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 Header Item Local Government Reform (Continued)
 Header Item Water Charges Administration

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 806 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan] The division of functions between county and district levels under the relevant legislation will be determined on the basis of what is most relevant to each level. Local matters will be dealt with at municipal district level, while those of wider strategic application will be decided at county level, without duplication between county and district jurisdictions. The elected members will perform a range of important reserved functions at district level on a fully devolved basis, subject to certain requirements for consistency with overall local authority policy.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley This is a practical problem for councillors who are to be elected next year. Their electoral areas will be 50 km or 60 km in length with very large municipal districts. Sinn Féin supports reform, and certainly local government needs reform, but care needs to be taken with regard to the type of reform. We support the devolution of powers and functions but if the Minister carries this through - I have not seen any great signs yet - this will also mean an extra workload for councillors.

I have some information about practices in other jurisdictions. In France there is one councillor for every 118 people; in Germany there is a councillor for every 315 people; in Finland there is a councillor for every 410 people; and in Belgium there is a councillor for every 811. Even in England there is one councillor for every 2,603 people. Under this proposal Ireland will have one councillor for every 4,830 people, and the electoral areas will be very large. My concern is about part-time councillors. We want more people to get involved in politics. However, women with families - and also men, because they too have families - will have difficulties doing the work after 6 p.m. They have family and work commitments and I ask how they will carry out their functions as councillors.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I subscribe to the general principle-----

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley I include Fine Gael councillors, who have raised this concern with me.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I have an idea what they are thinking. I will tell the Deputy what Sinn Féin was thinking in advance.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley The Minister should not mind that.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I agree in principle with the Deputy that councillors will be covering a wider geographical area and we will have a look at resource supports to ensure that the people in local government are able to do the job for which they are elected. They will have a lot more responsibility and devolved functions, as the Deputy will see when the legislation is published.

The Deputy is making the case about the size of the areas. I draw his attention to the Sinn Féin submission to the local electoral area boundary committee, which proposed 123 local electoral areas. This is 14 fewer than the 137 local electoral areas that would arise based on the committee's recommendations, which were published recently. The smallest local electoral area that the boundary committee could recommend had six members. Following the review there are to be 67 such areas. Had the Sinn Féin proposal been accepted, there would have been only 14 of these six-member local electoral areas. Most of the recommended local electoral areas in the boundary committee's report have six and seven members, which is in contrast to Sinn Féin's proposal.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley We had to respond on the basis of the criteria and terms of reference of the committee. We were in a straitjacket in that regard. If the Northern model was followed there would be 1,180 councillors, 230 more councillors than the Minister is proposing. I welcome the fact that the Minister will examine the issue of resources, considering the number of meetings, the category of each council and the fact that representatives will attend monthly municipal authority meetings and also county council meetings.

The Minister has set out a menu of possible provisions for the devolution of powers. However, the only ones to which he is giving serious consideration are to do with tourism and economic development, the realignment of local development and the establishment of an economic development officer. Sinn Féin supports the establishment of the position of economic development officer for local authorities. However, I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to other areas. A menu is in existence and power must be shifted out from the centre. It must not be a power grab. There are signs of this, including the Minister's reduction of the number of councillors who will sit on the regional authorities to only two per authority. This rules out everyone bar the bigger parties. I have a real concern about that and I ask the Minister to address my concern.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I am disappointed at Deputy Stanley's negativity about a legislative proposal for local government reform which he has not seen yet.

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley It is in the book: two per council.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I will be delighted to deal with Deputy Stanley's amendments on Committee Stage. I will be very open with anyone who brings forward suggestions. I remind the Deputy that the local government system has not been reformed for a long time. I am doing what I can to devolve more functions from central government and agencies to local government. I have abolished half the agencies in my Department which are no longer required. I want to devolve as many functions as possible at the lowest level to be as near as possible to the citizen. We have introduced a local property tax - with which Sinn Féin has a problem in this jurisdiction but no problem in Northern Ireland - which gives councillors an opportunity to have a say in the priorities for their own local areas and how they can access the funds. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating with regard to the legislation. We look forward to a constructive approach when the legislation is published and put before the House. It is hoped it will be enacted between now and the end of the year if everyone co-operates. This will ensure we have a body of powers at the lowest possible level to assist in giving our people a better and more effective service with fewer councillors.

Water Charges Administration

 3. Deputy Thomas Pringle Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan if he foresees a reduction in commercial water rates under Irish Water in view of the fact that the local authorities have been operating the polluter pays principle in relation to commercial water rates for many years and full cost recovery for the supply of water to commercial users; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27066/13]

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan The water sector reform implementation strategy, which is published on my Department’s website, is focused on ensuring that appropriate policy and legal frameworks are put in place for Irish Water and the water sector. A key objective is to rationalise the cost of the current service delivery and ensure more efficient operation of water services by moving from 34 water services authorities to a single body. Following enactment of comprehensive legislation later this year, Irish Water will, therefore, become the water services authority from 1 January 2014.

The Government has decided to assign responsibility for the economic regulation of the water sector, including the setting of charges, to the Commission for Energy Regulation. It will be a matter for the Commission for Energy Regulation in due course to satisfy itself on the appropriateness of costs incurred in the operation of Irish Water as part of the process of setting the tariffs for both the domestic and the non-domestic sector in the future. It is envisaged that the commission will engage in public consultation as part of this process. A key role for the regulator will be to protect the interests of all customers and to drive efficiencies in the water services sector.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle It is very difficult to divine whether there is an answer to the question in that reply. I asked whether the Minister foresaw a reduction in charges to commercial water users under Irish Water. The message is being given that commercial users will see a reduction because domestic users who have had water free for so long will now be paying. I do not believe this will be the case. As the Minister knows, the local authorities have been operating for many years on a full cost-recovery basis in the charging of commercial users and have also operated under the polluter pays principle in certain water charges. This means that the supply of water to commercial users in local authority areas is fully paid for by those commercial users, and therefore it will have no bearing on the cost of providing water to domestic users or related charges. In my view, the commercial users will not see a significant reduction. I am interested to hear the Minister's views.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I know that Deputy Pringle has a very detailed knowledge of this work arising from his former employment. It will be a matter for the Commission for Energy Regulation to assess charges and to examine what is happening in the water-in, water-out system and whether it is being implemented by the local authority system, which will become part of Irish Water. Therefore, I am unable to answer Deputy Pringle's questions. However, I hope that all people currently being charged for water, whether in the commercial sector or the group sector, will be able to pass on to all other sectors in the domestic area the sense of urgency that is required in order to show how we can achieve a reduction in water consumption. We must realise that water is a finite product and that the cost to local government is high. We must reduce the cost to local government and be able to reduce commercial rates and lower costs for business. Equally, there is a requirement for additional capital investment and, in my view, this will not be available from the public capital programme in the next few years. We do not have the money, so it will need to be sourced from the private sector. This can only happen when we have a stream of investment income.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle Given that the Commission for Energy Regulation will be setting the tariffs in the future, one of its roles will be to look at the cost-effectiveness of the service level agreements.


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