- Opening Speech to Special Meeting on the Directly-Elected Mayor for Dublin
- I would like to begin by thanking all of the members who have taken the time to come to this Special Meeting and take part in this historic vote. I would like in particular to thank those members who were part of the Forum of Councillors – what was initially known as the Colloquium – which guided this process (Cllrs Lahart, O’Connell, Lavelle and King). I would like too to thank those members who substituted for them.
- There is no glamour in trekking out to Swords or Dún Laoghaire on a weekday night for three-hour meetings – I am sure others would say the same about Tallaght – or to spending four hours on a Saturday morning in a workshop discussing the minutiae of local administration.
- But the work done has been reflected in a document which in my view, at the very least, puts forward the broad parameters of a directly-elected Mayor with stated powers, a structure to hold her or him to account, and a rationale for her or his existence.
- I would like too to thank all of the officials in this Council who assisted in this process, often at short notice, and often during late nights and early mornings. I would like in particular to note Philip Murphy and Elaine Leech for their professionalism and assistance.
- The process which has brought us to this juncture has been entirely convoluted. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a process like it in the history of Irish politics.
- Proposals for a directly-elected Mayor have been flagged since 2011 but this process only began in the summer of 2013, less than a year away from a vote, with only 6 months for Councillors to put together their proposals.
- There was no budget or staff assigned to this. There was no support from Customs House or the Minister. The Local Government Reform Act, which gives legislative grounding to the process, came in when the bulk of the work was long finished – the relevant section of the Act, Section 65, had already been completed before it even reached report stage in the Oireachtas.
- Rarely-used political terminology didn’t help. Words like colloquium and plebiscite never assist debate. The process ran confusingly parallel to local government reform debates in the Dáil and the media. Throughout, there was a lack of clarity on how decisions were to be made in this process, and by whom.
- Almost all of the work on putting together these proposals was, in essence, cobbled together in less than five months. I chaired the first meeting of the Steering Group here in Tallaght on July 11th and the first meeting of the Forum here on July 24th. I chaired the final Forum meeting in Dún Laoghaire on December 10th.
- We went out to public consultation in September and October. Here in South Dublin we held public meetings and conducted online surveys, amongst other work. It was far from perfect. A well-advertised, well-funded, well-promoted public consultation would have been very helpful to the process. But we had neither budget nor staff to allocate.
- In total, five Forum meetings were held. There were also four meetings of the Steering Group, and various contacts between the chairpersons of the four authorities, and officials, on both a formal and informal basis. I endeavoured to keep all members of South Dublin County Council informed via emails and updates at OP&F and the CPG.
- The final document is far from perfect but I stand over it as setting in place the broad parameters of a directly-elected Mayor for Dublin. I am particularly happy to have proposed a number of changes and argued for a number of positions which now appear in the document. These include:
- - An assembly of current Councillors, rather than another layer of politicians, to hold the Mayor to account;
- - Proposals that this Assembly would be made up of an equal number of members from each Council, rather than a pro rata membership which would have advantaged the City Council;
- - A proposed group system of election to this Assembly which will ensure parties and independents are represented proportionally, rather than a concentration of power for one party or bloc;
- - The ability of this Assembly to remove the Mayor from office on stated grounds via a 2/3 majority;
- - The role of this Assembly in agreeing the Mayor’s annual budget;
- - The requirement of the Directly-Elected Mayor to attend and answer to a meeting of each of the 4 local authorities at least once per annum;
- - A lower threshold for nomination to stand for office;
- - Proposals for the beefing-up of local area committees, giving more power and focus to Councillors on the ground via the principle of subsidiarity;
- - The retention of the role of Cathaoirleach in South Dublin County and the three other authorities;
- - The inclusion of community policing in the proposed executive powers for the Directly-Elected Mayor;
- - The inclusion of promoting Gaeilge in the proposed strategic powers for the Directly-Elected Mayor;
- - Access to all documentation of the Mayor and Cabinet for all Councillors in Dublin, members of the press, and members of the public.
- All of this is not set in stone. The proposals will, in the first place, be put to the people if the go-ahead is given today by ourselves and our colleagues in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and Fingal.
- There has been some criticism of what has been referred to as the “quadruple lock.” You could take that as meaning the requirement of all four Councils to pass this resolution. Or you could also take it to mean the four gates which this proposal has to pass through; the Oireachtas (via the Local Government Reform Act); followed by the Councillors Forum, which had to pass the proposals before they went to the Minister; each of the four individual Councils, at this stage; and finally, the voters of Dublin via a plebiscite.
- For me, it is only right that the people have their say.
- We have heard from Councillors who are voting to protect us from a democratic vote involving all Dubliners. I have even heard talk of protecting the minority in outlying areas from the majority in the City area. But this is hardly the stuff of Edmund Burke or Alexis de Toqueville. There is no tyranny of the majority here.
- There are many more of us outside the City Council area than there are inside the City Council area. Our power at the ballot boxes is greater than voters in the City Council. We are the majority.
- I would hope that Councillors seeking to argue against these proposals should do so in a democratic debate ahead of the plebiscite, convincing the people of their argument – not by a veto in a Council Chamber.
- I share the concerns of many Councillors who worry about a city centre focus to such an office. Indeed, much of the work I have done during this process has been with a view to protecting South Dublin County. I have been struck by the media coverage on this, almost all of which, until recently anyway, focussed entirely on the City Council and the Lord Mayor. It is regrettable that there is little national coverage, in this debate or in general, of South Dublin County Council, particularly given that we are one of the largest local authorities in the country with a population well over a quarter of a million.
- But identity is more fluid than 20-year old local authority structures allow. When we stand on Hill 16 we don’t split into four sections. When I head to Richmond Park to support St Pat’s I don’t turn around at the county boundary and head instead for Tallaght Stadium. When this meeting concludes five of us will stay behind for a meeting of Dublin-Dún Laoghaire ETB, formerly County Dublin VEC – an example of a structure which already crosses boundaries and works well in representing Dublin and Dubliners.
- The fullness of that debate is for another day. For now, we have a decision to make on the holding of a plebiscite.
- I do not believe any Councillor, anywhere in Dublin, has a mandate to veto a plebiscite. That some of those proposing just that have done little to advance any alternatives is particularly galling.
- I received a Facebook comment from a friend earlier today which sums it up in one sentence; “I don’t understand why they won’t let the people decide.” I believe our job today is to enable just that.
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