Dublin mayor says council cannot stop bin fees

 

There will be refuse charges in Dublin next year whether they are brought in by a city council or a Government-appointed commissioner, the Lord Mayor, Cllr Dermot Lacey, said last night.

The Lord Mayor was speaking to The Irish Times as the council faced abolition over its inability to reach agreement on the inclusion of refuse charges in its 2003 budget. He said the only question which now remained was whether the council chose to survive or allow its abolition by the Minister for the Environment, Mr Cullen.

The annual charges are currently €121 and are set to rise to €156 under council management proposals contained in the budget.

A waiver scheme is proposed for those who plead inability to pay.

However, the 52-member city council has split over the proposal to include the charge, which amounts to about €40 million of the total €700 million expenditure for the coming year.

The Fianna Fáil group, which numbers 21 members, is known to broadly accept the charge, as do the Green Party's two members; Fine Gael, with nine members, Sinn Féin, with four members, and the three independent members are all opposed.

Of particular difficulty for the Lord Mayor is the opposition within his own 13-member strong Labour Party. Prior to his election, the Lord Mayor had assured fellow councillors that he would support the charges and yesterday saw that position being undermined by the insistence of party colleagues to oppose the charge.

However, Cllr Lacey has accused the Fine Gael members of "playing national politics with the City Council" and taking action "ideologically opposed to Fine Gael policy".

He also had harsh words for other councillors, whom he accused of "playing political games which were not in the interest of the city". The Lord Mayor said failure to adopt the budget would see the city council's power shift back to the Department of the Environment.

This, according to the Lord Mayor, would "be handing back power to the one department of State which has so let down the City of Dublin in the past."

The problem was, he insisted, one of the Government's making in that the city council had an additional wages bill of €14 million in the coming year for benchmarking awards - "a process which we had no say in"- and a €10 million shortfall because Government refused to pay rates on its property in the city.

He also said central Government had never properly funded local authorities and described the Rates Support Grant as "inadequate".

Asked if he would feel forced to resign as Lord Mayor if his fellow Labour Party members continued to oppose his position at council, Cllr Lacey said: "I was elected to do a job and will do my best to do that job; other than that I am not looking down that road."

Last night a spokesman for the Minister for the Environment said the resolution of the issue was in the hands of the city council.

He refused to speculate on whether additional time would be given to the council to reach agreement on the estimates, as it would be "inappropriate" in advance of the council completing its own process.

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The last time Dublin City Council was abolished was in April 1969 when the then minister for local government, Mr Kevin Boland, appointed a commissioner to run the affairs of the city.

As now, the issue at stake was the budget and as now there was a Labour Party Lord Mayor in the council chair. The Lord Mayor was the late Frank Cluskey and the budgetary issue which split the council was a contribution from local authorities used to fund health services. As the council failed to adopt a budget with a rateable increase of more than five shillings by March 31st, 1969, it was abolished on April 25th.

The commissioner appointed was Dr John Garvin, who managed the affairs of the city alongside the city manager, Mr Matthew Macken. The councillors did not get a look in again until after the Government changed in the 1973 general election and each former councillor was appointed a commissioner on April 30th, 1973.

The chairman of the commissioners was Mr Cluskey.

The commissioners remained in office until the next local elections, which were held in June of 1974 when a new city council was elected and democracy restored.