/ about Cllr Dermot Lacey

Cllr Dermot Lacey

Representing Pembroke-South Dock Ward on Dublin City Council
Dermot Lacey is a Labour Party Councillor for the Pembroke-South Dock Ward on Dublin City Council. Dermot has been a member of Dublin City Council since 1993, and lives in Beech Hill, Donnybrook.
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 / Cllr Dermot Lacey ƒ Representing Pembroke-South Dock Ward on Dublin City Council


Speech at a Commemoration of Robert Emmet

I am an Irish Republican. It should not be necessary to say it – but it is – I am a Democratic Irish Republican. I believe in the principles of Republican Government in rule of law as determined democratically and at the lowest possible level.

I am a citizen of this Republic of Ireland and while critical of aspects of this State I am fundamentally proud of its place in the world today.   Here at this truly special occasion and place at which we honour the memory of two great people – Robert Emmet and Anne Devlin – I take pride in the fact that I am a member of a political party founded by another of the real heroes of Irish history – James Connolly.

But more than that, I am proud of the honourable role played by Labour Party in modernizing Irish society and helping to create our new prosperity. Despite the prophets of doom who seem to dominate in the media I also know that the Labour Party will have an even greater role to play in the future of Ireland.

One of the most unusual aspects in the life of our country happens on and around March 17th every year. To celebrate our National Day the Leader of our Government, usually accompanied by elected representatives, – whether we like it or not from another State – travel half way across the world to pay homage to the leader of another state altogether.

Like many people I cringe at the ritual handing over of the glass bowl filled with Shamrock to the green-tie wearing, President in The White House, as he contemplates yet another imperialist military intervention. Whether it be in Cuba, South America or Iraq or as we shamefully facilitate the throughput of US Soldiers on their way to the war zone? Is that what Emmet meant by “Ireland taking her place amongst the Nations of the Earth”. I don’t think so.

However there are other more positive signs.

Clearly now Ireland – or at least The Republic of Ireland – has taken her place on an equal basis with the Nations of Europe through our active and, in my view, positive engagement with the European Union. We are proud and active players in the United Nations –particularly through Peacekeeping work and many other International Bodies.

My Republicanism and the Republicanism of the United Irishmen is rooted in the concept of self–determination. It is rooted in the concept of a democratic pluralist society. Despite its many successes this Society remains deeply undemocratic. From the lack of representation of many minorities and indeed some majorities in our National Parliament, to the proliferation of unelected Quangos, decisions here are taken by the few and far too often, for the few. We have, quite simply, the most centralized Governmental system in the entire European Union. This limits innovation and creativity, it stifles opportunity to participate and it fails to allow local communities tackle problems in the manner most appropriate.

With the establishment of a working Northern Ireland Assembly it is now time to look at a new concept on this island  – an Ireland of the Regions. In that context I welcome the announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to commence a programme of real reform of Local Government.

In doing so, I urge the Minister to resist the undoubted Governmental, Departmental and Institutional opposition to real reform and to deliver to the people of Ireland a meaningful, inclusive, democratic and relevant Local Government system.

Before any decisions are taken on any proposed reforms we need agreement on what is meant by Local Government itself. For me, Local Government is about the delivery of comprehensive public services in a manner required, demanded and agreed to by the local community. Without these attributes it is neither, Local nor Government. Sadly, here in Ireland, that is the present reality.

There are others, far more capable than me, who can comment on the national situation. I hope they do. Tonight I want to concentrate on Dublin.  It is a City I had the privilege to serve as Lord Mayor and a County the privilege to serve as Cathaoirleach of the Regional Authority.

We should now be entering the fourth year of the term of the first ever directly elected Lord Mayor of Dublin. Unfortunately the people of Dublin were denied that opportunity, as they were in every other part of our Country.

I believe that Dublin desperately needs a longer term Mayor – a Mayor who would serve for the full Local Government term. A Mayor directly elected by the people who would have the authority and the mandate needed to serve for such a term. We also need in Dublin substantial reform of the structure of the four Local Authorities in the Dublin City and County areas – plus Balbriggan Town Council. Such a Mayor working with the members of the Council and with sufficient powers and resources is needed now more than ever to rescue this City and County from the clutching, incompetent and disinterested control of central Government and administration.

Shamefully, the sections of the 2001 Local Government Act, enabling this, courageously and correctly introduced by Minister Noel Dempsey, were reversed by Minister Cullen. Once again, then, we had Local Elections in 2004 with no reform of Local Government, no debate on how we should finance our system and above all the disgraceful withdrawal of the right of citizens to choose their own Mayor or Council Chairperson.

There are many ways in which real reform could be achieved. I want to propose a simple model that I believe would be in the best interests of Dublin City and County.

While there may be debate about the appropriateness of retaining the existing four Dublin Local Authorities I believe that it is better, for the present, they would remain. This would also allow that for a period of five years they would continue to elect their Chairpersons/(Lord) Mayors in line with current practice.

I propose that this should be reviewed after a period of five years, or one term of office, of a proposed Dublin Regional Assembly. This period should be used to assess the possibility of eventually introducing a series of genuinely local District Councils serving populations of approximately 100,000 people each in the greater Dublin area. Such District Councils would, overtime, replace the existing four Dublin Local Authorities.

Partially in order to counter balance the undoubted Dublin bias in Seanad elections I propose that members of these District Councils would be deemed County Councillors for the purpose of Seanad elections. On a similar basis I propose that the directly elected Mayor would be an ex-officio member of Seanad Eireann and that a similar provision be made should directly elected Mayors be introduced for the other larger Cities. This should be done without increasing the overall membership of Seanad Eireann.

However, while acknowledging the need for genuinely local District Councils, I believe that Dublin also needs an over arching Regional Strategic approach. In that context I propose that a new Dublin Regional Assembly be established. Such an Assembly would be comprised of 30 members.

This would entail six constituencies electing five members each. In order to ensure best internal regional balance there would be two north side constituencies, two south side constituencies and two to the west of the County. This would enable a sufficiently broad based (political and regional) to ensure a robust and inclusive Assembly.

An alternative model would be to have three such constituencies, North, South and West with five members each leading to the election of what would effectively be a fifteen member Executive for the County. In this context the overall scrutiny and monitoring role would be provided by members drawn from the four Local Dublin Authorities on a basis similar to the present Dublin Regional Authority.

The Leader of the Assembly would be the Directly Elected Mayor of Dublin.

I am suggesting that the powers and responsibilities of the Assembly would be as follows:

1)   Land Use Planning and Strategic Development.

2)   Traffic and Transport Co-ordination – it would be the Dublin Transport Authority.

3)   Social and Affordable Housing – it would replace the existing Affordable Housing Partnership in the Dublin area.

4)   Dublin Bay, Waterways and Mountains.

5)   The Assembly would also have a co-ordinating and/or monitoring role in relation to County wide services provided by agencies such as the HSE, VEC, Enterprise Ireland, Policing and relations with other Regional Authorities and relevant bodies etc.

Some of the above would be in conjunction with the relevant existing Local Authorities.

Dublin needs a directly elected Mayor with a mandate to serve for five years who, working with the members of the Assembly, would “Lead this County” and “Stand up for this County”. Such a Partnership model would be the best model for Dublin.

It is one of the unfortunate truisms of modern Ireland that we need reform of our creaking, antiquated, under funded and under developed system of Local Government. It is a truism occasionally written about, often argued for and seldom implemented. The promise offered by the optimism of the Better Local Government project initiated by Labour’s Brendan Howlin and the early enthusiasm of Fianna Fail Noel Dempsey were followed by inaction, inertia and, on occasions, outright hostility to democratic Local Government by the very Ministers and Department who should have been its champions.

Of course we need real reform, and of course we need Councillors to take more responsibility. As Lord Mayor of Dublin in difficult circumstances I did accept such responsibility in relation to the City Budget. Since then the majority in favour of the Budget has increased with each passing year.

A directly elected Mayor should only be the start of a total reform of our failing system of Local Government. Powers which have been stripped from elected representatives and handed over lock, stock and barrel to City & County Managers, effectively answerable to the Minister of the day, need to be restored to City and County Councillors across the country.

The issue of financing of Local Government also needs extensive review. Quite simply there is no governance role without independent finance raising responsibilities. At present, Dublin City Council is losing out on millions of Euro every year (€25m for 2005 alone) from commercial rates which the Government has waived its responsibility to pay. Every Local Authority in our Country has been denied monies due to it in lieu of the abolition of Domestic Rates as well as the costs of Benchmarking. I have previously proposed that a National Forum on the Financing of Local Government should be established as a matter of urgency. The Forum would draw its membership from the main Political Parties, the three Councillor Representative Bodies and the Social Partners. It would be given six months to a year to agree an approach that would provide sufficient funding on a nationally agreed basis and that would some degree in local flexibility as to appropriate local fund raising.

Introducing the direct election of longer term Mayors is not the panacea for all our problems but it would be a major starting point. Quite simply the people whom we are meant to serve deserve better than the current situation which suits no one except the Mandarins in the Custom House and the temporary Ministerial Masters. It is time to fight back and to Stand Up for Real Local Government. It is time to Stand up for Dublin.

Can Emmet’s epitaph be written? In my view it can but the work of building a real Democratic Pluralist Republic goes on.

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