Minister Coveney addresses the Green Party's Private Members Bill on a Directly Elected Mayor of Dublin
I’m pleased to participate in this afternoon’s debate as it provides another opportunity to take forward our discussions on local government reform for the Dublin Region. Last night’s debate was marked by a good spirit of cooperation on all sides of the House and I look forward to this continuing as we work through the important issues involved.
As the House is aware, last night’s discussions were on the separate Private Members Bill from Fianna Fáil that also concerns a directly elected mayor for Dublin. However, the provisions of the Fianna Fáil Bill and the Bill before the House today are very different in approach.
While last night we were discussing a process leading to a plebiscite and decision, the Green Party Bill proposes establishment of the mayoral office now.
I understand and appreciate the intention of the Bill, which seeks to provide for improved coordination and leadership at local government level across the Dublin Region by legislating now for the formal establishment of a directly elected mayor with conferred functions across a range of policy areas.
The Bill also provides for the establishment of a Regional Authority of Dublin, as well as a Dublin Regional Development Board and a Greater Dublin Area Transport Council, to work with the directly elected mayor in administering the conferred functions.
The Bill envisages that the Mayor, Regional Authority and other bodies would take over specific responsibilities in the areas of land-use, waste management, transport and housing services planning.
The specific land-use functions that are proposed in the Bill do not take account of the fact that, under Part 10 of the Local Government Reform Act 2014, the task of preparing regional planning guidelines has now been assigned to the new Regional Assemblies in the form of new Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies and, in the case of the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly, this covers a much larger geographical area than that envisaged in the Green Party Bill.
Similarly, since 2013, waste management planning, has been aligned with the larger Eastern / Midland area and is a function of the executive, rather than elected members, of local authorities. The transfer of such powers to a Dublin Mayor would be at variance with the approach in the rest of the country.
On transport, the Bill emphasises the role of the proposed Mayor and a proposed Dublin Transport Council in relation to certain statutory functions of the National Transport Authority (NTA) but it lacks clarity as regards resolving the issue of how to address satisfactorily the accountability of the NTA to the wider Greater Dublin Area in relation to the preparation and implementation of a transport strategy to cover the 4 administrative counties of Dublin and also the counties of Meath, Kildare and Wicklow.
The Bill does not fully take into account reform measures already introduced by the previous Government, such as the replacement of 8 Regional Authorities by 3 Regional Assemblies in 2014.
As regards structures and governance, it is not entirely clear how the Mayor would relate to and work with the 4 Dublin local authorities.
All of these points reflect issues with the Bill as it stands and explain the difficulties we on this side of the House see with the Bill at this point. They are not necessarily fatal to the Bill but they mean that a lot more work needs to be done with its provisions before it could be considered a workable model for a directly-elected mayor.
The Bill, in particular, needs to be considered in the context of the commitment in the Government Programme, which provides for a necessary period of preparation and a consultation process before a report on local government reform measures, such as directly elected mayors and devolution of powers, is presented to the Houses for informed consideration by mid-2017.
The Programme for a Partnership Government sets out a number of commitments in relation to what the Programme terms, “the next wave of local government reform”. This involves a report to Government and the Oireachtas by mid-2017 on potential measures to boost local government leadership and accountability, and to ensure that local government structures and responsibilities strengthen local democracy. The Programme also references some specific issues to be considered, including the directly elected mayor concept.
My Department has commenced work on foot of the Programme commitment, with the aim of building on the measures in the Local Government Reform Act 2014. Decisions will be a matter for the Government and the Oireachtas, as appropriate, following consideration of the report.
Particular attention will be given by my Department in the coming months to:
- measures to enhance leadership and accountability in local government (including directly elected mayors);
- action to widen and strengthen the role of local government, particularly through devolution of functions from central to local level; and
- measures to reinforce the effectiveness of the 2014 reforms to the local government system, such as the new municipal district structures, in light of a recent operational review, and consideration of issues around establishment of town councils.
The aim should be to have a broad, inclusive consultation process that allows robust proposals to be brought before the Houses for consideration within the framework of the commitments set out in the Government Programme. In this context, the Government is open to considering all workable proposals that will contribute to this process.
Key stakeholders from the business, retail and tourism sectors should also have the opportunity to input, as well as the general public. To proceed without such consultation increases the risk of giving rise to legislative anomalies and unintended consequences.
While I have to say that my initial reaction to the Green Party Bill was that we would have to oppose it at Second Stage for the reasons I have set out, in light of the good spirit of cooperation on all sides of the House and the manner in which all parties are constructively engaging, I’m happy to put forward an amendment that gives a Second Reading to the Green Party Bill on 30 June 2017 to allow for consideration of the Bill in the context of implementation of the relevant commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government and consideration of the Fianna Fáil Bill from last night.
The ideas in the Green Party Bill are, no doubt, of value to our future deliberations.
To conclude, I’d like to thank the Deputies for their contribution today and yesterday and I look forward to engaging with you on this issue again in the period ahead.