Forum approval of mayor plan does not mean public will get to vote
The four Dublin councils will vote on the proposal next March
An online survey on the mayor4dublin.ie website that found almost 80 per cent of respondents wanted a directly elected mayor. The results have found favour with Minister Leo Varadkar (above). Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
After five months of deliberations the forum of Dublin city and county councillors, tasked with formulating proposals for the creation of a directly elected mayor for the capital, is ready to make its submission to Government.
Their preference for a mayor with a wide range of executive powers and with the ability to appoint a cabinet to head up the different departments running the city, such as transport, housing, planning and even policing, appears to be a reflection of what the public want.
An online survey on the mayor4dublin.ie website found almost 80 per cent of respondents wanted a directly elected mayor of the type now being put to Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan.
The survey results may not be entirely representative of the views of Dubliners on the whole, as it is likely that those who want to get the chance to vote in Dublin’s ultimate leader would be most eager to complete the survey. However, the proposal has found favour elsewhere, most notably with Dublin business groups and with Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar.
None of this means that the public will vote to have a mayor in next year’s proposed plebiscite, or even that they will have a chance to vote at all. The Local Government Bill published two months ago, after the forum’s work was well under way, gave councillors the ability to block the vote from going ahead. This provision in the Bill came as a surprise to many, including councillors.
The plebiscite will take place only if more than half the councillors in each local authority are in favour of it. The four councils will vote on the proposal next March. The wording of the Bill means that even if more than 50 per cent of the councillors who turn up vote yes, it may not be passed if the turnout is low– it has to be approved by the majority of the full council membership to get through.
This, could prove a major stumbling block. While the 22-member forum, which has agreed the proposals to go to the Minister, included an equal representation of the four councils with five members from each local authority (plus two members from the regional authority), there was some unease from the county councillors that power would be lost to the city.
The safeguard of the Dublin assembly, which has the power to turf out a bad mayor and can also, to an extent, control the purse strings; the proposal that power would not only be devolved to the mayor but also to councillors and local committees; and the prospect of clawing back powers lost to central Government in recent years, swung it in the end.
But the forum was not unanimous, with one councillor, Fingal’s Ciarán Byrne (Labour) not endorsing the final document. Mr Byrne said he’s in favour of the creation of the mayor but not the elimination of the senior level of management. “I would be in favour of a mayor with power over transport and waste management and for a transfer of power from central Government but I am not in favour of the decimation of the upper echelons of the council which would hollow out the strategic competencies of individual councils.” He doesn’t believe Fingal councillors will vote in favour next March.