Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 26 October 2023
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Consideration of the Citizens' Assembly Report on a Directly Elected Mayor of Dublin: Discussion (Resumed).
The committee is meeting today to discuss the citizens' assembly report on a directly elected mayor for Dublin. We have received apologies from the Cathaoirleach, Deputy Matthews.
This is the third of three meetings scheduled to assist the committee in fulfilling a direction from the Dáil to consider the recommendations of the citizens' assembly on a directly elected mayor for Dublin and whether a plebiscite is required as well as the wording of any such plebiscite. The first meeting was with the cathaoirligh and chief executives of the four Dublin local authorities. The second was with the National Transport Authority and officials from the Departments of Education and Health, and the HSE. The third meeting is with the four Dublin Chambers of Commerce and the public participation networks, PPNs, from the four local authorities to try to capture the community and voluntary voice. Not all of those invited have been able to attend given the short notice we have been given for our work on this matter. However, all have been asked to make a submission, including, in their absence, those who have been unable to attend.
We are joined by Ms Mary Rose Burke, Mr. Stephen Browne and Ms Aebhric McGibney from Dublin Chamber and Mr. Anthony Cooney and Mr. David Branagan from Fingal Chamber. We will receive a submission from Ms Gabby Mallon from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Chamber. We are also joined by Mr. Adrian Geissel from South Dublin Chamber. From the public participation networks, we are joined by Mr. Lee Dillon, Mr. Martin Hoey and Mr. Gavan Woods of Dublin City Public Participation Network and Ms Kay Gleeson from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Public Participation Network.
We have circulated the opening statements from the chambers. I will read a short note on privilege to guide the meeting.
I remind members of the constitutional requirement that they must be physically present in the confines of the place where the Parliament has chosen to sit, namely, Leinster House, in order to participate in public meetings. Those witnesses attending in the committee room are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their contributions to today's meeting. This means they have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything they say at this meeting. Both members and witnesses are expected not to abuse this privilege they enjoy, and it is my duty as Chair to ensure that it is not abused. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue those remarks, and it is imperative they comply. We have no witnesses online today.
Members and witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or any official either by name or in such a way that he or she may be identifiable. Opening statements submitted to the committee will be published on our portal after the meeting.
I invite the chambers to make opening statements. I will show my bias, having come from Dublin City Council, and invite Dublin Chamber to do so first, followed by Fingal and then South Dublin county councils.
Mr. Aebhric McGibney:
I will speak on behalf of my colleagues, Ms Mary Rose Burke and Mr. Stephen Browne. I thank the committee for getting us on the shortlist. We know it has a busy agenda. We have form in this space. Dublin Chamber has been arguing around the idea of a mayor since 2000 and has been involved in previous ideas around this with the former Ministers, John Gormley and Phil Hogan. I presented to the citizens' assembly in making its deliberations. Dublin Chamber, as the committee will know, has over 1,000 companies in membership and serves the county of Dublin. It was established in 1783, so ours is one of the oldest chambers in the world. To give the committee a colour of that, among our former presidents we have had Vincent Harrison, the head of Dublin Airport, in Fingal, and Anne O'Leary, who was head of Vodafone in Sandyford and is now head of Meta, which is in the city centre, and our current president is Stephen O'Leary, who has a small business operating out of the city centre. That gives the committee the full range of companies in membership.
It is nearly 30 years since the decision to split Dublin into four "counties", which is interesting. I do not know where that word came from in terms of the Twenty-six Counties. We did not do it for the GAA and did not do it for Covid, for example. I was interested to hear the citizens' assembly speak about Dublin as a unit because that is what businesses do as well. If you are setting up a business, you ask how you get your goods out, where the port is, where the airport is, where you will get your staff and what colleges and universities are available to you. Businesses do not decide to set up here because of Trinity. They think of Trinity, UCD, Dublin City University, DCU, Technological University Dublin, TUD, and maybe even Maynooth. That is the base. They look at it from the point of view of a wider geographical area and, generally, they worry about where they will get the staff and how they will get to work. Businesses very much look at it from that perspective.
As part of our work, we study other cities to see how they work. That is where we get some of our ideas around the idea of a mayor. The main challenge here is that there is no one person, from a business point of view, who is in charge of or responsible for Dublin. That is a very hard question to answer. There are four local authorities overseen by four CEOs who work closely together - I understand that - but there does not seem to be one clear accountable person responsible for the county of Dublin. I think there are 45 Deputies in Dublin, which will go to 49, and I would say half of the constituents in each of their constituencies work, go to college, go shopping or do something else outside that area. It is a unified region. We think of it as a functional area.
We think it is important that any plebiscite should have very clear proposals attached to it. In other words, if people do not have the detail of what they are voting for, it should not go ahead until there is some sort of reasonable detail. Reading the report of the citizens' assembly, it does not seem that in the publicly available material there is a lot of detail on the rationale behind each of the functions that are broken down, whether it is education, health, the Garda or whatever else. There is a lot of work to be done there and there are many great experts involved in that work, such as Deiric Ó Broin and Jane Suiter, who could be drawn on to get that right. We recognise that the committee has a busy agenda but plead with it not to rush into voting for a plebiscite because it is important this is got right. The county of Dublin accounts for 40% of gross value added. It accounts for just under a million employees. Of those, 170,000 commute into Dublin from outside it. It accounts for half of all income tax and two thirds of all corporation tax, so it is very important that the committee gets this problem right.
What powers? We had originally talked about transport, land use, economic planning, economic development and so on. Things have moved on. In respect of water, for example, Dublin's main challenge is bringing water to Dublin, which may not be worth looking at from a Dublin water perspective. If I set the challenge in terms of the national planning framework, NPF, one of the major challenges for Dublin in achieving its targets for the framework is density in developing into brownfield sites. Who is worrying about that? City Edge, for example, which is between South Dublin County Council and Dublin City Council, is out to be completed by 2070. That is what I can see on the website. It is quite a long timeframe to be looking at housing in a crisis. We would like somebody accountable and responsible to worry about that. In construction terms, there will be major works done to provide or add energy grid capacity to the city to bring in wind and enhance the capacity of the grid. At the same time there will hopefully be more housing construction and possibly construction of a metro.
Who will bring all those pieces together to make sure people can still get around and get to where they need to go? For us, it is really important there is someone there to join the dots. The closest I can come to who is responsible is the metropolitan area strategic plan, MASP, which has not quite the same definition; it is slightly different. That is under the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly. The last public information I can find on that is three pages of things dating to 2021. In terms of urgency, then, it does not seem to have that kind of weight or importance that we think it should have. When Limerick voted for their paper, they talked about having a mayor to mobilise, with a mandate and a means. The citizens' assembly in Dublin talked about having the power to convene and consult, to bring people together and to make things happen across the divide. We think that is very important and would focus on that as the first part of what needs to be done.
Lastly, if this does not happen, if we do not end up having a vote for a directly elected mayor, perhaps a Cabinet Minister with responsibility for Dublin or for urban areas might be appropriate. They would be able to convene and bring together people to resolve issues in the shaping of things as they move forward.
Mr. Adrian Geissel:
I thank members of the committee for the opportunity to attend the meeting today on behalf of South Dublin Chamber, which covers the same geographic area as South Dublin County Council, with the main towns being Tallaght, Clondalkin and Lucan. I am a member of the chamber council. I was democratically elected to the governing board at our AGM and, in common with my fellow council members, I serve voluntarily.
South Dublin county has benefited greatly since the establishment of South Dublin County Council in 1994, before which the area had developed in a city-centric, or city centre-centric, manner, being a mixture of industrial estates and commuter housing for those working primarily in the city. Today there is an economic, commercial and social vibrancy in the towns, villages and business parks in the county. Our county council executive and elected councillors work hard to ensure the success of the county and to improve the lives of those living and working in the county. While we have still some way to go, in particular with cross-county public transport, we feel we are heading in the right direction.
South Dublin Chamber can see clearly that with the local government for our county, we have growth and development, improvement of facilities, with a local university and two hospitals, and economic investment and success at a general level. We see multiple examples where South Dublin County Council works closely on shared services with its neighbouring local authorities when needed, such as on fire and ambulance and emergency services. Looking at land use, for example, South Dublin County Council and Dublin City Council are currently developing City Edge as the largest development in the State through co-operation not legislation. This development is transformative in how it is being planned and how it will be used.
What then prevents the local authorities impacted by mayorship doing so with other areas that would benefit from cross-county or intercounty co-operation?
Our question is what a newly established mayor of Dublin will do to improve our economy in south Dublin county and the lives of the citizens of the county. How will the role of the new mayor operate in the context of national agencies such as EirGrid, the National Roads Authority, the National Transport Authority and, most recently, Uisce Éireann? Will these agencies be expected to divest their authority and budget to the office and cabinet of the mayor? This is one of our concerns.
The Mayor of London is often cited as an example of the success of a directly elected mayor. London has a population of 9 million people. We have to remember we are a small country with a small population and we have centralised government based in Dublin. Surely our challenge is to ensure better co-operation between the existing elected and appointed bodies that impact our lives, rather than adding another layer to add to the complexity and cost of decision-making.
We value the citizens’ assembly process, especially in bringing fresh perspectives on the impact of Government policies but we emphasise that there are other perspectives, including those of the business community, which we are representing here today. How much will the office of the mayor cost? How many staff will be required? How many people will be on the mayor's cabinet? At what level will these staff be? How will this be funded without increasing the costs to Dublin businesses, which are already paying the highest commercial rates in the country?
We also note recommendation 13 on the role and resourcing of councillors. This recommendation calls for all councillors to have secretarial support and states that salaries should be reflective of the full-time commitment. Again, our question is how this is going to be funded. The proposal from the citizens’ assembly includes a recommendation for more structures such as such as a Dublin city and county assembly. Again, we are asking how much this will cost and what value it will add to what is already there. If staff are taken from existing local authorities, will this impact on local delivery of services?
The idea of a directly elected mayor, or having a single authority to get things done for the city, can be seductive. However, we have already seen the dismantling of town councils. In general, the further away government gets from the people, the less people feel empowered and the less likely they are to engage with the system. South Dublin Chamber is an advocate for participative democracy, enabling citizens to participate at the level closest to where they live and work. We are not against the concept of a directly elected mayor but we await clear legislative pathways for the impacts on political agency and local administration structures and clear costings as, ultimately, our members will pay for this through additional taxes. In the interim, our county and the other parts of Dublin should be realising their potential through more support for intercounty co-operation and engagement and a stronger Government focus on Dublin, which is the economic powerhouse of the country but remains challenged by the issues of housing supply, water supply and energy supply. I look forward to participating in the remaining discussion today and very much appreciate the opportunity to convey our views.
Mr. David Branagan:
Fingal Chamber welcomes the opportunity to make a submission on the matter of a directly elected mayor for Dublin. Our organisation represents over 500 businesses and organisations, supporting more than 30,000 jobs in the Fingal region. As the independent voice of business in Fingal, we have a near 30-year history of advocating for business, facilitating networking, providing advice, working with local authorities and delivering pro-business and employment initiatives. Our members are spread across the north Dublin region and we have a vested interest in ensuring that any decision regarding a directly elected mayor takes into account the unique needs and dynamics of our business community.
The recent debate surrounding the introduction of a directly elected mayor for Dublin has been of significant interest to us and we would like to acknowledge the extensive work carried out by the citizens' assembly on this issue. At this moment, Fingal Chamber neither supports nor opposes the idea of a directly elected mayor, but we believe it is essential that a comprehensive and balanced perspective is provided to citizens, and to the business community, in advance of any plebiscite on the matter.
We have some considerations, one being clarity of roles. It is essential that roles, duties and decision-making procedures be clearly defined if a directly elected mayor is to be established. To guarantee equity in the distribution of funds and to encourage ease of doing business, this should involve distributing authority, allocating funds and cutting bureaucracy - all of which will ultimately boost economic well-being. On economic challenges, the Covid-19 pandemic, the lingering effects of international conflicts, the cost-of-living crisis and the cost of doing business have all presented serious obstacles for Dublin's business community in recent years. Any improvements to governance in light of these difficulties should prioritise boosting economic growth, simplifying procedures and removing bureaucratic roadblocks. Regarding the devolution of powers, the citizens' assembly made the recommendation that a new mayor of Dublin should take immediate charge of 15 areas, including emergency services, housing, homelessness, community healthcare, transportation and the environment. Since the management of these services would be greatly impacted by this proposal, the transition needs to be carefully thought out and financially supported. On funding and structure, the new office's finances, as well as any associated organisations like the Dublin city and county assembly, must be transparent and cost-effective. The impact on local service delivery, the level of staffing required and the sources of revenue for the new mayor's office should all be well defined. Accountability and transparency should be central to the design of a directly elected mayor's office. The mechanisms to ensure responsible governance and prevent potential drawbacks must be robust and well implemented.
We have several concerns and questions that need to be addressed. On the complexity and cost, we are concerned that adding another layer of government could increase complexity and costs, which may ultimately be borne by local taxpayers, including businesses paying commercial rates. While the idea of revenue-raising powers for a directly elected mayor is discussed, the details surrounding this, as well as the allocation of funds, must be clarified. On planning oversight, how a directly elected mayor would impact planning oversight and land use, especially in addressing housing supply issues, is a matter that requires careful consideration. With regard to the coverage area, we believe that if a directly elected mayor is to be introduced, their jurisdiction should cover the entire county of Dublin to ensure a cohesive approach to governing the region. On accountability versus continuity, the introduction of a directly elected mayor could potentially shift the focus towards a more populist style of politics. Balancing accountability with institutional continuity is a critical consideration.
At this stage, Fingal Chamber maintains a neutral position regarding the concept of a directly elected mayor for Dublin. We contend that any decision should be underpinned by clear costings, well-defined pathways for legislative changes and a comprehensive understanding of the areas affected by a new mayor. The potential benefits, risks, challenges and opportunities linked to this change should be thoughtfully analysed. In the interim, we stress the importance of increased collaboration among the various entities that influence our daily lives and local communities. Furthermore, we believe that empowering citizens to engage at the local level is paramount for effective governance. We appreciate the opportunity to engage in this discussion and look forward to further participation as this process unfolds. I thank members for their attention.
I thank the witnesses. We acknowledge the diversity of the PPN and the unlikelihood that it would have been able to agree a common position. While there is no statement from the PPN, we hope its representatives will contribute as part of the questioning process. If witnesses wish to come in on a question from a member, I ask them to indicate and I will try to get as many people in as I can. The first speaker is Senator Fitzpatrick.
I thank the witnesses for coming in today to engage with us on this matter. The committee's task is to come up with wording to put to the people. The representatives from the chambers all called out the need for stronger leadership, stronger championing and ownership of control for Dublin as a county, that is, the four Dublin local authority areas. I think I hear from all three of them as well that we need a directly elected mayor as soon as possible but not too fast. Is that really what they are saying? Are they saying they all see the potential and value in having somebody to own and champion Dublin, have executive control and revenue-raising powers, and have the ability to tackle key strategic or operational issues like housing, public transport or water? They also seem to be voicing very strong concerns about rushing towards a referendum or indeed even putting a referendum to the people of Dublin next June. I ask the witnesses from the chambers to confirm that.
I would really like to hear from the PPN. I appreciate that it did not get to submit a presentation but we have invited its representatives here to hear from them so I ask each of them to have a think about that. I would like to give the rest of my time to the witnesses. I ask the chambers to come in and then the PPN.
Ms Mary Rose Burke:
The question assumes a common understanding of what a directly-elected mayor is. That is the difficulty. We are trying to have a conversation around something that everybody in this room has probably a different idea of what "perfect" would look like. Until we have a proposed role description of what the powers would be and of the current deficits and what a proposed directly-elected mayor would be able to convene, consult and resolve, it is very difficult to tease out whether it is a good thing. As the Senator mentioned, what we want is governance, leadership and a voice, an advocate, for Dublin. We do not care what it is called. It is about the powers and the functions.
Mr. Anthony Cooney:
In regard to urgency and priority, it is more important to get the parameters right. The danger I see is rushing into the appointment without having considered the implications. There are positives within that but we have an existing governance structure that often proves to be working. I question whether Dublin needs a champion because Dublin is the focus of the national economy. As I said in the statement, we are neither for nor against but we caution on the thought process and the design process.
Mr. Anthony Cooney:
My concern would be that the option or options that are offered as part of that referendum may not be practical in terms of implementation because of all the diverse bodies and agencies involved. It may be rushed. From an urgency point of view, the timeframe is possibly not achievable.
Mr. David Branagan:
To echo what my colleagues mentioned, we have seen this with Limerick in recent years. It has taken some time to try to iron out what this means. As mentioned in the statement, we are conscious of having the parameters set out before we go forward for any campaign, so that it is very clear to the public and to the business community what the impacts may be for them.
Mr. Gavan Woods:
I will say a few words. We were asked to do that. Not speaking necessarily for the secretariat of Dublin city but just reflecting on what I have heard, in broad terms the funding of local government and the participation by citizens where they live and work is an important thing, and if a directly-elected mayor could facilitate and encourage that it would be helpful. I was struck by what the first gentleman said about county and area boundaries and lines being helpful from the administrative perspective but not really reflective of how people engage and live in the city and that it is really an entity and perhaps a single individual being responsible for that wider entity and being focused on that and able to make decisions might be helpful. These ideas of barriers and separations of the city are not reflective of people's lived experience in the city, how they engage with it and live in the city. Those are my few comments.
Mr. Martin Hoey:
One important aspect of the directly-elected mayor for PPNs especially, because there are four PPNs in the Dublin area, is how we are going to interact with the mayor. At the moment each PPN would work with its current mayor and its current council. If there was one super mayor overall, would there be four deputies, one in each council area, to work with us? I cannot see how one person would have enough time to deal with everybody and to come to every council meeting, to meet the PPN and anything else that goes on. I would look at how this would work for us because we are the public participation networks for the areas. We talk to the people, then come back and go to the SPCs and the like. We need to have that value there so that whoever the directly-elected mayor will be, will actually have the time or the method put in to engage with us.
He or she would be directly elected and as such there would be a power and a function in that, which has not previously existed. It would give that individual a mandate that is unprecedented in the country. That is, as Mr. Geissel said, the seduction of the office. However, what all the witnesses appear to be saying is that, yes that is incredibly attractive, it is needed, but the detail just is not there. The work done by the citizens' assembly was valuable but is at too high a level. It needs to be drilled down. That is what I am hearing from the witnesses.
I will keep my remarks fairly brief. I like to think I have a fairly good handle on Dublin. I have lived in Dublin 1, Dublin 6, Dublin 7, Dublin 12, Dublin 14, south county Dublin and now live in north county Dublin and I support the idea of a directly-elected mayor. However, I have a concern, and it was mentioned by the south Dublin chamber, and it is about the danger that potentially we could end up with a mayor who is city centre centric. I note the Fingal submission stated that if a directly-elected mayor is to be introduced, the jurisdiction has to cover the entirety of Dublin county in order to ensure there is a cohesive approach. We have just heard a suggestion there that perhaps there would be an overarching mayor and then four deputies. I am not certain how that would work. However, have our guests a view on the best way to maintain that balance? The directly-elected mayor will have a mandate from all of the people of Dublin city and county. It is important that person, whoever he or she is, is able to cover the full remit and ensure that balance. Will it be possible to do that or, and this is the danger, in attempting to do that do we run the risk of creating many bureaucratic layers which will undo a lot of the good? I see some of our guests are nodding. Can I have the views of the guests on that?
Ms Mary Rose Burke:
I have a couple of observations, particularly around the mandate. We already have councillors with direct mandates from people who live within the local authorities, so there is significant representation there. In no way do we see a proposed directly-elected mayor replacing local authorities in the current functions. That is one of our questions. How would that mayoral office work? Would it have the means to match its mandate? How exactly would it use its powers of convening and consulting to also hold to account? We have long lobbied on the DART, the underground and the metro. There has not been sufficient heft of policy behind those to deliver them. They are still not delivered 30 or 40 years later. There are areas we can point to where there are deficits and there is some gap in leadership or governance that is allowing those deficits to arise. How does a directly-elected mayor work with the current structures? What does that accountability function look like?
Mr. Adrian Geissel:
I would see some of the answers coming out of the decision-making process that gave birth to Fingal County Council, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and South Dublin County Council, from what was once a much larger Dublin Corporation. Taking the south Dublin view, and I am sure it may be echoed, it has been beneficial for the county. It has an identity, infrastructure, a community and a vibrancy as mentioned earlier that is positive. If we try to amalgamate that back in, how do we ensure the priorities and decision-making within the mayoral office is an all-county issue?
This is part of the concerns that we have. If that can be sorted, then yes absolutely, but at the moment we have local government that is working for the local in the context of its neighbourhood.
Mr. David Branagan:
In Fingal, as I mentioned, we are looking for a bit more clarity around the role and where it might fit in with local authorities. As a citizen and resident in Fingal, born and bred, I have been able to see the advantages of having Fingal County Council be one of the more progressive councils over the last number of years. A lot of our members would echo that and we do not want to undermine some of the fantastic work it has done. Ms AnnMarie Farrelly, the chief executive, has been before the committee in the past and has spoken about the capital programmes in the pipeline, and how they want to make sure they are still able to deliver at a local level in Fingal. As I mentioned in our statement, one of the areas we have concerns around is avoiding being Dublin-centric. Also, if we are to support this in the end then we must try to map that out and see how it fits in the system.
Mr. Aebhric McGibney:
To be clear, it is not our intention to have a city centre-centric focus. The OECD looks at cities and Dublin and Cork are the only two cities it looks at in Ireland. My wife is from Cork so I think I am allowed to say that. The OECD looks at functional areas and that is the way it should be. Ideally, a directly-elected mayor could deal with the challenges, for example, when community and commuters hit off each about bus lanes or whatever, and if a mayor fails in that duty then he or she will not get re-elected.
To go back to when metro north, not MetroLink, was proposed, I remember that the cost of car parks that might be needed in order to prevent some of the cars coming into the city, when the DART underground and metro north were going to be built at the same time, would hit in Fingal but the benefit would occur in the Dublin City Council area. Sometimes then, it must be decided who will bear the cost and how that is to be resolved. There are plenty of those issues where a means needs to be resolved. There is lots of co-operation in many areas but somewhere there needs to be someone who can say, "This is how we are going to do it.".
My suggestion was not that there is an inevitability about it. My concern is that it may happen and that in trying to prevent this being city centre-centric, which is a danger or concern, there might be too many layers of bureaucracy stacked in, thereby losing local focus and getting subsumed into bureaucracy. This is something to watch. It is something that I support but we must ensure a balance is struck, which is a theme that repeatedly featured in all of the contributions.
I thank all our guests for being here with us today. There is a thriving business community in Dublin and we are lucky to have that. I was an employee in Fingal, a councillor in South Dublin County Council and now I am a Deputy for Dublin so I have had the pleasure of working closely with Fingal Chamber of Commerce, South Dublin Chamber of Commerce and Dublin Chamber of Commerce and I look forward to working with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Chamber of Commerce. I see the fantastic work that each chamber of commerce does for their members day in and day out in terms of all of the different business organisations that are rooted in Dublin. That is what makes our chambers of commerce and business community such an important stakeholder in this debate around the directly-elected mayor for Dublin.
Interestingly, Fingal Chamber of Commerce has taken a very neutral stance on this matter and has said so. I would be interested to see if South Dublin Chamber of Commerce is in a position to plump for either side of this and the same for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Chamber of Commerce. At the annual awards ceremony of Dublin Chamber of Commerce, this issue was really spoken about and the excitement around it was palpable. I am really excited to see if we can reach a situation where we have a directly-elected mayor for Dublin but like all of our guests here I want to make sure that it happens right.
The citizens' assembly report was wide-reaching and broad, visionary and aspirational. The report needs to be backed up by a legal framework that is rooted in practicality.
Many questions have been raised here today. They included cost, complications, bureaucracy, populism, inclusivity from a countywide perspective, possible disconnection between local communities and a broader hierarchical mayoral structure. Issues this committee has discussed in the last couple of meetings have included the budget, revenue-raising capacity, which is an issue that was mentioned here today, the impact on staffing and Mr. Geissel expressed an interesting perspective, which is the defragmentation of Dublin City Council into different counties and now doing it in reverse this way, the impact on local councillors, which was mentioned in the report, and making Dublin councillors full-time. There is a total disparity because we are not talking about making any councillors outside of Dublin full-time. Lastly, there are the functions and the wide berth of functions. I am concerned that the report does not contain detailed directions, which, in fairness, the citizens' assembly was not asked for, but that is why we are so keen to hear from stakeholders and the people impacted.
In many ways the idea of a Dublin mayor is still an abstract concept, so we need to define the role and I would welcome the views and ideas of our guests on doing so. Representatives of the National Transport Authority, and the chief executives of the four local authorities, have appeared before the committee and everybody has had the opportunity to put their perspectives on the record of the Houses but has found that difficult because we are still talking about an abstract concept. I would appreciate if our guests could give us any help or guidance on the matter.
I still feel that I am operating in a vacuum on this matter. I do not think that we, as a committee, are done with our deliberations. Therefore, I believe it would be really useful for us to hear from the Electoral Commission or the chair of the citizens' assembly about this matter. We also need to invite representatives of the relevant Department in here so we can hear how this could work in practical terms in terms of local government. The committee has a busy work schedule but we need to examine this matter ourselves and I now hand over to the PPNs and the various chambers of commerce.
Ms Mary Rose Burke:
I think we all share similar concerns. When we look to other places that have directly-elected mayors there is no one example of a city that is so disproportionate in its importance to the country. It is that balance of capital cities and the State which must be taken into account. There is not a model that we can pick and lift from any other country that is applicable to Dublin, which is a challenge.
If there was a rush to hold a referendum we would caution that either there would be a narrowing of the geography or a reduction of powers. None of us here have a proposed solution because it is a complex problem. I think there is a need for continued dialogue and a straw man to be proposed in order that people would have something to challenge rather than the seductive one person elected that will solve all our problems. This matter needs further deliberation, conceptualising and some of that detail on how it would work with current structures, what current structures would be removed and how, with an overpowering mandate if somebody got elected, would he or she meet those expectations and what the means matching it would be in the context of, we will say, half the jobs, half the tax and half the people in the country, as well as the port and the airport for the entire country, being located within the area. Hasten slowly would probably be the advice from our side.
Mr. Adrian Geissel:
On the question of whether South Dublin Chamber of Commerce is in favour, we do not have enough information to come clear on that. At the moment there are many more questions that highlight potential issues and concerns rather than disappearing, so the matter is becoming more and not less complex. We do not have an existing model to easily pick on and part of that is we are talking about four local authorities essentially being re-merged back into one. We also have living or at least institutional history about why they were de-merged in the first place.
On the example of London in the UK as being an independent economy within that country, that is great for the city but it is not always great for the country.
Part of the consideration is if we ran things out and said we had done one half of the country economically and population-wise, we have to remember that there is another half and that decisions made in the city have implications well beyond its borders. I am not just talking about Wicklow, Kildare and Meath. I am talking about all the way through to the west coast. In the UK, London is powering ahead while the UK Government is struggling with its levelling-up programme because it realises that the rest of the country is being left behind. I am not blaming that on the mayorship but it is one of the factors that one should consider.
The further we travel from the city centre, the easier it is to forget everybody else. It is not a reflection on geography. There are many problems that need to be solved in the city centre and perhaps their symptoms are further out. I would like to make two points. There is a Minister in charge of pretty much each of the problems so we already have a figurehead who is a directly elected representative and the person with the resources to make the decision and effect policy. The second point is-----
It is clear that the three key words are clarity, clarity and more clarity. Everyone here today is neutral on the concept. Regarding what Mr. Geissel said earlier, we have four Dublin local authorities: Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council, South Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. I was a member of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council for many years. The project took a long time to get going and it is now bedded down and working. It is a very successful series of councils that collaborate very closely and are doing an exceptionally good job. On the issue of subsidiarity, bringing things to the closest denominator down on the ground locally is what is important. There is a need for greater synergies and greater co-operation across those four local authorities.
The key issue is somebody had the idea that we should have a mayor because every city in Europe has a mayor but we have different structures and we must compare like with like. I am very lukewarm about a centralised mayor for Dublin. I do not think it will work. I am very closely aligned and work very closely with the councillors in all of the Dublin local authorities and I am not picking up from them any desire or hunger to in any way water down their particular councils and rightly so. I support them in that.
The question is how we work collaboratively with the four structures that are in place. That is the direction we should take. I think Mr. Geissel made the point that there are Ministers who are responsible for all these sectors such as health, education, transport, infrastructure or the environment. Do we want another layer?
The next issue I wish to raise is one nobody really talks about, namely, local government funding. The chambers are particularly aware of the costs faced by their members. I constantly receive submissions. Indeed the chambers have prepared a number of excellent briefing papers on the planning and development levy scheme, the shortcomings there we hear about from the construction industry and the burden that business and enterprise is taking in terms of funding local government. On the other hand, we have the challenges around the local property tax. For whatever reason, local authorities do not see fit to increase the local property tax. This is their right and prerogative. There is a resistance and a concern from people who represent the citizens, that is, the residential citizens. There is also the issue that the chambers represent the business sector very ably and well so we have to deal with funding. My understanding of this draft legislation is that if we had a mayor in Limerick, he or she could devolve those powers back. The mayor does not even need to go back to the people. A person can be elected mayor and can devolve some or all of those powers back to the chief executive. We have the mayor, we still have the chief executive and there is significant cost involved. We have a mayor and a mayor's office. The mayor is entitled to bring a number of special advisers and other people in so it is more and more cost.
I will put my view on the record because I am not sitting on the ditch. I am not in favour of the current proposal or draft, as vague as it is. With regard to the bit I can understand, I am not in favour of a directly elected mayor for Dublin city.
I do not have many questions so I will use my time to set out my understanding of the witnesses' submissions to us. They talk about clarity of roles and I agree with that. Regarding the economic challenges, they want to do business. Businesspeople are in business to do business. They are in business for profit. They want a vibrant and safe city and people living in the city but that can all be focused on with the structures we have. Regarding devolution of powers, who are we taking the powers from and to whom are the powers being given? Where are we getting the funding from and who are we giving it to? Where is the transparency in all of that? Where is the accountability? People already tell us that there is no accountability in local government. I constantly review the local government auditing reports. I see the concerns of the local government auditor about money and the need to use it wisely.
The accountability piece is also important. I do not buy into the statement that by having a directly elected mayor, somehow it is a democratic line. We elect our city and county councillors every five years. That is the connection. That is the democracy. We can move them in, we can move them out and we can dump them if we wish.
There are complexities around the costs and revenue-raising powers because businesses are paying too much into the Local Government Fund or to support local government. If we want our cities and counties to be vibrant, there needs to be a level playing pitch for people. I am pro-enterprise and I believe enterprise, be it micro or large, needs to be supported.
There are also challenges around planning that need to be addressed. I am taking one thing away from this meeting, which is really good in terms of this engagement. There is a real need for greater clarity on all the issues. There needs to be more collaboration with the chambers, the PPNs and our councillors, who are elected, cross-party and none, to do the work. What is the key message the witnesses would like to get across today? Perhaps I am misunderstanding something but am I right in taking it that they see this proposal as being premature and believe that we need more time and clarity?
Ms Mary Rose Burke:
I will not repeat a lot of what the Senator said. He articulated many of the concerns. In the event that the proposal for a directly elected mayor is not proceeded with in the short term, we still see that there is a need for political focus on and advocacy for Dublin and other cities in the national development plan. We would propose consideration of a Minister for urban affairs to align with the NDP. For instance, the population targets laid out in the plan are already pretty much reached so there is no strong single voice for Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Galway, Wexford and Waterford within the NDP. It is not about the absolute cost. Businesses are concerned about the balance of cost and the delivery of service. It is not an absolute about the number. It is about value for money and what services are delivered for that.
Ms Kay Gleeson:
I agree with the Senator in that I feel that this is premature. One of the reasons we did not submit a statement is we did not have time. We need to get out to our members and that takes time. I do think this is premature.
Looking at mayors in other places, such as Andy Burnham, Andy Street, Tracy Brabin and Sadiq Khan in the UK, each of them represents very different areas. I do not know the mayors in other places because they are not as politically forward but it is premature.
Mr. Aebhric McGibney:
The Senator is right. Through commercial rates, businesses fund half of all local government in the four local authorities. It is a bit less in Dublin City Council because there are a lot of transfers in and out and other things. Business is a big funder of local government but, again, as Ms Burke said, it depends on the service that comes with it. If it involves layers of bureaucracy, that would certainly be a problem for us.
It is important that when we start talking about pinning this on somebody, we consider, as Ms Burke has said, the idea of a Minister who could do this. If in doubt, sometimes one ends up going to a Department, such as the Department of the Taoiseach. Should everything go up to that level in a Department? What if this issue is cross-departmental between the Departments of Transport; Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Environment, Climate and Communications; or Housing, Local Government and Heritage? Is it possible that somewhere else in the system, there is another chance to intervene?
I thank the witnesses also who have taken the time to attend. I have found the conversation quite instructive. It is interesting to hear the different points of view. I do not really have a question because I believe we are still talking and asking what the mayor should do. All of the points are very interesting. I will make some points. I do not normally make statements.
I believe the Limerick mayor is the test bed. Whatever way that turns out will show us how this works, albeit it is a smaller city. We need to see what that is. Having served at all levels of democracy in the country, from the council to the regional assembly and now here, I believe there is an imbalance in the democratic system. I have found that as public representatives we are quite weak. I gave an example of this last week - the four chief executives have a mandate of up to ten years, with essentially all of the power, whereas mayors get one year with very little power. It is a sort of ceremonial role. I know that Fianna Fáil spoke in the past about having a Minister with an urban or Dublin role. Deputy Lahart had that role in opposition. I hear what Senator Boyhan is saying about splitting up the four councils and now bringing them back together. I believe there is something missing. As a councillor, one has very little power as a part-timer without any resources. Most people have a full-time job. Trying to work through that system is very difficult. That is the case even in these Houses, where it is not as difficult. It seems to be very difficult to deal with the big players like the National Transport Authority, NTA. I will not mention any names but the Departments are very much like fortresses. It is very hard to get in there and have a dialogue. We are elected to represent. As was said earlier, there are four chief executives. Maybe the mayor is the fifth chief executive of Dublin. That brings those four together and the council is below it.
It seems from Mr. Geissel's statement that he believes South Dublin County Council has been very good for that part of Dublin because it has concentrated on seven villages in south Dublin and has been very good business-wise. If it all goes back to one person, would it be Dublin-centric? Would it be about the international stage, with south Dublin being pushed out again? We have a democratic deficit in this country. People might not like me for saying that I do not believe we have enough public representatives to represent us as a people. It is very much driven from the top by people who are not elected. I apologise for making something of a statement. I am unsure if anybody wishes to comment on it.
Mr. Adrian Geissel:
If there is a deficit in the democratic system, that should be solved. The mayorship may not necessarily solve that problem if we are not prepared to solve it independently. I sometimes look at how we do things. The mayorship is a kind of independent variable. If we have a problem with democracy, a Dublin mayor is not going to fix the issues faced by someone living in Laois. If there is not enough representation - Deputy Duffy mentioned the various authorities on the list - surely that is a problem independent from the question of a directly elected mayor.
The second part of this is that the elected representatives are there to guide on policy and are not there to do. I believe we are possibly confusing the two. If at the end of this process there is a directly elected mayor for Dublin, he or she will not be digging the tunnel for the MetroLink. We will still have that management hierarchy. In my head, it is very easy to make assumptions around how we do this stuff. The fundamental decision-making and policy-making process is in place but perhaps it needs to become more robust.
On direct representation, if we can get everything else in line, that is fair enough.
The point I was hoping to make a couple of minutes ago was that the seductive idea of a single figurehead who can see everything through has a little bit of a dark side in that it opens up the opportunity for a single-issue candidate to get through. This might mean that all the energy and all the focus goes on transport, or on the MetroLink to pick one project as an example. Having a single-issue mayorship, with the authority, clout and budget which goes with it, may not necessarily be in the interests of the overall position. Councils have a broad remit and mandate. The councils, as the bodies corporate, and the councillors, as the policymakers within that, need to look after all of the constituents in a more balanced way. Those are the two points I was hoping to make.
I would like to make a point in response to what Mr. Geissel is saying about policy. From my experience as a councillor - I am not sure if anybody wants to talk to their experience as a Deputy - it is very difficult to interpret much of the information that is given to us as part-timers. When I was the chair of the transport and planning strategic policy committee, each year we had four sessions of an hour and a half each. It was put out there that I was directing policy. How can anybody direct policy as chair in such circumstances? My job was to chair. I was told what we were doing. I say that seriously and respectfully. How can somebody like me be expected to direct policy when the director of planning and transport is a full-time employee of the State, with a crew of up to 50 staff? In my case, the particular director was very good to me. We sat down and talked about stuff, but I was on the fringe. To say that politicians are directing policy at that level is not really the case.
If I get re-elected, I will definitely push to bring back the town councils as I believe it was criminal to get rid of them. I believe it was done at the behest of the IMF as a money-saving exercise. I do not believe it is fair that our people are not represented. I come from a small town in County Monaghan, where one can meet one’s public representatives on the street to talk to them about stuff and it goes up the line and back.
Mr. Aebhric McGibney:
Businesses do not normally come along and set out how the political structure should be. There is a democracy. It is unusual that we present a view on something in this way, but we are doing so in this instance because we have identified that the members of the citizens' assembly have said that there is a deficit in terms of their lived experience and, from our perspective, businesses are saying the same thing.
Many other questions were raised by the citizens’ assembly, for example with regard to full-time councillors. That is something we would not normally comment on but we can say that if we had fewer councillors, but they were fully paid with more time and resources, there might be a future in that. As a business group, we are running an event with members in the next two weeks to get companies to think about supporting their staff if they run in local elections. It is a challenge sometimes. People have to think about how they will keep their jobs, etc. We would like to ensure that as a business group we support local democracy. We very much want to emphasise this. We will send the committee on the details. We want companies to think that they are part of this and that their employees may well have a valuable role to play. We are reminding businesses that as well as supporting the local community in a volunteering sense, actual public service is something very important that we value.
I concur with many of Deputy Duffy's comments about the experience of being a councillor, for example on how a councillor can challenge effectively, interrogate his or her functions properly and give strategic leadership when the executive has all of the resources. We all try our best when we are in those roles but it is a David versus Goliath situation.
I want to make this first point and make it respectfully.
Some of the arguments put forward apply to any level of democracy. One could ask, why have elections to the Dáil when you could end up with single-issue candidates? Indeed, we have ended up with single-issue candidates. That argument was made against directly elected mayors in the UK and it was said that you would end up with joke or celebrity candidates or comedians or whatever. Of course, there is a comedian as President in Ukraine who is internationally considered one of the best it has ever had. That is the nature of democracy; people get to choose who they vote for. Would it be the worst thing if people in Dublin said what they are really concerned about is housing, transport, public realm, crime or safety and they picked one or two of those and said they want a focus on those for the next five years? Most people think it would be a good thing.
Many people in Dublin who have lived in or even travelled around other cities around Europe have a sense that we are getting left behind as a city. They travel to other places and see infrastructure being delivered much more quickly in areas that are not necessarily economically more prosperous than us. I have been back and forth to Edinburgh, where my sister lives. You can see how the infrastructure there has been improved and it seemed an awful lot faster - it is a smaller area than Dublin. I was in Bordeaux for a few days during the summer and I saw the incredible transport infrastructure it has put in, in a much smaller city with fewer resources than us. It makes you ask questions - what are they doing that enables them to deliver these things better? That said, a directly elected mayor may be one way of making these changes but it definitely is not the only way. If we were not going down the directly elected mayor route, in which other ways can things be reformed to strengthen local government? There is no question that local government in Ireland is among the weakest in Europe; in the OECD, we are pretty much bottom of the table along with Belarus and one or two other countries. If not a directly elected mayor, in what way could it be reformed? If a directly elected mayor, what powers would the witnesses like to see devolved to them? I concur about the comments on the four local authorities - it took a while for them to bed in but they are working very well. Communities are very happy with the way they are at the moment. To change all of that, go back to the drawing board and have all that disruption would not be worth it. Most people would view that as not being a good approach to take.
Mr. Stephen Browne:
We have always said it is not the office that we are concerned about, particularly, it has always been the powers and functions. If that means it is not a mayor and it is a Government Minister at Cabinet level, we would be quite happy with that as well. The democratic deficit was mentioned by the citizens' assembly, Deputy Duffy and other members of the committee earlier and that it puts another layer of bureaucracy above the people but surely a directly elected mayor is closer to the people than, for example, a chief executive or a director of housing or of planning. Those powers will have to be devolved if there is going to be devolution of powers to a real executive mayor from those executive offices, such as director of planning and of housing. The committee has a big body of work in the planning and development Bill that is coming before it for pre-legislative scrutiny soon enough. That will have a key role in how planning is done in the future. Whether that mayor will have a responsibility for planning in Dublin also needs to be looked at in the committee's deliberations on that legislation.
Mr. Aebhric McGibney:
There is maths or science behind this, it is just that we do not have it publicly. There were a lot of experts involved in the citizens' assembly and it is disappointing that we did not get some more clarity. For example, I am thinking about cancer treatment. If you want to be treated for cancer, you need a certain population to be treated to get a full-time consultant. I would rather travel further to see a person operating all day long. It is not beyond the means to assess those functions and look at it. Just because it has not been done or is not publicly available does not mean it should not be done. That is an important point. For us, we start with a co-ordinating role. That is what Limerick also talks about, because there are deficits in the co-ordination. Other things come with that power - you cannot borrow unless you have a revenue stream. Our worry is that the first thing a mayor might do would be a hotel bed tax or there are lots of ideas for new taxes. As I just pointed out in my opening remarks, Dublin accounts for half of all income tax and two thirds of all corporation tax. There is money out there, even a small sliver of that could account for some of the funding to get this co-ordinating role going.
Mr. David Branagan:
To add a comment around the perceived weakness in local government, we have been involved in conversations before in which it was said that in Fingal County Council there is a very strong balance towards the executive versus the councillors. It is also seen as a question of how to manage 40 councillors from a chief executive's perspective and trying to bring them all through with the work programme. Earlier this summer, we went with Fingal County Council to Seattle on a fact-finding mission and saw how it operates a different model from Ireland. It has a smaller group of local councillors but they are well supported. There is a team of seven with real power. The power is with them and the mayor. It may not be a directly elected mayor, as such, but the power is moved away from the executive to a smaller group.
I will take my slot and if anybody wants to come in for a final round we will welcome that. Only to provide balance, because I do not disagree with anything anyone said - the lack of detail from the citizens' assembly is really disappointing because a lot of people hoped it could be the platform to bring this forward. The alternative could be worse as well. The Local Government (Mayor of Limerick) Bill 2023 proposes that every county will have the power to initiate a directly elected mayor except the counties in Dublin. There could be a situation in which many counties have directly elected mayors, which is in the current legislation for Limerick, but Dublin, specifically, would be excluded. That is a concern of mine. I agree with Deputies Cian O'Callaghan and Duffy. I was in local government for ten years and nobody can tell me it is not a completely broken system. It does not work for the public or the councillors. Effectively, there are four chief executives with unprecedented powers and national agencies with no specific focus in Dublin. Our current system does not work and we need to change it; I accept all of the issues raised because they are now an impediment to change. We have to make sure we get around them.
I accept it is almost an unsophisticated term because it is like the solution to all of our problems but the three reasons everyone articulates for a directly elected mayor are to champion issues which emerge early in the city in order that the national government may resolve them, the second is to co-ordinate the local authorities and their efforts and the third is to be a champion for funding directly to Dublin. We need all three of those areas. Ms Burke might recall that she and I sat at a meeting with LinkedIn in 2016 with the founder; it was speculating about its new office. I have spoken publicly about this. Its biggest issue in 2016 was that it was struggling to get accommodation for its staff. That was in 2016. There was an emerging issue in Dublin. There have been seven or eight Lord Mayors since that meeting. If one person had a serious chunk of time to work with the chamber and other ones, they could have championed a solution earlier. Energy requirements in South Dublin County Council are a massive issue relating to the huge enterprise attracted to South Dublin County Council, yet it was competing with national agencies to try to respond to local issues. There is also the issue of an airport link to the airport - the biggest asset in Fingal - yet national agencies have not responded. We are all Dubliners in the room, whether we are from Dublin or not, we are all Dubs - let us use a non-geographically-specific term. We are not getting the services and response we need from national government, no matter who is in power, because of our structures. The big challenge of doing nothing is that we go backwards. I accept Ms Burke's proposal of the straw man. A Green Paper or straw man in which we could start to dissect elements would be beneficial. I would be very reluctant to see the citizens' assembly proposal go to a referendum because it could either be rejected, which would be the end of local government reform for 20 years, or worse, it could be adopted.
There are not many questions in there.
If the witnesses could speak about the challenges of the current system, it might help us or inspire us to keep going. The Sutton-to-Sandycove cycle route is a big project. Would that have been delivered if there had been a champion for it? Would we have had greater desecularisation of schools in Dublin? The Department of Education did not want to move on that for a long time. It was not an issue in many parts of the country, but it was an issue in Dublin. There is definitely a gap there. It is not necessarily about the structure. Where are the gaps at the moment? What are the issues on which the witnesses are advocating? I know the PPNs are very strong advocates and I am sure they have many issues.
Ms Mary Rose Burke:
We have long advocated for a directly elected mayor as a totemic figure and a focus for discussion on the deficits that are there at the moment. The functional area of the city is not keeping up with the challenges. One of those challenges is the number of people who choose to live in the city notwithstanding a political will to ask them to live somewhere else. We must respect and reflect where people choose to live. It is not unusual that people choose to live in their capital city. A number of years ago we did a project called the Dublin reputation survey which we circulated to this forum. We learned from that survey that particularly when it comes to a brand for Dublin both domestically and internationally there is no one person or one agency responsible for promoting Dublin in its entirety as a place to live, work, invest, study and raise a family. We see the need for one person to own that reputation and brand.
On housing, LinkedIn has its own difficulties in San José with housing and everything and so it is not unique to Dublin. Every capital city has this. I would not like to think that Dublin is failing as a city. It is more that it is a victim of its success and we need real political will to help it to maximise its potential and to move things faster. Arguably planning has bedevilled the delivery of the big infrastructure projects - the big conceptual projects like transport and housing that we need to see delivered. We would like to see those kinds of areas resolved. On how it is resolved, we do not believe there is a magic formula in any one particular role and it needs a system-wide focus, energy, ambition and implementation.
Mr. Adrian Geissel:
The big industry that is clustered in south Dublin is the national industry. It uses national resources and is nationally strategic. It just happens to be in south Dublin. It is not a problem that we will ever solve. It is not a problem that will ever be solved within the confines of the mayorship if that is what we are talking about because it is a national problem. We have water, energy and other issues which are much further reaching than are solvable within the confines of what we are talking about.
Mr. Adrian Geissel:
I do not know how that would work either because Uisce Éireann is trying to concentrate on fixing the water-in-water-out problems that we have. If we start hiving off some of that, will it improve things? That is the train of thought I would hold. I agree with Ms Burke that we need decisions and we need them to be implemented quickly. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan spoke about the examples of other cities which are smaller and less well resourced. The frustration all of us in the room have is that we have great ideas but nothing is moving on them. We need to start moving on things. I believe we have the resources available to deliver on those. We could put shovels in the ground on many things tomorrow. We do not always need to have the best or the complete solution on infrastructure. Sometimes a chunk of infrastructure is better than waiting for the perfect infrastructure.
Mr. Aebhric McGibney:
I will give one example of a problem that a directly elected mayor or somebody with responsibility of Dublin could look after. One of the biggest challenges for Dublin is that its population has continued to grow. The greater Dublin area includes Kildare, Meath and Wicklow, including towns like Naas and Bray; it is not a land grab but it is a functional area. Based on the 2022 census, the population of the greater Dublin area is pretty much at the number it was expected to be at in 2031. Not enough housing is being built in Dublin. There are serious challenges with that. A lot of good work is being done with developing brownfield sites. There are many issues with the cost of construction etc. We are dezoning land in some of the areas outside that even in the local authority areas around Dublin, for example in Bray, Greystones etc., during a housing crisis. Who is watching those details, joining the dots and looking at the transport lines? The Cathaoirleach, who is not here today, has spoken about transport links, rail links, to Wicklow and Wexford, and getting down that way. That is an improvement that is needed. If we want more people living in those commuter towns which are commutable by public transport, it is about that joined-up thinking between land use and transport. That is where I would first look.
Mr. Martin Hoey:
Looking generally at this, there were two devolved organisations in Ireland. They were in Dublin originally and disappeared years ago. They would need to come back if we got a directly elected mayor. The first is the Dublin Transport Office, which was superseded by the NTA, and second is the Dublin Metropolitan Police. In other cities with mayors, policing is a local service. Would An Garda Síochána be happy to suddenly have a separate organisation - to bring back a Dublin metropolitan police and have the Garda for the rest of the country? Would the NTA also be happy to hand responsibility back to a Dublin transportation office, with the NTA running the rest of the country? Those are where problems will arise with a directly elected mayor who is in charge of these organisations needing to control his or her own area. I cannot see the existing big organisations handing over power easily. We have seen it also with the health boards. How many times have they changed their regions? I cannot see them changing again so that Dublin would be its own area. Dublin has never been its own area in health; it has always been part of other areas.
As has been discussed, if there was that person, they could champion things. I know from my experience, however limited that is, and knowing the power Ministers do or do not necessarily have, that, for example, with housing or transport, a mayor could sit in with the Department or the NTA. I have found that the NTA is a closed shop. Stuff was passed by the regional assembly and there was pushback; I do not really want to go into that. They would have the power just to be sitting at the table and discussing that this is what the people want and pushing it forward with their team especially if there is funding, power or oomph to move things forward. I think it is important to be able to sit at some of these tables where the real power is.
Ms Kay Gleeson:
I agree with the Deputy about the local councils and uncertainty about the SPCs. Our representatives feel that some of those meetings really should not be happening. I know a report on the SPCs will be done after the next local elections next year.
I really appreciate listening to the point of view of the chambers. I have a bit of business experience and I deal with many of the people in Dún Laoghaire so I know what is happening on the ground there. It was really interesting to hear from them. I very much appreciate being present at this meeting.
On the SPCs, I do not want to be pushing against the local authorities but the existing legislation mandates the local authority to sit a certain number of times a year and it is very tight.
I remember telling some of the first-time councillors that if they really wanted to push an agenda, they needed to go off and do their research, they needed to follow it up with the director, and they needed then to keep going. They will not get anything done at a meeting because it is just rushed through as there is a great deal on the agenda. If one just goes to the meetings, one will not really get anywhere. That means people need to take a great deal of time to understand the policy, to try to push it and to be in at the beginning because much of the time at those meetings we are told about things that have already happened.
Ms Mary Rose Burke:
I would like to make one point of clarification. The make-up of the membership of Dublin Chamber is everything from small businesses through to very large multinationals but also social enterprises, not-for-profit organisations, some help agencies and educational institutions. The chamber, therefore, is very much a collection of enterprises rather than purely business in a more narrow sense. I also make the point that the CEOs of the local authorities are ex officio members of our policy council because our constitution, going back to 1783, predated the break-up of the city into four local authorities. By ensuring the CEOs are ex officio members, they can engage with the business or enterprise community on these policy issues which are cross-cutting and go across local authority boundaries. There is an opportunity to convene there. We also, of course, welcome political speakers and elected representatives to address our council at different stages. We are happy to provide that opportunity to anybody who wishes to continue this conversation in a Dublin Chamber policy council environment also.
That gives me the opportunity on behalf of all the members to thank all of our guests for the work they do outside of here because that civic voice is very important in any democratic structure. The geographic-specific elements of it are important. I was very struck by what Mr. Geissel said regarding that community and local identity. I represent Santry and Finglas and we are almost in the worst of both worlds. We are not in the city centre and we do not have our own area, so those things have a big impact. From speaking to the public participation networks, PPNs, I know that they cover everything from small resident associations right up to sectoral advocacy groups, so to ask their representatives to come in and to speak to us was a tall order. All our committee members value that kind of non-governmental voice which they have brought here today. Today's contributors will have a significant impact on our committee's deliberations next week, when we meet in private to plot where we will go next so I thank them for being with us today.