Lord Mayor of Dublin Cllr Alison Gilliland has said that she views the prospect of a directly elected Lord Mayor as offering a great opportunity for the citizens of the capital to be “empowered through the ballot box to choose a vision for their city”.
Cllr Gilliland was speaking at a meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly at the Grand Central Hotel in Malahide, Co Dublin on Saturday morning.
The assembly is considering a proposal for a directly-elected mayor for Dublin and will hear about how the system operates in other cities such as Boston, Helsinki, and Paris.
Cllr Gilliland said she sees the appointment of a directly elected Lord Mayor as an opportunity to augment the international status of Dublin which she believes can have significant socio-economic and cultural benefits for the city and the region.
Cllr Gilliland says that elected members and CEO’s of local authorities currently have responsibility and powers. But she indicates that in reality it is worth noting when they are constrained by national policy, legislation, and Government schemes within which they are obliged to operate.
“And of course by funding. Which raises key considerations in my view. The work of the council and all subsequent planning applications are based on our Development plans. That is our bible for Dublin City.
“However, these carefully devised development plans and indeed the planning application process itself can be overridden by a one size fits all national legislation.
“As we have seen particularly with the introduction of special planning policy requirements on height (Build to Rent for example), and as noted the introduction of strategic housing development process that actually bypassed local planning authorities and the democratic voice.”
Cllr Gilliland said whilst local authorities have a housing remit it must be implemented through national housing policy.
“For example we cannot raise the social housing qualifying income thresholds to recognise the high rents in Dublin. And all our housing delivery plans must be approved by the Department of Housing and believe you and me that is a very laborious back and forth. About an 18-month process which slows down delivery of an essential resource.”
Cllr Gilliland says that the question arises as to the autonomy of the directly elected Lord Mayor to reject or adapt Central Government requirements or to design their own to suit and respond flexibly the needs of the city as they view them.
“I noted we are also constrained by funding and this in turn constrains our budget decisions. A significant amount of funding comes from central Government for specific reasons – housing, roads, infrastructure etc and they can only be spent in those areas.
“The local authorities have no particular powers to introduce their own levies. One that I think would work for Dublin is a hotel bed tax and an upper vacant unit charge and that is opposed to a vacant site levy.
“For example if we had funds of our own the stick of an upper vacant floor unit levy could be combined with the carrot of a grant to support regeneration and to increase residential living in the city. That is the example of an autonomous proactive pro-social decision making we currently cannot realise to meet a significant need in our city.”
Cllr Gilliland added that a number of questions were open to the deliberations of attendees and the wider public.
“In my experience as Lord Mayor and a Councillor the big questions for your deliberations are: ‘what powers, autonomy, funding or fundraising capacity will be assigned to the Dublin Mayor? How will the interact with the corporate bodies of the four local authorities?’
“How will they interact with the four councils as bodies of elected members our councillors you interact with? How will they interact with national policy and legislation and central Government? A key, key issue.
“How will we make that transition so as to meet the expectation of a citizenship who wants to vote for a vision for their city?”