Seanad Éireann - Volume 167 - 11 July, 2001

Local Government Bill, 2000: Committee Stage.

Sections 1 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 7.

Question proposed: “That section 7 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Ryan: I welcome the Leader of the House to the ranks of the Labour Party; he is agreeing to everything.

I have a standing objection on the matter of commencement in this section. I raise this on every piece of legislation that I deal with. There is no reason a time frame for commencement should not be inserted. It is a further unnecessary handing over of power by the Oireachtas to the Executive. Unfortunately it is a power that has been upheld by the courts. I recall the Health (Mental Services) Act, 1981, which was not enacted for 20 years and was eventually replaced by the current mental health legislation. There are areas of local government legislation which have never been enacted.

It is wrong in principle that legislation passed by the Oireachtas can be postponed indefinitely by the fiat of Government. I think there should be a commencement date, even if it is two or three years away. Otherwise it leaves us to the lethargy of the bureaucracy.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. T. Kitt): I think the Senator is simply putting his views on the record.

Mr. Ryan: I would not mind hearing the Minister of State's views.

Mr. T. Kitt: This is a standard provision. It is the same position adopted by successive Governments.

Mr. Ryan: I am sure it is.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 8 and 9 agreed to.

SECTION 10.

Question proposed: “That section 10 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Lanigan: I thank the Government for acknowledging that Kilkenny is a city and that it retains its city status. There was much debate on this issue and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government gave a guarantee at the outset that the status of Kilkenny would not change. The change in this Bill has enhanced the status of Kilkenny as a city. Modern legislation had not recognised this until now.

[1399] The elimination of archaic terminology in the section is something of which we have to be cognisant. Confusing variations between different laws applying to different types of authorities will be removed. The less conflict there is in language and in the use of language, the better.

Mr. Burke: The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, promised the then mayor of Kilkenny, councillor Paul Cuddihy, that he would give Kilkenny city status. He has not honoured that. Kilkenny has had a city charter since 1689. The Minister has completely reneged on the commitment he gave to Mr. Cuddihy. Towns such as Sligo, Drogheda, Clonmel, Wexford and Kilkenny, have sought city status. The Minister should, in view of the commitment he gave to the mayor of Kilkenny, honour the commitment and give city and borough status to those five towns which are cities in all but name. I am sure that the Minister meant to confer full city status to Kilkenny when he gave the commitment and I am sure he still intends to do that. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, to confirm that this can now be done.

Mr. Walsh: I concur with Senator Lanigan's compliments to the Minister. There was concern expressed by the borough corporation. Kilkenny, being the “Marble City”, was anxious to retain its status and the Minister has accommodated that.

There is an issue which this section deals with but has not really been addressed. The designation of all urban authorities – including town commissioners, urban district councils and borough corporations – as borough councils, has given them all a similar status in name. The urbanisation of society is not reflected in the Bill and I fear that the powers are very much concentrated with the county councils. If there was a move to the lowest common denominator, the urban district and borough councils could be reduced to the level of town commissioners. That would be a retrograde step. There is nothing in the Bill that states that their powers will be less, but I am concerned about the common designation in that whole area.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: It is nice to see Wexford supporting Kilkenny.

Mr. D. Cregan: The sad part of this is that this would not be in the Bill at all if the Minister did not mention the point of not allowing Kilkenny to be a city. Kilkenny has a character of its own and it is a credit to our society that we have places like it. Unfortunately Kilkenny and places such as Sligo and Drogheda, despite their great traditions, do not get the recognition they deserve. We should not be afraid to broaden our minds and ensure that other places be defined as cities. Let us consider what is happening in Dublin. It would be wrong to give an impression that other [1400] cities are the same. Dublin is grid-locked. Kilkenny is less that an hour and a half away, Drogheda is an hour away, Sligo is two and a half hours away by motorway, but we are not allowing these people to decide for themselves.

Until now our cities have been defined as Waterford, Galway, Limerick, Cork, Belfast and Dublin. We should not be afraid to allow the people of our major towns to decide for themselves if they want to be recognised as cities. That should be in the Bill.

Like Senator Lanigan I welcome the recognition of Kilkenny in this Bill, but it would have been there had the relevant Minister not cast doubts over its status. There would have been no definition of cities, towns or boroughs. It is only because a delegation of councillors, under the leadership of the mayor, Paul Cuddihy, came to see the Minister that this was included in the Bill. That cannot be denied.

The provision as originally drafted was unfortunate and wrong. That said, we should not be afraid to say that, under this part of the Bill or future regulations relevant to it, we should consider the idea of other places being designated cities, such as Sligo and Drogheda. Galway is the only city on the west coast – Limerick is in the Munster region. I do not see why Sligo should not be granted full city status; likewise Kilkenny, which is in the middle of the country. It is unfortunate these places are not designated cities because they are large urban areas and fine places and we should not be afraid to recognise them.

Mr. Coogan: One should seek a definition of what is meant by a city. My original understanding was that it contained a cathedral and a university and that these were the major issues in defining a city.

Mr. Lanigan: Kilkenny had a university before Dublin had one.

Mr. Coogan: That is very good and I thank the Senator for that information but I already knew it. Times have changed since that concept of a city was first devised. Most large towns in Ireland have institutes of technology which often confer degrees equivalent to those of a university. Therefore, one can redefine the term “city”. We should not hang on to old English definitions. It is time we redefined what we want our country to be.

Senator Lanigan said much hot air had been generated, but that is not true. People in Kilkenny were very upset and Councillor Cuddihy, who represented the council and the people of Kilkenny, was adamant the title of city would be retained for Kilkenny. He received support from this side of the House, we raised the issue and the Minister agreed to re-examine it. We thought he might do the same for Drogheda, Sligo, Dundalk and Clonmel. Perhaps the Minister of State, while he may not have freedom of [1401] movement on this issue, will make our views known to the Minister so that he might see the light and support it if he can. All we ask for is recognition. We recognise the value, history and traditions Kilkenny has for the country and it is only right it retains the title of city.

Ms Ormonde: I am delighted Kilkenny has retained its city status. I come from the neighbouring county of Waterford and know a great deal about Kilkenny and its heritage and history. I would have been very concerned had it been demoted in status.

This has presented an opportunity to air this issue and make a decision on the requirements for qualification for city status. I am glad Kilkenny has retained its status because it always reflected a history of culture and education. It is also becoming a focus for decentralisation with much movement from the cities in its direction. It is good news that it has retained its city status and I appreciate the fact that the Minister took it into consideration.

Mr. Ryan: Even with the correct decision of the Minister to allow Kilkenny retain its description as a city, there is a fundamental issue of organisational efficiency. There will be large towns which will not be able to run their affairs in the way a city can because they will have the more circumscribed powers of a town council rather than the more extensive powers of a city.

Mr. Walsh: No.

Mr. Ryan: I only read the Bill and I do not intend to argue with local authority members about this. However, a clear distinction is made between the fact that a city council has jurisdiction throughout its administrative area while a town council has such powers as the Bill grants it. I will not argue about this. However, it appears there is a difference between a town and a city which is more than just the title. It is about the authority of the county council in whose jurisdiction the city is located. I could be wrong but that is how I understand it.

There is a question of why titles were not given. I would have preferred every local authority, especially urban ones, to have a mayor, not a chairman or anything else, because I like the title. There is an issue of local ceremony involved. The mayor is confined to a certain number of places listed in Chapter 1 of Schedule 5 or 6 and only those. I do not understand why every local authority and large town cannot have a mayor. There is a lack of understanding of the way the country will change or else there is an acceptance it will not change and we will end up with a massive megalopolis on the east coast.

If we are to achieve balanced development, places such as Sligo and Tralee must become cities. It is worth remembering that Galway city 25 years ago had a population much smaller than a dozen towns in the country have now. We now [1402] have a situation where we refuse to call places cities which are larger than most cities in the country were 25 years ago. There is a lack of logic. I do not want to delay the House on this. I wish Kilkenny well because it is a lovely place, although I wish it did not dominate Leinster hurling so much.

Mr. T. Kitt: We had best not open up a debate on hurling between Kilkenny and Wexford. Perhaps it would be useful to Members were I to comment on this. I welcome the supportive comments about what the Minister has done for Kilkenny. I share the views about the special nature and character of the city which is unique. While we all feel those places with which we are intimate are unique, Kilkenny is special.

A range of official amendments relating to the question of boroughs and to the historical position of Kilkenny were made to the Bill during its passage through the other House. The substantive sections in this regard are this section and section 11. These will continue the term “borough” in local government law and allow the term “city” to be used for Kilkenny.

The Bill as published used the term “town” to apply to all towns in line with everyday language and “town council” to apply to all 80 town based local authorities. Section 10 deals with local government areas and section 11 with the local authorities for the areas concerned. Under section 10, local government areas are known as counties, cities and towns. The use of the term “town” was a cause of concern for a number of authorities known as boroughs. These are Clonmel, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Sligo and Wexford. There were concerns that this change in terminology represented a diminution in status. Perhaps I should give some background as to where these proposals originated.

There was a specific proposal in the White Paper published by the previous Government that modern terminology would be applied to local government and that the terms “city”, “county” and “town” should be used in modern law. This was recommended in the Barrington report in 1990 and by the commission on town local government in 1996. There was never any question of diminution in status. What was involved was using language which might have more meaning to the layman. Very few people refer to borough centres or borough people, rather to town centres and town people. In some of these towns, the tourism literature refers to town rather than borough. Kilkenny is the exception. When private sector enterprise in these towns advertises, it tends to use the term “town”, and that is the term in use in everyday language. The issue is the use of everyday language.

However, the Minister, as part of a wide consultation exercise, met the five mayors of the authorities concerned and, in light of their concerns, undertook to provide that the five towns concerned would continue to be boroughs for the purpose of local government law, and their local [1403] authorities will in future be titled as borough councils. The series of official amendments in the other House to sections 10 and 11 and a number of related amendments were designed to achieve this aim.

The effect of the new section 10(3) is that what are currently boroughs will continue to be known as boroughs and all other towns which are currently styled as urban district councils or town commissioners will in future be styled as towns. Therefore, the special historical position of Kilkenny was dealt with by way of an additional subsection (7) to section 10. A new section 11(4)(b) inserted by way of amendment in the Dáil provides that the local authorities for the boroughs created under section 10 will be known as borough councils and the local authorities for the other towns will be known as town councils. References in the Act to a town council will, where necessary, be read as including both town councils and borough councils.

New provisions to recognise the term “city” to describe Kilkenny in line with long-established historical and municipal practice were brought in. Kilkenny was reconstituted as a borough corporation under the Municipal Corporations Act, 1840, as were Clonmel, Drogheda and Sligo. Section 2 of the 1840 Act specifically provided that Kilkenny is a borough which is still the current legal position in local government law. Traditionally, however, Kilkenny had been referred to as a city and this has its roots in local usage, deriving from a 17th century charter. It has not been a city in terms of local government law for at least 160 years.

As I have indicated, the Bill as published specifically provides that local charters can continue for ceremonial or related purposes, thereby safeguarding local tradition and practice. There was, therefore, no difficulty in Kilkenny continuing with this long-established tradition. However, Kilkenny Corporation indicated that it was concerned that the existing provisions in the Bill would not maintain the status quo in addition to concerns with the other boroughs that the term “town” was some form of diminution of status. In view of these concerns the Minister indicated that he would include a provision in the Bill to specifically recognise the traditional usage of the term “city” to describe Kilkenny. For the first time ever in the Local Government Act the unique position of Kilkenny is being recognised in local government law.

The Minister honoured in full his commitment on Kilkenny and delivered on what the deputation from Kilkenny sought. It was never intended that Kilkenny would be a city such as Dublin or Cork. All Kilkenny wanted was to be allowed to continue to use the term “city” in recognition of its ancient tradition. The deputation expressed its satisfaction to the Minister on his proposal.

[1404] Mr. Burke: I listened to the Minister of State with great interest. I believe that the people of Kilkenny probably felt their city would be called a city. Schedule 7 of the Bill refers to Kilkenny and other towns as town councils with 12 members. Therefore, it appears that Kilkenny will still be referred to as a town with 12 members.

Mr. Lanigan: I thank the Minister for retaining the special status Kilkenny has always had. As the Minister of State rightly said, since 1840 Kilkenny was not given the status as a city under the Local Government Acts. Historically Kilkenny has had a reputation as a city. It was the first city in the country in which the Parliament sat at one stage. While I do not wish to take away from the work done by Mayor Cuddihy, the impetus for the retention of Kilkenny's city status came from the public in Kilkenny. We should thank KCR, the local radio station, and the people of Kilkenny for the great work they did in keeping up the fight for the retention of the status of Kilkenny as a city. While we are getting no more than our due, we are very thankful that the historical status of Kilkenny as a city will be retained. It is a small city but one of historical importance and of which we are very proud. Anyone who has ever visited the city is proud of what has happened there.

Local government has played an important part down through the years in the extension of facilities. Kilkenny was the first city in Ireland to put a permanent ban on plastic signs over shop fronts. Deputy McGuinness's father proposed that plastic signs should not be allowed in Kilkenny and those who had signs up removed them.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator is straying from the Bill.

Mr. Lanigan: As a result, Kilkenny became a better place. The people of Kilkenny are pleased that they will have a special place in the urban designated areas by virtue of the fact that it will retain its status as a city. We should not argue about Drogheda. Drogheda and Sligo should fight their own case but they never had the historical designation of a city either by charter or common usage.

Mr. Ryan: The Senator would not let the British determine our choices.

Mr. D. Cregan: I understand what the Minister of State is saying. The Bill provides that each local authority will have a uniform legislative foundation – members of local authorities are titled councillor. Subsection (6) provides that a local authority has jurisdiction in its administrative area in respect of the functions vested in it by this or any other enactment. We should not be afraid to say that we need other cities.

Senator Lanigan is correct that Kilkenny is a classic place. It is a credit to us. The local authorities have done an enormous job. The city [1405] already had a lot of character, given its castle and grounds, but unfortunately in recent years a car park has been built which does not do justice to the rest of the city, of which Senator Lanigan is aware.

I would like to see other places getting the same recognition as Kilkenny. Sligo deserves such recognition. The Bill should include other towns on the west coast and further north because these people should be looking to the future. Kilkenny could easily have been left behind if the Minister got away with what he was proposing. Whether Senator Lanigan likes it, the Minister was prepared to say that Kilkenny was not a city.

Mr. Lanigan: He listened when the issue was brought to his notice.

Mr. D. Cregan: The Minister should seek to create more cities because Dublin is too big. Senator Ryan referred to Tralee which is a fine town in Kerry. Like Kilkenny, it is an area which no one wants to leave. We should not be afraid to say that Sligo should be designated a city because it is as big as Kilkenny. The same applies to Drogheda. The country should be pushing to designate these towns as cities and areas of excellence. Kilkenny is an excellent tourism region because it has great character. Killarney, Tralee and Limerick are great places and Galway has a character of its own – this has only been built up in the past five or ten years. Galway is a beautiful city. The price of property in Galway is as high as it is in Dublin. Sligo should be allowed to do the same.

Mr. Costello: I compliment Senator Cregan on the very fine case he made for Sligo to be designated a city, and so it should be. The Minister proposed to delete the term “borough” from Sligo, Clonmel, Drogheda, Wexford and Kilkenny. If the Minister is prepared to recognise the special historical position of Kilkenny, why can he not recognise the special historical position of the others and give them the status of city? As Senator Burke pointed out, the Minister is undermining this by declaring in the Schedule that they can only be called “town councils”. Is it the case now that Kilkenny can call its soccer club Kilkenny City, but the elected representatives cannot be regarded as members of a city council but as members of a town council, irrespective of the special recognition of Kilkenny as a city? The legislation has recognised the continued use of the term “city” in relation to Kilkenny. This is an anomaly. I am sure Senator Lanigan would concur with the view that the city fathers of Kilkenny should be entitled to call themselves a city council.

I am aware of the implications of it in terms of representation, but the legislation allows Kilkenny to be described as a city and the soccer club has always been called Kilkenny City. However, the elected representatives cannot claim to represent a city, merely a town. That is [1406] an anomaly in the legislation. We could argue a similar case for the other four boroughs. The lords mayor of Clonmel, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Sligo and Wexford together successfully lobbied the Minister and they should all be treated the same now. Why should one be singled out as being of special historical significance and not the others? I think Sligo is entitled to it.

Mr. Coogan: There are two arguments here. One is about the titles and the other is that we are talking about towns which could become towns of development. Some of the larger cities are bursting at the seams and it would be appropriate and proper planning if such towns were developed. It would enhance their role it they were given the title of city and it would encourage development if they could use the title of city. Senator Costello has pointed out the anomaly in the legislation regarding Kilkenny. Even if the others could use the title of city in their official letterheading, they would have a head start in terms of encouraging development.

Mr. Walsh: There are three of these towns in the south-east, Wexford, Kilkenny and Clonmel. They may all continue to designate themselves as corporations if they wish. The Minister has taken on board fully the concerns of these towns. Town council is the common designation for all urban areas now. City councillors are a different case.

Mr. Ryan: There is a bigger omission in this Bill. I will defer to my local authority colleagues here. There are places that have neither town nor city status, huge urban areas such as Newbridge, Dingle or Roscrea. Senator O'Meara informs me that Roscrea is actually bigger than Templemore but Templemore has an urban district council and Roscrea does not have any local council. There is more than just symbolism about this; it is a question of focus. I assumed that there was going to be a degree of rationalisation and I discover that all the peculiar anomalies are going to be dressed up in something that is called a town council. Large urban areas, some of them as big as Kilkenny, places that are going to be called borough corporations will have no local government at all. That is a recipe for a lack of accountability by the bureaucrats who will be deciding what is best for towns where there are no elected representatives.

Mr. T. Kitt: I thank the Senators for their contribution. I note that the previous Government produced a programme for change—

Mr. Ryan: That was four and a half years ago. The Minister will need better excuses than that.

Mr. T. Kitt: As a man of record himself, I am sure the Senator will agree that it is very important to see what it had to say. As Senator Coogan rightly said, we are dealing with broader issues also. That Government did recommend that the titles county, city and town councils be [1407] used in place of the present terms which it said had little meaning for the citizens. There is agreement between the present Government and that Government.

The most important part of the Bill is the special reference to Kilkenny. Section 10 (7) states: “This section is without prejudice to the continued use of the description city in relation to Kilkenny, to the extent that that description was used before the establishment day and is not otherwise inconsistent with the Act.” That is a very good example of the Minister responding to representations from Members of whatever parties and from members of the public. This is a major issue which we all followed very carefully and with great interest. The truth is that when the other four boroughs met the Minister, they sought to retain borough status and this has been done.

I wish to inform Senator Ryan that there is a later section that allows a town which does not have a local authority to establish one so his concerns will be addressed in that section.

The Bill provides for cities which in local government law are currently called county boroughs with city councils. They are Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. Each has its own city council and is entirely separate from the county with its own council organisation, offices, manager and finances. A city council is equivalent to a county council and is responsible for the full range of local authority functions. There is a total of 34 such county or city councils. In line with the policy set out in the document on local government by the previous Government, there are no proposals to provide for further fragmentation of counties to create additional city authorities and a system which is neither organisationally nor financially sustainable. Scotland, with a population of five million has four city authorities while Wales has two. The Minister responded to a particular situation in Kilkenny and I believe he was correct. I hope my responses have been of help in this debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 11 agreed to.

NEW SECTION.

Mr. Coogan: I move amendment No. 1:

In page 27, before section 12, but in Part 3, to insert the following new section:

“12.–A member of a local authority who is employed in any office or employment shall be entitled to such unpaid leave from the office or employment in question as is necessary to enable him or her to attend meetings of the authority or committees thereof.”.

The basis for support of this is self-evident. I am sorry the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, is not [1408] present because I could refer to something with which he is familiar as he was a member of a local authority. This may be an anecdotal reference but I remember one elected representative who wished to take time off from work. His pay was deducted and a substitute was paid in his place and was paid more than he was receiving per hour. It was costing him both in time and in money to be a member of a local authority.

This amendment is very reasonable. We should find a structure by which to pay local authority members for unpaid leave during time off. I realise one cannot be clocking in and out but in the institutes of technology there is a system whereby eight days are allocated if one is a public representative. The eight days do not have to be taken in a block, there is flexibility. I ask that the same apply in the private sector, State bodies and semi-State bodies. A person who gives of his or her time – local authorities demand more and more – should not lose out as a result of making a commitment to public service. It is a simple request and I ask that the Minister take it on board.

Mr. Walsh: There is a difficulty with accepting amendments because of the need to get the Bill through but this is an amendment of which I am strongly in favour. LAMA put the matter to the Minister a long while ago and in the negotiations for the PPF the Minister and the Government put it to the social partners. It had the support of the ICTU but the IBEC had strong reservations. We asked that it would be taken up subsequently.

The point made by Senator Coogan is definitely valid. The whole democratic process needs people from all walks of life to participate in it and if we value our democracy we must ensure that it is accessible to everybody. Those employed in certain positions find it difficult if their employers do not facilitate them. There should be a statutory provision for that right. Indeed, the three representative associations are of one mind on this and made a submission to the Minister. If there is anything the Minister can do to push that and get agreement, it is highly desirable that he do it.

Mr. Costello: The need to allow anybody elected to public office to attend to their duties is self-evident. If they cannot do what they are elected to do because their employer will not allow them leave it is a contradiction. What does local democracy mean in those circumstances? If we have any respect for local democracy – we have enshrined its importance in the Constitution – surely there is an onus on us to ensure that those elected by the people to represent them get at least the minimum. That minimum is unpaid leave to allow them to turn up at meetings where decisions are made and where they carry out their duties. I cannot see how anybody could object to this. We all know of instances where members have pleaded with the representative bodies because they were unable to attend meetings as [1409] the employer was not prepared to let them leave work on an unpaid basis.

This is another example of rushing through legislation at the end of a term. This amendment is so patently necessary that I am sure if the Bill did not have to go through today and the Dáil was sitting next week it would be accepted. It has been said that the IBEC has reservations about it, but the IBEC has reservations about everything to do with employees. That goes without saying.

Mr. Coogan: It is par for the course.

Mr. Costello: Remember that we are talking about representative democracy. This is a basic tenet of that and the only way we can ensure it is to enshrine it as a statutory entitlement. The amendment in the name of Senator Coogan and the Labour Party group is essential if we are to do that. I do not know if the Minister can take it on board at this point or if he can indicate whether an amendment will be introduced in the autumn. I suspect by the way things are looking that he will not take it on board now.

Mr. Burke: I support Senator Coogan's amendment. Nobody should be penalised for having to carry out their functions as a democratically elected public representative. I do not know whether the Minister will accept the amendment or whether he can introduce some measure at a different stage but no one should be penalised. The private and the public sectors are involved in this and I have seen how people were not facilitated on numerous occasions, particularly in the public sector. Whether they were teaching or in other jobs their bosses would not allow them sufficient time off to attend meetings, and that is completely wrong.

Ms Ormonde: I have great empathy with this amendment. Many councillors from the length and breath of the State have come to me since the last local elections to point out the problems they have getting time off to attend to their public duties. We are talking about local democracy and reflecting needs. If agreement has been made with your employer that you are running for local government it should follow that you would be allowed time off to attend to your public duties. It may not be constitutional and an employer does not have to give time off but in terms of goodwill and civic duty I ask the Minister to sit down with the IBEC under the PPF to see if a solution can be arrived at. That would facilitate those who put their names forward, are elected and want to honour commitments to their job and their public service. I call on employers, through the IBEC, to sit down and negotiate.

It even happens in the public service. When I was a teacher I had to rearrange my timetable in such a way as to ensure I accommodated attendance at council meetings. The goodwill of the principal of the school allowed that but it should [1410] not necessarily be so. This is not about the IBEC alone. It should be of concern to all of us that anyone who puts his or her name forward to serve the public is respected accordingly. There should be goodwill in relation to that and I ask the Minister to reinforce these points again. It cannot be part of this Bill because it may not work constitutionally but there should be goodwill. That is the way we should go forward.

Ms O'Meara: I support this amendment and I would like the Minister to listen to the comments from all sides of the House in support of it. In speaking on it we represent the strongest desires of local authority members and recognise the far more onerous role an elected member now has. That was pointed out on numerous occasions, particularly on Second Stage of this Bill.

The legislation has been described as reforming but I do not accept that. There is no doubt that it recognises the changing role of local government, its increased importance and the increased importance of elected members. If we are to recognise the critical role of the person who has been democratically elected, particularly those who are trying to hold down a job, we must facilitate them and support them as much as possible. This has been recognised finally in the legislation by the provision of an allowance for elected members. It appears it is probably just as important to recognise that people who are members of local authorities should be given the right to unpaid leave from their employment to attend the meetings, where necessary, to accommodate their role as elected members.

This is very much in the spirit of this legislation. In that context I appeal to the Minister to listen to the views of the Members of this House who represent members of local authorities throughout the country from all political parties. I also ask him to recognise that the role has become more onerous and that it involves far more time than it did previously.

At our meeting on Monday night, I spoke to one of the members of my county council who is a member of the Minister of State's party. He is the chairman of an SPC and a member of the VEC as well as being a member of the county council, and he told me that Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were all taken up. He can only do this work because he is self-employed. It is not surprising then he said that he hoped we would pass this Bill this week because he needs to be paid for what he is doing. As a self-employed person, his work is undoubtedly suffering. His situation is not unusual. One can say that he has chosen to do that, but increasingly we need people to serve and we cannot afford to narrow the pool of people available to run for election.

As all members of political parties will be aware, when the local elections come around one is on the look-out for people who might stand but a considerable number of people must say “No” because they would not be able to get time off [1411] from work to attend meetings. If this is written into the legislation, it would certainly help that particular process and would fundamentally shore up the democratic function. I appeal to the Minister of State to take this amendment on board. He should see it is very much in the spirit of this legislation.

Mr. D. Cregan: The point has been made strongly. I mean no disrespect to city councillors, county councillors or urban councillors, but the best people are not coming forward in public life in Ireland. That is obvious. One must look at how to address this problem. Senator O'Meara made a strong case for particular people who are involved in public life on a full-time basis. In the city council of which I am a member, there are people who do not have full-time jobs who can give more of their time to the work of the council than people in employment. While the amendment states that a member of a local authority shall be entitled to such unpaid leave from “the office or employment in question”, I would prefer if instead it stated, “from his or her place of work”. Otherwise one is defining it in terms of the type of work done by one person rather than another.

If we are saying that members of local authorities need to be paid, which they do, and if we are to get the best people to come into public life, we need to recognise the amount of time they put into it. Until ten years ago Cork City Council met at 7.30 p.m. on Monday nights and, therefore, it was not difficult to attend the meetings. Nowadays the meetings take place at 5.30 p.m. because the administrative staff said, correctly, that there was no reason they should be there all night and they wanted to get home to their families. They now wish to hold the meetings at 2.30 p.m. That would mean that a person would be gone from his or her place of work for a whole day and one wonders how a person can answer that call.

It is not easy for the employers either and we do not want to be critical of them. A great deal of leeway is given by employers to people in public life but it is not easy to facilitate such people, particularly when they work in the private sector. In the public sector, particularly if one is a teacher, one can find a way around the difficulty but in the private sector it is not so easy. That is why we are not getting people to come forward. It is just a question of costs. We should not be afraid to look at this and to try to find a way around it. We must ask whether the problem can be solved by providing a tax allowance and whether the employer can be compensated in this way also.

If we are saying that a person should not lose out financially if he or she must attend meetings, how does one define a meeting? How can one tell whether a meeting is necessary? Should the provision be confined to meetings of the local authority, as set out in the amendment, or should [1412] it include committees therein? A problem could arise where people could leave work to go to a community meeting or a political meeting which would not be relevant to the work of the local authority. We also must look at that issue and decide what is the best way around this problem. The best way is to decide, with the help of the IBEC and the trades unions, that if a person is elected to a qualifying local authority, certain conditions prevail. I ask the Minister of State to look into that matter.

However, we cannot allow a situation where a person can get time off work to go to every meeting. For instance, there are three or four city councillors in Cork who would go to a meeting even if it were held on Christmas Day or St. Stephen's Day. Other people want to be with their families but, unfortunately, if they are at the meeting, the rest of us must be at the meeting too. In addition, some of these councillors are not in employment and would prefer not to be employed. Some of them may be on disability benefit and if they receive a local authority salary, they will not qualify for their disability benefits. The Minister of State must take that into consideration also. That, however, is a matter which will arise in the future.

The House understands exactly what I mean. Some people can go to meetings at any hour of the day. Others, who would have a greater interest and would have much more to give, cannot go to meetings because of their employment. This is a serious problem. That is why I agree with Senator O'Meara that we are not getting the best people to come forward for public life. We should not be afraid to look at this and decide to create an environment in which the best people come forward. I ask the Minister of State to look at that. There should be something in the regulations stating that a member of a local authority should be entitled to some such benefits.

Mr. Moylan: It is important that this Bill is passed quickly. This is an important amendment which should be revisited. The amendment highlights an important difficulty. I can speak from experience, having been a member of a local authority for more than 25 years. At present, no employer would employ a member of a local authority simply because of the amount of time off he or she would need to attend to local authority business. This issue must be looked at in that light.

One must look at providing time off to enable local authorities to hold meetings at suitable times. This is not just in order to facilitate the members. Local authorities must look at the difficulties encountered by their staff. Many employers prefer people to be missing on Fridays or to do their local authority business before work begins and they do not want people taking time off in the middle of the week. That is why this must be looked at.

The type of allowance involved, which we will come to later in the Bill, is another issue which [1413] must be looked at. If an employer is allowing an employee time off, he or she must be sure about what is involved. If a provision is not inserted here or if the Bill is not revisited, there will be a difficulty. One hopes to get the best available people to serve at local authority level. A large majority who would have a lot to contribute will be unable to put their names forward to be members of local authorities if we do not afford them the opportunity to do so.

This issue can be revisited. I am sure the Minister has overseen the passage of many Bills in the past, particularly in the Department of the Environment and Local Government, but there have always been sections in Bills that required revisiting. Section 12 is such a section. However, I oppose the amendment on the grounds that we must get this Bill passed immediately because of the benefits it affords to local authority members.

Mr. Coogan: I have already spoken, so I will let the Minister of State speak and then reply.

Mr. T. Kitt: The matter under discussion is very important, as has been established by the clear views of the Senators who have spoken. I, as a former member of a local authority, am very much aware of the issues and examples that have been raised. Members of local authorities find it difficult to combine the pressures of membership with the pressures of working life.

Senator Ormonde is correct in saying the Minister has considered the insertion of a statutory requirement to provide for time off from work for members of local authorities. As Senator Ormonde said, the Minister was examining the constitutionality of the matter and he was advised that there is a constitutional difficulty with regard to private employers. It is unlikely that employers could be compelled to release staff.

I know most public sector employees, such as the ESB, Bord na Móna, and Bord Gáis, allow councillors leave to attend meetings. Civil servants are also entitled to special leave with pay. Eircom and An Post also have special arrangements. There have to be limitations with regard to employees in general.

I am also conscious that many councillors have had to work part-time and job share because of their commitments. The Minister believes that the best way forward, as stated by Senator Ormonde and others, is to proceed under the PPF. I know the Minister intends to follow up the matter with all the relevant parties – the social partners, employers unions, and others. I can assure the Senators that I will convey the views of all parties to the Minister so we can expedite the process. That is the best offer I can give today.

As a Minister of State with a special responsibility for labour affairs, I know there are many similar employment related issues that have not been dealt with adequately by representatives of employers. IBEC and ICTU were mentioned earlier. There have been many issues addressed [1414] in terms of employment entitlements and I hope this issue could be addressed in a similar fashion. We are talking about the Government's efforts to create family friendly workplaces to make it easier for people to combine work and family responsibilities. From the context of this debate, and from my having worked as a member of a local authority, we should also try to combine working life with home life alongside our commitments to public engagements and our democratic duties.

Senator Moylan was correct in stating that, further on in the Bill, salaries are dealt with – an issue very much a part of the current debate. I regret that I cannot accept the amendment because the Minister has concerns about its constitutionality, but I will convey the strong cross-party views I have heard to him, views with which I sympathise. As Minister of State with a responsibility for labour affairs, I have encountered similar matters that have been dealt with in a similar fashion.

Mr. Coogan: I am aware that the amendment, if taken en bloc, could be open to abuse by some employees. What we are seeking is a minimal contract with employees that will guarantee that for important meetings, for example, one would have unpaid leave. It is a simple request. I am satisfied that the Minister of State will convey this to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and ask him to reflect on it. If he can do it through social partnership, I will accept that.

I want to clarify a matter raised by Senator Cregan concerning the wording of the amendment. The term “office” means one's employment title, not a physical office. I am sure the Senator will forgive me for drawing attention to this because the term was somewhat ambiguous.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

SECTION 12.

Question proposed: “That section 12 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Burke: With regard to section 12, as the Minister is well aware, the registers of electors are compiled usually in November and a certain date in January or February. Unless one is on the register of electors, one is not entitled to vote – unless one can be included on the supplementary register. One is not entitled to be placed on the register unless one has reached 18 years on or before the day the register is being compiled. Therefore, if a local election is being held in May or June, a person is entitled to stand for election and be elected, perhaps as a mayor of a city or a county councillor. However, he may not be entitled to be on the register of electors.

The Minister of State should consider revising that section so it will state that people who are eligible will be eligible to stand for election if they are eligible to be on the register. Otherwise the [1415] compilation of the register of electors will have to be carried out differently. If a person is not eligible to be on the register, he could still be entitled to stand for election. I hope the Minister of State understands what I have said.

Ms O'Meara: I support Senator Burke in drawing attention to that anomaly. He is absolutely correct. One could have a case where a person was 18 on the fifth day of month after the closing day for the compilation of the register who is still qualified to stand for election in that particular year.

A related anomaly that must be brought to the attention of the Minister and his Department concerns the supplementary register and an 18 year old applying to be on that register later in the year. If he is not 18 by 31 January, he cannot apply to be on the supplementary register. This is inherently unfair. I want this issue to be addressed.

Ms Ormonde: The point made by Senator Burke is very interesting. It gives the Minister the opportunity to re-examine the matter with local authorities in terms of the compilation of registers. Somehow, we never seem to get it right at election time.

When re-examining the issue, it must be clarified to the point of establishing who qualifies and when they qualify. The register should be up to date and the public should not be confused. Before the Bill becomes law, the Minister will have a golden opportunity to provide clarification, perhaps by regulation. Then everybody will be at ease.

Mr. Walsh: I was not clear about the point Senator Burke made. The provision in the Bill enables a person who attains the age of 18 at any time right up to polling day to be a candidate for election. That is similar to what happens with regard to the Dáil.

Mr. Burke: The point I made was that such people may not be entitled to vote and yet be eligible to stand for election.

Mr. Walsh: I presume that the register is a separate matter. A person cannot be on the register until he is 18.

Mr. Burke: He could still stand for election.

Mr. Walsh: Yes, he could. However, there have to be cut off dates. This related to the register rather than this provision. If the person is not 18 years old at the time the register is compiled, he is not eligible to be placed on the register.

Ms O'Meara: What about the supplementary register?

[1416] Mr. Walsh: Presumably he can go on that, but cut off dates also apply to the supplementary register.

Ms O'Meara: There are cut off dates. However, the 18 year old qualifies for the supplementary register, in other words, if one applies to be placed on the supplementary register in November having turned 18 years in March, one does not qualify because one was not 18 years old by 31 January. That disenfranchises a whole group of people.

Mr. Coogan: Go back to the qualifying date for the supplementary register.

Mr. Walsh: That might be the way to proceed. Perhaps the supplementary register will be looked at.

Ms O'Meara: That is the electoral law.

Mr. Walsh: Yes.

Mr. T. Kitt: My understanding is that this provision is in line with the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2000. I will ask the Minister to clarify this before commencement of the legislation. I thank Senators for raising the matter.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 13.

Question proposed: “That section 13 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Walsh: This point was raised by a member of the LAMA executive. We considered it valid and subsequently included it in the joint submission to the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, from the three associations. Section 13 spells out the areas of disqualification from membership and deals, in particular, with specific convictions covering fraudulent dealings affecting the local authority of which the person is or intends to be a member, corrupt practice or acting when disqualified. Our proposal was to include a conviction relating to the sale or distribution of illicit drugs in that group.

There is a strong argument that people involved in the illicit drug business could get involved in community activities and find themselves as members of local authorities. I have no knowledge that it has happened but there may be anecdotal evidence that it has. Obviously that would be wrong because illegal drug use is endemic, particularly in urban areas. These people can ingratiate themselves with the local community and get into positions of authority and status, through which they gain access to people in the community. A very strong case was made for disqualifying people with convictions in that area. One does not want to interfere with the democratic process but in [1417] areas of great sensitivity, notably where young people are concerned, all possible steps should be taken. I ask that this be looked at in this or in future legislation.

Mr. Coogan: Senator Walsh has already touched on a point raised by the GCCC, LAMA and the AMAI. I will not go back over it as it is a reasonable request. However, section 13 prevents certain groups from standing for election for local government, including Ministers, Ministers of State, MEPs, members of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces and certain convicted criminals. Unfortunately, the public probably regards it as very appropriate to group that lot together in this way.

Ms Ormonde: That is my point.

Mr. Coogan: However, there seems to be a full stop between local authority staff and convicted criminals. I am not sure why it is there.

I do not believe that local authority staff members should be disbarred from becoming members of local government. They are adequately, or perhaps even better, qualified for the job than many others who apply to stand for local government. I do not see how their membership would infringe on local government. I ask the Minister of State to justify disqualifying local government staff from standing for election. Very often they have a wealth of experience to bring to local government. They are being excluded without foundation.

Ms Ormonde: I echo the points made so far and will reflect the views of the general council. As a member of that body I have already heard this debate many times at meetings. I agree with Senator Coogan's point about grouping together civil servants and those convicted of certain offences. I ask the Minister of State to clarify that.

We are sensitive about having people with convictions in our midst. I would feel very ill at ease having such people on the same ticket. It is a sensitive area because we cannot curb democracy. However, we need some qualification criteria for election candidates.

I am surprised local authority staff have been placed under the umbrella of disqualified groups. It covers a wide range of people, some of whom are not employed full time. Will it apply to part time staff? I am aware of the need not to obstruct democracy but we do need to adopt a clear position on people with convictions for certain offences. I ask the Minister of State to clarify that.

Mr. Burke: I fully support the comments of the other Senators. I ask the Minister of State to clarify section 1(1)(k) on page 28 which states that a person can be disbarred for failing “to pay any sum or any portion of any sum charged or surcharged, by an auditor of the accounts of any local authority, upon or against that person”. [1418] Could that lead to a person who had failed to pay his or her rates or refuse charges at the end of a financial year being disqualified from standing for election to a local authority? Does it include parking tickets? I note it states “of any local authority”. Councillors are a breed of people who travel widely in many jurisdictions. They could have a parking fine from any local authority. A £50 parking fine might appear in the auditor's report of a local authority. Would this automatically bar them from being a member of that local authority?

I ask the Minister of State when will the curtain come down on having those sums charged by the local authority auditor? Is it 31 December, the end of the financial year or some other date? Everyone knew where they stood under the old system. If one did not pay one's rates on the final day, one was automatically disbarred from being a member of the local authority. Recently, however, we had a case of a local authority changing the rules. This has led to an ongoing case between a member of the local authority and a town clerk. Will the Minister of State spell out the position on the issue? It is a very serious matter when a person with a £50 parking fine from any local authority is automatically barred from being a member of his or her own local authority.

Mr. T. Kitt: There are many questions to be dealt with. Section 13 provides for disqualification where a person is actually serving a prison sentence and covers a person convicted of a drugs offence, but only where he or she is serving a prison sentence of more than six months. This also raises the question of whether convicted individuals who have duly served their punishment should be further penalised by such a disqualification or whether that should be a matter for the electorate. The Bill does, however, provide for disqualification on the grounds of conviction for specified offences. These include corrupt practice and fraudulent dealings with the local authority, which have in common that they entail wrongdoing affecting the local authority.

On Senator Burke's point, it would only apply on conviction for an offence. The integrity of the local authority system could be called into question if a person convicted of such behaviour were allowed to be a member. At the same time, the law recognises that persons should not be penalised ad infinitum and such disqualifications operate for a period of five years from the date of conviction. If we move from including only offences against local authorities to more behavioural crimes, the question arises whether we should include other serious crimes such as murder. On balance, the Minister prefers to leave section 13 as it stands and to let this matter regarding conviction for serious offences be considered in a more comprehensive way in the context of similar changes to Dáil disqualification in future electoral legislation. There is an issue here which needs to be addressed.

[1419] On the question of staff, my understanding is that junior grades in local authorities could stand for election. It would be difficult to envisage a manager or county planner being a member of the local authority.

Ms Ormonde: That is not made clear.

Mr. T. Kitt: Subsection 13(2)(a) clarifies the points made by Senator Burke.

Mr. D. Cregan: The Minister of State has not clarified that matter sufficiently. Can a member of a local authority be disqualified from membership if he is convicted in court of the charge of not paying a parking fine or car tax? This is very strong. I do not understand subsection (1)(k) which says a member will be disqualified if he “fails to pay an sum or any portion of any sum charged or surcharged, by an auditor of the accounts of any local authority, upon or against that person”.

Mr. T. Kitt: It would be on conviction. There would be the normal right of appeal.

Mr. D. Cregan: I understand that. If a member of the city council in Cork is convicted of a parking fine in Dublin, does not pay the parking fine of £50 and does not appeal, would he lose his seat on the Cork City Council? That is what the Bill says. Is the Minister of State saying such a person must appeal? I understand that subsection (2)(a) says that the disqualification arises “where no appeal is taken, on the expiration of the time limit for an appeal”. The average person does not appeal a parking fine charge. What is the definition of a conviction?

Mr. T. Kitt: Subsection (1)(l) states that a member will be disqualified who “fails to comply with a final judgment, order or decree of a court of competent jurisdiction, for payment of money due to any local authority”. Subsection (2)(b) states that a “disqualification arising under subsection (1)(l) comes into effect on the seventh day after the last day for compliance with the relevant final judgment, order or decree and the disqualification shall be for 5 years from such last day”. I hope this clarifies the position.

Mr. D. Cregan: It does not. It substantiates what I am saying. If a member does not pay a conviction charge, which could be £50, £100 or even £20, he could be disqualified for five years. This is very weak. Paragraph (k) must be re-examined to ensure that members are not being wronged unnecessarily. Senator Burke is right. If a member does not pay a conviction charge in another court he can be suspended for five years. Subsection (2)(b) substantiates this point. There is no need for this provision. It would mean that only people who do not drive would stand for election to a local authority.

[1420] Mr. T. Kitt: The provision is in existing legislation. One expects members of local authorities to give good example and pay fines.

Mr. Burke: There is much ambiguity in this section. An auditor of a local authority compiles accounts at the end of the year. Subsection (1)(k) refers to a member who “fails to pay any sum or any portion of any sum charged or surcharged by an auditor of the accounts of any local authority, upon or against that person”. Does that mean that if a member has not paid his refuse collection charge, in part or completely, when the auditor is compiling the accounts at the end of the year he will be barred from the council? That is what the subsection appears to mean. If so, it should be spelt out clearly. People would like to know where they stand. Must members have paid their rates and charges by a given date? Can the Minister of State specify that date? This was the position but it was changed in the last Local Government Act which stated that members are not automatically disqualified if they have not paid their rates by the end of the year. I ask for clarification so that some official might not pull a stroke on a councillor.

Ms Ormonde: I had not broadened my thinking to reflect what Senator Burke is saying. I understood the section to refer only to election or co-option. Does it also refer to the disqualification of members, subsequent to their election?

Mr. Burke: I am referring to subsection (1)(k).

Ms Ormonde: That requires clarification. I had not considered disqualification during the term of office of a council. We could all be caught in such a situation—

Ms O'Meara: Accidentally.

Ms Ormonde: —and be disqualified. I would like to be sure exactly what this subsection means.

Mr. Walsh: The Minister of State has pointed out that this Bill does not change the present position. Subsection (1)(k) refers to a sum charged by an auditor. This means that a member will not only have received a bill from the council but he will also have received a reminder from the auditor. There is also provision for an appeal to the Minister. A person who deliberately does not pay local authority charges because he is taking part in a campaign should be disqualified from membership of the council. Why should the rest of the public pay while a member of the council does not? We should pay our charges.

Mr. D. Cregan: That is not the point.

Mr. Walsh: If a member inadvertently overlooks a bill he should not be disqualified automatically. It is my understanding that this will not happen. The auditor will remind him of his over[1421] sight and there is then provision for an appeal to the Minister if the members disputes the charge. There are protections there to avoid genuine cases of people being affected by it. However, a person who wants to play both sides against the middle by claiming his council expenses on the one hand and on the other hand refusing to pay the local authority should be disqualified.

Mr. Coogan: I agree with Senator Walsh. I know there are two different arguments going on here. However, somebody who makes a campaign around non-payment of service or water charges and refuses to pay those charges should not be allowed to get a salary or expenses. One solution is to make all deductions at source, which would save considerable difficulty. However, I know of one person who through no fault of their own simply forgot to pay and the manager showed a degree of leniency by writing a letter to the individual. Perhaps there could be a stage between the auditor and the Minister where the manager writes to the individual and tells him that if it is not paid within a particular time, he is jeopardising his seat and offers to make deductions from his expenses. I think these things can be worked out.

Mr. T. Kitt: Senator Walsh is right and many Senators have seen the link between subsection (1)(k) and subsection (2)(a)(i) and (2)(a)(ii). The bottom line is that there is the right of appeal to the Minister and the High Court. Senators have rightly made the distinction between the person who deliberately refuses to pay charges as part of a campaign and somebody who inadvertently may not have paid. The question of the surcharge is definitely linked there.

Question put and agreed to.

NEW SECTION.

Mr. Coogan: I move amendment No. 2:

In page 29, before section 14, to insert the following new section:

14.–(1)Subject to subsection (2), a person who is a member of either House of the Oireachtas shall be disqualified from being elected, or co-opted to, or from being a member of a local authority.

(2) This section comes into operation and applies with respect to the local elections to be held in the year 2004 and thereafter.

(3) In respect of local elections to be held in the year 2004 and thereafter, section 13(1)(e) shall be read as if it referred to a member of Dáil Éireann or of Seanad Éireann.

This extremely important aspect of the Bill, which was mooted three years ago, was spoken about by the Minister two years ago and printed in May 2000. One of the major points of the Bill was the [1422] dual mandate. On behalf of my party, I stated clearly here that we were in favour of the removal of the dual mandate. Everybody here knows that for practical reasons, it is virtually impossible to serve fully as a local authority member and a Senator or Deputy. The demands have increased dramatically over the years. Members may be members of SPCs, area committees, county or city development boards, regional authorities, tenants' settlement committees, housing committees etc. Even though the Minister thought the effect of the SPCs would be to reduce the number of meetings, they have actually increased them.

In my own case, most of our meetings are held on Mondays and I can attend, but if another meeting is held on a Wednesday, I simply cannot attend, and that is not right. It means that another local authority member is carrying the weight for me. If I cannot be on certain committees, other local authority members have to be on extra committees. From the practical point of view alone, local authority members should not be in the Seanad or Dáil. I know the Minister strongly believes that. A few days before this section was removed from the Bill, he said on radio that he wanted the section retained. From his point of view, he was strongly in favour of the removal of the dual mandate, but suddenly because of events in his party he changed. The difficulty was not with the four Independent Deputies but in his own party, as became clear afterwards. It is regrettable that the Members had to do that because the other amendments proposed by me would have ensured that elected Members to both Houses would at the same time know what is going on at local authorities and have some input without being sitting members of the local authority.

I am sure the decision the Minister has made is one that does not sit very well with him or with a number of his Cabinet colleagues. However, it was a pragmatic reaction to the fear of people losing their seats. I hope that it was not related to losing out on double jobbing and getting extra money. I feel very strongly about this. If the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, were here he would find great difficulty in refusing this amendment in spite of the fact that the Cabinet decision has been the other way. Senator Walsh should know this and he should be nodding his head at this stage. He is finding it hard to restrain himself.

As the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, said, without this, the Bill becomes washed out. I am calling on the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, to request that this be reversed from the practical point of view that Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas should not be members of local authorities. They cannot function properly doing both jobs.

Ms O'Meara: I support Senator Coogan's amendment. This has been a very controversial element of the legislation. The manner in which it was flagged by the Minister in the very early stage when he published the Bill, the fact that he [1423] announced it as a core value within the legislation and that ultimately he was forced to climb down due to the political exigencies of maintaining the support of Independent Members of the Dáil has made this even more controversial.

Senator Coogan has pointed to his own case and I could do the same. Since 1999, I have been a Member of the Seanad as well as being a member of north Tipperary county council and Nenagh Urban District Council. I sometimes wonder which day of the week it is. It is simply not possible to do everything effectively and it comes to the stage where I wonder if I am doing anything effectively. This afternoon I am forced to miss a meeting of the joint library committee of north and south Tipperary due to being here. I am happy to be here, but I would like to be at that meeting as well.

I discussed this with some people at the meeting of the General Council of County Councils in Carlow at the weekend. At the heart of the issue is a conflict between the national picture and the local interest. We need to find a way to recognise the two. As Members of the Seanad or Dáil we should be able to maintain contact with and have a function in local issues. The fear of a number of people is that being a Member of the Oireachtas alone cuts them off from access to information, decisions and especially the influence with members of the local authority.

The motorway schemes are very topical currently. Unfortunately as councillors, we have very little if any input into this issue, but at least we have access to our road engineers, the design offices etc. As a Deputy or Senator in a particular area we would want to maintain that level of access. I know the Minister has attempted to meet that concern in the legislation by ensuring that the Member of the Oireachtas gets copies of documentation and other information, but in practice it is not the same.

However, we have to make the choice between being an effective local representative as a county councillor or urban councillor and being an effective Member of the Oireachtas. Either on its own is demanding but together they are excessively demanding. The Minister was on the right track in attempting to abolish the dual mandate and I commend Senator Coogan on bringing forward his amendment, which we are happy to support.

I do not think we can fully renew local government if we retain the dual mandate in its current form. There will always be conflict between the national and the local, and we will simply not allow the centrality of local representatives to prosper. Being a member of a county council is a major political responsibility. Those elected have a major responsibility to the electorate and should not need to be a Member of the Oireachtas. We know about the controversy and the decision arrived at by the Government. I do not blame the Minister as we know from media reports that he was forced into an effective humiliating climb-down by political necessity. [1424] When the history of this Bill and of local government is written, this will stand out as a major chapter and will be seen not just as a U-turn but a step in the wrong direction.

Mr. Walsh: I disagree with Senator Coogan's statement that deletion of the provision to get rid of the dual mandate has eroded the entire effect of the Bill. There are many good provisions in the Bill. Obviously this was a pivotal part of the Bill as far as the Minister was concerned. The separation of local government and national Government would be to the benefit of both. The time involved and the difficulty in doing both jobs illustrates in itself the need for separation.

The Minister tried extremely hard to maintain the provision in the Bill and was prepared to compromise in achieving that. In the end he accepted that the support of the Independent Deputies on various issues should be recognised and that they are an important component of the Government. He respected the fact that this was the first occasion on which an impasse was reached on an issue. However, all political parties are on record as supporting the abolition of the dual mandate, and I cannot see it surviving after 2004.

While I am totally in favour of abolition, I have some sympathy for the arguments made by some of those opposed to its abolition. For example, I am aware of a Member who lost his Dáil seat and who worked at great personal expense to regain it, who says that but for the fact that he was a member of a local authority, which gave him an entree to continue his political work, he would not have regained his seat. That person is an exceptionally good Deputy. When the current structure is being changed, account should be taken of the common interests between local government and central Government, ensuring Members of the Oireachtas are kept fully informed and are supportive in terms of the important issues faced by local government. Access to information and all local government data will be essential. I urge that we do not lose sight of the objective. It will mean cutting a deal and getting the agreement of Members of the Oireachtas.

Senator Coogan said opposition to the abolition of the dual mandate came from within our party, but there was opposition in each of the main parties.

Mr. Coogan: The Senator's party is in Government.

Mr. Walsh: A majority in all parliamentary parties was in favour of abolition, however, the mathematics of the situation prevented such a move, and the Minister took a view which any reasonable person would have taken in a similar situation. The approach was probably taken reluctantly, but like other provisions in the Bill, I hope the solid foundation it provides will be built upon in the three years to 2004.

[1425] Mr. D. Cregan: Very strong points have been made for and against the abolition of the dual mandate. If we are to allow local authorities take the initiative and not put the cart before the horse we must allow a situation whereby they have the authority to do so. Currently, they do not have such authority. I have been a member of a local authority for the past 22 years and if we want to build a toilet in Cork city we have to apply to the Minister. Members of the Oireachtas should act as hawks in terms of local authorities. We allocate the money and represent the people. Members of the Oireachtas should oversee expenditure by local authorities and ensure money is spent correctly. We should not have to attend every meeting or try to get to a meeting because a light is needed on a particular corner. I cannot play my role as a legislator if I must ensure a light is put in a particular place. There are no local authority meetings in Cork city or county which are not attended by the ten Members of the Oireachtas who are also local authority members. These Members of the Oireachtas who are also members of local authorities have a huge workload, and it is not fair. It is more strenuous on Deputies than Senators.

We should make block allocations of money to authorities and they should have the right to do what they want with it. Currently a local authority might get £200,000 for roads, £1.3 million for housing, £1.4 million for the environment and other grants for other schemes. The philosophy is to apply for everything. However, they should get a block allocation so they can do what they feel is best for their area. For example, if Sligo wants to become a city, the local authority should be allowed work on that itself. Members of the Oireachtas should act as hawks to ensure money is spent correctly, and if this is not being done it should be raised in the Oireachtas. The Oireachtas should have this power.

It is a sad reflection that I have to attend every meeting of the city or county council to ensure I am seen there. Yet there could be something happening here which I cannot attend. A Member on the other side has admitted that the majority of people on both sides of the House agree with the abolition of the dual mandate, but it still cannot get through. That is a sad reflection on public life, but that is how politics works at national level and I understand that the Government must hold on to power. I am frightened that those seeking to maintain the dual mandate are so blinkered. Why would the electorate want to elect such people to Parliament given that they are only thinking on a local level?

If the people in Kerry South were told an allocation of £32 million per year was being made to the local authority to do what it wanted, we would see the work being done, with Members of the Oireachtas ensuring the money was spent correctly and not on one particular area or group. Such an approach is not novel but can be found in countries throughout Europe. The Scandinavian countries work that way. Oireachtas Members [1426] would then have the authority – a person gets elected at local level, but at national level the representative must ensure that money is allocated to the regions.

The country should be regionalised. It should not be a question of a particular constituency, town or street. The development plan for Cork city and county is an example of that. The sad part is that the same thing did not happen in the Dublin region. Our tunnel was planned in 1974 and opened in 1999, some 25 years later.

When one sees what happened in particular areas, within local and national politics, it is a sad reflection on the rest of us. We do not want that to continue. We should say that a person is in one job and has authority for that. If money is being allocated in a block-grant manner, rather than allocating £5 million for housing and £3 million for roads, I would allocate a total of £8 million to an authority and if they feel they need to put most of it into roads for that particular year, then so be it.

The hawks are the Oireachtas Members, both in the Seanad and Dáil. They can come back and ask the Minister what is going on in a particular place, and that is as it should be. Senator Coogan is perfectly right – the sad part about this is that there was general agreement and yet it did not happen.

Ms Ormonde: I understand where Senator Coogan is coming from, but I would hate to think that this Bill was being undermined and that the core of the Bill was the particular section that had to be deleted. There are wide-ranging areas in this Bill and I compliment the Minister on this aspect of the approach to the reform of local government.

I could not agree more with all of the points that have been made today in regard to the dual mandate. I have the same dilemma as everybody else, in that I am a member of a local authority. I have not attended any of my Tuesday meetings for several months because of my role in this House. I love local authority work but I am not doing a good job – neither am I doing a good job in here, because I am divided between two camps. I want to be everywhere and do the best job I can and reflect the views of the public at every meeting I attend, but it is becoming physically impossible to attend my meetings, concentrate and be effective. As I said last night, we have got so “committee-ited” – it was a good term and I will keep using it – in our council chambers, we have so many meetings to attend and so much documentation to assimilate that a back-up team is necessary. Then one has to make a contribution on a particular subject. It is just not possible to do it any more.

That is one of the reasons I was saddened to see this aspect of the Bill deleted – for the moment. I hope that it will come back in again. I think it will and that this is just a temporary blip in the aspirations towards the abolition of the dual mandate. It has to come, that is life.

[1427] As Senator Dino Cregan said, we can be the hawks out there looking after it in here. We will be clear about it as we have the requisite experience – I have been on the council for 17 years and know its every function. I want to be in here to do the job so that the other job can be effective, but I cannot do two things. The Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, and I grew up together in politics in the same constituency and he knows that when he started off in 1979 it was possible to do both jobs, because the workload was not comparable to what it is today.

It is my belief that there should be only one job and that it should be done well. I am not good at being all over the place. I appreciate what Senator Coogan has said but that is not relevant now and I hope that in future it will be revisited and will come to pass. Senator Coogan should be aware that we all empathise with him in this amendment but do not agree that the whole Bill will become irrelevant if this is deleted. This is fine legislation. We have been here since this morning teasing it out line by line and that is how we should treat every Bill that comes before us. It is great that so many of us have expressed our views—

Mr. Coogan: Was the Electoral (Amendment) Bill an exception ?

Ms Ormonde: I am talking about this one and I am complimenting all Members who have an interest in the Bill and have teased it out line by line. We will continue to do so for the rest of the day and that is the way it should be. After this we will have a very good local government reform Bill, with a few regulations to be clarified at a later time. It will be worthwhile and I am glad to be part of it. Do not think that this will go away. I feel that this aspect will be revisited in the near future.

Mr. T. Kitt: I will try to be as straight with the Senators as they have been with me. This is a coalition Government which is supported by four Independents and we all know the rules in such an arrangement. The Independent Members were implacably opposed to the ending of the dual mandate and if the Government had persisted it would have resulted in the withdrawal of their support, with obvious consequences.

Coalition Governments are not new in the European context and there are a variety of parties working together where the essence of the system is compromise. It is a relatively new feature in Irish politics, even since I have come here, and I have been here for some time. The Government decided not to go ahead with the ban on the dual mandate for those reasons. There are sound altruistic reasons for doing so. It will be said that I am biased, but most objective commentators would say that the policies we are pursuing on social and economic areas have been very solid over the last four years. In my own Department [1428] of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, working with the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, we have implemented many enlightened policies and seen phenomenal growth rates. There have been reductions in taxation, good employment policies and social legislation has been put in place.

It is important to make the point that the electorate in sending Independent candidates into the Oireachtas should be conscious of the fact that compromise may have to be made by larger parties in Government in future when they are endeavouring to implement policies in the national interest. That is a point that is sometimes missed by the electorate. In reading the predictions for the next election it appears we are going to have a Dáil with an increased number of Independents. That is their choice, but in this case the Government could not do what it wanted to do. People might call that cruel politics but politics has been described as a cruel trade. That is the nature of the political background to this.

The Local Government Bill is significant legislation. We have to move on and ensure that other elements of our local government reform programme proceed. The provision in question constitutes less than a quarter of 1% of the text of the Bill. It is quite a substantive text. It is our job to move forward with implementing the remaining 99.75% to ensure that the Government's programme on local government renewal can be carried out, that is the issue of local government legislation and the broader one of government reform.

I reiterate what others have said, in particular Senator Walsh, that it is open to all parties who are in favour of banning the dual mandate to adopt and implement a policy on it. That point is sometimes missed. The option remains for parties or individuals to withdraw from local authority positions. The elimination of the dual mandate is established party policy of all the major parties. I agree with eliminating the dual mandate. We should be conscious that there is an option for parties to pursue that approach.

I thank the Members for their contributions. I have tried to be honest with them about the explanation for this measure.

Mr. Coogan: With respect, I could not care less about the inner workings of the Fianna Fáil Party and its relationship with the Independents. That is not my business or the business of this House.

Mr. Walsh: It is in the national interest.

Mr. Coogan: It is in the Senator's interest. The business of this House is to ensure that whatever legislation goes through is of high quality. This legislation will be washed down as a result of the fact that the Government has removed the ban on the dual mandate. That is my position and the position of my party.

[1429] Mr. D. Cregan: I welcome the Minister's reply and I understand the politics of it, having been involved in politics for more than 23 years. Recognition does not seem to be given to the contribution that could be made by former Members who have lost their seats. Senator Walsh made that point. Prominent Members of the Dáil and the Seanad have lost their seats. A structure in the form of committees or one committee should be put in place to enable former Members of the Oireachtas who have loss their seats or retired to participate in politics in an advisory capacity. Irrespective of who those people are or from which side of the House they came, we are losing out on the possible contributions of people who have had a major involvement in public life over the years. Some structure should be established in Parliament to enable those former elder Members of the Houses who may have retired but who are still very active to contribute. They could contribute to committees or to one particular committee, as in the case of former Taoisigh who are members of the Council of State and advise the President. It would be of no harm to provide for that and that would ensure that the contribution of those people would not be lost to the nation.

Labhrás Ó Murchú: The point made by Senator Cregan makes a good deal of sense. All of us have had experience of people of the calibre of whom he spoke. Often they may have lost their seats through no fault of their own, perhaps due to a redrawing of their areas. They would have built up a great deal of experience over the years. While this might sound a radical proposal and I am sure the Senator is proposing it for the long term, it would serve the community well that those people would be kept on board. Without revisiting the debate at this time, all of us are fully aware of the contributions that have been made by local authority members in general, but we should not ignore those people. I support the sentiments expressed by Senator Cregan. I hope that in the long term the Minister, in his imaginative way, will find an opportunity to provide for this.

We are told by many people that voluntary effort in the community is disappearing and that it is difficult to find people to undertake tasks on a voluntary basis as they did in the past. Former Members of these Houses were very civic minded and they are still prepared to be part of that voluntary movement. Facilitating their participation would present a great opportunity to use their contributions as a lever to upgrade the voluntary input into the community in the future.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

SECTION 14.

Question proposed: “That section 14 stand part of the Bill.”[1430]

Ms O'Meara: I understand from the Minster of State's Second Stage contribution that one of the amendments which was agreed in the Dáil at the suggestion of some of the representative organisations was to clarify the position regarding the holding of membership of more than one authority. I seek clarity on that. I presume one could not be a member of two county councils at the same time, but that one could be a member of a county council and an urban district council. Am I right in that? Could one be a member of Kilkenny Corporation and Kilkenny County Council?

Mr. Walsh: I join with Senator O'Meara in thanking the Minister for accepting an amendment tabled arising on foot of a joint submission by the three associations. There is merit in it. It would be incongruous if people were in different wards of the same authority or were members of two county councils and were in a position to nominate their own people to replace them. This is a good move. I understand this section will enable people who have a dual mandate at local level to continue to hold membership of a county council and a urban district council. The Minister of State might clarify that.

Mr. T. Kitt: Section 14 provides that no councillor can hold membership of more than one local authority with the exception of being a member of both a county council and town council. Dual membership of a county council and town council is a feature of our local government system. That can have positive spin off effects for greater co-operation and linkages between town and county. The prohibition in this section relates to membership. There is no prohibition on standing for election. In the event of a person being elected to more than one local authority, he or she would have to opt for one authority only and the resulting vacancy would be filled as a casual vacancy.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 15 to 17, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 18.

Question proposed: “That section 18 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Walsh: It is a hallmark of the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, that he was keen to engage in wide consultation on this legislation to ensure that he accommodated the views of as many people as possible. Any propositions of merit that were put to him were included. This section provides that where councillors, who may have long and valuable service, become ill and through no fault of their own are unable to carry out their duties, it was agreed that their membership would be extended beyond 12 months. We suggested 24 months but the Minister compromised on 18 months. I welcome that provision.

[1431] Mr. T. Kitt: I will convey the Senator sentiments to the Minister.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 19 and 20 agreed to.

SECTION 21.

Ms O'Meara: I move amendment No. 3:

In page 33, lines 12 to 20, to delete subsections (1) and (2) and substitute the following new subsection:

“(1) Each county or city council shall have one member for every 4,000 persons ordinarily resident in its functional area and each town council shall have one member for each 1,000 such persons, subject to a minimum number of members of 21 in the case of a county council, 15 in the case of a city council and 12 in the case of a town council.”.

Section 21 and the amendment thereto relate to the number of members of local authorities.

I want to raise the question of local democracy. I believe in the extension of local democracy as far as possible. If a town wants to have a council it should be allowed to, within reason. The qualification in this Bill to have a town council is too high. I will use Tipperary North as an example. There are urban councils in Nenagh, Thurles and Templemore, but none in Roscrea. The population of Roscrea is substantially larger than that of Templemore. There is a fine community council in Roscrea and it has sought a statutory town council, but this Bill does not allow it to have one. If we were starting at year zero, no town in north Tipperary would qualify for a town council under the population rule in this Bill.

I get the feeling that I do not have the full attention of the House. I would much prefer that this would be dealt with when we have completed more pressing business.

Mr. D. Cregan: I agree.

Mr. Walsh: I thank the Minister of State for dealing with this today. He will not be back with us later. He took this on at short notice and was extremely accommodating.

Ms O'Meara: Will we return to this amendment following later business?

An Cathaoirleach: Yes.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.