Dublin deserves to be heard on issue of elected Mayor

 

The people of Dublin should be asked directly whether they want, or do not want, an elected Lord Mayor. Talk about a democratic revolution has been exposed as guff when you consider the lengths this Government and some senior officials have gone to preserve the status quo. A quadruple lock was enshrined in law and a majority of elected councillors in each of the four council areas had to agree to ask the public for its opinion. Even then, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan reserved for himself the power to say no.

Those extraordinary requirements were contained in the Local Government Reform Bill of 2013 that abolished all town councils without their consent. Three of the Dublin authorities voted yes by overwhelming margins but Fingal councillors, as expected, opted for maximum autonomy and withheld permission for a public vote. A smug Mr Hogan said it had been necessary to set a high requirement in order to ensure “genuine political consensus”. He went on to dismiss any further consideration of the matter until after the local elections next May. That is not good enough. Such a deferral would scotch the prospect of a directly elected Mayor until 2024.

Many great cities of the world have directly elected mayors backed by authority and resources. Successful cities drive national economies. But over the years, a variety of powerful interests have opposed change by ministers and successive governments. Twelve years ago, as a reforming minister, Noel Dempsey produced legislation providing for directly elected mayors in major Irish cities. Strenuous resistance by backbench TDs – who held a dual mandate – and by council managers killed that initiative. A less ambitious idea, favouring an elected lord mayor for Dublin only, was promoted by John Gormley and the Green Party when in government. But Fianna Fáil ministers were decidedly cool to the notion and it never progressed beyond the Green Paper stage.

Mr Hogan did not oppose the popular idea of an elected mayor while in opposition, but he had reservations. Fine Gael policy envisaged a Dublin mayor having responsibility for policy while its county manager would take executive decisions. How could that have worked? In government, those concerns were reflected in legislation that played on local rivalry and made the emergence of a powerful political figure most unlikely. Councillors were asked to decide what functions might be transferred, but there was no guarantee it would happen. Power remained with the Minister and officials.

These measures that deny Dubliners the right to choose a Lord Mayor with executive powers, if they wish, fly in the face of representative democracy. Fingal councillors rejected the idea by 16 votes to six. But in all four council areas, the combined vote was 98 to 24 in favour. The people deserve to be heard.