Warning over Dublin mayor election
UK system ‘ripped away’ power from councillors, warns Salford mayor
The introduction of directly elected mayors in Britain, as proposed for Dublin, “ripped” power from councillors, Prof Ian Stewart, the mayor of Salford in Greater Manchester, said. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Dubliners should carefully consider the consequences before voting on the creation of a directly elected mayor, a prominent UK mayor has said.
A plebiscite will be held next summer to decide if Dublin should have a mayor who would be elected by the people instead of appointed by councillors.
However, Mr Stewart, the first elected mayor of Salford, has urged Dubliners to consider their options before any vote.“It would be inappropriate for me to tell Dublin people what to do but there are very serious consequences of making this decision.”
Mr Stewart, a former Labour MP, is one of only 16 directly elected mayors in the Britain. Referendums on whether to establish an elected mayor have been held in 47 UK local authorities. Before his election in May 2012 Mr Stewart had opposed the creation of the position.
“In England we have a very autocratic system. What it has done is it has ripped away 92 per cent of the decision-making powers from the democratically elected councillors.”
Mr Stewart recently decided to scrap the position of chief executive of the council, a post that is to be newly created in Ireland next year to replace city and county managers. He also plans to devolve further powers to councillors and council officials. “I have sought to democratise the role in Salford by me, as the directly elected mayor, devolving power to a cabinet of senior politicians called assistant mayors and devolving power to senior council officers.”
There were benefits to having an elected mayor, he said, particularly in terms of swifter decision-making and accountability to an electorate. “Decision-making can be much faster because the democratic decision rests with one person. It also offers a great facility for promotion of the city and helping to drive things forward.”
However, he said it could be argued that the people of Salford “did not understand what they were voting for” when they chose to have a mayor. There was a particularly low turnout at just over 18 per cent. There should be a “genuine public dialogue” in Dublin ahead of any vote on the creation of the office, he said.
“Every member of the public should try to find out about the different models of mayor. People should see this as a very serious decision in relation to the democratic system and its consequences for the people of Dublin.”
Mr Stewart was in Dublin to attend the Cities of the Isles summit, which brought together representatives from cities across Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. The summit aimed to promote closer economic, cultural and research collaboration between the cities.