Oireachtas report: Call for restraint on rates

Local authorities have been asked to exercise restraint or, where possible, to reduce commercial rates and local charges to assist local businesses in the current economic climate, Minister of State for Housing & Planning Jan O’Sullivan told the Dáil.

Local authorities have been asked to exercise restraint or, where possible, to reduce commercial rates and local charges to assist local businesses in the current economic climate, Minister of State for Housing & Planning Jan O’Sullivan told the Dáil.

Opposing a Fianna Fáil Private Members’ Bill, she said the response to this request has been positive with, for example, 87 out of 88 rating authorities either reducing their annual rate or retaining it at the same level as in 2012. This follows similar trends in commercial local authority rate charges in 2010 and 2011.

The Local Government Bill 2013 provides for the establishment of municipal districts to empower councillors to consider many issues at a local level, including the development of local area plans, she said. Elected members will be supported in this by administrative structures within the local authority at a county level in order to make the best use of resources.

Minister O’Sullivan said municipal districts will undertake a range of functions, mainly relating to local matters, including policy and regulatory functions in areas such as local area plans, parking by-laws and charges, as well as casual trading. The new districts will take actions to promote the interests of the community, including establishing a community fund. There will also be scope for significant citizen-community engagement and leadership, including consultation with local communities and consideration of community plans and initiatives.

“The municipal districts will have significantly greater powers than the current area committees of county councils,” she said. “Area committees are consultative or advisory arrangements. They do not have statutory or decision making powers: municipal districts will. The members at municipal district level will decide a range of important matters for the district. They will have full powers in this regard. They will generally decide matters without reference back to the county council, particularly through the development of local area plans for towns and their environs, subject to consistency with overall policy such as the development plan.”

She said she was aware that some local authorities have taken measures to encourage the establishment of pop-up shops in vacant commercial sites. “Appropriate parking charges are also a matter that can be best determined at a local level with appropriate by-laws,” she added. “I would welcome appropriately designed parking charge regimes structured to encourage town centre retail activity while balancing the need to avoid traffic congestion and securing the local authorities’ revenue base. Elected members are best placed to consider these matters in conjunction with their council executives.”

O’Donovan seeks bonus points for more Leaving Cert subjects

Limerick Fine Gael Deputy Patrick O’Donovan asked the Minister for Education & Skills in in view of the increased numbers taking up Higher Level Maths for examination at Leaving Certificate as a result of the reintroduction of bonus points, if he would consider a similar initiative for those students taking up Applied Maths, Physics and Chemistry.

Speaking during Question Time, he asked that as it can be difficult for people who do not have those subjects to make the transition into university courses in areas like science and engineering, would the Department or the State Examinations Commission consider extending this initiative to those subjects.

In reply, Minister Ruairí Quinn said CAO points are matters for third level institutions in the first instance. “The introduction of the new Leaving Certificate project maths syllabus and the provision of bonus points, has led to a welcome increase in the number of candidates presenting at higher level in the examination, up from 15.8% in 2011 to 25.6% in 2013,” he said. “The target participation rate, as set out in my literacy and numeracy strategy, is 30% by 2020.”

He added that this situation will be monitored in the context of the broader work that the Department is carrying out. In 2011, Deputy O’Donovan said only 1,000 people or thereabouts took applied maths. “As I have pointed out to the Minister previously, the difficulty relates to the number of third level students dropping out between first year science to second year,” he said. “The same third level institutes are accepting students into engineering and science courses with ordinary-level leaving certificate maths and biology. These students are having major difficulty and it is grossly unfair.”