Dáil Éireann - Volume 398 - 15 May, 1990

Private Members' Business. - Local Elections (Specification of Local Election Year) Order, 1990: Motion (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:

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.

—(Minister for the Environment.)

[1602] Mr. Shatter: When we adjourned, I was referring to the inconsistency of approach shown by the Minister for the Environment. In his speech to the House this evening, the Minister indicated some new-found commitment to local government and local democracy. However, I was making the point that not only has the Minister in the three years or more he has been in office done nothing to implement the promised programme of local government reform which his party put to the electorate in both 1985 and 1987 but, by his actions, he has undermined local democracy — I referred to the abolition of the regional development organisations and the cosmetic consultative process that went on with regard to EC Structural Fund programmes and the Government's failure to implement the recommendations of the Dáil committee on lottery funding — that amenity and recreational grants be allocated by local authorities and not by the Minister for the Environment.

There are two other areas that clearly illustrate that the Minister is not merely uninterested in reforming local government but is to some extent contemptuous of local government. Progress is being made in the provision of the Dublin ring-road, but it will take some years before that road will be complete on both the southern and northern cross routes. An extraordinary thing happened last year, the Minister sought tenders for the tolling of portions of the ring road. That may not appear to be of particular relevance to this debate, but it is relevant because that is a reserved function of local authorities, to determine the imposition of tolls on roads. In this instance, the local authority is Dublin County Council. Under the relevant legislation which was enacted by the Oireachtas in 1979, a toll cannot be imposed except by the local authority. If these roads were to be tolled, the correct legal approach should have been that Dublin County Council would consider whether a toll would be implemented. If the council opposed tolling, that would be the end of the matter. If the council favoured tolling, at that stage it should have been Dublin County [1603] Council who should have put it out to tender and Dublin County Council should have been the body entering into draft agreements with a view to providing a toll system.

I am not saying that in no circumstances should we ever toll roads. I think it is appropriate in some circumstances where we require private funding, but is inappropriate in others. Certainly until very recently this was not a proposal to apply to the Dublin ring road. However, instead of allowing a local authority to exercise one of their few independent statutory functions and make a decision in principle as to what should happen with the major ring route around Dublin city and county, the Minister has arrogated to himself the function of imposing a toll on the Dublin ring road. Behind the backs of the elected members of Dublin County Council, the Minister has decided that a toll will be applicable to the road and in effect has surreptitiously introduced what can best be described as a toll tax. That is not consistent with the ministerial statements of commitment to local democracy. In the context of lottery funding, the Minister on foot of a recommendation made by this House and without the enactment of legislation, could have conferred on a local authority power to allocate moneys. In the context of tolling the Dublin ring route, the Minister is ignoring existing legislation which states that such matters are the reserved function of the local authority and in a sense he is arrogating the function to himself and more extraordinarily instructing the officials of the local authority to construct toll booths on sections of the road that have not yet been completed without the matter having been considered by the elected members of Dublin County Council. That is not consistent with the Minister's commitment to local democracy.

My final example — there are many others but I am sure other Members of this House will give such examples — is the whole area of local authority housing. In his speech, the Minister pats himself [1604] on the back for the way in which he has dealt with the funding of local authorities. Implicit in everything he said is that something good is happening in funding local authorities. The reality, as everyone knows, is that local authorities have been substantially starved of funds but, most dramatically, they have been prevented from carrying out their housing functions due to the failure of the Government to allocate sufficient funds for the building of local authority houses. As a result, by the end of this year there will be 25,000 people on the local authority housing waiting list countrywide. There will be fewer than 100 houses built throughout the country by the local authorities. At present there are in excess of 5,000 people on local authority housing lists in Dublin and only 60 new council houses will be built in the Dublin city and county area in 1990. The elected representatives of every local authority have been demanding additional funding — indeed members of his own party, for example in Clare County Council, have passed resolutions to this effect — and this has been ignored by the Minister.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is straying very far from the subject matter before the House. The Deputy is adverting to a variety of matters which are more appropriate to the Estimate for the Minister for the Environment rather than the limited measure before us, the postponement of the local elections.

Mr. Carey: The councillors have forced the Minister to postpone the elections.

Mr. Shatter: The appalling record of this Minister——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has had a lot of latitude from the Chair. I ask him to confine his remarks to the matter before us. Housing, generally, must not be debated under this subject.

Mr. Carey: At their meeting in Athlone, these councillors forced the Minister to postpone the election.

[1605] Mr. Shatter: Panic stricken Fianna Fáil councillors all around the country who are unable to fulfil the promises made are pleading, even by public resolution, with the Minister to provide them with the funds and have prevailed on the Minister to postpone the local elections. The lack of adequate funding for housing is one of the reasons, which the Minister did not refer to in his speech, the elections are being postponed. These issues are very relevant to the reason that this order is before this House as opposed to the presentation the Minister made which suggests that there is some incredible new urgency and commitment on the part of the Government, which has ignored local government reform for three years, to introduce such reform.

The Minister referred to a proposal that there should be a committee of this House to look at the whole area of local government reform. He said that some Members of this House were not agreeable to the formation of such a committee. Again, the Minister was only giving part of the story. He was being somewhat brief in explaining the reality of the situation. What the Minister did not tell this House — and I presume he was referring to the Fine Gael Party — is that the Fine Gael Party were quite happy to participate in a Dáil committee to look at local government reform on condition that an additional committee would be established to deal with the area of national and local taxes, so that the means of funding local authorities in the future in a coherent way could be comprehensively examined, so that independent funding arrangements could be considered that would not result in an overall increase in the tax take but which would obviously result in a lesser amount of tax being taken by way of national taxation and some moneys being identified to be diverted to local authorities.

While the Minister and his party apparently wanted to put together a committee that would consider local government structures and financing, they wanted local government financing to be considered in isolation and not in the context of an overall package. Of course, the [1606] reason for that was the promise made by Fianna Fáil in 1985 to abolish local charges, a promise they did not keep. What the Minister wanted was to establish a committee not to seriously consider the proper funding of local authorities or their structures but to shield Fianna Fáil from public anger for promoting the additional taxes they were intent on promoting until the poll tax debacle across the water made them realise they would not get away with it. What the Minister wanted was a political insurance policy, a committee that would talk of the need for local authorities to have independent funding, and then blame the Opposition parties for any additional taxation measures that were implemented while taking no responsibility for ensuring a consequent reduction in national taxation.

You cannot properly reform local government without ensuring local government has proper independent funding and discretion in the raising of funding. You cannot provide for additional local taxes without giving a guarantee that there would be a consequent reduction in the national tax take because people are overtaxed already. The Government were not willing to approach this matter in a comprehensive way. They wanted the committee to be a convenient political vehicle to take them off a political hook on which they impaled themselves and on which Deputy Molloy, the current Minister for Energy, impaled himself in the local government policy document produced in 1985. It is very difficult to take seriously this Minister shedding crocodile tears about the nonformation of this committee. The Minister knows he was caught out and that is why the committee was not formed. The bona fides of the Government in establishing such a committee would have been a great deal strengthened if, in other areas, they had not illustrated a total lack of willingness to formulate Dáil and Oireachtas committees.

Only a few short weeks ago the Government voted in unison against the formation of a foreign affairs committee. Only a few short weeks ago when the [1607] Government voted against the Environment Protection Agency Bill they also voted against the establishment of a Oireachtas Joint Committee on the environment. The Government will not even agree, despite the major problems in this area, to an Oireachtas committee to consider the reform of extradition laws. They have not yet established the committee on crime, lawlessness and vandalism despite the Taoiseach promising it. I do not believe any Member of this House or the general public should take seriously the Minister being critical of Opposition parties for not participating in a committee which was designed to provide him with a political umbrella to protect him from the lash of the electorate in local government elections for the non-fulfilment of 1985 promises. If all those committees, or even some of them, had been established, perhaps members of the Opposition would have regarded the Minister's proposal with a good deal more credibility than is the case.

I regret that the local elections will be postponed. The political representation on local authorities throughout the country no longer reflects the views of the local communities they represent. Many people are appalled at the failure of Fianna Fáil controlled local authorities to implement the many false promises made in the 1985 local elections. In Dublin there is considerable public opposition to the many scandalous planning decisions railroaded through Dublin County Council by a Fianna Fáil majority, undermining the County Dublin development plan. Indeed, in Dublin County Council we still have the curious anomaly of having a junior Minister of a Government who wants to reform local authorities — I speak of Deputy Harney, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment — who will not resign as a member of Dublin County Council and does not attend meetings of the council. That is making a mockery of the operation of Dublin County Council. This is from a mould-breaking party that do not believe Ministers should be members of [1608] Government and local authorities simultaneously. This particular mould breaker in the Department of the Environment seems to find it politically impossible to extricate herself from membership of Dublin County Council. Of course, here non-presence in the council facilitates the Fianna Fáil majority group in putting through material contraventions which undermine the County Dublin development plan, the vast majority of which has absolutely no real planning merit. That is a strange piece of mould breaking.

The general electorate are entitled to have local government elections this year. I have given a number of reasons local authorities no longer reflect the political views of the people they represent. I have given a series of reasons I believe if we had local elections this year there would be a substantial reduction in the Fianna Fáil membership on local authorities and, of course, that is the Minister's fear. I have absolutely no doubt that following the local elections Fine Gael would form the majority group in a large number of local authorities currently controlled by Fianna Fáil or in which Fianna Fáil are currently the majority grouping.

Another reason — and the Minister is aware of it — his colleagues on local authorities would not do well in local elections is the increasing public anger at the substantial increase in mortgage interest rates, the Government's failure to confront the issue and fully restore the mortgage interest relief. I will say no more about that because the Ceann Comhairle rightly wants to confine this debate, but that is a very substantial issue at the doors. People are asking why their mortgages have increased to such an extent in the last 12 months and why the mortgage interest relief has not been fully restored. The Minister in the House this evening, who gave the reason for reducing interest relief as the decrease in interest rates in 1988, will not now restore it to its previous rate. Of course there is another issue about which people are confused. They look incredulously at the public bickering between the Government parties about extradition, the [1609] abdication of political responsibility and the failure——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is straying very far from the subject matter.

Mr. Shatter: ——of the Government to agree to a mechanism of legislation to provide for the extradition of terrorists.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Shatter, please desist.

Mr. Shatter: The electorate are entitled to an opportunity, through the ballot box in local elections, to express their views on these issues. Fine Gael believe the local elections should be held this year to coincide with the presidential election and we have tabled a Bill to this effect. From the informal soundings I have had, I know that Bill has the support of Members of the various Opposition parties. I would now ask the Minister to reconsider this matter on his own admission this evening that the many reforms required in local government cannot be put in place before June 1991. I suspect, as I said previously, that the Minister will postpone the elections until June 1992 and I would ask him to change his mind. He has shown on other legislation — such as the Planning Bill — that he is willing to be flexible when something is seriously wrong. The Minister got it wrong. The local and Presidential elections should be held simultaneously next autumn, and they can if, instead of passing this motion this evening, the Government would lend their support to the Private Members' Bill published by Fine Gael ten days ago. That would be a real exercise in local democracy. At a time when we are encouraging democracy in Eastern Europe we would be allowing people to exercise their democratic right to ballot if the Presidential and local elections coincided. This would also ensure that there would not be an unnecessary waste of public money by holding two elections within an eight month period. The Government's denial of support for the Fine Gael Bill and their bringing before this House the order we are debating this [1610] evening is a further illustration of their contempt for local democracy.

An Ceann Comhairle: Before calling on Deputy Howlin may I advise the House that the debate on the issue before us is due to conclude at 11.30 p.m. I observe that no provision has been made for the Minister for the Environment to reply to this debate. I feel the House would like to hear from him in that regard and I am suggesting, with your approval, that the Minister be called on to reply to the debate at say, 11.10 p.m. Is that satisfactory?

Mr. Howlin: I suggest 11.15 p.m.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Howlin: I am mindful of your last comment that we are in a limited debate. I am anxious that as many Members as possible should have an opportunity to express their views on this most important subject. I am delighted to have the opportunity to say a few words in the name of the Labour Party, saddened though I am that the subject matter is the denial of the democratic right of the people to voice an opinion good, bad or indifferent, on the performance of local authorities throughout the length and breadth of the land.

First, I should like to say that the way we are being asked to make a decision is anti-democratic. It was my intention to table an amendment to this motion to enable the House to arrive at a rational decision on this matter but, unfortunately, it is not possible to amend the Minister's proposition. Therefore, the question before the House is simply whether the Dáil will accept or reject the Minister's motion.

The only choice open to us is a ludicrous one. I would have found it acceptable and sensible if we were to discuss postponing the local elections until later in the year so that we could have the local and Presidential elections together. That would be a cogent and rational case for a postponement of the June date. The [1611] Minister would have had a reasonable case to make to the House, and could have expected reasonable support from the Opposition benches, to save money and allow the people to exercise their democratic right in two elections on the same day. Under the archaic way this House does business, that was simply not possible.

Apparently, it is not possible for us to have the Presidential election and the local elections on the same day without amending legislation. That amending legislation is not necessarily complex, and certainly there appears to be a consensus that this side of the House would facilitate the Government in enacting it should they wish to do so. Unfortunately, the Government have rejected that offer and have not taken on board the necessity to allow people to express their democratic will on local administration and the presidency at the same time. The people have long been denied the facility and the right to voice an opinion both in relation to the Presidency and the local authorities which govern local affairs in towns, cities and counties.

Tonight each member must vote to have the local elections in a month's time or in 13 months time, with no opportunity to consider a more rational and thought-out approach. Against that background the Labour Party will vote against confirmation of the Ministerial order at the conclusion of this debate. We will do so because we are convinced that the only reason this order is before us is that the two parties in Government are afraid to face the electorate, are afraid to face up to the needs of local authorities in a meaningful or proper way.

No doubt, during the course of this debate there will be a great deal of talk from the Government benches about the need for local government reform. In fact the Minister in his opening contribution dealt at some length with that urgent need. We have heard it all before and no amount of huffing and puffing from that side of the House will convince me that this Government are acting out of anything other than a spirit of cowardice.

[1612] The issue of local democracy and local reform is trotted out here when we are within sight of a local election. As soon as that danger seems to have passed, we can forget and coveniently shelve the issue until the next time the people come close to having the right to express a democratic view. This is from the same Government, from the same Taoiseach who in his capacity as President of the European Council has been glorying in the outbreak of democracy in Eastern Europe. He has been extracting as much mileage as he can — fair play to him — from the promises to support the processes of democracy in the Eastern bloc as they try to scramble towards a democratic procedure which will enable them to have a view on how their municipalities, regions and nations are governed.

Democracy, apparently, is a wonderful notion, a marvellous view for the Taoiseach to embrace, and for this Coalition Administration to embrace, as long as it is happening 2,000 miles away. Surely this Government can see that there is an unanswerable case for holding the local elections this year. It is now five years since the local elections were last held. The people have an inalienable right to pass judgment on the way their local authorities have been treating them and have been running their affairs in those five years. That right is now being taken away from them at the stroke of a ministerial pen and the people who are being disenfranchised will not forget that.

I listened with a wry smile to the Minister's contribution when he said that the structures which are 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 notion. There are some on the Government benches who still regard democracy as a slightly dangerous notion which cannot be thrust upon the people of Ireland, so they run scared from the fact that they might be asked to give an opinion on Fianna Fáil performance in local government to the backdrop of a [1613] litany of broken promises from their local government manifesto of 1985.

The right to vote in local elections is being taken away not for one year but for two years. I challenge the Minister or any Government speaker tonight to give the House a categoric assurance that we will not be here again in one year's time debating another ministerial order. Will one Government contributor state categorically that the local elections will be held in June 1991? I do not believe we will get such assurance. Already it is possible to predict the excuses that will be trotted out in 12 months' time, that the process of reform will not have gone as planned, that difficulties have arisen, or the legislation now being recommended is taking longer to prepare than had originally been expected, or, perhaps, it will then be necessary to look at the local government boundaries. Whatever the excuse, nobody ought to be fooled.

The only decision this Government have made about local elections is that they must be postponed for as long as is legally possible in order to save Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats the embarrassment of a hammering at the polls, to save the skins of hundreds of Fianna Fáil councillors and to give the Progressive Democrats some chance of halting their slide into oblivion. No doubt there will be a great deal of high sounding talk here tonight about the process of reform. We have had some comment on that already, about the expert group who have now been appointed to help plan and map out that intricate, complex and involved process. An expert group is all very well, and these are highly skilled, talented, experienced individuals with a wealth of local government experience between them and I have no doubt they will produce a report that will make very interesting reading. The Minister himself might even read it before he puts it on a shelf to gather dust with all the others.

I want to comment briefly on the Government's original proposal and that of the Minister to establish an Oireachtas all party committee. I found a good deal [1614] of merit in that proposal and, despite Deputy Shatter's comments, I understand only one party in this House refused to participate in that committee. A great deal of good work could have been done on a consensus basis. The committee system is a good one and we should try as far as practicable to divorce the conflict that exists in this House and try to reach a consensus on issues that are difficult and complex, such as local government reform, that have been addressed inadequately by several Administrations over many years. I regret that that initiative did not bear fruit, that we are not sitting around a table on an all party basis. Even if the committee were to break down after six months, the experiment would have been worth trying. Had we been successful, as we were on other issues, it would have been a real mould-breaking experience where other thorny, difficult and important issues could have been addressed in a constructive way by all party committees of this House; but that was not to be.

Fine Gael decided that was a political risk they were not prepared to take and, for whatever reasons, they decided they would put down conditions that would make it impossible for it to work. That opportunity was missed; I regret that. It would have been an interesting experiment. The alternative being adopted by the Government is far less desirable. Now we will have a report that will emanate substantially from the parties in Government and the input from those of us on the Opposition benches who have a passionate, genuine interest in the issue of local government will be denied its full impact.

I would have been interested if the Minister's group of experts had come from a wider spectrum. It would have been interesting had he included a local authority tenant or, better still, somebody from a local authority waiting list. How much more insight would we get into the value of the local authority service if we were in a position to hear from someone who suffers from water shortages, old people who have seen [1615] their library service decimated or people who have been put at risk of fire because of the chronic understaffing of the fire services. It is good to see that the Minister is awake.

Mr. Flynn: To that kind of tripe, yes.

Mr. Howlin: If only the Minister would listen to some contributions from this side of the House. Is the Minister telling us there is no understaffing in the fire service, that there is no housing list, that there are no chronic shortages and that nobody suffers because the library service is cut? Is that what he is saying? If that is what he believes he is living in an ivory tower, as the vast majority of the people believe. I hoped he had retained some semblance of a link with reality, but apparently even that has slipped from him.

If the Government and this Minister were prepared to listen to people who have developed expertise as a result of suffering and hardship in their local areas they would get a different message — that reform of local government is all very well, that it is a great idea, high faluting as it is, but the first thing people need is a restoration of basic, reasonable levels of existing services. The Minister has presided over the decimation of local democracy. He has squeezed every local authority for every last shilling, and services people took for granted over generations have been disappearing under his stewardship. It is about time he realised that and took responsibility for it.

I read with a wry smile the Minister's contribution here tonight. He talked about our existing local authority system which has ensured that an adequate road network was extended throughout the State. Does he really believe that? He said housing has been provided for those in need. Does he not know the housing crisis he is presiding over? Does he not know that at this moment in my home town of Wexford there are 194 applicants for housing, that, for the first time in the three years, he has been allocating [1616] money to build houses — 20 for the 194 applicants this year — we have not moved from our 1987 priority list?

It is very comforting for the Minister to feel content about this, but people on the waiting list in Wexford and every other town and county are not so smug or content. The Minister might refer to his Minister of State who received a deputation on that matter in recent weeks and gave us some hope that he might find some resources to redress the terrible hardship suffered by those people. They are cold statistics that I can read out, but the reality underlying those cold statistics is that people are living in grotty, filthy, insanitary habitation, in flats up three, four and five flights of stairs, trying to raise children without proper sanitation or water supply. That is the reality that underscores the figures I have just given.

The Minister talks about our wonderful road system. Does he not know that in my county alone the county engineer has estimated it will take £8 million to bring the county road system up to any semblence of reasonableness? Last year at the estimates' meeting the county manager was genuinely floating the notion of abandoning some of our county roads and erecting notices to the effect, “motorists travel on this road at their own risk; it has been abandoned by Wexford County Council”.

It is time the Minister clued in to the realities of local government and the crises that face ordinary people in their everyday lives. No matter where one looks our local authority services are in a state of crisis and nowhere is the crisis more obvious than in regard to housing. Increasingly, this is the core of family poverty and it will remain a fundamental problem as long as we have a Government who do not recognise the need for including a provision for public housing. The Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, and the Minister of State, Deputy Harney, who are present, have presided over a housing allocation in next year's Estimate which is basically a fraud. The allocation to local authorities of £6 million by the State will enable them to build between 250 and 300 dwellings.

[1617] It has been said that local authorities can build up to £45 million worth of local authority houses next year provided they raise the money themselves. How is it proposed to do that? Local authorities can raise that money by selling off the housing stock they own to sitting tenants. The Minister, in his great gesture to deal with the real needs of those who do not have houses, proposes to allow local authorities to spend their own money. My response to that is, big deal. On average each local authority house sold will yield between £12,000 and £15,000, and a lot less in rural areas. In Dublin, for instance, it will cost Dublin Corporation £50,000 to replace that house.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy but he seems to be going into a lot of detail in respect of housing. A fleeting reference would be in order but the detail he is now entering should be left to the debate on the Estimate for the Department of the Environment.

Mr. Howlin: Despite the provocations of the Minister I will try to keep within the terms of the motion.

Mr. Flynn: The Deputy does not know what provocation is.

Mr. Howlin: The Minister is so out of touch that he is capable of anything.

Mr. Carey: The Minister ought to move to this side of the House to get details of the problems facing our people.

Mr. Flynn: Is the Deputy so sure?

Mr. Howlin: The Minister may laugh on any occasion I refer to housing lists — I will not refer to this in detail in deference to the wishes of the Chair — but many people will feel a great sense of hurt when they hear that the Minister for the Environment laughed at the litany of hardship I expressed in the House.

Mr. Flynn: The Deputy is well aware of what I am laughing at.

[1618] Mr. Howlin: This is an indication of the degree of the Minister's care and response to the real needs of people. That will not be lost upon them. It copperfastens the reason we are debating this motion. The cynicism that underscores the motion, the cynicism that led to the presentation of a fraudulent document to the people in the 1985 local elections, and later in the 1987 general election, will rebound on the Government when they face the electorate again. They cannot hide for ever.

The real scandal in this is that the Government are hoping that these problems will go away. They are hoping that emigration will solve the problem. Waiting lists would not be as long if young couples did what the Minister wants them to do, leave the country. Fianna Fáil wait and hope that the rest of this social problem will be driven away but there are hundreds of families living in overcrowded conditions and losing hope day by day of ever getting decent accommodation.

Side by side with the housing problem is the increasing ghettoisation of many urban areas. In parts of our major cities there is 75 per cent unemployment and we are aware of the social implications of that. One of the main reasons that tenants in those areas who have jobs have moved away is that they are tired of trying to cope with bad planning, lack of amenities, crime and other evils that go hand in hand with deprivation and the collapse of community spirit. In the sixties housing was a major political issue and it will be again in the nineties. The Minister for the Environment, the Minister of State and their respective political parties, will share the blame for that between them.

We must remember that many local authorities have been forced to increase rents for existing tenants by between 5 and 10 per cent this year. That increase is considerably more than the rate of inflation. Rent increases of that magnitude are totally unjustified in the first place because they exceed the rate of inflation and, secondly, because the differential rent scheme is supposed to [1619] reflect income levels. This means few, if any, local authority tenants will have benefited by income increases of 10 per cent last year. Those increases bear out what the Labour Party said in the debate on the budget — that by the time the social welfare increases announced in the budget reached the people they were intended for their value would already have disappeared. The latest imposition on people who are poor will in no way be deflected by the social welfare increases offered by the Government.

Indeed, it seems that the Government regard local authorities as little more than a vehicle for their own particular petty politics. One example is the way the Government have treated local authorities in the context of the national lottery. The last speaker, Deputy Shatter, dealt with that issue at some length and I do not intend to repeat his argument. The argument put in place by the Coalition Government to try to persuade the public that there was now an element of accountability in the mangement of the national lottery moneys has been exposed as a sham whenever one looks at the role local authorities — I am a member of two — are asked to play in this context. All around the country local authorities, who are supposed to have processed applications for lottery grants under the amenities schemes, are parcelling them up and sending them to the Minister for the Environment without any attempt at making recommendations or prioritising the applications.

In this way more than £160 million worth of applications have been sent to Dublin where they will have to compete, one against another, for the Minister's attention. Almost £5 million worth of applications have been sent by Dublin County Council and at least the same amount will be sent by Dublin Corporation. Applications from every corner of the country will compete for £6.5 million worth of lottery money. People's expectations have been built up and, worse than that, a sham has been created that local authorities have some input [1620] into the system. Local authorities will be there to give the rejects the bad news but the Minister is allowed to give successful applicants the good news.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I should like to ask the Deputy to indicate how he can relate his contribution to the order to postpone the local elections. Local authorities, with all their faults, real or alleged, are going to remain and Deputy Howlin is making a rather telling and constructive contribution criticising their functions. However, it is not appropriate to develop that in this debate.

Mr. Howlin: It is very difficult to deal with a motion which seeks to defer local elections and not to refer to the functions and duties of local authorities. If we are to contribute within the confines directed by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle we will be dealing with the date and nothing else. I am trying to elaborate on the Minister's script in which he referred to the road network, housing and so on.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I read the Minister's speech and I did not see a reference to the lottery in it.

Mr. Howlin: I am endeavouring to make a case against the Minister's contention that the local elections be deferred. I do not think they should be postponed and I am trying to make a cogent case in that regard. I am trying to elaborate on the reasons for the people having an opportunity to express a view on existing local structures and personnel.

The reason no effort is being made by local authorities to give priority to the applications made by the Minister is simply that they do not perceive themselves as having any function in the matter. That is the long and the short of it. I have talked about housing, roads and the lottery and they all point to the real crisis. If the Minister doubts there is a crisis he should talk to Fianna Fáil members of the local authority on which I sit or indeed to members of any other local authority because the crisis is not [1621] confined to any county or borough council. It exists everywhere.

The Government have talked about long term reform but the truth is that there is now a crisis in local authorities and it will get worse each year as local authorities are increasingly squeezed. We all know that reform is necessary, that there is an unanswerable case for it, particularly for the sort of reform that devolves power downwards. My personal instinct is to start from the premise that everything should devolve to the lowest level, that one should have to make a case for keeping it central.

Fianna Fáil's record over the past 13 years in regard to local government has been shameful. They began the process of running down local authorities with their 1977 manifesto. They fought against the reform which Deputy Kavanagh introduced as Minister for the Environment. They have consistently belittled the role of local authorities, planning development, the role of the control of the physical planning process and have fought tooth and nail against the depoliticisation of the planning process brought about by Deputy Spring when he was Minister for the Environment. There is little reason to hope that the Government will ever commit themselves to meaningful reform. The only true value of promises about reform is to enable Fianna Fáil and their allies to run away from the electorate as far as they can. However, last year in the general election the fraud which they had perpetrated on the people was recognised. No matter how fast the Minister, Deputy Flynn, and his friends run, the electorate will eventually catch up with them.

Mr. Gilmore: The postponement of the local elections has been coming for some time. On 20 September last I stated publicly it was my belief that the local elections — which were due to be held in June 1990 — would be postponed. My remarks were dismissed by Government sources and when I sought to raise the issue at Question Time in the Dáil the [1622] Minister and the Minister of State dismissed any suggestion that the local elections would be postponed.

It was perfectly clear to anybody that the Government's intention from the very beginning was to postpone the 1990 local elections. That intention was signalled in the Programme for Government which talked about the establishment of an Oireachtas committee on local government reform which would report within 12 months. Even if the committee had been established last July when the Government were formed they would still not have reported before the local elections were due to take place and, therefore, the scene was already set for their postponement.

In any event it has taken nine months for the Government to finally declare they will not establish the joint committee. I do not accept that the reason for not establishing an Oireachtas committee was the refusal of the Fine Gael Party to participate in it. The Government at the very least were half-hearted about their intention to establish an Oireachtas committee on local government reform although I regret the fact that Fine Gael decided not to participate in it. By doing so they have abdicated their Opposition role and have made a very serious mistake because they have now allowed a situation to develop whereby the discussion of local government reform — such as it will be — will take place in private between a select group of Government Ministers and a special committee. Fine Gael have missed an opportunity of having the issue of local government reform debated in the open. They could have presented the Government with an ideal opportunity of coming in here with a fait accompli on new local government structures and functions.

There is a sense of déjà vu about this debate. Six years ago the House heard virtually the same debate. In 1984 the then Government decided to postpone local elections and their imaginative reason for doing so was remarkably similar to that advanced tonight. Indeed the speeches made then in support of the motion to postpone local elections bear [1623] a very striking resemblance to the sentiments contained in the Minister's speech.

It is worth reflecting on what happened since 1984. Prior to the 1985 local elections we got a very badly thought out, cobbled together reorganisation of local government, mainly for the Dublin area, establishing four new councils in Dublin. Elections were held on that basis and, since then, it died. Legislation was not introduced to give effect to the reason for local government elections being postponed in 1984. A number of questions must be asked in that regard. Deputy Shatter asked half the questions, relating to the period of time between February 1987 to date. He wanted to know why the Fianna Fáil Government from February 1987 to June 1989 did not legislate for local government reform or why, even since the last general election, no steps were taken to introduce reform in local government.

The other question which must be asked is why the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition between 1985 — when the local elections were held — and February 1987 when the Government went out of office, did not legislate for local government reform. Why, for example, has it taken almost a year to bring forward a committee to examine the question of local government reform? Very simply the answer is that local government reform is not viewed at all as a political priority. Rather it is something that is hauled out when there are local elections looming in order to justify their postponement. It has happened twice within a period of six years — two different Governments on two different occasions have postponed local elections with the promise that there will be a reform of local government.

The reality is that local elections are being postponed for political reasons. First, Fianna Fáil councillors throughout the country are still champing at the bit over the Fianna Fáil Coalition with the Progressive Democrats. They have to be thrown a bone to demonstrate that the dog is still wagging the tail. Second, Fianna Fáil secured control of a number [1624] of councils at the 1985 local elections — when there was, at that time, a swing against the Government — on the promise that they would abolish water charges, a promise they have not kept. They are now holding on desperately to power in those local councils and are fearful that the electorate will wreak their vengeance on them because of their failure to implement those promises.

Third, there is the matter of the rezoning of land. Many local authorities are still in the process of reviewing their development plans. Fianna Fáil majority councils, in order to re-zone land, need to retain control of those councils. The holding of local elections in 1990 and the removal from power of Fianna Fáil councils would disturb that objective. Therefore, as Fianna Fáil see it, there is a necessity to postpone local elections long enough to enable the completion of the review of development plans and the re-zoning of land that will take place in that process, indeed the transforming into millionaires of people who, in some cases, may be supporters of Fianna Fáil.

Where do the Progressive Democrats fit into this picture? They have said publicly they are in favour of holding local elections although they have said so somewhat tongue in cheek. Any observer of last weekend's conference would have to accept that the game plan so far as the Progressive Democrats are concerned is to allow themselves more time to rebuild their organisation. Clearly the holding of local elections in 1990 would be too early from their point of view.

Therefore, it seems that the reasons for the postponement of local elections have very little to do with the need to reform local government but rather a very great deal to do with political considerations. However, since the Minister has stated that it is his intention to reform local government and this is why local elections have been postponed, we need to examine that contention somewhat further. The question of the reform of local government has been in the air for a very long time. It is 20 years since the Government White Paper on the reform of local government was published. The [1625] present Minister has come into the House and told us that the reform of local government has really been talked about since the foundation of the State, that legislation enacted in the 19th century, 100 years old, has been toyed with at different times, that the issue of local government reform first raised publicly by a Government in the early seventies, which Governments have approached and pulled back from with varying degrees of enthusiasm since then, suddenly will be achieved between now and the end of February 1991. Quite frankly I do not believe that timescale is feasible.

There have been many reasons for the non-implementation of reform of local government. One is that the reform of local government is extremely complex. There are many interests in the local government area that must be consulted. There are elected members, the General Council of County Councils, the Association of Municipal Authorities in Ireland, LAMA, of course now the Fianna Fáil councillors organisation; there are the local authority managers, the various trade unions representing local authority personnel at different levels. There are wider community interests, the Association of Combined Residents Association, an Taisce, many interests who would inevitably have to be consulted if real reform of local government is to be achieved. The Minister knows very well, for example, when talking about the restructuring of local authorities, that if for no other reason, the Programme for National Recovery to which the Government are committed, commits them to having discussions with the trade unions about its consequences for local authority staff. He knows very well that if he does not do so the prospects of achieving local government reform are quite remote. When replying I would like to hear from him, in practical terms, as to how he proposes carrying out the extensive range of consultations inevitably necessary with different interests in local government in order to have legislation not just before but through this House by the end of February 1991.

[1626] Mr. Carey: Since he will not even meet a deputation how can he consult with anybody?

Mr. Lawlor: He is too busy doing good work.

Mr. Gilmore: Then there is the question of boundaries, a complex issue. In the 92 years since the 1898 Local Government Act, for example, urban boundaries have been altered on five occasions only. Now apparently the extensive alteration of local authority boundaries will all be done within the space of a few months. There is also the question of functions which has to be addressed, the thorny question of section 4 vis-à-vis the planning process and the question of finance. There is the question of re-organisation which might inevitably involve relocation of offices, the establishment of new town-halls and so on. All of those areas will have to be addressed if there is to be real re-organisation of local government. I find it very difficult to believe that all of that will be achieved within the very limited timescale the Minister has set himself. Of course, it is possible he may attempt to do so. But if he attempts to do so and we find ourselves here next autumn with a Bill to reform local government, it will not be one which will deal with the re-organisation of local government in a comprehensive way; rather it will have been hurried and ultimately will not work. I believe that such an attempt to re-organise local government would fail, just as did the attempt in 1984.

In any event, even if there is a genuine intent on the part of the Government to reform local government, there would be no need to postpone local elections in order to do so. First, the postponement of local elections is a denial of democracy, a denial of people's rights to pass judgment on local representatives elected in 1985.

If there is one thing the public seek more than local government reform probably it is a change of some of their local representatives elected in 1985. It would have been possible to have held [1627] local elections this year. It would even have been possible for the Minister to have introduced a brief amendment of the 1973 Local Elections Act which could have provided that the local elections to be held in 1990 would be for a period of time up to the putting in place of re-organised local government structures. That would have carried the added advantage of the Minister having available to him the opinions of recently elected members of local authorities, members with a new mandate, not a five-year-old one, who might have some input into the way in which local government should be re-organised. It would be far more democratic to hold the local elections this year and get on with the business of reforming local government in a rational way over a period of years which is what it is likely to take. I have put down an amendment to the Government motion which you will probably want to deal with later, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, which calls for the local elections to be held——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I think the Deputy is aware the amendment has been ruled out of order.

Mr. Gilmore: I did not expect you to break the news so soon. In the nature of things the Government motion before us will be passed and the local elections will be postponed; for how long remains to be seen but I share the concerns expressed by Deputy Shatter and Deputy Howlin that next year it is likely there will be a further motion seeking to further postpone the local elections.

We have to address the question of the reform of local government. Having regard to the fact that the Minister has offered this as his reason for postponing the local elections there are a few comments I would like to make about it. First, no one doubts the need for local government reform. The present system is borrowed from the 19th century. For example, town commissioners were appointed under an Act which is now 140 years old, with the main legislation going [1628] back to 1898. Local government structures take no account of the changes which have occurred during the past century, in particular the fundamental change from a predominantly rural society to a predominantly urban one.

It is interesting to note that the last urban district councils to be established, in Athy and Naas, were established on April Fool's Day, 1900. Since we gained independence the legislation put in place on local government has, if anything, made the system of local government more undemocratic. The 1940 County Management Act and the 1955 City and County Management (Amendment) Act effectively transfer power to appointed officials rather than to elected members. In 1978, domestic rates were abolished and the commitment given to local authorities that the rates support grant would be equal to the amount that would have been collected by the local authorities in rates was not fulfilled. The 1983 Financial Provisions Act further eroded the powers of local authorities.

In addition, there has been a gradual erosion and centralisation of powers in the local government-Environment area. Local authorities can do little or nothing without first getting the express approval of the Department of the Environment. Despite all the rhetoric about the need to restore life to local government, it is remarkable that all the legislation the Minister has brought before the House requires local authorities to get the express approval of the Department of the Environment in carrying out their functions.

The general public have expressed their discontent with the situation and it is interesting to note that the turn-out at local elections is little more than 50 per cent. It is also interesting to note that the turn-out is lower the bigger and more remote the authority. For example, the turn-out for the election of town commissioners is higher than it is for the election of Dublin Corporation or Dublin County Council. As a result, we have the most centralised system of local government anywhere in Europe. What passes for local government in this country is [1629] out of date, unrepresentative, bureaucratically controlled, is tied to the Department of the Environment and is inefficient in the delivery of services. The staffs of local authorities are demoralised and the general public are alienated from local authorities while reform is long overdue.

The question is, what kind of reform are we going to get. I would like the Minister when replying to state what terms of reference have been given both to the Government committee and the special committee of experts set up under that committee. Will the interests involved have the right to make submissions to these committees? What consideration will be given to these submissions?

Will hearings be held to get the opinions of various interests within the local government area and what consultations will take place with the elected members of local authorities, the organisations representing the elected members of local authorities, the unions representing local government staffs and organisations representing consumers?

What we need is a radically new approach to the idea of local democracy. Altering a few boundaries here and there and tampering with functions and finances is not enough. We are living in a time when democracy is the issue of the day and people everywhere are demanding the right to exercise control over their own lives and environment. What passes for local government in Ireland hardly fits the bill. The election turn-out of little over 50 per cent, the alienation of and hostility towards local authorities hardly show that there is a great deal of confidence in the present system of local government. It is not enough to think only in terms of representative structures as people increasingly want to be involved and participate in government. Therefore, when the question of reform of local government is being considered, there needs to be a shift towards a more participative form of democracy in which people can be directly and democratically involved in the protection of their environment, the making of planning [1630] decisions, and the management of housing estates and local facilities.

We need to elevate local democracy in this country to a point at which it will not only be concerned about potholes and sewers but also about every other service provided by the public and private sectors. We need a new approach to local democracy with people having power and a sense of control over their own lives. While it is quite clear the Government have no intention of holding the local elections in conjunction with the Presidential election, there is one thing they could do in conjunction with the Presidential election and that is they could address the omission in the Constitution which makes no reference to local government or local democracy. The confidence of Members of this House, members of local authorities and the general public in the Government's commitment to the concept of local democracy and local government would be strengthened if an amendment to the Constitution was advanced at the time of the Presidential election which would guarantee local government and the principle of local democracy under the Constitution.

Our form of representation in local government is one of the worst in Europe. I am glad that Dr. T.J. Barrington is to be appointed to the committee of experts as he has done a great deal of work in comparing our system of local government with those in other European countries. For example, he has pointed out that there are far more tiers of local government in other European countries, ranging from regional government to county and district local government right down to municipal or parish local government. He has further pointed out that there are far more councils and indeed councillors in other European countries and he makes the point that while we are one of the biggest spenders among the member states of the OECD, along with the Scandinavian countries, we are among the lowest spenders when it comes to the proportion of gross domestic product spent at local level. Let [1631] me quote from something Dr. Barrington said at a recent seminar:

The Council of Europe have published a table of the proportion of GDP spent by local authorities in 16 of their member states in 1981. The four at the top of the table are Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Holland, in that order. And the four at the bottom? Why, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece, in that order. When we recall that in 1981 Portugal, Spain, and Greece were barely recovering from the crushing of all democracy in their countries, the ranking of Ireland, 13th of 16, is not very distinguished.

Another test is the opportunities available to citizens to take part in the process of government via popular election. This depends, apart from the national parliament, on the number of elective bodies at the regional and local levels. We have in the Republic 115 elective bodies as against about 300 each in Denmark and Sweden, some 450 in Norway and 750 in the Netherlands. In other small countries, Austria has 9 Lander and some 2,300 local authorities; Switzerland has 26 cantons and half cantons and about 3,400 local authorities. Of the larger countries France has 22 regions, 95 home departments, 325 sub-departments or arron-dissements, 3,075 cantons and over 36,000 communes. These elect something like half a million councillors. In West Germany there are 11 Lander, over 300 counties and their equivalents, and more than 8,400 geme-inden, or municipalities.

In fact we compare very poorly.

Mr. Howlin: It is very interesting.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: All the contributions are interesting. The only problem concerning the House is whether they could wait until a later date for utterance and whether they are entirely relevant to what is proposed.

Mr. Shatter: The Minister may not like [1632] the idea of half a million elected councillors.

Mr. Gilmore: Especially if they all have to be accommodated at a meeting hall in Athlone. We would need to book the Phoenix Park for an election.


Mr. Gilmore: The Minister could do with a trip there himself. They have just had local elections in East Germany. It is a great example; we should follow it.

Mr. Howlin: They were deferred for a long time.

Mr. Gilmore: Another area we need to look at are the anomalies that exist in the degree of representation as between local authorities. For example, Leitrim County Council have 22 council seats for 27,000 people giving a ratio of 1:1,200 whereas Dublin Corporation have 52 seats for over half a million people giving a ratio of 1 to almost 10,000. When we consider that county councillors elect members of the Seanad it is clear that a voter in Leitrim is eight times as powerful as a voter in Dublin city when it comes to Seanad elections.

Mr. Shatter: And they elected a fair few Fianna Fáil Senators.

Mr. Gilmore: I was not going to say anything about the state of the Seanad but Deputies can draw their own conclusions. The problem is not by any means confined to Leitrim because there are somewhat similar ratios in Longford and Carlow and, admittedly, a bit higher in Laois, Cavan and Roscommon. Quite clearly in all of those areas the degree of representation of people locally is far deeper than it is in the large urban areas. I am not arguing that there should be a reduction in representation in those areas but there is a need to increase the amount of representation in urban areas.

There is also a need to examine the boundaries of urban councils. Twenty six out of the 49 urban councils at present [1633] need to have their boundaries revised. In some cases there are far greater numbers of people living in the urban catchment areas who are not entitled to vote in urban council elections than the number of people who are entitled to vote. For example, in Navan there are about 3,500 people who are entitled to vote in the urban council elections but nearly three times that, over 8,000 people, are outside the electoral area in Navan and who are not entitled to vote for their own urban councils.

Clearly there is a need for regional structures and it is a great pity that the regional development organisations were abolished. If there are to be regional structures established it is important that those regional bodies be directly elected because otherwise what we will get are appointed bodies which will very often reflect almost totally the view of the majority party rather than that of a wide cross-section of opinion.

In the Dublin area there is a particular need to address the question of new councils. The type of councils that were proposed after the 1984 postponement of the local elections were not workable. If one went out into the street and asked somebody what part of Dublin they came from one would meet very few people who would say Fingal or Belgard or even Rathdown. Apart altogether from the way in which the boundaries were struck, the idea of setting up Fingal county bears about as much relevance to the real needs of local government in Dublin as talking about removing the seat of Government to the Hill of Tara.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair is a well known Fingalian and anybody who knows anything about Dublin knows that Fingal is as identifiable an area as one could get, extending from north of the Tolka to the county boundary. The Deputy is giving a delightful contribution on something that has not arisen here. He is restructuring to beat the band.

Mr. Gilmore: What has been postponed is related to what is to be restructured, as the Minister pointed out.

[1634] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: What is to be said on it will have to be postponed until what has been postponed is being discussed. We are inviting the Minister to make his long awaited reply at 11.15 p.m. and that leaves us with little more than an hour. Maybe we could exhort Deputy Gilmore to be brief from now on.

Mr. Gilmore: I intend to conclude by saying that there is a need to establish in Dublin new authorities which are based on the communities in which people live. Let me give an example. The new area of Shankill in my constituency has a population of about 10,000 people and if it were a town in some other county it would very probably have its own local authority. There are other examples like that. Tallaght is a very obvious one, a very large urban area which does not have its own local authority. There is a need to establish local authorities in Dublin which are based on the communities with which people identify.

There is a need also to take a more imaginative approach to the functions of local government, to broaden out the functions away from the traditional ones that have been performed by local authorities, to give local authorities a real role over the delivery of all services in their local area. The Minister's speech was quite remarkable. He devoted a few paragraphs to financing but it was remarkable that he made no reference to water charges — which he promised to abolish — or to property tax, which he proposed to introduce, or so we were told. The Minister needs to tell us quite clearly what the Government's intentions are in regard to financing local authorities.

In the past ten years local authorities have found themselves fleeced of money. The promises that the loss of income from rates would be made up by the rate support grants have not been kept. In fact, most local authorities— even Dublin County Council — receive only £6 out of every £10 they would have collected if they were still levying rates. There is a [1635] need to clarify the Government's intentions in regard to financing local authorities and there is specifically a need for the Minister to tell us the Government's position on the abolition of water charges, which was promised by the Government in the 1985 local election which promise was repeated in the 1987 general election but has not yet been delivered. There needs to be a specific statement as to where we stand on water charges. Have the Government changed their position or do they intend to abolish them in the context of the reforms they propose to introduce?

All the talk of local government reform will be sheer rhetoric unless there is a genuine intention on the part of the Minister and his Department to let go of local government, to stop making local government a prisoner of the Department of the Environment and to stop requiring local authorities to return to the Department of the Environment for sanction on every action they want to take, very often finding themselves frustrated by the inevitable delays when the Department do not respond to their requests. I could give many examples — the distribution of national lottery funds, schemes of letting priorities for local authority tenants, the detail of road works, a whole range of functions which local authorities should be free to carry out without having the Department check every detail, crossing every “t” and dotting every “i”.

Deputy Dempsey rose.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Dempsey has the seat worn out. Would the Minister agree to deliver her thoughts in a limited time? Would Members agree to make contributions of 15 minutes? Agreed.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Miss Harney): I will be happy to share my time with Deputy Dempsey.

The decision of the Progressive Democrats to agree to the postponement of [1636] the local elections was based on a clear determination that the postponement was necessary in order to facilitate a major overhaul of the present system of flawed local government. After securing the inclusion of a commitment to the establishment of an all party committee on the reform of local government in the Programme for Government, we were optimistic that such reform could have taken place without any need to postpone elections. Unfortunately, Fine Gael's refusal to participate in this committee ensured that the opportunity was lost. The Progressive Democrats were left with a clear choice of missing an opportunity for major reform — holding the elections with the present inadequate structures or agreeing to the postponement of the elections in order to facilitate a major overhaul of local government and the establishment of new structures with greater and more relevant powers.

The demand for such reform is unanswerable. For years the system of Government in this country has become more and more centralised and bureaucratic and consequently less efficient and representative. Almost uniquely among the countries of Europe, we have constantly rejected the movement towards subsidiarity and the devolution of powers to the greatest possible degree. I believe we have paid dearly for this; not only have we deprived our communities and regions of their proper role in governing and administering their areas, but we have created a virtual Frankenstein in central administration which has lost out on all fronts both in its ability to develop and plan nationally and in its ability to respond to the needs of local communities.

The Progressive Democrats are committed to reversing this trend and are convinced that a Government subcommittee, together with the advisory committee backed up by independent experts, is the best way of achieving this. The Government's recent announcement of their plans for major reforms demonstrates the seriousness with which this will be tackled. Not only have we set [1637] down very clear and tight guidelines by which progress can be measured but the committee have been given a wide brief to ensure they have the ability to succeed in their task. Most important, however, is the appointment to the Cabinet subcommittee of an independent group of experts selected because of their particular knowledge and experience who will work closely and advise the Government on the reforms necessary. I might add that as a female Member of this House I am particularly pleased that 43 per cent of the membership of that committee are female.

The Progressive Democrats fully recognise the value of local participation in the planning and administration of a range of affairs that affect daily lives of ordinary citizens. A strong system of local government with directly elected and accountable members is essential to ensuring the most efficient and democratic provision of a whole range of services to the community. The committee which the Government have formed will deal with all areas relevant to the reform of the present system, finance, structures, functions and other issues such as the general powers of local authorities, the reserved managerial functions and operation of aspects of the planning acts and the section 4 procedure. All of these areas are of great importance and the success of this reform will depend to a large measure on the recommendations to emerge in relation to finance and administration.

The Government committee have been asked to make recommendations on the criteria necessary for the allocation on a statutory basis of the funds from central to local government. This is a proposal to radically alter the present method of financing local authorities. Instead of depending on an arbitrary decision made each year there will be a new system whereby Exchequer revenue collected nationally will in future be shared between central and local government on a statutory basis. This will be [1638] determined in the case of each local authority on the basis of a formula to be drawn up by a committee of independent experts, which will take all relevant factors into account to ensure that the allocations are fair and adequate. This formula can be reviewed every four years to allow for adjustments and so forth.

The present almost ad hoc arrangements for the financing of local authorities are a major factor in their inability to effectively make forward plans for their budgets and needs. The committee of experts will be asked to examine the present arrangements in every Government Department with a view to advising which functions and services could best be devolved to the new bodies at county or district level. There are a range of possibilities, including road grants, housing grants, environmental improvement schemes and so on, and the possibilities of giving the new bodies a role in the delivery of essential services like primary education, local health and so on must also be considered.

The Progressive Democrats believe that the present structures of local government should be three tiered with regional, county and district authorities. The key reforms in this regard should be at regional and district level. The present system of county councils and county borough councils would remain largely unchanged in terms of their unit size with adjustments for population changes and urban growth only, particularly in the greater Dublin area.

There is major scope for rationalisation of the present number of regional authorities which have sprung up on an ad hoc basis over the years and which often have overlapping responsibilities and boundaries. Equally at district level dealing with towns of approximately 1,000 people, we believe that the new structure should be put in place to provide the most localised level for the delivery of services to each community. In Dublin and other larger cities this would require special arrangements but it would be a major [1639] step forward for towns throughout the country. In particular, in the greater Dublin area there is a need for one overall authority with new sub-authorities at regional level for towns like Tallaght, Clondalkin and so on.

For years the need to reform local government has received the ritualistic support of virtually every shade of opinion in this country and House, but nothing has ever happened. This cannot continue and reform of local government can wait no longer. I have no doubt but that this reform will be widely received by most members of the community but particularly by local authority members. I might add that most local authority members I have met believe that reform of the structures is far more significant than whether personality A or personality Y represents a local area in a particular local authority. I might add, as somebody who has spent a lot of time with many members of local authorities, that the decision to postpone the local elections has been widely received by members of the main Opposition party. Only this afternoon a very prominent member of that party urged me to consider postponing them for a further year. That person thought it would be crazy to hold them in 1991. Members should stop being hypocritical, taking one view in public and in this House while taking a different view when they go into the bar or the corridors of Leinster House. The decision made by the Government to postpone the elections to allow for major reform is, I believe, widely supported, particularly by communities around the country who favour more devolved powers.

Mr. Dempsey: In relation to the last point made by the Minister, she hit the nail on the head. Certainly in my experience with local authority members throughout the country, they welcome the postponement of the local elections because they see no point in electing [1640] people to the structures that exist and with the functions that councils have at the moment. I have no hesitation in saying I welcome the decision to defer the local elections not because of any fear of elections but because of the fear that if the review does not take place there will be a collapse of local democracy. The erosion of powers in the past 20 years has led to a lack of respect for local government and its institutions which would eventually lead to a lack of trust and faith in the councils and consequently in the whole system and in democracy. If that lack of trust builds up it will seep through the whole political system with very serious consequences not just for the local government system but for all forms of government and democracy.

The failure of the local government system, as perceived by the general public, to be responsive to local needs could lead eventually to anarchy. There have been signs of this already in the huge growth in the number of pressure groups springing up around the country in relation to various local issues. That growth in pressure groups and the attempt to pervert decisions made by local authorities and elected representatives is a sign of a lack of trust in the system as it exists at present. That is something that has to be addressed and I am glad it is now being addressed by this Government.

Deputy Shatter's contribution did little to restore anybody's faith in local government. His speech was very long and hence many of us now have to cut short our contributions. It did not contain one useful or original idea in relation to improved structures for local government. He shed a lot of crocodile tears about the lack of progress in local government reform since 1987. He said he could produce a Bill in five minutes to implement the previous Government's proposals. Why then, when he was in power for two years after the proposals were put forward and produced in a document called Local Government Reform [1641] and later contained in the famous document Building on Reality, did he not produce a Bill in those two years? Deputy Shatter has been three years in Opposition and we all know he is capable of producing Bills and motions. Therefore, why did he not succeed in having a Bill proposed from his side of the House in the past three years? He is shedding crocodile tears about the system of local government.

The previous Government put in place a proposed structure for Dublin of which Deputy Shatter was very critical. The Government had not the courage to fully implement the proposals they put in place. His comments have to be seen in the context of the Fine Gael attitude to the committee that was proposed on local government reform. In the past three to five years Fine Gael supported proposals to take power from local authorities at various levels. They supported proposals to take power from VECs, to abolish health boards and to set up a variety of national bodies to undertake local authority functions. They have not at any stage put forward positive proposals to restore powers or give extra functions to local government. Therefore, Deputy Shatter's rambling on various issues during the course of his lengthy contribution has to be seen for what it was, a lot of hypocrisy and cant.

The major problem facing us at present is that the system of local government is neither local nor government. It is not local in the sense that decisions are made at national level in many cases and it is not government because all that is happening is that local authorities are administering national schemes under circulars from the Department. The Department keep strict control over all aspects of local authority work. One of the major bones of contention in the area of local authorities is the doctrine of ultra vires that has been mentioned here. To my mind, that stifles all local initiative. Everybody at local authority level is afraid to take any real initiative and everybody looks [1642] over his shoulder, whether it be the manager or the members. The threat of the surcharge always looms large when particular proposals are put forward. That doctrine is a very effective way of controlling local government but is something that should be removed.

As I have said, I welcome very much the initiative taken by the Minister in undertaking a review with a view to reforming local government. The basic principle that should underline that review should be one of decentralisation, that is, that all services should be provided at local level where possible. Local government would then be a management of local affairs by local councils. If that principle were adopted we could see a three-tier or a four-tier system emerging from the review. Irrespective of what structure emerges, this principle must be the one on which the whole review package is structured. Any system of local government must be responsive to local needs; it must be accessible, effective, efficient and economic; it must be seen to be an instrument for development and change and a force in fostering community identity and awareness; it must be acceptable to the public and representative of the local community and, finally, it must be large enough and have sufficient resources to carry out the tasks allocated to it. If the principle of decentralisation is upheld in the review, effective and real reform will take place which should lead to wider responsibilities for local authorities and the handing down of powers and finances.

Local people cannot understand, and it is hard to explain, the fact that decisions are made in Dublin as to where a school, sewerage works and so on should be sited in Kerry, Meath or elsewhere. Decisions of a local nature should be taken locally. One area which stands out and has been referred to at various times is the group water schemes, where local communities decide that they will provide a public water supply for themselves. There is a two tier inspection system, first to the [1643] local authority and then to the Department of the Environment, back to the local authority and finally to the local group two or three times before a decision is made. The payments come from central funds rather than from local government.

This principle would make government more accessible to the people, and would be government by the people, for the people. If that was the case citizens would participate more fully in the system and would identify more with it. Local authorities would act in a more positive way to enhance the social, economic, cultural and environmental aspects affecting the local people. The principle would also mean that the demand for more representative structures would be met.

Every speaker so far referred to representative structures and representative councils. To be representative a council does not need to be any larger but, by involving local communities in one of the tiers of local government in an advisory capacity, the system would be more representative. That could be done simply by changing the system of election to local authorities, to the PR system where people are elected to single seat constituencies. That would localise the election process and people would identify more closely with their local public representative and vice versa. This could be very effective in making the system more representative than is perceived by the public at present.

The local authority system should be able to recognise the diversity of needs from locality to locality. It should be sufficiently flexible to meet these needs and to cope with them. In addition to the overall principle or philosophy which I have mentioned about subsidiarity there are a number of other principles which should be clearly in the minds of those involved in the review. If possible the system should be more democratic and all the basic units of local authorities should be elected; it should be more [1644] efficient and less central control would help in that process. There should be constitutional recognition of local government. The method and the approaches of local authorities should be more flexible and the relationship between local and central government should be more flexible. Local authorities should be capable of changing the boundaries on their own very quickly.

Regarding structures, the system of a basic unit of a county is so inbred at this stage that even though it is large by European standards I doubt if it could reasonably be changed. There should be changes in structures and there should at least be a regional tier and either one or two tiers at subcommittee level. If there is to be a regional tier — our experience with regional health boards is not a happy one — there is likely to be stern resistance unless those bodies have a clear majority of public representatives who are seen to be in control. These bodies would need to be advised by experts in various fields. Essentially the whole question of public accountability and having elected representatives on those bodies who make decisions is one from which we cannot move. If we are to have a regional structure that is how we should have it.

In view of the agreement reached earlier I will bring my contribution to a close. I believe very strongly that reform is needed, that we must delay the local elections because there is no point appointing people to bodies that are defunct and almost powerless at this stage. I have no hesitation in supporting the motion.

Mr. Carey: I oppose the Minister's motion to postpone the local elections. I believe the Minister's heart is not in the postponement of the local elections. When he was appointed Minister for the Environment he had plenty of new ideas and promised faithfully, during the debate on the first Estimate of the Department of the Environment, that he would reform local authorities.

[1645] Mr. Flynn: He is.

Mr. Carey: He made that solemn promise.

An Ceann Comhairle: I understand the Deputy is sharing his time with another Deputy.

Mr. Carey: I wish to share my time with Deputy J. Higgins and if there are a few minutes left with Deputy Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny).

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has half an hour available to him and his colleagues.

Mr. Carey: When he was appointed Minister for the Environment he said he was going to put his heart and soul into that Department and, above all, that he was going to respect the people who sent him there — the western people — who love local democracy. When the Minister came to office he suddenly realised he had many tasks on his hands, one of which was to reduce spending in the Department of the Environment and he set about doing that. He did away with things which were sacred to the west, for example, county development teams which were valuable to the west and did not cost too much; they gathered information that would be required by industry.

Mr. Flynn: I think the county development team is still there.

Mr. Carey: The Minister's kind of county development team is still there. That is the point I am coming to. I have discovered that the Minister has become Tadhg an dá thaobh. The Minister was going to reform local government and do all those wonderful things. Deputy Dempsey accused Deputy Shatter of shedding crocodile tears but he said nothing about the years between 1985 [1646] and 1987. I am ashamed of those years and as a councillor I am ashamed of the years from 1987 to 1990. In that time the Department of the Environment wiped out what used to be a very respected position, a local authority member. It is now a disgrace to be a member of a local authority.

I know the Minister had good intentions but as other speakers said we have heard ritualistic reform proposals from successive governments. As councillors we have lost public respect. Whether Deputy Gilmore likes it, I do not like a pothole outside my door and sometimes there are myriads of them. What about all those other people who have myriads of potholes and flooded ditches during the year? Local authorities are run down and are in an absolute shambles. There would have been full realisation of the degree of shambles if the elections were held this year. The Minister must have the heart of a western man and must still have the ambition to reform local government but, despite all the pious platitudes and beautiful speeches here today when everybody was sincere and wanted local authority this and local authority that, he still has to go back to the Department of Finance and ask the reason for this or that. I am a little puzzled as to where we stand with these committees and commissions. I would like the Minister when winding up to explain this independent commission or committee——

Mr. Flynn: You will know all about the commission end of it.

Mr. Carey: I do not understand that at all. In reforming local government in this sprint, as it were, and as he has been directed to do by the Minister for Industry and Commerce and the Minister for Energy, the Minister might have had something to say if the elections were going ahead. The devastation of people in the last couple of years with the savage cutbacks has led even councillors to [1647] object. We might ask who are the councillors who are objecting? They are Fianna Fáil councillors and they are not particularly concerned about coalition with the Progressive Democrats, they are concerned about the lack of funds in local authorities. When the Minister went to Athlone and met all the Fianna Fáil councillors they told him what they thought of him.


Mr. Carey: The Minister then thought he would take the right road and he announced the 72p a mile allowance to keep them quiet. With expenses increasing from 54p to 72p per mile, the councillors should be pleased. They are badly off anyway but the increase in their expenses will not fill potholes or provide any extra sewerage facilities in my constituency this year. It will not provide any of the local services that are needed. It will do nothing about housing. I am not going to go into that aspect. If the elections were to be held this year the Minister's colleagues would be decimated. Unless the situation improves it will be very difficult to get people to go forward for election next year or the year after. I will read from the Clare County Council agenda for yesterday. This is a motion put down by the Chairman of the Fianna Fáil Clare County Council. I must call them that because they are dominated by Fianna Fáil and have a Fianna Fáil Chairman, Councillor Tony Killeen, and a fine chairman he is. The motion was that the council consider the implications for its functions and responsibilities of the very disappointing allocation for storm repair, the State's failure to honour its obligation for rates on State property and the £300,000 loss to the housing capital programme, and take appropriate action. That chairman is saying down along the line that if the Fianna Fáil councillors wish to disband their county council they are going to do so in order to show this [1648] Minister and Government that what they have done to local authority and local government will at least finish membership and participation by their own party members.

We were talking about Fingal a few minutes ago. When it comes to Dublin County Council Deputy Lawlor will not be heard very much either. In fact he is seeking to have the Minister meet a deputation to discuss the tolls imposed recently on the new road, when Dublin County Council were ignored. That is another reflection on the council membership. The Minister took that action because, when his colleagues in Kildare County Council were faced with the prospect of having to toll the road from Naas to Newbridge, they funked it. The Minister was not going to have the same ignominy trotted out to him at Dublin County Council. Why should he? No, he decided to make an order to toll the road for Dublin County Council and maybe if they write a nice letter to the Taoiseach he might see those boys afterwards.

Mr. Flynn: You still got it wrong.

Mr. Carey: I gave the Minister credit when I started off as being a western man who has his roots in local democracy——

Mr. Flynn: Correct.

Mr. Carey: ——who goes back every week to his local town to show his interest in local democracy.

Mr. Flynn: Correct.

Mr. Carey: He knows well there are potholes in Mayo.

Mr. Flynn: Not many.

Mr. Carey: That is another nail in the [1649] Minister's coffin; there are plenty of them in my constituency.

Mr. Flynn: Not many.

Mr. Carey: All my colleagues here know all about that, too, and the Minister's colleagues up at the back know it——

Mr. Flynn: We will fill the one outside the Deputy's front door.

Mr. Carey: ——especially the councillors the Minister has on all the local authorities. They were down in Tramore celebrating one of the last meetings of the combined health authorities or whatever they call themselves before the demise of the health boards. However, that is getting away from the local elections.

Former Governments and the Minister himself historically should have looked at this area. In 1961 we had local authority elections but then there were two postponements to 1967. This is in modern times. From 1967 there was a postponement to 1974. Fianna Fáil did it and Fine Gael did it, too. From 1974 to 1979 the former Taoiseach Jack Lynch was in office when at least there were elections in 1979. He was thrown out afterwards but at least he was honest enough and held the election. In 1985, after six years, we held local elections again. When I was given the opportunity at my party meeting I voted for holding the 1984 election. I am sorry to this day that we did not hold it then.

One of the main arguments in local authorities is about funding. The principal means of funding was implemented by the former Minister for the Environment, Deputy Dick Spring, who brought in local charges. Now we have inequity where the capital city pays no charges and all the rest of us pay them. In the Minister's constituency there is 90 per cent payment of charges. Yet the Minister is asking Mayo people to subsidise the people of Dublin by allowing them not to pay [1650] charges. If we argued out the financing of local government we would have to see at least that water charges as a progressive tax and that the people of Dublin are as entitled to pay them as are the people of Mayo or Clare, or else let us do away with them altogether. The Minister has a choice but he is Tadhg an dá thaobh. The Dublin crowd are lovely. If the Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, were to hear that the Minister was to introduce water charges for Dublin it would be a sorry day for the Minister. He would be gone.

Mr. Shatter: He was nearly gone when he suggested the property tax.

Mr. Flynn: Leave him alone, he is doing all right.

Mr. Carey: Deputies Dempsey and Harney talk about financial reform and what they are going to do in the great new era for local government. Just look at what is happening in the UK. Mrs. Thatcher brought in a poll tax and everybody celebrated her political demise. Even Mrs. Thatcher in all her might and glory could not deliver a system of financing local authorities. Who is going to suggest that there are geniuses on the other side of the House in that Fianna Fáil-PD Coalition who will be able to introduce a proper property tax to finance local authorties? They will, like hell; they will run before it and everybody knows that. The last chance the Minister had to make his mark in regard to local government reform was lost the day he tabled the motion before us. I am sorry he was forced to adopt that position. I regret that the Fianna Fáil councillors in County Clare saw fit to press hard to organise what they called the Fianna Fáil Councillors Association in an effort to postpone local government elections. The Minister has made a bad mistake. Fine Gael, when they postponed the local government elections, found how bad their mistake was to their cost. They paid for that decision and Fianna Fáil and the [1651] Progressive Democrats will pay for their decision.

Mr. J. Higgins: I will be brief and, time permitting, I should like permission to share my time with my colleague, Deputy John Browne. I endorse Deputy Shatter's amendment which was forcefully supported by Deputy Carey. We are critical of the Government for not proceeding with the local government elections in tandem with the Presidential election. In my view that would have made economic, and possibly political, sense. A decision was reached before last June to hold two elections but neither of them worked out in accordance with the political designs of the sponsors. It is my belief that the guise of postponing the local elections in order to bring about reform will be seen for what it is, a device to escape the wrath of the electorate.

I agree with the Minister that the potholes in County Mayo may not be on the same scale as the dipping tubs around the Border in County Cavan but there has been a considerable reduction in the standard of county roads in our county. It has been noted that the level of grant made available in 1982, when County Mayo on average benefited to the tune of more than £6 million for national primary roads, has been considerably reduced. Last year we received £1.2 million for the construction of a by-pass of the Minister's own town, Castlebar. That is the total of aid given to a county like Mayo which is badly in need of additional national primary roadways to bring our level of infrastructure to that of the east of the country and on a par with other regions in the EC.

I recall that when the Minister was appointed in 1983 we were building in County Mayo more than 200 houses per annum but this year, thanks to the Minister, we have received sanction for the erection of 31 houses. Major water schemes, such as the Lough Mask water scheme, have virtually ground to a halt [1652] as have the sanitary services schemes in the county. The Minister abolished the house improvement grant scheme. One would have thought it should have been possible to retain some of the elements of the essential repairs grant scheme and the disabled persons reconstruction scheme. The conditions and strictures applying to house grant schemes are so stringent that by the time approval is granted the applicant has passed on to a better life.

We consider this order to be a device to escape the wrath of the electorate. The members of the special subcommittee established by the Cabinet may appear to have all the qualifications to consider what is required to bring democracy to local authority level but one must have reservations about the terms of reference of that body. Those terms of reference state that the aim is to devolve additional functions to local authorities. The use of the word “functions” sounds a cautionary note. There was no mention of powers. We were told that those additional functions would be devolved “where practicable”. That phrase is another cute bureaucratic ploy. It means the additional functions will be devolved where the Minister and the civil servants deem fit.

Local authorities cannot be reformed unless we look at the whole question of financing them. We must take the reforms and financial considerations together. It does not make sense to carry out reforms without taking into consideration how we will pay for them. The Minister told us there will be a radical change but he warned that will not happen overnight. There seems to be some grim foreboding there. The Minister seems to be introducing a note of lethargy in relation to the true intent behind this move. The main thing is that the Government are shying away from the evil day of having to decide how to pay for the changes.

The big banana skin that nobody will face is, what system of financing should [1653] be introduced to pay for the changes, if they are introduced. Nobody will face that thorny problem. Fine Gael were prepared to participate in a body that would consider local authority reform. Parliamentarians are the people who should be involved in considering such reforms but a parliamentary committee should be established to consider the whole question of taxation. As Deputy Howlin said, we sought a consensus on this issue because this matter should be above politics. It should be taken out of the whole sphere of politics and the only way we can do that is by way of setting up a committee to consider the question of taxation reform. Only then will we be able to bring about the necessary structural reforms.

We are all aware that the rot started in 1978 when Fianna Fáil made one mad last grasp for power. The infamous manifesto was introduced in that year. In 1976, 40 per cent of the finance of local authorities came from central funds and the remaining 60 per cent was raised locally but in 1979, 65 per cent came from central funds and 35 per cent was raised locally. Hence the crisis that we are asked to deal with today. We are given a cake and told to slice it with a large knife in “X” number of directions. It has become impossible for county managers and the members of local authorities to discharge their duties because of that. They do not have any power. We are talking about dead, empty shells and administrative structures which are basically discharging the orders of the Minister. Every water and sewerage scheme must be submitted to the Custom House for approval. Those schemes, no matter how small, must make their long laborious way from Mullingar to the Minister's Department for approval. Every housing scheme must be placed on the Minister's desk before the nod of assent is given. Is it any wonder that local authority members show very little interest in seeking re-election?

Local authorities over the years have been stripped of so much power that they [1654] are almost totally controlled by officials. Councils are often maligned for what some consider to be an over-use of section 4 but in my view the use of that section is an indication of frustration by local authority members. It is one of the few weapons they have left. Indeed, it is worth recalling that, when the members of Meath County Council adopted a section 4 motion to resist the erection of the Radio Tara mast, the county manager overruled them. There is no need to provide local authorities with independent financial allocations or finance-raising powers if they are not given meaningful powers. We have the most centralised form of local government in the EC. At a time when people are breaking away from a Stalinist centralised system in eastern Europe, this country clings manfully to it.

The basic thesis of democracy in Europe is that power devolves from the grassroots up and that is how democracy should operate. Only powers that cannot be handled at local level should be given to central Government but the core principle here seems to be that everything radiates from the centre out. We pay lip-service to decentralisation by moving a few hundred civil servants to Ballina, to the Department of Social Welfare office in Sligo or to the Department of Agriculture and Food in Cavan but we have not had any meaningful decentralisation. At the end of the day — I hope I am proved wrong — the body set up by the Minister will not discharge the remit given to them.

In France, in every village and local authority area, the local mayor is given real power. There is a sense of belonging, a sense of community and responsibility as a result of the power sharing at local level. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. The body which the Minister intends to set up will not meet the demands placed on it. The last day of their deliberations will be worse than the first because, as a result of the [1655] parsimonious allocation to local authorities, the potholes will be bigger, there will be fewer houses, the problems will be greater and there will be less local democracy.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): Tá mé an-bhuíoch den Teachta Higgins gur thug sé an seans dom labhairt ar an mBille seo. Democracy should be defended at all costs; indeed it should never be abused. If our Constitution gives a choice to the people to elect councillors every five years the Government should not decide to play God and tinker with it. Perhaps, under the Constitution, they are entitled to extend the period in which elections are held but it makes a mockery of county councils and is wrong from the point of view of people who may be very dissatisfied with their elected councillors whom they consider to be wolves in sheep's clothing. Anybody who had the misfortune of going through the last local elections will clearly remember the kind of playacting that went on in regard to local charges. Candidates promised that they would do away with local charges if they were elected and used loud-speakers to get their message across. Having been duly elected, not alone did they vote for local charges but they voted to increase them on two or three occasions since. Some of these irresponsible people hold high positions in county councils and it is time that they faced the firing squad — I am speaking metaphorically — and let the people decide. It is time that they answered for their irresponsible actions in the past.

These people should not be allowed to continue the charade that they are genuinely concerned for the welfare of their constituents. It is a sham and should not be tolerated. Although the Minister decided to set up an investigating committee in regard to local government he will not allocate finance. Did you ever see anybody building a lounge bar and not having any beer in it?

[1656] Mr. Durkan: There was a song about that.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): “The pub with no beer” was the song in question.

Mr. Flynn: There is no beer in a lounge when the building is just constructed.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): You can get a licence before you build it. The building of houses has come to a halt because of the lack of finance. It has got to the stage where people who are genuinely concerned about the problems will not bother standing for election to county councils. If the Minister does not do something in relation to financing, talk of reform is just a sham. Until the Minister decides to do something about finance he can forget all the other reforms.

An Ceann Comhairle: Will the Deputy please bring his speech to a close?

Mr. Lawlor: The debate has been frustrating so far because of the repetitive and negative approach of the Opposition parties. I do not know what they hope to gain politically from attacking the Government for deferring the local elections and I fail to see why they cannot grasp the opportunity of influencing major reform in local government, which they say is necessary.

For whatever reason, Fine Gael decided not to sit on the committee which will look into the matter. The expert group now appointed by the Minister outside the political domain will obviously look at the financial aspects of local government. Is anybody in the House saying that Mr. Tom Barrington and the other members of the committee will not act correctly in this regard?

Mr. Shatter: The Government will not implement Mr. Barrington's proposals.

[1657] Mr. Lawlor: I hope Deputy Shatter will try to meet the committee and test their independence and interest in seeing the job done correctly. The opportunity which has arisen should be grasped by all concerned.

Mr. Shatter: Will the report be published?

Mr. Lawlor: Much has been said about Dublin city and county and the fact that we do not have local charges. That is true, but we have the highest PAYE community in the country. When the Government took office they inherited a financial mess, particularly in the Department of Health, because of the over-spending by health boards and local authorities.

Mr. Connor: Does the Deputy remember the slogan about health?

Mr. Lawlor: Many rural local authorities were in a bad financial state and the Minister had to cut the Dublin allocation — city and county — more severely than any other area. He had to pass on some of the advantages in doing this to rural local authorities and county councils.

Mr. Connor: That is not true.

Mr. Lawlor: Those local authorities and county councils were in a financial shambles following the previous Government's management of them.


Mr. Lawlor: The figures are there and Deputy Bruton was Minister for Finance for some of the period. He knows what I am talking about. At the time the Leader of the Labour Party was Minister for the Environment. There is now an opportunity for all interested parties to make their case.

Real changes are needed and Dublin is a good example of special need which [1658] has been recognised in the various contributions from the Minister so far. There are one million people in the city, and a very fragmented system of local government is operating, although it is an improvement on what was there before. Deputy Gilmore referred to the committee system which was supposed to be a local authority system within Dublin County Council, now the second biggest elected assembly in the State, its membership exceeding that of the Seanad. The structure proposed by the outgoing Government would have cost well in excess of £6 million, if not £12 million in overheads——

Mr. Flynn: That is the figure.

Mr. Lawlor: ——another trebling of the bureaucratic costings of local government. I fail to see how my constituents would benefit from another £12 million on staff and other overhead costs. The Minister was quite right in contending that that proposed reform would not have been effective or have improved local democracy in Dublin city or county.

Alongside the need for reform I would suggest that the Minister consider undertaking some cost/benefit analysis of the reform being considered by the Cabinet sub-committee and independent group. Like myself, Deputies Shatter and Gilmore are members of a local authority representing over 500,000 people. There have been substantial staff reductions in that local authority. Yet, the services and facilities being provided are as good if not better than ever. There is a shortage of funds for capital works. There has certainly been no falling off in the services provided in our public parks, by way of refuse collection, public lighting, water and sanitary services; all of those services are being effectively provided.

Mr. Shatter: That is not true; what about the libraries?

Mr. Lawlor: Whatever shortcomings there may be they are on the capital side. [1659] I pointed out to the manager of Dublin County Council that probably we forego some millions of pounds annually because we do not impose a local charge. Now that the Minister for Finance is initiating real tax reform, hopefully by the end of this Government's term in office PAYE earners in County Dublin will have been given well deserved relief from their heavy burden of taxation. If there is a specific spending programme initiated by members of local authorities, then the moneys raised by the imposition of such charges can be spent on their local communities. It would also mean that local TDs could seek a mandate to impose such charges. There is no point in our collecting funds for central bureaucratic overheads.

I appreciate that in rural areas over many years local charges were an accepted method of raising funds but charges were not acceptable in Dublin. Therefore, there was great hostility to the imposition of such charges at a time, particularly in my constituency, when unemployment and other conditions militated against such imposition. Indeed, Deputy Gilmore and his colleagues on the ground made great political play of the fact that we might have to consider imposing such local charges. I was proud of the role Dublin county councillors played in ensuring that the people of County Dublin did not have to carry that charge on top of their already burdensome taxation load. We refused to impose that charge. We re-wrote the estimates and the manager had to accept that democratic decision. Indeed Deputy Gilmore's party supported that decision and were pleased to do so.

There are a number of areas of massive development and growth in County Dublin which receive regular mention; people are puzzled by the lack of decisions in reviewing our efforts and plans to accommodate their substantial population and some areas are in need of urgent reform. In my constitutency, Dublin Corporation are maintaining [1660] houses, collecting rents, owning a substantial land bank on which are accommodated itinerants' horses, rubbish and much other material the cause of grave irritation to local residents, in particular former inner city dwellers housed in the county as part of an urgent housing programme supported by all sides of this House over the past 20 years. We are dealing now with much duplication of local government administration, of management and so on which needs to be eliminated urgently. It would be my hope that the proposed local government reform will deal adequately with those issues.

I urge all parties in and outside this House to advance pragmatic, comprehensive proposals for reform of local government. We will have to defend the decisions of our colleagues in Cabinet on the adequacy of such reform. If it does take another year to do so, so be it. Various parties have deferred local elections. Hopefully we will have deferred such local elections, not as Deputy Gilmore said that each time local elections are due local government reform becomes the topic of the day and is advanced as the reason for their postponement, but in the interests of implementing real reform. Let us ensure that the team of experts appointed are used to their full potential so that real reform is put before the House. Even if, as the Minister said in the course of his remarks, all of that reform cannot be embodied in legislation, if the proper path is charted then we will have done the people a good service in postponing these local elections for one year.

Mr. Ferris: I thank Deputy Lawlor for having shared his time with me. If it is acceptable, I should like to share a little of my time with Deputy John Bruton.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is that satisfactory? Agreed.

Mr. Ferris: I am sure the Minister would like to hear all of our views before [1661] replying. In commenting here we should be honest. I do not know of any member of any party who would not like to have elections postponed; that is a fact of life. That being said, in presenting our personal views we may not always represent the views of the electorate or of aspiring members of local authorities. For that reason it would be important that the Minister would avail of the earliest opportunity to hold such elections.

Like some of his predecessors he has decided to postpone the local elections and has given the same reason, that is in order to reform local government. Bearing in mind the deadline specified by the Minister for the report of the special subcommittee, I do not believe effective reform will be possible particularly with regard to funding of local authorities. This is the kernel of the problem. It would take much political courage on the part of any Government to devise a system of local authority funding that would have the respect and support of all parties at local government level. I do not believe the present Minister has such political courage. Certainly he did not display such courage in the past when presented with golden opportunities. There have been continuous cutbacks and restrictions of local authority funding since I was elected in 1977, perhaps even before the Minister himself was elected to a local authority——

Mr. Flynn: No, I have the Deputy there.

Mr. Ferris: ——since when our powers and finances have dwindled steadily. For example, the funding of health services has been removed from us especially at community care level. It is my belief that no other structure could satisfactorily replace the local authority structure in that respect. Also, other powers vested in us originally under the provisions of the local authorities Acts have been removed. I appeal to the Minister not to remove our remaining powers because, if he does, he will have to face the wrath of [1662] every councillor, of whatever party. I must stress that, as members of local authorities, we will use those powers prudently provided we are allocated the necessary finance. Any local authority represented by TDs in whatever part of the country will bear witness to the fact that its members have always acted responsibly provided they had the necessary finances allocated to them.

In this respect I am enormously pleased with the performance of my party because at one time we were building up to 7,000 houses annually which figure is now down to a matter of hundreds although the same need remains. I warn the Minister not to allow himself be fooled by the present Minister for Energy — who decided he would abolish local authorities at urban district level — into allowing that to happen. The Minister for Energy, who was then the Minister in charge of local government, suggested that the local authorities should be abolished. I appeal to the Minister for the Environment tonight not to let this happen, as one gets closest to the electorate at urban district council level. The Minister should respond favourably to demands for an extension of boundaries. To his credit, this occurred in Clonmel and I hope it will also happen in Cashel and other areas. It is only when we give the people more power that we will see results. Perhaps the Minister has the courage to do this but I have my doubts. This motion would allow the Minister to postpone the elections for one year but I will not be surprised if the Minister looks for another deferral as he has given the committee far too much to do within a short period. What conclusions can they come to by September? In my opinion they will not be able to decide on anything.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Government are making a grave political mistake in postponing the local elections. The fact is that, from the point of view of Fianna Fail, they would do far better if the local elections were held this year than they [1663] would if they are postponed until next year. For any Government, self-preservation is probably the first law. In this case Fianna Fáil are making a serious mistake which is going to work to the disadvantage of the Minister. I regret this as I have great personal feelings for the man in question.

It is also fair to say that the reform of local government is linked with major tax reform. The Government have to choose between a local system of rates, income tax, purchase tax or something along the lines of the poll tax being introduced in Britain, or a mixture of all four. Any decision in this area is inherently politically dangerous. For a Government to postpone such a decision until the latter part of their term of office is inherently foolish. If a Government want to engage in local government reform the time to do so is the first six months of their electoral mandate. To do so in the second half of their mandate, as the Government clearly intend doing, is to behave in a politically foolish fashion which is not something I would normally ascribe to the Minister, but evidently he is prepared to allow himself to be forced into this. Why he is being forced to seek this postponement is beyond me but it is an act of folly.

From the point of view of the country, apart from the interests of the Minister and the Fianna Fáil Party, we are making a mistake here tonight. There is a need to reform local government but the only time a Government should reform local government is during their first year in office. The Government are in their first year of office and they should be doing this and not postponing the elections so that they can talk about doing it. As we know, the Government have been in office for eight or nine months and it was well within their capacity to have come to conclusions on local government reform within that period if they had wanted to. As Deputy Shatter has pointed out, more eloquently than I ever could, the Fianna [1664] Fáil component of Government sketched out, in considerable detail in their local elections manifesto and in their general election manifesto of 1987, a scheme for the reorganisation of local authorities.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry to interrupt Deputy Bruton but the time has come to call on the Minister to reply.

Mr. J. Bruton: Without trespassing unduly on the Minister's time let me say the Government have failed, despite their excellent prescription when in Opposition, to produce proposals. They have opted instead for a postponement and that is a sign of weakness.

Mr. Shatter: May I put a question to the Minister to which he might respond when replying? Would he indicate to the House if the report of the special committee which has been appointed will be published and circulated to the Members of the House?

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn): I should say that I was somewhat disappointed with the debate. I had hoped to be in a position to preface my remarks by thanking the Deputies opposite for their interesting suggestions and helpful contributions but for the past five or six hours I have listened in vain for one single positive suggestion.

Mr. Howlin: Hold the elections is a positive suggestion.

Mr. Flynn: Perhaps this demonstrates the lack of commitment on the part of Fine Gael which led them to not taking part in the all-party committee but be that as it may it was a poor debate.

Mr. J. Bruton: As the Minister would say himself: “you are in Government, get on with it”.

Mr. Flynn: There was not one decent contribution or word about reform. [1665] There was the occasional throw-away remark along with the usual demands one expects to be made in a debate on the Estimates for more money for local authorities as well as the usual bleating about their support for local authorities. There were also references to everything except, of course, the subject matter we were supposed to be discussing.

It is well worth putting on the record that on six occasions in the past parties other than Fianna Fáil postponed local elections. The two most recent postponements were sought by Fine Gael and Labour in 1973 and 1984. The practice was started in 1923 by Cumann na nGaedheal.

Mr. J. Bruton: The Minister is referring to an honourable precedent.

Mr. Flynn: It is well worth remarking on those postponements of 1973 and 1984 which were sought by Fine Gael and Labour Coalitions and which amounted to their efforts at local government reform. It is very hard to see how one could take the Opposition seriously on this matter given those postponements. The last Fine Gael and Labour Coalition Government decided in 1984 that they were not going to allow the local elections to take place because they wanted to carry out a review of the organisation of local government. They published at that time a glossy policy statement entitled the Reform of Local Government. Fine Gael subsequently promised that there would be major structural and functional reforms and recommended the setting up of statutory boundary commissions to review urban boundaries and a new type of authority to replace town commissioners.

Mr. Carey: What did the Minister say in 1977?

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Carey, you have had your say. Please allow the Minister a few moments to reply.

[1666] Mr. Shatter: The Minister is provoking him.

An Ceann Comhairle: Please, Deputy Shatter, let us be fair.

Mr. Flynn: Major new powers were to be given to local authorities——

Mr. Carey: There is no point in the Minister piously beating his breast.

An Ceann Comhairle: If Deputy Carey persists, I will have to ask him to leave the House.

Mr. Flynn: Major new powers were to be given to local authorities and there was to be a major programme of devolution of functions to local level in Dublin.

Mr. Doyle: This sounds like the local elections manifesto of 1985.

Mr. Flynn: Three new county councils were to be set up in place of Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire Corporation along with the establishment of a Dublin metropolitan council and district councils. That was the statement issued in 1984 by Fine Gael but, of course, none of the commitments was implemented. In fact the proposals contained in the policy statement never saw the light of day. This then is the record of the main Opposition party on the reorganisation of local government.

They went on to suggest that there should be three new county councils and two district councils in each new county along with six in the city, making a total of 12. A metropolitan council and a coordinating body for the three new councils in the city were proposed, a grand total of 16 new authorities. Those are Fine Gael figures. What was done? Nothing, except to increase the membership from 36 to 78 and what followed might best be described as an exercise in illusion by Fine Gael. The three counties [1667] of Belgard, Fingal — which Deputy Gilmore is not aware of — and Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown were conjured up for the local elections, for that purpose only, having had a shadowy existence as electoral counties, something never heard of in Irish legislation until then. If there was ever a more half baked scheme for electing people from counties which never existed and still do not, that was it.


Mr. Flynn: Of course the cost implications were never considered and did not matter one way or the other. In 1984 the reason given for the postponement——

Mr. J. Mitchell: What was the reason in 1972?

Mr. Flynn: ——was to enable a review of local government systems already under way to be finished. These are the facts.

Mr. J. Mitchell: What were the facts in 1972?

Mr. Flynn: The Government system was to be reviewed in 1974, the next time the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition wanted to postpone local elections.

Deputy Shatter was a disappointment this evening. He made a poor and negative contribution. One does come to expect something better from Deputy Shatter. He also showed an interest this evening in Gaeltacht areas. That is a political pill that is hard to swallow coming from Deputy Shatter. He is not well known for his interest in the Irish language and Irish culture, and trotting it out here this evening in defence of his position was certainly negative.

Mr. Shatter: I am merely reading from the Minister's 1985 local election manifesto in which he appeared to have a special interest in Gaeltacht areas.

[1668] Mr. Flynn: I would have thought Deputy Shatter might have turned his skills to more positive areas. We did not hear a single constructive suggestion from him for this review. If those are the depths of sterility that Fine Gael have reached then they were right not to participate in the Oireachtas select committee because they had nothing to offer.

Mr. Shatter: Fine Gael are fertile with new ideas and could never be described as politically sterile.

Mr. Flynn: The opinions expressed by Deputy Shatter and many of his colleagues this evening do not represent the opinions being expressed by his colleagues outside this House. I have been approached and thanked by Deputies from Fine Gael and Labour.


Mr. Flynn: I cannot say, with my hand on my heart, that I was thanked by anybody from The Workers' Party but certainly I was thanked by people from the other two parties and they were all smiles when it was decided that we would postpone these elections.

Mr. J. Mitchell: No one was more relieved than the Minister's Cabinet colleagues.

Mr. Flynn: It was quite obvious from some of the suggestions made by Deputy Shatter and his colleagues that they were not just hoping the local elections would be postponed for one year but that they would be accommodated for more——

Mr. Howlin: Will the Minister give a catagorical assurance that they will be held in 1991?

Mr. Flynn: Deputy Shatter spoke about section 4 and its application.

[1669] Mr. Shatter: I never mentioned section 4.

Mr. Flynn: Section 4 was mentioned by a number of his colleagues.

Mr. Shatter: None of my colleagues mentioned section 4.

Mr. Flynn: The review of the development plan in Dublin County Council has been held up for years because of the inactivity of some of the Deputy's colleagues.

Mr. Shatter: That is outrageously untrue.

Mr. Flynn: That first review that was to take place after 1972 did not take place until 1983; it started again in 1988 and is now two years overdue.

Mr. Shatter: That is right.

Mr. Flynn: It has not even gone on public display yet.

Mr. Shatter: Fianna Fáil have a majority on Dublin County Council and it is the Fianna Fáil councillors who are responsible.

Mr. Flynn: And for 20 years before that you and the Deputy and his colleagues had the responsibility.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Shatter must restrain himself.

Mr. Flynn: I am suggesting that if Deputy Shatter and his friends got their act together there might not be half the number of section 4 applications of which some of his members hold the record——


An Ceann Comhairle: Let us hear the Minister without interruption.

[1670] Mr. Shatter: The Minister is anxious to ensure that that fact does not get into the speech he is delivering to the House.

Mr. J. Mitchell: The Minister cannot regret what he just said about section 4s.

An Ceann Comhairle: Could we have the Minister without interruption? Deputy Mitchell must cease interrupting.

Mr. Flynn: There was a lot of talk about section 4s in the last few years. One could spend considerable time talking to Deputies Howlin and Gilmore about their contributions, and there are some interesting items if one had the time to deal with them.

Mr. Howlin: I did not know the Minister was listening.

Mr. Flynn: Yes, and I took notes because it will make interesting reading subsequently. Anybody who wishes to make representations to the committee we are talking about can certainly do so, and I would encourage them to do so.

Mr. Shatter: Will their report be published?

Mr. Flynn: It must be remembered——

Mr. Shatter: The Minister is avoiding the question.

Mr. Flynn: I did not interrupt the Deputy and he spoke for a considerably longer time than I am getting to reply.

Mr. J. Mitchell: Go back to the section 4s.

Mr. Flynn: The local authorities as I found them after the mismanagement——


Mr. Flynn: It is obvious that this hurts [1671] a little. Consequently Deputies are not prepared to hear some of the basic facts.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister has only a few minutes to conclude. Please let him conclude without any further interruption.

Mr. Flynn: After the mismanagement of local authorities finances for years before we came to power in 1987 — which can be quite easily shown by the level of deficits that local authorities had and which was purely a response to the financial gymnastics that went on in the Coalition Government prior to 1987——


Mr. Carey: Potholes, potholes, potholes, miles of potholes. Deputy Flynn is the pothole Minister.

An Ceann Comhairle: Please, Deputy Carey.

Mr. J. Mitchell: Let it be known there were cheers on both sides of the House.

Mr. Flynn: The spiral of debt and deficit that existed then——


Mr. Flynn: Deputy Shatter's contribution here this evening——

Mr. Shatter: ——was erudite and articulate as always.

Mr. Flynn: ——was a fair indication of what he knows about local elections. He does not even know how Ministerial Orders are made so he had better keep quiet.

Mr. Carey: The Minister is fairly handy with them.

Mr. Flynn: The spiral of debt and deficits that existed in local authorities in [1672] 1987 does not exist now. This is why it is now possible to consider reform, and certainly the preferred choice was to have every party in the House participating. That was the offer that was made.


Mr. Flynn: It is a little late in the day now, following the invitation that was given——

Mr. J. Mitchell: It is nice to see the Minister here because the rest of them were afraid to go up front.

Mr. Flynn: One does not wish to be critical of Deputy Bruton because I know him well, but this can be said. Deputy Bruton came into this House over a number of years and asked for reform of this House as well as local authority reform. He asked that committees would play a substantial role in that reform. We genuinely expected that the offer being made for that party to participate in that select committee would have been taken on board and it is a great disappointment that it was not. Now that that has been thrown aside Fine Gael think they are at liberty to sling mud around and to make all kinds of protestations about their interest.

Mr. Shatter: The criminal law committee.

An Ceann Comhairle: Please Deputy Shatter, has the Deputy no sense of fair play?

Mr. Connor: It is terrible repetition.

Mr. Flynn: It is regrettable that it was obviously decided that the debate would not be allowed to be concluded in a fair or equitable way.

Mr. Carey: Let the Minister not go down that route, he is well able——

[1673] Mr. Flynn: We are well used to that treatment from that side of the House. However, I must say that we are determined to carry on with or without the support of the Fine Gael Party. We will be bringing forward the reform package, putting it to the House, and it will be for the Oireachtas to decide whether it is in the best interests of the country.

[1674] Mr. Howlin: Will it be in one year or two?

Mr. Shatter: The Deputies are all relieved that there will be no elections; see the happy smiling faces.

Question put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 70; Níl, 64.

Ahern, Dermot.

Ahern, Michael.

Andrews, David.

Aylward, Liam.

Barrett, Michael.

Brady, Gerard.

Brady, Vincent.

Brennan, Mattie.

Brennan, Séamus.

Briscoe, Ben.

Browne, John (Wexford).

Burke, Raphael P.

Calleary, Seán.

Callely, Ivor.

Clohessy, Peadar.

Connolly, Ger.

Coughlan, Mary Theresa.

Cowen, Brian.

Cullimore, Séamus.

Daly, Brendan.

Davern, Noel.

Dempsey, Noel.

Dennehy, John.

de Valera, Síle.

Ellis, John.

Fahey, Frank.

Fahey, Jackie.

Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.

Fitzpatrick, Dermot.

Flood, Chris.

Flynn, Pádraig.

Gallagher, Pat the Cope.

Harney, Mary.

Hillery, Brian.

Hilliard, Colm.

Hyland, Liam.

Jacob, Joe.

Kelly, Laurence.

Kenneally, Brendan.

Kirk, Séamus.

Kitt, Michael P.

Kitt, Tom.

Lawlor, Liam.

Leonard, Jimmy.

Leyden, Terry.

Lyons, Denis.

McDaid, Jim.

McEllistrim, Tom.

Morley, P.J.

Nolan, M.J.

Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).

O'Connell, John.

O'Dea, Willie.

O'Donoghue, John.

O'Hanlon, Rory.

O'Keeffe, Ned.

O'Leary, John.

O'Rourke, Mary.

O'Toole, Martin Joe.

Power, Seán.

Quill, Máirín.

Roche, Dick.

Smith, Michael.

Stafford, John.

Treacy, Noel.

Tunney, Jim.

Wallace, Dan.

Wallace, Mary.

Woods, Michael.

Wyse, Pearse.


Ahearn, Therese.

Barrett, Seán.

Barry, Peter.

Bell, Michael.

Belton, Louis J.

Boylan, Andrew.

Bradford, Paul.

Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).

Bruton, John.

Bruton, Richard.

[1675]Doyle, Joe.

Dukes, Alan.

Durkan, Bernard.

Fennell, Nuala.

Ferris, Michael.

Finucane, Michael.

Flanagan, Charles.

Garland, Roger.

Gilmore, Eamon.

Gregory, Tony.

Higgins, Jim.

Higgins, Michael D.

Hogan, Philip.

Howlin, Brendan.

Kavanagh, Liam.

Kemmy, Jim.

Kenny, Enda.

Lowry, Michael.

McCartan, Pat.

McCormack, Pádraic.

McGahon, Brendan.

McGinley, Dinny.

Byrne, Eric.

Carey, Donal.

Connor, John.

Cosgrave, Michael Joe.

Cotter, Bill.

Creed, Michael.

Crowley, Frank.

Currie, Austin.

Deasy, Austin.

Deenihan, Jimmy.

[1676]Mac Giolla, Tomás.

Mitchell, Gay.

Mitchell, Jim.

Moynihan, Michael.

Nealon, Ted.

O'Brien, Fergus.

O'Shea, Brian.

O'Sullivan, Toddy.

Owen, Nora.

Pattison, Séamus.

Quinn, Ruairí.

Rabbitte, Pat.

Reynolds, Gerry.

Ryan, Seán.

Shatter, Alan.

Sheehan, Patrick J.

Sherlock, Joe.

Stagg, Emmet.

Taylor, Mervyn.

Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine

Timmins, Godfrey.

Yates, Ivan.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies V. Brady and Clohessy; Níl, Deputies J. Higgins and Howlin.

Question declared carried.

The Dáil adjourned at 11.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 16 May 1990.