Councillors’ lack of power may explain blandness of Labour’s plan for Dublin

Analysis: The six priorities range from initiatives local authorities were already undertaking to trite pledges

One of the Labour pledges is to “unlock Dublin’s tourism potential”. Photograph: Thinkstock

One of the Labour pledges is to “unlock Dublin’s tourism potential”. Photograph: Thinkstock

Tue, Jul 2, 2013, 01:00

Labour has more councillors in Dublin than any other party. When its representation on the four local authorities is totted up, Labour politicians account for just over a third of all councillors, and on Dublin City Council – the State’s and the county’s largest local authority – they are by far the biggest party holding 19 out of the 52 seats.

With all this weight in the capital, it might be a surprise that Labour’s six-point action plan for Dublin, which was published yesterday, was such a damp squib.

The six priorities identified ranged from initiatives the local authorities were already undertaking before the three Labour chairs/mayors were elected, to pledges so trite that it will be nearly impossible to assess at the end of their one-year terms what progress was actually made.

1 Making Dublin Fit for Cycling. It was indeed a Labour councillor, Andrew Montague, who pushed forward the hugely successful Dublin bikes rental scheme in the capital, but all the county’s local authorities have now cottoned on to the popularity of cycling and they are developing cycle paths that will connect with those
already in existence.

The fact that the “Labour Mayors are committed to delivering a Dublin-wide cycle network” is nice to know, but it would happen with or without them.

2 Ensuring Sustainable Development. Under this point the plan tells us “Labour is deeply committed to supporting jobs and growth across the Dublin Region”. Well, one would hope so.

It goes on to say that the Labour mayors will ensure all development is sustainable and that planning mistakes made in the past are not repeated.

Apart from devising development plans, which have already been made, councillors and mayors have no role in determining planning applications.

It is widely acknowledged that “mistakes of the past” arose when politicians did interfere in the process.

3 Enhancing Youth, Heritage and Cultural Services. This one is about getting school children to use libraries, where they can read about the 1913 Lockout.

4 Unlocking Dublin’s Tourism Potential. The mayors are going to unlock the potential of Dublin’s natural features. Triathlons and Iron Man events get a mention under this heading.

5 Supporting Our Senior Citizens. Making Dublin “more senior citizen friendly is a key priority”. How will they do this? The mayors will jointly host events to promote awareness of elderly people and address their
needs.

6 Making Local Government Work Better for Dubliners. There is a spark of something here. The point refers to a forum of councillors, already established, which will make proposals to Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, ahead of next year’s plebiscite on whether Dublin should have a directly elected mayor.

It was on this point that the mayors have taken something approaching a stance. There should only be a directly elected mayor if it makes local government more efficient.

“People don’t want to see an extra political office with extra cost and no real delivery and, in fact, potential delay,” Lord Mayor Oisín Quinn said. Councils were already stifled by a lack of decision-making powers, he said.

Perhaps that is the problem and why the six-point plan is so bland – councillors and even mayors have little real power.

As Dermot Looney, cathaoirleach of South Dublin County Council, said yesterday: “Mayors have quite limited powers. Our main roles are chairing councils.”