Direct and democratic election of mayors urged by Tánaiste
Plebiscites in Cork, Limerick and Waterford will gauge support for idea, campaign hears
Tánaiste Simon Coveney: “If you are the directly elected lord mayor of Cork city, for example, you will arguably be the most influential and powerful politician in the country outside of Cabinet.” Photograph: Clare Keogh
The Government hopes the creation of three directly elected mayor positions can address a democratic deficit in local government which sees policy decisions taken by unelected officials, the Minister of State for Local Government has said.
John Paul Phelan told the launch of Fine Gael’s campaign for a directly elected lord mayor in Cork city and directly elected mayors in Limerick city and county and Waterford city and county that virtually all executive functions reside with local authority chief executives.
He said that should voters approve creating the mayor positions in three separate plebiscites, an elected political figure would head up local government in the areas and work to drive economic and social development.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who called for Yes votes in the plebiscites, said the directly elected mayors would become champions for their areas, combining most of the current powers of the chief executive with the current ceremonial duties of mayors.
“If you are the directly elected lord mayor of Cork city, for example, you will arguably be the most influential and powerful politician in the country outside of Cabinet, given the size and scale of Cork city and the budgets involved and the ambition for expansion,” he said.
Salary of €129,854
The Local Government Act 2019, which will be enacted within two years if the plebiscites are passed in any of the three areas, provides for a salary of €129,854, which is equivalent to the salary of a minister of state.
Minister of State at the Department of Finance Patrick O’Donovan said that as somebody from rural Limerick, he welcomed the plebiscite and looked forward to the day when every county in Ireland would have its own directly elected mayor to champion their area.
Senator Jerry Buttimer, Fine Gael’s campaign director, urged other parties and Independents to join to ensure the plebiscites, which take place on May 24th alongside local and European elections, are passed.
Mr Phelan said a plan to introduce a directly elected lord mayor in Dublin was stymied some years ago when Fingal County Council voted it down. He said the Government was trying to resolve the issue but it was a complex one as Dublin was made up of four local authorities.
Removal from office
Mr Coveney said it was thought better to proceed with plebiscites in Cork, Limerick and Waterford and let people decide whether they wanted directly elected mayors rather than delaying all three until the Dublin situation was resolved.
Mr Phelan said the legislation included a provision where the Minister for Local Government had the power to intervene if councillors disagreed with the mayor’s plans for their term and that there was also a provision, if needed, allowing for the removal of a mayor from office.
Mr Coveney said that while there may be some concerns about the plan leading to US-style mayors where strong political figures can dominate a city, there were many examples across Europe of directly elected mayors working well.
“And if people do vote for directly elected mayors, the mayors will be subject to the same scrutiny that chief executives are subject to today while they will also have to abide by Standards in Public Office rules and they can be held to account by their council so there are strong checks and balances,” he said.