The election that wasn’t: how the plan for a directly elected Dublin mayor could be revived
Opinion: Why Fingal Co Council delivered the sting in the tail
In Ireland what we need first and foremost is a proper debate on the concept of directly elected mayors and we need to know the precise details of the model that is being proposed. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Phil Hogan’s Local Government Reform Act 2014 has received little attention or public scrutiny. However, the one issue that has got pulses racing – at least in Dublin – is the proposal to have a directly elected mayor for the capital. This is not a new idea. The Local Government Act 2001 proposed that direct mayoral elections would take place in 2004, but the government repealed the decision through legislation in 2003.
A Green Paper by John Gormley in 2008 again recommended directly elected mayors, but the initiative never saw the legislative light of day during the lifetime of that government. However, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan relaunched the idea by providing for a directly elected mayor for the Dublin metropolitan area in the 2014 Reform Act.
The legislation proposed the holding of a Dublin plebiscite on the issue on the same day as the 2014 local elections – yesterday. Controversially, however, the Minister included a provision that each of the four local authorities that constitute the Dublin metropolitan area – Dublin City Council, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Fingal County Council and South Dublin County Council – would first have to individually adopt a resolution in favour of holding the plebiscite.
The insertion of this veto power for any one of the four Dublin local authorities was a curious move by the Minister and always had the potential to open up the proverbial can of worms. And so it proved. Three of the four Dublin local authorities comfortably adopted resolutions in favour of the plebiscite but, critically, one local authority did not.
The process began on March 24th when Dublin City Council approved it with 50 votes in favour and none against. A week later, on March 31st, the remaining three councils met to decide the fate of the mayoral plebiscite. The vote in South Dublin County Council was 19 in favour with 3 against; in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council the elected members voted decisively in favour by 23 to zero.
The sting in the tail, however, was spectacularly delivered by the members of Fingal County Council, who voted against the holding of the plebiscite by 16 votes to six. Accordingly, as things stand, the proposal is dead in the water. Advocates of the directly elected mayor idea are appalled by the fact that the plebiscite has been blocked despite the overwhelming majority of councillors in Dublin voting in favour. The combined total vote was 98-19 in favour, and yet the minority of councillors against the proposal have succeeded in scuppering it.