Supporting Opinion

Directly-elected Mayor can trigger renewed city growth

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The role of Mayors in Irish cities and, sometimes, counties has long been largely ceremonial and symbolic, chairing meetings and wearing of the chain to functions.

And while the Mayor chaired the meeting, the only real people who made the critical day-to-day decisions were the public servants who made up the executive management of councils.

When I started reporting, the man – it was always a man – who decided everything was the County or City Manager.

Little has changed in the intervening years.

Councillors do have delegated functions and important roles in setting out strategy – including the county and city development plans.

And still those who manage affairs are the full-time managers, who are not elected.

The idea for a directly-elected mayor first cropped up in 2001 in the Local Government Act. There would be a Mayor for Dublin first and it would then be extended to other cities.

It took a decade before there was any meaningful effort to progress this, but after the Fine Gael-Labour coalition came to power after 2011 it was revived. It formed part of extensive local government reform spearheaded by then environment minister Phil Hogan.

Some of this was controversial, unpopular and retrograde. For one thing, he abolished town councils to save money which led to a diminution of local democracy.

Alongside the abolition, there was a plan for an elected mayor of Dublin – but that too came unstuck.

Each of the four councils in Dublin held individual votes. Three supported it, but Fingal rejected it. The upshot was that a directly elected mayor was put back for a decade.

We have seen the positive experience across the water with a directly-elected mayor who has executive power.

The Mayor of London has become a powerful political figure. The Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, has a strong national profile and has really transformed Manchester from a dowdy industrial city to a thriving and forward-looking place.

While Dublin was put on the back burner, there were plebiscites held in three other counties in 2019. Both Cork and Waterford narrowly rejected the proposal with Limerick being the sole county to accept the concept of a directly elected Mayor.

Pictured: Phil Hogan….instigator of local government reform.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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