Dáil Éireann - Volume 398 - 15 May, 1990
Local Elections (Specification of Local Election Year) Order, 1990: Motion.
Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn) Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn)
 Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn): I move:
That Dáil Éireann confirms the following Order:
Local Elections (Specification of Local Election Year) Order, 1990,
a copy of which Order was laid before Dáil Éireann on the 30th day of April, 1990.
The purpose of this order is to postpone for one year the local elections which would otherwise fall to be held in June of this year. The statutory provision for altering the period for holding local elections is contained in section 2 of the Local Elections Act, 1973. This section provides that where the Minister is satisfied that local elections should be postponed he may, by order, provide that the elections shall be held in a year specified in the order. Such an order shall not come into effect unless and until a copy thereof has been laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the order has been confirmed by resolution of each House.
The instrument which this House is now being asked to confirm was made for one specific and very important reason, to facilitate an urgent and thorough review of the local government system so that a programme of local government reform and reorganisation can be implemented as soon as possible. Deputies will be aware of the statement issued by me a few weeks ago in which I outlined the aims, format and timescale of this review. I will be dealing with these aspects in more detail presently.
Firstly, however, I want to put it as emphatically as possible to the House that it would be utterly pointless to proceed with local elections at the very time when a major review of the structures and system of local government is being undertaken. Common sense alone would suggest the folly of electing some 1,600 councillors for a further five year term to old structures which are about to be  subjected to a fundamental and comprehensive overhaul.
The issue, therefore, which this motion brings before the House for decision — and the only real issue — is to proceed now with the reform and reorganisation of local government. What do I need to say about local government reform? There is little to be said that has not been said many times already. If talk alone could achieve results, the local government system would have been reorganised several times over during the past 20 years.
Everyone seems to be aware of the need for reorganisation, for the introduction of change, but very little has happened. It is a matter which, to one extent or another, has been on the agenda of successive Governments. At times it has taken centre stage, but more usually it has been sidelined as energy was devoted to other urgent and pressing issues. Yet it has stubbornly refused to go away. The need for fundamental overhaul has remained and the local government issue remains.
In an endeavour to tackle the problem once and for all, the Government had proposed to establish an Oireachtas committee — an all-party commiteee — to examine and report on the whole question of local government reorganisation. There was much merit in this proposal. It was a means of seeking a general consensus about the way forward for local government, to plot the changes necessary for improvement and to establish a general basis as to the measures necessary. Unfortunately, not all political parties were willing to contribute to the proposed committee. In this context I would like to place on record that this approach was proposed by this Government to achieve a consensus and was rejected by those who are regularly to the fore in proclaiming the advantages of operating a parliamentary committee system.
With effective rejection of the proposed Oireachtas committee the Government had two options. Firstly, it could, as so often happened in the past, have  backed away from the problem, abandoned the reorganisation question and allowed the local government system to drift on without the changes necessary to face into the future. The alternative was take action now — action that was so often avoided in the past — to strengthen our system of local government. We have chosen the latter course. It is for this reason that local elections due this year are being postponed — to allow for necessary changes to be made so that the electorate are fully aware of the reorganised system, its role, responsibilities, functions, structures and potential, and so that elections can be held on this basis.
I would like to reflect briefly on our existing local authority system. There is no denying that in many ways it has served us well. It has ensured that such basic services as water and sanitation are now enjoyed by almost every home, that an adequate road network has extended throughout the State, that housing has been provided for those in need, that recreational and amenity facilities — swimming pools, sports centres, parks, libraries, picnic sites and so on — are available and that there is capacity to respond effectively to fire and other emergencies. In general the supporting infrastructure to underpin viable economic growth is in place; action is taken to ensure that our environment is protected and that development proceeds on a properly planned basis. This gives an idea of the scope and range of local government activity.
Yet all of these efforts have had to take place in the context of an antiquated system. Local authorities have had to face the problems of the modern era from within a framework which in many ways remains as it was originally established over a century ago and which had its origins in 19th century British legislation. The structures which are still in place today were established by Acts of 1840, 1854, 1878 and 1898 — an age when roads were the preserve of the horse and the idea of democratic government was still regarded as a new-fangled and slightly dangerous motion. There is a clear need to consider how these structures are  adapted to the demands of today. There is a clear need to ensure that the system can respond to modern needs and concerns and that the taxpayer obtains the best value for his or her investment in local government for the very sizeable share of public expenditures that local authorities put through their hands.
I could dwell at length on the particular needs of the Dublin area. Its sheer size, scale and the pace of development, the need for meaningful interaction with local communities, the need to enhance the sense of identity between communities and local government and the necessity to plan and operate services on an effective basis all point to the need for special arrangements to take account of these realities.
The last three decades in particular have seen a social transformation in Ireland. Changes such as urbanisation, population growth and dispersal, new economic factors, the move towards a car based society with new travel patterns, new recreational needs and increased public expectations that a local government system should impact on areas outside its traditional local authority domain and be free to take the required initiatives are developments that more and more point to the need for change. No system, public sector or private sector, can hope to remain forever unchanged. If it does it will eventually wither and die. It must be free to grow and develop.
There must be a new emphasis on dealing with problems, not to be hidebound by out of date procedures or frozen by institutional inertia. The system must be flexible. It must be capable of facilitating and supporting community and private enterprise and of undertaking action in its own right where this is needed for the benefit of its area.
The Government's aim is, first and foremost, to strengthen local democracy in Ireland. Modern communications and technology have greatly increased the opportunities for a move in this direction and the legislative framework should leave the way clear for local authorities to become progressively more involved.  Side by side with this there is a need for a review of central controls and a removal of unnecessary procedures.
The powers available to local authorities will be looked at as will the question of reserved-managerial functions and the implications of “section 4” for the planning system. Much of the existing general legislation relating to local government is inflexible, antiquated and outdated and in need of consolidation and reform. Authorities must be freed from unnecessary constraints, made free to operate efficiently and effectively and internal procedures must support this. The system itself must not be an obstacle to progress.
Radical changes here will not happen overnight but we must begin a move to improve the existing situation. People who talk in broad generalisations must face up to the real problems and examine each service and its possibility for better integration.
The cost implications and the individual service requirements cannot be ignored. It is only in such a manner that we can move forward. Change along these lines is a major undertaking involving several Government Departments and many other public agencies. Legislation is obviously required. We will not be able to deal simultaneously with all the issues to which I have referred.
We propose, however, to deal with the immediate issues now and to map out our plan for the future and the arrangements to see through reforms which of necessity will take time to implement. Unlike what has happened in the past these are not mere pious aspirations. The Government have established a mechanism to see through the reform programme. A special Government committee have been set up to come up with proposals and have been asked to report by 30 September 1990. A committee of experts have also been established to assist in this task. The intention is that the necessary legislation will be brought forward this year and enacted by the end of February 1991. Any subsequent legislation which is required to cover related matters beyond the more immediate elements and any  other administrative arrangements which may be required, will follow closely.
In setting out the immediate issues to be tackled by the special Government committee, the main emphasis must be on getting the structures and functions settled, but the committee are also being asked to make recommendations on the criteria on which the contribution from central funds to local authorities should be made on a statutory basis. It is appropriate that this question of funding should now be examined in conjunction with the question of structures and functions. While I cannot, and certainly have no desire to pre-empt in any way the special committee's consideration of the issues involved, it may well be that any recommendations they may make in relation to structures and functions could, of themselves, have direct consequences for the distribution of the central contribution. It is patently desirable that the special committee should address that issue. But quite apart from that, there have been developments in relation to local finances in recent years which, of themselves, require that special attention should now be given to this aspect.
I have implemented a number of significant reforms in relation to local finance over the past three years. The most significant of these perhaps was the introduction of straightforward capital grants to replace the outmoded and bureaucratic loans and subsidies system. This reform alone eliminated circular transfers of large sums between the Exchequer and local authorities and has produced a more streamlined financial arrangement both for central administration and for the local authorities. The merits of this change have been widely recognised. I am happy to say, too, that almost all statutory demands and extraneous financial burdens which bedevilled the efforts of local authorities to improve their own financial control and management over the years have now been eliminated. This streamlining process continued this year with the termination, which I announced recently, of local authority financial responsibility for the  provision and maintenance of courthouses. The net effect on local finances is that local authorities will be recouped the cost of this work by the Department of Justice. This particular reform had long been sought by many local authorities over a long period.
Each of these reforms has been widely welcomed for its own sake. This is readily understandable when it is considered that each represented a direct financial burden on local authorities and related to services over which they had little real local control. The cumulative effect, however, has been to alter various aspects of the central-local financial “equation”, if I may so describe it. It is timely that these aspects should be specially considered now.
What is now under way, therefore, is a programme supported by Government for the reform and reorganisation of local government which should see a system which is more meaningful and relevant to the public, which will meet the needs of local communities, which will give an efficient service in operating major expenditure programmes and which will maximise the return to the taxpayer for his investment. It is a system which will operate within a new legislative framework with the freedom to develop, which is alive and innovative with a substantial change in the scope of its activity and with an increased relevance for people going about their daily lives.
If the present order is confirmed by both Houses, the next local elections will fall due in June 1991. In accordance with the provisions of the Local Elections Act, 1973, the present members of local authorities will continue to hold office until the new elections are held. The 1973 Act also contains consequential arrangements in relation to the appointment of school attendance committees and the meetings of vocational education committees.
I do not believe that there is a single Member of this House who is not convinced of the urgent need for local government reform. The announcement of the Government intention has been well received inside and outside the  House. I would ask you to remember in the final analysis that what is at issue here is not just the confirmation of a statutory instrument. It is an opportunity for this House to demonstrate its commitment to local government and to provide a clear mandate to the reform and reorganisation which we all know to be essential.
I, therefore, commend the order to the House.
Mr. Shatter Mr. Shatter
Mr. Shatter: The reasons the Minister gave for the postponement of the local elections sound credible at face value until you examine the background to them. The Minister said that the election should be postponed for a year because he has finally recognised the need and urgency of local government reform.
There is the suggestion that major — if not astounding — developments will take place within our democratic system during the next 12 months and that commonsense will dictate that all Members of this House should be on all fours with the Minister in supporting the postponement. It was very interesting to analyse the nature of the statement which the Minister made in the House today because he, perhaps unwittingly, admitted that the major and comprehensive reform of local government which we all recognise as essential will not come into place in time for the elections of June 1991. The Minister as much as admits that in the course of his remarks — having listed changes recognised as necessary — when he said:
Change along these lines is a major undertaking involving several Government Departments and many other public agencies. Legislation is obviously required. We will not be able to deal simultaneously with all of the issues to which I have referred. We propose, however, to deal with the immediate issues now and to map out our plan for the future and the arrangements to see through reforms which of necessity will take time to implement.
It seems to me quite clear that, in that  passage, the Minister is admitting that if there are any reforms by way of legislation relating to local Government brought before this House this side of June 1991 they will be of the cosmetic variety only, that there is little or no prospect of any substantial reform. That appears to be the position and the Minister admits that to be the position. If that is the position there is no rational basis for postponing the local elections that should be held this year. Indeed the only reason this Government are postponing those elections is that Fianna Fáil councillors around the country are frightened of facing the electorate to take responsibility for the false promises made by them in the local elections of 1985; also because this Government, contrary to what the Minister has said consistently since becoming Minister in 1987, have undermined local democracy, deprived local authorities of functions they should exercise, or have constrained their finances to such an extent that they have been unable to exercise the functions conferred on them by statute.
It is very curious, at a time when the Taoiseach is parading around Europe as the President of the European Communities, lauding the new found democracies in Eastern Europe, encouraging the electoral process not merely through the formation of governments within Eastern European countries but also in the context of local elections, that this harbinger of democracy, the man who supports perestroika on behalf of the European Communities in Eastern Europe, apparently does not have the same enthusiasm for elections on our shores.
Many, if not all, of the Members on this side of the House in all of the parties represented — I would hope including Independent Deputies — believe that the reason given for the postponement of these elections has absolutely no credibility whatsoever. I say that in the context of the record of this Government. To hear the Minister speak one would think that suddenly around January or February of this year, one night, lying in the bath contemplating his kneecaps, he  discovered that we needed local government reform. One would almost forget that this Minister has been Minister for the Environment in excess of three years. In fact one might well forget that in the Fianna Fáil document “Power Back to the People” — there is a fabulous phrase — “The Fianna Fáil Alternative, Local Elections 1985” promises were made about local government reform. Page 7 of that powerful document entitled Power Back to the People, powerful in everything but implementation, reads, and I quote under the heading “A New Role for the Local Authorities”:
Fianna Fáil believes that the Local Authorities have the potential, if properly directed, to make a major impact on the problems facing the country. We propose: That Local Authorities assume the role of local enterprise agencies, initiating development, linking the operations of state agencies in their areas and stimulating construction, thus helping to tackle the unemployment problem: Greater devolution of functions to Local Authorities: Reform of Local Authority finances involving the abolition of compulsory water and service charges.
What happened to that throughout the length and breadth of the country? What happened to that in Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Wicklow, Wexford and everywhere else where Fianna Fáil councillors are supporting local charges? One might well ask what else did Fianna Fáil commit themselves to? The same document proposed:
...Extension of second-tier local government District Councils, based on re-drawn electoral areas with major towns as focal points and with special provisions for Gaeltacht Electoral areas.
Then there is decentralisation of Government Departments as part of regional development where it said:
That the trend towards extended control by the County Manager system must be reversed by strengthening the  power of the locally-elected representatives who reflect the wishes of the people.
Is not it strange that this document produced by Deputy Molloy, the then Fianna Fáil spokesperson on the Environment, has not seen any of its proposals implemented within the three years of this Minister's political stay in the Department of the Environment? Is it not curious that the radical and astounding mould breaking proposals for the reform of local government that the present Minister for Energy, as chief bottle washer of the Progressive Democrats on this issue has been peddling publicly for the past few weeks, happily coincides with the promises he wrote up for the Fianna Fáil Party for the local elections of 1985? Now we are going to have district councils, less power in the managerial system; we are going to have decentralisation. Here is a mould breaker, a man who peddled a policy in 1985 for Fianna Fáil pretending, in 1990 that it is something new and mould breaking for the Progressive Democrats. Page 9 of that document is headed “Structural Reform” and states:
Fianna Fáil will introduce a major programme of reform which will radically strengthen the local government system. Fianna Fáil believes that democracy itself is greatly strengthened where there is a system of government that recognises the value of local participation in the administration of the wide variety of affairs that affect peoples lives. Fianna Fáil supports the view that strong multi-purpose local authorities with directly elected membership present the most efficient, economic and democratic means of providing public services. Fianna Fáil will retain the existing County Council and County Boroughs as the main unit of local government and will introduce new local representation in all areas throughout the country. These smaller units will consist of rural urban District Councils with representations based on a district rather than on towns, as at present.
 Which member of the Progressive Democrats was saying that again last weekend? The same document continues:
In Government, we will review the boundaries of each electoral area and adjustments will be made where necessary to facilitate the establishment of the new District Councils.
How many district councils has the Minister for the Environment established in Dublin since 1987? How many has he established elsewhere? We are told in this document:
In Dublin, District Councils will be established in each electoral area.
Where are these multiple district councils we were promised? In addition we are told:
Special consideration will be given to the Gaeltacht electoral areas to facilitate the establishment of Gaeltacht District Councils. Membership of all government bodies will be by direct election.
It is very difficult to take seriously what the Minister is now saying. No doubt the Minister will protest and say: “Ah, well in 1985 I was not in Government.” In 1985 some initial changes were effected in the local government system in Dublin and this Minister never followed through to ensure their effectiveness. In Dublin county at present, instead of there being a 78-member county council, there could be three separate local authorities operating in a coherent way making a genuine contribution to local democracy and to their communities. At present the 78 members of Dublin County Council have to manage as best they can in an overcrowded council chamber conducting business in a way that any junior business executive would regard as a monstrosity in taking simple business decisions, whatever about taking decisions that affect the whole of Dublin County.
Fianna Fáil did not leave it at that. We did not hear of local electoral reform in 1985 and then the matter went to sleep. We had a general election in 1987. Lest  it be forgotten that the Minister when appointed to Government, may have forgotten what was said in 1985 we should remind him of what was said in 1987, on page 41 of the Fianna Fáil General Election Manifesto under the heading “Regional Policy” and I quote:
Fianna Fáil believes that local areas can be given a more direct and creative role in contributing towards national recovery. We will resume the implementation of our decentralisation programme with a decentralisation of sections of Government Departments to centres outside the Dublin region. Such a policy will not only reduce regional imbalance in public sector employment but will also help to reduce the pressures on the Dublin region. We will promote the preparation of integrated development programmes in the regions for which EC funding will be available. We will encourage the regions to prepare feasibility studies for the regional programmes to ensure the maximum benefit from national and Community funding. In accordance with our local election document Power Back to the People—
—this document had not been forgotten in 1987 when we were again looking for power for the people—
Fianna Fáil will undertake a comprehensive reorganisation of local government structure. This will include, in addition to the existing county councils and county boroughs, the creation of smaller units based on the district rather than on the town as at present.
Lo and behold, the promises made by Deputy Molloy were carried over by Fianna Fáil at a time when Deputy Molloy was a member of another party, and they formed part of the Fianna Fáil election manifesto. The document went on to state:
In the Dublin region, new district councils will be established within the existing four council areas. Voluntary
 bodies and community councils will be given representation on district council sub-committees.
If we have to adopt a step by step approach and if all the necessary reforms cannot be implemented before June next year, why could a number of the steps in relation to Dublin not have been made during the past three years and why did we not put into place the separate authorities which should have operated in Dublin, the three authorities which would have come out of Dublin County Council, with Dublin Corporation continuing in being?
Why could simple legislation not have been drafted and put through this House to enable voluntary bodies and community councils be represented on district council sub-committees? I could draft such legislation, if required, in the space of an evening——
Mr. Dempsey Mr. Dempsey
Mr. Dempsey: Why did the Deputy not do this when in Government in 1985 and 1987?
Mr. Shatter Mr. Shatter
Mr. Shatter: ——and I assume the Minister's officials could do the same. At least we introduced some reforms in 1985 prior to the local government elections which is more than can be said for the current ministerial incumbent. The document goes on to state that special consideration will be given to Gaeltacht electoral areas. If half of what was promised had been implemented would there not have been outstanding change?
Fianna Fáil went on to say in that document that there was a need for a more creative role for local authorities in the promotion of local enterprise. I am not going to take up the time of the House unduly by reading all of the promises made in 1985 and 1987, none of which have been implemented, but what is contained in those documents mirrors what is being said by Deputy Molloy, the Minister for Energy, who it appears sees himself as the alternative senior Minister for the Environment. This quite clearly indicates that there is not a scintilla of new thinking by the Government on what  local government reform is necessary. It is also clear that nothing has been done during the past three years apart from the appointment of a committee of seven experts. We are grateful to Deputy Molloy for publishing the names of the experts over the weekend, at least a day and a half before the Minister for the Environment got round, through his very efficient public relations officer, to releasing the names. One wonders whether Deputy Molloy handpicked the seven appointees——
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Treacy
An Ceann Comhairle: Let us give Deputy Molloy his proper title in this House: the Minister for Energy.
Mr. Shatter Mr. Shatter
Mr. Shatter: The Minister for Energy, a man with sufficient energy, apparently, not only to run the Department of Energy but also to act as a political locum in the Department of the Environment.
Mr. Carey Mr. Carey
Mr. Carey: He is going well.
Mr. Shatter Mr. Shatter
Mr. Shatter: Over the weekend the Minister for Energy was able to tell us the names of the happy members of this committee, despite the fact that Deputy Gilmore and I failed to elicit those names by way of parliamentary questions only a few days earlier. I suppose we should be grateful to the Minister, Deputy Molloy, for forcing the names into the public arena.
What are that committee of seven experts being asked to do? They are being asked to produce — hey presto, like magic — by next September a plan for the reform of local government for a Government who have no idea of what type of reform is necessary. I have already predicted in the House that there is no prospect of the comprehensive reform of local government which is required taking place or no prospect of legislation coming before this House to enable local elections to go ahead in 1991. I have no doubt that something of a cosmetic nature may be produced or perhaps this time next year the Minister will return to the House with another order  seeking to postpone the local elections for another year and to tell us——
Mr. Carey Mr. Carey
Mr. Carey: Odds on.
Mr. Shatter Mr. Shatter
Mr. Shatter: ——about the complexity of the proposals being considered and the problems being encountered by the parliamentary draftsman in drafting the legislation, in dealing with the technical aspects of it and in coping with the demands being made by what no doubt will be decribed as a dynamic Government with all sorts of legislative ideas. Perhaps we will be told that there is not sufficient parliamentary time in the Dáil to pass the legislation before the end of June or we may get a brief cosmetic Bill which the Minister will rush through; and, taking his heart in his hands, the Minister might dare give the Bill its initial reading in the Seanad if sufficient Fianna Fáil members of the Seanad can be found to allow it to sucessfully pass through the Seanad.
Everything that has been produced and published by the Minister's party and what he has failed to do indicates that there is absolutely no prospect of local government reform of any substance being implemented within the timespan he talks of.
The language used by the Minister this evening is reminiscent of the language used in the 1985 and 1987 election documents. Indeed I suspect the Minister in preparing his speech may have dipped into those documents for the odd idea. There is absolutely no prospect of any new proposals of substance being implemented, but it is also difficult to take seriously the Minister's protests that he believes local authorities should have greater autonomy and wider functions. Not only has the Minister done nothing about implementing the programme of reform promised in the two election documents I have referred to during the course of his three years in office but he has also by his very actions undermined local democracy. There are many examples one could give to show this but I will limit myself to five examples, and  no doubt other Members of this House will produce other examples.
First, shortly after assuming office the Government abolished the regional development organisations at a time when greater regional input into policy development was being insisted upon by the European Commission. This was contrary and at variance with the promises made in the election manifestoes I have referred to. The Government engaged in a cosmetic, consultative process prior to seeking Structural Funds from the European Community and deprived local communities throughout the length and breadth of the country of the opportunity to make a meaningful and influential contribution to the plans submitted to Brussels. Curiously, the Government appointed consultants to make recommendations for the operational programme for the Dublin region. Those consultants who were appointed with the public money have yet to produce a final report on what the European Community operational programme should be. When they do, there is no guarantee that the report will be published and the only way Members of this House know what is contained in the interim report is that large chunks of it were leaked to the national media.
The Government failed to implement the recommendations of the Dáil committee on lottery funding that the allocation of moneys for recreational and amenity purposes should be made by local authorities. Instead the Minister for the Environment has reserved to himself the right to make lottery allocations based on party political preferences.
There is an issue worth saying a little more about. The Minister applied that local authorities should have greater autonomy in relation to recreational and amenity grants. We had a great deal of brouhaha in this House some 18 months ago at the manner in which lottery funds were disbursed by the then Fianna Fáil Government. Indeed, the Minister for the Environment himself was subjected to substantial political attack from Members of the House. In the vanguard of that attack who would we find but  Deputy Harney, who is now the Junior Minister in the Department of the Environment, and Deputy O'Malley, now Minister for Industry and Commerce.
Following the bringing forward of a Bill by the Progressive Democrats to change the way lottery funding would be allocated, an all party committee was formed on which Deputy Harney, the current Junior Minister at the Department of the Environment, represented the Progressive Democrats. That committee said that recreational and amenity grants through lottery funds should be allocated by the local authorities. It said quite explicitly that the Minister for the Environment should not determine what grants are given to individual organisations or groups in local regional areas and that, when it came to allocating money, a block sum should be provided as appropriate to each of the local authorities who themselves should then determine what projects should obtain funding.
It is quite instructive to look at what was said in this House about this issue. If the Minister is truly serious about giving greater autonomy to local authorities it was open to the Government, without legislation, to have allocated block grants through lottery funding to the individual local authorities this year. The Minister for the Environment this year has £6.5 million to allocate. In the Official Report of 26 April 1990, columns 2599 to 2603, we are told that the Minister, having invited local authorities to submit possible proposals to him for lottery funding had 3,968 projects submitted to him the total cost of which comes to £163,073,000. The Minister, therefore, has to sift through 4,000 projects costing in excess of £160 million to determine the allocation of £6.5 million. The Minister was not able to say what criteria would be applied in allocating the funds. He could not say whether particular projects in particular counties would do a bit better than others. Would it depend on which projects his backbenchers recommend to him? None of us knows the answer to that. The Minister, however, could have avoided this farcical approach  to lottery money which lays the Minister open, when he finally makes allocations, to allegations of making them on the basis of political preference.
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Treacy
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy seems to be straying far from the measure before the House. I have allowed him some latitude in the matter but he must appreciate that it is a separate and very distinct matter from the measure before us which deals with the statutory provision for altering the period for the holding of a local election. I want the Deputy to stay with the subject before us.
Mr. Shatter Mr. Shatter
Mr. Shatter: I will conclude on this issue in a couple of minutes. The Minister specifically referred to giving additional powers or to giving autonomy to local authorities with regard to amenity and recreational grants. That got a great deal of support from various Members of this House. It is worth referring to one or two brief quotations because, if the Government are serious about reforming local government, one would have expected some initial act of good faith, some start to have been made this year on the lottery issue. In the Official Report of 8 November 1988 at column 2120 Deputy Harney said:
Fianna Fáil have engaged in the most despicable exercise in gombeen politics ever seen in this country in the way they have handled the allocations from the national lottery. The behaviour of this Government is seriously jeopardising the future of the lottery itself.
The same Deputy said at column 2122:
Another weakness in the present legislation establishing the national lottery is that it allows members of the Government of the day total discretion as to how and to whom the lottery proceeds are allocated. This is very unsatisfactory and has allowed Fianna Fáil to continue to engage in the old style “stroke politics”, and we see that all over the country Ministers and TDs promising and delivering “grants from the national lottery”. Fianna Fáil have  politicised and upset many worthwhile community, sporting and voluntary organisations. The whole merit of the lottery fund is being perverted by this cynical party political exercise as they seek to buy votes.
The lottery is widely supported by many people throughout this country, including people of all political persuasions and those of none. It is not appropriate that this money should ever be allocated on a party political basis and it is only by establishing an independent board of trustees that it can be placed above party politics.
I am not criticising the groups who have already benefited from the national lottery's proceeds. In the main these groups are involved in very worthwhile community activity but they have been forced to exploit the present allocation system in order to get a much needed grant. It is wrong that voluntary and independent organisations are placed in this position. Everyone's application should be decided on the basis of the merits of the case and not on any other basis.
How are these decisions to be made this year? Why could local authorities not have been allowed to make decisions based on the merits of the case? Deputy Harney later on says——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Jim Tunney
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Does it refer to the postponement of the local elections?
Mr. Shatter Mr. Shatter
Mr. Shatter: I will be concluding on this in a moment. It is to do with the Minister stating that he believed that local authorities should have greater autonomy in the making of grants in the recreational and amenity area. I am specifically dealing with that and I referred to the fact that in the area of lottery funding the Minister had an opportunity to implement that as the Oireachtas Joint Committee proposed and he has not done so. I will, in two moments, be finished with that issue.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Jim Tunney
 An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: In so far as that does not affect the existence of the existing local authorities, I cannot see how it would be relevant for too great a time.
Mr. Shatter Mr. Shatter
Mr. Shatter: It is of relevance in the context of the credibility of the case the Minister makes that he is an enthusiastic supporter of greater autonomy for local authorities and local decision making. The point I am trying to make is that the Minister's record is the antithesis of such a commitment. I want to refer to one further quote from Deputy Harney, as she then was, which should be on the record of this House. I will then be moving on to deal with other matters that are pertinent. At column 2124 of the Official Report, on 8 November 1988, Deputy Harney said:
Another weakness with the existing legislation is that there are no clearly laid down criteria for the allocation of the money. For many of the grants there is not even an application form.
I suppose this year there has been an advance. We got an application form.
The criteria required for being grant-aided need to be clearly and publicly specified and all groups making an application need to know in advance the basis on which their application will be considered.
She says, and on this I will conclude, because I could bore the House with endless references:
It would be good to think that the members of the Government could put their constituency considerations aside and make decisions in the national interest. That, however, does not seem to me to be possible for members of the Government.
Now the Minister tells us he wants meaningful local government. Why does this Minister for the Environment and his Junior Minister, Deputy Harney, not give the local authorities the autonomy that is needed to ensure the proper allocation  of lottery funds on a meaningful basis? Why does the Minister continue to centralise this function and retain it as a function to be exercised at his sole discretion on the basis of unknown and unpublished criteria?
Dáil Éireann 398 Local Elections (Specification of Local Election Year) Order, 1990: Motion.