Mahon Report calls for Regional Authorities to be Directly Elected

The island of Ireland, showing international b...

One of the recommendations made in the Mahon Report, which is more then likely going to be over looked as most of the media will be looking at the findings against former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and others, is that Regional Authorities be directly elected.

The Tribunal is making this decision due to the role that the Regional Authorities play in Regional Planning Guidelines (RPGs) which has an impact on Local Devlopment Plans and other decisions made by local authorities.

There is not much knowledge of Regional Authorities in Ireland, which were set up under the Local Government Act 1991 and came into existence in 1994. There are eight Regional Authorities in Ireland.

They are:

The membership of the Regional Authorities varies between 21 in Mid-East Region to 37 in the Border Region. Currently the members of the Regional Authorities are nominated by the local authorities within the area covered.

An elected Regional Authority would be an important step in increasing local power and would be a good position in between Government and Local Government to negotiate policy for the regions and allow local governments to spend more time on local issues and have support from a Religion Authority.

Hopefully the Government will look at all the recommendations contained in the Mahon Report and not just those in connection with ethics and declarations of donations.

    Lists – Irish Indo

    Yesterdays Irish Indo had two lists of interest to me and maybe to others also so I will put em up here!

    The first is a list of price increase that will affect a family earning €60,000 with two adults and two children.

    Gas and Electricity: €300
    Income Levy: €600
    VHI from January: €442
    VAT: €360
    Less mortgage tax relief: €300
    Failure to index tax credits: €286
    Parking tax: €150
    Other (waste, charges, transport, etc): €360
    TOTAL €2,998

    That is a lot of money to be in down and means average family spending will be down putting pressure across a whole range of sectors.

    The second list is of Council Debt. The top 10 are

    1 Dublin City Council – €924,228,117
    2 Cork County Council – €446,737,725
    3 Fingal County Council – €409,885,991
    4 South Dublin County Council – €211,509,469
    5 Cork City Council – €153,654,644
    6 Kildare County Council – €144,883,251
    7 Galway City Council – €135,076,617
    8 Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council – €127,047,388
    9 Donegal County Council – €116,397,195
    10 Clare County Council – €111,794,617

    In total all the local councils owe 4.4bn which means councils owe €1,037 for every man, woman and child in the state. If this dosent mean that how councils should be funded, I dont know what will!

    Cork set to Follow Dublin with Foolish Rate Hike

    Frontpage of Cork Independent

    According to the front page of today’s Cork Independent, Cork City Council is set to increase business rates by 1.5%. This follows Dublin’s ‘dumbest‘ move to increase there rates by 3.3%. This is just plain stupid. Cork business are under pressure and an increase will mean that many independent stores will go to the wall. This is not what we need.

    Lets have a look at the composition of the council and try and figure out how they will vote.

    Fianna Fail have ten Councillors and will probably vote for the increase. Fine Gael have eight and will vote no. Labour have six and could go either way but going by their Dublin vote I would say they will vote yes to the increase. Sinn Fein have three and will based on their Dublin vote, vote yes to the increase. Socialists have one and will most definitely vote Yes. Greens have one and could go any way, but may side with Fianna Fail. PD’s (whats left of them) have one and will (hopefully) vote no. That leaves one independent who is former Fianna Fail and could go with is old party or not.

    So that means that roughly 20 votes to 11 and the measure will pass. It is a pity that businesses are being forced to pick up the tab for the rest of the city. I really think that with the local elections next year that how local government is financed is looked at.

    Stronger Local Democracy – Options for Change

    The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Green Party Leader, John Gormley, launched a Green Paper Yesterday enititled “Stronger Local Democracy- Options for Change”. In his remarks on the announcment he had the following to say.

    “Stronger Local Democracy presents a set of options for change which share a strong common theme of renewing local democratic leadership. Local government in Ireland is capable of doing much more to meet the needs of local communities. The options presented in this paper suggest how we might achieve that stronger local government system,”

    Fine Gael’s Environment Spokesman, Phil Hogan TD, called the plan ‘High in Rhetoric but low in detail’, he explained

    “The proposals include a directly elected Mayor for Dublin, with the possibility of directly elected Mayors in other cities and counties, but do not explain the functions of this office.”

    Ciarán Lynch TD, Labours Spokesperson on Housing and Local Government welcomed the publication of the Green Paper, but he went to say

    “The Green paper is, perhaps by its very nature, full of woolly aspiration, but it now needs to be tightened up, and flesh needs to be put on those bones. It is vital that as the reform process moves towards White Paper status, that these proposals become a reality, and not just a worthy list of aspirations that languish on the Govt’s desk, like we have seen in other areas of government.”

    The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Local Government, Martin Ferris TD had the following remarks to say

    “While I welcome some of the proposals including the introduction of directly elected Mayors and the provision for holding plebiscites, I believe that in general it does not go far enough in setting out guidelines for a more radical strengthening of local democracy.”

    He went on to say that nothing was being done to challenge the power of City and County Managers.

    The Green Paper can be downloaded from the Departments Website in PDF


    I have been doing a bit of thinking lately about Seanad reform. The Lisbon Treaty presents the perfect opportunity for the Government to reform the Seanad as under the treaty the Seanad will have a seperate vote to the Dáil on prospective EU Legislation. Over the next few todays I will be posting under a range of headings some ideas for Seanad Reform.

    Incidently this week will see a Green Paper on Local Government Reform. I have a lot of ideas in this area myself so I will certainly be blogging about that too!

    London Mayoral Election: The Candidates

    I mentioned before that I was going to do this, so I am finally getting around to it! I watched Labours Party Election Broadcast on BBC London, this evening and that reminded me to do this post! I will not be mentioning (apart from in passing) the Assembly Elections, you can look that up yourselves!

    First a note on the Electoral System. The System used for the London Mayoral elections (All Mayoral elections in the UK I beleive) is via the Alternative Vote System. This is when no candidate recieves over 50% of the vote, all candidates are eliminated except the top two. Then the second preferences are counted. Who ever has the majority after the second count is elected.

    Lets start with the Incumbent:

    Ken Livingstone (Labour)

    In the Red Corner, Ken is out for relection. He was first elected in 2000 and re-elected in 2004. After a bust up with Labour before the 2000 election hes back as a Labour candidate this year. Ken has been in office since this post was created so has made it his own. People will have a hard time imagining someone else there. What are Kens Commitments if relected:

    * Continue investing to transform London’s transport system – continue improving bus services, modernise the Tube, build Crossrail and improve London rail services through London Overground to raise service and safety standards, while holding down fares

    * Continue the six per cent reduction in crime each year – add a further 1,000 police over the next year to London’s existing record police numbers and maintain a dedicated police team in every neighbourhood

    *Safeguard the policy that 50 per cent of new homes should be cheaper homes to buy and homes at affordable rents; build a minimum fifty thousand new affordable homes in the next three years

    * Introduce 24 hour operation of the Freedom Pass – giving older and disabled Londoners free travel before 9am and throughout the day

    * Extend the student travel discount to Oyster One Day Travelcards; maintain free travel for under-18s on the buses

    * A £25 a day charge for high carbon-emitting gas guzzlers to enter the central London congestion zone and no charge for the greenest cars, with a London-wide Low Emission Zone to keep the worst polluting lorries out of London

    * Maintain good community relations – continue to reduce racist attacks, down more than fifty per cent over eight years

    *Youth centres for our young people – a £78m programme to set up youth centres and improve youth services throughout London to provide safe facilities outside school hours

    Sound good and are catchy populist vote getters, Crime, Travel etc. Ken has a record of acheivments though. The London Olympics in 2012, the Congestion Charge, Pushing CrossRail among others, but lately hes not doing too well with acusations of improper conduct and the who Lee Jasper thing. Accoding to the latest YouGov poll for the Evening Standard he is on 36%. In the second round he is on 44%.

    Link: Ken Livingston campiagn website

    The Challenger!

    Boris Johnson (Conservative)

    In the Blue Corner, Blonde Boris is out for Election! Impartiality goes slightly out the window as I am a Conservative Supporter so will try not to step beyond whats there! Boris is currently MP for Henley and has been in the Conservative Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Minister for the Arts and Shadow Minister of Higher Education.

    What are Boris’s Commitments?
    That part of the website dosent lend itself easy to synopsis so heres a sample, one from each heading.

    * Crime and Safety: We have to work with the police and communities to prevent young Londoners becoming victims of gang violence

    * Transport: The bendy bus is unsuitable for London’s streets, they are twice as dangerous as non-articulated buses and have almost three times the rate of fare evasion. I will phase out bendy buses and run a new competition to find a 21st century Routemaster that has full disabled access, runs on clean fuel and has conductors.

    * Environment: I will support the Low Emission Zone to improve air quality.

    * Housing: We must develop more family-sized homes with gardens, and we need to give more Londoners the chance to own their family home.

    Boris seams to be leading in most polls. In todays YouGov poll for the Evening Standard Boris is on 49%, 13 ahead of Ken. In the second round Boris on 56% which means he will have to work on getting those transfers.

    Link: Back Boris Johnson

    The Also-ran?

    Brian Paddick (Liberal Democrat)

    Brian Paddick served in the London Met for over 30 years so should make a good candidate for Mayor. Unfortunately as the LibDem candidate, he is back in third place in the polling.

    What are Brians Commitments for London?

    * As Mayor, Brian plans to chair the Metropolitan Police Authority to hold the Metropolitan Police Service to account for its performance in reducing crime. He’s pledged to cut crime in London by 5% every year during his first term.

    * Brian will improve London’s overcrowded public transport and increase the reliability of Tube and bus services.

    He’ll review how the Tube is managed, following the collapse of Metronet and Labour’s failed PPP project, and allow unlimited changes of bus within an hour for the price of one journey on an Oyster card.

    Brian has launched a London-wide rail survey to give rail users a chance to have their say on what needs to be done to improve the system.

    * Brian would use money currently spent on temporary accommodation to build new permanent social housing. He would bring unoccupied properties into use and take over redundant land to create more housing without the need to build on London’s precious green spaces.

    * Brian will keep the Mayor’s contribution to the council tax down by cutting waste at City Hall to get better value for taxpayers’ money. Ken Livingstone has increased his precept by over 150% since he became Mayor, while spending more on press officers than the Prime Minister.

    In the YouGov poll for the Evening Standard Paddick is polling at 10%. The LibDems need to get the led out.

    Link: Brian Paddick Campaign Website

    The others

    A quick run down of the other Mayoral Candidates.

    * Richard Barnbrook (BNP)

    His concerns are “crime, housing and transport are among the main ones, and these are all aggravated by continual and uncontrolled mass-immigration.”

    Link: BNP London

    * Gerard Batten MEP (UK Independence Party)

    His Key Policy Summary:
    * Abolish the London Assembly and replace it with a no-cost Greater London Council. Hold referenda on key issues.
    * Crack down on crime to ensure the innocent are protected and the guilty are punished .
    * Abolish the Congestion Charge and Emission Charging.
    * Keep Council Tax down and give Londoners value for money.
    * Review Business Rates. Give businesses a vote in local elections.
    * UKIP policy is a freeze on immigration. London homes for Londoners on the housing lists and not newcomers
    * Prepare London for the challenges of climate change without punitive “green taxes”.
    * Cap the costs of the Olympic Games.

    Link: Batten 4 Mayor

    * Siân Berry (Green Party)

    Her key policies are:
    * Free house insulation
    * Cutting Tube & Bus Fares
    * Affordable housing
    * A London living wage
    * Stoping airport expansion
    * Renewable energy loans

    Link: Sian Berry

    * Alan Craig (Christian Peoples Alliance and Christian Party)

    His policies are:
    * Back families and marriage
    * Reject the Olympics Mega Mosque
    * More affordable homes
    * End the culture of youth violence
    * Tackle inequality with more jobs

    Link: The Christian Choice

    * Lindsey German (Left List)
    Policy Page its too long to shorten down.

    Link: Lindsey 4 London

    * Winston McKenzie (Independent)

    His policies are in Rhyme I hate to ruin it for you. Read it yourself….

    Link: McKenzie for Mayor

    * Matt O’Connor (English Democrats)

    His pledges:

    * Defending Liberty, Privacy & Democracy:
    * Protecting Londoners
    * Strengthening Families
    * Repairing Communities

    Link: English Democrats

    There you have 10 candidates but its really between two of them. The transfers will decide it though so watch who the others endorse. I know the Greens have endorsed Ken, and the BNP, Boris (not really a vote getter!). Anyone know others?

    London Elects
    BBC London Election Page
    Boris’s lead grows to 13 points UK Polling Report

    Who should you vote for in… London?

    I will be blogging soon about the London Mayoral and Assembly Elections as I am always watching BBC and reading certain blogs that are always on about! But before I do I found this on Ian Dale’s Diary today, its an excllent tool to see who you should vote for in the Mayoral Elections.

    My Results are as follows:

    Alan Craig (Christian Peoples Alliance / Christian Party)
    Matt O’Connor (English Democrats)
    Boris Johnson (Conservatives)
    Richard Barnbrook (BNP)
    Winston Mckenzie
    Siân Berry (Green Party)
    Gerrard Batten (UKIP)
    Brian Paddick (Liberal Democrats)
    Lindsey German (Left List)
    Ken Livingstone (Labour)

    Good to see Red Ken at the end, but I never thought I’d be supporting the Christian Party! 😀

    In the London Assembly race I came out with the following

    Abolish the Congestion Charge
    The Christian Choice
    One London (Leader Damian Hockney)
    Conservative Party
    English Democrats
    Green Party
    British National Party
    Liberal Democrats
    Unity for Peace and Socialism
    UK Independence Party
    Left List
    Respect (George Galloway)
    The Labour Party

    Its strange to see Abolish the Congestion Charge at the top as I think the congestion charge should stay. Even when I changed my weighting on it, they stayed number one…. Strange one…

    Have a go yourself! Vote Match

    Brighton to ban plastic bags

    Via Guardian

    A city is bidding to become the first in Britain to ban plastic bags in an effort to reduce their impact on the environment. Councillors in Brighton and Hove have voted overwhelmingly in favour of turning the city into a plastic bag-free zone by asking retailers not to hand them out. The Conservative-led council has no legal powers to enforce a ban but has passed a motion to encourage shopkeepers to stop issuing bags.

    Out of twenty cities (including Birmingham, Leicester, Bradford, Liverpool, Brighton and Hove, London, Bristol, Manchester, Cardiff, Newcastle, Coventry, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Plymouth, Glasgow, Sheffield, Hull, Sunderland, Leeds and Wolverhampton) in a Forum For The Future (PDF) report named Brighton as the most Sustainable city, top for Quality of Life and top for Future Proofing. Brighton came 15th for Environmental Impact (Bradford topped that along with Bristol and Plymouth). So at least they are attempting to change.

    The Big Test

    Well I’ve already mentioned Scotland and Wales but by far the biggest test was the Local Elections in England. This was test for all the main parties in the UK, Tony Blair’s final hours as Prime Minister and David Cameron as Leader of the Conservatives.

    The state of the Parties
    Conservatives 92 Councils
    Labour 27
    Liberal Democrats 14
    Other 2
    No Over-all Control 55

    Ill be updating throughout the day on all the elections and will do a round-up tonight after work.

    Water charges unjust stealth tax caused by Govt under-funding – Naughten

    Speech by Denis Naughten TD at IFA Meeting on Water Charges, Monday December 4th 2006.

    Fine Gael Agriculture & Food Spokesman, Denis Naughten TD has branded water charges as a ‘stealth tax’ on food production and farm business, which will put huge financial pressure on many farm families.

    Denis Naughten who was addressing an IFA meeting in Roscommon Town on behalf of the Fine Gael Party said this evening:

    “Business, including many of our local food businesses and farmers are struggling to survive due to the high cost of energy and other input costs which have risen dramatically over the term of this Government and the proposed increase in water charges will threaten the viability of some operations.

    “These increases come at a time when farm incomes have dropped significantly in recent years and the average farm family is operating at a loss of €75 each week. Water charges are even more discriminatory when it comes to farmers, many of whom would have a low usage of water but, due to farm fragmentation, will have to pay for a number of water meters.

    “On average, in the West of Ireland, most farmers will require at least three meters, with 20% of farmers requiring five or more meters, given the number of farm parcels they own. It is unjust for Government on the one hand not to facilitate the reduction in farm fragmentation by failing to address the taxation system which taxes farmers at a rate of up to 29% and then impose a water charging structure which penalises farmers who have fragmented holdings.

    “Government must get its act together and ensure that farmers are not discriminated against and are treated in a similar manner to all other businesses. The dramatic increase in water charges and the new pricing structure being proposed by local authorities is as a direct result of reduced funding from the Government, which has forced them to make up more of their budget from local taxes and charges.

    “For 2007 alone the Minister for the Environment is only increasing the Local Government Budget by a measly 2% which will result in more stealth taxes being levied on households, business and farm families. Such an increase does not take into account the rate of inflation, implementation of the partnership agreement and its impact on salaries nor does it address the dramatic rise in input costs.

    “Specifically in the water services area the funding which local authorities will receive in 2007 does not take into account rising wage costs, chemical costs or energy costs. On top of this the rate of payment from the Department of the Environment for domestic water supplies has not increased in order to cover the cost of providing this element of the public water supply. These deficits must be made up by local government and this will be achieved by significant increases in water charges to farmers and business.

    “This is despite the fact that, according to the Government’s own report, there will be a €1.5 billion shortfall by 2010 in local government funding. It is absolutely clear that the Government intends to continue their policy of taxing householders, businesses & farm families by stealth in order to make up the massive shortfall that this year’s Budget will not come close to address.

    “These new water charges will add to the burden on already hard pressed farmers and business people. It is inexcusable that a time of unprecedented national wealth- and such astonishing waste of public money on everything from PPARS to E-Voting- that Local Authorities are forced to pass on such charges.

    “To make the situation even worse the Water Management and Rehabilitation Programme, including water conservation programme, under the National Development Plan, which should have funded the reduction in the scale of leakage on the water supply network hugely underperformed, with only 35% of expenditure actually allocated and drawn down. This is despite the cost-benefit analysis of such water conservation projects which found that these projects were almost invariably highly worthwhile.

    “If this funding had been utilised then the scale of leakage from the water distribution network would have been significantly reduced and this would have avoided the situation whereby both farmers and business will have to not only pay for the water they use but the water that leaks from the distribution pipes before it comes near them at all.

    “It is wrong for Government to force this stealth tax on business and farm families when this is solely due to Government incompetence. But again we have to pay for the gross mismanagement by this particular Government.

    “Rural Water Investment in the NDP was also under funded with only 54% of the original target spent on the programme; part of this funding will have to come from farmers in the future.

    “Fine Gael has consistently called on the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to increase the funding available to councils so that farmers and local businesses are not forced to bear the burden of these charges.

    “We also believe that rather than introducing and increasing stealth taxes the Government should collect the money which is owed to them in motor tax. Conservatively the Government estimates that over €40m in motor tax is unpaid every year. This funding would go a significant part of the way to address the under funding of councils throughout the country.

    “It is equally unfair on farmers that the current Farm Waste Management Grants do not provide supports to help farmers deal with surplus waste water. It is a huge flaw of this grant scheme that it does not include funding for clean water storage tanks.

    “Not only must farmers, in order to comply with the Nitrates Directive, foot the bill for such tanks, but the Department has failed to even provide farmers with a specification guidance document as to the required size of such tanks. But of course that would reduce the Government’s overall take in stealth taxes. Once again this Government has created a problem and left farmers to clean up the mess.

    “Furthermore, through the Government’s water pricing policy, all new water schemes must come up with a significant amount of the funding from commercial water rates. In the past local authorities received 100% grant aid for capital works such as the upgrading of waters schemes and laying of water mains. However this has been reduced back to as little as 30% in some circumstance. This is hugely frustrating for farmers who, in many cases, do not benefit from such enhancements. The fact is that these costs will be passed directly on to the public through increased costs on services and food products.

    “These new increased charges are caused by Government under-funding of local authorities and will lead to the privatisation of water supplies throughout the country. For many people in rural areas, who established and paid for water schemes, the fact that their investment will now be handed over to private companies is totally unacceptable”.

    “Fine Gael opposed the privatisation of water services when this law came before the Dáil but sadly, our local Government TD’s supported such privatisation at that time.

    “Fine Gael wants to ensure that farmers are not discriminated against due to farm fragmentation. We are also want water storage facilities included as part of the farm waste management grant which would help farmers reduce there overall liability for water charges.

    “And we want proper funding for local authorities to cover the cost of running services, upgrading water schemes and detecting leaks.”