Lord Mayor of Dublin: will Sinn Féin rise to the challenge for 2016?

With so many Independents, it is hard to say how the council’s selection will go

Lord Mayor of Dublin Oisín Quinn: will hand over chain of office next Friday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Lord Mayor of Dublin Oisín Quinn: will hand over chain of office next Friday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Mon, Jun 2, 2014, 01:00

On Friday night Dublin city councillors will decide who gets to be the capital’s first citizen, when the current Lord Mayor of Dublin, Labour’s Oisín Quinn, hands over his chain of office.

But it is still far from clear which of the 63 newly elected councillors will be the recipient.

Five years ago the mathematics was easy. There were 52 seats up for grabs, Labour won 19 of them, Fine Gael got 12, no other group got more than seven. The magic number needed to have control of the council was 27, together Labour and Fine Gael had it, plus a bit of cushioning for comfort.

This time around, things are nowhere near as clear cut. Sinn Féin is by far the largest party on the council, following its stunning result which brought its seats from five to 16, but with the newly enlarged council having 63 seats the party is a long way from having overall control.

Fianna Fá

il The next largest party, Fianna Fáil has just over half the number of seats of Sinn Féin at nine, Labour and Fine Gael both have eight. People Before Profit, which had just one councillor in the city before the election is now a significant party with five seats, the Green Party, which didn’t even exist on the last council, has three.

But the largest group on the council after Sinn Féin isn’t a party at all. There are 14 newly elected councillors who have no party colleagues and will be free to pick their allegiances.Two of these belong to political movements: Pat Dunne of the United Left and Michael O’Brien of the Anti Austerity Alliance.

However there are 12 whose leanings are not declared through any party title. For practical reasons they had a group leader on the last council in Vincent “Ballyfermot” Jackson, who retains his seat.

The council’s longest- standing independent, first elected in 1991, Jackson is left-leaning, but that does not necessarily reflect the make-up of the other 12.

Ruairí McGinley, elected last time out for Fine Gael, was rejected by the party, but has secured a seat as an independent. Nial Ring is from the Fianna Fáil “gene pool”, Ciarán Perry is left leaning and Damien O’Farrell a bit more to the centre of left.

Christy Burke was Sinn Féin’s longest-serving councillor until three days after the last local elections, Paddy Bourke left Labour earlier this year. The remaining independent to be re-elected, artist, writer and actor Mannix Flynn defies pigeonholing. In relation to the four new independents it’s still anyone’s guess.

Sharing power

It is also anyone’s guess who will cosy up to share power on the council. Agreeing a power-sharing pact at local authority level is very different from forming a coalition Government.

In general councillors vote along area lines, rather than party lines, though they will support an issue their party colleagues feel strongly about.

Many of the issues their constituents are most concerned about, such as waste and water charges, are out of their hands, and while they have some input in relation to housing, their powers are limited.

The most visible manifestation of any council power-sharing pact is the choice of Lord Mayor. Labour and Fine Gael took turns. Sinn Féin have never had to play ball before, because no one was willing to throw the ball to them, but now they will want to make friends to ensure they hold the mayoralty in 1916.

There are mutterings about preventing Sinn Féin from “highjacking” the Rising commemorations. Equally the prospect of the other “big three”, or more accurately medium-sized three, reaching agreement, with the support of like-minded others has been described as “messy”.

Property tax

The next big job will be to determine whether to reduce the local property tax. Councillors have the power to raise or lower the tax by 15 per cent. No councillor would dare increase it, but voting to lower it will have an impact on council finances.

Which leads to the big test of those holding the reins of council power, the budget. Councillors must by the end of next January ratify a budget to run the city for 2015.

Failure to do so would result in the disbanding of the council and the appointment of a commissioner in their stead.

Which would mean no one gets to wear the mayoral chain at Easter 1916.