‘Celebrity-type’ mayors could be voted in if public not fully informed

TD tells Dáil of need for debate on role ahead of votes in Cork, Limerick and Waterford

 Labour Party TD Jan O’Sullivan: ‘We really need to prepare our public representatives, in addition to the public, for genuine responsibility.’ File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Labour Party TD Jan O’Sullivan: ‘We really need to prepare our public representatives, in addition to the public, for genuine responsibility.’ File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The prospect of the wrong kind of “celebrity-type” mayors being voted in could be introduced in May because there will not be enough time for a fully informed debate on the specific powers of the role, the Dáil has been warned.

The electorates in the local authority areas of Cork City Council, Limerick City and County Council, and Waterford City and County Council will vote in May on the same day as the local and European elections on whether or not to have a directly elected mayor.

The decision on a directly elected mayor for Dublin, with four local authorities, will be referred to a citizens’ assembly.

Labour local government spokeswoman Jan O’Sullivan said the party was still waiting for details of the specific powers and functions involved in the positions.

And she expressed concern that if they only got information close to voting day on the powers and functions of the role there would not be time for a public debate.

“This is a big decision for local people,” she said.

“If somewhere ends up with a celebrity-style mayor because there has not been a proper debate on what mayors do, it will have the wrong kind of person,” she warned. “We need somebody who can take the responsibility.”

The Limerick TD said that traditionally, “because local government has been so weak, local public representatives have not been in the habit of taking serious decisions and accepting the consequences of their actions”.

She added that “we really need to prepare our public representatives, in addition to the public, for genuine responsibility”.

Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan said he too was “genuinely concerned the proposal will not pass because people will not have enough information on it”.

But Minister of State for Local Government John Paul Phelan who has responsibility for the innovation completely refuted the argument that it would be a “platform for personalities or sportspeople to be elected”.

“The public will have the power to elect whoever it wants. If it is a sportsperson, a personality, a regular Joe, a businessperson or whoever, we cannot second guess that.”

He also said his department would produce more detailed proposals in the next few weeks on the specific questions to be put to the electorate and on the powers of mayors.

Mr Phelan said he did not want to be “codding people” and “I want the directly elected mayors to have powers” but he said they would not be taking away the reserved functions of local council members, who would have oversight of the mayor. The chief executive would retain executive functions for areas including planning.

But Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace said that if they did not take power away from others “the mayor will just be a tool of the local authority”.

He said the proposal was “just another sham that looks good and sounds good but is going nowhere”.

He said the Minister should suspend the vote and allow the citizens’ assembly to deal with the overall proposal.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said it was particularly important for Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick to have directly elected mayors “because we need to counterbalance the excessive and growing influence of Dublin as a centre of development”.