Tuesday, 18 October 2016
I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this matter for discussion. The proposal for a directly elected mayor of Dublin has been knocking around since the mid-2000s. Credit is due to the former Minister for Environment and Local Government, Mr. Noel Dempsey, for taking an enlightened view on this issue. His successor, Mr. John Gormley, and my party colleague, Councillor Dermot Lacey, have also been strong advocates for the direct election of a mayor of the capital city or the Dublin region for a five-year period. With a population of approximately 1.3 million people, the Dublin region needs a directly elected mayor who can be a strong ambassador internationally and organise integrated planning across the four local authorities, especially with regard to investment, housing and planning.
Three local authorities adjoin Dublin Bay and this requires joined up thinking, which is also needed on the DART underground proposal, the metro north project to Swords and proposals to connect Tallaght and Clondalkin to the city centre. Business representatives in Dublin increasingly ask me why a city of 1.3 million people does not directly elect a mayor for a five-year term. The time has come for change. I commissioned a survey in September which found that 74% of Dubliners support a directly elected mayor. We constantly try to persuade young people to engage with democracy and vote in elections.The survey told me that 95.7%% of the group aged between 18 and 24 see that Dublin would benefit from having an elected mayor. I believe the time has come. I ask the Minister to lay down a timeframe and a pathway whereby Dublin can hold a plebiscite in 2018. Many Ministers from different parties have been speaking about this for 15 years to try to bring forward legislation on the matter. I ask the Minister of State to lay out the pathway in order that a plebiscite can be held in 2018 to allow for a directly-elected mayor in 2019. This would coincide with the local and European elections. It would be a fitting legacy for the Minister of State were he to spearhead this and deliver on something that has been spoken about for 15 years. Let us go and do it now.
Michael is very welcome, as are my two neighbours beside him, Donal and Maura Callery, who are very interested in agricultural matters as well. Michael could have a good conversation there.
I thank Senator Kevin Humphreys for raising this very important matter. This is the second time today that Noel Dempsey has been praised in my presence, so I had better be careful in what I say. As a former colleague, I have listened to him being talked about while at Meath County Council and again today. As he had some far-reaching views when it came to reform of local government with which most people would agree, the praise is rightly due.
With regard to today's discussion, I apologise that my colleague the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, could not make it to the House today. I will take the debate on his behalf. A Programme for a Partnership Government includes a commitment to consider directly-elected mayors in cities as part of wider potential local government reform measures including greater devolution, smaller local electoral areas, municipal governments and supports for councillors. The programme states that having consulted widely with all relevant stakeholders, a report on all these issues will be prepared by the Minister by mid-2017 for the Government and the Oireachtas. Scoping work on the development of proposals to address the range of issues in the programme for Government is already being undertaken in the Department. This will identify the matters to be addressed in the report to be submitted by mid-2017. Decisions will be a matter for the Government and the Oireachtas, as appropriate, following consideration of the report. On the issue before the House today there are important arguments put forward for creating the office of a directly-elected mayor for Dublin. Before reaching a conclusion however, there are significant issues that must be addressed. Senator Humphreys has put across very well his own research on people's desire for this proposal. It is important that the matter should be addressed properly.
First and foremost it would be necessary to decide on a range of substantive statutory functions that might be assigned to a directly-elected mayor for Dublin. What would the directly-elected mayor be in charge of, what budgetary powers would he or she have and how will these functions impact on other public bodies at central and local government? It may well be right to make significant changes in governance for the benefit of the Dublin area, but we need to be very clear on what we are doing and why we are doing it. There is no point in creating an office with a weak or duplicated mandate that would make the ultimate goal of delivering better services for the citizen harder, not easier, to achieve. All aspects of the governance of the Dublin metropolitan area will need to be taken into account including questions around an overall regional authority, the relationship with the wider Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly, impacts on the existing Dublin authorities and the local area governance in the villages around the city and counties of Dublin. In addition, any proposal for a directly-elected mayor must have full regard to cost implications and staffing issues. Resources would be needed to support the performance of the statutory functions assigned to the mayor and to support the operation of the mayor's office.
The Minister will approach this issue in his planned report for Government and the Oireachtas on the basis of the benefits that have been identified with regard to the substantive functions to be performed by a mayor that improve public services for people living in and visiting the area, and whether these benefits outweigh the cost that would be involved. I thank Senator Humphreys again. It is an important debate to have and it is probably only warming up. I have no doubt we will be here again on this issue in the months ahead. The commitment is there. The Senator wanted a timeline and it is there; to bring the report to the Houses in mid-2017. This still gives enough time to implement it further after that.
No, with no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy English, I am very disappointed in the response. What I hear in that response is a kicking of the can down the road.The previous Ministers, Mr. John Gormley and Mr. Noel Dempsey, already outlined the powers. The fact we could have a directly-elected mayor for very little cost has been widely debated. However, democracy is not cheap. If Dublin is not doing well, Ireland is not doing well. Dublin is a main driver for financial investment. We saw the result of the recent referendum put to our neighbours in the UK in which they decided to exit the EU. Now more than ever, the Dublin region needs a directly-elected mayor. It has been supported in the recent research I have done. The Dublin Chamber of Commerce and IBEC also support the idea of a directly-elected mayor. I am disappointed by the response of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and to be honest, I hear echoes of the former Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, in it. That is not something I would normally say about the Minister, Deputy Coveney.
We need speed and action. There are many ways in which we can reduce the number of councillors in the Dublin region to make it a cost-effective measure. What we really need and what is being said by the citizens of Dublin and the Chamber of Commerce is to let Dublin vote. We have been promised this for 15 years and there has been no action. From this response, I hear that we may get a report by 2017. Let us make a clear decision, show leadership and put the question to the citizens of Dublin on whether they want a directly-elected mayor that can drive planning, change, investment and housing in our capital city.
To be very clear, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is following what is laid out in the programme for Government approach to this. He has promised to bring forward a report in mid-2017, which still matches the timeline the Senator envisages. We have to recognise that it is not just the Senator and his research that we have to consult. We have to consult all the various stakeholders that this affects. We have come through major change in local government over the last couple of years under the last Government. Some of it has worked quite well while there are other areas in which concerns have been raised. The Minister wants to make sure that we make this decision for the right reasons, that it leads on to better local government and better decision-making. I understand what the Senator is saying about it being more cost-effective and more effective for decision-making, but the point is not just to have the vote for the sake of it. It has to be genuinely for the right reasons and we have to have thought it all through. The Senator knows how the Minister, Deputy Coveney, approaches his work. He thinks everything through and makes sure there is a reason for it. That report will be brought before the Houses in mid-2017 and a decision will be made on it that will bring us on to the next step.
At this stage, it is worthwhile using the next four or five months to consult all stakeholders, get everyone's opinion on this and make the right decision on behalf of Dublin city. The Senator has made very valid arguments. There is no doubt about that. However, we have to make sure we avoid duplication. We have seen it in the past in local authorities and we are trying to eliminate it. If we get this right, it will be a worthwhile project. It is important that we wait for the report and take it step by step. It still means we can match the timelines as the Senator envisages. There is nothing to say that cannot be achieved if the Oireachtas wants to go that way. The report in mid-2017 is the first step and we will take it from there. I will make sure that the Minister hears the Senator's views and I will report back to him.