The Irish Times view on the mayoral plebiscites: imbalance of power

Local government has been gradually but inexorably stripped of its powers since the foundation of the State

The dismal outcome of plebiscites on directly-elected mayors, with the proposition being narrowly defeated in both Cork and Waterford and carried by a relatively small margin in Limerick, was quite predictable given the glaring lack of effort by Government politicians to convince citizens of the merits of the argument. Indeed, but for the vigorous support of such diverse Limerick notables as John Moran, former secretary-general of the Department of Finance, and Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubber Bandits, it would probably have been lost on Shannonside too.

Essentially, voters didn't see the point of paying a directly-elected mayor a handsome salary and even more money for special advisers when local government in Ireland is in the ha'penny place, having been gradually but inexorably stripped of its powers since the foundation of the State. A miserly 8.4 per cent of Government spending flows through the coffers of local authorities in Ireland, compared to 66 per cent in Denmark, a country of comparable size in both population and land area. That's a real measure of how centralised Ireland has become.

Even if Cork and Waterford had joined Limerick in approving directly-elected mayors, the powers they would exercise would not have changed this inequitable relationship; they would take over some, but not all, of the functions currently exercised by local authority chief executives. There is no indication that the Government has any intention of devolving power to directly-elected mayors or of restoring many of the functions exercised by local authorities, such as they had under the Local Government (Ireland) Act, adopted by the Westminster Parliament in 1898. And yet, that's what desperately needs to be done.

The terms of reference for a Citizens’ Assembly to be convened later this year on how a directly-elected mayor in Dublin would interrelate with the city’s four local authorities should be be broadened to consider local government in general and what powers could be devolved by central government to city and county councils.