This article first appeared in the Sunday Times’ “Think Tank for the 21st Century” on May 27th 2012.
“Let us choose our own Mayor” asked Justine Mc Carthy, Sunday Times 8th May. I agree. For Ireland’s sake, Dublin needs to run Dublin. The present situation in which an array of Quangos, unaccountable State Bodies and often disconnected Departments, direct the affairs of the County without any appreciable knowledge or sympathy for the Region, cannot be allowed to continue. Dublin deserves better. The present situation in which more than 40 bodies have responsibility for Traffic is the most obvious example. But there are more.
Dublin Needs a Political Voice. Perhaps more than anything else Dublin needs someone who understands how things work or more accurately do not work and who will stand up for the City and County. Someone, who can be a Political advocate, armed with the mandate of direct election. The election of a Mayor for Dublin gives us an opportunity to create that voice. That is why I support a longer term and directly elected Mayor. That is why, with all its imperfections, I welcomed John Gormley’s “Dublin Mayor and Regional Authority” draft legislation. Sadly the legislation did not proceed. Let not this Government allow that happen again.
Many believe that we need more than the simple introduction of a directly elected Mayor – they are right. A new Mayor can and must drive further reform and a real debate about the future of Dublin.
The previous draft legislation clarified some issues. It specified the County as the area involved. It 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 merge the four existing Development Boards was heading in the right direction, but its composition and mandate remained unclear. Unless the Public Service agencies are accountable to this body and not equal participating parties it will not work.
I have said before that the proposed salary was disgracefully and unnecessarily high. It was a distraction from what should have been a debate about the role of a Mayor. There was no need for a E200,000+ salary. However, whatever about any other aspect of this debate, I think this is one where we have already won.
The essential 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 on the introduction of the proposed Property Tax.
It must be clear to anyone that our current system of Local Government requires renewal and reform. Clear too is the fact that local Councils are directed, unofficially but in reality, by City and County Managers, answerable to the Department and the permanent officials therein. That is the key to understanding our present problems and it must end.
Two of the arguments used against a directly elected Mayor are cost and “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 live in a Democracy – let the people decide. I have great faith that the electorate will decide intelligently.
While the detail of any reform is extensive, the essentials are not. They must include:
• An Independent source of funding – not subject to the whims of the Department of the Environment.
• Reform of the City and County Managers Act, creating the post of Chief Executive Officer – accountable to the Local Authority and recruited by the Public Appointments Commission.
• Real controls and limitations on spending at local elections and an ethical framework that is robust and just.
• Extending the role of the Dublin Regional Authority. The responsibilities of the Authority, working with the Mayor, should include:
1. Land Use Planning and Strategic Development.
2. Traffic and Transport – it would be the Dublin Transport Authority.
3. Social and Affordable Housing – it would replace the existing Sustainable and Affordable Housing Partnership in the Dublin area.
4. The enhancement and protection of Dublin Bay, Waterways and Mountains.
5. Economic Development and Enterprise.
6. The Authority would also have a co-ordinating and/or monitoring role in relation to countywide services provided by agencies such as the HSE, VEC, Enterprise Ireland, Policing and relations with other relevant bodies.
Ireland can be transformed by a reformed Local Government system. It is long past time for better Local Government and long past time to “Stand up for Dublin” . A campaign for a directly elected Mayor will give us a chance to do just that.”
Dermot Lacey is a Labour Councillor Pembroke-Rathmines a former Lord Mayor of Dublin and Cathaoirleach of the Dublin Regional Authority. He has published “A Fair City – One Dublin Many Dubliners” which is available on www.dermotlacey.ie