Seanad debates

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Directly Elected Mayors: Statements


4:30 pm

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Acting Chairman and Members of the House for allowing time for statements on the issue of directly elected mayors.

As I undertook to do during our consideration before Christmas of the Local Government Bill 2018 which was signed into law by the President on Friday, 25 January, I am pleased to have the opportunity to outline proposals which I intend to present to the Government before the middle of February on the issue of directly elected mayors with executive functions. I wish to further inform the proposals through input from both Houses of the Oireachtas. Last Thursday afternoon there was a debate in the Dáil in which all Members who wished to do so contributed. We are doing the same today in the Seanad.

As Senators are aware, A Programme for a Partnership Government includes a commitment to consider fully directly elected mayors in cities as part of a broader range of local government reform measures aimed at strengthening local democracy. On foot of that commitment, last September I submitted to the Government a policy paper entitled, Local Authority Leadership, Governance and Administration, which included a number of policy proposals for directly elected mayors in cities. The policy paper was approved by the Government at its meeting on 27 September and forwarded to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government for consideration.

The Government also agreed in principle that plebiscites would be held on directly elected mayors with executive functions in Cork City Council, Limerick City and County Council, Waterford City and County Council, Galway City Council and Galway County Council at the same time as the local government elections in May this year. This decision was subject to the necessary provisions for the holding of the plebiscites being included in the Local Government Bill. Following the progress of the Local Government Bill 2018 through the Houses, it provides for the holding of plebiscites on directly elected mayors with executive functions in the local authority areas of Cork City Council, Limerick City and County Council and Waterford City and County Council. The Seanad sat late that night and removed Galway City Council and Galway County Council from the legislation. The amendments were subsequently approved by the Dáil.

The Department is prioritising the Government's instruction to produce more detailed proposals for plebiscites, the questions to be put to the electorate and the specific powers of mayors. The detailed proposals, including an analysis of the costs involved, will be submitted to the Government in the early weeks of February. Prior to reverting to the Government with the more detailed proposals, I wish to consult Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas. As Senators are, local government legislation divides local authority functions into executive and reserved functions. The proposed office of directly elected mayor with executive functions aims to bridge the gap between the two categories of functions. I emphasise at the start that the reserved functions of councillors will not be affected by the changes if adopted by the people in a plebiscite for a directly elected mayor.

Those functions will still be reserved for councillors.

I believe that, subject to some exceptions, responsibility for executive functions could be transferred entirely to the directly elected mayor. The directly elected mayor would be a member of the council and continue to perform the functions currently exercised by local authority cathaoirligh, mayors and lord mayors, including reserved functions. This would encompass a civic and representational role where the mayor would act as the face of the local authority, both domestically and internationally. Given the potentially wide range of functions performed by local authorities, the directly elected mayor's role would have to be supported by a chief executive officer. My proposal is that the executive mayor would have a similar relationship to the local authority chief executive as a Government Minister has to the Secretary General of a Department. A mayor's functions would exclude executive functions relating to planning matters, for obvious reasons. They would remain with the chief executive. Chief executives would also continue to be responsible for organisational and staff related matters. This is similar to the arrangements in Departments where the Secretary General is responsible for such matters.

It is important to stress that the elected council would continue to exercise its full range of reserved functions. It would also be the primary body with responsibility for oversight of the mayor in the performance of his or her functions and for holding him or her accountable. I intend to propose a mechanism to recall the mayor, giving the electorate a means of having its say in recalling the mayor. In addition to the directly elected executive mayor proposals, I will propose a further strengthening of the strategic planning committees, SPCs. My intention is to create a Cabinet style system where the chairs of the various SPCs would form the mayor's cabinet, replacing the existing corporate policy group. Senators who are familiar with local government structures in the UK will be aware that many local authorities there have councillors who are leads in specific policy areas. That would give more teeth to the position of SPC chair that currently exists at local authority level in this country.

The policy paper will analyse the costs involved in establishing a new position of directly elected mayor. This analysis is to include the costs of the position of mayor itself and of the plebiscites to be held. This is an important requirement of the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform. As I mentioned, it is intended that the plebiscites on directly elected mayors with executive functions will be held on the same day as the local government elections on 24 May 2019. Anyone who is entitled to vote in the local government elections in the local authority areas listed will be entitled to vote in a plebiscite on directly elected mayors with executive functions. Regulations for the holding of the plebiscites and their necessary requirements and arrangements will be made by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. Information for electors on the proposals to be voted on in the plebiscites will be drawn up by the Department and sent to the local authorities concerned for distribution to electors. Given the need to explain fully the proposals to the electorates concerned and to allow sufficient time for local debate, this will be a priority for the Department in the weeks ahead.

The Government decided at its meeting of 27 September that in view of the complexities of local government in County Dublin and the Dublin metropolitan area, which is defined in the national planning framework, it would be appropriate to allow space for detailed and informed public discourse on the matter of directly elected mayors for Dublin. For that reason, the Government decided that the issue of directly elected mayors for Dublin would be referred to a Dublin citizens' assembly to be convened in 2019. The Department of the Taoiseach is leading on the convening of the Dublin citizens' assembly, with the input of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Consideration will have to be given to the membership of the assembly, for example, whether the assembly should include elected officeholders similar to membership of the Constitutional Convention. I believe this assembly should include elected officeholders, both local and national. There is a range of complex policy questions to be examined by the Dublin citizens' assembly, including the geographical area that would fall under the Dublin mayor's remit; consideration of the functions of the directly elected mayor; the proposed relationship between the directly elected mayor and the local authority elected members and executives of the local authorities involved; and the interaction between the directly elected mayor and other bodies involved in the development of our capital, such as the National Transport Authority and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the State utility providers and trade and investment promotion agencies.

I thank Members of the House for their ongoing engagement on the issue of directly elected mayors and local government issues in general. The establishment of offices of directly elected mayors with executive functions would represent a significant change and development in the political accountability of leadership at local authority level.

I look forward to hearing the views of Members of the House.

4:45 pm

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State. Contributions from group spokespersons should be ten minutes. All other Senators will have six minutes.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State. It was very eventful here before he came in. It was a great honour for us all to be in the Chamber today. My colleagues in Fianna Fáil support the roll-out of directly elected mayors in our cities. However, I am concerned that the Government's decision to send the idea of a Dublin mayor to a citizens' assembly is a delaying tactic. Dublin should lead the way in this new form of local government. Dublin leads the way on so much. This is so disappointing. At a time when people feel alienated from decision-making it is important that new ways of empowering local communities are put in place. Directly elected mayors act as local champions who are directly accountable to citizens. We should enthusiastically embrace the idea as an internationally proven way of ensuring local decisions are taken at local level.

We published our own legislation to roll out a directly elected mayor for Dublin as an international city competing with others across the globe. Dublin should have a strong local government focused on Dublin issues. Especially in light of Brexit, Dublin faces a series of unique challenges that demand strong leadership to enable it to compete against other global cities, whether in attracting investment and businesses inward or in lobbying for national or European funding. Mayors have a vital role to play, for instance in working within the Committee of the Regions structure in Europe to secure EU grants or European Investment Bank funding. A Dublin mayor could help secure additional money for specific Dublin projects such as revitalising Dublin Bay and utilising Dublin's maritime tradition.

Experience from abroad shows that a directly elected mayor can provide that crucial leadership. All we have to do is look at the successful London bid for the 2012 Olympic Games launched by Mayor Ken Livingstone as an example of the role a mayor can play in achieving something big for his or her area. We should look at New York where Rudi Giuliani led the complete transformation of New York, combatting crime with a zero-tolerance approach. From the most dangerous city in the world it became the safest. In the darkness after the terrorist attack on 11 September he was a beacon of light and showed real civic leadership when the city was grieving.

The model of directly elected mayors has been successful across the globe in fighting for cities' interests and in acting as local champions. They provide direct accountability and their leadership on these issues is key. It does not make sense that the capital city will be left behind while other cities get a chance to decide whether they want a mayor. The argument for directly elected mayors rests upon the concept of leadership. A key individual provides an opportunity to drive forward an agenda, to fight for the advancement of local government's needs, to heighten the visibility of the local authority and the locality itself, and to broaden engagement with the public and promote greater accountability. Mayors provide clear lines of accountability and effective leadership so that it is clear to everyone where the buck stops, to use the old phrase.

The Fianna Fáil general election manifesto is committed to holding plebiscites on establishing directly elected mayors in key cities in Ireland. This Bill initiates a referendum in Dublin. This will be used as a pilot project with the possibility of the measure being rolled out in other cities over the coming years if successful. At present Dublin has four local authorities, four chief executives, four mayors, 183 councillors and countless State agencies, which often compete against each other rather than work together. A directly elected mayor would provide singular leadership in instructing them.

If Brexit negotiations have taught us anything, it is that we have a place at the biggest tables around the world. We are not an outlier. We have attributes to offer and rewards to bestow. An onward-looking approach is crucial to the future of Dublin and, if we are to compete with cities across Europe and globally, a strong champion and ambassador will be key. Dublin should have its mayor.

The specific role and powers of mayors should be fully debated and fleshed out, with public consultation building on previous work. Specific powers are crucial to creating a strong position and to attracting high-calibre civic-minded people to the post. We suggest that potential powers would include those of the chief executive of the local authority. The current county manager's role would be changed into that of a secretary general. The mayor should be head of the council cabinet, leading the agenda for the council. He or she should be chief ambassador for the locality at home and abroad. He or she should be a member of the transport authority in regional areas while sitting mayors should be head of the transport authorities in their areas. The mayor should be directly accountable to an independent planning regulator. This blend of powers and responsibilities will ensure a dynamic executive that leads from the front and is fully accountable to local people for decisions made locally.

It would rebalance power away from unelected bureaucracy and towards elected officials of the people. There is a place for this role across the country and it is time for us to consider it. It is of great importance.

As the Minister of State is aware, there are mayors in our area of Carlow-Kilkenny, where I was once a councillor. Cities such as Dublin, Limerick and Cork have such large populations that they require a full-time mayor. It boils down to ensuring that when this happens - and it must happen - proper funding is in place to ensure costs are met and there is adequate staffing.

I thank the Minister of State for his very good speech but he needs to look at the overall picture. Mayors play a major role and having a full-time mayor is of great importance. However, the bigger picture which the Minister of State must address and revert to us on is the role of councillors. Having directly elected mayors is only a start on what we need to achieve for the Irish people. This is about our communities, the people who we represent. Small changes can make a big difference to people in the community. It is a great honour to represent one's community, whether as a councillor or mayor, and to be in a position to make a difference in people's lives.

We need every local authority in the country to work together on this issue. Joined-up thinking is the only way forward because it can be very confusing and take a significant amount of time to deal with various agencies that do not know what the others are doing. One may need to phone one organisation to find out what organisation one should contact next.

Overall, the Bill proposes a very good scheme. We need directly elected mayors. We also need to look at the bigger picture and I know the Minister of State will do so. I thank him for addressing the Seanad.

4:55 pm

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House once again. He is attempting to embark on major local government reform, which is his area of responsibility. The Taoiseach has tasked him with doing so and leading from the front in that regard. He is well able and motivated to so do.

The Minister of State addressed the Dáil on Thursday, 24 January 2019 and set out more or less the same points he has made here today. I took the liberty of downloading his statement on that occasion, which I circulated to every councillor in the country. I make no apologies for doing so. I am very interested in local government and I came to the Seanad to specialise in it. Housing, planning and local government are the areas on which I focus. As the Minister of State is aware, I am an exceptionally active member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. I received a mixed response to my distribution of the statement. The biggest response was from members of Fine Gael, particularly Dublin representatives, which was very interesting, although I know some of them, which may partly explain it. They expressed many reservations. No respondent from the Minister of State's party was in favour of his plans. Some members of the Labour Party stated that they required further time to come to a decision on the wisdom of having directly elected mayors. What was the reason for such response?

I am not against having directly elected mayors. There are two mayors of London who have different functions. There are many models for directly elected mayors, such as in Barcelona and other cities. The problem is that this only addresses one element of local government reform, much to the frustration and annoyance of local councillors. The Minister of State might bear in mind that it is critically important at the very early stages of this proposed legislation to set up regional meetings with councillors to talk through the proposal with them because if they do not buy into it, it will not happen. However, if the Minister of State can get them on board, things would go far more smoothly. Local government reform is a complex issue touching on the role, functions and remuneration of councillors as well the respect afforded to them as professional county councillors. All of those issues feed into the feeling of frustration among councillors. The Minister of State's proposals may fall due to the frustration, vexation and anger about the defined role of elected county councillors rather than because of opposition to having directly elected mayors.

The Minister of State knows and I know that many of them will be seeking re-election and that this is not an easy task. It is a hard job to get elected in one's community. Indeed, it is a great honour but it is a hard task. I am keen to make that point.

I accept and acknowledge that this is in the programme for Government and the Minister of State is delivering on the programme for Government. I know it may be seen as something of a setback in respect of Galway. Perhaps the Minister of State will touch on his intentions with regard to Galway city and county. I understand that he proposes to bring forward a separate Bill for Galway. He might share that information with us.

What am I saying? I took the time to look at Owen Keegan. He has been an exceptionally good county manager and he is now in Dublin City Council. He has made some public commentary on the question of the mayor. He asked about the functions and proper devolved powers. Who are they coming from and who are they going to? He is respected by Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government officials as well as by many councils throughout the country. He was my county manager in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council at one stage. Are county managers, as we now know them, chief executives? What about those in the County and City Management Association? Are representative bodies like the CCMA buying into this? I think there is potential opportunity for balance between a chief executive and a mayor. I am not in favour of giving all powers to a mayor but it is important that we have leadership in terms of elected leaders on the council. I also believe the issue of executive functions arise. The Minister of State referred to the posts of Secretary General and the Minister in his Department. I think there is synergy and balance between the two. To be fair to chief executives, they get a great deal of bad stick. I have made some commentary about them too. I am going to put my hand up and say as much. Despite this, I think they have served us well on the whole. Chief executives have served themselves well.

The Minister of State also needs to look at his track record in government. His party has been in government for seven years. We need to look at the powers and functions. We must also ask whether the Government is committed to devolving powers in a range of areas, including tourism and transport. I know it has done much in terms of enterprise in the community. We have an issue in this area. This has to be one part of a package of reforms for local government. That is important.

If we are to have a plebiscite, then the Government will have to bring people on board and set out for them the cost implications, because there will be cost implications. That brings me back to the old chestnut of finance and the local property tax. People are frustrated about the local property tax. Some councils do not retain all the local property tax. It is collected locally but distributed nationally. We have to link in all of that. How can we allow communities to keep the taxes that they generate locally? How can we subsidise, assist and prop up local authorities that cannot generate the local property tax? I recognise that this matter needs to be addressed too. If we are to have mayors, then we must have finance, real power and real functions. It will not work if we shift the power from chief executives to mayors. It is a matter of the synergy of both. Between us, if we are imaginative enough, we can get a very clever balance.

Ultimately, in Waterford, Limerick and Cork we will have elected representatives on councils from all parties and none. They will either be for or against the idea. They will also be out batting and they might suggest not providing for the mayor idea because it will cost more money or the cost will come from the local property tax and so on. In that case, the idea of mayors will be scuppered. The key message is for the Minister of State to go out to these cities. He should explain the plan to the relevant people and what the Department is doing. If the Minister of State wants to sell it on that basis, it might work. If he addresses the issues of councillor remuneration and how they are valued, then I believe they will be on board with him.

It is an interesting dichotomy that the Minister of State is in, but it is important that we send a clear message. We must say that we value county councillors and that we are going to talk to them next before any plebiscite. The Minister of State should set up regional discussions with officials from the Department and explain the rationale behind it. He needs to bring on board these managers and chief executives, because otherwise they are going to put the brakes on if they believe the Government will take powers from them.

I am in favour of the principle of mayors. However, we need to be careful and clearly define the powers and functions. I sincerely and genuinely wish the Minister of State well. The real issue, however, is finance. It is about who we are taking the powers from and who we are giving the powers to.

5:00 pm

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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This is an interesting discussion. We must always welcome where there is an effort to reform or evaluate the performance of any organisation, especially local authorities. In a democratic country, local authorities are nearest to the citizen in terms of delivering local services, democracy and representation.

The idea of a directly elected mayor bodes well, and is something that interests me greatly. However, the practicality of electing a mayor directly and having clearly defined responsibilities and roles might not be as easy as we thought at first. Most of us in this House have served on local authorities, and we are very proud of what our elected councillors do. However, in recent years there has been an increased level of frustration. Councillors feel that the councils are becoming regulators, and they are just rubber-stamping development plans, budgets or strategies, rather than wielding real power to affect change in their local communities. That is a cause for concern. The Minister of State is taking action to try to address that by rebalancing those powers in favour of the elected council and a directly elected mayor. It is a genuine attempt to rebalance those powers in the local authority system.

Having said that, I still have reservations. We are only four months out from the local elections and four months from the plebiscite. I recognise that Senator Boyhan has circulated the Minister of State's speech to councillors around the country. It is important that councillors and representative organisations must be consulted on this; they will provide interesting feedback. I am sure there is also interesting feedback to be had from academics in the Institute of Public Administration as well, which looks at other countries and describes how successful directly elected mayors can be.

I have a concern about how this will actually work. There is either someone in authority at the top of the local government system - the CEO or the directly elected mayor - and I have a concern about who will call the shots. Who is accountable when things go right and when they go wrong? The system we have in place at the moment sees the CEO exercising a lot of power. Luckily, Ireland has many excellent CEOs. In Waterford City and County Council, Mr. Michael Walsh is seen as a very progressive CEO who is not afraid to take risks and who gets on with things. That has been recognised, and he has achieved a lot with that approach.

However, in other local authorities there are CEOs who may not be performing as well, but we are stuck with them. How accountable are they? The elected members of those councils can be exasperated in dealing with those CEOs. If we had directly elected mayors with real power and authority they would be accountable. If they are doing a bad job they have to stand up at the end of a five-year term and report progress or otherwise, and the electorate will hold them accountable. If they are doing a good job it will be recognised and they may be re-elected, and if they are doing a poor job I am sure they will be turfed out, along with any councillors not doing a good job either.

I recognise the need for reform and the need to rebalance power to those who are elected. We can do more in terms of the powers of councillors, but that is for another day. The Minister of State wants to hear views on directly elected mayors. I can speak about Waterford best because that is where I am from. We need elections not just for mayors for cities but rather the cities and counties. Waterford has a city and it is a very rural county, as the Minister of State knows. It is a coastal county and so faces many maritime issues. It also has issues with mountains. This is not just about urban life and how a mayor would address how a city develops. In this case we are talking about an entire county. The responsibilities and powers of that have to be taken into account as well. In an ideal world the mayor would have all the power. This is the case in other countries. This is a first step, and a series of steps might be required to get to that stage. If cities and counties are to develop in a coherent, strategic way, a mayor should have an input into issues such as public transport and policing strategies. However, the system we have in Ireland is more dispersed, and we have many organisations with responsibility for those areas. It will take a series of steps to get to that point. I understand that and I respect it, but feel that if we are going to go with a plebiscite in four months time we have to inform the electorate on what it is actually voting on, in a similar way to referendums.

We need to be careful not to confuse the electorate. The electorate in Waterford city and county is confused enough because we have a city and county mayor and a metropolitan mayor, both of whom often turn up at events, causing confusion even among hosting organisations that welcome and invite them. They wonder who the real mayor is and who the guy or girl with the top status is. We need to bring more clarity to that and perhaps this is an opportunity to do so.

As the Minister of State mentioned, a relationship similar to that between a Minister and the Secretary General of the relevant Department is the best bet. Electors may not understand that relationship but, as policymakers and politicians, we possibly understand it well. Our electors will not understand it, however, and we need clearer, concise language that citizens will understand about who the boss is and what the mayor does and is responsible for. For example, in conjunction with the elected council, will he or she be responsible for the council's budget and how it is spent? He or she will not be responsible for human resources and staffing, which is fair enough, and the Minister of State said the mayor will not be responsible for planning, but I have a different view in that regard.

CEOs and planners are currently responsible for planning and the individual decisions on planning applications, which I accept, but councillors are responsible for adopting the county development plans. To have authority, the mayor should have some power to plan the direction a city or county will take. Perhaps this is an example of the synergies to which Senator Boyhan referred, where there is a healthy tension among the CEO, the staff, the elected members and the mayor. There are examples to be found throughout the country where it is not always the case that the councillor has got it wrong but rather the planning staff in Departments can get it wrong. We need a healthy balance in that regard and a mayor should have some power to plan for the city and county. While it might not be a specific power to make decisions on planning applications, which I respect, the mayor should have a strong say on the direction, strategy and coherence of a development plan for a city and county if he or she is to be the respected person of authority with the power that is aspired to.

We have a way to go but I welcome the Minister of State's initiative. It is easy to leave matters alone and I acknowledge that he is not doing that but instead is trying to reform, evaluate and make matters better by giving more power and accountability to those democratically elected, for which he should be supported. Time might not be on his side but there is scope for more consultation and feedback from those already elected on how they feel about their current powers and how they could be improved. Let us learn from policymakers, councillors and academics. I hope the Government will produce a plebiscite that engages the public because it is important we do so rather than receiving only a half-response to the question of whether there should be directly elected mayors. I believe there should be, although the process needs to be developed a bit more, and perhaps this is the first step. I wish the Minister of State well in that endeavour.

5:15 pm

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his constructive engagement on the issue. As he will know, Sinn Féin supports the concept of directly elected mayors. We are all on the same page on a number of issues with the implementation of the proposal, such as whether mayors should assume powers from the chief executives, managers and agencies rather than from councillors elected in their own right, to democratise our local government. We are concerned that we have yet to see details of the exact powers to be transferred, as the Minister of State identified in his speech, or of what powers a directly elected mayor will have. Plebiscites in counties Cork, Limerick and Waterford are 16 weeks away, but if they are to be supported, the electorate, local authorities and elected representatives need further details of what they are voting on. Otherwise, it could follow the line that Brexit has taken, where there will be a vote on an issue without knowing exactly what is being voted on.

We will have a number of public votes on that day and the people in Cork, Limerick and Waterford will not only be voting on the plebiscite but on two referenda and two elections. As much information as possible that can be furnished will give the proposals the best chance of passing and reduce the chances of the debate spiralling around misinformation and distortion of the facts.

I have spoken previously in this House about the virtues of directly elected mayors in Britain and some of the initiatives they are able to undertake. One of these initiatives is the night tzar, working to keep the capital safe, in the Mayor of London's office. This was created in response to a series of closures of night-time industries in Britain and late-night venues being closed in London. The industry is worth around €60 billion to the economy. A similar situation is happening in Dublin and other Irish cities. I am sure such an initiative would enhance this city, the night-life industries and the culture of the night. Having an office spread across all four local authorities in Dublin would strongly improve how we strategically plan and have joint policies with all local authorities, particularly as we re-imagine Dublin, in terms of Dublin-wide plans around green spaces, cycling infrastructure and cultural spaces. Sometimes these conversations and joined-up thinking can get lost in bureaucracy and we had that conversation here previously.

I understand from the Minister of State's speech that the Department is now prioritising the Government's instruction to produce more detailed proposals on plebiscites, the questions to be put to the electorate and the specific powers of mayors. The Minister of State goes on to state that these detailed proposals, including analysis of the cost involved, would be submitted to Government in the coming weeks. Would those details be made public and will they inform the debate? We have submitted our views and I wonder if those details will be made public. I look forward to engaging with the Minister of State on the issue and I hope he returns to the House to debate the matter further.

Sinn Féin will support the concept of directly elected mayors but let me emphasise that the power must come down and not come from councillors or existing powers that lie with local authorities. Transport is a major issue and the powers can come from the agencies such as the NTA. We are seeing the roll out of the Go Ahead buses. It is absolutely bizarre that the existing operator, Dublin Bus, did not win those contracts. A mayor would have an important role in exercising the will of the people on those issues.

5:20 pm

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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Senator Maria Byrne has six minutes.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him on bringing this issue back to the House. There have been many attempts during the years to do this, but nothing really happened. A Green Paper was published on which there was much discussion but it did not proceed to a White Paper.

As a former Mayor of Limerick city, which I had the honour and privilege to serve from 2010 to 2011, I engaged with people from all communities and found it a wonderful experience. As mayor one is representing all of Limerick, the city as well as the rural areas.

Dr. David Sweeting from Bristol University has written a bookentitledDirectly Elected Mayors in Urban Governance: Impact and Practice and in a recent article stated that directly elected mayors are portrayed as being more visible, more accountable, more legitimate and more powerful than any sorts of local leaders. That is very true. I know from my own experience that people from all sections of society look up to the mayor as being the leader and they are looking to the mayor for support and guidance. Certainly I know that from visiting communities and groups across sporting, cultural and other interested parties.

During my term of office as Mayor, one had the Mayor of Limerick city and the Cathaoirleach of the county. At present, Limerick has an amalgamated local authority.

When the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. John Gormley, proposed to amalgamate the city and county council, I lead a protest against it. Now, however, I believe it is the best thing that ever happened to Limerick. Even in terms of Limerick being the economic driver for the mid-west, the performance indicators show that it is the second fastest growing economy and it is because the administration is talking as one unit. A directed elected mayor would certainly bring that into being.

I have a reservation about the populist vote. The candidate would need some form of local authority experience. When someone serves as mayor, it definitely stands to the candidate that he or she has served on a local authority and has the experience of what people are looking for. Countries such as the USA, Germany, the UK, our nearest neighbours, have directly elected mayors. I would support a five-year term because from my experience, one year is not long enough. One is only into the job and getting things done when one is out the door again.

I have learned that people want consistency, as they are disappointed to have to approach the next candidate when one is coming to the end of one's term. It is positive that the Minister of State is speaking in terms of a plebiscite for the city areas. When people look to the drivers of the regions, and I use Limerick as an example for the mid-west, Cork is driving the south and then one has Dublin. Dublin is not competing with the other cities in Ireland, it is competing with capital cities such as London and Paris. We have to be able to compete with our counterparts, be it on the European or national platform. We have to be able to deliver the same standard.

The powers of the mayor are very important to the position. Transport comes under the remit of the mayor. In other countries, education and health comes under the remit of the local authority. I accept that we have to start small and look at expanding the powers. However, the powers have to be given and while the CEO of the local authorities is the main person in charge, the position of mayor has to be developed into something more than a figurehead. While some mayors will put their weight behind things, others will not, so it is important that the role of the CEO be defined if we are to have a directly elected mayor.

In Limerick we have a mayor, who is mayor of the city and county, a mayor of the metropolitan area and we have three other mayors, that is five mayors in total. That needs to be looked at. I know that Senator Coffey referred to the fact that both mayors may turn up. We had an issue with that for some time, but a solution was worked out in the local authority whereby only one mayor will be present. Should more than one mayor with his or her chain of office turn up, it can present a difficulty for the person hosting the event. That is an issue that the Department can examine.

I have been wholeheartedly supportive of the directly elected mayor since the idea was first mooted. I remain supportive of it. It is important to carry out a survey of former mayors and councillors to get their opinions as well as a survey on the plebiscite. A previous speaker put it to us that one has to define exactly what is being put to the people and what that would entail. It is very important to create a clear picture. I thank Members.

5:30 pm

Photo of Kevin HumphreysKevin Humphreys (Labour)
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Regarding Senator Byrne's comments, I fundamentally disagree with restricting the candidacy of a mayor by requiring him or her to have local government experience. Going down the route of ruling people out is a slippery slope. The electorate makes its choice from the people who go forward, and I would never agree with limiting people's choice in that regard.

I welcome the Minister of State. This is an exciting period. Whatever happens, he must ensure that he gets the mayoral provision through. It has been played around with for a long time. It would nearly be better now just to get it than to get it 100% right. We can adapt and learn from experience. It is easy to criticise, but I hope to be constructive in my contributions.

People are discussing what powers the mayors will and will not have, but the first time London had a directly elected mayor, the position had very limited powers. It had a clear mandate from the people, however, and woe betide the official or Minister who does not listen to a mayor with such a democratic mandate. While I want to see mayors having real powers, I will probably not get overly exercised about them getting those powers the first time around. I am more anxious to succeed in establishing the post. It would be difficult for a CEO, Minister or the head of the National Transport Authority not to listen to a directly elected mayor from Cork, Limerick or Waterford who had set out his or her vision for that city.

I am jealous that it is Cork, Limerick and Waterford. I was one of the councillors who campaigned for many years for a directly elected mayor of Dublin. I am disappointed that we will not get one now. Dublin is being hard done by. I apologise to the Chamber, but I feel passionately about my city and its four local authorities. The Minister of State asked where the boundary would be. It would be the GAA boundary. We support the same team. It is the four local authorities. That is what I would like to see as the boundary. It is a mixture of city and rural. There are still rural areas and a farming community left in County Dublin. I still believe that a mayor can represent people like that without being tied to a single geographical electoral area. The mayor would be as important to the city centre as to Tallaght, Swords and Balbriggan, which are key areas of the city. This approach has been proven. Many have said that, if there were a directly elected mayor of Dublin, he or she would only worry about the city centre, but that has not happened in other cities. In light of where the electorate lives, a mayor who only concentrated on the city centre would be a silly one because he or she would probably not get re-elected.

Dublin faces important climate change challenges in terms of transport and developing a carbon-neutral city. My good friend, Councillor Dermot Lacey, constantly points out that 56 agencies deal with traffic in the Dublin area. Can that continue? Can there really be joined-up thinking in that situation? Regarding housing, a cross-city plan is required. Housing needs to be built on State lands and driven by a single voice.

We have seen the development of strategic development zones, SDZs, one of which - Poolbeg west - is in my constituency. We need a driver for that. It entails 3,500 homes, 900 of which should be social and affordable housing. We do not have a voice for it driving it now, though, and a deal done in 2017 regarding the 900 units has still not been delivered on. A mayor of Dublin would have that voice.

Cities are economic drivers and important to their regions. That is why Waterford, Cork and Limerick are as important as Dublin when it comes to mayors.

The Minister of State made some interesting points. It was difficult for him to deal with all of issues involved in a speech for which he was only given eight minutes. It is proposed that the elected mayors have a similar relationship with local authority chief executives as a Minister has with a Secretary General in a Department. The latter is also the gatekeeper for Government policy and can send a memo to the Cabinet on a change to it. I was fortunate enough to be the leader of the Labour Party group in the city alliance in Dublin City Council. We developed a five-year programme for Dublin city which was the council’s policy. It was put to it to be voted on.

5:35 pm

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Similar to the programme for Government.

Photo of Kevin HumphreysKevin Humphreys (Labour)
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The chief executive of the local authority would have responsibility for the policy voted on by the elected councillors. The elected mayor would be responsible for delivering on the programme. That is how we should keep democratic control. The elected mayor would have to get his or her policy programme through the council chamber with support. This could see a driven policy.

On the corporate policy group, the Minister of State wants to see it share the various strategic planning committees. That is an interesting proposal. If it is to act as a mayor’s cabinet, there has to be some relationship with the council in how the mayor appoints it. The cabinet could come from and be approved by the council chamber. Essentially, the mayor would select his or her cabinet from the elected councillors who would be approved by the council. That would keep a strong connection between the mayor and the elected councillors. There is a need to keep that bond. We need to examine and debate this issue in more detail with councillors as there may be problems and hiccups when one moves further into the detail.

On the holding of a plebiscite, the information will come from the Department to the local authorities which will, in turn, give it to the electorate. However, the local authorities have a skin in the game. Should we have a body similar to the Referendum Commission to give independent expert advice to the electorate? All local authority chief executive officers will also have a skin in the game and a particular viewpoint. It would be difficult for them to keep their independence. I would like to see some element of an independent commission in place.

I appeal to the Minister of State to fast-track the arrangements for Dublin. It faces many challenges which need to be dealt with on a citywide basis. We are in discussions on MetroLink and BusConnects. These projects will affect people from Blanchardstown to Swords and from Swords to Tallaght. With those which involve investment and development, they need a citywide debate which should be led by a directly elected mayor. We are talking about moving power back closer to the electorate. The development plan is an important element of local government which is in its ownership. However, with the changes to the height strategy for apartments, it has been taken away from local government. I am in favour of a height and density strategy, but it has to be done correctly, with a buy-in by citizens and councillors.

Taking away the power from councillors is a very negative step, but I can understand it in many ways. However, if we look at the height and density strategy for the Poolbeg West development in south east Dublin, it was brought forward by local councillors and the local community and passed by the city council. It is high density and also has great height, at 12 to 16 storeys. It was brought through the democratic process much quicker. On more than 100 units breaching the development plan, again, the policy and power were taken from the council.

To those of them who are listening - I am sure this speech will be spread around - it must be said councillors also have a responsibility to exercise their reserved functions. I remember having an interesting discussion with the city manager when I became leader of the Labour Party group in the civic alliance. We announced to the manager that we were going to produce the budget, which is a reserved function. In the first year he was not very progressive, but in the second year he was much more progressive in actually engaging and assisting in producing the budget. It is a reserved function, as in the case of the development plan. Sometimes it can be very unpopular to take responsibility and exercise reserved functions. The sale of land is a reserved function. Too often - I say this with a lot of experience of local government - giving a small sum of money to a councillor to stay quiet sometimes deflects from the bigger picture. The discretionary funding of €4,000 or €5,000 individual councillors receive does not always serve the greater public as well as lumping funding together. From the late spring many local authorities will start to develop their budgetary processes. I urge councillors in those local authorities, especially in those councils that will be newly elected, to look at their reserved functions and actually exercise them. There is an amount of powers that can be brought closer to the electorate. Councillors should make the decisions on where money should be spent because it is a reserved function.

As I said at the beginning, I envy the Minister of State. This could be a turning point in local government. Above all, I ask him to not let anyone deflect him and ensure this legislation goes through in a timely manner. I will support the suggestions that I think are worthy and push my party to support them.

5:40 pm

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, who has put a considerable amount of work into this issue. I want to get into the substantive issue. This is very much democracy at work. The people of Limerick and in the other cities will decide for themselves if they want to have a directly elected mayor. It is critical that what is put to the people is something they believe is valid and credible and has not been rushed. Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council were amalgamated some time ago. One of the unintended consequences initially was that there were two mayors. That issue had not been looked at. It so happened that in the first year both mayors had the same surname, which caused a great degree of confusion. It is very important that what is put in place work.

The Minister of State stated the proposed office of directly elected mayor should help to bridge the gap. He needs to define what he means by "bridge the gap." What position will the mayor occupy? What powers will he or she have? What powers will be reallocated from the county manager or the CEO? The chamber must be left intact in respect of the reserved functions of councillors. What new powers will the mayor have? I listened to Senator Humphreys who mentioned that the mayor would be akin to a Minister. Every time a Secretary General comes before the Committee of Public Accounts and we ask him or her a question, he or she answers it by stating it is a matter of policy or a matter for the Government. If the mayor is to be the equivalent of a Minister, who will decide on policy? That is the critical point. There are areas where I think having a mayor would be extremely important. For instance, there is a general view among councillors that the change in powers has moved in one direction, away from them and towards the CEO. How then will we ensure we define the role of mayor clearly? The role of CEO is clearly defined, as is the interaction between the mayor and the CEO. The role of the chamber and its members is also clearly defined. I am assuming that, if the people of Limerick decide to opt to have a directly elected mayor, there will be an increase in the number of members from 40 to 41. Will the CEO be a member of Limerick City and County Council? He or she will sit on the council-----

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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The mayor, not the CEO.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)
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I am sorry. Will the mayor be a member of Limerick City and County Council?

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)
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The membership will increase to 41. Will the mayor have a vote to play? Will he or she have the same standing in votes as other members in the chamber? These are all matters where the devil will be in the detail.

The Minister of State spoke about a recall mechanism. It will have to be clearly defined and understood by the public. In my experience, unless members of the public understand how something will work in practice, in many cases, they will say "No" based on the principle of if in doubt, leave it out. That is an issue of great importance.

The idea of having strategic policy committees could be a good one. I was elected to the council when strategic policy committees were in their infancy in 2004. By and large, they did not work as they were seen as talking shops by many of their members, but they have evolved into something different and are now more substantive. If they are to be set up as sub-cabinet groups, they must have powers and must be able to feed into policy. The idea of having a programme for a council term is a very good one and it would work in practice. In addition, it is important that whatever the Minister of State is proposing be put to the people. The legislation is in place and the overarching aspect at which we are looking is the directly elected mayor.

The public is normally ahead of the politicians. It will ask how the Bill is going to work in practice and what exactly the mayor will do. It will certainly say "No" if it gets any whiff that it will be nothing more than a ceremonial role.

I am also conscious that there are 40 directly elected councillors on Limerick City and County Council and their powers must be protected and enhanced. That is key. How can we come up with such a system? The Minister of State spoke about reserved functions and stated planning functions would be retained within the executive. When it comes to housing, however, no one is infallible. To be honest, we have seen proposals for housing projects about which questions have to be asked about whoever thought about building them in a particular location. People have to be held accountable. We can state that in the political system we are very much held to account. It is very important, therefore, that we examine what works in other jurisdictions. Not so long ago we were part of a delegation to Germany where we studied the public banking system. In Heidelberg there is a directly elected mayor whose role is separate from that of the councillors, but he does attend meetings. There has to be accountability-----

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator is one minute over time.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)
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I welcome this. It is very important that the people of Limerick have a directly elected mayor but, as the public will not take the decision lightly, the roles of the new mayor and CEO must be clear and unambiguous, as must be the new powers the new mayor will have. The proposals must be rolled out to the public in a way that is separate from the local authority in order that people can perceive the role as being completely independent. A directly elected mayor could substantially enhance Limerick city with regard to investment abroad and how the public interacts with the local authority.

When does the Minister of State expect to finalise the proposals? The sooner they are in the public domain the more they can be perused so that when it comes to the plebiscite, the public will be familiar and happy with them and people will be able to make a very clear decision on something that they know will do what it says on tin. We will then have a directly elected mayor to represent the people of Limerick in the best possible way.

5:50 pm

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for returning to the House. It is disappointing that the number of people participating in the debate is so small given its importance. I am an unapologetic supporter of the newly created position of directly elected mayor and will be a very strong advocate for it. I welcome the debate and the concept. I have met directly elected mayors in the UK and the US.

I hope the Irish people, in particular the people of Cork, will affirm the commitment in the programme for Government by voting for this proposal in May. This will be the most important plebiscite the Irish people will face in making their decisions on the future of local government and its structures. Some Members have outlined questions that must be addressed. It is important that we put in place a series of information meetings as part of the advancement of the case. I invite the Minister of State to Cork to engage in this. I do not do so in an adversarial way but to take the points outlined by Senators Kieran O'Donnell and Byrne in order that we can bring people with us.

This is an exciting time for local government and our cities, including Cork. We need to look at the directly elected mayor's role, functions, powers, staffing and resources in tandem with the role of the council, existing county and city managers and the director of services. This is about the empowerment of local government. We must avoid vagueness and ambiguity as part of our campaign for the plebiscite. We must bring people with us. We must inform and educate them and give them all of the information they will seek from us. I hope we will engage in a regional meeting approach.

This is about the future vision of our cities. It is about giving a mandate to a political leader to take this vision and create new vibrant cities as part of Project Ireland 2040. In tandem with this, we can allow elected mayors, with the chief executive, to have a voice and leadership role. In his speech, the Minister of State made reference to the role being akin to the Secretary General of a Department and I welcome this. We must also ensure members of the council are not lost in the transition and that they have roles to play in local government. This is an important time and I am ambitious for the role to be cultivated and created.

I am a very proud member of my political party and I have never been afraid to come up with ideas to ensure we create alternatives to Dublin in the case of Cork. As a Corkonian, I am very passionate about Cork. Through Project Ireland 2040, the Government has given an imprimatur to the regions to grow and develop and be that counterfoil, despite the political protestations and posturing of some members of the Opposition. It is incumbent on us to develop the role to be the driver and creator of a new modern dynamic local government structure.

In some way, the challenges we face today are no different to when we began local government but there are also new challenges in terms of having carbon neutral cities, transport and housing. As uachtarán an Chumann Lúthchleas Gael stated in his address today, it is also about ensuring we have green spaces for recreation and parks in our cities. It is about saying to those who are tempted to oppose it that we can win them over by the strength of our argument. It is about being positive. It is about speaking to some of our councillors, who perhaps are sceptical and have vague notions about what the role is. It is also about putting in place the building block to create this platform for our cities.

Senator Humphreys is correct that we must avoid putting in place restrictions but I hope we do not go down the road of celebrity candidates thinking they can be the chief executive of a city. This is the most important position we are creating in local government and our civic life because it is about the people who will be represented. It is about the cities and regions in question. It is also about the future. I know from speaking to mayors of small US cities that there is a competitive element of attracting finance and jobs. We must define the role. We must create the argument for it and I believe the Minister of State can do this. This debate is the beginning of the journey. I will work with the Minister of State in campaigning for the position of directly elected mayor of the city of Cork. It is necessary and would play a pivotal role in making Cork the transformative place it is on the cusp of being.

I congratulate the Minister of State and thank him for his courtesy regarding the boundary arrangements for Cork. I hope we will not have a lacuna in the period between passing the legislation in this regard and its enactment because we must get it right. We cannot afford to fail in the biggest and most pronounced boundary change in the history of our country. It will involve staffing, resourcing and meeting the expectations of residents.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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We were speaking about mayors and not boundary changes.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I thank the eight Senators who contributed. I also thank the business committee of the Seanad for arranging to have the debate today. The reason for having this discussion now is that I am conscious the Government will make a decision on this within the next two weeks and we want to hear what Senators have to say and their suggestions. Probably for the best of reasons, many of the speakers want me to outline to the House more specific proposals. The proposals must go to the Cabinet first. The purpose of this debate is to get the views of Senators. Some people gave views and others did not. It is important that everyone has the opportunity to be heard. As Senator Murnane O'Connor said, it was a privilege to be here with the president of the GAA. It is a privilege to be here with me also.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State is my neighbour.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I will not refer to each person who raised the issue of the role of councillors and the bigger picture. It is absolutely correct.

It has always been the way that, when it comes to the day of local and European elections, councillors and their foot soldiers do the campaigning. They have also campaigned for the European elections. Other votes will be held on the day of the elections in May.

I reiterate unambiguously that we are not proposing the removal of any of the existing reserved functions of councillors. Ms Moorhead is conducting another piece of work about extra remuneration and additional functions for local authority members and I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of that. I am conscious of the point made by Senator Humphreys that we have to start the ball rolling somewhere. If we were to wait for every piece to fall into place, nothing would move in the area of directly elected mayors for quite some time. People in Cork city, Waterford city and county and Limerick city and county are being asked whether they want to have a directly elected mayor. Government will make its decision in the coming weeks as to the exact parameters of the role and in respect of issues around costs, remuneration for the people elected and the staffing supports which Senators raised in their contributions.

Senator Murnane O'Connor spoke about the Dublin issue. I would have liked for Dublin to be in the first round, but there is a significant complicating factor in Dublin in that there are four local authorities. It is interesting that, in both this House and the other House, the people who have raised the issue of why Dublin is not included have not suggested a single idea as to how a directly elected mayor would fit in with the four existing local authorities in the capital. That is a difficult chestnut to crack, but the Dublin assembly will be tasked with doing so. The assembly will include the voices of elected representatives, both local and national.

I am glad Senator Boyhan has circulated my statement. He is nothing if not meticulous in his circulation of material among members of our local authorities.

6:00 pm

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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They appreciate it.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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They do and they also raise the matter with me. I emphasise the Senator's point that this is one piece of a reform package. It is a bit like what happened during the mergers in Waterford, Limerick and Tipperary. The first thing to be done was the appointment of a joint chief executive who drove the process. There is a major gap in our local authority structure that does not really exist in any other comparable place in the world. Much of the power rests with the executive and little of it with the people who are elected. The fundamental point of this measure is to fundamentally address that by effectively making the roles of what used to be known as county manager and city manager directly elected positions. The chief executive would continue to run the administration, but the directly elected mayor would be the person responsible for the political side, as well as being the face of the local authority. He or she would be responsible for the political decisions and policy positions of the authority.

Senator Boyhan also spoke about remuneration and other matters. From the interim report produced by Ms Moorhead, it was fairly clear where her thoughts are heading with regard to the underpayment of local authority members for the work they do and the hours they put in. Again, however, I cannot pre-empt what the final report will say.

I can see how this measure could be viewed as an attack on chief executives of local authorities and county managers, but it is not. For the most part, chief executives and county managers have been exemplary public servants across the country. This is an absolute acknowledgement that one either believes in democracy or one does not. For this reason, I am slightly in disagreement with Deputy Jan O'Sullivan and Senator Maria Byrne about celebrity-type candidates. I do not want to see a celebrity-type candidate elected anywhere unless he or she is qualified and able to do the job. Not all celebrities are unqualified for the role. We cannot exclude people from running for elected office on the basis that they were sportspersons or anything else in a previous life. Ultimately, the people will make the call as to who their directly elected mayor will be after individuals have decided to put themselves forward for the role. I am sure parties will also contest these elections and run candidates.

In respect of the meeting with the County and City Management Association, CCMA, scheduled for the near future, I have already had some preliminary discussions with the councillor representative groups on the issue. Much like the views expressed in the Seanad today, their views have been broadly supportive but they have inquired as to the parameters of the role. I do not want to presuppose what the issues of concern to the CCMA might be, but we will certainly try to ensure a balance is struck.

The matter of the local property tax, LPT, is a two-handed reel between the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Department of Finance. The work is nearly completed from the point of view of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. I am sure Senator Boyhan will continue to raise the matter with the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform. People need certainty. When I say "people" I do not necessarily mean only the public. Local authority members and people who hold positions in local government also need that certainty. Several speakers said that the real issues were finance and the functions and costs of the role. I agree absolutely. Once the Government has made its decision, I will have no problem coming back to the House again.

Senator Coffey also supported the idea we are proposing in principle but had issues regarding the practicalities of how it would work. We have always had an issue in Ireland in that representative groups, including those representing councillors and county managers, are not always the first people seeking reform of the system. I suppose it is the natural shape of the relationship that has existed in local government for so long. Some consultation has taken place and more will take place. The Senator asked whether the mayor or chief executive will call the shots. The mayor will call the shots because this is about injecting a severe dose of democratic accountability into local government at the executive level. We already have it at the reserved level, that is, among local authority members.

More will be done on the issue of councillors' powers when Ms Moorhead's work is completed because there is an appetite in government for ensuring councillors have more powers. Senator Humphreys said there are local authority members who do not want to exercise their powers. Drawing up the budget and development plans are the most substantive powers available to them. Some local authorities get deeper into the nitty-gritty of the drafting and drawing up of these than others do. If one thinks back to the old local authority structure, there was a county agricultural committee, a county education committee and a county health committee. All of those functions have been removed over the years, not by any one Government but by many Governments over decades. Many of those decisions were made because difficult issues were not dealt with at local level. Some of it was done under the headings of saving costs or of benefitting from economies of scale when certain functions are performed at a more central or regional level. We all know that has not worked particularly well in certain areas. I am all in favour of more devolution but, again, we will see what emerges in Ms Moorhead's report in terms of how much more power can be given back. My position on this issue is that any function that can be performed as efficiently and cost-effectively - or more so - at local level than at a higher level should be performed by the local authority in the future. I will not draw a line under devolving anything that can be done as or more efficiently at local government level.

Senator Warfield also supported the concept but spoke about a lack of specifics. I cannot be too specific. This was a discussion for Members to give their suggestions. The Senator is absolutely right in one point he raised, which was completely different from those of everyone else. Holding two elections, two referendums and plebiscites on the same day will mean that we will have to be very clear with the people in the three local authority areas as to what that fifth ballot paper is about. As practising politicians, we all know about the blank ballot papers that sometimes appear in ballot boxes because people did not know there was to be a referendum or a plebiscite on a certain issue. People in the particular areas in which the plebiscites will be held will go in to vote for their local councillor or whatever and suddenly find they have been given five ballot papers.

The costs associated with the role and what it will entail will, absolutely, be made public. I am sure that this will be part of the campaign locally.

Senator Humphreys and others spoke about the roles of various Government agencies and other authorities to which we have devolved functions over the years, be it the National Transport Authority or others. The directly elected head of local government must have a clear role in transport and in other functions that have been given to State bodies and agencies. How precise this will be is a decision facing the Government over the next few weeks. It would be pointless, as Senator Kieran O'Donnell has said, if this role was just a figurehead. People would not vote for it. It has to be one with real powers.

Senator Byrne spoke about her support for the measure and how it did not matter if the person is rural or city based and she is right in this regard. Deputies in the other House becried and gave out about the prospect that the directly elected mayor of Limerick might come from outside of Limerick city. Again, this is a matter for the public and it would be the same in Waterford.

Off the top of my head I do not know the population breakdown between Limerick city and county but in Waterford city and county there is probably a slightly larger rural population, and if one includes the Tramore end of the county it is probably more evenly balanced between city and county. It will be a matter for the people to vote for who they think is the best person. Reference was made to the success in Limerick of the merger, which had opponents at the time but which has worked out well for the city and the county. Senator Byrne also spoke about the importance of the plebiscite route because if the people say they want that particular role it gives a democratic mandate to the person elected, and I feel this too. The Senator is correct in her comments about the five mayors in Limerick. I believe that a mayor should only be from an urban centre or a unified local authority. There is an idea that exists right across the country that in municipal districts with no significant urban centre the chairperson of that area is a mayor. Again, it is a matter for the local authorities to determine themselves, but the Custom House may have to revisit this because it leads to confusion among the public.

I have already referred to some of Senator Humphreys's comments. He spoke about the need to ensure that everybody could run for the position and that there would be no artificial hurdles. I agree fully with this principle. The more I have debated this matter over two days in the Dáil and the Seanad the more I am convinced that rather than go to the public with the big bang we need to have a specific list - which might be a shortlist - of functions the directly elected mayor would have at first and have a longer list indicating where the role might go. One of the things that came out from the process in Cork was that the Cork local authorities performed 400 different functions. Trying to explain this to the public would be difficult, whereas if one identified the ten or 12 key policy areas where the transfer responsibility is wanted from day 1, then the list can grow. That is what happened in every other jurisdiction I have looked at. It is one thing I have learned from the discussion in both Houses over the last week of sittings.

Reference was made to the Civic Alliance document. I do not see any reason. I want to consider a move towards a system of local government that would have more similarity with how national politics works in the sense that as well as getting more powers there would be more responsibility accepted at local level. Senator Humphreys spoke about what was effectively a programme for government for the Dublin city local authority. I believe that this is what will come out of these measures.

On the query about fast-tracking Dublin, if the Dublin assembly can complete its work this year it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a directly elected mayor might emerge in Dublin as quickly as in the other areas. As I said, the Department of the Taoiseach is leading on this. I am pushing them as much as I can to ensure that assembly meets. Unlike the Constitutional Convention it will not go on over months. A weekend or two could get a lot of the work done on those particular matters. A Senator asked about how the new cabinet system would be appointed. It is important that the democratic will of the people is represented. We have a block system at local authority level where positions are filled and I believe that rather than a confrontational style of local government straight off the bat the different groupings should be represented in those leadership positions as the lead on housing, planning or transport, for example, in each local authority area. That would be my preference but I am sure others may have different views.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell was correct when he said it is important that what is put to the people is valid, credible and not rushed. It is my intention to have a series of town hall meetings. I would consider it necessary to have one in Limerick city and one somewhere in the west of the county. The same applies to Waterford. It is slightly different in Cork where it is just the city area. Senator Lombard might guide me in this; do we need to have such a meeting in both the north and south sides of the city? City Hall in Cork is probably the place to have it, but further to that it will be an intensely local campaign. The local media outlets in Limerick, Cork and Waterford will need to be used to the maximum to explain what it is that people will be faced with when they enter the polling booth in May of this year.

Senator Kieran O' Donnell asked who would decide on policy and if it would be the executive or the mayor. The mayor and the council will decide on policy, not the executive. The general view of the council is that powers have gone one way. Exactly, and I hope this is the start of a process that will see a reversal of that one-way traffic, which has existed in different policy areas of local government for 30 years. The mayor will be a member of the local council, as things stand, and he or she will have a regular vote with the other councillors on the budget or the development plan, for example. Members have referred to celebrity candidates, but if a candidate for the role of directly elected mayor wishes to run in a ward or an electoral area it would be very much open to him or her to do that. The powers of councillors are protected. The Senator also asked when it would be finalised. It is our intention that this would be finalised within the next two weeks and we would have that public process.

Senator Buttimer expressed his disappointment on the low turnout of Senators to debate this matter. He referred to a series of information meetings, with which I agree absolutely. In the first instance it would probably be essential for me to go to the city council in Cork and the local authorities in Limerick and Waterford to talk with the councillors first and perhaps have the public meeting on the same night in those areas. I have no problem doing that.

The only opposition expressed to this in the Dáil Chamber was from Deputy Wallace. We are neighbours and I went to school with some of his family in New Ross in Wexford. Deputy Wallace gave us the example of H'Angus the Monkey, the Hartlepool United soccer team mascot in the UK. The mascot was elected as the mayor of Hartlepool on five successive occasions. I wish, however, to correct the record; the mascot was not a directly elected mayor with executive powers. H'Angus the Monkey did not get to influence policy decisions in Hartlepool in the same way I would envisage the directly elected mayors doing right across the country.

In my view, the head of every local authority should ultimately be directly elected whether it is in Kilkenny County Council, Leitrim County Council or Roscommon County Council. One can never have too much democracy. Currently we have democratic accountability for the lowest rung of local government, which is the councillor, but we have none for the highest rung. This is an attempt to redress that imbalance.

6:10 pm

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)
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At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 30 January 2019.