Varadkar calls for vote on directly-elected Mayor for Galway

Galway City Hall
Galway City Hall

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has proposed a vote to have a directly-elected Mayor for Galway in an attempt to “radically democratise” local government.

Mr Varadkar said that a plebiscite could be held next year, and if passed, it would pave the way for a directly-elected Mayor in 2020 or 2021.

The proposal was made in a letter to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin as part of a package to extend the ‘Confidence and Supply’ arrangement between the two parties for the lifetime of the current Government. The current arrangement is due to expire this year.

Galway West Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughton – who served as Mayor of Galway in 2011/12 – said the existing role has its limitations.

At the moment, a ‘mayoral pact’ exists in Galway City Council between four Fine Gael, two Labour and five independent councillors to effectively control the mayoral chain, voting and budgets.

When a pact is formed after local elections, the next five mayors and deputy mayors of the city are agreed between the members.

Deputy Naughton said: “Being elected Mayor confers no additional power or ability to change policy or drive any particular aspect of policy forward. The power is entirely one of persuasion.

“The office holder has only one year in which to persuade the executive of the City Council of the merits of a particular course of action. They also have to persuade each and every member of the City Council, of all parties and none, of the wisdom of a particular policy.

“During my time as Mayor I devoted huge time and energy to alleviating the traffic congestion in the city.  I tried my utmost, improvements were made, but yet the problem continues.

“I also tried to promote a dedicated music and arts performance centre, in addition to a conference centre, to accommodate major events. Additionally, I had intended advancing a number of other projects including the provision of a greenway, improvements in our city waterways, and park-and-ride facilities in strategic locations to the west, east, and north of the city. These projects could not be brought forward owing to the office of Mayor possessing neither sufficient time in office or powers to effect change.

“In nearly every way that matters, the council executive holds the reins of power and councillors, and particularly the Mayor, do not have sufficient powers to affect change,” said Deputy Naughton.

She said that a directly-elected Mayor with additional powers could introduce significant change.

“An elected Mayor, with additional powers, for Galway would change that dynamic utterly. It would see the Mayor responsible to the entire electorate of Galway, not just a particular electoral ward. It would mean that a Mayor could implement change required by the electorate in Galway City.

“It would mean voters having actual powers to effect change in their own city. It would radically democratise local government in Galway and is a change I wholeheartedly support,” she said.