The Editorial in the Irish Independent (1st November) regarding the role of the Dublin Mayor raised a number of interesting and relevant issues. I have long championed the creation of such a post and like others am disappointed by the extent of the powers proposed. However I also share the view of the former Dublin City Manager, John Fitzgerald when he wrote last week of the need for “strong Local Government and Local leadership” (29th October). He is right. The truth is that if freed from the shackles of a disinterested Department of the Environment and a disconnected Department of Finance, Local Government could deliver far more than it is currently allowed. The people of Ireland deserve better.
He is also right that the introduction of directly elected Mayors, without fundamental reform is not the panacea. However it is an important and in my view necessary step forward. This is particularly true in the case of Dublin.
The suggestions, often made by people separate from the Local Government sector, that what we need is to strengthen the role of the unelected Manager is not the answer. Local Authorities need Chief Executive Officers who are appointed transparently but who are accountable to the elected members. The present system simply reinforces the controlling role of the Mandarins in the Custom House, who demonstrably do not like flexibility, imagination or the dynamism that is so badly needed. On that we agree.
While I will support anyone seeking Local Government reform across the country my focus in on Dublin a City I had the privilege to serve as Lord Mayor and the County as Cathaoirleach of the Regional Authority.
Dublin Needs a Political Voice. More than perhaps anything else it needs someone who understands how things work or more accurately do not work and who will stand up for the City and County. Someone, who can be a Political advocate, armed with the mandate of direct election. The proposed election of a Mayor for Dublin gives us an opportunity to create that voice. That is why, with all its imperfections and limited powers, I welcome the publication of the “Dublin Mayor and Regional Authority” draft legislation.
Many believe that we need more than the simple introduction of a directly elected Mayor – they are right. A new Mayor can and must drive further reform and a real debate about the future of Dublin.
The draft legislation clarifies some issues. It specifies the County as the area involved. It provides a new structure for the Regional Authority. However, the proposal that the Mayor would Chair the Authority, to whom he or she would be accountable, is I believe a mistake. Similarly the proposal for a Regional Development Board is probably good but its composition and democratic mandate remains unclear. Unless the Public Service agencies are accountable to this body and not equal participating parties, as at present, it will not work. It is deeply disappointing in the area of transport provision and co-ordination and weal on planning policy. Ironically, given the failure of the Department of the Environment on the issue it is somewhat stronger on the area of waste policy
I have said before that the proposed salary is disgracefully and unnecessarily high. It is a distraction from what should be a debate about the role of a Mayor. The latest indication that the salary has now been reduced is perhaps the first victory of this campaign. There is no need for a E200,000+ salary for the Mayor, just as in all probability there is no need for it for Government Ministers.
The essential financial element is that the Mayor would have the power and resources to do the job, and the commitment to do it effectively. The absence of an independent source of funding is a major flaw in the current proposals and must be addressed in time.
Two of the arguments used against the introduction of a directly elected Mayor are cost and “celebrity” candidates. In my view both are bogus. Properly structured, a newly elected Mayor, working with the already existing, though enhanced, Dublin Regional Authority, will see the need for many of the existing agencies reduced and or incorporated into the Mayoral structure with significant savings. On the “celebrity” candidate issue, the answer is simple – we live in a Democracy – let the people decide. We have seen recently the outcome from going down the “celebrity” road. I have great faith that the electorate will decide intelligently. Yes, in terms of the specifics of the legislation a chance has been missed. But let us commit ourselves to building on it and building a better Dublin for all.”
Dermot Lacey is a Labour Councillor Pembroke-Rathmines and former Lord Mayor of Dublin and Cathaoirleach of the Dublin Regional Authority.