FF recommends limited executive powers for mayors


AN INTERNAL Fianna Fáil report has recommended the executive powers of elected mayors should be limited, while city and county councils should remain largely unchanged.

The report by a party subcommittee will form the basis of the party's submission to the Government's White Paper on local government reform, which is due to be published soon. The Fianna Fáil parliamentary party was briefed on the proposals last night.

The party is calling for substantial reforms for larger regional authorities and for town and urban councils, which have few real powers at present. Perhaps the report's most radical suggestion is for the creation of a small number of "municipal councils" in counties with growing urban conurbations.

The report identified as an example Louth, where the four local authorities - the county council and smaller councils in Drogheda, Dundalk and Ardee - would be replaced completely by two metropolitan councils within the county boundaries with full powers, one based around Drogheda and the other around Dundalk. It concluded such councils would be created in limited circumstances.

The party departs from the policies of its junior coalition partner, the Greens, in relation to mayors.

The subcommittee's report says the mayor, or chair of a local authority, should not have full executive powers. Instead, policy-making should be the responsibility of a new "corporate policy group". Therefore, instead of having a mayor with full executive powers, powers would be given to the "corporate policy group" which would effectively be the policymaking cabinet of a council.

Fianna Fáil also wants more power devolved to town councils and does not want a change in city and county council boundaries. It wants a reduction in the number of regional councils, which it says should have more power in terms of what are called "strategic policy functions" in relation to water, waste, roads and possibly tourism as well.

Town councils should be expanded to cover urban and rural districts with the town at the centre and they should also have more powers. In terms of money-raising measures, councils should be given a "menu of options", with each council deciding which particular charges it would apply.

The cost of the waiver scheme for water and waste should be met from the Department of Social Protection and not from councils.

A party subcommittee chaired by Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey has held seven meetings and three forums for councillors around the country. Ministers Éamon Ó Cuív and Batt O'Keeffe, Minister of State Pat Carey and deputy chief whip John Cregan also sit on the committee.

There are eight regional authorities, made up of groups of county and city councils. The report also argues that section 140 of the Local Government Act (or section 4 under the older legislation) should be strengthened. This gives councillors powers to make decisions notwithstanding the objections of council officials.

However, the report says, the onus will be on elected councillors to identify the source of funding for a decision. Once it is lawful, the manager will be obliged to carry out the decision.