This essay is an updated version of a contribution to Dublin’s Future edited by Lorcan Sirr and published by The Liffey Press. I am grateful for the co-operation of both in publishing this.
The Fair City?
Dublin is often described as the ‘Fair City’ – but is it? Is it a city that treats its people fairly? Is it fairly run? Does it treat all its citizens fairly? Does it protect its culture, heritage and environment fairly and sensibly? Is it a democratic city? Is, as Winston Churchill put it, democracy the worst form of government – except for all the others? Or is democratic consultation and decision making central to the future of Dublin. Does any of this matter?
The answer, of course, is that yes, it does matter – or at least it matters to me. Dublin is my home. It always has been and I hope, it always will. It was and will again, be one of the finest cities of Europe. It is a great and beautiful city, ideally located between the scenic natural beauty of the Dublin Mountains and the incredibly clean and majestic Dublin Bay. It is a city with a great history and culture; it is a city of literature and with a genuine appreciation for the arts; above all it is a city and county with a resilient people still enthused by the notion of community. Unlike Margaret Thatcher, Dubliners do believe there is such a thing as society. This is demonstrated every day of every week in the volume of community work, youth and sports activity and community activism actively engaged in by, and for, Dubliners.
It is also, however, a city of unnecessary complexity. It is a deeply undemocratic city, with decisions made at a remove from the people of Dublin and, in far too many cases, at a remove from the democratically elected representatives of those people. It is poorly served by the administrative and governance structures imposed on it by successive national governments. It is scandalously under-funded and under-resourced. It has a confused transport system, unacceptable poverty, inadequate housing and a divided and unequal series of communities. None of this is necessary. We need to imagine a better future for Dublin and we need to create that better future for Dublin.
The tragedy for Dublin and Dubliners is that when times were good and finance available, that we had, in Ireland, one of the least imaginative, backward looking governments in the history of our state. Extraordinarily, it was during the time when Ireland was led by, what a disconnected media often referred to, as the ‘Quintessential Dub’ – Bertie Ahern – that Dublin and Dubliners suffered most. It is why we need a new approach to build a new and better Dublin. It is but one of the many reasons why we need a New Deal for Dublin – a Fair Deal for Dublin. It is also a very clear example of why the model suggested by a few commentators of introducing a Minister for Dublin, is not the answer. Can we solve Dublin’s problems – yes we can. Can we make it a better place for all – yes we can. Can we have a democratic and inclusive Dublin – yes we can. The pertinent question is how do we achieve at least some of these objectives? How do we make Dublin the inclusive and democratic county that it can be and I want it to be? How do we create our own future for Dublin?
The answer lies in a real reform of our local government structures. This does not need to wait, as some would have it, until the country’s problems are fixed. Local government reform is not an optional extra – it is, in my view, integral to our country’s future. Ireland can be transformed through the reform of local government. We cannot do it any other way. It is not possible to reform our political, economic and public sectors if we do not at the same time reform local government. In the case of Dublin, my preference would be for a directly elected Mayor and a new Dublin Regional Assembly. In the course of this essay I hope to outline why that is the case.
A Changing County?
While Dublin is a changing city and county, it is a city and county that does not work. The city and county does not work for citizens, for business, for communities, or for Ireland. Despite it being the engine of growth for the economy and the fact that, in a European context, it is the only real city-region in the country, the governance of Dublin has largely been ignored and any real reform avoided since the establishment of the State. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) categorises city regions by their population size and the smallest size considered is 1.5million (OECD Territorial Reviews: Competitive Cities in the Global Economy 2006).
Tinkering with the boundaries in breaking up the old County Councils, reducing the power to seriously drive the region, and a collapse in funding have sadly been the hallmarks of government intervention over the last decade or so. Incompetent interference, followed by inertia, has been the closest thing to positive action from those on ‘the inside’ those really in power.
The decision by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan TD, to reverse his previously announced decision to publish the White Paper on Local government prepared by the previous minister and government, is therefore a real step backwards. However, if it speeds up publication of his own proposals he might yet redeem the indefensible record of this department – a department, which one well known commentator, has described as the one Department of State that is actively hostile to the three nouns in its [then] title, Environment, Heritage and Local government. These proposals must provide for a better future for Dublin because a better future for Ireland must in reality be predicated on Dublin sustaining real economic growth and administrative and governmental cohesiveness.
Publication of the White Paper or a policy statement is of course, the easy part: delivery of reform is another matter. Any serious changes will meet undoubted political, departmental and institutional opposition to real reform. For far too long power and authority in Ireland has rested with unaccountable mandarins in government departments and their agents, whether via quasi-independent agencies or through the city and county managers process.
Real change is, however, necessary. The 2011 General Election proved that Irish people are open to new ideas and new ways of doing business and exercising governance. With courage and vision, and above all a serious commitment to reform from the top, we can have a meaningful, inclusive, democratic and relevant local government system. We can make Dublin work and in turn make our country work.
Since the foundation of the State, local government has been subject to a process
that can best be equated to constructive dismissal.
Ciaran Lynch TD, Dáil debate, November 2010.
Reforming the City – Rebuilding the County
Regrettably, what is equally true is that despite all the recent talk of reform, changes to our local government structure hardly featured at all in public debate. Reform of governance at a local level was discussed not at all during the 2011 general election. The truth is, however, stark: in my view it is simply impossible to reform our national political and public sectors if we do not start on the ground, in our communities and in the chambers of our city and county councils and the regional authorities.
Before any decisions are taken, or any reforms contemplated, we need agreement on what is meant by local government itself. Quite simply, we need a collective ‘buy in’ on local government. For me, local government is about the delivery of comprehensive public services in a manner required, demanded and agreed to by the local community. It must be about the provision of services, in an accountable and democratic manner, to the people in receipt of, or entitled to, those services. Without these attributes it is neither local nor government. Sadly, here in Ireland, that is the present reality.
A Future for the County?
Bemoaning the plight of local government is also easy. There are library shelves bursting with reports and analysis. I would like to be more positive and constructive. There are others, more capable than I, who can comment on the national situation. I hope they do. 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.
In the context of this essay, as well as defining local government itself, we need also to define: where and what we mean by Dublin; is it the city?; is it the county?; is it the Dublin region?; or, as some would have it, is it the larger Metropolitan area? While there are many reasons to define a new governance area as being the greater Dublin area or, as it has been described, the ‘drive-to-work’ Dublin area, my view is that here in Ireland, rightly or wrongly, local identity is important, loyalty is important and a clear definition of boundary, in a governmental context, is important. In all respects, therefore, I believe we should focus in on the traditional County of Dublin.
It is this County of Dublin that needs our focus and attention. It is this area that has been and will be again the engine of our economy. Rebuilding and growing that Dublin will help once again to grow our economy and strengthen our society. It will help Ireland grow and develop. Part of our role as advocates for Dublin, is to dispense with the old and very outdated argument of ‘Dublin versus the rest’. The reality is what is good for Dublin is invariably good for Ireland. Our future as a people is intertwined. Dublin is our collective capital. For Ireland’s sake, Dublin needs to run Dublin. That is the very essence of this argument. The present situation, in which disinterested quangos (largely unaccountable state bodies and often disconnected governmental departments) interfere in the affairs of the county without any appreciable knowledge or sympathy, cannot be allowed to continue. Power and authority currently rests with the unelected and the unaccountable, whilst the elected city and county councillors see powers removed on a near daily basis. Dublin deserves better. Ireland needs better.
The existing situation in which more than 40 bodies have responsibility for traffic is the most obvious example of this. At least ten separate bodies are responsible for Dublin Bay and most absurdly national government appoints the St. Patrick’s Day Festival Committee, which largely, though not exclusively, affects Dublin. There are far more examples than this. Surely this cannot continue into the future.
The introduction of direct democracy with direct accountability to the people should
offer us a chance to develop a credible economic recovery plan for Dublin and, consequently, the entire country. A Mayor who is directly accountable to the people could and should prove to be the driving force that the city and the country badly need.
Lucinda Creighton TD, Dáil debate, November 2010.
Dublin Needs a Political Voice
Perhaps, more than anything else, Dublin needs someone who understands how things work, or more accurately, how things do not work, and who will stand up for the city and county. To create that better future that we seek Dublin needs a spokesperson for the whole community. It needs someone, who can be a political advocate armed with the mandate of direct election. That is why I believe that central to any meaningful reform must be a directly elected and longer term Mayor. The Mayor needs to be a champion for Dublin who will market and promote the region internationally and who will stand up for it nationally.
The proposal to have an election for a Mayor of Dublin would give us an opportunity to create that voice. The election campaign itself would provide an opportunity for a collective debate on the future of Dublin. The visibility and accountability of such an office holder would considerably help inform the public on the choices involved on issues of concern. That is why, with all its imperfections and limited powers, I welcomed the publication by the last government of the Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill draft legislation in 2010. All political institutions grow and evolve over time, and I believe the implementation of that Bill would have proved no exception.
That legislation clarified some issues. It specified the county as the area involved and provided 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, was, I believe, a mistake.
Similarly the proposal to establish a Regional Development Board was unclear, as was its composition and democratic mandate. Unless the public service agencies are accountable to this body, and not equal participating parties as at present, it will not work. The creation of the proposed Dublin Transport Council was inadequate but a significant step in the right direction. Yes, there were deep flaws and absences from the legislation. There was a real lack of integration of services and roles. There was uncertainty about the relationship with the department and the Minister. It was however an important start – unfortunately one not taken. The truth is that it would appear that such an approach is now off the agenda for a long time, but I believe there is still a need for the debate and for the campaign to continue. It remains an aspiration worth pursuing.
I have said before that the proposed salary was disgracefully and unnecessarily high. It was a distraction from what should be a debate about the role of a mayor. This figure has already been reduced and is perhaps the first and only victory of the campaign to create the post. No doubt, over the years this might be adjusted downwards even further and that is not something I would oppose. There is no need for a €200,000+ salary for the Mayor of Dublin, 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 was a major flaw in the previous proposals and must be addressed whenever a future government is serious about reform.
Many believe that we need more than the simple introduction of a directly elected mayor, and they are right. A new mayor can and must drive further reform and a real debate about the future of Dublin.
Two of the arguments used against the introduction of a directly elected mayor are cost and the issue of ‘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 are meant to live in a democracy, so let the people decide. I have great faith that, subject to a fair and balanced media presentation, the electorate will decide intelligently. While not the subject of this essay, it is this issue of media coverage of a campaign – the absence of a fair and informed media on Local government matters – that would concern me most. This is particularly true of the national broadcasting service – RTÉ – whose understanding and knowledge of local government is virtually non-existent and for whom access to the airwaves is a rare privilege accorded only to a chosen few. Clear guidelines for their conduct of a campaign and debate on the issues would be crucial if genuine progress is to be made.
Democracy is the worst form of Government – except for all the others.
Facing down the Custom House
It is clear to anyone interested that our current system of local government requires renewal and reform. Clear too is the fact that the various local councils are directed, unofficially, but in reality, by city and county managers, answerable to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the permanent officials therein. It is striking that the term of office for a city and county manager is seven years and that under our current system the term for a mayor is usually one year. Longevity itself is power.
Understanding that relationship is the key to understanding our present problems and breaking that relationship is the key to resolving them for the future. Again, the proposals in the Labour/Fine Gael Programme for Government to abolish the role of county managers and replace them with ‘Chief Executive Officers’ is a step in the right direction. None of this should be taken as a personal reflection on the three very fine public servants, Frank Feely, John Fitzgerald and John Tierney with whom I have worked during their terms as Dublin City Manager. They all served Dublin well. It is the structural and relationship issue and problem that need to be resolved.
We would now, of course, be experiencing the third term of a directly elected Lord Mayor of Dublin had the contents of the Local Government Act of 2001 been implemented. Alternatively, we could have just commenced the first year of the first directly elected Mayor of Dublin, if the repeated promises of the Green Party had reached fruition. Unfortunately the people of Dublin were denied that opportunity as once again ‘the establishment’ won out. There is now considerable uncertainty that the proposal will be resurrected at all. At this stage it is not clear what reforms are envisaged by government beyond the implementation of the EU/ECB/IMF economic ‘bailout’ package in so far as it impacts on local government.
I believe that Dublin desperately needs a longer term mayor who would serve for the full local government term, and a mayor directly elected by the people who would have the authority and mandate needed to serve for such a term. We also need 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 his successor, Minister Martin Cullen. Even more shamefully, the Green Party Minister, John Gormley, was thwarted in his efforts to introduce the most recent proposals for a directly elected mayor and regional authority.
A new Model for an old City and County
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 the future 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 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 the number, jurisdiction and roles of the four existing Local Authorities (plus Balbriggan Town Council) 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. It would also allow for a timely debate and gradual merging of the roles of Lord Mayor and Mayor. Whilst for many this is an obvious step, I believe that there are distinct roles and we should assess the respective merits of retaining them as separate roles or combining them into one.
Essentially these different roles stem from the unique requirement of the Lord Mayor of Dublin to regularly act as the official host for guests to Dublin and Ireland and often as a sort of unofficial Ambassador for the whole country. There is also the role of effective Civic Cheer Leader and the ceremonial office holder for appropriate civic occasions. The new role envisaged for a Mayor for Dublin will in my view be more executive and more political. I remain open to persuasion as to which is the best way forward.
Contrary to common perception Ireland has a very low ratio of elected councillor per head of population. The following table gives some idea of the European average. It is worth noting that the UK figures do not take into account the existence of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies. These bodies have respectively: Northern Ireland Assembly 108 members; Scottish Parliament 129 members; and the Welsh Assembly 60 members.
|Country||Population (m)||No. of councils||Average pop. per council||Pop. per councillor|
Source: Hughes, Clancy, Harris and Beetham (2007), Power to the People: Assessing Democracy in Ireland: New Island.
In Dublin the figure is a staggering figure of 12,400 people to each Councillor.
Such District Councils as I propose would, over time, replace the existing, South Dublin, Fingal and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Councils and Dublin City Council. In order to enhance a sense of local identity and ownership, these Councils should be based on real communities of location and interest. Areas such as Tallaght, Lucan, Swords, Dun Laoghaire and Ballyfermot are obvious possibilities for this. With the increasingly global nature of our world real social cohesion in the future can be best enhanced through the promotion of the local and community awareness.
Pending completion of the overall reform project there is no reason why such pilot town or district councils could not be established at an early stage. Composition of these councils should also be used to create greater equality in terms of councillors and population with the rest of the country
and a consequential equalisation of Seanad voting rights if the Seanad is to retain its present form.
I am also suggesting that in order to provide a local/national link that the directly elected mayor would be an ex-officio member of Seanad Éireann 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 Éireann and could be done in tandem with other proposed reforms of the Seanad.
A Dublin Regional Assembly
Dublin also needs an over arching strategic regional approach. In that context I suggest that a new Dublin Regional Assembly be established. Such an assembly would be comprised, as with the existing Dublin Regional Authority, 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) membership to ensure a robust and inclusive assembly. The assembly would have one committee for each of the policy areas listed in the next section.
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. Each policy area would be overseen by three members of the assembly who would have executive responsibility for the area involved. In this scenario, the overall scrutiny and monitoring role would be provided by members drawn from the four Dublin local authorities on a basis similar to the present Dublin Regional Authority.
The Leader of the Assembly would be the Directly Elected Mayor of Dublin.
Powers of the Assembly
I am suggesting that the powers and responsibilities of this suggested assembly would be as follows:
1) Land Use Planning and Strategic Development. This would deal with devising strategic planning guidelines and monitoring and planning development across the region. Responsibility would also include implementation of national spatial strategies and economic development.
2) Traffic and Transport Co-ordination. The assembly would be the Dublin Transport Authority and would provide for an accountable and integrated approach to traffic and transport, including responsibility for all public transport and taxi provision and regulation in the Dublin region.
3) Social and Affordable Housing. The assembly would replace the existing Affordable Housing Partnership in the Dublin area and co-ordinate housing provision and allocation across the Dublin Region. It would also have responsibility for developing new initiatives for housing provision and responding to the issue of homelessness.
4) Dublin Bay, Waterways and Mountains. These great assets of the region are presently largely under appreciated. The Dublin Mountains Partnership initiated by Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown and South Dublin County Councils has shown the possibility that does exist with imagination in this area.
5) The Assembly would also have a coordinating and/or monitoring role in relation to county-wide services provided by agencies such as the HSE, VEC/Local Education Boards, Enterprise Ireland, tourism development, policing and relations with other regional authorities and relevant bodies. One of the first tasks in this area would be to develop coterminous boundaries for all public service providers in the Dublin region. It would also have specific responsibility for the proposed Regional Development Board.
Some of the above would be done in conjunction and co-operation with the existing local authorities.
I am also suggesting that the Dublin Regional Assembly would provide a forum to which, and in which, the Dublin Members of the European Parliament could report back and consult on issues of relevance to their work. This would significantly enhance engagement with the European institutions and improve the opportunity for Dublin and Dubliners to engage with and benefit from European Union initiatives.
In addition to the elected Assembly I want to see established a Dublin Civic Forum, comprising representatives of civic society across the county. The forum members would receive no payment and would convene as appropriate to advise the Assembly on matters of relevance.
I have previously suggested that the Dublin Regional Assembly should be based in the old Parliament Building on College Green with the remainder of the building housing an Institute for Dublin Affairs and a much-needed Dublin Museum. The Institute would be a collaborative model drawing on the expertise of the third-level institutes in Dublin and would act as a policy feeder to the Assembly. It would build on the experience of the Creative Alliance established by the Dublin City Manager that already draws together in loose form many of the relevant agencies and bodies. The old Parliament building would also be the location for meetings of the Civic Forum. This could all be done in conjunction with the Minister for Arts and Heritage proposals to develop the building as a National Cultural Centre and the creation of a major Public Plaza to the front of the buildings. Transferring ownership of these former Parliament Building might provide some recompense for the €8.5billion pumped into Bank of Ireland in recent times and relocating the bank headquarters to Docklands might help the rejuvenation of that area.
There is also much scope for the development of new forms of democratic participation such as citizens’ juries and participative budgeting. These could be facilitated through the Dublin Regional
Assembly office and could enable citizens to engage with public service providers in a meaningful way.
There is a widespread consensus amongst politicians, commentators, academics and the public that we need to reform local government. This is articulated regularly in a general rather than specific sense and is thrown into the wider debate about Political Reform. However that is where the consensus ends. The promise offered by the optimism of the Better Local Government project initiated by Brendan Howlin TD, and the early enthusiasm of Noel Dempsey TD, were followed by inaction, inertia and, on occasions, outright hostility to democratic local government, by the very ministers and the government department that should have been its champions, reformers and defender.
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 one small – though important – part of a total reform of the failing system of local government. Powers which have been stripped from elected representatives and handed over lock, stock and barrel to city and county managers, effectively, if not officially, answerable to the minister of the day, need to be restored to city and county councillors across the country. If we are truly to build a better future for Dublin and for Ireland, Local government must be the heart that drives that forward.
Paying the Price
The issue of the financing of local government also needs extensive review. Quite simply there is no real governance role without independent finance raising responsibilities. There must be a clear link between local spending and local revenue and the accountability of the councillor. The successful operation of the BIDS (Business Improvement District Scheme) scheme in Dublin city centre shows that there is a willingness to work such initiatives if there is sufficient benefit and adequate explanation and consultation. Local government also requires more opportunities to introduce appropriate local taxation, subject of course to the law and the right of the people to
comment on same through local election campaigns and possibly local referenda.
At present, Dublin City Council is losing out on millions of euro every year (€28 million for 2010 alone) from commercial rates which the government has abdicated its responsibility to pay. While applicable across the entire country, this has hit Dublin more than anywhere else and is a further example of the cost involved in being the capital city. Since the expedient abolition of domestic rates in 1977 every local authority has lost significant income. The promise to allocate a sum equal to the amount that would have been raised has been consistently broken. For the year 2009 alone the shortfall was approximately €130million. The financial burden faced by local authorities was intensified by the costs of the Benchmarking Agreement. Again local government was denied any opportunity to participate in negotiating. The concept and practice of ‘social partnership’, it would appear, included everyone except the democratically elected arm of local government. Once again, as in so many instances, it was a case of national government decides, local government pays. A proposal some years ago by members of Dublin City Council to introduce a €1 per night hotel/bed tax for all visitors would have, on average, delivered approximately €26million additional resources to the city. Despite the fact that, at the time, some hotels were charging rates of up to €500 per
night, the proposal met with outright hostility from the trade and, as ever, a compliant, not to say hostile, department and government, refused to introduce the necessary legislation. This money could, and would, have been invested directly into providing better experiences and facilities for
all, visitors and tourists alike, and would, over a 4 year period and spread across the Dublin county, have delivered approximately €150million to make Dublin a better place at relatively little cost or inconvenience.
A reduction in the number of agencies and quangos, with their roles and responsibilities transferred to local councils would enable swifter and more ‘on the ground’ decision making. It would ensure a better integration and delivery of services and would also save money. Consequently it would enable the transfer of a fairer share of the national resources to Dublin and a more efficient expenditure of same.
National Forum on the Financing of Local government
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 one that would allow 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. The current mess suits no one except the mandarins in the Custom House and their temporary ministerial masters. This cannot be allowed to prevail. We need to create something better. We need to dream of a better future and to turn those dreams into realities. We need to create and drive forward a Dublin that is all the things we want it to be. But let us do more than just imagine – let us truly create it. With a new government we, and they, have an opportunity to put behind us the mistakes and the errors of the past and to learn from them. As a society we need not be bound by old agreements, old alliances or old commitments. Indeed we must not be bound by them. We have the opportunity and duty to fight back and to stand up for real local decision making and to build a truly inclusive, progressive and sustainable city and county. We can and must build a better future for Dublin and Dubliners. In short we have an opportunity to stand up for Dublin. Let us truly make it “One Dublin for many Dubliners”. In doing so, we are also standing up for Ireland. If we don’t, no one else will.
Dermot Lacey is a Labour member of Dublin City Council since 1993 – currently representing the Pembroke-Rathmines area. He is presently Chairperson of the Housing, Social and Community Affairs Strategic Policy Committee and a member of the Corporate Policy Group. He is a former Lord Mayor of Dublin and Cathaoirleach of the Dublin Regional Authority. He is also a member of the City of Dublin VEC, the Southern and Eastern Regional Assembly and a former member of the Dublin Docklands Development Council. Dermot is a life-long member of the Scout Movement whose ethos is reflected in his political and community activism.