Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Local Government Bill 2018: Committee and Remaining Stages
I welcome the opportunity to comment on section 14, which involves the transfer of the assets and liabilities of one local authority to another. Perhaps the Minister of State might clarify the situation in respect of the value and the process that will be used to value these properties. Some major properties have loans while others do not. How does the Minister of State propose that an equal or genuine value will be put on these properties so the transfer can happen? It is an issue about a balance sheet and ensuring that one local authority could be stuck with a liability for a property that is not in its name. Could the Minister of State clarify how that will work? If a property has been paid off fully, will that be taken into consideration? The value of the property will be transferred. What we do not want is a liability on a local authority for an asset it cannot use.
The brief answer is if the asset is being transferred and there is an outstanding debt upon it, that debt will also be transferred. For example, if Cork County Council has invested in a public project in the transfer area or the area that is under consideration by the Bill, there cannot be a question that it would still have the liability of paying for the debt. In one sense, it is a paper transaction in that the valuation placed on it is not necessarily the most important thing. It is that the liability does not remain on the county council. I tabled an amendment on Committee Stage in the Dáil that sought to keep some of the liabilities on the county council - that it would have to pay the loans even though the assets were being transferred to the city council. The brief answer is that any place where the county council has invested in a public project that is being transferred in the transfer area to the city, the outstanding debt on that transfer - the loan - will also transfer to the city council. It is a matter for agreement between the local authorities. By and large, there seems to be more agreement between the local authorities in Cork than might have existed previously. I am sure Senator Lombard will point out an example now of where there is no agreement. The implementation group, which is mandated in this legislation to come up with an implementation plan that both local authorities must stick with, will be the final arbiter in terms of ensuring that plan is implemented. We are putting the group in this legislation so that no situation can arise where either local authority feels short changed by situations that might arise in the transfer of assets between the county and the city.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. I think the issue has more to do with value. Take the example of a major project in Douglas in which the county council invested significant sums of money over the past decade not knowing that this process was going to happen. While the county council could have invested this money in Clonakilty or some other part of the local authority area, that value must be recouped at some level. The issue of value is very important. The question of who will be the independent valuer of these assets is a real issue. To say the implementation group will have the final say is questionable. I am asking who that independent valuer will be. Has the Minister of State thought about it? Will it be an executive function of his? Where does he believe this will come into the forum?
The purpose of any local authority is to provide public infrastructure and services. What has became apparent in the Cork review is that somewhere between 600 and 700 different services are provided by the local authority, a number that also shocked me. It concerns the idea that a local authority would invest public money - in this case, money it has received either from a Department such as the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government or the people who make the contributions in their local authority area, namely, ratepayers and local property taxpayers in recent years - to provide a facility for the community there albeit, as the Senator noted, not in anticipation that there would be a boundary change but that somehow it would get a cheque at the end because it was being transferred with the population of the area. The valuation is to the community that it serves.Outsiders would consider Douglas, Glanmire and Togher to be parts of Cork city but they are not in the city because the current boundary does not reflect the boundary of the city. That is not the fault of the county council. By and large, the services provided in the area for which the county council is responsible are pretty good. However, there can be no question of a cheque being signed by the city for the county on the basis of the county having done its statutory job, which is to provide services in those areas. If there are outstanding debts on such properties, it would be logical for the city council to pick up the tab in the future. However, local authorities are not businesses, although many people would argue that they should be run on a more business-like footing. I am at least partly in that camp. The provision of public services from public funds cannot result in the recouping of the capital outlay by the county council in this case. The council was performing its function and if it still has debts, those debts should and will transfer. That is as clear as I can be.
The implementation group is the arbiter in respect of matters on which there is no agreement between the city and the county. As I stated, there has been more agreement recently than there had been previously. The Cork issue has moved on. Last night, Senator Craughwell said the Cork issue had been fully agreed but no agreement had been reached in Galway. I outlined to him that many of my party colleagues in Cork were not especially happy. I should say, I did not have Senator Buttimer in mind at the time.
What I am trying to make clear is that there will be a full transfer of both liabilities and assets. Assets provided decades ago were provided on the basis of meeting local need. If the local population moves, the asset moves. That is the position.
I acknowledge the Minister of State's remarks. While this issue may seem to be partly abstract, that is not the case. The Minister of State said local government should be about the delivery of public infrastructure and the provision of services for communities. He referred to the transfer of land to areas adjacent to the city. We need to continue and progress work in that regard. The point the Minister of State made is important in the context of the implementation group and the need to get this process right from day one. Arbitration can and perhaps will be contentious. This is an important issue because it is about the future of Cork and the local government structure delivering for the people of Cork. It is not about the book values of assets being transferred. It is not a power game or a case of pandering to whomever. That must not be forgotten. The importance of the Bill, particularly the transfer of assets, must be recognised. I commend both councils on their co-operation on this matter.
I will continue to make the point that we cannot afford to get this wrong. Previous Governments botched decentralisation and many other measures. This is about the country's second city going out into the world market and being a counterweight to Dublin.
Senator Buttimer referred to council and local government assets, an issue that is central to different parts of this Bill. We know from the reports of the Local Government Audit Service, which are published online, that virtually none of the 31 local authorities has a definitive, clear asset management system in place. That is one of the great anomalies in local government, which holds loads of public land. The issue is part of Rebuilding Ireland. I am involved in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and we know there is no definitive base. I read a number of the Local Government Audit Service reports for 2017, all of which, with the exception of one or two, were published and circulated in recent weeks. I have taken the trouble to go through them and to contact the councils audited to suggest questions to be raised with their chief executives.
We talked about accountability and transparency at great length last night but we also have a responsibility to protect the asset base of citizens. That ties in with good corporate governance and the administration of the local authorities. The Minister of State should have his officials advise him as to the status of the asset bases of Cork city and county and Galway city and county. We cannot proceed if we do not even know what assets are involved. Major difficulties arose when we sought to get some handle on the properties available to deliver Rebuilding Ireland. That is a key issue. If I were doing due diligence on a company, I would want to know about its liabilities, assets and future sources of funding. There are problems in that regard. It is up to the Minister of State's senior advisers to advise him as to the status of the assets of these local authorities.
I do not intend to take much of the Minister of State's time. Like my colleagues, Senators Buttimer, Colm Burke and Lombard, I fully support everything he is trying to do in Cork. The negotiations in Cork were difficult and there are probably still difficulties there. Over time, I hope those difficulties will iron themselves out as they have in Limerick and Waterford. For the most part, I am supportive of everything the Minister of State is trying to do in this Bill. I have a difficulty with Galway which we will come to in due course. I do not want to do anything that would impede the passage of this Bill from the Cork perspective. In particular, I fully support what Senator Buttimer said last night about the development of Cork as the second city. The political system in Cork will come together and find the best way forward once this Bill passes, without its provisions on Galway.
Fianna Fáil fully supports what is being done in the legislation in respect of Cork because it is important. As I said to the Minister of State last night, we have all seen major changes in local government. We lost nearly half of our county councillors in recent years and we also lost our town councils, which was detrimental to nearly all councils. The Leader spoke about changes. I am just saying that we have all seen big changes since the time the then Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, decided to abolish the town councils. This Bill is about Cork and Fianna Fáil fully supports the Bill in respect of Cork and wants it passed as quickly as possible because it is very important. As both the Minister of State and Leader said, this is about the people of Cork. They are our number one priority.
On the issue of assets and the transfer of local authority houses, I understand that when the Bill is passed and the changes are made to the Cork city boundary, the new city area will have more than 10,000 local authority houses. That poses a major challenge in respect of maintenance and making sure adequate support services are provided for all those living in local authority houses. We need to address that issue. I am not criticising local authorities but expressing my overall view on how we manage local authority areas. I will cite one example of apartments in Blackpool that were built and managed by Cork City Council.The state of the apartments became so bad that the city council ended up having them all vacated. The building was refurbished and the voluntary housing agency, Respond, now manages it. At one stage, the flats at Blackpool were not a safe place to live but they are now the safest place to live in Cork city. The building has a gated entrance and is well managed and the residents are very well protected. When one is talking about managing a housing stock of more than 10,000 units it is important there are proper structures in place to make sure there is proper maintenance. Proper management is also needed to ensure the small number of tenants who cause problems are dealt with fast and efficiently at little lost to the city council and little disturbance to adjoining households and families. Adequate local authority housing and adequate management of the housing are important in expanding the city.
There is not much disagreement among Senators or from me. The Leader of the House probably put it best in his contribution which echoed what he said last night. These sections essentially provide for the biggest boundary change in the history of the State. As well as the transfer of assets and liabilities, there is the much more important transfer of 80,000 to 85,000 people who, crucially, will still be Cork people whether it is Cork city or county. This is a fantastic opportunity for a single local authority to imagine how Cork city should be for the next 50 years and have sufficient space for necessary expansion.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan spoke correctly of the need to ensure office space being constructed in the city centre is matched with housing space. While there are similar examples around the country, alongside the massive expansion in office space in Cork city, the docklands area, which is smack bang in the middle of the city, offers a unique opportunity to provide masses of new housing of all sorts, private and public. A mechanism is required. I will veer from the specific case of Cork because there are particular issues with all of the docklands and older industrial areas, including the Galway docks and the Waterford docks, which I live 100 m from. These areas all have unique and individual problems. It is often the case, certainly in Cork, that there are issues of contamination in parts of the site that can make wholesale redevelopment for housing purposes uneconomic. The Government has to devise some sort of scheme that will allow these important strategic sites to be developed in an economically viable manner for developers, albeit one that does not allow them to walk away with massive profits. This requires a different day's work but the imagination that the Leader spoke about for Cork is absolutely correct. In fairness most of the management and the councillors in Cork are excited at the prospect of being in charge of the full city rather than the two thirds for which they were previously responsible.
Senator Boyhan made a good point. The problem that I and my officials have is that there is a clash unique to our Department compared with other Departments. Senator Murnane O'Connor and others constantly ask me to give more powers to local government. We want local decision making but the representative organisations for councillors have been unable to specify the additional powers councillors should have. That is why we have Ms Sara Moorhead, SC, working on this issue. The desire to give more responsibility to councils and councillors means the control exercised by the Custom House is already looser than the control exercised by other Departments and agencies. Local government autonomy means local authorities are corporate entities, but we regularly circulate and give national direction.
With regard to the Land Development Agency, representatives of which will come to the House in early January, there will be the itinerary of land assets. Senator Boyhan is correct that many local authorities do not have a full handle on all the assets under their control. I find that it is often questions by councillors that can lead to investigations into sites over which the relevant council may have a claim but may not have full and proper title. Councillors in local communities tend to know where such sites are and may suggest, for example, locating a new library on one of them. These things can happen on an ad hocbasis. I will speak to the Minister about the need for a full asset management project in local government. In recent years, local government has moved in a positive direction on issues of vacancies, particularly on issues of dereliction. To the best of my knowledge, all councils now have thorough derelict site registers. Some are very active in pursuing sites, while others are less active because they are worried about the costs. I hope the Land Development Agency will be able to play a role in that respect. While it is not a direct matter for this Local Government Bill, legislation related to local government are introduced regularly. While we need to protect the right of councils to determine their own business, it would be proper business management to have a detailed analysis of asset management carried out.
I acknowledge Senator Craughwell's support for the provisions on Cork and I am happy to have it. I hope the Senator realises that variations of many of the changes proposed for Galway also applied in the case of Cork. All of the issues we are discussing with regard to Galway applied in Limerick and Waterford. I understand there are questions of timing and so on, but Galway is not a unique case.
On Senator Murnane O'Connor's comment, we have significantly increased the numbers of county councillors but there were reductions in numbers in many rural councils.
I have come to know Leitrim in recent years and I will spend Friday and most of the next two weeks in the county. While it is geographically large and takes one hour to drive from one end to the other, it is extremely small in population terms. However, I believe 18 councillors is too few for such a large geographical area. Wexford is also a huge county and when I was standing for election in Kilkenny, there were 26 councillors in the county and only 21 in County Wexford. That is 21 councillors to cover 150,000 people. One would have to get a half of a Dáil quota to win a council seat in Wexford under the old system. The county was very under-represented but now has 34 councillors. While an effort was made to find a better balance in population terms, geography was not given sufficient weight in the calculations.
We never agree on town councils. I believe that the future of town governance lies in strengthening municipal districts, as we are doing. People living in Bennekerry, an expanding village near Carlow town, did not have a vote in elections to the town council but had a vote for the Carlow town county council area. Getting rid of the two ballot papers and the two chambers that were doing the same work was the right thing to do. Should we have more responsibility at municipal government level to take the decisions that the town councils used to do? Should they get the block grant from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to maintain roads, footpaths and lighting?Discussions have been going on a long time with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to give back the devolved grant to the municipal districts. We really want to do that but it is not our call.
Senator Colm Burke spoke about housing stock. With the change in numbers of housing stock from the county to the city, the funding will follow. All the stuff about funding in the Bill emphasises the need for funding to follow the population. That is crucial in the area of social housing. There is a perception that politicians, including in my own party, are opposed to social housing but some of the most desirable places to live in Kilkenny city are social houses. The cut stone houses opposite the Garda station are now very expensive but they were originally built by what was Kilkenny Corporation. Senator Colm Burke mentioned Blackpool but the only thing I can guarantee is that the funding will go with the housing stock that is being transferred to the city council in order to keep it in good order. It is a matter for the city council as to how it administers the funding and it is for the council to ensure the antisocial stuff is rooted out and people can live in peace, whether they live in social or private housing.
I heard what the Minister said about the asset register but there are problems there which are documented on the website. The local government auditing services do an exceptionally good job across many local authorities. I suggest we festina lente- or hasten slowly - but I am happy to support the Cork-related aspects of this. I am not a fool. We have a confidence and supply agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and most of the stuff has been done so I do not want to waste anybody's energy on this in the run-up to Christmas. I am happy about these aspects because the Fianna Fáil leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, is from that part of the world and the previous Minister lives there. The Minister is ably represented by Senator Buttimer and other Senators from Cork and there is general broad consensus about it among Cork politicians, whether they are in the Seanad, the Dáil or the council. I have not heard anybody object to it, unlike Galway, where there is a different situation and a different level of support. I listen to sitting Deputies, Senators and councillors and I hear that they broadly welcome the proposals so I do not think the Minister of State will have much difficulty with them.
The Minister knows, in his heart of hearts, that he has got this section of the Bill over the line. I ask him to give one commitment to the House, and that is to revisit the Cork city and county asset register in very early January. I will commit to bringing information which has come to me at that time. I have made representations to the Minister and the Department about these registers and I have not been altogether happy with their responses.
I will give a commitment to that, and not just for Cork. The Department will circulate letters to all local authorities advising them to get a handle on asset management issues in general. Senator Boyhan is wrong if he believes we have got this over the line. We have got to the position where the Cork issue does not excite as much difficulty as Galway but the Senator will have had a gentle taste of some difficulty tonight from Senator Lombard, which shows there are still issues. Before the Second Stage contributions in the Dáil a month or so before Committee Stage, numerous Fianna Fáil Deputies raised concerns and spoke to me privately about how they wished to vote against the proposals. A lid has been kept on it but this does not mean there is universal political acceptance. There is a realisation now, however, that assets and other issues are secondary to the idea that the people of Cork should have the best possible local authority service. I maintain that the way to do that in Galway is to have a joint management structure between both local authorities but we will get to that later.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 14, line 13, after “transfer day.” to insert the following:“The Minister shall also have regard to other matters, including, but not limited to, the area and size of land within the relevant area, as well as any other matters that he or she will consider relevant.”.
This short amendment deals with staff transfers during the amalgamation. Did the Minister say the number was 85,000?
The Bill states that the Minister shall have due regard to population. We are trying to ensure the Minister shall have regard to a geographic area also in terms of staff transfer, particularly in the area of service provision. This amendment is about safeguards for rural provision.
This is a very important part of the debate. The Minister did not understate the political pressures that existed and still exist. However, there is a recognition that, as I said last night, we need a strong city and a strong county. The transfer of staff is a mammoth task and a lot of work has been done on it. The scale of this boundary extension is unprecedented. I hope that, as part of the process, there will be real engagement between the city and county in the transferring of staff. It is important that the transfer of personnel is done in a smooth and seamless way. We need to ensure there is buy-in to the shared process.
I commend the city and council staff, the executives, the directors of services and the managers on the professional way they went about their business after the political decision. Members of the city council were happy but members of the county council were deeply unhappy. It is important that there is engagement in the process of the transfer of staff.
Senator Boyhan said that all political forces in Cork were fully in favour of this proposal but, to be clear, I was never in favour of what is being proposed today. My view has always been that this is just a stepping stone to where we need to be. It will take two steps rather than one and, in a decade, we might go where we should have gone, which is to one local authority. I will support the proposal because I believe it will take us there in due course.
The transfer of staff is a huge issue and today is the closing date in county hall for people to express an interest. Members and staff in county hall have been asked to decide where they want to go. My information is that the uptake has been quite poor.I have a very important question for the Minister of State. If the members of staff do not want to move to the city council, how will that be enforced? The figures are quite startling. The city council is looking for 350 members of staff to relocate from County Hall to City Hall. Cork County Council is saying it should be approximately 190. There is a real dilemma in the two local authorities. My major problem with this proposal has been the efficiency issue. When all this is said and done, we will have two county managers who are exceptionally well paid, two directors of service, planning and housing - two of everything. I have always been an advocate for one local authority with one manager, one director of housing, one entity. I appreciate that will not happen today. My question relates to the efficiency issue.
At the moment the city council has one member of staff for approximately 1,000 people. The county council has one member of staff for 2,000 people; that is efficiency. How does the Minister of State propose the transfer of staff will be done on an efficient basis so that we can have what local government should be and what Cork needs, namely, an efficient local government service? At the moment we have a double-staffing issue, which is very controversial locally. Today is an important day for those members of staff who are being asked to choose. What will the process be if the quota is not filled? Who will define the quota? Who will fund it? What is the knock-on effect for the compensation package of 350 members of staff moving to City Hall? Who will pay for the vast pensions and wages and for the land and compensation package, to which we will get in due course, whether that be over three years or ten years? Who will pay for that if such a large number of staff have to be paid for? These are major issues for the people of Cork. This involves local housing and planning services. Without the money we will not have the services. Will it all go on staffing levies? These are key issues for local government in Cork.
I support the Bill on the basis that it will be a stepping stone to having one authority because having a single local authority in Cork covering 500,000 people and one eighth of the geographical area of Ireland would be a regional power that could drive regional balanced development which is what we want from the Project Ireland 2040 plan. However, this will not happen here for whatever reason. We need to move to that in time, but for now we need clarity for those workers. We need clarity on the process and funding.
I will start with Senator Lombard's legitimate points. The day the transfer will happen is being called transfer day. Today is deadline day. It feels like we should be across the water talking about sports arrangements in the new year but this is very serious and we are discussing people's careers. While it is more prevalent in Cork than in other local authority areas, there has always been significant movement of staff between the city and county councils, particularly with promotions. That may change from year to year. As is the case in Galway, in Cork the headquarters for both the county and city councils are in the city. I acknowledge that many local authority staff members are not necessarily based in County Hall or City Hall.
On the day of the deadline, I do not want to pre-empt in the House how many people have applied. The basis of the transfer is primarily voluntary. The Senator also asked who would determine it. The oversight group will have responsibility for looking in detail at who is moving and what numbers need to change. The primary piece that covers that is the section to which Senator Warfield's amendment relates. It refers to population but does not exclude everything else. The last resort, which is a fairly standard provision in terms of public service operations, is a last in, first out for staff. I hope it does not come to that. Ultimately the implementation group will decide on numbers.
In response to Senator Warfield's question, the legislation is quite specific and on line 13 of page 14 states "The Minister shall, in the giving of a direction under subsection (4), have regard to the size of the population of the relevant area and the proportion that it bore to the population of the administrative area of the county council immediately before the transfer day." We mentioned population but did not exclude anything else because the transfer of more than 80,000 from the county to the city represents 19% of the current population of County Cork, but only 2% of the area of County Cork. I have relations living in Goleen, which is closer to where the Leas-Chathaoirleach lives than to where any of the Cork-based Senators to my left live.
Because Cork is such a big county, as I said previously on Second Stage, it should have been set up with about four or five local authorities, never mind two, when the local government system was being established. Be that is it may, we specifically spelled out population because - I got into trouble in the other House for saying this - local authorities should serve primarily people wherever they live. In this case we are talking about fairly densely populated urban and suburban communities with little bits of the immediate rural hinterland. Therefore to spell out in the legislation that population would be the major driver was an honest statement. While it is a tiny geographic area of the overall county, we did not exclude geography from the provisions of this section, but population has to be the central thing. That is why I am not in a position to accept amendment No. 1.
If certain units are relocated to centralise the structure, with staff moving from Skibbereen or Mallow to Carrigaline or Cork city, that is a substantial change in travel and possibly delivery. If things cannot be resolved by arbitration, the Minister of State should have regard for large geographical areas that may be sparsely populated.
The Senator has raised a valid point. Ultimately we are seeking volunteers. I believe we will fill most these positions with volunteers who wish to transfer. Normal industrial relations processes will apply and I have no intention of trying to strong-arm people who live in Skibbereen. Those areas will still be in County Cork. They have their own municipal district structure, which we want to strengthen and give more funding to. I am not in a position to give absolutes other than to say that the provisions of the Bill are aimed at ensuring that staffing numbers match population into the future. We, as in whoever is in my position in future, would cause industrial relations havoc if there was a proposal to move people from the furthest extremes of County Cork to jobs based in the city. We have no intention of doing so, nor would we be allowed to.
On the day when people have just made the decision to submit their request for a transfer to be considered, I cannot go into specifics about the numbers because I do not know them. It will be a matter for the implementation group statutorily under this Bill to determine the numbers of positions to move, based primarily, but not exclusively, on population.After that, the normal industrial procedures will kick in and it will be neither acceptable nor appropriate for anyone in my position to request people make a journey. I remember my former colleague in the other House, Paddy Sheehan, who was a Deputy for 30 years. When I was a new Senator he used to tell me that when he left Goleen to come to Dublin, that by the time he got to Mitchelstown in County Cork he was more than half way to Dublin and he was still in County Cork. The point made by the Senator is right and valid. We have, however, no proposals to force rural dwellers into the city for jobs.
On that point and the Minister of State's comments, the industrial relations process is one we must always embrace. In saying that, the other important element is the implementation group and the role it can play. I hope it will use discretion, and, if I may be direct, a good deal of cop on. This cannot be a situation where we turn people sour at the beginning. That cannot be allowed to happen. Senator Lombard referred to the issue of the transfer deadline day. I was not going to mention it but that has exercised people. In saying that, it is voluntary. As the Minister of State said, it is critical that staffing matches population.
One of the successes of the last five years has been the creation of the municipal districts. That has brought about accountability in terms of the elected members and the officials at the local level. Elected members, and also members of the public, can attend and make presentations to meetings of their local municipal district area. My fundamental point is that the implementation group is critical, notwithstanding the roles of both authorities. I hope a good deal of cop on is used. We have moved beyond the argument on the number of authorities we need. We recognise it is two and we are not going to repeat that argument in the future. It is not helpful to say we need one authority. We have made a decision and it is two. It critical now that we look at the entity of Cork, city and county, and how it can prosper and develop from day one of this new proposal.
I do not think we are going to get agreement on this, given the geographical size of Cork and the travel distances between the larger urban centres where there are council offices. It follows that restructuring may centralise provisions towards Cork city. This amendment is aimed at ensuring rural provision-----
Victor Boyhan, Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Martin Conway, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Frank Feighan, Robbie Gallagher, Billy Lawless, Anthony Lawlor, Terry Leyden, Tim Lombard, Ian Marshall, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, James Reilly, Diarmuid Wilson.
As I indicated last night, I support the Bill generally. For those of us who grew up in Tramore, Cork was always the real capital of Ireland. It is good to see this alteration happening and true recognition being given to Cork, particularly as balance to the development in Dublin. It is important this takes place but it needs to happen properly.
I have been engaging with my Green Party colleagues in Cork. They are concerned that without a plan for future reviews of the new boundary, we might find ourselves treading over this ground again, facing the same problems this boundary change seeks to resolve with distorted development outside of the city area and conflict between the city and county because of it.
The amendment is quite straightforward. It is moderate and commonsense. It respects both the-----
Section 15 relates to the issue of staff transfer. Although it concerns the Department of Justice and Equality and is not contained in the Bill, the roles the city and county sheriffs and the coroner are important. As Senators will be aware, the city and county sheriffs provide service in a wide variety of ways at local level. The city sheriff's operational boundary matches the preset city boundary. What is the process for amending the Department of Justice and Equality legislation governing the boundary in Cork?
I seek clarification as well. For instance, the city and county sheriffs are involved in organising polling stations and making sure they are adequately supervised etc. How will such tasks be dealt with during the transition period? The city sheriff is responsible for the polling stations in a city. How will such tasks work out for local elections?
-----too concrete about the Department of Justice and Equality's responsibility other than to say that the Senators have raised issues that were raised in the Dáil and outside of it. We have flagged the issue with the Department. The officials are aware of it and have indicated that they will act but it is a matter for them as to when.
In terms of the role that is played at elections, local authorities are responsible for the holding of the election for the local authority area. These changes will not have an effect in that regard but we have flagged the issue. Local government boundaries are not just political boundaries for the local authorities. They are often boundaries for education, sometimes health, the policing boards that Senator McDowell introduced during his time in office, coroners and sheriffs. We have indicated to the Department that it needs to consider the matter and make sure that the county boundary matches the boundaries for sheriffs and coroners. The Department has indicated that it will do so but I do not have a definitive time period for when that will happen.
What I will do as a Member of this House and as a Member of the Oireachtas charged with looking at legislation, is to promulgate and highlight issues that need to be addressed properly from day one. Other Members will talk about Galway, which is their prerogative, and I will not intervene. I certainly will not heckle them, barrack them or make smart remarks.
I accept that the section is not part of the Bill but there is a duty, in terms of the transfer in the jurisdiction boundaries, between the city and the county regarding the city and county sheriff, and the coroner. The point that I made last night, and I make again tonight, and I shall keep doing so, is that it is about the provision of services for the people. The Minister said that 19% of the population will be involved in the transfer of services to the city. It is incumbent on us and it behoves us to put in place the provision of proper services. That is the point I am making.
I do hope that between the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government that there is a tie-up. Also, as the Minister of State has said, there is the Department of Health in terms of the HSE, the educational training boards, ETBs, and the Department of Education and Skills. This is not just about local government. This is about the ETB, health, transport and a whole plethora of other services and agencies that we must get right. I am sorry if the House thinks I have laboured the point but it is important. Members, whether they represent Donegal, Monaghan, Carlow or wherever, would be equally as passionate and as committed to their own area as I am to my city and county.
I was going to raise the mapping of boundaries in section 17 or 28. Who, in God's name, was involved in mapping the boundaries? The usual protocol for mapping was to consider the electoral divisions, EDs, but if they were not good enough one would use townlands. None of those protocols was used. A townland in Moneygourney, County Cork has been divided between two local authorities - a city authority and a county authority. Two residents of the townland will now be members of the county authority but the rest of the inhabitants will be members of the city authority. The same applies to the entire county of Cork regarding the city boundary itself. The usual protocols were not adhered to. The Minister of State is a political nerd like myself so he knows how these elections are run and that the usual protocol is to use electoral districts. l realise that the electoral divisions date back to 1841. There was probably a better way of doing this work but it is not dividing townlands. Is dividing townlands in two the new way of doing things? We have a register that must be sorted by 15 February. As many as 2,000 people in the hinterland of Moneygourney do not know whether they are residents of the city or the county because the usual protocols were not used. To me, such a situation is a mistake and is inappropriate. I can list townlands located in the north, south, east and west that have been divided by this boundary.
The Minister of State knows local government as he has been a councillor. He knows how these elections are ran and he knows the dividing areas. It is an unusual if not a bizarre and unique event that now we are tearing up townlands regarding the city and county divide. I am not going to talk about large areas because that would be inappropriate now. However, protocols should have been used that ensured the franchise was easier for people to understand.
We need to be proactive in this space as we have made a mistake. The Minister of State must provide a helpline, extend a deadline or whatever so that people have enough time to find out where they stand. More importantly, such measures would allow local government staff to determine who lives on what road and where live. There are nine houses on one particular road in Moneygourney but seven have been deemed to be within the city boundary and the remaining two have been deemed to be within the county boundary. The residents have contacted me because they cannot understand why their townland was divided in two. A plan must be put in place so people's franchise can be protected. A person's vote is sacred. We need to know where these people can vote and allow enough time for the electoral register to be put together.
My comment relates to the point made by Senator Lombard. It is not about the city-county but the establishment of local electoral areas. A coach and four has been driven through estates and left people feeling completely confused. I wish to return to the fundamental point that I made about the drawing up of boundaries. I wonder whether the people who map boundaries understand the work. I agree with Senator Lombard that we must ensure that the integrity of a townland is preserved whether it is in a city, county or an estate. A graphic illustration is Douglas and Togher in terms of the way both places were city and county but now, thankfully, they will be back as one local authority.
In terms of the electoral districts, mistakes have been created in some parts, particularly in Cork, that can only be remedied in five years' time.
I agree with Senator Lombard. My home parish of Inishcarra is divided in two with which I have no difficulty. I have a difficulty with the division of townlands.There is one stretch along the dividing line, approximately 500 yd. wide, that runs from Moyle between a road and a river. That road is the dividing line. The way it is done does not make sense. If there was a straight line along that 500 yd. stretch to the river, there would be a clear boundary. I do not understand why houses in some townlands were left in the county while others were brought into the city. I know we cannot go back over it because the map has been drawn up. If the entire townland had been left out, the number of properties affected and the number of additional voters brought in would have been extremely small. They would have been brought in to one area and left out of another area. Logic does not appear to have been used when the line was drawn. There are now parishes and areas in which very united communities have been divided. For example, Inishcarra has over 50 acres of sports facilities for GAA, camogie, rugby, soccer, pitch and putt and the community centre and now the organisers will have to deal with two local authorities when they want funding. We need to look more carefully at how we decide on boundaries. There are clear divisions in place yet now we are creating artificial divisions. That is what has occurred in this instance. There must be a better way of doing it.
With regard to Senator Lombard's question, I am a self-confessed nerd when it comes to boundaries. The reason for this is that I grew up in a community that is partly in New Ross, County Wexford, and partly in County Kilkenny. I live in the community on the Kilkenny side of the boundary. I am acutely aware of the issue. A heightened awareness comes when one is standing for election as councillor because some houses are in one's electoral area but those right beside them are located in the County Wexford electoral division,. This is what I discovered when contesting the local elections 20 years ago.
The short answer - I do not mean to be snappy - is that there are no protocols. The Senator outlined correctly that there have been reviews of the district electoral divisions, most notably in Dublin when Dublin County Council was disbanded and the four existing authorities were put in place. One of the projects I want to begin - which my officials, who are sitting behind me, know about very well - is a complete review of district electoral divisions, with particular emphasis on suburban areas and areas in provincial towns that were very rural in 1841 but which are now, in many cases, home to large numbers of estates. There is an example in the recently conducted boundary review of local authority areas of a portion of a district electoral division which was in rural Dublin but which is now an entire electoral area electing five people on its own. It is not even the full district electoral division. I know from my own parish of Rosbercon there has never been a situation where boundaries have changed and townlands have been entirely moved.
I will give the Senator the example of a little town called Annefield, which lent its name to a very famous sport stadium and which is why I support the team there. It is in my community. As a result of the line on the map that was drawn between Wexford and Kilkenny in the late 1950s or early 1960s, most of Annefield is now in Wexford. There are two houses in a cul-de-sac which have three voters in them - one of them did not exist when the boundary changed - and they remain in Kilkenny. Nobody ever canvasses them because the entrance to the road is in the town of New Ross. One has to go a mile up the road before one realises one is back in Kilkenny. I know it is in Kilkenny because it is where I come from. I accept the point the Senator made and I hope the district electoral division review will happen. It is about resources. I fully agree with the Leader on the issue of former politicians who do not have skin in the game having some oversight in the future, particularly in the context of local boundaries for election purposes. There is a bigger question in terms of Dáil constituencies and former politicians probably should not be included but that is a matter for another day. There have never been such protocols. They do not exist and they were not breached in this area. I have become quite an expert in the suburbs of Cork in the past 18 months but I had no hand, act or part in drawing the lines on the map. It was done on the basis of some agreement between the local authorities. Where there was no agreement, the people who were involved with the oversight group made the decision. I am sure the Senator can find other examples.
I agree with Senator Colm Burke. I have always favoured geographical boundaries such as rivers and mountain ranges and, in the modern context, dual carriageways, motorways and other physical infrastructure. We have a situation where there is a portion of ground inside the northern end of the M50 in Dublin that elects councillors to Fingal County Council even though it is directly adjacent to Santry. One might, if one was drawing a line now, use the M50 because it has become a barrier. I do not know why they used the road instead of the river but they did. I do not propose that we go into the detail of why some fields are in and some are out in the House. It is not unheard of for the divisions of local electoral areas in cities to go through housing estates. The group responsible for electoral boundaries was instructed to try to respect the integrity of communities including estates but it is not always possible. If I am in this position in five years, with the benefit of hindsight, I think the ultimate solution for those types of questions will be to have more than one group so that physical analyses of areas can carried out before lines are drawn on the map.
Part of my little parish in Kilkenny is located in Wexford. The bit that is in Kilkenny is now in two electoral areas. It makes no sense but it was a decision arrived at by an independent group. With the benefit of hindsight, there need to be more of those groups in place so that proper analyses can be carried out before decisions are made. However, that is not a matter for this legislation.
I appreciate that the Minister of State has exceptional knowledge of what happened in some locations in the 1950s and 1960s, which is before I was born. I refer to the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act 1992, which means that by 15 February we need to have a register in place. That register is important because it will mean that people can cast their votes in European, local and general elections. I do not know what will happen in due course. It is almost Christmas and local government will not meet again until early January so the timelines are tight. People in these townlands do now know which electoral division they are in. They do not know whether they are in the city or county. What efforts can be made now to assure such people they can exercise their right to vote and that they will be able to turn up and cast their votes? Will the Minister of State put resources in place? Will he extend the deadline? Will he have a helpline? How can we ensure that members of the public will be able to vote, regardless of whether they are in the city or county? It is a very important part of the issue. I did not draw the line and neither did the Minister of State or his officials. It was drawn where it was drawn and we need to deal with it. I need to find a solution for the people of Cork. The Leader is right. It is about the people of Cork having services. It is about the people of Cork being able to exercise their votes on the day of elections. We need clarity and I want the Minister of State to provide it now.
This is about identity and giving people ownership and embracing the change that is about to take place. As Senator Lombard stated, it is about the register of electors, which must be completed by 15 February.It is important that resources be devoted to advertising and giving information to the citizens regarding their local election area or their ward in the city. One must also remember that the supplementary register will come at a later date. The voters in the transition area being transferred in to the city need to be informed about their local election area, the ward they will be in, the polling station and their change of vote. I hope that can be done. I appeal to the Minister of State that such a campaign be engaged in as part of this new local government structure for Cork.
I missed that point and it is incredibly important, at least in the Cork city area, where on polling day in May, we will have five ballot papers. In itself, that is complicated enough without knowing where one is going to vote. What we have done and made provision for in this legislation is that if there is a delay in the process, the deadline of 25 February in Cork can be moved. It is called a "special difficulty notice". There is provision for it under the Electoral Acts, although I cannot name the section off the top of my head. That mechanism is there. It has rarely been used but it can be used in Cork if there is an issue.
The first thing we can do is that if we pass the legislation tonight, to be flippant, the people in Cork who are responsible for the registers will be able to go about their work more quickly.
On helplines and resources, the local government sector jealously guards its responsibility for the register, which is why in discussions we will have in the not-too-distant future about the establishment of electoral commissions, there will be a job to be done to marry the role of local of government into whatever role a commission would have. Essentially, helplines and such matters are issues for the local authorities but I will give the Senator a commitment that if extra resources are needed, I will speak to the head of the franchise section to ensure the local authorities in Cork will be able to do what they must to make sure people are on the register of electors well in advance of polling day at the end of May.
As much as I like listening to the Leader and our Minister of State, we all have other things to be doing than listening to them counting down the clock, solely because the bottom has fallen out of the agreement with Fianna Fáil here. How long is it intended to keep us here?
I do not normally contribute to legislation, as Leader, but this is about my city and I make no apology for standing up for my city and for articulating views on behalf of`the people of Cork. I apologise if I am labouring the point and I reflect on the views expressed by Senator Warfield and I will not contribute on Galway at all in the debate. It would be remiss of me, as Leader of the House and as a public representative elected since 2004 in Cork city , and as somebody who has been involved in civic and sporting life in Cork if I did not contribute. I want to welcome the Minister of State's point. I acknowledge that the local authorities of Cork city and county have been working on the register of electors and that a public information campaign will be launched in January and February. The point that Senator Lombard is making, however, which I also am articulating, is that there is a need for extra resources to be given, which should not be taken from the budget of the councils from this or next year. Extra money should be given in order that we can give people ownership.
I welcome the Minister of State's comments on the role of former politicians. I am curious and a little worried about the composition of the oversight committee provided for in section 18(2)(a) and section 18(2)(b), comprising a chairperson and two ordinary members. I hope that the ordinary committee could be extended to include people who have served as former councillors or public representatives, in addition to those who served as former director of services or managers in Cork.
We effectively are putting on a statutory footing the composition of the oversight group. This is where we differ on the issue of former politicians. It is fine to have former politicians being involved in the basic political stuff of understanding natural boundaries for election purposes and why it make no sense sometimes to stick to the old district electoral divisions, DEDs, which were devised more than 200 years ago. Even if this group was expanded to six or seven people, to pick a former member or two, however, potentially would involve people with political connections in the process. This group is not intended to be in any way a permanent structure and is just there to ensure the implementation plan is implemented. I, therefore, disagree with the Senator on that point.
I wish to make one further point. We should not be short-sighted in our short-termism regarding the need for the retention of the oversight committee. It will have a very valuable role to play for a considerable time. Short-termism should not be just a couple of weeks or months and the committee should be there for longer than that.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 17, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:“(c) the arrangements that should be made by the Cork local authorities for subsequent reviews of the Cork boundary alteration taking account of development and proposed development in the administrative area of the county council;”.
I said earlier to the Minister for State that this is a very important Bill, particularly for the people of Cork and Galway. I understand why the Leader of the House is speaking about his area in Cork. It is very important to the people of Cork. For that reason, and under the guidance of my own Green Party colleagues in Cork, I have brought forward this amendment to strengthen the Bill. It is a small thing and is quite simple, namely, to have a review in place in the legislation in order that we are not waiting another 60 years for a review. I said to the Minister of State last night that one concern of which I have been made aware by my colleagues in Cork is that there may be a doughnut effect whereby everything will move out to the boundary area. As we said last night, really interesting developments are happening in Cork down on the riverside, as well as foreign direct investment, FDI, etc.There is a problem with residential accommodation, however. What is going to happen now? The infrastructure and the industry is growing in the centre and the residents are being forced out on to the boundary. What will be the result of this, except congestion?There will be lots of problems managing the whole area. There is a problem there, and I am putting forward this review mechanism for that reason. This would put the review in the legislation. I absolutely want this to happen and to be effective. What is being proposed here is really good and it is really progressing well. This is intended to strengthen the legislation to enable the people of Cork to have a review mechanism if necessary. It is so broad. It is only the word "review". The Government can outline the terms. The last thing we want is for it to happen, because it is all going so beautifully. It is there in case of events. It is a caveat. Without it, the Minister of State may find himself in a situation in a few years where his hands are tied. He can put in a very simple mechanism that would enable a review to take place.
I have said to the Minister of State that I have not had the privilege of being a councillor. I have had the privilege of having been voted for by councillors. It is in my interest to support the councillors and people of Cork in this regard. As the Minister of State said, the Government is giving the people of Cork the security of this great development. That is what we in Waterford desire. We want security for our own development around the North Quays. Such security exists in this instance. What the Minister of State is proposing with the alteration of the boundary is very positive. This amendment would provide that caveat to support a review in the event of it being necessary.
The section we are dealing with now is fundamental to where we are going. Project Ireland 2040's provision for both the city and county of Cork is about expanding the city. As the Senator said, it is also about ensuring that we do not create a doughnut effect. As mentioned last night, we will almost build a new city from Navigation House down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh, along Monahan Road and Centre Park Road and taking in the old Ford and Dunlop site. We have a fundamental difficulty in that remediation works will be costly and difficult at the Seveso sites. I never thought I would say this, but the need for the implementation oversight group is critical. If I understand Senator O'Sullivan's amendment correctly it is about a review, but by my interpretation the review is not about monitoring the progress. We need the progress to be monitored.
The ambitious plans for Cork under project Ireland 2040 are about shifting the balance away from Dublin. They are about creating an opportunity for the metropolitan region along with the county of Cork to flourish and develop. Given the importance and centrality of our education sectors and the pharmaceutical and technology sectors represented by Dell and Apple, the future for Cork can be very good. Indeed it will be, but it is based on monitoring the implementation plan rather than reviewing it.
I rise to support the amendment. It is very relevant. Public policy should always be measurable and should always be reviewed. There should be specific timeframes attached to it. Without that, the public cannot be protected and the interests of both councils cannot be protected either. This section provides for arrangements to ensure the delivery of services to members of the public residing in both jurisdictions. It deals with arrangements concerning the impact of the boundary alteration on members of the public living in both areas and arrangements relating to financial matters - a very broad brush - and the financial autonomy of both councils. Whether or not this is working will be a big question in the future. The Department very often makes recommendations around the structure of local Government without consulting with the public living in the area. Carrying out plebiscites before any structural reconfigurations take place works very effectively in other jurisdictions such as Finland. We are not sure if this will work or not. If we can learn anything from the 2014 Act's reconfiguration of local government, I can tell Members that throughout the country it is not working.
I wholeheartedly believe that most of the towns around this country that are struggling are in that position because they do not have local authority autonomy. I refer to towns like Letterkenny and Castlebar where hotels are closing. Those regional towns do not have the structure of local Government to draw down State support to provide for their needs. While that continues, the counterbalance required in places like Cork cannot be delivered. It is very important to have a timely review that is measurable, has clear objectives and into which everyone has an input. That must include public consultation and an input from the elected members of both councils.
I know that the Members from Cork are speaking from the heart and I support everything they say. They are raising very valid concerns and this is the place to do it. However, a review would serve the people of Cork well. There is no question about that. This is not a political attack on the Minister of State or his officials. Departments, not just the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, have very lofty objectives. Lofty objectives may suit the political narrative but they do not suit public policy. They are not measurable. One cannot measure lofty objectives. I am not saying that this is a lofty objective, but the objective should have specifics that are measurable.
I commend the Minister of State on this Bill. I disagree fundamentally with latching Galway onto it. That does a disservice to Galway and to Cork. They should be separate. However, the Minister of State is endeavouring to improve Irish local government. We may disagree on certain aspects of it but this is the right thing to do. Cork needs to be strengthened. It needs city status. It needs to be beefed up if the objectives of the national planning framework are to be realised. We must measure progress if we are to do that. One of the recommendations from this House, an amendment which I put forward, was for this national planning framework to be debated and voted upon in both Houses of the Oireachtas. Unfortunately the Dáil did not support that amendment and therefore the Dáil and Seanad did not have an input. However, a measurable review mechanism should be built into this Bill. It would serve local government well. In fact if it worked here, it could be replicated elsewhere.
The issue of whether this works is very important. How we actually gauge and measure that is something we have to look at from the point of view of issues pertaining to both the city and the county. That is very important. Funding is going to be a key issue here. It will be a key issue to ensuring that we have a viable county and a prosperous city. The old system had its faults. We had two golden miles around the city in which we collected the rates. Then we could put roads and infrastructure in places like Goleen so the Minister's relations could have roads. That will not be the new system. We will now have a compensation package paid over a period of years. The amount will be determined and it will probably dry up after ten years.We then need to see how a county of that size and nature would survive, as the Minister of State explained quite eloquently when he talked about Paddy Sheehan leaving Goleen and going to Mitchelstown, without having a significant industrial base around it as we had around Cork city, which helped the county to survive. A review process or process of that nature is something that the Minister of State might consider. If there was a situation where the financial impact of this was so severe that, after a few years, the counties did not have enough money to survive, we need to look at that. Where will local government and the Minister of State's Department fit? That will be a significant issue.
The Leader said it is about services, and it is. It is about services in the city to ensure that it will grow. Cork needs a strong, vibrant, passionate city that can increase the wealth and prosperity of the entire county. We need to have assurances in the county that it can survive without having the base that is currently there. Those are real, significant issues and we are trying to get clarity. This review might be a mechanism to ensure that we can address it. There is genuine concern. If one was to go to the other end of my constituency, from Youghal to Castletownbere, a significant part of the world three hours away, one could have gone to Dublin and back from where the Minister of State lives. That is the significance of the geographic impediment. We need to work on the lack of that review and how we will fund it.
While it does not relate to local government, in Cork, we are not allowed to get IDA Ireland money because it believes we do not have economic need. This presents us with a different dilemma within the county because the wealthy areas in the city are included in the county. Should we be looking for a fund for the county so we can develop, press forward, achieve our goals and become a real driver of the biggest rural local authority in the country? Cork County Council will become the biggest rural local authority and we need a different emphasis on the county. There is a different challenge for management and councillors to ensure that it has the influence to protect local towns and drive local industries but national Government needs to play its part. Local government needs to support it and that is why a review might be helpful. We need to ensure that Cork gets the attention it requires from such entities as IDA Ireland, because if it does not, the city will thrive but the county might not and that would be a major issue.
On the amendment, and nothing other than the amendment, Senator Lombard has made a strong case for the review and spoke strongly in favour of Senator Grace O'Sullivan's amendment. I was always going to support Senator Grace O'Sullivan who has done a lot of work on this and made it clear what her objectives are. Senator Ó Domhnaill asks how we measure this. That is really important. I will not repeat what they said. They made three good, strong contributions and I will support this amendment.
With the expansion of the city and the necessary infrastructure the Leader and other people have spoken about, while I know this will not be contested by the Minister of State, I emphasise for officials and the rest of the House that it is important to ensure that when putting in the infrastructure, whether residential housing, roads or for business, the needs of people with mobility impairments and disabilities are kept in mind. They should be stitched in. If the city is made more coherent and practical in how it expands, there is an opportunity to do something similar with the county, which has a dispersed population. There are significant towns and villages. It can become a more wholesome entity with a dispersed population. Different challenges arise for elderly people, children and people with disabilities.
I fully agree with the sentiment of the amendment. Before I get into the detail of it, I would like to say that I will not support it because it is proposed in the section dealing with the implementation plan, which is specifically about the issue that we have gone through relating to the map, the area that has been transferred, and the assets and liabilities of the staff. It is what we voted on earlier. It would make no sense legally or politically to put the amendment in the subsection where it is listed. I spoke at length to a version of this on Committee Stage in the Dáil. I think it was an amendment from Deputy Ó Laoghaire of Sinn Féin. He lives in an area that was in Togher in the county but is now, logically, being moved into the city because it is attached to it. I made a point to him about ensuring that the doughnutting does not happen. There are two issues. Cork is not unique in that it has large ex-industrial sites in the middle of the city that have huge potential. They are also in other places. Cork is unique in that it is moving.
We need to ensure that housing matches the creation of office, retail and other space, which is why we prepared a metropolitan governance paper which will come to Cabinet in the first few weeks of January. The emphasis of the paper is ensuring the development of cities across local authority boundaries. The biggest example is Limerick city. Proportionately, geographically, there is more of Limerick city on the Clare side of the River Shannon than there is of any other cross-boundary city. There is also a significant part of old north Tipperary around Newport and Birdhill, which is in the physical, geographic and economic catchment area of Limerick city. Under the national planning framework, as Senator Ó Domhnaill mentioned, this metropolitan government issue relates to what Senators Nash and Buttimer said last night about city drivers for a wider geographic region. There needs to be involvement from local authorities and the public in those areas that are on the wrong side of the boundary or out of the local government area, which might currently be Limerick City and County Council. The only thing of a concrete nature that I can say is that we will be going to Cabinet with that report in the new year. It is designed to underpin the proposals in the national planning framework.
I cannot accept the amendment as is. I know the Acting Chairman is anxious to move me on but I want to refer to the points made by Senators. I think I have dealt with Senator Buttimer's issues. Senator Boyhan supports it. In response to Senator Dolan, the design mechanisms for whatever infrastructure is built will be a job for the new city council in Cork in this instance when planning. A big reason for the expansion in Cork is that we had two local authorities preparing different and sometimes contradictory development plans for the city. Now we will have one. Implementing the standards required for people with mobility difficulties or other issues will be much easier with one authority in charge than with two as at present. I acknowledge Senator Ó Domhnaill's comments. The municipal districts system across the country is haphazard. It works effectively in some councils. In some, such as Galway, part of the issue is the lack of funding and they have not been able to strengthen the municipal districts. In many local authority areas, many services are now provided in municipal district offices.We need to move towards that system.
My opposition to the town councils was on the basis that they were designed more than 100 years ago and allow some people to vote twice in local elections while the rest of us get one. I am not saying that what happened in 2014 was perfect. It was not, but if one talks to councillors regularly, it is clear that none of the representative groups of councillors want town councils to be reintroduced. Individual councillors might want to see their reintroduction, but it is not their stated position.
On Galway, every local government Bill includes many different aspects. This Bill contains provisions for plebiscites and actions in respect of Galway and the Official Languages Act. It was also designed to include a section on the urban area committees, which is new legislation to be introduced next year. There is no question of Galway being included with Cork. There will be a Galway merger Bill in the middle of next year. We are talking about what happened in Limerick, Waterford and Tipperary. The precursor of any legislative provision was the appointment of someone to head the management structure. Senator Craughwell said last night that some people act up into positions with the local authorities in Galway. He was wrong to say that we are proposing an acting manager for both city and county councils. We are proposing a permanent appointee. One of the issues in the local authorities in Galway is that there are not enough people filling positions on a permanent basis, which is why we want to take this step. We are talking about the merger of the councils in Galway, but we have not begun to get into the detail of that merger.
The review of the finances has been pencilled in for ten years' time. It will require the city council to write to the Minister of the day to make the case as to why arrangements should stay the same, be reviewed or be dropped. It will be up to the Minister to judge based on the funding issues in the two local authorities. The amendment here is not in the right place. I understand the point it raises, but we are talking about the implementation plan, which we have to ensure is delivered in the immediate future. The issue of continual reviews of county boundaries would have been politically difficult.
I spoke to councillors from Cork earlier this summer about the boundary extension issue. I was in a part of Cork city I had not visited in 15 years - I believe it was Oliver Plunkett Street - but it used to be shook, so to speak. It was one of those balmy summer evenings, of which there were many this summer, and there were students on the green area beside the river near Washington Street. It was like the south of France. I do not know if that is a high compliment or an insult to the people of Cork. The regeneration of Cork city is under way in a manner that it has not been elsewhere. The review of the finances has been adjusted slightly through the process in the Dáil. It will happen after ten years.
Serious issues were raised by national and local politicians about the potential loss of income to the county from Little Island and Ringaskiddy possibly transferring to the city council. They are huge industrial areas which produce a large amount of commercial rates. The review group drew up the map, and those areas are not being transferred. The case made about IDA funding is a case that will have to be made once the new boundary is in force, and I have no problem supporting Senator Lombard in making that argument. We will be in a new position once the new boundary has been adopted.
I would like some clarification from the Minister of State. I understand that he agrees in principle with the review but that, to his mind, this is not the correct place for it. I also understand that there will be a point of discussion around the funding ten years from now. Could the Minister of State consider stitching this review into the legislation in the place he believes is appropriate? That would give Senators Ó Domhnaill and Boyhan, and myself and others who have spoken on the amendment, reassurance that that review will take place.
Senator Buttimer has pointed out a couple of things, and I will read out what he has referenced. He has not been here for many years for no reason.
Section 21(5) reads:
On or before the 7th day of each month during the period from the commencement of this section until 31 December 2020, each chief executive shall—(a) prepare and submit to the oversight committee a report in relation to the measures adopted to ensure full and effective compliance with this Act, and
(b) provide a copy of that report to each member of the local authority of which he or she is the chief executive.
In one sense it is a little bit different from what the Senator proposed, but it does ensure that local authority members, until 31 December 2020, receive a review on the 7th day of each month.
My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, has another planning and development Bill in the pipeline for the new year. There have been several such Bills. They appear more frequently than local government Bills now. Many of the issues raised by the Senator are planning and development issues. They become boundary issues when wrong planning and development happens on one side of a boundary. We need to ensure that the Government has approved, amended or kicked out, as it were, the metropolitan governance report that has been prepared by the Department. The Cork area strategic plan, CASP, produced the land use transportation strategy, LUTS, document. Kilkenny and Waterford produced the planning land use and transport strategy, PLUTS, about 20 years ago. It is still a brilliant plan, although I am not sure if the LUTS plan is completely relevant. CASP is the modern equivalent of it. The idea is that the metropolitan governance structure, which would be established with councillors from both authorities, will be in charge of implementing the relevant plan in Cork and for every other city in the country. I hope that answers the Senator's question. Her amendment is partially covered in the short term by section 21, which deals with compliance.
Ultimately, I intend to ensure that the metropolitan governance structure, which will comprise elected politicians from adjoining areas, will have oversight of planning matters. I am not talking about the minutiae of making decisions on applications but designating areas in the city regions we are talking about that will be suitable for housing, industrial development, offices, retail and green space. It will also cover the transportation strategy. It would make no sense not to have some sort of overarching structure in the Cork catchment area and not just in the city and the expanded city, which will look at the needs of the people the Senator spoke about, who might be living in Midleton, Macroom or Mallow. We have to facilitate those people to continue to do that, but we must also consider that we will have more people living in our city centres in the future. Cork is a great example of how that can happen.
The Mackinnon report, which I am sure that Members have read prior to the debate, included a metropolitan area plan to be on a statutory basis that would provide a structure for local government in Cork. Its preparation and implementation would be overseen by a board of ten members drawn from the city and county. The report linked to the planning and development Bill from the Minister of State, Deputy English, which would be for five years. The political figure would champion the sustainable growth of the wider metropolitan area. Rather than divide the House, there is a mechanism to progress what the Senator seeks in terms of monitoring and reviewing and I hope that the Senator will support the Minister on this.
I will not press the amendment as I will take the Minister of State on good faith. He, and the Leader, have much more experience than myself in this area. There are mechanisms in place. I would have liked just one review process but based on what the Minister of State has said and his guarantees regarding the legislation being put forward by the Minister of State, Deputy English, I am satisfied there will be sufficient cover to support the intent of a review.
I seek clarity on section 85 agreements between local authorities, mainly relating to shared services. 25 May is D Day. The local elections will be over and we must ask how it will work in areas such as planning permission applications in the new districts. This is an important matter for everyday living so that people receive the services they seek, whether it is planning, housing or another of the plethora of services that will move within hours of this happening. We discussed staff earlier. There is great concern over which staff will move and when, and whether that will be done on time. These are all important issues.
Is the Minister of State aware of how many section 85 agreements will be involved between the two local authorities? What services will be subject to the agreements? How will he progress the scenario where the 85,000 people are moved into the city that they can receive the services they require? It is a significant issue which will change over night and clarity is needed on the number that exist now and that will come about.
I do not know how many section 85 agreements are at issue. However, I want to make it clear that this is not a no-deal Brexit situation in the delivery of services for people in the area which will transfer from the county to the city in Cork.
On the specific issue on planning permission, planning applications that are made prior to transfer day will be completed by the authority to which they are made. Planning enforcement matters which start before transfer day will be completed by the authority that starts them. There will not be a situation where files are transferred which could lead to documents being lost and issues not being resolved. Equally, on shared services, despite the fact that the transfer day will lead to the line on the map specifically changing, there is no question of the immediate withdrawal of section 85 agreements. They will remain in place to provide existing services. It is a matter, first, between the local authorities to reach agreement themselves on how they plan that the service would continue and what type of interim arrangements will be needed, or if they can be transferred immediately, and, second, between the implementation group themselves who will be the last arbiters of ensuring that the implementation plan is drawn up and that it is implemented by the authorities, with no fall-off or cliff edge in the delivery of local authority services in the transfer area.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 20, line 35, to delete “(6) Where” and substitute the following:(6) “The financial settlement payment falling due from one Cork local authority to the other should be on an advanced, monthly scheduled basis. Where”.
This provides for a framework between councils on an advanced monthly basis. It can be assumed that there will be a regular timeframe for payments but this was not prescribed in the legislation. The amendment would ensure that legislation and all further financial planning is done to allow for a smoother amalgamation. I do not want to be overly prescriptive but it makes sense that a framework be put in place for how authorities interact on amendments.
Amendment No. 7 relates to payments made under the general development contributions scheme as prescribed under section 49 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 where planning authorities, when granting planning permission, require a developer to pay moneys for the purpose of local infrastructure. Cork County Council currently receives approximately eight times the planning applications of Cork city. As some of these applications will soon revert to the transfer area in the expanded city boundary, the county would loose a portion of these contributions and may not be able to provide for local infrastructure projects in the areas where they were intended. The amendment intends to keep local contributions for local purposes in the area for which the planning was granted. It also allows that moneys contributed to the point of the transfer date should be awarded as they were intended. This would be decided independently by the oversight group.
When planning contributions are made, they are not ring-fenced for work to be done. In some cases, they might be but that would be unusual. Planning contributions go to the local authority and are used in the overall budget for the development of services. One cannot say that if a local authority receives funding because planning permission was granted for 100 houses in an area that that would be directly used in that specific area.
The financial management which is being done is a co-ordinated effort to ensure that both local authorities can develop the services that are required as areas grow and new developments occur.
I understand that sections 48 and 49 planning contribution levies are not specific to site development but for the greater good of infrastructure throughout the county and we should be mindful of that. It is not related directly to the development of a kilometre around it, for instance, but feeds into the central infrastructure. However, I will not say too much now as we will discuss all of this under section 31.
I was going to raise this issue in section 31 about planning permission levies and contribution levies. I am open to correction by Members in the House with greater knowledge than me, but these sections refer to development contributions. There are also special development contributions pertaining to sites. Special development contributions pertaining to sites are for special infrastructure required for sites with a timeline accordingly attached. If that infrastructure in not developed, the development charge is paid back.
I was going to raise that issue in section 31 but, since it has been raised now, the Minister of State might clarify. As much as other Senators might have the view that it is an all county or all local authority fund, there is one exception and I am seeking clarity on that exception.
The clarity I can bring is that special development contributions are protected in this Bill. In other words, as Senator Lombard outlined there, if a development has been allowed on the basis that a developer will either provide an infrastructure or, failing that, will provide the funding to build it, those conditions relating to the site-specific special development contributions, which are effectively planning conditions, will continue under the terms of the Bill. The general point that Senators Colm Burke and Boyhan raised is correct. Development contributions, in the general sense, are funding that local authorities derive on the basis of planning permissions but, if they are not specifically earmarked, they are not protected, if one likes, by the legislation. They will remain with the local authority that granted the permission.
I emphasise, in respect of amendment No. 7 in the names of Senator Warfield and others, that we are insisting that those earmarked special development contributions will move with the transfer of land because they are for specific projects in those areas. The general fund, which is the bulk of development contributions, will not move. It is for the relevant local authority to distribute or allocate in their administrative area however it sees fit.
I will not be accepting amendment No. 3 either. I understand that the Senators are referring to financial certainty of a sort, but it would be wrong to stitch into the legislation amounts of contributions to be made in advance. The amendment specifically states, "The financial settlement payment falling due from one Cork local authority to the other should be on an advanced, monthly scheduled basis". The issue is that the payment is on the basis of funding that the council may generate and to do it in advance assumes the level of funding that local authorities will get in a particular month from commercial rates, local property tax and the funding sources that it has. In many cases it might be possible to assume that, but I think it would be wrong to put an upfront requirement in the legislation when its calculation would be based on the income for the local authority. That cannot be absolutely and definitely predicted up front.
I accept that the amendments were ruled out of order and that is fine.
The issue goes back to the financial autonomy of both councils and I was endeavouring to increase the ten-year period to a 15-year period and to have the State intervene where there would be a shortfall of moneys. The structure is for both chief executives to discuss and agree annual contributions and, if they do not agree, it would then go to the oversight committee for a recommendation. I am just not sure where the role for the elected member fits in with that and whether the decision-making capacity is removed from the elected member. I seek clarification on that. It would be crucial, from a political oversight point of view, that the elected member would also have an input here into the overall decision making.
The expert advisory group on the local government arrangements in Cork, in its 2017 report, estimated that there would be a net loss in the region of €40 million per year to the county council as a result of the proposed boundary change. Obviously there will be a net loss in revenue income to the county. Rural parts of the country are generally under serious threat and pressure. The Cork Senators will be very aware that there is a danger for the county council, which covers the rural part of County Cork, that new income-generating streams from resourceful areas will go into the city from those areas that are being lost to the county. If agreement cannot be reached, obviously the committee will have an arbitration role but the Minister will have a role where there is no additional agreement at the end of the day.
This is a novel proposal and, as the Minister mentioned at the outset, is the largest boundary change in the history of the State. In my view, the State should be supporting Cork and where there is a danger that Cork County Council could lose out, the State should intervene to supplement the difference and, where Cork City Council is not in a position to provide funds, Cork County Council should not suffer as a consequence. There is a danger in the way that the legislation is constructed that that could happen.
The Minister of State may have a different view and be able to offer assurances but that would be a concern of mine. That concern has been expressed to me by a number of Cork county councillors and the issue was raised by Deputy Michael Collins in the other House. It is of particular concern in west Cork, where the current mayor of Cork County Council, Councillor Patrick Gerard Murphy, resides. Those areas are under increasing pressure, no more than places like west Kerry, west Donegal and west Galway. The fear is that the city will gain traction and resources and that the county will lose. That is where the intervention of the State was being sought in one of the amendments which was ruled out of order because, naturally, it would have a cost to the Exchequer and Senators cannot table such amendments.
Cork went through an equalisation initiative five years ago. We equalised the town council rate base on the back of the local authority base, which was a significant body of work in which I was very much involved at the time. It meant we could move everyone to the same rate base. We have been stagnant, in many ways, regarding rate collections and those kinds of issues.The business community is very concerned. Businesses are a key driver and they are the heart and soul when it comes to local authority funds. We are losing a significant rate base around the city, as I said, and there is a worry that the existing rate base will be left to fill the hole. There is a genuine concern among the entire business community in the county that this could be a financial issue for them.
The very important issue of the funding stability we will have over the next decade has been raised. Cork has the largest road infrastructure of any county and we have significant infrastructural issues. Without the rate base around the city, we will put serious pressure on our existing rate base. These are key issues. The Minister of State might elaborate on how he believes the Department can work with the local authority to ensure it can provide services. As the Leader said very eloquently, this is about providing services to the people, whether home improvement grants for the elderly, roads or social housing maintenance. These are all local government streams of funding that we need to be able to survive as an entity. We need clarity because there is insecurity in this regard. Very little clarity is forthcoming because we do not have an implementation body and we are awaiting decisions on what will happen. This is why the Minister of State needs to clarify whether the general community, from Kinsale to Bantry, will have the level of services it requires to be able just to exist. This is a real issue for us. The Minister of State might be able to bring clarity. If not, he might draw up a roadmap as to where we might get clarity so we will not have a situation whereby the only way the county will survive is to punish the ratepayer and in turn have a major impact on society.
This is an important issue. I hope the structure that will be in place for payment by the city council to the county council will deal with many of these issues. It is also important that one of the areas that was not transferred into the city is Little Island, which has quite a good commercial rate income. In addition, regarding many of the larger ratepayers, when I did a survey of Cork County Council, I found that ten ratepayers were paying €25 million between them to the city council. Quite a number of those will not transfer to the city but will remain in the county. Many of the big pharmaceutical companies in the county are big ratepayers. The structure set up under this Bill will deal with this issue. If there are concerns, we need to deal with them very quickly, not 12 months or two years after the issues have arisen. The legislation provides for this but the matter needs to be very carefully monitored by both local authorities and the Department.
This section and the comments we have heard tonight reinforce my point about the importance of the oversight committee being kept in place. Senator Lombard was on the money when he referred to the commercial rate base and said we cannot expect the few to pay for the many. There is acceptance that the vibrancy of Little Island and Ringaskiddy, to name but two places, in remaining in the county allows for this income source. As part of Ireland 2040, which is the fundamental strategic plan for the future of the population of Cork, we will see the county's population expand by 100,000 or almost one third in a short period. This will result in a significant increase in and added value for the county council's income sources, whether from local property tax, LPT, service charges, commercial rates and the new businesses that will be needed. We must be realistic in what we can expect the city and county to do. We cannot allow the city to pay the county in perpetuity but, equally, we must strike a balance and have a strong county. We cannot ignore or neglect the county and its needs in a new local government structure.
Much has been said over the years about the funding of local government. Senator Buttimer hit the nail on the head when he said we cannot expect the few to pay for the many. We have had a local government system since the late 1970s that has done exactly that. It has been changed a little since and different charges and taxes have been introduced.
I am acutely aware of what Senator Ó Domhnaill said about rural towns and villages. There are many issues but there are two ways of looking at this. As Senator Ó Domhnaill said, councils are under significant pressure in many parts of the country. There is, however, an element in some of the discussion of head-in-the-sand stuff that aspires to an Ireland of the 1950s and 1960s that no longer exists. Senator Ned O'Sullivan was a purveyor of men's clothing - perhaps ladies' clothing as well, although I am not sure - for many years in a fine provincial town.
Perhaps Listowel is a bit big, but in the town out of which I operate, Thomastown, in Kilkenny, there used to be a number of drapery shops until quite recently. Now there is one left, and the sad reality is that they are not coming back because people my age and younger than me buy their clothes for the most part online. How can we develop a funding stream for local government on the basis of this, or how do we adjust what is there? No amount of pious words from me or wishful thinking will bring back old businesses. Three branches of my family ran rural post offices, one in south Wexford and two in south Kilkenny. They are gone now. At least one of them was in a big village. People no longer use the services in the numbers they did.
This brings me to Senator Lombard's question about rates. We had hoped before the end of the year to have a commercial rates consolidation Bill tabled. We did not get to it but we will do it in the spring. This will give the municipal district councillors - not just the county councillors, as is currently the case - the power to strike a rate in each county, vary that rate and target it for perhaps a specific town or village or the main street in every village in the municipal district. Crucially, it will also give them the power to ask a multiple that has opened on the edge of the town or big village to pay a higher commercial rate. In effect, then, one would ensure that some of the crucifying elements of commercial rates on older established businesses that have tiny turnover but keep a service provided in a smaller town can be mitigated. This can be offset against the big multiples that are making large profits out of these rural towns but have had a huge effect on the main streets of the towns. It is easier for people to use them because they usually have free parking on the edge of the town. This variation will be in the rates Bill. I am not sure whether that addresses Senator Lombard's concerns about municipal councillors.I emphasise to the Senator that section 24 was changed by me on Committee Stage in the Dáil following the Second Stage speeches of Cork representatives. The county council was anxious that a provision be inserted to allow a review of the financial settlement before the ten-year period elapsed. We took it out to provide a ten-year horizon of certainty. There is an assumption on the part of many that after ten years the compensation will automatically and necessarily disappear. It will be a matter for whoever is in my role in ten years, following a submission by the city council that the county council will be able to respond to. It will be able to argue that commercial rates have been lost, which could affect the likes of Ringaskiddy and Little Island, as mentioned by Senator Burke.
I was hopeful about the review process and I was equally surprised at where some of the lines appeared. I was quite happy that Little Island was excluded, not just on the basis of commercial rates. Coming from Waterford's direction, it is the bit going into Cork that I know. I would still regard what goes up to the Dunkettle roundabout as part of the county. Others might disagree with that. There is a mechanism for the ten-year review and it is not cut and dried that the process will all be in one direction. It will require both councils to make the case as to why it should stay the same or become something different. It will be up to the Minister of the day to make the decision.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 25, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:“(8) (a) As of and from the transfer date all development contributions paid for developments within the transfer area (irrespective of when the permission was granted) would be payable to Cork City Council.
(b) For the period of 1 January 2019 to the transfer date, any development contributions paid would be shared on a case by case basis between the two Local Authorities, following dialogue and arbitration by the Oversight Group."
This is about the review of the area plans within the city and county. It is important the local authorities do it once the change occurs in 2019. In fairness, there will now be a different focus. It is important as plans that would have been dealt with by the county may not now fit into the overall plan for the city; likewise, plans for the area not brought into the city will see a different emphasis.
I referred earlier to the land use and transportation study, LUTS, of the 1970s. There was also the Cork area strategic plan, CASP. There is a need for both local authorities, as well as the university, port facilities and all relevant institutions in Cork to work together on a long-term plan on how the city and county will grow. For example, Monard is not coming into the city and there is a proposal for it to be developed. It is staying in the county and it would be a totally new town in the same way as we created a new town in Ballincollig and Carrigaline. It is important that both local authorities work together on their plans and how the region develops. The LUTS plan put all the emphasis on places like Blarney, Glanmire, Ballincollig and Carrigaline developing. Now the county will look at new areas to develop and one of those is Monard. It is important that whatever development takes place will also see an input from the city as well as the county, although Monard is staying in the county. We must think similarly about the towns the county decides to now grow.
I travel to Mallow early in the morning at 5.30 a.m. or .5.45 a.m. and the volume of the traffic coming towards the city even at that time is huge. People live in Mallow but the jobs are not there. It is important that when we do a long-term plan, we must ensure that as well as putting residential areas in county towns, we put in jobs as well, therefore reducing the level of travelling that people do. It is extremely important.
Under the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018, there is provision for the commencement of the process of city and county development plans. The points made by Senator Burke are very important, especially when we speak about regional spatial and economic strategies, in this case for a new Cork. We must provide a bit of flexibility to the city and county here so that as part of this new local government structure, they can have more time. A new city development plan is meant to begin in June next year. We must recognise the importance of LUTS in the 1970s and which CASP has brought in modern days. I support Senator Burke's points. It takes approximately 12 months to advance a formal process and strategy. I hope we will give consideration to that.
There have been some very valuable contributions regarding LUTS, which worked very well in two iterations. CASP came afterwards and it worked exceptionally well. People have forgotten it now because they want to forget it in many ways. It opened a rail line from Cork to Midleton, the first rail line opened in over 100 years in Ireland. It was a significant development in a very unusual space in 2003 and 2004. It was part of the CASP. There is the idea of an overarching body, with members of the local authority having an input into plans on both sides. This was very important as CASP failed with the building of Mahon Point. It created a nightmare scenario where it sucked the life from the city centre for a shopping centre development on a motorway. It may have made sense commercially but it killed the city centre in Cork. It failed in that respect but when a plan has a collective body, with local authority members, it can tie transport and other issues to look at the bigger picture.
We should acknowledge what was the CASP area. It went from Midleton almost to Macroom and from Fermoy almost to Kinsale. It took in 385,000 people. It considered the strategic planning of the area; it is where IDA Ireland sold Cork. It did not make a plan on the 100,000 people in the city but rather than those contained in the CASP. We need to tie something in where that kind of body with an overarching input can be looked at. It has worked and proven itself. Cork became a role model in many ways of how local government should work. That was until we decided it did not work and came up with something else. We must now look at tying it all together to ensure we can learn from CASP and develop a new plan for the region. It will have 400,000 people.
Senator Burke mentioned local area plans and local economic and community plans. Section 30(4) allows the city council to make a statutory amendment to an existing county council plan in the interim. In response to Senator Buttimer, section 37 of the Bill will allow the Minister to extend the period within which the city council has to make its new development. The Senator is right.Making a development plan for a significantly enlarged city will be a new task and will require new resources to do it. Accordingly, that provision is contained here.
The Senators are making the point essentially made by Senator Grace O'Sullivan earlier about the Cork area strategic plan, CASP, and LUTS or, as we are going to call it, the metropolitan governance plan for mid-Cork, including the city and everything around it. The population of this area will ultimately in the not-too-distant future be in the region of 500,000 people. The Minister of State, Deputy English, will be responsible for that.
Monard is an old chestnut. While it is not built yet, it was granted permission prior to any definitive proposals on where a line of a boundary extension might happen. It was in the stage when one authority was spoken about for Cork. Decisions have been made up as far as An Bord Pleanála in which no Minister has a role. We will devise a metropolitan governance structure that will include councillors from the county and the city. They will be doing the forward planning piece for all of the hinterland of Cork city, as well as the city area into the future.
On sections 48 and 49 levies, given that the Minister of State is doing research and there is this potential for this new synergy in Cork, which I broadly support in principle, will there be an assessment and audit done on the significant amount of outstanding development levies? I will take any opportunity to hammer home this point. When we talk about good local governance, good accountability and good stewardship of our local authorities, it is incumbent on local authority chief executives and management structures to go after levies which are due. For both councils in question, there are outstanding levies.
Will the Minister of State make contact with the two local authorities? I will prepare several parliamentary questions for some of my colleagues to raise in the Dáil and also raise it at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. It is a serious issue for all local authorities.
Section 31(4) states:
Any development contribution scheme under section 48 of the Act of 2000 or supplementary development contribution scheme under section 49 of that Act made by the city council shall, from the transfer day, apply to the relevant area as it applies to the rest of the functional area of the city council.
Will the Minister of State explain what is meant by that? Will he ask hard questions about any uncollected or outstanding levies specific to granted permissions?
Section 31(4) four emphasises that if the city council seeks to apply a development contribution scheme under section 48 of the Act of 2000 or supplementary development contribution scheme under section 49 of that Act in the transfer area, it will apply as it would apply in the rest of its functional area. Special development contributions will follow the transfer area into the city. The general funding will remain with the county.
I must apologise but the tapping behind me is putting me off.
We are at early stages yet with the drafting of the Galway merger Bill. There is an idea of where we are going as it is not reinventing the wheel in the sense there have been other mergers.
NOAC has been given the power, but perhaps not the resources, to audit local authorities. The former Senator and Deputy, Michael McCarthy, is the newly appointed chair of NOAC. He is keen about his new role. Uniquely, this commission comprises officials from the Department and several retired councillors from across the country. They will be aware of the questions to be asked about the books of local authorities. They should have additional staffing and extra powers. I have said to Michael McCarthy that I am more than willing to ensure that the local government Bill next year includes some additional provisions.
NOAC does not have the powers or the functions to do detailed audits. The Minister of State knows that the local government auditing service in the Department constantly raises the issue. We see it all over the 31 local authorities’ reports. There is always one line from the chief executives stating they note the concerns of the local government audit service and will endeavour to improve. That is not good enough anymore.
There is a need to have proper accountability of the governance and stewardship of our local authorities by chief executives who are handsomely paid. Clearly, they are not held to account by the Oireachtas for the funding they receive from it. It is a disgrace that local authorities have outstanding sections 48 and 49 levies, as well as many other funds which are not collected. It would not be tolerated in the private sector and it should not be tolerated in local government.
I would prefer if the Minister of State did not reinvent the wheel and create another layer of bureaucracy. He should, instead, empower local government auditors to pursue these levies. One local authority published its local government audit report for 2017 less than a month ago. At its council meeting, it allowed six to nine minutes to discuss the report which flagged major concerns by the local government auditing service. Nothing was done about it because it was put at the end of its agenda. I wrote to that local authority today and enclosed the full local government audit report. I told it that it should convene a special meeting to grill and cross-examine its chief executive. That is the sort of stewardship we need.
I do not doubt the Minister of State's commitment to that. However, I will use any opportunity to keep raising this issue.
The issue of governance and how we can empower local authority members in this regard is important. I was a member of local authority when these audit reports came before it. We need to be looking at how we can empower councillors to have the ability to work through a process.
It is unfair on local authority members, however, to expect them to scrutinise their chief executives. The Houses of the Oireachtas should have that power. The Committee of Public Accounts should have the power to bring local authority executives and management before it to question them on their ability and where funding has gone. That is a hole in our local authority governance structure.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 30, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:
“Amendment to Local Government Reform Act 2014
35. The Local Government Reform Act 2014 is amended in section 22A(1), by the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (a):“(a) subject to subsection (4), every county and city and county set out in Part 1 and Part 3, respectively, of Schedule 5, and Cork City Council or Chomhairle Cathrach Chorcaí in Irish, in Part 2 of Schedule 5, shall have 2 or more districts (each consisting of one or more than one local electoral area) to be known as a municipal district and collectively as municipal districts, as the Minister shall determine by order made under section 23(1)(c),” ”.
I will speak on amendment No. 9. Ultimately, as the Minister of State outlined earlier, a population of more than 86,000 people will move from the county to the city. This will represent an economic loss for the county. All of the county councillors have grave reservations in respect of the moving of very economically favourable lands and properties and the associated rates base into the city. For instance, the Mayor of Cork County, Councillor Patrick Gerard Murphy, has raised grave concerns about the Blarney area from which a population base in excess of 6,000 people is being moved to the city's jurisdiction. This is after Cork County Council spent millions of euro developing a development plan pertaining to Stoneview in Blarney. That plan included a proposal for 5,300 houses in Monard, which is south of the town. Obviously the development contribution levies in respect of this development will be lost to the council, as will the local property tax revenue.
There are grave financial consequences for the county, bearing in mind that the moneys available from the city to compensate the county are only payable for a ten-year window. The county is set to lose a significant source of revenue in terms of local property tax. There are other areas, but this amendment is tailored to the Blarney Tower area. Councillor Murphy outlined in a submission that the area had no significant transport or infrastructural connectivity with the city. Deputy Michael Collins raised this issue in the other House when the Bill was being debated in the Dáil. He outlined grave reservations.
I assure the Minister of State that the county councillors in Cork to whom I have spoken on this issue are not in favour of Blarney being moved under the city's jurisdiction. They support Blarney staying in the county given what the county and its councillors have done to bring forward that development plan. The county council has spent millions of euro developing this development plan. It would be wrong for all of that work to be lost to the county for the benefit of the city. That is where the amendment comes from. It is an amendment tailored to the Blarney area which allows the Minister of State to achieve his objectives, although it would reduce the population moving under the city's jurisdiction from approximately 86,000 or 87,000 to about 78,000. I am not sure what the Minister of State's thoughts on this are or whether he would have sympathy with the council's position in this regard. I am sure the Mayor of Cork County has raised this issue with the Minister of State. I know that he has raised it with Oireachtas Members in Cork. I am sure that the Senators to whom he spoke will articulate their own views, but that is my view which I have been asked to raise in the House.
For clarification, my understanding is that Monard, which we are talking about, is not coming into the city but is, in fact, staying in the county. That was the issue I raised earlier on. It is proposed to take in Blarney and Tower. I know this was discussed between the city and county councils. I understand that, subsequent to an agreement being reached on the matter, there was a further meeting of the county council at which the proposal brought up by Senator Ó Domhnaill was brought forward. I have no fixed views one way or the other.
There is a mixed population in the Blarney Tower area. The area has grown to become quite substantial in recent years, especially Tower which is part of my own home parish of Inniscarra. The new line actually divides Inniscarra in two. The issue in respect of Blarney and Tower is that over the last few years many people have moved in but a large number of them have come from the north side of Cork city. The reason they have come from the north side of Cork city is that no land was available in that area for the development of private housing, or indeed any kind of housing. From my knowledge and from having worked in the area I know that large number of people have moved into Blarney and Tower from rural areas and from towns right around the county, but also that large numbers have moved out from the city. It is therefore already very much a mixed population, but it is an area that has grown quite substantially as an urban area. In fairness to the county council, it has done a huge amount of development in terms of making sure there is proper infrastructure, including sewerage schemes etc. The overall agreement was about pushing out the boundaries of the city so that strategic planning could be done. In doing that there was a specific requirement that Monard, which was one of the areas proposed, would stay in the county. I am not saying that it will ever develop but it was proposed by the county as a new town away from Blarney.
In direct answer to Senator Ó Domhnaill's question, I do have sympathy with the county council, which expended considerable funding on the Blarney Tower part of the potentially expanded Cork city, because that money was spent at least partly in the belief that it would generate income from development contributions in the future. It is a limited sympathy in that one of the functions of local authorities is to draw up local area plans anyway, but I do understand that the boundary extension was not high on the political agenda when that process was initiated however many years ago. The issue I have with the amendment is that, if we try to unpick the line on the map which the group has drawn, the whole line will be up for discussion again. I do not know enough about the intricacies of Senator Colm Burke's home parish or of Blarney itself to know where the line should be drawn if not here. The oversight group settled on this for good reasons. Part of the logic behind it is that Monard is to remain in the county area. There was a lot of discussion, primarily about Ballincollig, but also about Blarney and Tower to an extent. The idea of this boundary change is to have a Cork city fit for the next 50 years or more. I do not think anyone could have envisaged the way Cork has developed. Effectively Ballincollig has been developed into the city. Equally, in recent years Blarney has seen a massive expansion, much of which has come from people from the north side of Cork city, which is just on Blarney's doorstep anyway. That is the logic behind the decision which was made. The line was drawn where it was. That is why I will not be in a position to accept amendment No. 9.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 30, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following:
“Blarney Tower and adjacent hinterlands35. That the Blarney Tower and adjacent hinterlands should remain within the Cork County Council area and not be transferred to the city area. This would result in a population of 6,357 remaining within the county administrative area (based on the census 2016).”.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Rose Conway Walsh, Martin Conway, Maire Devine, Frank Feighan, Paul Gavan, Billy Lawless, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, Niall Ó Donnghaile, James Reilly, Neale Richmond, Fintan Warfield.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 32, lines 31 and 32, to delete all words from and including "Waterford," in line 31 down to and including line 32 and substitute "Waterford;".
I do not intend to delay the House tonight.
Over recent days, I have made my position and that of 54 of the 57 councillors in Galway very clear. Councillors in Galway are supportive of the Minister of State's intentions for the future of Galway and its councils, but they are not supportive of this Bill moving that forward. Our opposition is based on our belief that those who are local know what is best. I have listened to Senators on the Government side speaking in glowing terms about what county councillors in Cork want and do not want. Perhaps it is time to look west and take note of what councillors in Galway city and County Galway want.
I have been contacted in my office and I have discussed those contacts with many people. I ask the Minister of State to remove all references to Galway from the Bill, including the references in section 39, on pages 32 and 33 of the Bill, and in section 43, on page 35 of the Bill. It would save us an awful lot of time if the Minister of State would agree tonight to withdraw these references to the city and county of Galway. If he does not do so, I will push these amendments to a vote.
I will be very brief. I studied and, more importantly, watched the Committee Stage debate on this legislation in the Dáil. I acknowledge the contributions of Deputies Grealish, Ó Cuív, Ó Broin, who is Sinn Féin's spokesperson on local government, and Connolly. They made a very strong case. Three of them are representatives of Galway. They are elected by Galway. They are tapped into the local councillors and the local government process. I will always refer back to and listen to the views of local Deputies. None of them is entirely against the proposals for local government in Galway that are set out in this legislation. I will not rehearse all the aspects of those proposals because we had a long night of discussions on these matters last night. I think the Deputies I have mentioned are wise and sensible politicians. They are diverse politicians who represent diverse parts of their constituency. I have worked closely with Deputy Ó Broin. It is clear from his contributions on local government at the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government that he is very knowledgeable and experienced. Having studied the Deputies' contributions in the Dáil and having read their submissions, I believe it is right for us to delete any reference to Galway at this stage.
We should not rule out the possibility of future discussion and engagement on these matters. I thank the Minister of State for saying last night that he would welcome a debate in the Seanad on the whole area of mayors. I do not want to be premature about mergers. I have read what the Minister of State has said. I understand his intention. I think it is early and premature. When we talk about local government in Galway and in general, we need to put people first. I do not mean we should have a slogan on a bit of paper that talks about putting people first. We need greater accountability in local government. The chief executives who are paid large sums of money are unaccountable to many aspects of the Oireachtas and to the elected members of the councils. We need to discuss these matters with the City and County Management Association, which is a strong body. It is not always a good thing that the association keeps defending chief executives, particularly given that it is partially funded by taxpayers' money. We need to engage with the Association of Irish Local Government.
We need to look again at synergies. I spoke last night about Carlow and Laois, which are two distinct geographical areas with their own local authorities. They have synergies and shared services. We do not have to close down distinct branches of local government. We need to support them and have shared services. I do not object to greater citizens' engagement. I do not object to plebiscites because they empower people, citizens and communities to make decisions. I believe this Galway aspect was an add-on to a Bill that should never have been there in the first place. I would welcome a new Bill in the future. We need to address the issue of who we are taking powers from and who we are giving powers to. Are we taking powers from the chief executives and giving them to county councillors? Are we giving powers to elected mayors or non-elected mayors? Will the mayors be executive mayors or non-executive mayors? How does the Minister of State intend to take on the chief executives, who comprise a powerful group of people, when the time comes to transfer powers? He has a lot more work to do.
With regard to the local property tax, the Minister of State has not addressed the fundamental core issue of how the Government intends to fund the running of councils. We can have all the committees, all the subgroups and all the talk, but they need to be accompanied by proper funding and full independence for local authorities. More powers should be devolved to local councillors who are elected and who represent communities.That has not happened. The Government has been in power for seven years and there has been much talk about devolved powers, but it has increasingly centralised power to itself and, more importantly, the Custom House. Therefore, we need a fundamental review of local government. I do not doubt that the Minister of State believes we need this, but it is not happening. We do not want piecemeal Bills. The Minister of State referred to another two or three Bills next year. How many Bills on local government are we to have? Let us have a proper review of how we will fund local government, who will have the powers and who will cede them. After that, let us progress. The legislation before us is premature. I have no difficulty with the Cork aspect of the Bill because it has the general support of the county councillors, Deputies and Senators who represent the area, but this aspect of the Bill does not. Having heard the contributions of the spokespersons on local government in the Dáil, I believe we need to listen to what they have said.
There is no quango, considering that we are talking about 94% or 95% of the membership of two local authorities. However, I respect the views of the three councillors who took a different view. Regardless of whether one has examined the ins and outs of this, if almost 100% are going one way and from different party backgrounds, it is absolutely prudent to step back and deal with the matter in a new Bill. There is time to do so. We would all be anxious to facilitate any such development which would be viewed as a respectful approach, given the weight of opinion. I am happy to leave it at that.
My name is attached to the Bill also because, following detailed discussions with local representatives, it became clear that Galway should be dealt with in a separate, comprehensive Bill. That is what we are looking for. We have all spoken in favour of the Cork proposal and believe the Bill we are discussing will be good for Cork, but there are major concerns about the Galway proposal. Therefore, Galway should not be dealt with in this Bill.
We have spoken about services, housing and CEOs. The Minister of State has one of the most important roles because he is dealing with local authorities which have a major impact on people’s lives, through planning, housing and dealing with the whole town environment. Plans like the one in question play such a role in people’s lives that we must ensure we get them right. We must also make sure that, where Galway is concerned and concerns arise about various issues, we protect and do our best for those affected. We support the Cork proposal which is not a problem, but we need to ensure we also support Galway in what it wants. It is important that we recognise the issues that arise.
I support the amendments wholeheartedly. Autonomy and decision-making start at home. The Galway councillors have exercised their view which should be respected. A runaway train should not leave the station without consultation. Consultation is required. Plebiscites are provided for in the Bill. I do not see any reason a plebiscite cannot be held in Galway before any decision is taken. That is what happens in other jurisdictions when local government is restructured, particularly if two large councils are being amalgamated, as is proposed in the Bill. The amendment is very sensible, simple and effective and I fully support it. There is no need whatsoever to include Galway in the legislation. Time and space should be afforded to the people of and councillors in Galway to make their own informed decision first, which we should then respect.
I agree with my colleagues who have spoken to this common-sense amendment. Deputy Phelan is a common-sense Minister of State and I have no doubt that and hope he will take on board the views of all the councillors who have spoken on this issue. What we are talking about is consultation with the individuals involved. I trust and hope the Minister of State will take on board the thoughts of all those who have spoken about this issue.
I have a 12-page response, but I will not read the full 12 pages. I said last night – half of my speech was not included in my script – that we had developed a notion of political discourse not only in Ireland but also in most of the western world that if there was political disagreement on a matter, there was automatic disrespect.
On Senator Gallagher’s point, I have listened to many of the local representatives in Galway and do not agree with many of them. I agree with part of what many of them have to say. I absolutely agree with all of them that the core issue in Galway is funding. The reality is that the amendment is about restoring a common management structure in Galway that was in place for over 100 years, until 1985. The reality is that the divorce that took place in 1985 which we will be seeking to reverse next year in a different Bill was never really effective in the first place and the issue of the funding of Galway County Council was never resolved properly, but there have been numerous efforts to do so. Perhaps I am regarded as being the unlucky one in being required to address this issue now, but I do not believe I am unlucky at all because one has to deal with the issues that arise, be it the Cork or Galway boundaries or others with which I am very familiar, and make decisions. I am not at all surprised by what is occurring. I mentioned last night the late great Senator Jackie Daly who in 1984 famously commissioned a survey of county councillors on behalf of the then Taoiseach, with a view to seeking to postpone the local elections from 1984 to 1985. He received a 100% positive response; not surprisingly, councillors wanted the elections to be suspended for one year.
I absolutely respect the democratic mandate of councillors in Galway, but can anyone really be surprised that there is genuine fear among elected representatives that either their own role or the communities they represent may be changed by way of a change to the structure of a gun? I would be shocked if it were any different. I do not doubt for one second Senator Craughwell’s statistic - a proportion of 54 out of 57 - or the view expressed by him and Senator Boyhan that most local representatives in Galway know that this chestnut will have to be dealt with in the very near future, but I completely disagree with the notion that this legislation has been rushed. It might physically be rushed tonight, but, as long as I am home before Friday morning, I do not care how long it takes. However, it has not been rushed.
I disagree with Senator Craughwell's comment last night. It is probably not known who comprised the review group. It was formally established early in 2015, almost five years ago. Its members were Professor Eoin O’Sullivan, a Trinity College Dublin sociologist from Galway, who is internationally renowned for the study of communities and human activity, in Galway or anywhere else; Ms Hannah Kiely, an accountant from Galway; Mr. Ned Gleeson who is unique in that he was the county secretary of the local authority when the divorce took place in the mid-1980s; Mr. Michael O’Connor, a lawyer in Galway; and Mr. John Coyle, a hotelier in Galway. Therefore, Senator Craughwell’s slogan that those who are local know best is dead right. The five locals who have no skin in the game politically know best. When they gave the report to me, they were surprised that I published it immediately. I absolutely accepted it because during the years the practice was not to act on any difficult issue that arose and to kick it around for a few years, with the possibility of carrying out other reviews and everything else.Following on from that, another group with an advisory role was set up, again with Professor O’Sullivan as chair. Mr. Ned Gleeson, who had previous experience, was a member of the group, as were the chief executives of the city and county councils. All of its seven members had exceptional local knowledge, which addresses the argument that locals know best. These amendments suggest that those with local political knowledge know best.
I ask Senators to acknowledge that there was no ground-swell of public opinion in Galway against the proposed merger, as Senator Boyhan admitted. Like much of local government, structural issues only come to the attention of the public when something goes wrong or an issue arises. Senators should be aware that there is not even minor public opposition to the proposed merger. Councillors have legitimate concerns. I can only state that I am absolutely committed in respect of the funding issue. I have committed myself and my potential successors to allocating half of the funding for local government reform for the next three years directly to Galway County Council on foot of this section. That will not happen if the section is not included in the Bill because the fund is dedicated to local government reform.
Senator Boyhan is correct on the issue of shared services. The best example of that is in County Carlow. The relationship between counties Carlow and Laois is unique in terms of two local authorities and two sets of county loyalties that operate well together. It is a different situation to that in County Galway because it involves two sets of county loyalties. It is probable that after the bank guarantee and the arrival of the International Monetary Fund, Ministers considered proposals to merge local authorities. I have not found documents relating to such proposals in the Custom House and I do not want to find them because I do not believe local authorities should be merged against the wishes of the local population. I refer to more than half of the local population lodging submissions against the proposals in respect of counties Roscommon and Westmeath. The issue of identity does not arise in the merger of the Galway councils, which is why public opinion in there is that we should get on with ensuring it has the best local government structure possible.
I reiterate that there will be a local government Bill 2019 which will focus on Galway. The Bill before the House deals mainly with issues relating to County Cork. The prerequisite in mergers of local authorities is the need to have someone in charge at management level. That has been proven by the mergers in counties Waterford, Limerick and Tipperary. The significant difficulty in Galway, as highlighted by all Oireachtas Members and councillors from the area, is that many members of staff are acting up in positions in the councils that have not been filled on a full-time basis. We are proposing that there be a full-time, permanent chief executive to run the management structure in both local authorities.
I am somewhat confused by a number of Senator Boyhan’s comments. He complained that I have put forward too many Bills. That is a criticism I have not heard before. When I was a Member of the Seanad, its primary function was to deal with legislation. Next year, I will bring forward a local government Bill which will focus on Galway and another in regard to urban area committees. Senator Boyhan mentioned Deputy Ó Broin, for whom I have a lot of time. He is a member of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government which decided not to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. At the time, the proposals relating to County Galway formed part of the Bill. Having spoken to Deputy Ó Broin and others, I decided that the sections regarding urban area committees should form part of a separate Bill. I make no apology for believing that legislation in respect of those areas is required. It is the job of Senators to consider such legislation and I expect them to do so, as is being done tonight.
There are already many shared services between Galway city and county. The Bill does not deal with shared services in Galway. This section relates to a local authority area that will have a population of approximately 300,000. As the major city on the west coast – apologies to Limerick – we need it to be a major economic driver not just of its hinterland but, rather, the entire region. A group of experts who happened to be outsiders was tasked with looking at the structure of the councils. It reached a unanimous decision, which is supported by the managers of the two local authorities, that there should be a merged council. If the section is withdrawn or the amendment agreed to, this issue will have to be addressed when the local government Bill 2019 which will focus on Galway reaches Committee Stage in the middle of next year. Nothing magical will happen in the coming months to create agreement. Disagreement in politics is normal. There should be more of it. I do not disrespect any of the Senators who are doing their job by tabling amendments, but it is incorrect to state that the issues will be resolved because we will talk to each other between now and next May. There will never be unanimity on this issue at local government level. In answer to Senator Ó Domhnaill, I fully respect the position of councillors and their right to disagree with me. We must be prepared to disagree, particularly in the context of structural issues such as this.
Senator Murnane O’Connor raised the need for detailed discussion and to remove the section dealing with County Galway from the Bill. There will be very detailed discussion on Committee Stage of the local government Bill 2019 which will address the mechanism of merger in County Galway. Removing the section dealing with County Galway from the Bill before the House tonight will do nothing other than create a massive financial headache which will force the reopening of the budget in County Galway in the coming weeks. In the middle of next year, we would find ourselves back in the position of having to grasp the nettle and take what everyone understands is the right decision for County Galway in the long term. That is why I think we should make the decision sooner rather than later.
Senator Boyhan referred to the proper funding of local authorities and a fundamental review. As Senators are aware, Ms Sara Moorhead is carrying out a fundamental review which will examine the role and functions of councillors as well remuneration. The Senator stated that he wanted me to be clear about from whom the powers of the directly-elected mayor will be transferred. As I stated on Second Stage here and previously in the Dáil - and as I will state on many occasions in the coming months during the discussion of local government - the powers of directly-elected mayors will be transferred from managers and chief executives. No power will be removed from councillors. Their key reserved powers such as budget-making and signing off on development plans will not be affected in any way by the introduction of directly elected mayors. There is a significant democratic deficit in that regard and we need to have a discussion and plebiscite on the matter. Having directly-elected mayors will introduce some accountability into the management structure of local government. I share many of the Senator's concerns, although I must point out that we have been extraordinarily well served by the great majority of local authority managers and chief executives. However, in a democracy that is not sufficient. As well as being well served, there must be a level of accountability. That accountability does not currently exist and that is why we need directly-elected mayors.
Senator Craughwell referred to the general support among councillors for the amendment.I hope other Senators, who are not familiar with Cork, got the sense from some of the contributions of the Cork Senators this evening that there is absolutely not unanimity in Cork. Far from it, there is complete disagreement on what needs to happen in certain respects, even though it was kept very civil in the Chamber.
Someone referred to the three Galway Deputies who are against it. Eleven Deputies represent Galway or part thereof; three have expressed legitimate and strong concerns but no one has referred to the other eight Deputies and where they stand.
I am not talking about my party colleagues, I am talking about a former Independent councillor who is now a Minister, Deputy Seán Canney, who has been a leading advocate for the merger. He comes from one of the larger towns in County Galway which, as some would say, would suffer in the event of the merger. Would he support it if he really felt that Tuam would be destroyed? Instead he takes the view, which I share, although I will not go so far as to say that it is the correct view, that parts of Galway cannot be looked at in isolation to the entirety. That reflects what I said in my response to Senator Ó Domhnaill about how people's habits have changed, such as shopping or where they do business. There are large regional towns in Galway which have been transformed, largely in a negative way, since the Celtic tiger years, where many main streets are empty and idle because traditional businesses do not exist. Many people commute into Galway and do their shopping there or they do it online. That structure no longer exists.
Despite the best efforts of the councillors in County Galway under the two separate local authorities that have existed since 1985, to reverse that or do something about it, there has been no fundamental reform that might ultimately re-energise those streets. I do not see how keeping them separate, which some political opponents of this section have suggested, is a solution for those regional towns in Galway into the future. Rather, what needs to happen in Galway is what has happened in Cork city where we will have one authority which is responsible for all the city and its hinterland, and a bit more besides, for the next 50 years and beyond. We need a local authority structure in Galway that will do the same for it.
I share and understand some of the regret and reservations that Oireachtas Members and councillors have expressed about changes in population that would result in changes in representation levels. I sought to address it last night and do so again as best I can tonight in the absence of the full Galway Bill. I am not only opposed to that but very much supportive of the idea that there would be two separate chambers. We are providing that there will be two separate elections, notwithstanding the fact that the law will have been enacted and there will be one manager.
I believe that Wandsworth and Richmond - the name of the former has come back to me - are the two London boroughs that merged their local authorities but still have two chambers, or two councils. That was how it was in Galway city and county until 1985, when there was an experiment to give it a separate city council. It worked for a long time but, to my knowledge, and I might be wrong, it contributed to some of the hollowing out of some of the regional towns around Galway. I do not think it was done deliberately but it was an effect of what happened in the mid-1980s. It was also open to every Minister and politician who has served in the last thirtysomething years to do something to address the under-funding that it created in County Galway, but that was never done. It was never done through the years of the Celtic tiger when there were enough millions of euro that we could talk about abolishing certain forms, or nearly every form, of property taxation, and there was enough to solve many of these issues.
The impact that this proposal in the Bill will have on Galway is very minor. The real Bill will come next year, and is mostly a Galway Bill but it will be called the local government Bill. If this part is rejected tonight we will still have to deal with all of that in the middle of next year.
Frances Black, Victor Boyhan, Rose Conway Walsh, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Aidan Davitt, Maire Devine, John Dolan, Robbie Gallagher, Paul Gavan, Gerry Horkan, Billy Lawless, Terry Leyden, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Grace O'Sullivan, Ned O'Sullivan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Fintan Warfield, Diarmuid Wilson.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Martin Conway, Frank Feighan, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.
Frances Black, Victor Boyhan, Rose Conway Walsh, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Aidan Davitt, Maire Devine, John Dolan, Robbie Gallagher, Paul Gavan, Gerry Horkan, Billy Lawless, Terry Leyden, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Grace O'Sullivan, Ned O'Sullivan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Fintan Warfield, Diarmuid Wilson.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Martin Conway, Frank Feighan, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.
Frances Black, Victor Boyhan, Rose Conway Walsh, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Aidan Davitt, Maire Devine, John Dolan, Robbie Gallagher, Paul Gavan, Gerry Horkan, Billy Lawless, Terry Leyden, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Grace O'Sullivan, Ned O'Sullivan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Fintan Warfield, Diarmuid Wilson.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Martin Conway, Frank Feighan, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.
Ivana Bacik, Victor Boyhan, Rose Conway Walsh, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Aidan Davitt, Maire Devine, John Dolan, Robbie Gallagher, Paul Gavan, Gerry Horkan, Billy Lawless, Terry Leyden, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Grace O'Sullivan, Ned O'Sullivan, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Fintan Warfield, Diarmuid Wilson.