I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time"
I am sharing time with Deputy Shane Cassells. I welcome the opportunity to go into more detail on the Bill. I thank the Minister of State for being present. The idea of a mayor for Dublin goes back to the time of the former Minister and Deputy, Mr. Noel Dempsey. In 2001 or 2002, it resurfaced in the context of the Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition. There was a commitment in my party's manifesto in the run-in to the last general election to seek to hold a plebiscite on the matter. As I made clear when I introduced it on First Stage, the Bill is clear and concise. It provides for the holding of a plebiscite, which is a vote of all eligible voters, in the four administrative counties of Dublin that would decide whether legislation should be brought forward to provide for the establishment of an office of a directly-elected mayor who would be chairperson and leader of an authority or other body for the Dublin metropolitan area.
Our timeline is set out clearly. The proposed plebiscite is to be held no later than May 2018 and the Minister, no less than six months prior to that date and following a period of public consultation, is to cause a copy of the proposals setting out the powers and responsibility of the directly-elected mayor to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. Such proposals must be approved by both Houses before being put before the people of Dublin. If the plebiscite is passed, elections for a directly-elected mayor would be held in conjunction with the local and European elections in 2019.
At present, there are four Dublin local authorities, namely, Fingal County Council, South Dublin County Council, Dublin City Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. This entails four chief executive officers and four mayors or cathaoirligh. While it was proper that they were set up when Dublin was split into four local authorities in the mid-1990s, these authorities were established to compete with each other. They have competed quite effectively and each of the three regions have well-established county towns. However, they were not set up to co-operate or to collaborate. This needs to change. Although we are seeking that broader powers be afforded to the mayor, if Dubliners, in deciding to vote for a directly-elected mayor, gave that directly-elected mayor just one power - that to co-ordinate the functions of the four local authorities - it would be a good day's work.
This is the only proposal to come before the House in the context of a directly-elected mayor for Dublin that gives all of Dublin's citizens and stakeholders a direct say in the matter. We believe that holding a plebiscite avoids an accusation of creating just another layer of bureaucracy in the city because, ultimately, Dublin's citizens may decide to reject the idea of a directly-elected mayor. If they decide positively and elect to do so, then they are assenting to the structures that are required to make that mayor effective.
Our proposal does not seek to impose one particular view or model or set of functions or structures or architecture in respect of the mayor. We live in a world that is being convulsed by extremes on the left and the right and we are hypersensitive to the need to enable all Dubliners to have a full say and not to feel that a directly-elected mayor is an idea of politicians or one that is championed by the media, business interests etc.
As I stated in an interview this morning, this is an idea that must appeal to people if they live in Fettercairn, Blanchardstown, Dalkey or Balbriggan. It must have something in it to ensure it appeals to every part of the county.
One of the most dispiriting interviews I have heard in recent weeks and months was one given by the founder or co-ordinator of the Web Summit, Paddy Cosgrave, at the weekend when he stated Dublin did not have the capacity to host the summit and its 53,000 delegates. There may be politics involved in that statement and it does not interest me in that regard. On the other hand, the IRFU is competing to ensure the Rugby World Cup will be hosted in Ireland, including Dublin, in 2023. The IRFU believes the country has the capacity to host 400,000 people from abroad. Notwithstanding the good news this represents, the downside is that from an event management and conference hosting point of view, Dublin does not compete with other international city regions.
We had the debacle around cancelled Garth Brooks concerts a few years ago. The capital did not have one boss who could make a decision and bring in people. Regardless of people's taste in music, Dublin business people, from street traders to hoteliers, were denied significant income, not to speak of the pleasure of the performance. If I recall correctly, Garth Brooks was to give three performances in Croke Park, each of which would have been attended by 80,000 fans. It is mind boggling that this opportunity was allowed to slip through our fingers.
We also have initiatives such as the dublinbikes scheme and Dublin greenways. The National Transport Authority is a statutory body that can make decisions about these initiatives without any democratic accountability. Bikes are not an add-on luxury in the daily lives of Dublin but a fundamental and essential part of transport in the city.
I applauded the Taoiseach's decision to spend considerable time on the Dublin north inner city task force. This is not the type of thing a Taoiseach needs to spend time on. This is the job of a directly elected Dublin mayor, which is not to say it is not worthy of the attention of the Taoiseach. I do not want to be misunderstood in that regard. However, as the elected Prime Minister, the Taoiseach has national responsibilities.
I will outline some of the functions we would like to be considered as part of our proposal for a directly elected mayor of Dublin. The capital must start to position itself to compete with other international cities of similar size, most of which have directly elected mayors, with all of them at least having mayors with executive functions. This function would be to ensure the capital develops economically.
On transport, at a political level, it will be necessary to establish another Dublin transportation agency and this time it should be chaired by a directly elected mayor. The Dublin housing task force, which is dominated by officials, needs to have a political force driving it. This function could also deal with issues such as delivery, land availability and approving and reviewing the accommodation of homeless persons strategy for the Dublin region.
Five of the top eight information technology companies in the world are headquartered in the capital. Despite this, Dublin is not considered to be a smart city internationally. We have an opportunity to enable the city to gain a competitive advantage over other cities. We need a directly elected mayor who would drive the willingness to use Dublin as a test bed for innovation. We should use the technology companies to assist us in modelling, for example, improvements in the transport infrastructure. One can drive through Dublin city and county with ease when schools are closed. With the right technology, surely someone could harness the available data and information to produce a model that could assist us in this regard. South Dublin County Council, my local authority, only monitors traffic entering and leaving the council area. To the best of my knowledge, there is no monitoring or harnessing of data for the entire county.
On arts and culture, a parliament of the arts should meet annually in Dublin. This should serve as a forum to give a voice to everyone in the arts, culture and heritage and could also be chaired by a directly elected mayor. This body could drive policy for arts and culture in the city.
Dublin has a specific responsibility in the area of climate change. We can develop the various areas as we go along, but a directly elected mayor could have a function in this area by being a champion for action on climate change. This would appeal in particular to a younger generation in the capital and make politics relevant to them.
The merits of a directly elected mayor include the leadership role he or she would assume in the city. There would be one voice, go-to person and identifiable champion of the city. This person would be the symbolic head in terms of meeting business leaders and attracting foreign direct investment. A particular advantage would be the accountability involved. An elected mayor would be democratically accountable in a way the four chief executive officers of the four Dublin local authorities are not accountable.
As a former member of South Dublin County Council for almost 20 years, I am aware of the concerns of some members of the four Dublin local authorities. However, I do not foresee a directly elected mayor of Dublin leading to any diminution of the powers and role of councillors on the four Dublin local authorities. On the contrary, the legislation provides an opportunity to enhance their role and give them additional powers. It also raises the possibility of producing ideas for having a different form of mayor or cathaoirleach for the four Dublin local authorities should they so decide.
I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce the Bill on Second Stage.