Tuesday, 18 December 2018
Local Government Bill 2018: Second Stage
I thank the Seanad for facilitating the taking of Second Stage this evening. The main purpose of this Bill is to alter the boundary between Cork city and Cork county councils and to provide for the boundary alteration arrangements and consequential matters. It also provides for the holding of plebiscites on the direct election of a mayor for Cork city, Limerick, Galway city and Galway county and Waterford, and provides for a single chief executive of the two local authorities in Galway in anticipation of their merger.
The revised boundary for the city of Cork was proposed by the Cork implementation oversight group, following on from the report of an expert advisory group in April 2017. The latter recommended extending the Cork city area rather than merging the local authorities as proposed in 2015. The scale of this boundary alteration is very significant, involving the transfer of 147 sq. km occupied by approximately 80,000 residents from within the administrative area of the county council to that of the city council.The boundary change is being effected by way of primary legislation rather than the existing procedures for amending boundaries, which are the subject of amendment by this Bill, due to the scale of the alteration and the absence of clear evidence of agreement between the two local authorities in relation to all aspects of the transfer. Apart from the splitting up of Dublin County Council, this is by far the largest boundary change to a local authority boundary in the history of the State.
The impact of the Bill will be that key urban parts of the immediate hinterland of Cork city, which most people assume to be already part of Cork city, will form part of the Cork City Council area in the future, allowing potential for further development within a new city council boundary, while also incentivising higher density development and reducing the risk of sprawl. There has been much comment in Cork city in the past about the need for a proper integrated development plan, for the city area as we know it up to now and for the real area that Cork city has covered for many years.
The scale of the boundary alteration meant that it was not possible to include a map of the transferring area in a schedule to the Bill. In order to be adequately legible, the hard copy of the map had to be produced in size AO, which is quite large, and this is why it had to be deposited at my offices in the Custom House. In addition, a physical copy was laid before the House. The extended city area includes Ballincollig, Carrigrohane, Blarney, Glanmire and Cork Airport, but does not include areas such as Carrigtohill, Passage West, Monkstown, Ringaskiddy, Carrigaline and the more rural parts of the city hinterland. The population of the city will increase from 125,657 to 205,000 and the extended area will facilitate the Project Ireland 2040 national planning framework targeted rate of growth for Cork city of at least 105,000 more people by 2040.
The main elements of the Bill involve provision for the revised boundary, indicated by hatching on the deposited map that was laid before this House on 25 July, which will take effect on a transfer day to be appointed by ministerial order. That will be fixed to coincide with the new councils coming into office after the local elections in May of next year. The Bill will also provide for statutory status, powers and functions of an oversight committee to oversee the boundary alteration implementation process, including provision for an implementation plan to be produced by the committee, which the local authorities will be required to comply with in implementing the boundary alteration.
The Bill will also include a range of specific arrangements to be made jointly between the local authorities in relation to the relevant area being transferred, including matters such as the transfer of assets and liabilities, transitional provisions relating to local authority financial functions that will largely remain with the county council until 1 January 2020, the performance of functions in the transferred area and transfer of staff and related superannuation arrangements. Financial arrangements will consist of annual payments from the city council to the county council, a payment in respect of 2019 from the county council to the city council and periodic contributions from one authority to the other authority on foot of specific costs arising from the boundary change, to be agreed jointly by the local authorities in accordance with the implementation plan, with provision for recommendation by the oversight committee and direction by the Minister if there is no agreement. The arrangements will also provide for the annual payment from the city council to the county council for a period of ten years and will be based on the difference between income and expenditure in respect of the transferring area in the county council’s annual financial statement for 2017, as increased each year to reflect changes in the value of money since then. There will also be provision for an extension of the ten-year period by order of the Minister following a request to do so that is accompanied by a statement of reasons made by the county council and referral of the request to the city council and consideration of any representations the city council might make.
Arrangements will also cover: the duties of the relevant local authorities and their employees relating to the implementation of the boundary alteration, including regular reports to the oversight committee; ministerial regulations and directions in respect of the boundary alteration; and consequential provisions arising from the boundary alteration In relation to the holding of local elections to Cork City Council and Cork County Council in 2019. Other matters consequential on the boundary alteration will also be included in the arrangements such as: the continuance of contracts and legal proceedings, and the applicability of development plans, local areas plans and local economic and community plans, including requirements relating to planning applications and development contribution schemes; applicability of by-laws in the relevant areas, continuation in force of leases, licences, permissions, etc., granted by Cork County Council in respect of the relevant areas; provision for necessary data-sharing; transitional arrangements regarding valuations for rating purposes; replacing the posts of chief executive of Galway City Council and chief executive of Galway County Council with a single post of chief executive of Galway City Council and Galway County Council; the holding of plebiscites on the question of providing by law for directly-elected mayors with executive functions for Cork City Council, Limerick City and County Council, Galway City Council and Galway County Council - in anticipation of the merger of those two local authorities in 2021 - and Waterford City and County Council at the same time as the local government elections in May 2019; and the amending of certain enactments.
It had been hoped to enact the legislation this year in order to enable all necessary action to be completed in time for the local elections in mid-2019. While enactment will not now be possible until after the Christmas recess, it should still be possible to complete the process and commence the necessary provisions in sufficient time to meet the specified dates for the publication and coming into effect of the Cork local authority registers of electors. If not, there may be a need for a special difficulty order under the Electoral Act 1992. While the boundary alteration and transfer of local authority jurisdiction will take full legal effect in mid-2019, the legislation provides appropriate flexibility in relation to operational arrangements so that transfer of practical responsibility for certain functions can proceed on a more gradual basis, if necessary, to allow time for organisational changes to be completed. However, it is expected that the transfer arrangements will proceed quickly once the legislation is enacted and that this will not be a drawn-out process. Responsibility for the detailed planning and implementation of the reorganisation involved will rest primarily with the local authorities, subject to guidance and oversight by the oversight committee and compliance with the implementation plan. In the Dáil, I acknowledged the Cork implementation oversight group and the two chief executives and their teams regarding the enormous work they have put into teasing out the various implications and arrangements that this boundary change entails. I reiterate that acknowledgement here.
I will now go through the main provisions of the Bill in detail. The Bill is set out in seven Parts, comprising 49 sections and an associated Schedule. Part 1 contains standard provisions dealing with title, collective citations and commencement. It also provides for interpretation of key terms, regulations, orders and directions, as well as a technical provision for expenses.Part 2 alters the boundary between the county and city of Cork, as indicated on the deposited map, with effect from the day appointed by the Minister, which is intended to be a week after the local elections are held in mid-2019 when the new councils take office. Part 2 goes on to deal with a number of consequential matters, including the transfer of staff, land and buildings and property in general other than land; the transfer of rights and responsibilities; the continuation of leases, licences and permissions; and the preparation of maps of the new local authority administrative areas that will apply after the transfer day. Any land and buildings in the transferring area owned by the county council will automatically vest in the city council with effect from the transfer day, apart from any exceptions or later applicable dates that might be agreed between the two local authorities before that day. When it comes to staff and non-land property, the two local authorities will need to jointly agree and designate the property and the staff numbers and grades that should transfer. The usual safeguarding of employment terms and conditions will apply to the transferring staff of the county council. All rights and liabilities attaching to anything that transfers to the city council will automatically transfer as well. There are provisions to establish a Cork boundary alteration oversight committee to assist the two councils in performing their functions under the legislation. A key part of this will be the implementation plan that the committee will be required to agree. The final sections in Part 2 deal with the arrangements between the two authorities for the performance of functions in the transferring area and the obligations on the councils and their staff to facilitate compliance with the legislation.
Part 3 deals with the financial arrangements arising out of the boundary alteration in Cork that will require to be made by the two local authorities relating to annual payments for a period of ten years from the city council to the county council, a payment in respect of 2019 from the county council to the city council and periodic contributions from one authority on foot of specific costs arising from the boundary change. The calculation of the annual payments is to be based on the difference between the income generated from the transferring area and the expenditure incurred by the county council on that area using 2017 as the base year, with an adjustment for changes in the value of money each year, as outlined in the implementation plan. There is provision for the Minister to extend the ten-year period by order following a request to do so. Such a request will have to be accompanied by a statement of reasons made by the county council, a referral of the request to the city council and consideration of any representations that the city council might make.
Part 4 contains other consequential provisions, such as data sharing, which require the county council to give the city council all the information, including personal information, which the city council might require for the purpose of performing functions in relation to the relevant area. For the 2019 local financial year, the Bill provides that the relevant area remains part of the rating area of the county council until 31 December 2019. The county council's budget and the municipal districts' schedules of works for 2019 will continue to apply for the rest of the year as if the boundary alteration had not happened. During 2019, the city council will set the municipal rate and decide any variation in the local property tax rate for 2020. This means that the basis on which the 2019 budgets were prepared will remain valid for the year. The Bill provides that the registers of electors to be used by the two Cork authorities for the 2019 elections will be based on the post-boundary alteration position. This means electors in the relevant areas can participate in the election of the councillors that will represent them when the boundary changes a week after the election. Interim polling district and polling place arrangements to cater for the new administrative areas are also provided for.
Development plans, local area plans and local economic and community plans relating to the relevant area will continue to apply after the transfer day until Cork City Council makes replacement plans or variations. The Bill provides that the county council will complete any planning enforcement proceedings commenced before the transfer day and will conclude to a decision to grant or refuse permission any planning application cases that are already under way at that time. The city council will be responsible for all other planning functions. The council's development contribution schemes will apply to the relevant area. The transferred development contributions applicable to infrastructure projects in the relevant area will continue to be ring-fenced for infrastructure and facilities in that area. The remainder of Part 4 provides for the interim continued applicability of any rules, regulations or by-laws applicable to the relevant area, together with a general saver for acts and instruments done before the transfer day and for arrears of rates, rents and housing loan repayments, as well as all the 2019 liability, continuing to be collectible by the county council unless the two authorities agree otherwise.
Part 5 sets out amendments to the Local Government Act 1991, the Local Government Act 2001 and the Planning and Development Act 2000 that will enable the Minister to extend the time limit within which the Cork local authorities must prepare their new development plans. Part 5 also provides for an amendment to the Valuation Act that will mean the city council will not be able to request a revaluation of the transferred properties on the basis of the boundary alteration. The amendments to the 2001 Act are consequential to the boundary alteration. The amendments to Part V of the 1991 Act provide that future boundary alterations cannot be effected by ministerial order unless the local authorities concerned are in agreement. This means that future boundary alterations will require to be effected through primary legislation if the two authorities do not agree that such a change should happen. If they are in complete agreement about the need for a change to the boundary, the quick and simple procedure for effecting the change by means of an order under the 1991 Act will continue to be available. I had hoped to include in the Bill provisions for joint structures to facilitate local area planning for urban areas that span county boundaries to provide an alternative way of ensuring the appropriate future development of towns and cities that straddle two local authority areas without changing the local authority boundaries. As Deputies wanted those provisions to be given further consideration, they have been removed from this Bill and will be the subject of a smaller Bill early next year. I agree that such consideration is merited.
Part 6 provides for the holding of plebiscites in Cork city, Galway city and county, Limerick city and county and Waterford city and county on a proposal to provide by law for a directly elected mayor of those administrative areas on a date appointed by the Minister, which is intended to be the same day as the local elections. The plebiscites are to be conducted in accordance with regulations that will contain the usual provisions in respect of the form and wording of the ballot paper; the arrangements and requirements relating to the information to be published and distributed to the voters; the appointment, duties and staff of the returning officer; the taking of the poll; the voting and counting of votes; and electoral offences, etc. The regulations will require to be approved by resolution of the Oireachtas. The people entitled to vote in the plebiscites will be those entitled to vote at local elections for the authorities in question. Information for voters is to be published and distributed by the relevant local authority at least 30 days before the voting day. This will include a summary of the functions and office of directly elected executive mayors for the local authorities concerned, the impact on the relevant local authorities, relationships between the offices of directly elected mayor and those local authorities and with other relevant bodies, the estimated cost and resource implications, the possible advantages and disadvantages associated with the proposal, any impact for the functions of any other body and any other information the Minister considers appropriate.
I am not sure how the business committee of the Seanad operates. It is anticipated that a memorandum will go to the Government in late January or early February. It is important that we would have a proper discussion in the Seanad, over an entire day if necessary, to enable Senators to set out what they envisage the powers of directly elected mayors should be. I ask the Leader and whoever else is involved in making these decisions to make provision for such a debate at an early stage in the new year, perhaps during the first week back in January. I do not think there is much political division on the powers and functions of directly elected mayors. Nevertheless, it is important for the views of Senators to be taken on board before the Government makes a decision. I have given the same commitment for such a debate to happen in the Dáil in early January 2019.
Part 7 of the Bill amends the Local Government Act 2001 to provide for a single chief executive with dual responsibility for Galway City Council and Galway County Council. I mentioned this provision earlier.It also contains two miscellaneous technical provisions, one of which restates in both Irish and English the amendment made to section 32(2) of the Official Languages Act 2003 by section 49 of the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 that should have been made bilingually at that time and the other corrects the title of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland used in the Building Control Act 2007.
With regard to Galway, which comprised most of the discussion in the other House, I emphasise to that the independent group chaired by Professor Eoin O'Sullivan, who is a Galwayman, made clear proposals about the direction of the local authority in Galway in the future and that it was advisable to have a single corporate body. On Committee Stage in the Dáil, I gave a commitment which I will reiterate. Nobody seemed to notice it in the Dáil but Senators will notice it. What happens in other jurisdictions, particularly in Britain where a number of local authorities have merged, is that they retain two chambers. That should be provided for in the Bill and I will insert that in the Galway Bill, which is scheduled to come before the Houses in the middle of next year. Every local government Bill is generally catch-all legislation. This Bill is mostly about Cork but it contains a vital section on Galway, which is the start of the reform of local government in Galway city and county but I see no reason a city the size of Galway should cease to remain as a political entity. I have heard no argument from anyone about why there should be two separate management structures. The provisions of this Bill are simply to allow the merger of the management structure.
It should be borne in mind that until 1985, there was only one management structure at local government level in Galway. We live in an age where many politicians do not like the advice of experts but the Galway local government report was clear. It was also clear on the issue of funding and an early part of the report addressed how funding has to be resolved before the process of merger starts. I emphasise that the decision that will be made in the next couple of days about Galway will be to allow us to revert to a system that existed until 30 years ago, which is one management structure. Next year, in the middle of the year, we will have the local government Bill and most of it will be devoted to Galway. Many of the issues which I have referred to with regard to Cork will be contained in that Bill.
It is deeply ironic that Deputy Ó Cuív, who spent all of the Celtic tiger years at the Cabinet table, did nothing in that time to increase the baseline funding for Galway County Council. It is remarkable political hypocrisy. It does not mean that the argument that he is making is wrong because it is very true. The report of the expert group says that the differences in funding between Galway and other local authorities are substantial. I am responsible for the Local Government Fund through the local property tax. Galway County Council receives approximately €5 million per annum less than it should receive. I was appointed to this job 18 months ago. In one of my first meetings, I met four councillors from Galway. Eileen Mannion from Clifden was the chairwoman of the council at the time, three of her colleagues, Jimmy McClearn, Peter Feeney and a man from Ballinasloe handbagged me at an event in Portlaoise but they were right to do so. I gave a commitment that day, having spent time on a local authority myself and knowing the difficulties relating to budgets, that this anomaly would be rectified.
I am in a position where all funding of local government except for a tiny amount is earmarked. It has to be because, whoever the Minister is, we want local authorities to be funded and make their own decisions. I have approximately €3 million to €4 million annually in a discretionary fund under the heading of local government reform. I indicated to Galway County Council before its budget meeting last week that I would give half of that fund to it, which is remarkable. Each of the other 30 local authorities around the country will burn effigies of me since they will only get half between them, with Galway County Council getting the other half for the next three years. That is approximately €1.4 million next year and €1.3 million for the following two years. The baseline review of the local property tax is not completed yet because the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has not signed off on it but we have completed our work. We reckon that in three years, when the merger happens, the baseline funding in Galway will increase in the first year by approximately €2.5 million and will continue to increase as house building continues to increase. This is not about housing construction in Galway. The local property tax figures reflect construction throughout the country.
Senators are probably in a better place to consider the detail of legislation but it would be difficult for Galway County Council to have to reopen its budget that it just agreed last Friday and I am committed to providing that €1.4 million in funding, which will go directly to the municipal districts, the regions of Galway, in anticipation of the merger, in order that they can beef up the services they are giving in the towns and rural areas around Galway. It is not even the first stage of the merger. The local government Bill next year will deal in minute detail with every issue relating to the merger of the two local authorities in Galway. This House and the Lower House will decide on that. There was some resentment among Galway Deputies that Galway was included in this Bill at all. It was misguided in that all local government Bills tend to have many different sections that deal with different areas and the local government Bill next year will primarily relate to Galway. For the funding of local government in 2019, it is essential that the Bill passes and I will endeavour, as I have, to deal with the many genuine concerns that local and national representatives have about the prospects of a merger in Galway and what it will mean for funding for local government for Galway in the future.
My colleagues in Fianna Fáil and I will table significant amendments to this Bill before we support it. We support and agree with the changes in Cork, as advocated by several expert reports. However, local government reform has to be about more than just a slash and burn approach that has characterised Government policy. Following detailed discussions with local representatives, it is clear that Galway should be dealt with through a separate, comprehensive Bill. We will remove any reference to a single Galway chief executive and directly elected mayor, pending a comprehensive debate on the future of Galway.
Local government has a key responsibility in delivering local services, representing locals, and identifying reform of local democracy. Having a viable identity is the lifeblood of rural Ireland. The Local Government Act 2013 was a robbery of the democratic heart of Irish politics. More power was placed in the hands of unelected officials and it failed to serve the people of Ireland. Centralised power has removed vital local control of utilities such as water from local government. Town councils were abolished and other councils were amalgamated. Weak new municipal district councils were set up and chief executives are county managers in disguise, since they still have the same functions.
Local government reform involved no substantial development functions beyond tinkering with enterprise despite there being massive potential for change. Fianna Fáil advocates for fresh powers to be given to local authorities, for a new directly-elected mayor in every city, not the haphazard approach of the Government, and for the re-establishment of town councils. The amalgamation of local authorities and changes to boundaries have the potential to undermine local democracy. We must not silence the people of Ireland. It is crucial that any changes made involve full and all-inclusive consultation and robust engagement with local people.We would like to see clear commitment to local government reform. Town councils should be fully restored in towns with a population of more than 7,500. A new, directly elected mayoral structure should also be put in place, community councils established and new powers and resources given to local authorities. Promises in the programme for Government for rebalancing the powers between councillors and officials have been abandoned, with section 140 having been removed without giving any real additional powers to councillors. This is of massive concern to me. We now have the most centralised government in the western world. This is not good for rural Ireland. There were 1,627 elected local government members in Ireland, 883 county and city councillors and 744 town and borough councillors. The elimination of the latter halved the number of representatives to 950. Although there was an increase in councillors in urban areas in the east, there was no real effort to enhance democratic engagement. It is untrue to say that Ireland has too many elected representatives in light of the fact we have one of the worst ratios of councillors relative to population in Europe. The abolition of town councils increased this ratio to around one councillor per 5,000 people, which is by far the highest ratio in the western world. For effective representation this has to change. The local representatives deserve better as do the people.
We need an overhaul of the system to make effective changes, such as an urgent overhaul of the commercial rates system combined with full implementation of the local government efficiency review and enhanced auditing facilities to ensure value for money and efficient spending. Fianna Fáil has a wish list for the reform of local government which includes the establishment of a community asset fund drawn from an initial pilot project fund of the €15 million earmarked from the new tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. This would be used to fund community councils and co-ops to borrow cheaply to buy local community assets. We would establish a community right to reclaim land. Under this mechanism, a council voluntary housing association or community sports group could put forward a community right to reclaim request to the Minister with responsibility for the environment. The Minster would consider whether the public body had plans to develop the land or required it for strategic purposes. If not, the Minister could compel the relevant body to sell the land. If successful, the community organisation could avail of the community asset fund to prepare a bid for the land which would be sold on the open market by the public body involved. We also advocate the creation of a new community council model. This system, operated on a voluntary participation basis with no expenses related to representation, forms the bedrock and first tier of our vision for a new local government structure. The model builds on the existing, relatively informal structure of community councils across the country. Giving them a formal legislative role with clear duties and rolling them out across communities would mark a real devolvement of power to the citizens. There is great potential in local government and it is time to harness it through effective change.
Like most of us here, I was a councillor for years. I always feel that when legislation is being brought in, like when we got rid of our town councils, there is no real engagement with councillors or local authorities. What role have the councillors and the 31 local authorities played in this? Did the Minister of State speak to the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, or the Association of Local Government in Ireland, AILG? Originally when we lost our town councils this was all to do with funding. We now have municipal authorities that sit once a month with no funding. It is just not doable. The Minister of State spoke about funding from central Government going into the councils. In my area of Carlow we get among the lowest funding in the country. Smaller counties like ours are losing out. I welcome the fact elected mayors are being considered for the cities. However, the removal of powers from councillors and the loss of the town councils and the funding for them has had a detrimental effect on towns, particularly in my area and other smaller areas. Rural Ireland needs a total overhaul. What is the Minister of State responsible for local government going to do to reform the smaller local authorities that are crying out for help and are not getting it? What about the powers that the councillors need to get back? They have lost all their powers. Could the Minister of State clarify that? I know he listens to the councillors. What input have they had into this? What role will be given to them going forward?
I was elected in 1999 to local government, as was the Minister of State, so we go back a long way. We have had many a debate about local government. I pulled out that very famous document today, Putting People First. It is still the backbone of local government reform although it has been chopped and changed. It is funny that the Minister of State shares a constituency with one of the great architects of much of it, although Mr. Hogan has moved to richer pastures in Europe.
I took the time to read over the Dáil Committee Stage debate on this Bill. Some 128 amendments were submitted on Committee Stage, of which 27 were tabled by Members of the Opposition while the remainder were proposed by the Minister. Deputies Grealish, Ó Cuív and Connolly, all from Galway, were strongly opposed to the inclusion of Galway in the Bill. I want to concentrate on Galway first. Senator Buttimer is very well known in Cork and is on the ground there much more than I would be, so he will deal with that. I undertook to write to all Galway representatives and came across no councillor who was in favour of this. There were two or three maybes but they did not flesh it out. I sent them the documentation, the memorandum and a whole load of things to engage with them to find out their understanding and knowledge of this proposal. I would rate Deputies Grealish, Connolly and Ó Cuív very highly. They are very different and represent different segments of their constituency. I have to listen to what they have to say. I then went on a bit further to consider Galway. The Minister of State has said some new things tonight, which I acknowledge. He might clarify that he would see two chambers, be it Galway County Council and Galway City Council. It is a great honour to be a member or chairman. I know a lot of people who have served as mayor of Galway city. It is a position held by few and greatly guarded and respected in Galway. If I was a councillor in the city, I would have loved the opportunity to be mayor. They are exceptionally proud of the city and rightly so. We have to understand where they are coming from. However, I am hearing other stories.
What sort of engagement has the Minister of State had with the County and City Management Association, CCMA? It is effectively a trade union although its members might not like to hear me say that. It represents the interests of city and county managers. I am not too sure it would be particularly pleased. I am not here to advocate for it because I have had concerns about it in the past. However, on the whole, city and county managers do an exceptionally good job. There are shortcomings, and I also see shortcomings in the Bill. The Minister of State is talking about mayors being directly elected. I think this is all a bit too fast. We need to hold back. The Minister of State made reference to three different independent review groups. I have read all three reviews. All of them without exception say that unless we address the financial structures and rate base of these local authorities, and the baseline funding, we cannot proceed. That is really important. The Bill, however, does not address it. We need to go back and look at the whole issue of public administration and the good corporate governance structures that are lacking in many local authorities. They are the issues we need to address and they are not in the Bill. How are we going to fund these councils? The Minister of State says the special fund is going to assist Galway County Council in its budget. It was a bit premature of them to be counting their chickens before they hatched. The Minister of State wants to unite those two local authorities but I have concerns. I would draw his attention to two counties he will know well, Carlow and Laois. They are small counties with distinct, independent county councils that have a lot of shared services. We have the CCMA shared services initiative. I think the Government should be looking more at that approach.How can the retention of local authorities be allowed for? It should not be forgotten that Limerick city and county councils merged some years ago. Waterford City and County Council is another good example of shared synergies and greater co-operation. The Minister of State must examine this but understand why people do not want to let go. That is important. Accountability and good corporate governance in local authorities are the issues that must be addressed. What has he to say about the CCMA? Will he outline his engagement with AILG and LAMA? I ask him to again consider synergies such as those between Carlow and Laois, which work well.
It is important that citizens buy into this. I have no difficulty with a plebiscite. When there is a plebiscite, politicians will have to get off the fence and back the case either for or against a proposal on a plebiscite. That will be interesting because it will be a measure of their commitment and knowledge of the matter on the ground.
What about the Department's local property tax review? The Minister set up a review group and the review is still sitting on his desk. How is all this feeding into the process? How will he address the fact that some local authorities are subsidising others? How can the issue of the Galway councils having uncollected levies and funds owed by developers be addressed? Some of the developments were not built, but many of them were. The Minister of State or the staff in his Department will be aware that I have submitted numerous queries and questions about these uncollected funds and the fact that nearly every local authority is owed money. What is the Department doing about this? In the private sector they would be fired if they did not take in what they were due.
There are many complex issues surrounding this matter, and I am not too sure whether it is premature. I am not pushing out tomorrow but I ask the Minister of State to put a halt to this after tonight until the new year, consider his suggestions about greater communication and an all-day debate in the Seanad, which is a good one, and which I have no doubt but that the Leader will take up and follow, and let us see how we can address the issue. It is about good administration, governance and accountability.
I have kept the most important matter to last. Support cannot be secured across the political spectrum for the Bill - and I hope this will change - without getting local managers or directors, or chief executives, as we now call them, to appear before the Committee of Public Accounts and be held accountable and answerable for the money voted through the budget for the Local Government Fund, for which the Minister of State is responsible. He suggests we change the title from "chief executive" to "mayor". To whom are the powers being given and from whom are they being taken? The Minister of State knows local government well. I can guarantee him that the chief executives will not relinquish one ounce of power. He must, therefore, tell us whether he proposes to take powers from county councillors, chief executives or the big organisation known as the Custom House in Dublin. Someone must relinquish powers for others to gain them. This is premature. We have had a good hearing in this debate and we should revisit the matter in the new year.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I welcome the Bill. As a former Lord Mayor of Cork city, I welcome the extension of the city boundary. The most recent extension was in the 1960s, more than 50 years ago, so this is welcome. We have undertaken planning well in Cork. More than 30 years ago, we had the Cork Land Use and Transportation Study Plan, LUTS, which was about developing urban centres outside the city, that is, Carrigaline, Ballincollig, Blarney and Glanmire. It worked well but we have now moved on from there. The population of Cork over the past 30 years has increased from 410,000 to 546,000, and it is expected that it will increase to in excess of 700,000 shortly. Proper planning and proper infrastructure must, therefore, be put in place. This Bill provides for the extension of the city boundary in order that the population will increase from 125,000 to more than 205,000. It is important that there be careful management of future development and growth in the new area. A single authority will be involved in this greater area bringing in Blarney, Glanmire, Ballincollig and a large section of the Rochestown-Douglas area, which is at partly in the city and partly in the county. This is important.
It is also important that we push ahead with the proper development of infrastructure. One of the most important issues in the development of Cork is the provision of the north ring road. We have the South Ring Road, which was a major infrastructural development planned in the early 1970s. The city and county councillors at the time had the foresight to put the tunnel under the river in building the South Ring Road. One can now travel from west of Cork city all the way to the outskirts of Dublin in slightly over two hours without any difficulty, and this is because of good planning. The Cork-Limerick route, which is a major infrastructural development in the south and south-west region, also needs to be understand. It needs to be ensured that the Ringaskiddy road is developed to provide access to the port.
Another issue I feel strongly about is the proper development of hospital facilities. I referred to the increase in population of 136,000 in 30 years, but there has not been major growth in the number of medical facilities available in the city and the region. This is also important.
As for the development of the city more generally, there is now a significant opportunity to ensure the same mistakes made in Dublin are not made in Cork. Extending the city boundary will mean one local authority in charge of this central unit, that is, the city itself. The other major development in Cork is the moving of the Port of Cork from Tivoli to Ringaskiddy. I served on the board of the Port of Cork from 1997 to 2007 and, even at that stage, we were planning long term for this development. It is a major development, and contracts and everything else are in train for the development of port facilities in Ringaskiddy. I will give one example that demonstrates the current scale of development in Cork. Taking in the area immediately adjacent to the railway station, 1 Albert Quay has been completed over the past 12 months. There are now 1,700 people working in that office space. O'Callaghans is carrying out an office development in which 3,500 people will be accommodated. There are two other projects which amount to another 4,000 places. More than 9,000 office spaces have been provided in less than five years.
The greatest challenge relates to residential accommodation. I was recently approached by one developer who said he would love to convert one of these office blocks to residential accommodation to accommodate the people moving into the area. The train station is within ten minutes' walk of this new office development, but people, especially younger people, do not want to move to towns outside the city. People could live in Mallow, Cobh or Midleton and go to work by train. They do not want to do that, however; they want to live in the city. The problem is that there is no residential accommodation for these 9,000 people. This needs to be examined. These people have talked to me, and I have written to all Ministers on this issue, including the Ministers for Finance and Housing, Planning and Local Government, telling them that the cost of building residential accommodation, especially apartments, in urban centres is greater than the sale price they would yield. This needs to be dealt with, especially now that there is all this office accommodation and all the jobs. More than 150 foreign direct investment companies are based in the Cork area, including Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Schering-Plough, Johnson & Johnson, Apple and EMC. Apple employs more than 5,000 people, EMC more than 4,000, and they will continue to expand. Every week over the past three months I have attended the official opening of a new facility in Cork. The challenge now is residential accommodation, and it needs to be dealt with.We have a great opportunity in Cork because there are 500 acres of undeveloped land in the area between City Hall and Páirc Uí Chaoimh. That needs to be developed but a joint approach needs to be taken. We are building office accommodation but we are not building residential accommodation. We need to do something to incentivise the building of suitable residential accommodation in that area. It is important. We have a great approach in Cork in that everyone, including Cork City Council, Cork County Council, the Port of Cork, Cork Institute of Technology, University College Cork and all the hospital groups, works together. It is important that continues but, in order to really develop without making the same mistakes as Dublin, we need to build appropriate residential accommodation to accommodate this growth. Cork's population will grow to more than 700,000 people in a short period of time. I look forward to that, but we must deliver services, residential accommodation and hospital and medical services in the same way as we deliver jobs. I thank the Minister of State for bringing this forward. I look forward to working with him on the implementation of this Bill.
At the outset I have to question why more time was not given to this debate. We are to take Second Stage now and Committee and Remaining Stages tomorrow. We were asked to submit amendments by 11 a.m. Monday. I believe it is understood that amendments should not be asked for prior to a Second Stage debate.
On a point of clarification, initially all Stages were to be held today but, after consultation with Members, we all agreed that we would spread the Stages over today and tomorrow. There was agreement. To be fair, there was no element of surprise in this.
Surely Second Stage should form the basis of amendments proposed for later Stages. I suspect that expediency in enacting this Bill and in ensuring fictional achievements were part of the reason. I welcome aspects of this Bill, particularly plebiscites for directly-elected mayors in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. I am glad to see progress being made on these issues. It would have been my preference to see a plebiscite for a directly-elected mayor for Dublin in addition to those other cities, but I am happy to support the progress regardless. I hope we can be imaginative in respect of the executive powers and campaigning powers of those mayors. We see the impact of mayors in Europe. The Mayor of London, who was in Dublin recently, appointed a nightlife tsar, which is a very successful initiative which focuses on helping nightclubs and pubs survive after an increase in closures due to stricter licensing and planning measures and increased rents. We have similar issues in Dublin. Our clubs and pubs are being lost to hypergentrification. That has a direct impact on our culture and identity.
I also have some concerns about the number of issues being put to people in May, including local elections, European elections, referenda and plebiscites. I hope the public can scrutinise these issues to the fullest extent.
It is also somewhat premature for this Bill to include the proposal to amalgamate the offices of the chief executives of the county and city councils in Galway. Clear opposition to the proposed amalgamation of the local authorities has been seen in the public consultation and stated by public representatives. The proposal in this Bill is seen as the start of that process. I have no reason to suggest otherwise. I lived in Galway for my college years and I know that the focuses of the city and county councils can be as different as night and day at times. Those who come from Galway city, Clifden, Tuam and Ballinasloe have very different backgrounds and very different uses for and engagements with their authorities at local level from one another. Our response to this is an already centralised system of government compared with those in the rest of the OECD. We should approach any further move away from grassroots democracy with caution.
I note the Minister of State talks about the council chambers remaining and about the phasing out of the directors. If there is a director for housing and social and community development, would the whole section under this director remain in place? The Minister of State says that we are not going to have a chief executive or directors, but what will happen to the teams under them? Will they be merged with the-----
From my understanding, the boundary in Cork is seen by many people as out of date. The last boundary revision, which extended to the east to the west, was in the 1960s. The northern and southern extent of the city dates from the 1940s, a time when Rochestown was a quiet village on the way to Passage West and when Grange and many other places were farmland. Sinn Féin is the only party that has maintained a consistent position of opposition to a merger of both councils. We are firmly of the view that a merger of the city and county councils would be disastrous. We believe Cork needs two local authorities with two separate executives and two separate elected bodies in order to be in a position to provide services to a satisfactory standard and to focus on the differing priorities of city and county. We believe there is a need for a separate county council based on the core rural areas - the large county towns and market towns - with a strong focus on agriculture, agrifood, rural development, tourism and fisheries.
It goes without saying that the focus and priorities of the county would be different from those of metropolitan Cork. There is a need for a separate strong metropolitan council with considerable focus on industry, investment, urban services and transport, with a focus on commuting and a strong strategy to support the areas in the commuter belt with a key emphasis on public transport. Cork needs to be a thriving city, county and region. It needs to be a counterbalance to Dublin, which is increasingly coming under pressure in areas such as transport, which is a complete mess and an embarrassment. The State needs Cork to complement Dublin rather than to be a threat to it. To do this we need strong, independent and well-funded local government with significant capital investment in transport infrastructure and public transport. The Government needs to prioritise these matters.
I will be engaging constructively with the Minister of State tomorrow but my fear is that ultimately, as long as Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil have control of the Customs House in Dublin, our local county halls will become more like shells and will be continually hollowed out.
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the Chamber. I will follow on from what Senator Colm Burke was saying with regard to the altering of the boundary. I wonder about the Minister of State's own position and vision with regard to avoiding a doughnut effect. As Senator Colm Burke alluded to, there is large and very welcome development in the city centre, but how are we going to mitigate the impact of people having to build their homes out in boundary areas? Already I hear from my colleagues in the Green Party in Cork that there is congestion and difficulties with regard to the clogging up of roads. I would be interested to know of the Minister of State's vision in respect of commuting distances and the potentially big role of public transport in this regard.I have tabled an amendment which I will speak to tomorrow and which would strengthen the Bill. One has this great area of Cork, which is beside my great county of Waterford.
When one thinks of the population increase of 700,000, it means that serious planning must be done. In a time of climate change, of economic growth and of the availability of jobs, which are very welcome, we need to ensure we develop in an efficient and effective way with regard to transport, people and businesses. I would like to hear the Minister of State's view on same.
On the holding of plebiscites on having directly elected mayors for Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Galway, I very much welcome the Minister of State's proposal that we have a good discussion on this matter. The proposal is exciting but is not without challenge. What does it mean for the current CEOs? For example, Mr. Michael Walsh is the chief executive of Waterford City and County Council. He is doing an amazing job for Waterford and needs every support from the Government in order to develop the space in Waterford city and county. What are the management roles? What are the possible conflicts? I suggest we work towards identifying potential conflicts, ways to avoid conflicts, opportunities and ways to avail of opportunities. I look forward to the discussion in the new year. I welcome the Bill and look forward to tomorrow's discussion.
I welcome the Minister of State. Dr. Henry Cloud wrote:
We change our behaviour when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.
This time last year, Dr. Aodh Quinlivan included that quote in an article he wrote for theIrish Examiner on this proposed local government Bill. It is quite clear the status quo cannot remain for the city of Cork or, indeed, for local government. Cork, as Mackinnon said in his report, is not benefitting.
I very much welcome this Bill. It is the culmination of a 51 year journey as the last boundary extension took place in 1967. This process and project is too big to fail, to be personalised or to be made a political football by those who do not know what they are talking about, both here and beyond. The transfer of an administrative area, staff, functions, services and many more issues must be done with clear management, vision, oversight, resources and buy-in.
I am very proud of the role played by the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, in bringing this Bill to the end game. I appreciate his calm, reflective and determined approach. As the Minister of State said, the implementation oversight group and Cork City Council and Cork County Council staff and councillors deserve great credit.
We are celebrating Vótáil 100. The 1918 general election marked a key turning point in our nation's history. Today and tomorrow, with the passage of this Bill, we will, as Members of the Upper House of the Oireachtas, commence a significant rebirth, relaunch and reinvention of Cork city and Cork county. That is what we are about today in this Chamber. It will be significant because we are creating a city of scale and we will go beyond these shores to Europe and the world and say we are open for business.
As Senator Colm Burke said, there are many challenges. In 2011, only one crane was visible in the city of Cork. Mr. John Cleary in Mahon had courage and bravery and look what has happened since.Look at the change in Navigation House on Albert Quay and on the Grand Parade. We stand on the cusp. I remember Deputy Enda Kenny, as Taoiseach, visiting on a warm afternoon. We extolled a project that represented a new Cork as outward looking, bold, imaginative and visionary. That is what we are about today. It is about saying that an expanded city council is the best option for Cork. It cannot be about rejecting, neglecting or marginalising the county. On the contrary, a strong city and a strong county are required.
The Minister of State and the Government must tackle the unique challenge of marrying the new with the old and provide the people, whether they are in Douglas, Lehenaghmore, Glanmire, Blarney or wherever in that little hinterland of metropolitan Cork, with the service they expect and demand of a city. Yes, Cork County Council has concerns around the areas of Blarney and Tower. Yes, there are issues around local government funding and finance. As we grow Cork city and county, it is imperative we meet the demands and expectations of the people we represent. This legislation presents a unique opportunity.
I was a member of local government and I would say to Senators that this is an opportunity we cannot miss. We cannot procrastinate or play political football with it. Local elections will take place next May or June and, therefore, the boundary issue must be settled and the local government election date put in place. There is an obligation on us as Members to deliver enhanced public transport, or a city that has an integrated approach to transport, education, justice and health, as mentioned by Senator Colm Burke, for future generations.
This expansion is desperately needed. I believe in both local authorities. As the second city, we must compete on a European scale. Cork, under Project Ireland 2040, is projected to grow. To counteract Dublin, it will require strong and determined resourcing and leadership by Government, elected representatives and those charged with the administration of local government in the inner city and county.
I will conclude with the following, and I have waited 51 years for this.
I support wholeheartedly a plebiscite on a directly elected mayor but we must get it right. Mackinnon did not articulate or advocate that but I give the Minister of State a commitment that we will have a debate on this matter in the House in the new year.
Cork city and county are very proud and we stand on the cusp of playing a bigger part not just in Ireland but in the world, and I commend the Minister of State on that.
I was a little shocked by what Senator Boyhan said. He reminded the House that the Minister of State was elected almost 20 years ago to serve at local government level. That means I was elected 20 years ago to serve at local government level too but I feel so young, as I am sure the Minister of State does.
I know there are others here who were elected on the same day and who have many and, I guess, diverse experiences of their time in local government and bring much to this important debate. I acknowledge Senator Buttimer's pride in terms of what is about to happen in Cork county and city. We will see in time whether it is the right approach to take. I welcome any effort, legislative or otherwise, to bring more coherence to local government and administration in this country.We have consulted in our party, through councillors and membership, particularly in areas affected by the changes proposed in the legislation. Unlike most, if not all, Oireachtas Members in Galway, although I do not want to speak for Senator Ó Céidigh, my colleague, the current Mayor of Galway, Councillor Niall McNelis, fully supports in principle what the legislation and, I hope, future legislation seek to achieve for Galway. He is a progressive thinker who has thought openly and laterally about the matter and about what it means for business, job creation and Galway's status.
From my spell as a Minister of State charged with job creation and the development of small business, and from the work I did with IDA, I know that when it promotes Ireland abroad, it likes to promote Ireland in the way that international investors like it to be presented, which is on the basis of city regions of a critical mass of population that can provide the supports and talent that business needs. That is why my colleague, Councillor McNelis, supports in principle what the legislation seeks to achieve, namely, to create that critical mass and supply chain of talent and ambition for Galway. Let us be honest: our cities are the main drivers of economic, social and cultural development. We have avoided that reality for too long but I am glad it has been reflected in the legislation, although it can be improved and I hope we can contribute to improving it. I look forward to seeing what the Minister of State proposes that the House support him on in regard to the enhancement of local government in Galway next year.
As I said, I support any measures that are designed to bring greater coherence to local and regional government, but I say that in a qualified fashion and the Minister of State has probably anticipated what I am going to say. Unfortunately, the legislation is selective in the areas that have been identified for greater coherence. In European Commission terms, if one considers the totality of the population of my home town of Drogheda, and if one is minded to breach a county boundary, one will see that the contiguous area of Drogheda is similar to, if not larger than, that of Waterford, yet it does not have any form of city status or one local administrative set of structures to administer the area.
Through the proposals outlined in Part 7 of a previous iteration of the Bill that was subsequently amended to remove the part, the Government acknowledged it wanted to see greater coherence, integration and co-operation between local authorities where boundaries may be contested. In 2015, a number of boundary reviews were undertaken, including in my area of Drogheda. I pushed for that boundary review not for any narrow, parochial reason, and I lost the following general election by a handful of votes. I also lost many votes in east Meath because people campaigned against me on the basis that I wanted vast swathes of east Meath and Drogheda to be included, but that was never the ambition of the review, as people would have found if they were honest with themselves.
Approximately 10,000 people live in housing estates in Drogheda and County Meath and, for administrative purposes, the estates are administered in Navan but they do not receive the types of services that people should expect in this day and age. While there are a few exceptions, namely, a few high-quality local representatives in the area, many local representatives are unknown to those areas. People from those areas contact people like me, who represented them in their Dáil electoral area, or the Minister of State's colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, who also represents them. The Minister of State understands the difficulties but he has his own local challenges in the south-eastern region and, therefore, I do not want to go into great detail.
Will we at some point take the bull by the horns and decide, in the interests of good government, governance and efficient administration, to breach county boundaries and ensure local government reflects the reality of life on the ground? Successive boundary reviews, including all those which were commissioned in 2015, fudged those questions. At the end of the Minister of State's prepared contribution, he stated: "The Bill also contains provisions to copperfasten the status of cities and counties by repealing the existing power to alter county boundaries by ministerial order, save where agreed by the relevant local authorities." Is the Minister of State referring only to the areas referred to in the Bill, or is he saying the Minister will no longer have the existing powers to alter boundaries? If the system is changed entirely, it will mean that the ambition of towns that should be cities, such as Drogheda, to become cities will be strangled. Will the Minister of State clarify that?
I understand why the Minister of State proposes a plebiscite on directly-elected mayors and we must have a direct consultation with the people in that regard. Before we proceed with the Bill, I would be interested to hear his views on what the powers of those directly-elected mayors will be, although I know it will be reflected in legislation he hopes to bring forward next year. Will we have a Cabinet-type structure in local government, where individual councillors will be elected to take on responsibility for particular roles and sections of the work of individual local authorities? That would ultimately be a positive development. We remember the Better Local Government initiative of my colleague, Deputy Howlin, in the 1990s in the then Department of the Environment. The ambition for the strategic policy committee, SPC, initiative was for the chairs of SPCs to have a direct policy responsibility, such as housing or economic development. I would appreciate hearing what the Minister of State has in store in that respect.
I agree with Senator Murnane O'Connor when she said that town and borough councils should not have been abolished under the 2013 legislation. It was a retrograde step. I reflected on the matter deeply because my area was directly affected and I can see the direct consequences of a loss of status, identity and local decision-making at a basic level, as well as a loss of the principle of subsidiarity in my town of Drogheda, although I do not want to be narrowly parochial. With one stroke of a pen, we lost several hundred years of history, and the same could be said for the borough councils of Kilkenny, Wexford, Sligo, Clonmel and other substantial towns across the country. While other towns were granted town government in 1898 under an Act, Drogheda and Kilkenny had it for several hundred years. We acknowledge, however, that the Labour Party was in government at the time and it should not have allowed that to happen. As my colleague, Deputy Howlin, said, he was too busy saving the country to keep an eye on the Minister who took the decision at the time. Damage was done and it needs to be addressed.
As the Minister of State will know, we have introduced a Bill to the Dáil to restore town and borough councils over a certain level and restore their functions. Will he give it his full consideration in the context of the reforms he will propose for next year? We are determined to push that legislation and ensure that, through the Statute Book, towns like Drogheda are given back the status they deserve.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill.
As someone who was elected to the House by city and county councillors, I support any reform of local government that benefits the citizens whom councillors represent and that promotes the development of their cities and counties. On Cork city and county councils, this is long-awaited legislation which will give legal effect to the raft of detailed provisions governing land, asset and staff transfers, the operation of by-laws and financial compensation package arrangements. This is the end of a long road for city and county councillors and while there has been a lack of agreement on many issues, there has also been consensus. As someone who represents independent councillors from both city and county, my main concern is the need for certainty of funding for a decade and beyond. I would like the Minister of State's reassurance that there will be the long-term funding plan for Cork, that is, not a three-year plan as originally proposed.I regret the Bill was rushed through the Dáil and is now being rushed through the Seanad in two days. I am grateful to my colleague, Senator Boyhan, who persuaded those who manage the schedule to hold Committee and Remaining Stages tomorrow and not have All Stages of the Bill taken today, as originally planned by the Government. Haste has been a feature of the Bill and I am disappointed the Minister did not see fit to place the Bill in a pre-legislative scrutiny process, particularly in respect of Galway City Council and Galway County Council.
This Bill lacks coherence, attempting as it does to do too much at the same time. This is not for the benefit of the people of Galway. It is borne out of political expedience with the local elections in 2019 in mind. This is no way in which to enact legislation. The Government is promoting a central Government agenda at the expense of local authorities and their citizens. As a person who subscribes to the principle of subsidiarity and proportionality, which is enshrined in the Lisbon treaty - I have been fully involved in the Timmermans discussion in Europe - I fully support the right of local authorities to retain their independence from central Government. I believe this Bill flies in the face of this principle. In this Bill, subsidiarity has been denuded of its moral foundations in a fashion that has failed to provide the grounding for achieving social and economic progress. In the specific case of Galway, it runs the risk of creating a physical crisis with the inevitable negative effects on service delivery by attempting to do too much in one Bill. This Bill does not strengthen local democracy, it runs a grave risk of completely undermining it. Indeed, 54 of the 57 councillors divided between Galway City Council and Galway County Council are opposed to this Bill.
The Minister of State will be aware of the historic underfunding of Galway County Council due to the unfair base calculation made almost 20 years ago and on which the subsequent funding calculations were made. It is widely known that Galway County Council is completely underfunded compared to comparative local authorities. Even though Galway County Council area has a larger population, it gets between €18 million and €30 million less than other large authorities, in spite of extending as far out as the islands with the infrastructural and development implications of that unique geographical space. This funding deficit has not been properly addressed by successive Governments and it is no wonder that Galway councillors are up in arms at this first Bill targeted at Galway. It is not about improving services or increasing funding. It seeks to put in place a single chief executive, who is only serving in an acting up post for both the city council and county council. From the human perspective, the fact that this chief executive would be employed in an acting capacity creates even greater uncertainty as many senior positions in Galway's local authorities are already acting posts.
From my discussions with Galway county councillors, I know they would like the funding issue to be addressed and asked that the model for the distribution of the local property tax and other sources of funding be examined as a matter of priority. They would also like to be included in the consultations on the proposals, which Deputy Ó Cuív described in the Dáil last week as amalgamation by stealth. I agree with him.
In addition, I think the findings of the so-called expert group, which had not a single elected member on it, are given too much weight and the views of those who are at the coalface of local democracy have been ignored. Whether the amalgamation of the two local authorities is of benefit to the city and county of Galway is not for discussion today. Overall amalgamations have been a success story but only because of the extensive research, consultation and detailed stakeholder engagement that took place. It was in all cases driven by the councillors themselves and the success of Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford owes much to this.
I have tabled a number of Committee Stage amendments to this Bill, but my main amendment deals with the removal of references to the Galway local authorities from this Bill as I believe their inclusion requires a more considered approach.
This is rushed legislation. What we need is proper and extensive consultation with councillors. I find it extraordinary that in the same Bill, we have examples of the successful result of the full and thorough consultation and extensive debate and compromise that occurred in Cork side by side with a hasty and incomplete arrangements for Galway. This is not good enough for the people of one of the most vibrant and economically successful counties and cities in Ireland.
I do not wish to delay this Bill for the citizens of Cork and I sincerely hope that my amendments will be accepted tomorrow and that references to Galway City Council and Galway County Council will be removed from the legislation as it passes through this House and can be addressed as a stand alone piece of legislation next year.
I compliment the Minister on what he is trying to do. I do not want to impede the progress of the Bill but I promise that I will move heaven and earth to ensure the amendments I have tabled in regard to Galway City Council and Galway County Council will be passed in the House. Other than that, I wish the Minister well with the provisions for Cork in the Bill.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, to the House. This is an extremely important debate. The Minister of State will forgive me if I deal with something dear to my heart, that is, Limerick. Sections 39 to 45, inclusive, deal with the plebiscite for a directly elected mayor. The Minister of State stated that it is intended that there would be a plebiscite for a directly elected mayor for Limerick city and county on the same date as the local elections in May 2019. I welcome that. Limerick city is rich in heritage and its motto is: "A city well versed in the Art of War". We have driven off various invaders set on conquests over centuries and the people of Limerick are very proud of that. That is epitomised by St. John's Castle, which is a very prominent landmark along the river along with the Treaty Stone. The legislation will be welcomed by the people. I am conscious that when we make proposals for a directly elected mayor, we are entering new territory and it is important we get it right.
I welcome the fact the Minister of State is facilitating a day long debate in the new year around the whole area of local government and, more particularly, directly elected mayors. We need to see how we can benchmark it against other cities in the world and see how it works in similar sized cities. Will the Minister of State ask his officials examine cities which have directly elected mayors and the legislation that underpins that?
The Minister of State has laid down the rules under which the plebiscite will be observed. The most critical thing is that people vote. When people come out to vote in the local elections, they vote also in the plebiscite on a directly elected mayor. It will be their mayor for both Limerick city and county.
I note the reference to amalgamations of other local authorities. We have gone through that already. It has not been plain sailing and there have been difficulties but in the main it has brought synergies. In fact, it has been a smooth enough transition. The key component is that we have to have a strong city and a strong county to complement each other.
It is both symbolic and of practical import to have a directly elected mayor for the city of Limerick. Strategically, Limerick city is the best located city in Ireland. In a relatively short number of years, we hope to have the M20 linking Limerick to Cork. We are already directly linked Galway. Shannon Airport, an international airport, is on our doorstep and the Shannon Foynes Port Company is a short distance away. We are on the crest of something great in Limerick. Various projects are going ahead. I refer to the plans for the Opera Centre. We have the former Cleeve's factory site, the hanging gardens and the Gardens International development currently under construction, which is bringing jobs into the city. I compliment Limerick 2030 as well as Limerick City and County Council for attracting projects by these various investors and developers, which are coming to the city.The key issue will be the powers vested in the office of mayor, which will have to be dealt with in a number of areas. What will the powers be? How will those powers relate to the executive? Critically, how will they relate to the current powers and duties of directly elected councillors?
Councillors are exceptionally busy and practical. In recent years there may have been a shift towards the executive away from the councillors. We need to look at that as part of this overall process. How will the mayor interact? With a directly elected mayor we may have a more cohesive and effective chamber with more defined roles for councillors, effectively in some way involving them more in the key elements of the local authority.
Limerick City and County Council has tremendous councillors from my party, Fine Gael, and from others. There is frustration over their role. I welcome the directly elected mayor because it fits very much into where we see Limerick going in future. I make no apology for saying I envisage Limerick challenging to be the second city outside Dublin given where we are based strategically and the resources we have. Of any city in Ireland, Limerick is the easiest one to get to. Everyone is welcome. They come for sporting occasions. Limerick are the current all-Ireland champions.
I will take that effectively as a pause because I want to come back to this in the new year and extol the virtues of a directly elected mayor. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we must ensure that role fits and assists in evolving the role of councillors and how the local authority executive works for the overall enhancement of Limerick city and other cities.
I thank the Senators for their very reasonable contributions. Sometimes in politics people will say to those with whom they do not agree that they have not listened to them, which seems to be a unique way of looking at how people should think.
Senator Kieran O’Donnell and I lost two years of our lives in the dungeons of Leinster House at the banking inquiry. For ten years group-think prevailed everything politically, economically and socially. Engaging with someone does not demand that we all have to agree with each other. Despite that, there is considerable agreement on many of the aspects discussed. I want to go through as much of the detail as I can at this juncture.
Senator Murnane O'Connor made the very valid point that she has made at every local government discussion we have had here about the power of the chief executive officers. I still call them managers.
Irrespective of the title - Senator Craughwell spoke at length about subsidiarity - the reality is that since the abolition of domestic rates in 1977 effectively local government has had to subsist by having limited sources of funds from a very small pool of people and a handout from central Government. That has meant that real power in local government has been strangled since then and much of it, such as it exists, lies with the executive.
I have been and will continue to be a staunch supporter of the role of councillors, but we must acknowledge that some of the councillors' powers lost were lost because they did not want to have them. Senator Murnane O'Connor and others spoke about consultation with LAMA and the AILG. When I got the job one of the first things I did was to meet representatives of LAMA and the AILG. I never said it on the record before, but I say it here now. I asked them about additional powers for councillors and no suggestion was forthcoming from the two representative groups. My jaw hit the table. I suggest that councillors who are watching tonight should raise the matter with the people they elect to represent them. From day one I had a little list of things that should be devolved back to councillors.
Most Senators who contributed spoke about the role of directly elected mayor. The relationship between the directly elected mayor and the manager should be exactly the same as exists between a Minister and a Secretary General of a Department. With the notable and obvious exception of planning, in particular, and the human resources hiring and firing function, every function of the executive, should be given to the directly elected mayor in consultation with the remainder of the council.
No power should be removed from the already limited powers councillors have. The key power councillors have in the passing of a budget or a development plan should certainly still reside with councillors. I absolutely agree with Senator Nash. I was in local government when the changes to the SPCs were introduced. It was envisaged to be something it never became. In fact, in some areas at least for councillors it became much more time-consuming with little real result. We should have a council head - it will not be the Minister. There should be a mini-cabinet style approach. This is what I will say in my speech in January. It should be on the basis of the block system that already exists at local government level so that all the groups on the council are represented.
It would not be acceptable for the directly elected mayor to bring in their own outsiders. We have to have people who are elected. That is very achievable and would not require significant resources. However, it would mean a much more direct role particularly for those councillors in the executive functions of the local authority that they are part of and also by extension hopefully for the other councillors. Councillors have that level of consultation and involvement with each other in their own groups. We all know that from our experience at local authority level. I am not sure if Senator Warfield was elected the last time or not.
He was the youngest mayor; I had forgotten.
At council level outside the budget and maybe particular issues that arise from time to time with the election of the leader or chair, very little party politics comes into it. It is mostly about people who want to do the right thing for their own area. That type of collaborative approach would be very welcome.
I agree with the Senator that it should apply in every local authority. I want Leitrim County Council, which is the smallest local authority area by population, to have its own directly elected chairperson or whatever title will be used.
As Deputy Connolly said in the other House, one size does not fit all. Leitrim has the smallest population but geographically it is quite a large drawn-out county; it takes on hour to drive from one end to the other. Whereas depending on traffic in Dublin city which has 1 million people it is possible to get around quite quickly. One size does not fit all. The initial plebiscites will seek the consent of the people to make what would be the biggest change to the structure of local government that we will probably have ever made.There will be a learning mechanism to see what has and has not worked. I am not familiar with any country where directly-elected mayors have been introduced across the board. The last British general election coincided with the election of Joe Anderson in Liverpool and Andy Burnham in Manchester, though there had been a London Mayor for many years. In Manchester they do not have an assembly but ten borough councils, which are separate local authorities. The mayors of those make up the assembly for the greater Manchester area. It is completely different from the system in London so one can see that there are different systems even within countries.
I understand the frustration of Senator Warfield about the Dublin issue but I am absolutely committed to not creating an extra layer of local government in Dublin just for the sake of it. There may be no other way to have a directly-elected mayor but Dublin is unique and not comparable to London or other big cities we may think of because, proportionally, it has such a huge part of our population. I am loath to pick something from somewhere else and stick it into Dublin because I do not believe that one size fits all. I do not know what the convention in Dublin will come up with but the ambition is for something that can fit in with the structures we have, or recommend new structures from scratch. It will ask 67 citizens and 33 politicians, including councillors, what they think the structure of local government should be in the future. The Government is committed to this happening next year.
Senator Boyhan said he had written to all the councillors in Galway and that not one had written back expressing support for the merger. I agree with him that it was a useful task to carry out but if he had written to county councillors in Cork prior to this legislation, he would have received unanimous opposition to the extension of the boundary there. Despite the love and affection I genuinely hold for councillors, their position on matters of local boundaries is generally to support their own position. They are not unique in that regard and Deputies and Senators have similar ways of coming to decisions. I am always struck by the last man who died in the Seanad Chamber, though he was pronounced dead just outside the Chamber. He was Jackie Daly, a famous Senator from Killarney and the predecessor of another famous Senator from Killarney who is still in the House. At a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting in 1984, he proposed the postponement of the local elections that were due for that year. He knew the way to impress the then Taoiseach and to get it postponed to 1985, which is when they took place, and this was by conducting a survey of councillors. He got a 100% response and agreement that the elections should be put off for a year. I am not dismissing Senator Boyhan, who is a very good contributor to debates, but my job and that of the Department is not necessarily to seek 100% agreement from everyone all the time about what should happen.
The Senator asked me to clarify the two-chamber proposal. The local Government Bill for next year, which is in the preliminary stages of drafting, will be the Galway merger Bill in all but name. I absolutely believe that a city the size of Galway, that wants to develop like Galway, should have its own political entity. I am 100% committed to that and the Bill will contain provisions to that effect. It is unique and we have not done this anywhere else in Ireland but it is done in many other places around the world. The two officials behind me are not getting any turkey this Christmas because they have to come up with a unique Irish solution to this. If they can do it in other places, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility.
Senator Boyhan also mentioned consultation with the County and City Management Association, CCMA. We went further than consultation and we put the manager of the city council and the manager of the county council on the group. The expert group did not have a minority report but agreed unanimously with the merger. That was the strangest argument I have ever heard because the management in Galway wants the merger to happen. It wants a joint chief executive to be appointed. There were comments by other Senators which beggared belief, despite the overall tone of the debate being very good. Senator Boyhan spoke about Galway County Council being premature and maybe he is right but I think the councillors acted in good faith. I had several discussions with Oireachtas Members in Galway in the lead-up to the Dáil Stages of the Bill last week. It was a constant battle to secure more equitable funding for Galway, in anticipation of merger, to support the municipal districts and this is where the figure of €1.4 million came from.
If the legislation, including the section on Galway, does not pass then Galway County Council will have to revise its budget because there will be a gap of €1.4 million. I was accused at one of those Oireachtas meetings by Deputy Ó Cuív of issuing a threat and it sounds like that but there is no other way to make it sound. He wanted me to break the law but the Taoiseach would have my head on a plate in the morning if I signed away money to Galway County Council that was not on the basis of electoral reform, which is the only basis on which I can give discretionary funding. Deputy Ó Cuív, of course, sat at the Cabinet table for ten years and did nothing on the funding issue, meaning a huge gap has existed in Galway County Council for decades.
I agree with Senator Boyhan about the Laois-Carlow situation, with which Senator Murnane O'Connor would be most familiar. It has worked so well that it is not an issue. Senator Murnane O'Connor comes from Graiguecullen, which is partly in Carlow and partly in Laois, and for years Carlow has provided a lot of its services with Laois funding them at the end of each year. As a result, the boundary report only received eight submissions from the general public. It is working well and the boundary is not an issue in people's daily lives. The situation in Galway is different and it is not accurate to compare it to Laois or Carlow. New arrangements were introduced in 1985 to set up two completely separate corporate entities in Galway. The honest thing to say is that it never worked properly and it led to funding issues for the county council in particular.
Senator Nash talked about city regions leading development but there is no Oireachtas Member who comes from a more rural place than me. There are many trees and cows where I come from and, despite the fact that it happens to be close to Waterford city, it is very sparsely populated. Waterford city is the economic driver in that part of the south east, however, and I want to see it grow more into that role into the future. We need Galway to do the very same.Senator Warfield spoke about his time living in Galway and the disagreements between Galway city and county councils. The Senator is correct. It is crazy that bus corridors put in place by one of the local authorities in Galway are not continued into the next local authority area. There is significant ongoing discussion about the new ring road. While this project is not by any stretch of the imagination a matter for the local authorities, having two separate corporate entities and managements is a contributory factor in the delay around this project. Nobody should doubt that. There has been no major or minor public protest in Galway about the prospect of merging the local authorities but there is political protest about it. Politicians have a job to do but the public expects them to do politics as well as they can.
Senator Boyhan asked me to delete Galway from the Bill. I cannot and will not because I gave my word on funding to the county council and it produced its budget on foot of it. Galway will also feature in the next local government Bill, which will be drafted over the next few months. Senator Boyhan also said that the CEOs should appear before the Committee of Public Accounts. I was very much in favour of this proposal until recently. The committee has become a political football. A former Member of this House, Michael McCarthy, was recently appointed chairman of the National Oversight and Auditing Commission, NOAC, through the public appointments process. NOAC is responsible for auditing local authorities. I propose to give this body greater powers in the next local government Bill. Why would we establish a new structure, or expand the remit of the Committee of Public Accounts which has become very politicised, when we have in place a body tasked with this job, which has never been given the publicity or teeth to do so in-depth? I propose to address this is in the next local government Bill.
Senator Boyhan also said that the provision regarding directly elected mayors should be deleted because it is premature. This issue has been under discussion for a long time in political circles but it has never been discussed in the public arena. This Bill provides for the mechanism to allow plebiscites to be held. It is hoped the discussion with the public will take place early in the new year.
Senator Colm Burke mentioned infrastructure issues in Cork, while supporting the Bill. I agree with his remarks about the northern ring road. When the process of extending the boundaries of Cork was under way, one of the routes I examined was the designated route for the northern ring. Boundaries should be easily identifiable and large geographic features, whether rivers, mountains or motorways, should be boundaries. While the issue is not as simple as that, I agree with the points the Senator made. Cork is a great example of a city experiencing a lot of development of office building. There is significant potential in the docklands area he mentioned. The expanded city council will have to get to grips with that.
Senator Warfield said that insufficient time had been provided to debate the Bill. Formal debate on all of the issues has been quick but there has been plenty of general debate on them. We could debate the proposed merger of Galway city and council councils for ten years and it would not resolve the differences of opinion that people have about it. I agree there is need for greater clarity regarding the merger. I hope I have provided some of that clarity today, with more to be provided. The inclusion of Galway in this Bill is not premature. The issue of local government structural reform in respect of decision-making in the Custom House first came to the table six or seven years ago such that this process has not been short. It is probably just about long enough. However, I understand Senator Warfield's concern but I do not set the business of either House of the Oireachtas. That work is done independent of Government. The Senator also said that expediency is at the heart of the Bill; it is not. Currently, people throughout the country are making decisions about running for election. How can a potential candidate in Cork be expected to make a decision to run if three-quarters of the area in which he or she is a candidate might not be in the city into the future? The process has dragged on too long in this regard.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan welcomed the Bill. I am committed to having a full discussion on the powers of the directly elected mayors because that discussion has never been had in the public arena. While Members of both Houses have made similar comments about it during panel debates, there has been no discussion on it in either Chamber such that all Members can make their views known publicly on the issue. I believe every power that can be given to the directly elected mayor should be given. I also believe we should make provision for recall elections, which would be a first in Irish politics, but not in respect of a person who becomes unpopular because he or she has done what is right. I refer Senators to the situation that occurred in north Antrim recently in regard to a politician and public policy and funding concerns, which almost resulted in a recall election These mechanisms should exist. The testing ground for them will be this legislation. We are giving powers to elected representatives and there should be accountability not only through political channels but directly to the public.
On Cork, I have thought about it a lot in the past year and a half. Senators Buttimer and Colm Burke spoke about the volume of unused industrial and other land in the city. There is sufficient land to replicate almost half the current build in the city, although it would be costly to do so in some areas because much of the land would have to be regenerated. We will have to provide for that development to cater for the needs of young people who do not want to have to commute long distances. There is great potential in Cork city. Every major city in the country and every substantial town has unused docklands or industrial land, such as the 13-acre former brewery site in Kilkenny city. That has significant potential not only for office space, as mentioned by Senator Colm Burke, but living space.
Yes, and heritage. It is important that heritage protections are taken into account. Senator Buttimer spoke passionately about Cork matters, as he always does. At operational level, there has been extensive co-operation between the city and county of Cork. When people have come out of their trenches, politically, there has also been co-operation. Nevertheless, there is always a view taken at local government level that if an area changes, the funding for that area will change and this throws up uncertainty for the future. What is being proposed provides certainty for Cork for the next 50 years. The development of land banks will, as stated by Senator Buttimer, enable Cork to become a city of scale.As the Leader said, it is an exciting time for the city and the county of Cork. He quoted someone at the start of his contribution but I did not note it as I had not started writing comments down. I have not heard such words about local government for a long time, if ever. He is correct that this is an exciting time for Cork.
Senator Nash asked a few specific questions. I will not support the town council Bill because I fundamentally disagree with the premise that people living in some towns should have two ballot papers for a local election while the rest of us have one. It is anti-democratic. That is not to say that the municipal districts system cannot, will not and should not be strengthened more into the future. I have spoken about mayoral powers. I know Mr. Niall McNelis for years and find it interesting that he, as a city councillor, is a strong supporter of a merger. I suppose he sees it from the point of view of Galway city driving the entire region.
Senator Nash spoke about Drogheda and the issues that have arisen there, which arise everywhere else. Since I took up this portfolio and have responsibility for boundary changes, my position is dominated by a realisation that, politically, they will never happen. They can happen in Cork because Cork people will retain their identity whether they are administered by Cork City Council or Cork County Council. The one that I am most familiar with and passionate about is the one in Roscommon, which generated 27,000 public submissions. That means more than half the population of Roscommon made a submission. What I want to do, and I shall get an opportunity with a smaller Bill at the start of next year, is talk about these urban area committees and properly plan the entirety of a city or a town that crosses a boundary. I want a formal structure and not just each authority doing its own thing but walking away.
Senator Nash asked whether I would amend the provisions entirely in order to prevent boundary changes by statutory instrument. I will not in the sense that if there is agreement there will still be that provision. Where there is not agreement about matters of identity - and we all know it in the context of Brexit and hard borders at the moment, which might be a dramatic comparison - I believe there should be a debate in the Oireachtas. The Minister should have to seek the approval of the Oireachtas rather than a Minister just making the decision to sign a statutory instrument. My stance is correct.
The Senator wanted clarity about the funding for Cork. The review is a ten-year mechanism, although previously it happened after three years or sooner and, at that stage, the city council would write to the Minister and a case made for a continuation or an adjustment. The provision is not a significant change from the original thinking. It is about providing that certainty of funding.
Senator Craughwell said that haste had been a part of the Bill. He made the extraordinary claim that there was no pre-legislative scrutiny, particularly in respect of Galway. There was but the committee said it did not want to consider that. The committee gave up its right to pre-legislative scrutiny, which was not anything that I particularly asked for. In fairness to the committee, the housing brief dominates its work as one would expect. It is inaccurate for him to suggest there was no pre-legislative scrutiny. The committee waived such scrutiny.
The Senator said that subsidiarity was out of the window and that the Bill runs the risk of seriously damaging services provided by local government. He went on to say there would be "inevitable" damage to local services. I suggest that he talks to Senators Grace O'Sullivan or Kieran O'Donnell as Limerick is the flagship. There were unique challenges in Limerick, particularly in respect of geography, as Limerick city is very much at one end of the county and issues of deprivation. Galway city is smack bang in the middle of the county. There was no "inevitable" damage to local services in Limerick. The city is the shining light of renewal in the country over the past five years and, therefore, I do not accept the claim made by the Senator.
He also said that he was deeply unhappy that the new joint chief executive post will be an acting position. He or she will take up a permanent position. I do not know where he got it that the post would be acting. It is precisely because one of the current chief executives is acting that we want to appoint a person to a permanent position. He or she will be the head of the administration into the future and will be in charge of some of the merger processes in Cork that we have spoken about at length. The Senator also said that he was shocked that there was such an agreement in Cork but no agreement in Galway. Perhaps that is how it appears on the outside and I will take that as it sounds like a compliment. I assure him that I know from going to meetings in Cork with my own party colleagues that I was run out of town-----
-----because the issue was a Cork one. I do not know where Senator Craughwell got the idea. We have reached a stage in Cork, as I hope we will in Galway next year, of general consensus and some level of agreement but there is still not agreement. There are still local politicians in Cork in my own party and others who would run me out of town if I arrived into the place.
There is no agreement in Galway but I hope that there can be some semblance of agreement.
Senator Craughwell made the point that there is no councillor on the expert group. There is a long-held practice in Irish politics that politicians do not sit on groups that determine boundaries, for obvious reasons. In Galway, managers were brought into the process. They agree with the process and with the result. They also fundamentally agree about the funding issue.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell spoke at length about directly elected mayors and the full debate that will happen. He spoke about the remarkable success of the merger in Limerick. There was wholesale political opposition in Limerick when that happened, yet it has been the driver for Limerick and the region. Powers are the key. I believe in providing maximum powers and in a local cabinet where councillors will have direct responsibility. I am familiar with this as a member of my extended family is the mayoral lead for the city of Liverpool on transport and clean air. He has been a councillor for 20 years for the Labour Party in Liverpool. This is the first time, because of the new mayoral structure, that that has existed. The system is less than two years in existence but seems to work well.
As well as the recall issue to which I referred, there is a report. Councillors have expressed frustration at the interim report compiled by Ms Sara Moorhead SC. There was an awful more in the report than people give it credit for. Much has been written about where she sees councillor pay going in the future. The key second element, which she is considering now, is functions for councillors. The AILG and LAMA could not tell me 18 months ago what powers they thought councillors should have and, therefore, I decided to get one of the most independent-minded women that I have ever met to conduct a process of investigation and to devise a proper system of pay based on the role and functions that councillors should have into the future.