The Irish Times view on the Limerick’s mayor: the people will judge his success

The current model of local government cannot be said to have served Limerick particularly well

John Moran is elected at Limerick Racecourse in Limerick's mayoral election in which citizens voted to directly elect their own mayor for the first time in the history of the State A Photo:: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Powerful elected mayors are a feature of local government in many European countries but have until now failed to gain a foothold in Ireland. The highly centralised nature of the State and a lack of political support due to the clientelist culture of our politics have long militated against the idea.

The current model of local government cannot be said to have served Limerick particularly well. The city suffers from high levels of deprivation even if the county as a whole is one of the wealthiest. The 52 per cent vote in favour of an elected mayor in a May 2019 plebiscite can be seen as a mandate for change.

The extent to which John Moran – who was elected mayor of the city and county this week – can alter perceptions of Limerick both internally and externally will be one measure of both his success and the merits of elected mayors generally. Both Waterford and Cork voted against them in the 2019 plebiscites.

On paper, at least, Moran is in a position to make a difference. The role comes with considerable executive powers in the areas of economic and spatial planning, housing, roads and the environment. He will receive additional – but unspecified – funding from central government for his mayoral programme, which will set out the vision and objectives for his five-year term.


The new mayor can draw on his own dedicated team of five people, including a special adviser, as well as several new bodies that are meant to smooth engagement with the Government and the delivery of his programme.

A lawyer by training, with a background in finance, Moran’s brief but intense term as secretary general of the Department of Finance during the banking crisis from 2012 to 2014 should stand to him as he navigates his way through this bureaucracy.

Likewise it should guide him in establishing a functional relationship with the director general of the council, a permanent civil servant who retains the functions of the traditional chief executive or manager that have not been ceded to the mayor. The most significant of these is the management of the council’s finances.

Moran, who ran as an independent, will also have to work with the newly elected City and County Council where the Goverment parties are in the majority. The mayor may get to set the annual budget but the council has to approve it and is entitled to question him.

The experimental nature of the post, which at its heart is a worthwhile attempt to improve democratic accountability at the level of local government, is reflected in a review clause included in the legislation, which kicks in after three years.

Ultimately, judgment as to whether the experiment is a success will come from the people of Limerick five years hence, when the next election is due. That is how it should be in a democracy.