I welcome the Bill. I welcome this change and reform to local democracy. It is, I hope, a real chance for change. Many improvements need to be made and we will get to that, but in reality local democracy in Ireland is rarely either local or democratic. Most of the power is held either by officials in the Custom House or by unelected officials. We are one of the worst countries in Europe when it comes to local democracy, local government subsidiarity and devolving power to local areas where it is needed.
This is not a new feature of Ireland. Since our independence we have been running down local government in big and small ways. There is a clear, consistent path downwards of removing powers from elected officials, removing powers even from local executive officials and centralising power and decision-making. All of this has led to a stasis in many of our local authorities. It has led to an inability of authorities to address their own ambitions and plans in any meaningful way. On Dublin City Council, where I had the pleasure to serve, many of the housing issues are a result of roadblocks from the Custom House, rather than by the officials or the local authorities. Therefore, if we want to be very serious about addressing the problems that bedevil our nation, we need to address the issue of local government.
The challenge when talking about local government is that it can be a very technical thing, is not necessarily the most alluring of topics and people often disengage, but it is absolutely fundamental and we need to get it right. We need to ensure there is control at the lowest effective level to ensure the powers are there to address issues like climate change and housing and so we do not have to see local authorities stuck with multi-phase, multi-level approval systems in the Custom House that are just slowing down their own ability to respond to housing, build active travel and respond to climate change.
Something I find beyond frustrating is the fact Dublin has four councils that are artificially forced to compete against each other when they should really be co-operating to address these pressing issues. When Cork, Limerick and Waterford got to vote on whether they wanted a directly elected mayor, Dublin was not included. In previous setups to consult about whether Dublin should have a directly elected mayor the people were clamouring for it and whatever method was set up was designed to fail. Here we are passing legislation about Limerick, yet when it comes to Dublin it is about delay, review, consider and discuss. All these things ultimately delay and delay the reality of this important political reform we need for Dublin. As I said, there are huge housing issues in Dublin. We spend a lot of time in here talking about that, as we should, but the ability of Dublin councils to be creative, to push ahead and to address this issue head-on is hampered by the fact they are split into four councils instead of being one and that they have to go cap in hand to the Department constantly.
We need to get off the backs of local authorities. We need to give them proper powers that have democratic accountability. We need to give them revenue-raising powers so they can fund their own decisions. Without any of these moves the reform we need to see will not happen. As I said, Dublin seems to be once again the poor cousin and is being left behind. We have delays, promises of reviews and consideration. We need proper, effective local government in all four councils, not just the city, and for them to work together. Otherwise, the problems this city faces will never be addressed properly.