Dáil Éireann - Volume 566 - 14 May, 2003

Local Government Bill 2003 [ Seanad ] : Report Stage (Resumed).

  Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

      In page 3, to delete lines 14 to 27.

– (Deputy Allen).

  Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Cullen): At the time of the adjournment of the debate, I was about to respond to the points made by Members on the first three amendments, all of which are related. I had said to Deputy Gilmore in committee and had indicated in the House the issue in which I was interested in terms of his original amendment which he tabled on Committee Stage and resubmitted on Report Stage. I gave a great deal of consideration to this and wish to respond specifically to the Deputy. Other Members raised the issue subsequent to his initial proposal.

  A range of people are disqualified from election to or membership of a local authority. The [1110] nub of the issue is that, under the Bill, the same arrangements will apply to Oireachtas Members. They already apply to those Members who are Ministers, Ministers of State, the Ceann Comhairle, Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and MEPs. The same principle applies to Oireachtas Members who are councillors in that they are disqualified from election as cathaoirleach or leas-chathaoirleach of local authorities or from holding those posts.

  If and when the dual mandate ends, there is a danger that Oireachtas Members could stand for local elections to maximise votes for their parties. This would mean they were not being completely straight with the public in terms of whether they intended to stand. It is highly unlikely that Members of the Oireachtas would stand and, if elected, leave the Oireachtas to go to local government. If they want to do so, the decision should be taken in advance of seeking election to a local authority.

  The law as it applies to others will apply in an identical fashion to Oireachtas Members. That is important. A clear separation and commitment to local government is required. To legislate to allow Oireachtas Members to stand for local election with the sole purpose of ensuring they resign their parliamentary seat if they were elected would be wrong in principle. There would be little, if any, take-up of such an option. Such legislation would also be open to other difficulties, as I have flagged. Would it differentiate between different Oireachtas Members? Could the Ceann Comhairle, Ministers or Ministers of State stand for local election? To allow Deputies and Senators stand for election would muddy the waters in the context of the separation of the Oireachtas and local government and would be contrary to the principles underlying the ending of the dual mandate and to the law as it applied up to now.

  I have stated on numerous occasions in the different debates in this House and the Seanad that it is important we give clarity and certainty to this issue. The amendments seek to address the possibility of a Deputy or Senator standing for local election but not taking up the council seat. Real difficulty involving fundamental revision of current electoral count arrangements could arise to cater for such an eventuality.

  I accept the point Deputy Gilmore made and do not suggest it is an insurmountable issue. If we were to go in such a direction, obviously we would have to find the mechanisms to do so. Nevertheless, it is part of the mix in my consideration of these issues. The basic rationale for a clear separation of Oireachtas and local government is such that the case for treating Oireachtas Members separately in this way does not arise.

  On the principal issue, I take a strong view that local government and national Government are separate entities. They are complementary in many of their actions but are two distinct entities with complementary and overlapping roles.

  One argument made consistently and at some length previously was that for a person to be [1111] involved in local politics and local issues and represent the people who elected him or her, he or she must be a member of a local authority. I do not accept that, nor do I accept that membership of this Parliament means he or she is divorced from local issues. That is not the case. He or she is elected through a constituency-based system. Obviously the electorate has expectations that he or she will deal with many issues that are important to them. To base the ability to deal with these issues on being involved in local government is wrong. The thesis put forward that one must be involved in a local authority to be involved in local issues is not true and does not stand up.

  Mr. McCormack: People will be more interested if they are involved at local level.

  Mr. Cullen: Many Members have referred to the fact that some have voluntarily given up their seats, including some in my party, Fianna Fáil, and others.

  Mr. Ring: And put their wives in their place.

  Mr. Cullen: They have stated that they have not had difficulty being re-elected or being involved specifically in many local issues important to people's lives. The system of Government allows Members through the parliamentary question system to deal with a range of issues that are equally important to their areas.

  Debate adjourned.