Local Government Bill 2013 – Second Stage Debate 14th November 2013
Deputy Dan Neville: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. This Bill will provide the first comprehensive reform of local government in over a century. The Bill provides for change to local authority functions, structures, funding, performance and governance. It will modernise and review the delivery of local services. This is an important change from the point of view of economic and community development. Local government in other European countries plays a key role in economic development and this Bill will allow for local authorities in Ireland to do the same. Community development is a small section of the work of local authorities as currently constituted. This work will be enhanced and will allow for a varied level of community involvement and experience. Over the years, power has been removed from local authorities to various unelected bodies.
They are sincere and they do good work but they are not accountable to the people. They are not judged by the electorate and because of that the trust and status of local government has been reduced and the abolition of responsibility for raising its own finances had a severe effect on the powers and decision-making of councils. Many councils were allowed to pass the buck to central government regarding decisions made in the thrust of debate within them. Control became more centralised but this will change and enable electors to better judge the performance of councillors. An evaluation should be carried out on the operation of the new structures in three or four years because there will be snags and improvements can be made.
I welcome the amalgamation of Limerick city and county councils into a single local authority. I commend the people who organised that, especially the chairman, Denis Brosnan, who brought his highly skilled experience in many fields to bear on the decision. It was a comprehensive decision to bring two large local authorities together but there will be better synergy and it will be to the benefit of the city and the county. It will also address the long-standing debate about the expansion of the city and the oversight of its environs, which up to now came under the remit in the country council. Limerick city will be the capital of the county and there is concern that the funding for services in peripheral areas might be sucked into the city for regeneration. It must be ensured the new unified authority does not interfere with services in the county. There will not be individual budgets for both the city and the county and while everyone wants the city to develop and expand, there is a concern that this should not happen at the expense of any part of the county.