Seanad Éireann - Volume 140 - 29 April, 1994

Local Government Bill, 1994: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Final Stages.

SECTION 25.

Question proposed: “That section 25 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Mooney: Section 25(3) outlines the titles of chairmen of local authorities. From now on the chairman and vice-chairman of an authority shall be known as the cathaoirleach and the leas-chathaoirleach respectively. I am pleased the Minister has included this because Irish is our first language. I have always believed we should use Irish forms as often as possible. This is a modest step. Members of local authorities are now legally obliged to refer to their chairman and vice-chairman as cathaoirleach and leas-chathaoirleach.

The section provides that the cathaoirleach and leas-chathaoirleach of Dublin City Council and Cork City Council shall be known as the Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor respectively of their cities. The cathaoirleach and leas-chathaoirleach of any other city council or borough shall be known as the mayor or deputy mayor of that city or borough. All of this may sound colonial but I am a great believer in tradition, as is the Minister. I am glad this has been included because it retains a sense of our history, whether it was a pleasant or unpleasant part of it. The media does not seem to be aware of the correct references to mayors and lord mayors. We constantly hear references to lord mayors of boroughs, even though [457] these authorities have mayors. There are only two lords mayor in this State, the Lord Mayor of Dublin and the Lord Mayor of Cork; Belfast also has a Lord Mayor.

I understand from some of the Minister's officials that the Lord Mayor is entitled to be referred to as the Right Honourable Lord Mayor, which is a distinction not given to the Lord Mayor of Cork. The chairmen of borough and county councils used to be known by a variety of titles. In Senator Honan's county town the mayor was known as the burgermeister. It was the only town which used this title which is embedded in history and, perhaps, comes from the Huguenots and the Palatinates, who settled there. In County Kildare the title of sovereign was used. It is a pity some titles have passed into history but, fortunately, some have been retained. People may feel such titles are part of our colonial past and that reference should not be made to them. They are important as they are an intrinsic part of what we are. I am pleased the Minister has insisted that chairmen and vice-chairmen, other than mayors and lord mayors, be referred to as cathaoirleach and leas-chathaoirleach and that he has provided legal recognition of the titles of lord mayor and mayor in our towns and boroughs.

Ms Honan: At its last meeting, Laois County Council was given a report by its Irish language officer, which suggested ways and means by which the council could increase the awareness and use of Irish throughout the county. It suggested that in future we refer to the chairman and vice-chairman as cathaoirleach and leas-chathaoirleach, respectively.

Mr. Roche: I can see the benefit of using the title of cathaoirleach and leas-chathaoirleach to refer to the chairman and vice-chairman of a local authority, not least because it means we do not have to use politically correct language. Senator Mooney made the point that some of the titles in the ancient charters are quite extraordinary and reflect our [458] history, not our colonial past. It is a pity that they are being left behind.

I am anxious that the cathaoirleach and leas-chathaoirleach and the mayor and deputy mayor in the case of the cities should have a real role. I made the point in the Minister's absence yesterday that far too much power has been transferred to county managers. The positions of cathaoirleach, leas-chathaoirleach, mayor and deputy mayor should be developed to the position of full-time elected officials to counter balance the entirely dead hand effect of the managerial system of local government. This balance is achieved in continental Europe. I know the Minister is anxious to achieve this very fine balance between efficiency, which comes from full-time appointed officials, and democracy which can only come from representatives with the imprimatur of the electorate. I know that you, a Chathaoirligh, have also views on that.

What we are doing here is very welcome but in addition to changing titles we should also be doing something to counter balance what I regard as a very pernicious influence in local government.

Mr. McDonagh: I welcome this section on the issue of cathaoirleach and leas-chathaoirleach. In my county of Galway, where we conduct a great deal of our business through the medium of Irish, glaotar cathaoirleach agus leas-chathaoirleach i gcónaí ar an duine a bhíonn san chathaoir. Nuair a bhíonn muid ag votáil, deireann muid ar a shon agus in aghaidh. Tá a lán Gaeilge in úsáid agus cuireann mé fáilte mhór roimh an giota seo den Bille. I welcome this provision which is a move in the right direction. Every assistance we can give, as public representatives, to the promotion and development of the Irish language is welcome and fitting. I commend the Minister on this.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. M. Smith): Gabhaim buíochas leis na Seanadóirí uile a labhair i bhfábhar na hathruithe atá curtha síos san Bille seo i dtaobh ainmneacha sna húdaráis uile. I am [459] delighted that this change has been welcomed. However, I wish to say to those who are anxious to retain some of the old names that there are a number which they, perhaps, might not like to retain, including that of bailiff. I understand the thinking behind accommodating tradition and history; understanding and using it; not being totally tied to it and allowing it to become part of the new Ireland.

The commission which will be established and work for the next year in consultation with local authorities, may reserve its position as to what other changes should be made with local input to give different areas appropriate names. I will be quite flexible about that. We are all on reasonably safe ground in what we are trying to achieve.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 26 to 29, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 30.

Question proposed: “That section 30 stand part of the Bill.”

An Cathaoirleach: Senators McDonagh, Howard and Cosgrave have indicated their opposition to this section.

Mr. McDonagh: The General Council of County Council's submission on this Bill has often been referred to over the past few days and great credence has been placed in it. That body, which painstakingly examined every aspect of this Bill, is opposed to this section.

The Minister is showing a great lack of confidence in the foot soldiers of local democracy, the county councillors of Ireland, the poor relation in the Irish political system, the men and women who take the flak at grassroots level. They are on call seven days a week. Ministers, TDs and Senators can escape when they spend two to four days in Dublin on parliamentary business but councillors are always on call.

[460] There has been much talk about the devolution of power, better conditions for councillors, giving them more power and letting them become masters of their own destiny but are we serious about them? Is the Minister serious? This Bill does not indicate a serious intent. On the contrary, it is a further erosion of councillors' rights. The Minister is attempting to impose his will on county council meetings, fix the agenda and set the rules. There is a touch of the headmaster about this approach; the lads and lassies can do it their way but, at the end of the day, the Minister has the final say.

The General Council of County Councils is concerned about Part V which is extremely undemocratic and exposes local authorities to severe over prescription by the Minister in every respect relating to meetings and procedures. It must be removed if local democracy is to survive. One need only glance at the amount of detail in it to come to this conclusion.

The General Council of County Councils acknowledges and has consistently argued in favour of a consolidation of local government Acts, including the law on local authority meetings and procedures. Although presented as part of this consolidation process, Part V is more concerned with giving the Minister additional draconian powers over local authorities under which he can regulate their affairs.

The Minister will be in a position to decide what matters may be discussed or considered by local authorities if this Part is passed. We must remember that local authorities are comprised of democratically elected representatives of the people and they should be free to act in the general interest of their communities without the severe restrictions provided for in Part V.

My party is opposed to this provision. Many councillors are very dissatisfied with the Minister's recent decision on meetings and the implementation of this provision would further aggravate the situation. I appeal to the Minister to look at it again in the interests of harmony and to avoid disquiet in the rank and file. It [461] is an unwanted intrusion into the affairs of local authorities and further gags and limits the work of county councillors.

Councillors should set their own agenda and procedures. They are people of great integrity who carry the can for the Members of the Oireachtas. We should give them the recognition they deserve. The Minister should reconsider this provision and have it deleted.

Mr. M. Smith: There is a total misunderstanding by the General Council of County Councils and a number of Senators about this provision. As a former Senator, I can understand why Members of this House from time to time would like to endorse the wishes of that body. However, in this case it would be extremely unwise. The General Council of County Councils in its circular to Senators is going totally against what it asked me to do. The 1992 review group of the municipal authorities, the General Council of County Councils and the managers described the law on local authority meetings as antiquated, unclear and scattered over many enactments and should be updated in consolidated form.

Some of the local government legislation dates back 150 years. It is scattered over many enactments and is very inconsistent, complex and difficult to understand. As far back as 1971 the White Paper on Local Government Reorganisation referred to the unsatisfactory state of the law and recommended that regulations should be introduced to change it. The Barrington Committee said it was fragmented and confusing and should be updated. All the specialist groups, including the General Council of County Councils, have asked Ministers for 20 years to do something about this.

Section 30 proposes to produce one set of regulations of the law on local authority meetings in a convenient and accessible format for the benefit of councillors, officials and the public. In the process I would hope for the first time to establish in law a right of the public to have access to meetings, to remove anomalies, to clarify procedures, to increase public awareness and promote greater [462] public interest as well as giving a commitment to this House to have consultation with local authorities on how to devise these regulations.

Our laws do not provide for the public to attend local authority meetings and I am being accused of doing something draconian because I propose to change that law.

I wrote to the General Council of County Councils seeking their views following the publication of the 1992 report. They referred only to the inadequacies of funding for local authorities but did not make suggestions with regard to this aspect of the law. I look forward to having consultations with the local authorities on this matter. There are a number of aspects of local government law in great need of reform. Under the present antiquated law some authorities are required to hold what are known as quarterly meetings. I do not know what relevance quarterly meetings had 150 years ago but, as most Members know, local authorities meet every month so the requirement in law to have quarterly meetings should be removed. On the question of summons and agenda, some of the old law requires a notice to be fixed on the town hall door. Is it being suggested that I should not change that? I am asked to leave that unchanged.

On the question of the public having the right to attend public meetings, this is a democracy and I know of no other country where the public do not have the right of access to local authority meetings unless the council agrees to receive a deputation. That is antiquated and Senators should not misunderstand it. It is not a question of the Minister getting involved in what is to be discussed at local authority meetings. Senators are surely not serious in thinking that I, or any other Minister wants to be involved in the items placed on an agenda.

I assure Senators that the regulations will provide for local authorities giving sufficient notice of a meeting and for the agenda stating what is to be considered. There will be no draconian provisions in the regulations as has been alleged. The regulations will be of benefit to the [463] public, to officials and, most of all, to members of local authorities. They will not be heavy handed and will allow full discretion to local authorities as to the place, date, time and agenda of their meetings.

At present some local authorities are prohibited from holding meetings outside their functional areas while others are not. There may be ceremonial occasions when they would wish to do that and I am making the provision flexible so that can happen. It is illegal at present for local authorities to hold meetings on a licensed premises. Members are aware that they have been held in such premises but that broke the law. Is the Minister for the Environment not supposed to change that.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: It happens. Why does the Minister not ask the Minister for Justice to prosecute us?

Mr. M. Smith: I know that in some counties area committees occasionally hold meetings in hotels and so on. The regulations will regularise that situation. I ask Senators to accept my assurance that what I am doing is what I and other Ministers have been asked to do for 20 years. The Barrington Committee, which was often cited in the debate, recommended it as did the General Council of County Councils in very strong words.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: The Minister is slightly misrepresenting the representation.

Mr. M. Smith: If Senators suggest, in the face of that evidence, that that law should not be updated it is time they accepted that they are not likely to have a say in how their country is going to be run for a considerable time.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: The Minister's argument on consolidation would be valid, if this were a consolidation Bill repealing every aspect of local authority legislation. It is not. The Bill does not do what the General Council of County [464] Councils requested, consolidate the variety of legislation which currently governs local authority affairs. That argument does not stand either.

The Minister spoke about the right of the public to attend meetings. I have been a member of a local authority for 15 years and never once during that time have the public been prevented from attending a meeting of that authority. Section 30 (2) (q) is the only provision that refers to the “attendance of persons other than members of the relevant local authority”. What about subsection (2) (a) which refers to “annual meetings, estimates meetings, ordinary meetings, special or other specified meetings” and empowers the Minister to make regulations on those meetings? The subsequent subsections empower the Minister to make regulations on the “business of meetings; place date and time of meetings; notice of meetings; summons and agenda; quorum; and failure to hold a meeting”.

This is dictatorial legislation and this section is a vote of no confidence by the Minister in local authorities, their members and the standing of those members within their communities. Members of local authorities are competent and capable of drafting their own standing orders, of abiding by them, calling their meetings and managing their own affairs. For the Minister to introduce legislation that will empower him to manage the day-to-day affairs of the local authority is completely unacceptable. I was astounded to read this section and could not believe that any Minister for the Environment, particularly one who for many years was a member of a local authority, could include such a provision in a local government Bill. It is totally unacceptable. I appeal to the Minister to withdraw all the subsections of section 30.

On the attendance of persons other than members of relevant local authorities, I would like to know what local authorities are referred to, and when and how they prevented members of the public from attending.

[465] Mr. M. Smith: The Senator should confine herself to the facts. Do not mind hallucination.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I am not aware of members of the public ever having been prevented from attending meetings of my local authority. In Clare County Council in the 15 years I have been a member the public were not prevented once from attending any meeting. I find this section totally reprehensible and unacceptable. I appeal to the Minister to withdraw it.

Mr. Roche: I agree with most of the General Council of County Council's submission and I spoke at length about it on section 2. I was a bit taken aback by some of the language. It strikes me that there has been a classic breakdown in communications. Senator Taylor-Quinn, in her usual adroit fashion, is now heaping further confusion and smoke onto the issue. The law cannot be changed by councillors. It can only be changed by the Oireachtas. Under the law Irish people could be prohibited from attending local authority meetings.

Mr. M. Smith: They are.

Mr. Roche: That is the reality and we, including Senator Taylor-Quinn, know that.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I am indicating the relevant subsection to the Senator.

Mr. Roche: Councillor Taylor-Quinn has had the opportunity to deliver her drivel and I want to deliver some in return.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: A Chathaoirligh, on a point of order.

An Cathaoirleach: I am sure the Senator did not mean to say that.

Mr. Roche: I usually mean what I say. However, if the word causes offence and in the interest of making progress in this debate, I withdraw the word.

[466] What Senator Taylor-Quinn said did not make sense. The law is deficient regarding the attendance of the public at local authority meetings. No councillor, town commissioner or urban councillor would defend that or would wish that it be so. However, it is one of the many deficiencies in the law.

Many years ago Judge Gavin Duffy delivered a judgment in which he referred to the law on local authorities as a tangled web, a jungle and a confusion. That is exactly the case. Senator Taylor-Quinn said that this is not a consolidation Bill. That is true: it is enabling legislation. However, from page 49 to page 56 of the Bill there is a list of Acts which are affected by this legislation.

I can offer the House another example. Recently I, and a number of councillors in Wicklow — from other parties and from none — were seeking information. In frustration we — all councillors — tabled a section 2 motion under the 1955 Act in order that we, on behalf of the people we represent, could discover the information. Our manager took legal advice and decided that the motion could go to the bottom of the agenda. All Senators realise that if a Senator's quota of motions on the agenda is filled it might take months, even a year, before an important motion is discussed. Under the law the elected representatives of the people of Wicklow did not have the right to direct under an Act passed by the Oireachtas.

We must be very careful in this regard. Obviously, nobody in their right mind would want to prescribe the way local authorities do their business. However, we should ensure that the law reflects the good practices that exist in councils. Senator Taylor-Quinn is correct in saying that no council would ban the public from its meetings. Under the law, however, the public does not have the right to attend such meetings. If we look for information, as in the situation I outlined, we do not have the right to direct that certain things be done because even section 2 of the 1955 Act which is intended to give members specific rights can be circumvented.

[467] I have had experience of the requirement to tag a notice to a door. I was involved in the establishment of Greystones Town Commission in 1984. When we looked at the Lighting of Towns Act, 1828, which governs that practice we discovered that we had to seek a door to which we could tag the notice. We had to ask the priest for permission to tag a notice on his door. Is there anything as ludicrous as that? The law on these matters goes back to the 12th century. Most of the legislation dates from the early years of the 19th century or the latter part of the 18th century. There is a need for legal change in this area.

As Senators we are anxious to look after the interests of our constituents who are the councillors who elect us. However, we must have a balanced approach and not suggest that the Minister's legislation is draconian or over the top. It is evidently sensible. He is trying to make legislative sense of what is a tangled web, a jungle and a confusion. He wants to put the legal powers of the council in a handbook. It would be misleading and a bad representation of local government to go over the top on this issue. Part V of the Bill, particularly if it is applied in the spirit anticipated by the Minister, is not a threat to local government. It brings clarity where there is confusion. We should not lose sight of the intent and effect of the section.

I could continue to debate this subject. For a number of years I have studied the idiosyncrasies of the law relating to the powers of councillors. Believe me, the powers of the councillor — I am a champion of councillor's powers because I passionately believe in local government — are constrained not least——

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: The only power they have is to bring forward a section 4 motion.

Mr. Roche: If the Senator wishes to discuss section 4, I can offer an expert opinion on it because we are engaged in a legal action against our county manager on the issue.

[468] An Cathaoirleach: We should discuss the section in this Bill.

Mr. Roche: The issue mentioned by Senator Taylor-Quinn is one on which the councillors in Wicklow, the General Council of County Councils, LAMA and the county manager have been given a diverse range of legal opinion. There is huge confusion and we should not exacerbate it. We should consolidate the law and clarify it. We should put power back in the hands of councillors as is the intention of this Bill.

Mr. Belton: The Minister is justified in some of the content of this section, for example, the requirement to hang a notice about a meeting on a door. I was not aware of that requirement.

Mr. M. Smith: I will give the Senator 400 different reasons for that. He would not believe the number of reasons and requirements.

Mr. Belton: It is welcome that these requirements are to be removed. There were a number of loopholes. In other areas, however, the Minister is taking power from local authority members. Our council, for example, has standing orders which regulate the business of the council. They are the chairman's reference book regarding the holding of meetings and other matters. If a deputation wishes to address the council notice must be given one month in advance. The deputation can then address the meeting on whatever issue concerns it. Can that arrangement continue under this section?

Mr. M. Smith: It will be a better system. Deputations will not have to crawl.

Mr. Belton: That is fair enough. However, the Minister, in his efforts to be seen to give easier access to the public to address and attend meetings, has also, to a certain extent, taken away the power of the council to carry out its business in what it believes to be an orderly fashion. [469] I await the Minister's comments on that aspect.

Mr. McDonagh: I will clarify the view of the General Council of County Councils. That body acknowledges and has consistently argued in favour of a consolidation of the law on local government. This Bill, although presented as part of the consolidation process, is more concerned with giving the Minister additional powers and can only be described as draconian. He will be able to regulate all aspects of local authority affairs and to prescribe what matters may and may not be discussed or considered by local authorities. This section is opposed to local democracy.

Local authorities are comprised of democratically elected representatives of the people and must be free to act in the general interests of their communities without the severe restrictions provided for in this section. Senator Roche has strongly defended this measure but it is difficult to see how any councillor from either side of the House could support it. This section will gag councillors and interfere with their democratic right to set their own agenda. I cannot see how Members on the Government side can subscribe to the section and I appeal to the Minister to delete it; he has been reasonable with councillors in the past.

An Cathaoirleach: I am anxious to bring this discussion to a conclusion as soon as possible. I will call Senator McGennis, Senator Honan and Senator Taylor-Quinn and then I will call the Minister.

Mrs. McGennis: I am glad the Minister has clarified the intent of this section because local authority members feared this was an attempt to run the business of councils from the Custom House. Within my party I have always argued for greater autonomy for local authorities. I was not aware during my previous membership of Dublin County Council and my current membership of Fingal County Council that my fellow councillors and I were breaking the laws, although we have carried [470] on our business in a correct fashion. We have always adhered to the principles as set out in this section; we have orderly meetings, standing orders and access for the public.

However, I found it difficult as a local authority member to gain access to the housing department with a constituent. The management of that section fought me at every step and I had to get the consent of the members to achieve access. If this is an attempt to make local government more democratic and open to the public I welcome it.

The regulations on estimates meetings may not be covered in this section but perhaps the Minister can answer a query. Whatever complaints the General Council of County Councils and individual councillors may have about the conduct of meetings, there is absolute agreement that the method and the format by which estimates are presented to members is not helpful. The estimates are presented in the manner in which they have to be presented under the law. If it is possible under this section, I ask the Minister to change the existing provision to simplify the way the estimates are presented. Control and power is only available to local authority members if they are aware of the authority's financial position.

I have been a local authority member since 1985 which is not as long as other Members present. Every year we were told the council would be abolished because of its dire financial straits. Last year Dublin County Council was abolished, not because an estimate was not agreed but because it split into three councils.

Unless members have control of the financial running of the council they have no control. All our aspirations for local government mean nothing if the manager can submit a one line report saying work cannot be done because there is not enough money. If members do not know what money is available they cannot argue the case. Whatever regulation the Minister brings forward, I ask him to change the way the book of estimates is presented to the members.

[471] I also wish to know how he intends to control disorderly conduct by regulations.

Mr. M. Smith: I will not be controlling it, I will try to regulate it. There is a distinction.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: He will use a firing squad.

Mrs. McGennis: It appears we have no control of that at present.

Ms Honan: Everyone in the House agrees with the Minister that consolidation of local authority legislation is badly needed. We also accept the public should not be prevented from attending local authority meetings. Where we differ is that we believe the powers given to the Minister under this section could be used in a heavy handed way.

The Minister is speaking for himself but he may not always occupy his current position. He may move on to greater things. The Minister for the Environment will have too many powers and he will be taking them from local authority members, who are most concerned about this. Senator Roche spoke about the lack of information he received as a councillor in Wicklow and the lack of any legal basis for obtaining that information. All of us would agree with him but we are not arguing about that. Our difficulty with this section is that it gives the Minister too much power. Some Senators on the Government side made this point yesterday.

The issue raised by Senator McGennis is dealt with in the estimates sections of the Bill, sections 44 to 46. That provision seems to indicate the Minister will decide or could decide what estimates will be adopted. We will deal with that when the time comes. I support what has been said by Fine Gael Members. Senators on the other side appeared to have doubts about this also.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Section 30 (2) (q) is the only provision which has any relevance. [472] When Senator Roche was discussing this section, he selectively elaborated on this subparagraph and chose to ignore the provisions which enable the Minister to make regulations to manage day to day affairs and the running of meetings.

Mr. M. Smith: That is crazy.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: It is clear from the section and to suggest otherwise is not honest. The Minister intends to bring this into law. For a number of years we have heard the Minister and his party talk about empowering the people, bringing power down to local level and enabling people to manage their own affairs.

Mr. M. Smith: That is being done in the Bill.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: The Bill empowers the Minister, not the people. The unfortunate position under this section is that the Minister will be empowered to manage and control the day to day affairs of local authorities, even the operation of their meetings. It is not entirely honest to suggest otherwise and we can read the Bill before us. The only subparagraph of any relevance is section 30 (2) (q); every other provision in the section is completely unacceptable. It is extraordinary that the Minister has presented this to us.

What was the thinking behind this measure? As many speakers have said, we as local authority members are quite capable of introducing standing orders and operating our business. We do not need legislation from the Oireachtas to enable the Minister to dictate from the Department of the Environment when we should hold our meetings, what we should have on the agenda, the time they should be held, and the details of those meetings. As a former member of a local authority, the Minister must recognise that this section is unacceptable. Many speakers on the other side of the House disagree with this section. As members of local authorities, I sympathise with them in attempting to defend the Bill.

[473] Mr. M. Smith: The Senator has no need to worry.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I ask the Minister not to include section 30 because it is unacceptable and no argument will convince me otherwise.

Mr. Roche: I do not want the record to misinterpret what I said. This section empowers the councillors to make regulations.

Mr. Belton: That is the intention.

Mr. Taylor-Quinn: It empowers the Minister to make regulations.

Mr. Roche: I will not allow Senator Taylor-Quinn to put words in my mouth because she continuously highlights the mental confusion which exists in County Clare. She suggested that I should have addressed other sections, but I did not because time is limited. I will now consider one or two other sections. Would anyone in a political party support a decision by a local authority not to hold meetings? Senator Taylor-Quinn would not do so because it would be undemocratic. I would not support it.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I have confidence in local authorities.

Mr. Roche: Could anyone in either House support such a situation? I am sure the General Council of County Councils would not support a decision not to hold meetings. Could anyone say it is not good to legislate for requirements relating to the disclosure of a specified interest?

Disorderly conduct is a problem in councils, as Senator McGennis said, and the powers of councils to handle it are constrained and limited because the law is confused. I illustrated this by reference to pinning notices on doors, to Mr. Justice Gavan Duffy's judgment on it and to the difficulties getting information, which councillors throughout the country complain about. The confusion in the law is exploited by management, which has a vested interest in keeping councillors in [474] the dark. I accept the sincerity of Senator Taylor-Quinn's submission. The last thing we want is a Minister in the Department of the Environment who puts a dead hand on the way local authorities do their business.

Mr. Belton: That will happen.

Mr. Roche: These regulations are intended to bring clarity where there is confusion and that is in the councils' interests.

Mr. Belton: It is organised confusion.

Mr. M. Smith: Senator Taylor-Quinn tried to scoff at the extent of repeal contained in this Bill. Because I am concerned that the Senator's party should be more informed about these matters, I will read part of the First Schedule. It states: “Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act, 1840 [repealing] Sections 5, 14, 28, 29, 30, 52, 58, 83, 92, 125, 126 and 127.”; the “Commissioners Clauses Act, 1847 [repealing] Sections 37, 38, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 47, 48, 51, 52, 53, 54 and 55.”. These deal with law in relation to meetings. “Towns Improvement Clauses Act, 1847 [repealing] Sections 132, 133, 135, 142, 143, 200, 201, 202, 203, 204, 205, 206, 207 and 208.”; the “Towns Improvement (Ireland) Act, 1854”, repealing approximately 20 sections; the “Public Health (Ireland) Act, 1878”, repealing approximately another 20 sections; the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898”, repealing the sections referred to; the “Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1902”——

Mr. Cosgrave: Will we have a debate on these Acts?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Minister should be allowed to reply.

Mr. M. Smith: I was criticised before the Senator came in for including these simple provisions to remove archaic laws, which has been sought by councillors——

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Get rid of them.

[475] Mr. M. Smith: ——and the Barrington committee.

Mr. Cosgrave: The Minister has our full support.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Minister, without interruption.

Mr. M. Smith: I have been accused of being draconian, but I am a reasonable man.

Mr. Cosgrave: We know the Minister is a reasonable man, but we should continue with the debate.

Mrs. McGennis: The Senator should speak to his colleagues.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator is interrupting the Minister's reply.

Mr. Cosgrave: If we are talking about an Act in 1850, we will be here for a long time.

Mr. Roche: If the Senator had been present, he would know his colleague asked the Minister about these Acts.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I ask Senator Roche to resume his seat and I call on the Minister to reply.

Mr. M. Smith: I am glad to change the archaic and ridiculous laws which exist.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: The Minister must carry a load on his shoulders.

Mr. M. Smith: Anyone who looked at those Acts would say it was time someone did something about them.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: We compliment the Minister for doing so, but when will they be replaced?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Minister, without interruption.

Mr. M. Smith: Now that I have achieved the Members' wishes, the next [476] step is to find one simplified code which can be used. Let us assume I say nothing in law about meetings. Every local authority could then do what it liked——

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: We could not.

Mr. M. Smith: ——and every county manager, who was smart enough to outwit his councillors, could do what he liked. In order to establish the regulations, I will consult with the local authorities so that we can take account of their views. We are making primary laws. If Senator Taylor-Quinn would think about this issue, instead of running away with hallucinations——

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: On a point of order, the Minister referred to my contribution as a hallucination. It is not a hallucination but reality.

Mr. M. Smith: I did not say that.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I ask the Minister to withdraw that remark.

Mr. M. Smith: The words I used were “running away with hallucinations”.

We recognise this is the right thing to do so that councils will not have different sets of rules which could be exploited. Many councillors have told me they do not understand the maze, and Senator McGennis mentioned this in relation to the estimates. They have asked me to simplify the code and help them to do a better job for the community. I give a commitment to the House that regulations will not be introduced without consultation. The legislation we are now debating will provide for the best regulations to help councils to do a better job for the people. We do not want to use legal opinion and advisers to adjudicate on simple problems and ask the public to pay for it. I stand over this Bill, but some day the Senator may get the chance to prove she can do better.

Question put and agreed to.

[477] SECTION 31.

Ms Honan: I move amendment No. 15:

In page 26, after line 41, to insert the following subsection:

“(3) (a) Where two local authorities are empowered to provide amenities, facilities, etc. under this section or section 6 of the Act of 1991 the principle of subsidiarity shall apply in relation to which local authority shall provide the amenity, facility, etc.

(b) In the case of any dispute arising under this section between any two local authorities, the said dispute shall be resolved by independent Commissioners appointed by Dáil Éireann.”.

The purpose of this amendment is to provide for the devolution of power to the lowest possible level at which a service can most effectively and efficiently be administered.

Mr. M. Smith: This amendment seems to be based on the premise that there will be disputes between local authorities where powers are vested concurrently in different local authorities. I would prefer to rely on good common sense. All local authorities in a county have the same manager. The provisions in section 7 of the Local Government Act, 1991, require local authorities in performing their functions to have regard to the need for cooperation with and the co-ordination of its activities with those of other local authorities and the need for consultation with other local authorities. The powers of general competence conferred by section 6 of the 1991 Act apply to all local authorities, but this matter has not given rise to difficulty. I am confident that county and town local authorities are well capable of making any necessary arrangements for the performance and allocations of functions between them.

On a more general note, the question of the relationship between the different classes of town and local authority at county level is one of the specific matters [478] which the reorganisation committee is required to consider and make recommendations on. At this stage I am not disposed to impose any requirements in this area. The question of the appropriate role and functions for town authorities and the relationship with county level is one for the reorganisation committee.

As regards boundary changes, they may not all be perfect. These changes had to be made within a tight time frame. I was surprised that of the 62 local authorities whose boundaries were extended, there was local agreement in 57 cases. It highlights the good sense at local level in deciding these matters. Although all these changes are not perfect, they demonstrate terrific commitment on the part of elected members on both sides to try to reach agreement. Other matters relating to that will be resolved by the boundary commission. The reorganisation committee will do a different job and will need to use the consultative process to solve some of these matters.

I do not want — this also relates to the last section where there was misunderstanding — to bring the Minister or ministerial consent one inch further than what is essential in these matters. That is why I want these matters decided at local level.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 31 agreed to.

Section 32 agreed to.

SECTION 33.

Question proposed: “That section 33 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Mooney: I refer to the outstanding initiative taken by the Minister in providing an extra £2 million to the public library service. He will be aware through his dealings with me that I act as a liaison between the Library Association of Ireland and the Minister. The House may be aware that I am here as a nominee of the Library Association of Ireland. The association and its component parts [479] enthusiastically welcome the initiatives which have been taken by the Minister for the Environment in this Bill.

There are a number of problem areas which the Minister is aware of. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention them on Committee Stage. Section 33 (1) states that “a library authority may take such measures”. The association is of the opinion that this should be more statutorily based and that the library authority “shall” take such measures. The reason is that in a many cases — I confess that in my experience this is dwindling — local councils due primarily to financial constraints tend to push library services down the list. The Minister introduced this financial initiative because book funds were low. Perhaps the Minister could tell us why he did not provide in this section a statutory obligation on library authorities.

Mr. Cosgrave: This is an important section. While I do not want to be contentious, I would like to ask the Minister a few questions. Library services in our respective local authorities are important. There are many libraries in the four Dublin council areas and the boundary areas of Wicklow, Meath and Kildare which may link up and transfer books. I noted what Senator Mooney said about the provision for book funds and the development of libraries. Libraries in County Dublin provide people with access to facilities and items, including books, research materials and videos which they would not otherwise be able to avail of.

I am sure the Minister agrees that provision should be made for the library service. When my local authority discusses its estimates, often the book fund is slashed. While we accept cuts must be made, libraries are a local authority service which many people benefit from. I ask the Minister to ensure that libraries are developed and given facilities. Communication between libraries in different local authority areas is important. There should be a good esprit de corps between libraries, particularly when one library [480] has facilities to research a certain topic. As the Minister has said, there is not a bottomless pit of funds. We appreciate that, but I ask him for a commitment that his Department, through the local authorities, will recognise the work of managers and librarians. Many people, young and old, will benefit if basic library facilities are available.

Mr. Calnan: I compliment librarians throughout the country, particularly those in County Cork where I am a member of the library committee. I ask the Minister to see if the Department of the Environment and the Department of Education could liaise more closely in relation to library facilities which would overlap into primary and post primary schools. The two schemes are operating separately and it would be in the interest of the library service and pupils in our schools if the they could be made more cohesive.

Mr. M. Smith: Books are to the mind what exercise is to the body. The mind is the only place where something fragile cannot be broken or where the most explosive idea cannot explode in one's face. I am delighted with the support for the provisions of the Bill updating the law relating to libraries. I refer to a problem which I saw as greater than all others in relation to the library service — the way in which book stocks had been run down. The sum of £2 million is being provided for stocking. This allocation has been welcomed by Comhairle Leabharlann, librarians and public representatives. There have been a number of good developments in the library service, a multi-faceted service now in the way in which it serves the community. I am very grateful to the librarians and local authorities throughout the country who have worked hard to deliver a good service. I admire the architecture of the new libraries and also the way in which libraries have extended their services and brought the mobile services to remote areas. I welcome the link with ENFO on environmental matters. The question of supporting the educational system is [481] something we have to continue to work on, we need to improve that link all the time. We all welcome the fact that so many librarians are involved in local historical, architectural and cultural activities and in developing the library as a local asset and as an asset for tourism.

Regarding the words “shall” and “may” in legislation, activists always want to see the word “shall”, which means that no matter what the circumstances, it must be done. The word “may” gives some discretion if there is an extraordinary situation. I give a commitment to the House, which I have demonstrated in this Bill, that I want to see this area revamped and supported both in regard to capital and revenue.

In regard to Dublin there have been a number of major developments. There are a number of other proposals which I accept are waiting for sanction and I will try and deliver on those as soon as resources permit.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 34.

Question proposed: “That section 34 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Mooney: In relation to the composition of An Comhairle Leabharlanna, the Library Association has made a submission to the Minister asking that he give serious consideration to ensuring that representatives of practising librarians are appointed to the board of An Comhairle Leabharlanna. I do not in any way wish to tie the Minister's hands on this. I appreciate that he has a very wide net to cast in relation to An Comhairle Leabharlanna and also to any other appointments within his brief but because of the specialised knowledge of librarians, which has been acknowledged by the Minister and other contributors, I ask him to give serious consideration to appointing a representative of the practising librarians to An Comhairle Leabharlanna.

[482] Mr. McDonagh: I refer the Minister to section 4, line 32. On a point of information, on future appointments to An Comhairle Leabharlanna, is the Minister making changes? Over the years the General Council of County Councils has made three appointments, which are renewed every three years, to the Comhairle Leabharlanna. This has been successful and it is important because it maintains liaison between An Comhairle Leabharlanna and the General Council of County Councils. Is this procedure is to be continued after this Bill comes into force?

Mr. M. Smith: There have been so many times in my political career when I have been outmanoeuvred in the Seanad that one more time will not make any difference. I laid down specifically in that section that there will be no change. The Senator seems to get the impression that I am proposing a change. This is not the case. The traditional representation is maintained, and will come up for renewal in due course.

Mr. McDonagh: I am very pleased to hear that. I thank the Minister.

Mr. M. Smith: In relation to the nomination of a particular classification outside that, I do not want to get into the business of making such decisions on primary legislation but it seems to me that practical good sense might dictate that something like that would happen. I do not want to get into commitments.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 35 and 36 agreed to.

SECTION 37.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 are consequential on amendment No. 19, and amendment No. 20 is related. Amendments Nos. 16, 17, 19, and 20 may be discussed together.

[483] Mr. McDonagh: I move amendment No. 16:

In page 29, subsection (1), line 34, to delete”, subject to subsection 8,”

I welcome the powers the Minister is giving to local authorities to make by-laws in relation to matters of public interest and for the common good. I was delighted to be involved as a representative of the General Council of County Councils with a group set up by the Minister which made very specific proposals on by-laws and the functions of county councils in 1992. That group worked very well and I commend my fellow members of the group, some of whom are present.

However, all the good done by the Minister is undone in sections 8 and 9 of the Bill in clawing back some of the aforementioned powers. This is totally unnecessary and the amendments we have put forward in this regard, to delete sections 8 and 9, is very sensible. It would put the Minister in a very good light and he would receive the gratitude of the councils and councillors of Ireland if these two sections were removed.

Amendment No. 17 reads:

In page 29, subsection (2) (a), lines 39 and 40, to delete “and subsection (8)”.

It is a sensible proposal. I hope the Minister will relent and accept my amendment.

Mr. M. Smith: A central feature of the by-law provisions of the Bill is the departure from the present position where all by-laws require ministerial confirmation. This will no longer be the case. What is proposed is quite novel in Irish law and there are some, no doubt, who would argue against it. The local authority will decide if by-laws are necessary. It will draw them up. The local authority will have an opportunity to invite submissions. These will be considered and then the elected members may make the by-law subject to any modifications felt necessary.

[484] Senator McDonagh's amendment proposed the deletion of subsections (8) and (9) of section 37 which are part of the new framework for by-laws being introduced by the Bill. Section 37(9) sets out a procedure to allow for steps to be taken to deal with a case where a by-law has given rise to serious difficulties. First, it must be considered objectionable by the relevant Minister. He must notify the local authority in writing and it is only where there is a failure to act by the local authority that the Minister can make an order in respect of the by-law.

Subsection (8) allows the relevant Minister to declare certain matters not to come within the scope of the local by-laws. For example, should by-laws be seen to be unreasonable in the national interest as regards some aspect of the agricultural sector, these provisions of the Bill would allow appropriate steps to be taken. They are simply fallback procedures for use in exceptional circumstances. They must be viewed against the present position where each and every by-law requires ministerial confirmation.

I fear there is some misunderstanding on this because I regard very highly the submission made by the review committee and as Senators know I endorsed all those recommendations. I am not involved in the by-laws. The local authorities will decide whether they are necessary and draw them up.

I want to give Members some advice. In quite a number of the 37 areas in which since I became Minister for the Environment I have taken away the requirement for ministerial consent and given total autonomy to local authorities, I have been surprised by the number of deputations asking me to change what was decided at local level. For one reason or another problems can arise. Senators know what happens in this House and in the other House. The Minister is asked to intervene and solve the problem. This is a fallback provision, only to be used sparingly.

Mr. Roche: I welcome this section.

[485] An Leas-Chathaoirleach: We are on amendment No. 16.

Mr. Roche: I want to address amendment No. 16. I welcome the thrust of this section and I share the concern expressed in Senator McDonagh's amendment. The Minister has given us an undertaking from which we can take solace, that the claw-back provisions to which Senator McDonagh referred would only be used in the most exceptional circumstances.

Mr. McDonagh: Would the Minister inform us of the position regarding speed limits? If a speed limit is ratified by a council does it need ministerial approval?

Mr. M. Smith: This is one of the matters which does not come under the auspices of this Bill. Under the Road Traffic Bill 1993 — which has now passed all stages and regulations will be provided for its introduction — in respect of speed limits, car parks, parking management etc. local authorities will have 100 per cent autonomy. There will never again be reference to the Minister for the Environment for permission in relation to speed limits etc. once those regulations are devised. The local authority will have full autonomy. It is one of the 37 areas I have mentioned.

Mr. McDonagh: In view of what the Minister has said I will not press the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 17 not moved.

Ms Honan: I move amendment No. 18:

In page 31, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following subsection:

“(8) The power of a local authority to make a by-law under this section shall include the power to make by-laws in respect of users of rivers and lakes in its functional area.”.

[486] I do not understand which authority has the power to regulate our rivers and lakes and users of them — fishermen, swimmers, people using boats or water-skiing. There has been some controversy recently, particularly in the midlands, in relation to the use of speedboats and water-skiing on some lakes. Is this a matter in which the local authority will have the power to make a by-law under this section?

Mrs. McGennis: Is this amendment not covered by the definition in subsection (1) which states that “land” includes any structure, trees, plants or other flora, and any land covered with water, whether inland or coastal?

Mr. M. Smith: I will take all the help I get. It is defined as outlined and the answer is more or less the same as that given to the earlier amendment, that I am not involved.

Ms Honan: So the local authorities have the power.

Mr. M. Smith: Yes, except in exceptional circumstances where, for one reason or another, difficulties have arisen at local level and somebody asks that the Minister should intervene to regularise matters. We would have a great country if all these matters were always resolved at local level and I did not have to meet deputations. However, such matters arise only in the most exceptional cases.

Ms Honan: The Minister is saying that local authorities have the power to make a by-law in relation to traffic on lakes and rivers in their areas.

Mr. M. Smith: Yes.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 not moved.

Section 37 agreed to.

Sections 38 to 43, inclusive, agreed to.

[487] SECTION 44.

Mr. McDonagh: I move amendment No. 21:

In page 35, subsection (2), line 46, after “requirement,” to insert “and where an independent commission or tribunal has determined that the local authority has acted unreasonably and had the means to act reasonably”.

This amendment deals with the power to remove democratically elected members of local authorities for adopting insufficient rates. A number of factors should be borne in mind. Local authority members are chosen by the people and they have a legitimate mandate to act on behalf of the people.

Local authority members have not operated in an ideal financial arrangement — we are all clear on that. Members have not got themselves into the financial difficulties that have arisen from time to time. These financial problems have been created by successive Governments and Ministers over the years in not adequately funding local authorities. Matters have never been worse than at present, and the moneys are simply not coming from the Exchequer to the local authorities. The current environment is characterised by a lack of resources to carry out necessary functions and to provide services.

It is unfitting and unfair that a Minister can arbitrarily remove elected members from office without independent arbitration. There are two sides to the story. It is not usually the fault of members that these difficulties arise as they are forced to act in a certain manner and it would not arise if adequate funds were made available. We should tackle the problem, not the system. Hence my amendment, which is fair and which I hope the Minister will accept.

Mr. M. Smith: Since this provision was made over 50 years ago, there have been approximately 6,000 estimates meetings held around the country by the 89 local authorities. On only four occasions was the power exercised. In percentage terms [488] the vast majority of local authorities have been able to do their business within whatever constraints prevailed.

During the debate here on Second Stage, Members expressed strong views about the funding of local authorities. It is important to realise that there has never been a time in the history of local authorities where their range of options and activities was so wide. They are involved in the housing sector, in shared housing, new construction, acquisition, bathroom schemes, remedial schemes, window schemes. There is no parallel in our history for that range of activities in housing.

On major road development, the bypasses for example, the skills of the local authority have been demonstrated around the country. There has been no parallel for that. In relation to county roads, an issue that has been raised here time and again, this year the expenditure of local authorities will exceed that at any other time in their history. It will be £160 million. I admit that we have some deplorable county roads which are unacceptable to me, the Members and to the local authorities. We have had 39 inches of rain since 1 December, 1993; normally, we get 50 inches of rain in a year. Local authorities tell me that they got about 14 fine days this year. People engaged in farming and working on the bogs know how inclement the weather has been and how difficult it has been for the local authorities to do their job.

The resources are there and in the next two weeks I will be announcing the funding of £33 million, which is co-financed by Europe, to help the local authorities to face up to those problems. I have also said on a number of occasions that I do not want to see repeated filling of potholes in wet weather. It is extraordinary that I am often attacked by Opposition parties who, in the Dáil, voted against the provisions which gave me the extra £26 million to give to local authorities this year for the county roads. They have gone to local meetings suggesting that they would spend more, having voted in the other House against the provisions which gave me the extra [489] £26 million. I know there is a problem that cannot be solved overnight. As Minister for the Environment, I am committed to provide up to £1 billion, between European, local and national funds, in the next six years. If I could be satisfied that the money was being spent on a more efficient basis and that we were getting a longer and more permanent structural answer to this problem, as distinct from patchwork activities, I would go further and commit additional taxation resources for that purpose. It is a matter of regret to me that in the last five years, some £120 million has been spent on filling potholes because everybody knows they have had to be filled again and again. Therefore, a greater effort must be made to solve this problem by dealing with the foundations and drainage with more modern systems. Money is one of the answers. I am already delivering on that and will allocate more. Indeed, I have successfully fought a battle in Europe to give local authorities more powers. However, it is unfair for both Houses to criticise me for providing an extra £26 million this year having voted against provisions that would have given me additional funds.

Mr. Mooney: As a member of a local authority, I welcome the Minister's statements. I know the Minister was not trying to score political points, but it is beyond comprehension that members of local authorities would have voted against an extra allocation of money purely for narrow party political reasons. When money was allocated from the Minister's Department, road draft plans were voted down or opposed in some cases by local authorities resulting in people being denied the opportunity to repair these roads.

The Minister's successful fight in Europe for additional funding has not been publicly acknowledged. Some have argued that we, as a sovereign independent nation, have the right to decide where this EU funding should go. We do not have that right. The Minister had to fight for that money and has at least managed to get a portion of it. A county [490] engineer, who shall remain anonymous — not from my county — suggested to me that because of the basic structural difficulties facing our county and regional road networks, the Minister might, in his ongoing discussions with the EU — it may not fit in with the National Development Plan — defer major works on bypasses until the county and regional road network was put back on the sound footing it held a few years ago. It may not sound practical, but since it came from a county engineer, it seems an attractive idea.

I have been a member of a local authority for only three years, but have found it difficult to adequately answer and address the estimates when they are presented. Can the Minister do anything — this may seem ironic in the context of calls for devolution of powers — to help support councillors at local level who do not have the expertise available to the Executive? When estimates are debated and accepted inevitably there is over-expenditure later on — the Minister, who was a member of a local authority, would be familiar with this. County managers have often said they do not mind being forced to overspend but ask from where the money will come. We lack the accounting expertise to point out to him where he can get this money. Sometimes, and this has been said in a wide variety of contexts in the House, county managers have been economical — I will not say unscrupulous — with the facts when finance, the core value of any local authority, is discussed.

Ms Honan: I welcome the Minister's statements on funding for local authority roads. This has been the biggest bane of councillors, especially in rural areas over the last three years. I was interested to hear the Minister say he did not agree with wasting money by refilling potholes. Indeed, we are all of that opinion. It would be beneficial if a plan which would bring the county roads structure up to a satisfactory level could be drawn up. When I put this idea to the county engineer in my local authority, he said that the previous Minister for the Environment, [491] Deputy Flynn, had told them to refill the potholes and not become involved in any grandiose schemes. I welcome the Minister saying that——

Mr. Belton: Pothole paths.

Ms Honan: ——he would be willing to raise extra finance if adequate schemes and plans were presented to him. That would be welcomed by all councillors, county councils and engineers. If the county engineers presented plans that would bring our roads up to the level before the rate support grant was reduced, would the Minister be willing to fund it?

Mr. M. Smith: I am anxious to cooperate with the House and the local authorities because I know how overstretched and pressed local representatives are on this question. There is now an opportunity to find the best way to solve this problem. In overall terms, this year's allocation is the most we have ever had for this purpose although even that may not be adequate. Therefore, we may have to look at ways to increase it further, but there is no point in doing this if it is spent wastefully. Some £600 million has been spent in the last five years, which represents about £12,000 per mile of our 54,000 county and regional miles. If one looks at the statistics, one will see that there were 160,000 cars in Ireland 30 years ago; there are now 900,000 cars. There were 40,000 four, eight and ten tonne trucks 30 years ago; there are now 150,000 40 tonne trucks and bulk carriers. The foundations and the management of drainage and hedgerows, either by the farming community or the county council, is not good enough in many cases. All these factors must be combined to ensure that decent roads are provided.

I have also been frightened by the variation in priorities by county councils. In some cases, the amount of expenditure per county mile of road is as low as £200; the highest is £1,800. There was a protest in County Meath about the state of their [492] roads and I will give £3 million to that county this year; it received £1 million from the State four years ago for county and regional roads. In the last five years, it has reduced its allocation from its own resources by £1 million, 15 years after the abolition of rates. The condition of roads is my priority and should also be that of this House. They must also be seen to be a priority in expenditure at local level. Other things may have to be scaled down to ensure that this is done correctly, for example, there has been a lot of discussion on pilot schemes. I am concerned that this £1 billion, consisting of new resources at local level and State and EU resources, and more if we can get them, will not solve the problem. I share the concerns raised in this House in trying to deal with that matter in a comprehensive, fundamental and changed way.

Mr. D. Kiely: I welcome the Minister's statements and congratulate him for recognising the huge problems that exist in this area. I also welcome the Minister's allocation of £33 million for these roads within the next few weeks. This money should be spent properly and the programmes to be introduced should not just consist of throwing a shovel of tar here and some gravel there, which would be a total waste of money and similar to the £120 million spent over the last five years. If we are to devise a plan — and if £1 billion is to be spent over the next six years — the onus is on all of us, as local authority members, to ensure the county managers and engineers spend that money correctly, even if they only repair a mile or two of road properly per year. The Minister mentioned that proper foundations should be put in place so that the council will not have to repair these roads again and throw good money after bad. I share that view.

Mr. M. Smith: If a programme was introduced on that basis I would welcome it as it would involve proper local discussion on priorities and how the money is to be spent.

There is public goodwill for spending the money in the way I suggest. Equally [493] there is goodwill from the engineers, county engineers and the executives at local authority level. Between pressure at local level and political pressures stop gap work is undertaken. Do not let this happen to £1 billion over six years; communicate with the public and tell them the truth — that all the work cannot be undertaken this year.

I have attended meetings where there was political pretence that work could be done on all the roads this year. The ravages of last winter alone ensure that this issue cannot be solved in one year. However, we will go as far as possible. The improved weather conditions will give local authorities an opportunity to do the work. We will give the commitment on finance but it must be matched to ensure that at the turn of the century, having spent all those resources — and we may never again get the support we received from the EU — we do not end up with the problem I must now address.

Mr. Belton: Where a local authority is disbanded by the Minister, an independent commission should evaluate the reason for taking this action. Members of local authorities do not deal with this issue lightly and would be the last people to vote themselves out of office. In view of this another structure, such as an independent commission, should be in place to deal with this issue when is arises.

I welcome the Minister's remarks on the county roads system. Perhaps because of the bad weather, it appears he has come alive to the problem. In County Longford our allocation from the Department is down on last year, yet the Minister advises the House today that he has increased funding across the country. Where has he increased this funding?

In the Minister's absence yesterday I raised the issue of car tax collection in each county. The Minister knows which are the bad counties because people have been advising him of them——

Mr. D. Kiely: Badly managed counties.

[494] Mr. Belton: ——outside the gates of this House and in other parts of the country when he visited on official business. I propose that the Government allows counties to hold car tax funding and spend it over the next five or six years on the county road system. The argument in the past against this proposal has been that the allocation from central funds would have to drop accordingly. However, this need not be the case because vehicle owners are also paying tax on petrol and diesel. If the Minister is serious about providing proper funding and a proper planning programme to the local authorities, he should ensure that car tax funding is left in the counties, which are in dire straits.

Because of the state of the roads people are depressed when they have to travel. It is all very well for the Minister to suggest that the potholes should not be filled but if he had to travel through them every day, he would take action.

Mr. Mooney: Senator Belton is aware that if the potholes were filled today, they would have to be filled again next week and it is rubbish to suggest otherwise. It is playing politics with potholes.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Belton without interruption.

Mr. Belton: If Senator Mooney believes I am playing politics with potholes he should think again because this is not a political matter. It is a crisis which concerns rural development, advances in tourism and industry——

Mr. Mooney: These are issues which the Senator is not addressing. He is speaking about throwing gravel in wet holes for political reasons.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Belton without interruption. He should address his remarks through the Chair.

Mr. Belton: Repairing potholes was the only system of road improvement available. There was no point speaking of major structural works when the funding [495] was not available. The Minister is now waking up to the fact that there is a crisis.

Mr. D. Kiely: The Minister is addressing the crisis.

Mr. Belton: The Minister will be supported if he addresses the crisis; however, to date he has ignored it.

Mr. Mooney: For four years in the 1980s the then Minister for the Environment fell asleep and did not wake up at all.

Mr. Belton: Another myth. The Senator is blaming previous Governments as he did yesterday.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Mooney must refrain from interrupting Senator Belton.

Mr. Belton: The Senator is blaming previous Governments. However if he tells this to the people of County Leitrim or County Longford he will get an answer. I am not talking political waffle. There is a national crisis with the road system and since 1987 the Minister's party has been responsible for the continuing deterioration of this crisis. This is why people outside the gates of this House and in County Monaghan, County Cavan, County Longford——

Mr. D. Kiely: On a point of order, may I ask Senator Belton how his county has been managed over the past 14 or 15 years and how it is managed at present? The Senator is trying to blame counties which have been well managed for his own failures.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Kiely must resume his seat as that is not a point of order. Senator Belton without interruption.

Mr. Belton: The reality, as anybody with any common sense will be aware, is that the rate support grant has declined and local authorities have been starved [496] of funding from the Government, which has let down the local authority system. The main victim in this has been the county road system.

I am pleased the Government and the Minster are at least admitting to the problem. In this the Minister will have our support. However, I ask him to consider my proposal on car tax.

Mr. M. Smith: It is a strange way of making a case by declaring that it is not political. In 1987 the then Government gave Longford County Council £200,000; I will be giving the council approximately £2 million this year. The scale of investment by the State over the last five years, in terms of its percentage support for county and regional roads, has increased from 30 per cent to 70 per cent.

There is a problem and I am not only waking up to it today. Last year I fought for an additional £12 million in the Estimates, which I obtained. Because of the very bad weather in December 1993 I fought for a further £15 million and the Minister for Finance and the Government backed me but Senator Belton's party voted against the provisions which gave me that extra £15 million for county and regional roads.

It is important to take this beyond Government and beyond politics. There are people travelling roads today which are an embarrassment to me. I did not cause this problem, but I have the responsibility to remedy it. That is why I fought for those funds. That is why I went to Brussels to obtain EU funding, and was scoffed at for doing so by members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party who told me I was wasting my time and the country's time because the EU Commission had indicated that they would not listen to proposals to give money to Ireland for its county roads. Some Fine Gael Party politicians believed the EU Commission, but I did not. I believed this problem was serious enough for me to fight longer and harder to get extra money for this purpose, and I won. This winter we have had 39 inches of rain; our normal rainfall is 50 inches a year. There has not been enough dry weather to do a [497] decent job on many of those roads. Local authorities are concentrating on doing this job to satisfy communities who have difficulties. I give a commitment to the House that, although the largest amount of money ever spent on roads will be spent this year and £1 billion will be spent over the next six years, I am prepared to fight for more money from wherever I can get it, provided the work on the ground is of a lasting nature. It is not fair to say I do not want potholes filled. A sum of £12,000 a mile has been spent on 54,000 miles of road over the past five years, yet we still have the biggest problem ever on our county roads. Should we shrink from reality, play local politics in a cosy arrangement with the public and pretend everything is right——

Mr. Mooney: That is the point, Senator Belton.

Mr. Belton: Rubbish.

Mr. M. Smith: ——or should we tell the truth? The Commission said that not one penny of the £226 million it is co-financing can be spent filling potholes but must be spent on structural work. Potholes will be filled but in a way and with the skills which make sure the filling will last. It will be done in dry conditions and the filling will be sealed so that it cannot be knocked out after the first shower of rain. I am talking about using resources to finance a fundamental change in activities and I need community support. People who live in areas with bad roads do not want pretence politics or to be used as fodder in an European election campaign by people pretending they can spend more money because when the election is over they will be forgotten about. I intend to be there long after the election to continue to solve this problem, regardless of how people are playing around with it at present. Longford would lose under Senator Belton's suggestion.

Mr. Belton: I did not make any suggestion.

[498] An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Minister without interruption.

Mr. M. Smith: The Senator said that Longford would lose out if revenue from car tax was used on roads.

Mr. Belton: I want to reply to the Minister.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: You may not reply to the Minister.

Mr. Belton: I wish to make the fundamental point that if the Minister cuts the allocation, Longford will lose. The Minister should maintain the allocation at its present level and allow revenue from car tax from the county to be held by it.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I ask Senator Belton to resume his seat.

Mr. Belton: I have been shouted down by Senators. The Minister said we should not engage in politics but all we have heard today is politics.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The amendment has nothing to do with potholes.

Mr. Fahey: The Minister has brought realism for the first time to the vexed question of county roads and the problem of potholes.

Mr. Belton: Realism has been brought to the Minister.

Mr. Fahey: From the day he took office, the Minister has shown that the quick fix, short sighted solution is not possible. We are all looking for this solution. I am constantly asking engineers in Galway to fill potholes. The Minister, Deputy Smith, was the first person to say we have spent so much money filling potholes to no avail. It is now critically important that he gets the support he needs to get communities to recognise there is only one way to solve this problem and that is to provide significant [499] amounts of money for major structural works over the next six years.

The Minister has taken initiatives in some areas where local communities can become involved in aspects of road maintenance, such as the alleviation of water tables and the cutting of hedges. No matter how much money is thrown at this problem, unless we develop an ethos where local communities become responsible for the basic maintenance of small county roads, we will never solve the problem. I compliment the Minister for taking this initiative in relation to local authority housing where people are being made responsible for their own repairs. A similar initiative would go a long way towards solving the roads problem.

Ms Honan: I welcome what the Minister said about a programme being prepared. A programme should be prepared and publicised by each county council. We under-estimate the public. Because of political pressure we favour stop gap measures and the problems such measures are designed to tackle turn up again six months later. We should be honest with the public. County councils should inform the public of their plans and of the programme the Minister wants. They should point out that money is being provided by Brussels over a six year period to repair roads and that similar amounts of money are unlikely to be provided again. People would accept this if they were confident that our roads would be improved to an acceptable level. The quick fix of throwing a few shovels of gravel into a pothole is a waste of money. This message should be propagated by the Minister, all Members who are members of local authorities and by local authorities themselves. This is the only way we will solve this problem.

Mr. Calnan: I welcome the £33 million provided by the Minister for county roads, given what happened to roads this winter. I saw roads disintegrating because of rain, snow and frost. Roads which were improved under the local improvement schemes, and not subsequently [500] taken over by local authorities, have greatly deteriorated. I do not know how they can be repaired. Another local improvement scheme may have to be introduced, but there are many roads on the waiting list. The Minister should discuss these roads with local authority managers.

An Cathaoirleach: I wish to speed up discussion of the Bill. We seem to have travelled every county road in the country.

Mr. Belton: With difficulty.

Mr. Mooney: You do not have to worry about the next local elections, a Chathaoirligh.

An Cathaoirleach: I accept that.

Mr. Belton: The Leitrim roads are all right but Senator Mooney wants more money.

Mr. McDonagh: As a local authority member, I was embarrassed a few weeks ago to see a headline in The Tuam Herald which read, “Super council runs out of cash five weeks on”. The article pointed out that after its inaugural meeting the west's super council, the much vaunted Western Regional Authority, had to go cap in hand to the Minister for Finance to bail it out of an embarrassing cash flow problem. The funding provided to it was almost £80,000 less than it needed. This is totally unacceptable and an embarrassment for local authority members and the council. This situation should not have been allowed happen. Regional authorities should not have been introduced without being adequately and properly funded.

Sufficient funds are not being provided to councils. The removal of a council by the Minister, on the findings of a commission and without consultation, is unfair because it is not the council's fault if it lacks funds. I agree with everything which was said. I am not going to discuss the county roads again. However, every year since 1985 — when I was elected to [501] the county council — the county engineer, a fine man, is like John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness telling us he has about one-tenth of his requirement. So far, nobody seems to have been listening. Perhaps at this stage the Minister will prove to be the real Messiah for us all. John the Baptist had locusts and honey but——

Mr. Belton: The last Messiah did not do much for them.

Mr. McDonagh: ——the county engineer and we councillors seem to be left with potholes and water.

Mr. D. Kiely: It is a return of yesterday.

Mr. McDonagh: I hope there is a new Messiah on the horizon in the form of this Minister.

Mrs. McGennis: The last one was crucified.

Mr. M. Smith: There is no new Messiah, it is not possible to replace the last one.

Mr. Belton: He left his mark on the potholes.

Mr. M. Smith: We are talking here about something which is much more fundamental. I want to take Senator McDonagh to task about what the county engineer might say. I have seen timber gates, rotten for 30 years, and tied with binding twine replaced with two pillars and an iron gate; I have seen stone walls replacing hedges; I have seen more money spent off the road than on the road and I am prepared to call that into question.

I want the surface of the roads done. We do not need massive new realignments for 400 yards with the rest of the road incapable of being touched. Decisions must be taken at local level about these realities. We do not need to purchase land and leave it there providing free access for the travelling people to park wherever they like on land [502] which it was never really necessary to purchase in the first place. I am talking about fundamental engineering and using resources in the best way possible. We should stick to dealing with the foundations and drainage problems.

The farming community has many problems associated with drainage which need to be dealt with. There are people with new houses who have not prepared soak pits to take the water off the chutes and it is flowing down the road. We are talking here about a fundamental reappraisal of how we do things. The alternative is to pretend to the taxpayer that there is money for everything — all we have to do is put another couple of pence on their income tax and we will charge down the country with new ideas which will not win us any votes. Nobody will be anxious to vote for me because of what I am saying but some day somebody will say the same if it is not done.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Section 44 agreed to.

Section 45 agreed to.

SECTION 46.

An Cathaoirleach: Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 are out of order as they involve a potential charge on the Revenue.

Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 not moved.

Question proposed: “That section 46 stand part of the Bill.”

Ms Honan: My amendment was disallowed because it would involve a charge on the Exchequer. Section 46 deals with the financing of local authorities. Section 9 of the Local Government (Amendment) Act, 1983, removed the statutory obligation on any Government to provide funds to local authorities. This has led to local authorities not being adequately funded and the whole system has deteriorated. We have discussed that for the last [503] half an hour and the major effect which this has had on county roads. Local authorities have not been able to carry out their powers and functions due to the restriction in available funding.

I welcome what the Minister said on previous sections and I hope the increased funding he promised for roads over the next six years will offset the effects of this lack of funding since 1983. In Laois, £20 million has been lost in funding since 1983. This measure was not introduced by the present Minister but by Deputy Spring. The purpose of my amendment was to change the situation which came about in 1983 and has resulted in a severe lack of funding for local authorities over the period.

Mr. M. Smith: I understood the amendment was disallowed but this House is renowned for breaking the rules, and I hope it stays that way. It is good to have flexibility.

An Cathaoirleach: In fairness to the Senator, she was speaking to the section and the rule was not broken.

Ms Honan: We are very law abiding.

Mr. M. Smith: I am sorry, a Chathaoirligh. I had no idea that somebody could make political progress and be absolutely pure in the process.

There are certain elements of local authority funding I want to address. There is a general belief that local authorities are starved. I emphasised earlier that there has never been a time when so much work has been done on roads, housing, arterial roadworks, amenities and urban renewal. There is no question of local authorities being starved of cash. On the capital side, things have never been so good for them. However, they do need more for roads and so on. Public expectations have changed and we must respond to them as far as we can within the resources available.

I have some ideas as to how the revenue can be improved and I will try to address them as quickly as I can. There [504] is a great deal of misunderstanding. There are about 250,000 more people in the income tax net now than there were in 1988; there are three times the number of companies in the tax net and twice the number registered for VAT; there are three times the number of students in third level education, with their parents struggling to keep them there in many instances; there is a huge increase in the numbers in second level education because when the rates were abolished second level education was only beginning to develop in many towns. In other words, the situation has changed radically since the abolition of rates.

Furthermore, local loans, arterial drainage, vocational education committee grants and Teagasc grants which were provided by local authorities under the original rates support scheme are now being paid at central Exchequer level. Comparisons are being made without taking into account all the changes which have taken place. Having said that, there are problems on the Revenue side and I have some ideas how they can be addressed.

I am a great believer in local authorities. Much of the social housing legislation I brought in — this Local Government Bill — and many of the changes I am making in terms of the Road Traffic Bill are to make sure that that transition can be made in a way which gives local authorities the autonomy, the power and, as far as we can, the resources. However, let us not try to blind the devil in the dark. There is not an unlimited amount of resources for anybody. If we want to do a lot more we must charge someone for it; the money must be taken from somewhere. Before I give additional money I must get it from the taxpayer. I do not hear too many Senators telling me to do that. However, there are imbalances which need to be corrected, and County Laois is one which needs extra help.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 47 to 53, inclusive, agreed to.

[505] SECTION 54.

An Cathaoirleach: Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 are out of order as the involve a potential charge on the Revenue. Amendment No. 26 (a) is in substitution for amendment No. 26. Amendments Nos. 26 (a), 27, 28, 29 and 30 are related and may be discussed together.

Amendments Nos. 24 to 26, inclusive, not moved.

Ms Honan: I move amendment No. 26 (a):

In page 40, lines 10 to 21, to delete subsections (2) and (3) and substitute the following:

“(2) The Minister shall appoint the following persons to be members of the Commission:

(a) one member nominated by the General Council of County Councils;

(b) two members nominated by the Municipal Authorities Association;

(c) one member nominated by the County and City Managers' Association;

(d) one member nominated by the Local Government Trade Unions;

(e) one member nominated by Muintir na Tíre;

(f) one member nominated by the Minister who shall be the Chairman.”.

The purpose of this amendment is——

An Cathaoirleach: If I might interrupt the Senator, it is almost 1 p.m. and we agreed to a sos between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Perhaps the Leader has something to say on that matter.

Mr. Wright: As there is so much money and tar flowing at the moment it would be a pity to take a break now. My understanding is that there is agreement from all sides of the House and from the [506] Minister to continue the debate and finish the Bill by 2 p.m.

An Cathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Ms Honan: The amendment refers to the commission being appointed by the Minister. The Minister said that this commission should be independent but I cannot see how it could be independent if he is to make all the appointments. I would suggest that he follow previous procedures where the Government would agree to nominate certain organisations which would have a right to nominate people whom the Minister would then appoint, rather than the Minister himself choosing all the members of the commission. I would like to hear the Minister's comments on that.

Mr. M. Smith: It is very important not to have too much confidence in the Minister for the Environment on these matters. I would not claim to have any greater wisdom than anybody else. There are two practices. There is the one Senator Honan suggested where organisations nominate. Unfortunately, I am having some unusual experiences with that system where people are canvassing associations and getting their names proposed. I am concerned that there would be technical, representative and managerial capacities involved in the composition of this commission. It will have nothing to do with political appointments but will be based solely on the competence of people to do the job. I have had four or five different experiences as Minister where I pitted my own judgment against a more elaborate and seemingly more independent way of doing things. I am not saying other people are having different experiences but, in my case, it has not been as good as I would have wished. Nonetheless, I want to make sure that this commission is representative of elected members, of top managerial ability and the technical and financial capacities required. I hope that, when I come to do it, everyone will be satisfied that my [507] bona fides and the way I set about doing it was in the interests of getting the best results. I doubt that allowing organisations to make nominations is as safe a procedure as it is claimed to be.

Ms Honan: I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he not think that whatever one says or does and whatever the Minister's good intentions, if an appointment is made by a Minister it is always seen to be political? We talk a lot about transparency nowadays. Does the Minister not think it would be better if he accepted nominations by various representative bodies whom I am sure would include all the types of people he is anxious to have on the commission? These might include a county manager and a local authority member with knowledge of staffing matters as well as others with business experience. At least the procedure would then be seen to be transparent. That is what I am anxious about because the political tag would be removed from it.

Mr. M. Smith: A few years ago I might have expressed opinions where I was more afraid of political appointments. However, I have to say that I have changed my mind because of my experience in terms of other types of nomination and circumstances. Let us bring it down to this House. As a former Senator, I know the extent to which Senators depend on support from county councillors as well as the influence of the General Council of County Councils. Their circular was read out by a number of Members here. I do not object to that but they asked me to defer the local elections to 1999 and to run them in tandem with the European Elections. That is a disgrace and it should, be called such. If you are nominating somebody who is representing a group they are inclined to do that. I do not want anyone on this commission representing a group. I want them there to do a job independently. I think Senators see my point. Very often the person nominated by an organisation feels a commitment to that organisation [508] and feels he has to put forward its views. That is not what I want.

I have been let down by so-called independent systems. I say without conceit that I am prepared to pit my judgment on a selection process, with the help of the communities throughout the country, against what I call so-called independent organisations where somebody has canvassed for that nomination. They might have received good support but the question of whether he or she is qualified to do that job is another matter.

Mr. McDonagh: I would like to refer to the General Council of County Councils and their request. The suggestion was not unanimous because if it had, it would be here as an amendment today. I think the Minister would accept that.

Mr. M. Smith: I realise that.

Mr. McDonagh: The 100 year anniversary falls in that year. Is that correct?

Mr. M. Smith: Yes.

An Cathaoirleach: In April that year.

Mr. McDonagh: Some members felt it could be part of the celebration.

Mr. M. Smith: If it had been a year earlier would they have said the same?

Mr. McDonagh: Yes. Some members might have talked about synchronising of elections and that all elections should be held together. However, there is a feeling now that what the Minister is doing by having the elections in a specific year is highlighting the importance of local authorities. Everybody would be happy with that now that it has been teased out and explained. When we were holding our discussions we did not realise what the Minister had in mind. The general council would be pleased that we have our own niche in the local government system and that our elections will be held alone and not in tandem with any other elections. The Minister might have misunderstood what the general council [509] were saying. I wanted to put the record straight. I hope the Minister will accept that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Cathaoirleach: Amendment No. 26 (a) has been withdrawn. It has not been put to a vote. Therefore I must ask if amendment No. 27 is being pressed?

Mr. McDonagh: Yes. I move amendment No. 27:

In page 40, line 21, to delete paragraph (f) and substitute the following:

“(f) a nominee from the General Council of County Councils”.

In view of what the Minister has said I will not be pushing this. It is important that the general council and the municipal authorities be represented on this commission and I would ask the Minister to take cognisance of this fact when the appointments are being made.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 54 agreed to.

Section 55 agreed to.

SECTION 56.

An Cathaoirleach: Amendment No. 28 has already been discussed with amendment No. 26 (a).

Amendment No. 28 not moved.

Section 56 agreed to.

SECTION 57.

An Cathaoirleach: Amendment No. 29 has already been discussed with amendment No. 26 (a).

Amendment No. 29 not moved.

Section 57 agreed to.

[510] Sections 58 to 60, inclusive, agreed to.

NEW SECTION.

Ms Honan: I move amendment No. 30:

In page 43, before section 61, but in Part XI, to insert the following new section:

“61. —The Government shall ratify the European Charter on Local Self Government within 12 months from the date of the passing of this Act”.

The European Charter on Local Self Government established rights for local authorities. It is a treaty from the Council of Europe and was signed by many members on 15 October 1985. Ireland has not yet ratified this treaty. I would like to ask the Minister's opinion on this matter. Does he think we should ratify it, as I believe we should, and when does he think that this might happen?

Mr. M. Smith: The amendments would oblige the Government to ratify the European Charter for Local Self Government within 12 months. The Programme for Government, 1993-1997, contains a specific commitment that Ireland will sign and ratify the European Charter on Local Self Government. All the implications of ratification of the Charter are being examined with a view to signature and ratification as soon as possible. It is not possible, however, at this stage to indicate definitely what legislation or other changes may be required in local government law.

However, I want to assure Senators of our absolute commitment to the principles of the Charter. The Charter is the first multilateral agreement to define principles to underpin local self government throughout the area of the Council of Europe. The first part of the Charter contains the substantive provision setting out the principles of local self government. It specifies a need for constitutional and legal foundation for local self government and establishes principles governing the nature and scope of [511] local authorities' powers. Further articles concern the autonomy of local government administrative structures, the limitation of administrative supervision of local authorities and the financing of local government on terms which do not impair their basic autonomy. Other parts of the Charter contain miscellaneous provisions and provisions customarily used in conventions drawn up under the auspices of the Council of Europe.

I do not have a fundamental objection to the amendment. I object to the way in which it ties the Government to a specific time before we have concluded our examination of the legal changes that may be necessary in order to ratify the treaty. The Government has expressed its commitment to ratification and I announced that at the annual general meeting of the General Council of County Councils during my first year in office.

Ms Honan: I thank the Minister for confirming the Government's commitment to ratify the treaty. However, it was signed in 1985 and I am anxious that it be ratified as soon as possible.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 61 agreed to.

SECTION 62.

Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 not moved.

Section 62 agreed to.

Section 63 agreed to.

SECTION 64.

An Cathaoirleach: Amendment No. 33 is out of order as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer.

Amendment No. 33 not moved.

Question proposed: “That section 64 stand part of the Bill.”

[512] Mr. McDonagh: The Minister has, during the last two days, continuously referred to the General Council of County Councils and its submissions on this Bill. He and his Department obviously have great faith in the General Council of County Councils. As a member of the general council since 1987 and a member of its executive since 1989, I believe that this recognition is appropriate.

The General Council of County Councils is an efficient, concerned and hard working body which is highly sensitive to the policies and problems of councils and councillors. Despite having scant resources, the general council does marvellous work. It is a pity more resources are not available to enable this prestigious body to acquire one or two extra staff; the investment would pay one hundred fold. I expect the Minister to look again at the huge contribution of the general council with a view to increasing its overworked secretariat.

I welcome the Minister's recognition of the role of the General's Council of County Councils in this legislation. It is much appreciated. The general council and the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland are funded by contributions from local authorities. This income should not be liable for taxation as the income of local authorities is not, at present, liable for taxation. These bodies are non-profit organisations. They provide a service to the member councils and their electorates. Funding is scarce at present and it is becoming harder to survive in this difficult economic environment. The general council is considering the purchase of office premises through the prudent accumulation of funds. However, if it tries to save money like other bodies it could be exposed to taxation. Bodies such as the General Council of County Councils should not now or in the future be liable for taxation.

Mr. D. Kiely: The General Council of County Councils has accrued an amount of money which has been set aside for the purchase of a premises. We would be grateful if the Minister would help the [513] council in that matter. It is time the council had a premises in Dublin as subsidiaries of local authorities, such as the vocational education committee, are housed in the city. The council is at present obliged to rent rooms to hold its meetings.

Mr. M. Smith: I understand and support the activities of the General Council of County Councils. It has submitted a number of good ideas to previous Ministers for the Environment. I participated with the council and was able to accept its recommendations regarding the review of statutory instruments and the question of removing ministerial consent for a range of activities.

I have no pretensions to be Minister for Finance when it comes to taxation matters. However, I will make the Senator's views known to my colleague, Deputy Ahern. I will also see what I can do about the matter raised by Senator Kiely.

Mrs. McGennis: In this legislation the Minister recognises the General Council of County Councils, the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland and any other organisation or association which may be set up in place of either organisation. Will the Local Authority Members' Association be recognised or is it included in this group? Is it recognised as an association?

Mr. M. Smith: It is not recognised in the same way. These organisations represent the general activities of local authorities in both municipal and county areas. The other association represents members rather than activities.

An Cathaoirleach: If I were sitting with my colleagues I would urge the Minister to do something similar. However, the Minister understands that I cannot do so.

Mr. M. Smith: A Chathaoirligh, despite your customary neutrality on these matters and the unhappy knack you have of getting your way, I will try to accommodate your view.

[514] Question put and agreed to.

Sections 65 to 68, inclusive, agreed to.

First Schedule agreed to.

Second Schedule agreed to.

Third Schedule agreed to.

Fourth Schedule agreed to.

FIFTH SCHEDULE.

Amendment No. 34 not moved.

Fifth Schedule agreed to.

NEW SCHEDULE.

Amendment No. 35 not moved.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.