scrutiny, even in the context of polling taking place on 24 May.

I will welcome contributions by all colleagues.

4:30 pm

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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It is a pleasure to speak about this issue of plebiscites and directly elected mayors. It is great to hear the subject being spoken about at all because there has been little to talk about up until this point. While the motion deals with procedural and administrative measures related to the holding of the plebiscites, I will use my time to address the detail of what will be involved in the very important question that will be put to the people and the issues they will have to weigh up.

My concern, unlike the Minister of State, is that the people will not be armed with the information they need to make this important decision. For the Minister of State to make the assertion that it does not stand up to scrutiny is fundamentally wrong. Everyone in this Chamber flagged this issue in the extensive debate on 24 January at the start of the 2019 term. One thing all Opposition spokespersons said on that day was that they all supported the concept the Minister of State was bringing forward but that they wanted to see the detail promptly and that the public should have it promptly in order that this unique moment would not be lost. The first we saw of it was last week, while the public is completely in the dark. Ten weeks after the discussion in the Dáil, the Minister of State published the detail and we are now six weeks from polling day.

The void caused by the lack of information has been filled, as it always will be, with endless discussions about what the mayors will be paid. That is the one detail that was leaked. The public debate from the start has been framed by the pay issue, not by the potential powers related to finance or the policy issues of which the mayor would have control. It has come down to pay. That was caused by the Minister of State and the Government. He has been on local radio stations debating the pay of the proposed mayors with radio presenters. That is what people hear. That is with what our canvassers and the Minister of State's councillors in Waterford, Cork and Limerick are being hit at doors. People ask why the Government is creating a job for someone with another big pay packet. With what does the Minister of State expect canvassers to reply when the 46 page document on the proposals was only issued last week? As he knows from his time in local government, it is not easy to explain the complex structure of local government to someone on his or her doorstep in 60 seconds in the evening when canvassing. Explaining the dynamics between chief executive officers, directors of services and the new elected mayors and how they will change is not easy. Does the Minister of State accept this? Does he accept that he had the support of Members in this Chamber when we had the debate in January but there was a qualification that we wanted to see the detailed proposals brought forward swiftly? Will he tell me that he is standing over this?

This is a Government proposal that needs to be sold to the public, but, on the other hand, the Minister of State has said it will be run on the same basis as the referendum commission. I am very worried about the information that will be provided. For over 100 years we have been frustrated at the over-centralisation of power in the Custom House. This was a chance to break some of the chains. Even at that, it was not being fully embraced. I expressed my fears in the earlier debate and will say it again. It does not go halfway towards being enough to rebalance powers between the CEO and the directly elected mayor in the same way citizens across the rest of Europe understand their directly elected mayors. The document spends far more time speaking about what the mayor will not be allowed to do than it does about what he or she will or should be allowed to do. The language used about what the mayor could do is all couched in terms of engagement, bringing people together and achieving goals collectively, but the flowery adjectives are dropped when it states what they cannot do. It is more like the Ten Commandments. It is definitely a house production from the Custom House.

The opportunity which was and still is before the Minister of State, to start a process of real reform, is at risk of being lost. I do not want to see this fail because something would be better than nothing. I hope the lack of information that has been the case up until this point will not cost in the passing of the plebiscites. There is a need for a rebalancing of powers between the executive and directly elected councillors. I hope the much awaited information campaign will not cause more confusion than help and that it can convey to people in simple terms the complexity of the structures of local government and how any rebalancing of powers would be beneficial to citizens. People are not going to go out to say they want to have a mayor for Cork. They want to understand the powers mayors will have, the dynamics with the chief executive officer and what they will or will not be able to do across the range of issues mentioned by the Minister of State, including finance, planning and so on. The expressions of concern from the Minister, Deputy Bruton, in the press, among others, do not fill me with confidence. I want to see the people of Cork, Limerick and Waterford have the directly elected mayors they require. It is disgraceful that this much talked about reform has failed because of the engagement with the public so far.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Three words come to mind when describing the position in which we find ourselves. One is to welcome the detail of the proposals the Minister of State published last week, about which I will talk. I am disappointed that things I would like to see in them are not in them and I will bring them to the attention of the Minister of State, too. Notwithstanding the fact that Sinn Féin will support the proposition, I am concerned that we are very late in the day. The Minister of State should listen to some of our concerns, rather than dismissing them because it might help us to come out with a positive result.

At the core of the proposals is a significant reform of local government. Anybody who denies this is being churlish. Transferring all policy initiation powers from the chief executive to a directly elected mayor is a big deal. I am sure the County and City Management Association fully understands the significance of it and is lobbying away on the issue. I do not in any way underestimate its significance. Allowing a directly elected mayor to initiative the capital budget is a significant transformation. I disagree with the previous speaker. The exclusions are eminently sensible. No directly elected mayor should have any role in dealing with individual planning applications, individual housing allocations, individual licences or the award of grants.

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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I never said that. The Deputy should not put words in my mouth.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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It is very good that they are being taken out. I am glad to see that the mayor will still have a role to play in policy initiation in strategic planning, but the exclusions related to planning applications are sensible.

With regard to the expression of my disappointment, it is not that I expected these things to be included, but I would still like to see them included. There is no devolution from central government or State agencies. Notwithstanding the fact that it is not included, we need to have a conversation after the plebiscites, if they are successful, to ask if we can work into the legislation the possibility of further rolling devolution after this proposal, subject to the votes of the people in the three cities concerned. That would be very positive. We also need to have a conversation about deeper levels of fiscal independence for local authorities. It is a significant challenge and the system does not lend itself well to it, but that needs to be part of the debate when we come back with the legislation if the plebiscites are successful. It seems strange to me that we are having plebiscites on this reform in three cities and that the four Dublin local authorities are not being included. I know that we could not do this with a directly elected mayor for all of Dublin city and county, but there is no reason the proposition that will be put to the people of Limerick, Cork and Galway could not be put to the people of the four Dublin local authorities in order that those of us in south Dublin could decide if we wanted to have a directly elected mayor for south Dublin on the same basis. I ask the Minister of State to think about this and even if it is not possible to do it because the legislation providing for the plebiscites has been passed, could we find some way to do it and have plebiscites before mayoral elections are held in these three cities?

I am concerned about the short timeframe involved. I do not think the Minister of State's argument about the divorce referendum stands up because despite the fact that many of us support it, we are concerned about the timeline.

I have been talking to my colleagues in Cork, Waterford and Limerick, who tell me either that people know nothing about this or that there is very limited information. I absolutely agree with Deputy Cassells, the information that ended up in the public domain as a result of conflicting briefings from two Ministers in two newspapers after the Cabinet meeting some weeks ago is not helpful. I am sure the Minister of State did not want it that way. All people are talking about is the salary. I want us to focus on the powers. I do think the salary is too high and that should be dealt with separately. I do not think that putting a leaflet into every house in the three cities will suffice. There is a real concern, even among people who are supportive of the reform on its own merits that we will have a hard job convincing people to get this across the line. That will not lead us to oppose the proposition but there is a job of work to be done in order to get it across the line.

The worst possible outcome here would be for these plebiscites to go ahead and to be lost. Several of us said when the legislation was coming through that we had spent quite a lot of time in the Dublin mayoral reform process and my experience, having been involved at the tail end of that as a co-opted councillor and from its being unsuccessful. was that in hindsight, it almost looked as though it was set up to fail. It was so cumbersome, so badly designed and there was such lack of clarity in what we were asking our elected members in the Dublin local authorities to do that it was no wonder that one of the four councils opted out. The Minister of State should listen to what we are staying about the difficulties and the lack of time and should work with us to ensure that if this is put to the people of the three cities in question, we will do everything we can to win it because if we do not, it will be a setback rather than an advance.

4:40 pm

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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As a public representative of one of the three cities concerned, I am very worried about the lack of time to debate this issue. I raised this point when we debated the proposals themselves. My concern is they will be lost because of the points already made that the focus so far has largely been on the money, that is, on the salaries. The Minister of State spoke on my local radio station a week ago last Monday. There have been three Monday debates on Live95FM and I participated in the other two, the first and the third. The third debate took place on Monday last. Among the people ringing into the station, there was a real focus on the money. A sitting councillor, who was on the programme with me last Monday, asked where the money will be found to pay the salaries. I understand there will be three salaries altogether but it does not appear that any extra money will be allocated to those local authorities to provide for the office of a directly elected mayor. Immediately, there is a conflict between the money available under the current system and what will be provided for the new system.

I want this to succeed. I am in favour of directly elected mayors. I note the Minister of State's script indicated it is intended that the plebiscites will take place on the same day as the European Parliament and local elections, namely, on Friday, 24 May. I wonder whether there is any possibility of putting it off. I hate to say that because I really want this to happen but it has to happen properly. The fact that Cork will have an extended boundary, Limerick and Waterford have merged city and county councils, Galway has gone off the table because it was not ready to make a decision on which option it was getting and Dublin was not included because it is to have a citizens' assembly makes a mixed bag of what should be a coherent policy on a huge and positive change in terms of democracy and of bringing people closer to decision-making in their local authority areas. This should be much more consistent but I believe it will be rushed and there will be many questions. In Limerick and Waterford, there will be questions about what if the directly elected mayor turns out to be from a rural area. I have nothing against the rural parts of Limerick city and county and Waterford city and county but mayors of cities are generally considered to be people who represent municipalities and we could end up with a mayor who does not live in the city. That would be a problem when dealing with people coming from other metropolitan areas with directly elected mayors who expect that this will be a city-led office. Those are the real difficulties we will have in persuading the public to vote for this.

I have read the document in full but I am not sure it answers the question about how the other elected people will relate to the directly elected mayor because the directly elected mayor will be putting forward a programme. That is a good thing in one way because it might avoid having the celebrity candidate that I was worried about because the mayor will have to set out a programme for what they intend to do. What about the other councillors who are elected by people in a local electoral area who also want to be able to bring forward the priorities of the people who elect them? Will they have less power than they have in the current system? All of those points are really important because what the local councillor does is very important to people wherever they live and I would hate to lose any of that. I also regret that there are no devolved powers because more powers could be devolved locally in areas such as education, social welfare, transport and others. Maybe that can be done in time. If it can, and if that can be added on, I would support that. My concern is that we do not have enough time to debate this. I do not know if what the Minister of State said would suggest that there is a possibility it will not happen on 24 May but if that is the case, the Minister of State might indicate that because it does not seem to be specifically stated in his speech that it will definitely happen on 24 May. I do not want this to be lost because we have seen what has happened in other countries where there has not been adequate information for people making vital decisions. We only have to consider the neighbouring country to see that. It would be a pity to lose something to which people would regret later not having given the go-ahead. I hope the Minister of State will be able to answer the various issues raised by those who have spoken so far, as well as other issues that will I am sure be raised by other Members.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Now for the Corkonian's perspective, I call Deputy Barry.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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I oppose the proposed wages of the democratically elected mayors. The proposal is that the new elected mayors in Cork, Limerick, and Waterford be paid a salary of €130,000 per annum and that they will be able to draw down vouched allowances of €16,000. The newly elected mayors will also bring with them a special adviser with a salary of just under €67,000 per year, a programme officer with a salary of just under €67,000 per year and they can have a driver with a salary of €35,000 a year. The grand total is €314,000 there or thereabouts per council or more than €940,000 between the three councils. Addressing this issue the Tánaiste stated:

The salary is at that rate because it needs to be. This will be a serious, full-time job that will require a lot of energy, a lot of drive, 14-hour days.

I put the rather obvious point that there are plenty of serious full-time jobs that require a lot of energy, a lot of drive and 14-hour days but which do not pay €130,000 a year or anything like it. That salary will certainly set any newly elected mayor apart from the people who elect them. How can it be otherwise when a mayor lives on an income 13 times the size of the income of a single person on social welfare, 6.5 times the income of a worker on the minimum wage or 3.5 times the income of a worker on the average wage. The Tánaiste knows as well as I do that a lord mayor on an elite wage, and that is an elite wage, is more likely to identify with the elite in Irish society than with the people who elect him or her, and perhaps that is the reason for the sky-high wage. Either way, that is gravy-train politics of the highest order.

The Ceann Comhairle asked for a Cork perspective and the feedback I and other Deputies have been getting is that there is opposition to the proposed wage.

That is to put it mildly. There is a reasonably high level of anger and disgust at that proposal. If the Government wanted the proposal to be defeated, it would have a hard job to come up with a proposal that is linked to it that would have more of an effect than that particular proposal.

The proposal for directly elected mayors is not without its positive aspects. I like the idea of some of the powers of an unelected chief executive officer being transferred to an elected person and I like the idea of getting away from the pass the parcel game that is played in so many councils with the lord mayor's position, and giving that power to the people. Having said that, there are also negatives around the proposal and they are not insignificant, apart altogether from the wage. If one looks at the lord mayor positions in a city such as London or in big cities in the United States, they are executive style positions and the mayors tend to rise above, not just the unelected officials in the council, but the elected councillors themselves.

The key issue for councils is not addressed in the legislation, namely, the question of the real powers that have been stripped from councils with neoliberal policies over the past ten, 15 and 20 years with the bins, the water services and housing maintenance. The privatisation programme that has been driven through and that needs to be reversed is the key issue facing our local authorities if we want to give real power back to councillors and democratically elected people.

4:50 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am sharing time with Deputies Michael Healy-Rae and Michael Collins. In his remarks on this issue in January, the Minister of State said the following: "A Programme for a Partnership Government includes a commitment to consider directly elected mayors in cities as part of a broader range of local government reforms." My colleagues and I in the Rural Independent Group looked for that during the talks. He went on to say the following: "The reforms' principal aim is strengthening local democracy and shifting the balance of power, which is lopsided in many respects, between the executive and those who are directly elected by the people." This could not be made up. This Government, which has taken a legislative axe to local democracy, now wants us to believe that it actually cares about local democracy. The Government does not care a whit about it. The Minister of State and the former Minister, big Phil the destroyer, ruined local democracy. Where is the commitment to hold a plebiscite in the borough districts and to put them back? It is a sick joke.

The Minister of State also went on to say: "The executive mayor would have a similar relationship with the local authority chief executive as a Minister has with a Secretary General of a Department." I do not know what kind of Secretaries General there are in the Departments but I certainly do not want that kind of relationship because the Ministers are only standing idly by and nodding. They have their hands on the handlebars of power and the Ministers might as well stay at home. Again, who does the Minister of State think he is kidding? He should be honest and level with us if he thinks this is a democratic advance.

The Government does not care about local democracy and it proved that recently with putting the Cahir electoral area into the Tipperary Cashel area and it left out the brand name of Tipperary. My goodness, how uncaring those officials were, whoever they are. The Minister of State told me one day that they did not mean it. If they do not know where Tipperary is, they do not know where Mullinahone is and so they should not say they have travelled at all.

The Minister of State did not travel very far either if he thinks this will fly. This is going nowhere. It is a dead duck, it is a sop and it is an insult to local democracy and to the people who are in it. Many of them do not want a big salary, they want to serve the people. They were public representatives in the real spirit of the words. They wanted to serve the people, not like the Government wants them to be, earning big salaries and just nodding with the county manager and doing what they are told.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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This motion is on the proposals for directly elected mayors with executive functions. What I want to know is if there is going to be a separate mayor for Cork county? All the talk is about Cork city but the county is there too. I know the Government has forgotten it down through the years but surely to God I do not need to keep reminding the Government. How much is the directly elected mayor going to cost the taxpayer and what value for money will the hard-working taxpayer see from these directly elected mayors? There are loads of questions and the rush of this through the Dáil leaves many unanswered questions.

Internationally, some directly elected mayors have been very successful but in some cases directly elected mayors have not demonstrated the value of the office and voters have, in some instances, chosen to abolish the office of directly elected mayors. I have looked at the detailed policy proposals on directly elected mayors with executive functions and the report is fluffing around the real costs for this type of mayor. The report says there are a number of possible options for the salary of the directly elected mayor, ranging from €94,535 up to €129,854 per annum, which is equivalent to the salary of a Minister. On top of this, the report suggested that directly elected mayors should also receive an annual vouched expenses allowance of €16,000. They have special advisers, they have drivers, they have managers, they have cars and they have offices. We are talking about €500,000. The real question here is if the public fully are informed as to how much of taxpayers' money will be spent on this directly elected mayor and the information needs to be made clear in a transparent manner to the public before they vote. Before the public vote, there should be strict decisions made on the salary of these mayors and not a proposed range of salary.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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This is definitely the highest blackguarding that I have ever seen in my life. I will remind the Minister of State what a man sitting in the seat alongside him said on the record of the Dáil, and I hate talking about somebody when he is not here but that was the former Minister, Phil Hogan. I made an impassioned plea on behalf of our town councils and our town councillors of all political persuasions. I did not care what politics they were, whether they were Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin or whatever, because as far as I was concerned they were respectable people elected locally and they were doing a great job. When I put it to the then Minister and said that I was making a plea on these people's behalf not to abolish the town council in Killarney, Listowel, Tralee and places such as that around the country, he told me that I could go back and tell them: "I am quaking in my boots." I quote him word for word. I would not dare-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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He fled the country then.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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-----misquote anybody. That is what he said.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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He fled Ireland then.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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This was a big Minister at the time and he was telling his own foot soldiers on the ground to go away and scratch themselves. That was what he was telling them.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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It was an absolute disgrace then and it is a disgrace now to leave towns such as that without town councils. It was a stupid act by a stupid Government and it will forever be remembered for doing that and for robbing very genuine and committed public representatives who were not in it for the money. The Ceann Comhairle knows as well as I do, and better because he has been there longer than I have, that those very committed politicians were not getting the wage or the recompense. It would not cover their mobile phones and the Ceann Comhairle knows that. They were in it because they loved their towns, they loved their areas-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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That is right.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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------and they wanted to represent people. They were not talking about €90,000 or €120,000 for directly elected mayors. All they wanted to do was to represent the people in their communities. The Government robbed them of that and now the Government is trying to say it is empowering-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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A sop.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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-----local democracy by putting these directly elected mayors in place. I would have no problem with that happening if the Government had started where it left off in the blackguarding that it did in the past by reinstating the town councils. The Government cost the nation a fortune because if anybody thinks it saved money, the Ceann Comhairle knows that is not true. It cost an absolute fortune to do what the Government did at that time. It was a stupid act.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Would the Minister of State like to reply to all of those issues?

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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Try to reply.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I will try to. There were not many questions on the regulations themselves but-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It is a farce, that is why.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Let the Minister reply.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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He is goading us.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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On what was raised, I accept the arguments from most Members who have spoken. I would prefer if the Government made a decision more quickly, but sadly I do not decide when the Government takes particular decisions. My points at the start were essentially outlining the fact that the public information campaign for this will coincide with the referendum and with many other referenda that we have and that the public information campaign that the Government will lead through the three local authorities in question will have to be balanced as per the judgments in McKenna and McCrystal.

On what Deputy O'Sullivan asked, there is no question of it being put off. There will never be a perfect time to ask any question, but it is 20 years in June since I was first elected and the issue of directly elected mayors has been a near constant one over those 20 years. There have been different fora in the past that Deputy Ó Broin mentioned but the question has never been put to the public. What differentiates this from the usual referendum situation is that this is effectively a public consultation. There is a report that is produced and the people are asked their opinion on the question.

6 o’clock

Both Houses of the Oireachtas will decide within two years of the plebiscites what the legislation will be on pay and the full roll-out of functions. We are asking the public if it believes in the proposal of directly elected mayors and we are presenting what we think the role, pay and functions will be. It is up to the political organisations as well as individuals and Independents to fight a campaign as they would on any referendum, plebiscite or election issue. The public information campaign has to be balanced by its very nature. Deputy Cassells spoke with me on local radio debating pay. I have been on many local radio stations debating this issue and pay was raised in Limerick and Waterford. All the other questions have been raised, too. The question of pay was always going to be an issue that would be discussed. We need to be clear with the public. There is no definitive position on the question of pay. What is suggested in the Government's report is that these are options that might be considered. We have two years following the plebiscites to enact legislation to establish these roles. There is responsibility on each of us, if we believe in the objective of directly elected mayors, to campaign for it and to talk to the voters about what it is about.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan talked about the document not being clear on existing councillors. The document is clear. There is no diminution whatsoever of the existing reserve functions of councillors. Councillors will retain all the functions they have now. The report by Sara Moorehead, SC, which is due in the middle of this year, will outline a number of other policy areas where we want to give powers to councillors. I often have rows with Deputy Mattie McGrath about different issues. I want to quote him correctly; he stated that this Government has "taken an axe" to local government powers. Not a single power has been removed from local authority members in the 18 months or however long it is that I-----

5:00 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It is the same Government. Does the Minister of State not remember he was there before?

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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That is not the same Government.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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My God, it is.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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It is not.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The blueshirts are still here.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy, please.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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Is he denying that it is a Fine Gael Government?

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I am not. It is not the same Government, that is all.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It is the same Government, it might as well be.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputies have made their point and must let the Minister of State answer.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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They do not like the answer.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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He is denying who he is now.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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The Minister of State must ignore them. We want to hear what he is saying.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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He is not ignoring us.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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On the question Deputy Michael Collins asked in respect of Cork, the Government made a decision more than 12 months ago that the question would be put in the three local authority areas in which the plebiscites are being asked. Ultimately, it is the objective of Government that every local authority would be looking at having a directly elected mayor, if the question is successful in the three areas where the plebiscite is being held. It will be similar to other jurisdictions in that it is a learning process as well. As it is our nearest neighbour, we often possibly look too much to the UK in terms of different sectors of government.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Keep away from that. It has gone awful for them.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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They have many different types of directly elected mayors with many different types of function. It is the intention that the question would be put. In respect of town councils, my fundamental objection to that is that it gives certain people in certain parts of the country two votes in a local election whereas the rest of us have to live with one.

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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They are different.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Different authorities.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I think it is essential for democracy that everybody be treated the same. Deputy Barry spoke about wages. I hope I have answered that. It will be a matter for the Oireachtas to establish the position through legislation after the plebiscites have been held.

Deputy Ó Broin made a very valid point about the issue of devolution of powers from agencies in central Government. A decision was taken that the question would be put to the people on whether they wanted to pursue a directly elected mayor in the three areas where the question is being asked. I think the development of the role in the future will involve devolving more powers from central Government and from agencies. We await the report of Ms Moorehead to point us in the direction of some of those matters.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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We will be waiting.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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There will be that period of up to two years after the plebiscites before the Oireachtas will consider legislation which will establish the role fully with the powers, remuneration and responsibilities that it has.

Question put.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 11 April 2019.