Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has been severely criticised in the Dail after he proposed major last minute changes to a Bill aimed at delivering directly elected mayors in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford.
Details of the plan, revealed in the Irish Examiner on Monday, have been the subject of deep internal wrangling within Cabinet and Opposition TDs rounded on Mr Murphy's “inappropriate, incompetent and undemocratic” handling of the bill.
Mr Murphy's junior minister, John Paul Phelan, informed the Dail of 30 pages of substantial changes to the Local Government Bill less than 48 hours before committee stage debates begin, and TDs demanded a delay to allow time digest what the Government is seeking to change.
Sinn Fein's Eoin O Broin said that the Government has dropped what is virtually a new bill, all because of a deadline to ensure a vote on the same day as the Local and European elections next May. He said this approach will lead to mistakes happening.
“The problem is we have been given five pages of what is essentially a new bill 48 hours before the committee will vote on them. We have had no second stage debate or pre legislative scrutiny,” he said.
“Before we even got the amendments, the Irish Examiner had a story on Monday based on a leaked Cabinet memo which showed the Attorney General had concerns on the grounds it is not clear what the powers would be. The same memo highlighted criticisms from the minister for finance,” he said.
“When ministers put pressure on officials to produce legislation in short time frame, mistakes happen,” he said.
Labour's Jan O'Sullivan echoed those worries, suggesting the bill be delayed to allowed sufficient time.
“I have a lot of concerns. I am not sure how appropriate it is to send a bill which will be substantially different to what we debated at second stage. This is virtually a new bill,” she said .
“This is such a significant issue that it deserves much more scrutiny. Does it have to go to committee tomorrow,” Ms O'Sullivan asked.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the Irish Examiner reported a division within the Cabinet concerning plebiscites on directly-elected mayors for Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Galway, saying this is a concern.
In response, Mr Phelan said it was signalled changes would be brought forward at this stage of the bill and a briefing will be offered to the Opposition today before the committee sits.