After I was first elected in June 2009, a Bill with a similar aim to establish a directly elected lord mayor for Dublin was Government business when the Green Party was in coalition with Fianna Fáil. It reached quite an advanced stage at that point before everything fell apart.
The way it is now the power lies with the unelected officials, there are questions regarding accountability. I do not say that a directly-elected mayor will solve all the problems of Dublin, but it makes much more sense than our people in predominantly symbolic roles that have been used as bargaining tools within each council in the gift of the political party or grouping taking it in turn over the course of the life of that authority.
If we get it right in Dublin, it will be a template for Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick. Getting it right means clear areas of responsibility, such as planning, waste management, housing, transport and infrastructure, and tourism, with a practical realistic budget with a fixed term and the necessary staff and advisers.
It also means having somebody who has a vision for Dublin, and that vision for Dublin has to fit into the vision for Ireland. It needs to be a vision that is fit not just for the following one or two terms of office, but takes cognisance of the fact that whatever decisions are being made will have an effect on generations to come.
I know directly-elected mayors could also feed into populism, given that a mayor would have to keep an eye on re-election. However, with fixed terms and fixed time limits for being a mayor, it could be solved. My preference would be for one fixed term of five years and then not being eligible for re-election for another five; or a three-year fixed term with an ability to stand for re-election directly after, but then a gap before being allowed to stand again.
A directly-elected mayor also means greater democracy and accountability. It could make a real difference in the areas of housing, planning, tourism and transport, where some disastrous decisions have been made in the past. It is about better co-ordination, better planning and forward planning.
Ag an bpointe seo, admhaím go dtacaím leis an ngnó anocht agus amárach mar beidh seans ag muintir Bhaile Átha Cliath vótáil i gcomhair méara.
Fianna Fáil is looking for a plebiscite in 2018 to give voters in Dublin an opportunity to give their views on whether this should be a reality with the vote probably being held in 2019. I note the Government’s amendment, which also fits in as part of overall local government reform measures because it allows for consultation with relevant stakeholders with a report by mid-2017. That could lead into the Fianna Fáil motion. There may not be a need for a plebiscite depending on what that report indicates. The 2018 plebiscite in the Fianna Fáil motion gives people the opportunity to decide if they would like the idea to be progressed whereas I believe the Green Party is saying that this could be a reality for 2019.
I know we go back to the 13th century when a charter was granted for the office of lord mayor. It seems that at that stage, mayors did have real powers albeit some that involved the use of violence. There are four authorities in Dublin – Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council, South Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. While Dublin is the capital with a population of some 1.3 million, it is incredible that we have four local authorities and four mayors even though only one has the title of lord mayor, which I know is problematic for some people as a relic of British power. It is probably not quite a relic of British imperialism as Great Britain had not really embarked on its empire building at that stage, only its immediate neighbours. If changes were introduced, I would favour the word “mayor” as opposed to putting “lord” in front of it. There are three mayors and one lord mayor in Dublin. We know their roles are, in the main, symbolic. They attend functions, perform openings, make speeches at events and attend and organise conferences depending on their personal area of interest.
The interest of the current Lord Mayor of Dublin was in organising a conference on crime in the city. I acknowledge the work of a previous Ardmhéar, Criona Ní Dhálaigh, regarding the historic Moore Street battlefield site.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin gets a “161-D-1″ car, can live in the Mansion House if he or she chooses, gets to jaunt in the lovely carriage on St. Patrick’s Day, gets to host events, for example, when Dublin wins the All-Ireland Football Championship, or when we have various individuals, groups or teams returning to Ireland via Dublin after some sporting, cultural or literary event or competition. Yesterday, I attended an event at which the current Lord Mayor launched the International Dublin Literary Awards. The Lord Mayor also chairs the monthly meetings of the council. I am sure the mayors in the other three authorities perform similar roles. The common denominator is that it is very much the same and it is very much symbolic. How much of a difference are they making to the life of Dubliners and the city of Dublin? If the Lord Mayor was not there and was not carrying out those events as Lord Mayor or mayor, while the communities are delighted to see them coming out, life will go on and someone else could perform those roles.
The job of the mayor or Lord Mayor is in the gift of the political party or political grouping in that authority, which is not good enough for the voters in the Dublin area or for voters anywhere. We need to take the opportunity that is being given tonight and tomorrow and with the Government amendment to bring about change that will make a difference. We think of the mayors in London and New York as examples of authoritative figures with the power to make a difference. One of those is the recent C40 initiative from the Paris climate change agreement. Many mayors in European cities are taking a very proactive role on this because they want to achieve the goals set in Paris and they can do that because they have the power to do so. Many European cities have directly-elected mayors with power and influence.
I support the principle of directly-elected mayors along with either the report, as the Government amendment suggests, or the plebiscite, as Fianna Fáil suggests, or both. Both of them will feed into the Green Party’s proposal – I note that Deputy Eamon Ryan said it is capable of being amended. Overall, having the opportunity to vote for such a mayor will be better for democracy, and better for those communities that feel disengaged and disillusioned. We know about low voter turnout, which we see particularly in areas of Dublin. This could perhaps get people more engaged in the process. We also have a few years to ensure everything is right for it.
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