I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his endeavours yesterday evening regarding the commitment I made.
Directly Elected Mayors: Statements
The Minister of State is welcome.
I thank Deputies and members of the Business Committee for allowing time for statements on the issue of directly elected mayors, which was raised in our discussion on the Local Government Bill 2018 before Christmas. Deputies expressed the view that there should be an input from this and the Upper House prior to the Government making a decision on the exact role and functions of directly elected mayors. I am glad that the Dáil will be able to have this discussion. We will have it in the Seanad next week.
I wish to outline the proposals that I intend to present to the Government in the coming weeks. I am here to listen to any good suggestion from Members. Nothing has been finalised yet, so suggestions regarding this significant reform of how local government is run will be taken on board.
As the House will be aware, A Programme for a Partnership Government includes a commitment to consider directly elected mayors in cities as part of a broader range of local government reforms. Several previous programmes for Government included similar measures. The reforms' principal aim is strengthening local democracy and shifting the balance of power, which is lopsided in many respects, between the executive and those who are directly elected by the people.
On foot of the commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government, I submitted to the Government last September a policy paper, entitled Local Authority Leadership, Governance and Administration, which included a number of policy proposals for directly elected mayors. This policy paper was approved by the Government at its meeting of 27 September and forwarded to the 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 the areas of Cork City Council, Limerick City and County Council, Waterford City and County Council, and Galway city and Galway county councils at the same time as the local government elections next May. This decision was subject to the necessary provisions for the holding of the plebiscites being included in the Local Government Bill and the requirement that I would revert to the Government with more detailed proposals on the plebiscites, the questions to be put and the specific powers to be given to these directly elected mayors.
Following yesterday's completion of the Local Government Bill by the Houses, the Bill provides for 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. It is intended that the plebiscites will be held at the same time as the local elections in May. The Department is 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. These detailed proposals, including an analysis of the costs involved, will be submitted to the Government in the coming weeks. Prior to reverting to the Government with these more detailed proposals, I wish to consult both Houses to understand their views on the matter.
As Deputies will be aware, local government legislation divides local authority functions into executive and reserved functions. The proposed office of directly elected mayor with executive functions should bridge the gap between the two categories of functions. It is my view that, subject to some exceptions, responsibility for executive functions could be transferred in their entirety to directly elected mayors. The directly elected mayor would be an ex officio member of the elected 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 domestically and internationally.
Given the potentially wide range of functions performed by local authorities, the directly elected mayor's role would need to be supported by a chief executive officer. The executive mayor would have a similar relationship with the local authority chief executive as a Minister has with a Secretary General of a Department.
The mayor's functions would exclude executive functions related to planning matters, which would remain with the chief executive. Chief executives would also continue to be responsible for organisational and staff related matters. This is similar to arrangements in Departments, where the Secretary General is responsible for such matters.
The elected council would 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 while also exercising its existing and future reserved functions. I emphasise this point, as it has been raised in many discussions in the Dáil and elsewhere. We are not proposing the removal of any of the existing reserved functions that local councillors have.
A mechanism to recall the mayor should also be set out and will be included in the final memorandum that goes to Government. I would be interested in Members' views on that issue. At a local level, on creating a position with such responsibility it also would be necessary to ensure, were a matter to arise, that there would be a recall election mechanism for the public, as has been recently provided for in the United Kingdom but that has existed for years in many other democracies across the world.
In addition to the directly elected executive mayor proposals, I will propose a 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 corporate policy group. As to what role or title would be officially given, no decision has yet been made. It is the case in local authorities right across western Europe that different councillors sometimes are the lead councillor for certain strategic matters that the local authority controls and I certainly envisage that should be the case in Ireland.
I intend that 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 for the Minister for 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 elections in May next. Anyone 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. 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 local authorities for distribution to electors.
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 assembly, with the input of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Consideration will need to be given to the membership of the assembly, for example, whether the assembly should include elected officeholders similar to membership of the Convention on the Constitution. It certainly is my personal view that the assembly should have a similar make-up as the Convention on the Constitution. There is also a range of complex policy questions to be examined by the Dublin citizens' assembly, including the consideration of functions of the officeholder; the proposed relationship between the directly elected mayor and the local authority elected members and the executive of the local authorities involved; and the geographical area that would fall under the Dublin mayor's remit.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and Members for their ongoing engagement on the issue. The establishment of offices of directly elected mayors with executive functions would represent a very significant change and development in the political accountability of leadership at local authority level and I look forward to hearing the views of Members during the debate.
I welcome the opportunity today to speak on this issue of directly elected mayors. I will start by reflecting on some comments the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, made last night in respect of the Local Government Bill 2018. The Minister of State noted that when he was speaking with the councillors' representative group, the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, it was not able to provide him with even one additional power that it thought could be allocated to councillors in the performance of their elected roles. That is difficult to believe but if it is true, it is shocking. Having spent 17 years as a councillor - the Minister of State also was a councillor - there are plenty that I could have suggested for the group. In respect of the specific role of directly elected mayors, there are powers I definitely believe should be allocated to these mayors should the plebiscites be successful. They are powers I note the Minister of State already ruled out when he touched on the subject during the debate before Christmas and, again, this afternoon.
I believe that if all we are doing in creating directly elected mayors is creating a post for a councillor to go and cut ribbons, we are doing a disservice to the role in the first place and, in fact, are codding the people. They would be going out en masse to vote for a person whom they believe could act as a genuine local leader who could effect change in their area only to find that the Government did not give him or her any real powers in the areas that matter. Those powers would still remain with the chief executive because those at Government level could not trust a mere elected councillor to have powers that could bring together the forward-looking plans we need for our towns and cities. If we really want to create the positions of directly elected mayors that will be comparable with the same positions across Europe that the Minister of State has cited, these need to be afforded executive powers. These executive powers should be along the lines of a director of services in respect of planning, housing and transport in order that when reports are produced by the respective professional persons at staff level in such local authority departments, ultimately, a file can be signed off on or rejected by an elected representative who has been sent there by the people of that county and city to do the job. That is the key line, namely, a person sent there by the people.
Increasingly, people are becoming frustrated that when it comes to major decisions impacting on their lives in their counties and cities, they suddenly find that those for whom they went out and voted do not have the power to make or rescind a decision. They can make lengthy speeches in the council chamber and can stand with people at a protest but they do not have the executive power to make or rescind executive decisions. It will be an unelected person, a faceless official whose details will not be listed in many cases on the local authority's website, not even his or her email address or telephone number, who will make that decision. Frankly, that is not right. I had enough of it when I was a councillor. I do not want to see an opportunity wasted by us not affording directly elected mayors, in whom people would have confidence, the power to do that.
As a country, we either will have the welcome conversation that, thankfully, is starting today in this Chamber about whether we now accept we have matured and moved past the scandals and clientelism that scarred this country in the post-Independence era to a position where we trust those elected to do the job we expect they should be able to do or, if the Minister of State does not create such a vista, we will be saying that our future leaders at local and city level, including those who have not yet even been born or conceived, are to carry the sins of a small number of their forefathers. We will be saying that, forever and a day, we do not believe we can trust elected members to discharge what is the preserve of unelected officials. I do not believe in that mantra. I want to see elected members have powers similar to those of a director of services in the areas of planning, transport and housing in order that they can set down a programme and vision for their respective city and county and then lead the development of that plan with the powers to implement it. I do not seek a situation where we have directed elected mayors rolled out to recite the corporate message of the local authority, that is, the "face" of the local authority, as the Minister of State called it, as opposed to the expressed will of the people.
The benefit of trusting our elected representatives with such power is that these officeholders will be accountable in a real sense for their actions to the people who elect them in their city or county. If they fail in meeting those high standards or in upholding their mandate, they will be gone in the next election. Let us take, as an example, the recent controversy in south inner-city Dublin surrounding the removal of the Weaver Square garden space, which is used currently for allotments by residents but will be turned into 100 rapid-build homes. It is a green lung in the heart of inner-city Dublin, which is a condensed urbanised space where there is a dearth of green space for city dwellers to enjoy a green lung and plant their own vegetables. It also is an urban space where there are thousands on the social housing waiting list and where 100 rapid-build homes would make a real difference to people waiting years for a place to call home. During that debate, there were passionate statements on both sides with equal credentials, but one statement that stood out for me was that of Ms Samantha McCaffrey from the Weaver Square Community Garden group, as reported in The Irish Times, "We want to see a fair, transparent public planning process”. That statement sums up the frustration of people with their local authorities when it comes to decisions that really impact their lives. People can live with final decisions if they can see that their opinion mattered in the process.
We need real decision-making powers for elected mayors. They should not be allocating a few bob for potholes or making representations to an engineer. We should have a situation whereby a local resident can speak to a local elected person who can either accept or reject his or her petition. The fact that so many decisions that matter to people are made by unelected officials is a source of great frustration. The public would prefer to have a mayor with the line manager power to sign or reject a planning file. This is a debate worth having and I am starting it today.
I referred to a recent controversy in Dublin by way of example. Of course, the plans being brought forward would have made little difference in that situation because there are no proposals for a mayor for our capital city, which quite frankly is unbelievable and a disgrace. Fianna Fáil firmly believes that Dublin needs a directly elected mayor. Deputy John Lahart, who will speak on the issue, brought forward a Bill on 27 October 2016 which proposed holding a plebiscite for a Dublin mayor. Fianna Fáil recognises that such a position could revolutionise the city of Dublin. If afforded the correct powers, it could ensure that we have a European capital which runs properly, rather than one strangled by transport issues, as was the case last year. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, strolled into the Chamber, said it was nothing to do with him and left again. Nobody was accountable and nobody took the issues by the scruff of the neck. However, everyone pays the price for the system that, as a country, we are prepared to endure. The citizens of Dublin want to see a massive step taken and a directly elected mayor for the city. That question should be put to the people.
Equally, there is a need for a discussion about the powers a directly elected mayor would have in order to get Dublin moving and operating correctly. That is the case for many areas of the country, in addition to Dublin and those listed, which would benefit from having a directly elected mayor.
Having had the honour of twice serving as mayor of my home town of Navan, I know what a privilege it is. However, we should seek to take the position to a new level. We should trust the people we elect and let them set out a vision which they can implement when elected rather than having a scenario similar to the presidential election, in which candidates talk policy but such flowery language means nothing in the long run in terms of tangible changes.
The Minister of State referred to councillors having Cabinet-style positions at a local level and taking the lead role in certain departments. That is the situation across Europe, as I am aware having engaged with councillors in twinned towns across the Continent. However, there is no point in floating that idea unless those lead Cabinet roles would come with the powers of a director of service.
I welcome the discussion. The Minister of State has come forward and asked for our opinions. I have given mine. I hope they will be taken on board and that we can have a robust debate and work collaboratively to ensure that if directly elected mayors are endorsed by the people in a plebiscite, they will have real powers, be truly representative, change the communities they represent and be accountable to the people. If we do that, it will be a good piece of work and we will have changed the system in this country in a meaningful way for generations to come.
I am sharing time with Deputy Quinlivan.
I wish to note on the record the very constructive way in which the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, has engaged with members of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government on the broader issues of local government reform as well as on the Local Government Bill with which the House dealt yesterday. In light of that engagement by the Minister, it is important that members on this side of the House engage in the same constructive spirit. For decades, Members of the Opposition have demanded reform of local government, but when they get into power they do not do anything about it. We would be far better served by having a genuine and constructive debate on what can be done in the short to medium term and then acting on it. If there are good Government proposals which reflect some of the views of the Opposition, let us get the ball rolling on them. All Members accept that our local government system gives too little power to elected members and too much power to chief executives and managers. Many of them are public servants of outstanding quality and ability and serve their communities well but, nonetheless, they are unelected. On that basis, I wish to put forward some reflections of my views and those of my party colleagues. Deputy Quinlivan will do likewise.
There is no straight answer to the question of whether one supports the idea of a directly elected mayor because it very much depends on what powers will be vested in that office. I welcome the personal views of the Minister of State that there should be a shift of executive functions to a directly elected mayor if such a post is created. I too believe a plebiscite is the right way to go because it would give the office popular democratic legitimacy, as well as generating debate among the public on the matter, which is good for democracy.
I am concerned that we are discussing elections and plebiscites before discussing the powers which directly elected mayors would have. We must address that matter quickly. The Government proposals in that regard should be put into the public arena well in advance of any plebiscite in order that we can decide whether or not we support the propositions. I oppose any reduction in the reserved functions of elected members and, therefore, welcome the indication of the Minister of State that those functions would remain as they are. There should be consideration of functions being devolved downwards from some State agencies or, possibly, Departments because that would further enhance the role of directly elected mayors.
I am disappointed that Dublin is not being included in the broader discussion. However, I acknowledge that a process initiated by a predecessor of the Minister of State fell foul of Fingal county councillors, including some Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors, who blocked the possibility of a plebiscite for a directly elected mayor in Dublin. The issue is more complicated in Dublin because there are four local authorities. I was a member of South Dublin County Council and am aware of concerns that a directly elected mayor would be city centric and that there would be a return to some of the difficulties encountered in the days of Dublin Corporation. There was also a genuine concern, including with my local authority in south Dublin, regarding powers being devolved upwards to a directly elected mayor from the local authorities. Sinn Féin would not support such a move.
It would be best to identify a small number of strategic important functions that would be vested in the office of a directly elected mayor. I agree with the Minister of State that planning should not be one of those functions, although that could be considered at a later stage when the system is embedded. However, given where we have come from in terms of planning corruption and the improper relationship between some politicians and some planning decisions, it would be far better to begin with directly elected mayors having responsibility for issues such as strategic development plans and transport. If we design an office that has clear executive functions and start with a number of clearly defined issues on which a directly elected mayor would add value, it will win public confidence and demonstrate the office works. One could then have a process of rolling devolution of other powers at further stages. That would be a sensible way to go about it.
Sinn Féin supported the creation of the office of a directly elected mayor for Dublin, subject to its being granted the right kind of powers. However, our preference is for a different system than may exist in Limerick, Cork or Waterford, for example, if the people of those cities and counties agree to such a proposition because Dublin requires a mayor who does not have the functions of the individual chief executives of the four local authorities but, rather, strategic functions overarching those. For example, rather than being responsible for planning decisions, the directly elected mayor should be tasked with deciding on planning issues of very strategic importance such that one does not have the kind of practice whereby one local authority decides to gazump a commercial centre in the neighbouring local authority by developing a very large retail shopping centre, as happened some years ago on the border between Fingal and south Dublin. If some of those larger strategic functions were vested in a directly elected mayor for Dublin, it could be very positive.
We must also think carefully about how such an office would interact with the existing structures of local government, including local councillors, strategic policy committees and other bodies, whether in the cities for a directly elected mayor is currently proposed, in Dublin or elsewhere. That would not be straightforward and should form part of the discussion.
It is welcome that we are having this debate in public. The housing committee would be a good forum for us to have less rhetorical and more evidence-based and cordial discussions as to what is required. The committee would be happy to facilitate the attendance of any Oireachtas Member with an interest in this matter.
I wish to acknowledge a comment the Minister of State made to the housing committee on several occasions. He pointed out that we have been so focussed on the housing crisis that we have not given local government enough space and he is correct in that regard. The committee must take its responsibility in regard to local government more seriously and create more space for those discussions. Some of these legislative proposals will give us an opportunity to do so. Sinn Féin is committed to working constructively with the Minister of State on this issue.
We want to see more powers devolved to elected politicians. We would like to see the public given the opportunity to decide on directly elected mayors. If the Minister of State is willing to continue to work with us as he has done so far, he will find that, even where we have differences, we will be very willing partners in the process to ensure the kind of government we provide for citizens at local government level is enhanced in their interest and the interest of the wider community.
As the Minister of State is aware, Sinn Féin will be supporting the upcoming plebiscites on directly elected mayors. Generally, we believe more needs to be done to secure support. I remain deeply concerned that, this close to the proposed plebiscite, we are still unaware of what powers and functions the newly elected mayors will have and how the office will work. With European and local elections at the same time, people will get confused. We need to have the discussion as quickly as possible. We need to tell people what the Minister of State is proposing. We need him to tell us first of all, obviously. If he wants us to sell the concept at the doors, he needs to start informing us now. Voters are already looking at local election manifestoes in which there will be information on mayors or upcoming referendums. Time is passing quickly. I am genuinely concerned the proposal will not pass because people will not have enough information on it. If it is passed, directly electing a local mayor will hand power back to the citizens of Limerick and other cities. That can only be positive.
The Local Government Bill 2018 provides for the holding of plebiscites on directly elected mayors with executive functions for Cork City Council, Limerick City and County Council and Waterford City and County Council. The mayors will provide for a new type of leadership in our main cities. The system will allow candidates from each party and none to set out their vision and ambitions for their cities. This is vital in my city, Limerick, where a mayor could set out his ambitions and plans for regeneration areas, for attracting more business to the region, and for boosting tourism in the city. There could probably be a targeted response to try to address the great number of unemployment blackspots across the city.
Having directly elected mayors will be of little benefit or value to us if they do not have real power, however. Key functions related to transport, infrastructure, economic development, waste management and tourism should be vested in the mayor's office. These powers must be devolved from central government and also the relevant State agencies. It is important that staff and funding follow to allow the plans to be implemented. There is no point in electing a mayor who has no power, nothing to add, and is just in office as a figurehead.
It is vital, however, that there be no reduction in the powers, functions and budgets of the existing local authorities. The merger of the Limerick councils would not have been achieved without strategic intervention from the Government to allow it. It was not the case that the two councils were able to merge on their own. Therefore, we need to be cognisant that we will need to provide additional funding to councils if they want to do this.
In Ireland, we already have a weak local government system by comparison with the systems of many of our European counterparts. It is important, therefore, that if we further strengthen our local government structures, we devolve responsibility for issues that can be dealt with at local level to those on the ground.
I am concerned about the upcoming plebiscite as there has been completely insufficient engagement with voters about it. There is a high degree of uncertainty about the exact shape a directly elected mayor's office would take. Individuals have spoken to me about this. They hear there will be a directly elected mayor and plebiscite but they do not know anything about them. I cannot answer the questions because the Minister of State has not given us information on what the Government intends to do. We need to provide the information as quickly as possible. May is fast approaching and it will come sooner than we expect.
People in Limerick to whom I have spoken are completely unaware of the proposal. My concern is that the proposal will not pass. It is in danger of defeat. If the Government goes ahead with the plebiscite, which I want it to do provided it gives us the information, and if the relevant powers are in place, having directly elected mayors could have a very positive effect on Limerick, Waterford and Cork. The Minister of State will have our support if he comes forward with some proposals that enhance the functions of directly elected mayors and if he devolves more powers to them while retaining the functions of local councillors and providing the additional resources and staff that are required.
I welcome this debate. I agree with what has been said about the importance of having a public debate on this issue in advance of plebiscites in May. There is very little knowledge that there will be plebiscites in the areas concerned. Across the water and north of the Border, we see from the Brexit negotiations the damage that can be done if a major change is proposed and the public does not know what it is about. The British public learned a lot about what Brexit is since it decided in favour of it but it really should have been having the conversation on it before it voted, and it should have had all the required information. It did not have it. This is an example of where putting something to the public without having the necessary broad conversation is dangerous.
Having said that, I believe we should have the plebiscites but we do need the conversation. The Minister of State needs to find a way in which to have the public debate in the areas concerned as well as here in the Dáil Chamber, at meetings of the committee and so on. The Minister of State needs to find a way, be it through town hall-style meetings or otherwise, to have a general debate so people will understand what the matter is about.
I support what has just been said. I said in the debate before Christmas that we do not know what the functions will be. The Minister of State referred to the requirement that he would revert to the Government with more detailed proposals on the plebiscites, the question to be put and the specific powers to be given to mayors. It is all very well to be reverting to the Government, but will he do so soon so there will be enough time in which to have the conversation? If we only get the information out on the functions and powers close to the vote, there will not be time for a public debate. This is a big decision for local people. If somewhere ends up with a celebrity-style mayor because there has not been a proper debate on what mayors do, it will have the wrong kind of person. We need somebody who can take the responsibility. It is not just about powers. It is about responsibility.
Traditionally, because local government has been so weak, local public representatives have not been in the habit of taking serious decisions and accepting the consequences of their actions. I support the fact that the Minister of State said councillors will continue to have their reserved functions. To an extent, in decisions on budgets and such functions, councillors do take responsibility. If, however, a person is given specific powers, he or she has to take the associated responsibility. Sometimes it is said that while one would like to do everything and would vote for everything, there is only a limited budget, meaning only certain things can be done.. Therefore, there needs to be clear understanding.
My experience of this issue is based largely on the model in France. I was chairman of a twinning committee at one stage and visited the city twinned with Limerick, namely Quimper, Brittany. I had discussions with French mayors and deputy mayors. A French municipality includes a town or city plus its rural hinterland. The mayors make decisions. The deputy mayors are in charge of matters such as transport and the budget. Therefore, they have to say they can do this road but not that road, or this but not that. These are the kinds of responsible decisions we have not been used to in local government. We really need to prepare our public representatives, in addition to the public, for genuine responsibility. It is not just a matter of voting against something because it is in one's area when one knows one's colleagues will vote for it in some other area and it is going to go through. We have to make sure there is real responsibility taken at local level.
There are a number of different models. I have not had time to read about them all. The IPA had in the winter 2017 edition of the Local Authority Times an article about the different kinds of models for directly elected mayors. We need to consider what model we will have. I would be inclined to agree with Deputy Ó Broin that a small number of specific functions would be more appropriate in the beginning. That will mean the public will have a better chance of understanding what it is voting for, and the public representatives and the directly elected mayor will understand what their responsibilities will be. Some of the decisions they might have to make might not be all that popular, and they need to recognise that. There is a genuine learning curve and there is not an awful lot of time to learn.
I presume Galway is excluded because it will not be ready on time. In a way, it is a pity that the people of Galway will not have the opportunities to vote for what the rest of us will have the opportunity to vote on. The people of Dublin will not either. With regard to Limerick, mayors should be municipally based. An issue arises over the fact that the local authority in Limerick has responsibility for both the city and county, as is the case in Waterford.
As Deputy Quinlivan knows well, under the existing system, Limerick City and County Council has had mayors from far away parts of the county. There is also a municipal mayor which causes a lot of confusion about the two roles. I am not sure how it will pan out, but if the directly elected mayor comes from a rural part of the county, it will present an issue. Mayors in other places such as New York, London or Vancouver represent cities. There is an understanding internationally that a mayor - a directly elected mayor in particular - is a city based politician. If we end up with a directly elected mayor of Limerick city and county or Waterford city and county from the rural part of the electoral area, it will pose a problem in how he or she will represent the municipality. I do not know what can be done about this, but it is something that needs to be considered.
I support the principle and hope it will work out well, but it will have a much better chance of being successful if there is clarity well in advance on the functions, powers, responsibilities and budgets, as well as the relationship with the executive of the council, the people and the Government. There are many issues about which the public has not thought or been aware in terms of how it might work. We have always had the same system of local government, which is not about directly elected mayors with powers and functions. I presume the intention is that a directly elected mayor will be like a Minister, that the chief executive will be like the Secretary General of a Department and that the staff will work under both in some way. There are issues to be clarified in that regard and I call for as much public dialogue as possible. Although the responsibility primarily rests with the Minister of State, there is also a responsibility on the rest of us to ensure it is possible and that the information will be decided and made available as quickly as possible in order that the plebiscites and elections will be conducted in such a way that there will be public understanding of what is being voted on. People will not be voting for a champion sportsperson but for somebody who will take responsibility for the running of the area. There also needs to be a sense that this is about subsidiarity, local conversations and engaging with community organisations, businesses and everything that goes on in a local area, not about one person sitting in his or her office making decisions for everybody else. It must be collaborative and there must be engagement throughout the area. I am broadly supportive, but, please, let us get out and speak to the public about what is being proposed.
I welcome the opportunity to speak about the issue of directly elected mayors. A groupthink opinion has developed and it appears that the majority of Opposition parties and Deputies in the House, from Fianna Fáil to the Green Party and all parties in between, support the idea without being able to offer any meaningful explanation of how the role will actually work. On what we can all probably agree is that local government in Ireland is in desperate need of urgent reform. We do not really have local government but poorly funded local administration.
Consecutive Governments, beginning with Fianna Fáil in the 1990s, have whittled away the powers of local authorities, with the result that is now probably the most centrally governed country in the European Union. However, I am not convinced that the introduction of a directly elected mayor will resolve the issue. The argument in favour of having a directly elected mayor appears to be as follows. If Dublin, Galway or Cork had a single recognisable figurehead who was directly elected by the people, that person would have a mandate to use his or her executive powers to fix any problem. If it all sounds too good to be true, it is. Instead of making vague statements on the reasons we may need to have a directly elected mayor, the parties and the Government should examine how the model has worked in the United Kingdom in the past 15 years.
More than 20 years ago, before he became a war criminal, Tony Blair, on the verge of becoming Prime Minister for the first time, used similar rhetoric to that used by political parties here when he stated the heart of the problem was that local government needed recognised leaders if it was to fulfil a community leadership role. He said the people and outside organisations needed to know who was politically responsible for running the councils. His love of all things American, including its mayoral system, resulted in the Local Government Act 2000. Among the reforms contained in it was the possible adoption by local government of a directly elected mayor model. The residents of a city could vote through in a referendum that it would be governed by a directly elected mayor. Towns and cities would still retain councils and the plan was that the two would work together, with final responsibility residing with the mayor. Since the introduction of the legislation, there have been 53 referendums held in the United Kingdom, with only 16 of the 326 towns voting to be governed by a directly elected mayor. Although the lack of appetite for the proposal does not necessarily equate to failure, a study comparing a city that had adopted the model with the previous model of local government found there had been very little change in terms of policy output and spending. Research undertaken in the 16 cities in question has shown that directly elected mayors are just as dependent on central government for funding, that their introduction does not lead to a sudden upheaval in a city's fortunes or spending power and that it is extremely difficult for a mayor to exert influence in specific policy areas.
I give the city of Liverpool as an example. At approximately 500,000, it has a similar population to Dublin, excluding the suburbs and other boundaries. From 2011 to 2012 the city had a standard Cabinet and council leader model. In that period, the city spent 64% of its annual budget on social services, including education, housing and social care services. The following year, from 2012 to 2013, it voted in favour of the elected mayor model. Figures show that it now spends an almost identitcal figure, 62%, of its annual budget on social services. The new mayor had no choice but to work with the existing council. The same will happen in Dublin or Galway if they decide to adopt such a position. Not only have directly elected mayors in the United Kingdom been unable to exert any real power, they have not been taken seriously by the citizens of their towns and cities, for which one would hardly blame them. In 2002 voters in Hartlepool elected the mascot of the football club, H'Angus the Monkey, as their first mayor. His campaign slogan was "free bananas for schoolchildren", which was actually not a bad idea. He won two further consecutive elections and served for a total of ten years. In 2013 Hartlepool voted to get rid of the directly elected mayor and return to the original cabinet and council leader model.
Comparisons with cities such as New York or London are not helpful. The mayor of New York has a budget of $60 billion and appoints the police commissioner. As we know, the United States has a federal system. Therefore, the system of local government is established by each state, not the federal government. Local government is not dependent on central government for funding or powers. That is why the US system works, the UK model has failed and the Irish model will also more than likely fail. Similar to New York, London is cited as an example we should have directly elected mayors. However, it is not only at city but a region. Yes, it has a directly elected mayor, but there are also a Minister for London, a regional government office and a regional budget, as well as 32 councils in the 32 boroughs. The 32 councils are responsible for the majority of local services such as education services, social services, waste collection and road maintenance.
For the mayor system in Ireland to work like the US system, mayors would have to have significant executive powers, but I have yet to hear anyone outline from where those powers would come. They would need to be taken away from somebody who already has them and we do not do that too easily in Ireland. If a directly elected mayor were to exert real influence over a city, he or she would need similar powers to those vested in the Ministers for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Transport, Tourism and Sport and Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Given that for the past 25 years consecutive Governments have diluted the role of local government, it is unlikely that there will a complete U-turn on this policy. In fact, it is probably delusional.
In addition to ministerial powers, for directly-elected mayors to work, they will need powers similar to those now vested in semi-State organisations such as the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Córas Iompair Éireann, CIÉ. The newly created Land Development Agency is probably the worst thing that has happened in this Chamber since I came in here in March 2011. This agency will have significantly powers to source sites and land. Will these mayors be given similar powers? NAMA still has significant powers. It controls most of the development of the Dublin docklands. Will a directly-elected mayor be able to challenge NAMA's use of its powers or will he or she be given similar powers when NAMA is finally disbanded?
Truth be told, the Land Development Agency is NAMA mark 2 anyway, so this going to run and run. It will continue to use that mechanism to provide unaffordable housing to the people of Ireland at great cost, given that developers will be engaged who look for between €60,000 and €80,000 profit per unit for themselves. I do not expect that authority will be given to a mayor. There is a growing trend in this House of legislation being proposed that goes against empirical evidence and data. Legislation is instead drafted on the basis that if it sounds good then it must be good.
A Bill was passed last week on sexual offences which went against all of the empirical data yet the Government allowed it to advance to appease its coalition partners. It was a load of rubbish. The introduction of directly-elected mayors is similar in nature. It sounds like a great proposal, all the Opposition parties can get behind it and they can call and sell it to their constituents as something that will solve the problems in their cities or towns. When we drill a bit into the proposal, however, there is not much detail. Analysis of our nearest neighbours in the UK, where a similar system of central and local government operates, shows that the introduction of directly-elected mayors has not worked. It could be argued that it has been a bit of a disaster.
I welcome, therefore, the Minister of State's decision to hold a citizens' assembly to examine the proposal to introduce the office of a directly-elected mayor in Dublin. I ask him, however, to suspend the proposed plebiscites in Cork and Galway and allow the assembly to examine the overall proposal in respect of the whole country and not just Dublin. If do this, if we would like to dream about how it should be done, that is fine. It works for cities in America. Unless we are prepared to go down that road, however, and take so much power away from others and give it to the new mayor, we are wasting our time. This is just another sham that looks good and sounds good but is going nowhere. The mayor will just be a tool of the local authority, which has very little funding and is totally dependent on central government. This proposal will, more than likely, end up just costing the State more money without deriving any merit from it.
If this was an Opposition Bill and not a Government one, it would not get the money message. Imagine the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 not getting a money message yesterday. That is a new low for that scheme to stop Bills progressing. The Bill yesterday was opposed on the basis that introducing criminal offences could cost the State money and that it could be open to challenges. All legislation ever introduced here since the State was founded has been open to challenge. That is absolute bollocks.
That is not very parliamentary language.
Not very much of what the Deputy says is parliamentary.
I am probably not the most parliamentary Member. Perhaps I am not really suited to the place at all.
Deputy Wallace is an elected Member of the House-----
Yes, rumour has it.
We want him to stay.
I am not leaving in protest.
I appreciate the Deputy withdrawing it. I thank Deputy Wallace.
I did not withdraw it.
Do not misquote me.
I call Deputy Eamon Ryan.
Was the language not used and approved in the House of Commons recently? I do not know if we are operating a different-----
I have no responsibility for that, so far.
On behalf of the Green Party, I want to speak up for, support and encourage the people of the cities of Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick to agree with the proposal to have a directly-elected mayor. I deeply regret we are not adding the people of Dublin to that list. It is a real missed opportunity. A citizens' assembly is coming - and to answer one of the questions the Minister of State asked in his opening statement - it should include elected representatives. That is because we have experience of local government, most of us, which can usefully add to that assembly.
I will make some broad points to explain why we are so supportive of the concept of directly-elected mayors. I was at a Women for Election event last night. I reflected then that in the depth of our crisis about ten years ago, a whole range of different movements rightly rose up seeking to change our democracy and how we do things. Some of those things have been delivered. I refer to examples such as having gender quotas for people to run for Parliament. That has been very beneficial. The provisions originally written by the Green Party, and, in fairness, implemented by the subsequent Government, took corporate donations out of Irish politics. That is another example of how we have changed the nature of politics.
There are various missed opportunities I place at the doors of the Fine Gael and Labour parties during their time in government. One was the wrong property tax being picked. That was instead of a tax based on site value. That is one example. The other biggest failing, however, or one of the biggest in reforming the way we do politics, has been the failure to follow through in strengthening local government. I am particularly bitter about that because when we were in government, we introduced legislation for the introduction of a directly-elected mayor in Dublin. It had almost gone right through the parliamentary process, I think it was on Report Stage in the Seanad when we ran out of room and that Government fell. We were that close to achieving the objective of having a directly-elected mayor for Dublin.
The Government needs to rectify that. I hope the people will direct us towards have a real strengthening of local government by supporting the plebiscites. It is particularly important for Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick because we need to counterbalance the excessive and growing influence of Dublin as a centre of development. We need to see other strong cities to balance development more effectively. That is not to do down Dublin. I was at an interesting conference in Cork where clearly researched analysis showed that the development of second, third and fourth cities also tends to strengthen a capital. It is not one versus the other. I believe that will be best achieved by the people of Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Galway starting to develop their cities in a far more creative, careful and intelligent way.
No one could look at the development of those cities over the last 30 or 40 years and not surmise that the current system is fatally flawed. One of the key issues to examine is what the responsibilities of a directly-elected mayor would be in respect of planning. I agree with the Minster of State's comment in his statement that directly-elected mayors do not necessarily have to deal with individually planning decisions. I refer to co-ordinating planning such in the broad planning of a city and the broad task we have of turning around the city of Cork. It is a fantastic city with incredible Victorian and Georgian heritage. Over the past 30 or 40 years, however, the city has seen a hollowing out of its centre and a sprawl beyond it. That is because of a lack of leadership, a lack of co-ordination by the city council and a lack of any real vision for how Cork might develop as a city.
That needs to change and it needs local political leadership to make it happen. It is the same for each of the other cities. Only 3% of the population of Limerick city lives in the historic core area of the city. It is also a fantastic Georgian city with an amazing location on the Shannon. It too has seen a sprawl out with motorway networks that just lead to gridlock. The development of public transport has not been facilitated and nor has the development of high-quality new housing and schools close to where people work and want to live. That has to change. It is the same in Galway and that is probably the worst example, in terms of being a city where everyone seems to live on one side and then travel across to the other side to work. It is hell for motorists because we have built a city of roundabouts rather than a city of tribes.
That has to change. A civil servant or a chief executive who has all the powers does not have the mandate to achieve the scale of change needed. While it may be contentious for the Minister of State as a Kilkenny man, in my mind Waterford needs to be the capital of the south east and promoted as such.
I agree fully.
Good. That does not do down Kilkenny or Wexford. In the same way as Cork rising will not do down Dublin, Waterford rising will help the south east. As Deputy Wallace knows, Wexford is one of the poorest counties in the country. What is going on with this county with such good land, as well as a tradition in engineering and enterprise?
That is because most of the land is owned by only a few people.
I always put it down to the fact that in 1798 the Brits put Wexford down and decided they would keep it down ever since.
What about the north Cork militia putting Wexford down?
A directly elected mayor for Waterford will be important for the south east. Waterford needs to double if not treble its population size. Cork and Limerick are the same. How do we do that? Who do we trust to manage that? I believe we should trust our democratic system and the people.
They would vote for the men and women who would take on this considerable task to turn Cork into a city of 500,000 people and Limerick into one of 250,000 people, as envisaged in the Buchanan report but abandoned over the past 50 years. The current system is not working and needs to change.
I agree broadly with the proposal that the relationship between the new directly elected mayor and the local authority chief executive would be akin to that of a Minister and a departmental Secretary General. I agree with the proposal for making the chairs of the various strategic planning committees, the current corporate policy group, into a cabinet. That is an easy way of the current system evolving into this approach. Those of us who have worked as councillors know the local area committee system works. That should be strengthened at the same time. Powers should not just rest in the key areas of transport and planning but include enterprise development, culture and the environment. I would also like to see the strengthening of local government in education, policing and healthcare.
This would really empower local government. However, it will happen better when faith in local government is returned. Faith in politics comes from people having the ability to get rid of a mayor if they do not like the way their city is being run and developed. The current system whereby we hand over a mayoral chain every year is a phoney exercise, pretending the real power is there. It is deeply unfair to councillors and those who take up the office of mayor. My experience in Dublin is that one is only getting to grips with it and understanding the scale of the job when one is then out of office because the year is up. It is a completely flawed and failed system.
Being brave in terms of adopting a different system is the right way to go. It needs to be done in tandem with other elements. At a climate committee meeting yesterday, I acknowledged that some of the initiatives such as the regional rural and urban development funds, as well as the climate fund, are well designed. Rather than the system deciding everything centrally in the Department of Finance or the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, it is far better for us to provide funding to allow local authorities or other institutions to make bids to do regeneration projects. Those projects which work best should then be replicated in other parts of the country. In those circumstances where there is a significant pot of money for cities to compete where the best project wins, this would encourage the expertise, planning and thinking in local authorities which would help them flourish.
When will the convention for Dublin take place? My city is probably the one in greatest need for new leadership. The current system in Dublin is broken. We are facing gridlock in our city. We have an inability to develop. We are still widening every approach road to Dublin. The greatest possible lunacy in transport and planning is happening under the current system. We need a mayor for Dublin. We need for that convention to finish to ensure Dublin can have its plebiscite. Dublin deserves the right to have a directly elected mayor and a say in how our city should grow.
It must include Dublin 16 and not just Dublin 2.
This is an important debate and I welcome the proposals made by the Minister of State. A directly elected mayor is of considerable importance to the community which elects that person. I note the powers of executive authority which will transfer to a directly elected mayor will be useful, powerful and make him or her accountable to the public for his or her actions.
The current weakness in local government is that the system goes back to the various local government Acts introduced in the 1920s. Eventually, the County (Management) Act brought in the county manager essentially as a dictator to order and decide what happened with a local authority. Councillors and mayors, unless they were strong personalities, did what they were told. Conflict in local government as a result of this approach was often reflected in reports in local newspapers. The position of county manager was unelected. In the majority of cases, county managers led dynamically and we have had excellent administrators and managers. However, we also have had bad ones. From my local newspapers, I note there is conflict between my local authority chief executive officer and councillors. Members opposite are smiling about this. I will not comment on the controversies or the personalities. However, it is not right that local government in County Louth has been reduced to a confrontation between the two. If that were to change, I would welcome it.
The Minister of State’s legislation should go further. The Government has had the wisdom to nominate several towns for future exceptional development, such as Drogheda, Dundalk, Sligo and Athlone, in the national spatial strategy plan. We need to identify a new source of executive authority in the local government areas in which these towns are situated. If one were to add directly elected mayors for Drogheda and Dundalk, it would lend authority to decisions being made by, as well as the focus of, local government. It is important we do that because the democratic deficit is clearly there.
Deputy Eamon Ryan is correct about councillors getting the mayoral chain every so often. I have been privileged to wear the chain of office in Drogheda at least three times myself. In the future, should I ever be retired from this House, I might do it again. Local government needs accountability, decision-making and people power. At the heart of what the Minister of State is doing is bringing people power, executive authority and accountability back to the people.
Another deficit in local government is due to the fact that Oireachtas Members can no longer be local authority members. I know the arguments for removing the dual mandate but I was and am still against that move. Members’ experience, knowledge and insight could be particularly useful to local government.
If a directly elected mayor will have the same executive functions as the chief executive officer of a local authority, then the mayor should have the same salary too.
The salary of a mayor should be the same as that of the current chief executive or administrator. It would attract the required calibre of person needed to do this job. The position would need to be properly paid to attract the best candidate.
I presume the election of a mayor would be a separate vote in the local government elections. The difficulty is whether a person could run for mayor while simultaneously running to be a councillor.
How would we get over that problem? If a person is not elected mayor because he or she happens to be in a town that votes overwhelmingly for Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Labour, he or she should still be able to make a contribution to local government. My time is officially up but the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is otherwise engaged so I can keep going.
The Deputy should take the time while he has it.
The voice of Drogheda and its people are seeking change and power for a local democratic government, with that power resting with the mayor and the council and moving away from officials. The future of my town of Drogheda should rest on the democratic principles implied if not enunciated in the Bill. I have no doubt the Minister will take that on board when the legislation reaches Committee Stage.
O'Dowd for mayor.
O'Dowd for Taoiseach.
I applaud the Minister of State as he has run with this since his appointment. It is fair to say he has advanced it more rapidly than any of his predecessors. There is an issue with the citizens' convention. It is not a real citizens' assembly as this Chamber is the citizens' assembly. I know the matter is to be referred to the Citizens' Assembly because it will make the decisions that this House lacks the courage to. It will come back with the same kind of ideas about a directly elected mayor for Dublin that the more radical among us have been proposing for a number of years. It is a shame and we should grasp the concept.
Dublin Chamber has been making the point for a number of years about the number of agencies with which someone coming to the country must engage. Other cities with directly elected mayors that have powers and budgets have a one-stop shop or a go-to person who everybody in the city or county knows. Ultimately, the buck stops with the person. He or she has responsibility and with that responsibility comes accountability.
I disagree with Deputy Eamon Ryan on the point as I would start with a very restricted number of responsibilities, just as London did. We could even start in Dublin by giving a directly elected mayor responsibility for transport, making him or her the one-stop shop for the area. Even as an Opposition Deputy, there are a number of agencies that must be engaged when dealing with transport. Dublin Chamber has a voice from business and we must also consider Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the National Transport Authority, Dublin Bus and cyclist groups. These are a small sample of the total group as we must talk to everybody to get the different views. The mayor would have the power to call all of those in and make decisions affecting them.
I have spoken with the Minister of State and I know he realises that Dublin is different. It must be stressed that Dublin is not competing with other cities in Ireland. As an international city, it is competing with other cities in Europe that already have directly elected mayors. Climate change meetings, for example, would be attended by mayors from Munich, Barcelona, Madrid and Paris. They have great power and authority. In Dublin, on the other hand, there are four mayors that are indirectly elected and which have no say in the direction of policy at home. They may sign up to conventions but they have no real power or influence. A directly elected mayor affords a capital the opportunity to develop partnerships with other cities with whom we have common policy interests. In a scenario where the United Kingdom has left the European Union, it will be critical to develop new allies. These do not always have to be national and they can be city-based if we find a common cause and are able to fight our corner with those allies fighting for the same issues. Westminster restricted the power of the London mayor but increased its power over the years as the directly elected mayoralty began to bed in.
Dublin has been grinding to a halt and congestion costs an estimated €300 million per year, rising to an estimated €3 billion per year by the time we get to 2030. We need somebody who is accountable and responsible, and the current Minister exercises no great responsibility or interest in traffic congestion or transport issues concerning everyday Dubliners. He shuns any kind of accountability in that space. I am a spokesperson for Dublin issues and I know from engaging with the four Dublin local authorities that they have four directors for each of the areas of planning, transport, arts and culture or environment, and it is rare for those directors to communicate with each other.
I am the first to champion the idea that the establishment of those four Dublin local authorities as a response to the corruption that was in the planning system. Elected representatives who may have lived in another part of a county could potentially have voted to zone land 50 miles away. The four Dublin local authorities became very manageable and absolutely ruled out that possibility of corruption. Another benefit is that we have established three successful county towns in Dundrum, Swords and my constituency of Tallaght.
I raised the following matter at a meeting of the climate change committee. A roundabout has recently been constructed in my constituency. It is a small matter in the grand scheme of things. Somebody said to me recently that I must be up to my tonsils dealing with Brexit but I said the biggest issue I am facing is a roundabout in my constituency because nobody seems to be accountable for it. It is causing chaos but no public representative can pinpoint who is responsible. There are public meetings planned - I am going to one after this - and there will be a protest on Saturday. It seems that it is only through protest in town that officialdom begins to listen and take action. If we had a directly elected mayor, the people in my constituency would know it is the person to go to and the mayor would be responsible and accountable. The mayor would have to rectify the problem.
I found the Minister of State's speech disappointing and lacking ambition. He submitted his paper, Local Authority Leadership, Governance and Administration, and he considered many of the key aspects of setting up devolved directly elected administrations. I very much welcome the possibility that mayors will be elected in Cork City Council, Limerick city and county and in Waterford. As I said when debating the Bill, I am very disappointed that Galway and my city did not get the same provision. The Minister of State set out the steps to be taken on plebiscites etc. and there is a tremendous need for devolved administrations at the closest level to the people. I did not like the Minister of State indicating in his speech that there would still be a chief executive officer, CEO. Surely the CEO would be the directly elected mayor. Would it not be better to call the head of the administration, who would be responsible for human resources etc., the secretary general or whatever?
The Minister of State has set out a reasonable argument on how to select the strategic planning committees. All of us who served in local government could see the leaders of the committees forming that type of cabinet across a local authority. The biggest disappointment is that the Minister has not gone straight ahead and asked the 1.5 million Dubliners to vote on this. As Deputy Lahart said so eloquently, they want somebody whom they can hold responsible for the range of services from local government that are not being fulfilled. This could relate to the state of the streets or lights. Even with housing there is a lethargic and bureaucratic approach from the four councils in the Dublin region. It is the record of the past 25 years and we need a much more dynamic system.
I have always been in favour of directly elected mayors and a strong supporter of a single directly elected mayor for the four Dublin local authorities. That mayor would have a small cabinet drawn from the four councils or a directly elected small assembly.
Last week we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the inaugural meeting of the first Dáil. The decision of Cumann na nGaedheal in the late 1920s to do away with local administration - at the time, there were local councils in Howth and Rathmines - and set up the bureaucracies involving county managers represented a very regressive step.
At the end of the day, local people know best. The major problems that dramatically affect the Dublin region, including the shocking lack of affordable and social housing, the very backward state of the poor transport system compared to those in other European capitals of similar size and in the erratic ad hoc developer-led planning system, may all be traced back to a lack of vigorous local leadership throughout the past 100 years. Probably the most effective manager in Dublin city and county was Mr. Frank Feely. When I served on the council, he used to say Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would never allow a directly elected mayor in Dublin because the day he or she was elected, he or she would become the second most important politician in the State after the Taoiseach. There is an element of truth in that and it is something to which we should face up. Other great cities such as Vienna in Austria have them. When we look across Europe, we can see 17 directly elected mayors in the United Kingdom in places such London, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. It is fascinating to watch mayors who have a clear mandate such as Mr. Andy Burnham in Manchester, Mr. Andy Street in Birmingham who used to head up a famous retail chain and Sadiq Khan in London and the operation of their dynamic programmes encompassing public transport, housing and the revival of drainage systems. Likewise, when we look across the United States, we see the same. I was struck some years ago by the example of Stockholm which has four councils but a single executive mayor, Karin Björnsdotter Wanngård. She can make key executive decisions for the entire municipality. The greater Stockholm area has a population of 3 million or 4 million.
I welcome the tiny steps the Minister of State has taken and would like him to reflect on the points made about the chief executive. I know that it is going for consultation, but Dublin desperately needs a directly elected mayor. It is a step I support and it is ironic that Cork, Waterford and Limerick will have directly elected mayors before Dublin.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. As a former councillor and mayor of Fingal County Council, I am aware that we have a tremendously weak system of local government, which is not the fault of local authority members; rather, it is because authority has not been delegated to local authority members. As Deputy Lahart outlined, even when local authority members want something done, they are prevented from doing it by the unelected officials. This must end.
Without a lot more work and information in the public domain, holding a plebiscite in May in the cities and counties outlined in the provisions brought forward by the Minister of State will be difficult but not impossible. Therefore, we must move quickly. The matter of Dublin city and county must be managed very carefully. While I really look forward to the debate in any form of citizens' assembly or convention, the underlying principle of my difficulty and that of the members of Fingal County Council when we rejected the previous ill-thought-out and weak proposal for a mayor of Dublin still stands. My difficulty with what had been proposed for Dublin was related to the issue highlighted by Deputy Broughan. We would have had a mayor who would have overruled local authority members-----
Who would have led them.
There is nothing wrong with our councillors. They do not have the authority they should have. My difficulty lies in the fact that a celebrity candidate could be elected, a point mentioned by Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. When someone runs for election as Dublin city mayor, it will be like the European elections or a presidential election. That person will obviously use his or her platform to either stay in the job for years or catapult himself or herself into Dáil Éireann and other offices. I am not sure if this would be of benefit to the people of Dublin city. However, I was not talking about Dublin only but about the concept of mayoralties.
We need to identify what the roles would be. The concept of retaining the post of chief executive, albeit under the title of director general, is wrong. The mayor would be that person and I do not think we should create a ministerial function. We should create a position of mayor, rather than duplicate what is done in other countries. There are directors of services across local authorities. They should be the ones who would provide for co-ordination between departments and the office of mayor. As Deputy Eamon Ryan and the Minister of State pointed out, the right thing to do would be to form a cabinet, including various functional departments within each local authority, that would be headed by a councillor elected by the council, as is the case in the strategic policy committees. The roles and functions should be transparent and authoritative. It should be absolute that decisions would be made and that people would be responsible directly to the mayor. Councillors should have a budgetary function in order that they could hold the mayor to account because otherwise one would only have a say every five years, by which time the city or county could be in a mess. It is imperative that there be that interface between councillors.
The question of pay for local authority members and mayors is important. I would hate to create a mayor of Cork city or county or Limerick city or county who would be paid less than the role deserved, which would be at chief executive or county manager level.
On the interface with other service providers, Deputy Wallace was incredibly cynical and did not make one positive contribution to this discussion, apart from referencing the federal system in the United States. Of course, when Irish people think about the position of mayor, they think about that system. Unfortunately, we do not have a federal system, but having control over An Garda Síochána or at least having clout with Irish Water is incredibly important. Chairing the joint policing committee would not be good enough as the mayor would have to have some interface with policing, even if it was a little beyond what we already do as public representatives.
Deputy O'Dowd spoke about being a mayor in County Louth in the future if he was ever "retired" - his word, not mine - from this House. If he was able to call to see the chief superintendent in the Louth division on foot of the seizure of drugs worth €950,000, as happened yesterday, nobody in County Louth would mind one bit. They would be happy that the mayor of one of the major towns in the county was taking direct control of and interest in the matter. It does not have to undermine the role of the Commissioner, but there should be some thoughtful way to create an interface.
Tá an t-am caite. I took my eye off the clock.
I appreciate the forbearance of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. It is imperative that there be transparency and authority.
In the context of a debate that might happen in the future at the convention, I do not agree with the concept that there should be a single mayor of Dublin because it would undermine the local authority system, into which we have put so much time and effort in the past 25 years in order to nurture it.
The House has already considered the Local Government (Mayor and Regional Authority of Dublin) Bill 2016 and the Local Government Reform (Amendment) (Directly Elected Mayor of Dublin) Bill 2016 which was brought forward by Deputy Lahart. When those Bills were taken on Second Stage, the House agreed to defer a vote on them, pending further discussion and consultation with the Minister and the Government.
That was a wise move. I would suggest that the citizens of Dublin will need to know the details of just how such a directly elected mayor would operate before voting on the principle of having such an office. It would be important to examine the role and functions of such a directly elected mayor in the Dublin area, which is the area on which I will be concentrating in my contribution. I am very supportive of the principle of directly elected mayors. The issue of having such a mayor for Dublin is being referred to a citizens' assembly. I am disappointed that more work has not been done on the situation in Dublin and that more consultation is needed through the citizens' assembly.
As the Minister of State said in his speech, we need to examine the functions of such a mayor, the relationship the office will have with elected members and the executive, and the geographical area to be covered. Functions which will certainly be covered include housing, planning, transport and, perhaps, some justice issues such as those covered by the joint policing committees of the local authorities.
If central government and Departments are going to cede power to local government, it will present challenges for the Minister of State. He knows that. Civil servants do not like ceding power and any Bill he proposes could be scuppered by the permanent government. I am sure the Minister of State is quite aware of that as he is a very experienced Deputy and Minister of State at this stage.
There is no doubt that the existing post of Lord Mayor of Dublin is largely ceremonial but the huge amount of goodwill citizens have for the office cannot be underestimated. That is something which can be built on. It is certainly something which I have experienced in my own right. That said, the system of local government in Dublin city is not working at the moment. I was elected to Dublin City Council in 2014 and it was my experience that the assembly was too big at 63 members, that it is very fragmented politically, that it has very limited powers and that, as a result, it is impossible to get anything done. Meanwhile the problems in respect of housing, transport and planning which I mentioned earlier continue to get worse. I appeal to the electorate to take the local authority elections very seriously and to elect people who are going to make decisions rather than people who just wish to protest.
The electorate has to take the local and European elections very seriously, but that is a debate for another day. In bringing forward the office of a directly elected mayor, it is very important that there is no duplication and no waste because the public will not tolerate it. The experience of the establishment of the HSE and Irish Water has left a very sour taste in the mouths of citizens and, indeed, of all of us. Citizens will need to be assured that the office is necessary and that scarce resources are not being squandered. The message is clear: no waste, no duplication, no unnecessary bureaucracy, and no exorbitant salaries.
I will finish up on this point. If somebody wants to invest in Dublin or has a major proposal for Dublin, who does he or she ring? That is very unclear at this point in time. A directly elected mayor would give leadership, bring forward accountability, as Deputy Lahart has outlined, and give the city a profile, which is very important. We have had the examples of other directly elected mayors throughout Europe and the world outlined to us in this debate. Those are the key issues. I want the Minister of State to continue with his consultations. I am disappointed that the question of a mayor for Dublin has not been advanced further at this stage, but we will also give input into the debate and we look forward to receiving the Minister of State's renewed proposals in due course.
Would the Minister of State like to respond to the debate?
Yes, please. I was not aware that we were finished. I thank the Deputies who contributed. To reiterate, it is the intention of Government to devolve as much power as possible from the hands of the executive to the hands of elected people. I take on board what most of the speakers have said, which is that it might be better to focus on a few strategic areas first rather than going for the big bang approach. There is some merit in that proposal. It is my absolute ambition that, if the plebiscites pass and the roles work in the relevant local authorities, the head of each local authority in the country will be directly elected by the people.
Deputy Farrell suggested earlier that Deputy O'Dowd be mayor of Drogheda. These offices should be positions to which Oireachtas Members or Ministers would aspire because they would be powerful roles. In many respects the happiest days I have had in my 20 years in politics were the four and a half years I spent as a member of Kilkenny County Council dealing with matters such as Deputy Lahart's roundabout. These matters are crucially important. The Deputy is right. An issue like that might seem small, mundane and almost trivial but it can be the biggest issue affecting the people concerned when they come into contact with their local representative.
Deputy Cassells was the first speaker. He was very angry today, but as he went further into his-----
I was passionate.
He was passionate. Okay. Perhaps I confused anger and-----
The Minister of State has confused my passion with anger.
That is fair enough.
I am consistent in my passion for this issue.
The Deputy is consistent in his anger but I understand his passion. On the issue of the Association of Irish Local Government and the comment the Deputy made at the start, I had a meeting with both representative groups during my first month in the job. It happened.
I do not doubt the Minister of State. It is shocking.
I could not believe it myself because I had a list of things that I wanted to cover and I expected something similar from the representatives. I hope I was clear enough in my speech at the start. The Deputy said that we would be codding people if we did not give directly elected mayors real powers. He is right; we would be. I do not want to cod people. I want the directly elected mayors to have powers. We are going to have a difference of opinion, however, on the question of planning applications and planning decisions. If the point that the Deputy is making relates to strategic planning for the future and to that role, I believe it is right that the directly elected mayor should have a function in that area.
The Deputy also said that directly elected mayors should be signing off on planning applications and he curtly referred to what had happened in the years after the State was founded. He referred to the clientelism and corruption in the early years of the State and said that we had matured and gone past it. Sadly, the planning tribunal reports were not that long ago. I hope, when enough time has elapsed, there will be a time when we are past it. I will not, however, be supporting or proposing a situation where directly elected mayors are signing off on individual planning applications. As Deputy Jan O’Sullivan said, perhaps we could arrive there in the future as the roles flesh out, but I believe it would be wrong to start there.
I did not mention one-off planning applications once in my speech.
The Deputy mentioned signing off-----
I mentioned signing off on files.
Yes but I did not get into the nuance or the strategic nature of the issue. I did not use the term "one-off planning application" in my contribution.
I did not mention one-off planning applications either. The Deputy referred to signing off on planning files. That was the phrase I wrote down.
Indeed. I referred to signing off in a line manager and director of services capacity having received a report from a planning official. That is what I said.
I did not refer to one-off planning applications either. I just want to make that clear.
That is fair enough.
I absolutely accept the Deputy’s point on directors of services. There is no point in divesting the chief executive role without doing something similar with the director of services role. That is absolutely right. I am not going to get involved in the specific case in Dublin but the Deputy went on further to give out that Dublin was not included. The reason for Dublin’s non-inclusion is that it is different from the rest of the country.
It is complicated by the fact that there are four local authorities. Where do we fit the directly elected mayor's piece into the rest? Deputy Ó Broin said it was a good idea. He questioned how it would interact with the existing structure. I give a commitment to him and to Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, who spoke later, that once the Government has considered the memo, we will come back.
I completely refute the argument that somehow this will be a platform for personalities or sports people to be elected. The public will have the power to elect whoever it wants. If it is a sports person, a personality, a regular Joe, a business person or whoever, we cannot second guess that. Deputy O'Sullivan went into detail and said that the mayor should be somebody from Limerick city. The directly elected mayor will be a person elected by the people of Limerick city and county. That might be somebody from Abbeyfeale. In the context of population distribution, one might think it unlikely to be a person from Abbeyfeale, but I would not prescribe that it would have to be somebody from the city who is elected to hold the position.
Deputy Wallace is correct on the issue of groupthink and it is never any harm for someone to say something different. People may sometimes accuse Deputy Wallace of saying something different just for the sake of saying something different. I would never do such a thing. The Deputy is also right about local government reform. The move to take some of the control in local government and give it to those who have been directly elected is a substantial local government reform. Deputy Wallace quoted Tony Blair, of whom he is not a fan, and it was interesting that he thinks that local government works in the United States of America and in Britain. It does not work. The Deputy also referred to the Hartlepool United football mascot H'Angus the monkey. I must inform the House that H'Angus was not a directly elected mayor with executive powers. The mascot was directly elected but did not have the executive powers.
Deputy Eamon Ryan welcomed the plebiscites but expressed reservations about Dublin's exclusion. The Deputy was absolutely right when he referred to the opportunity that exists in our regional cities to develop those city centres again, especially in the case of brownfield sites that exist in many of those city centres. In my own city of Kilkenny the brewery site is to be redeveloped. There are cities in those regions that have dockland sites. The north quays in Waterford form one such very prominent site with a huge city centre location that can bring businesses in and people back to live in our city centres. I have never once questioned that Waterford is the capital of the south east and it will help the rest of the region. It has always struck me that the south east lags behind the rest of the State economically despite having some obvious advantages. Part of the reason is the lack of coherence when viewing it as a region in comparison with the west.
Deputy Ryan spoke in favour of the new procurement framework-style bidding system for the funding of projects at local level into the future, and he emphasised the focus on certain areas such as transport, planning, enterprise, policing and education. One of my predecessors, the European Commissioner, Mr. Phil Hogan, gets a lot of criticism about his time as Minister, but he brought the enterprise issue directly into the remit of local government through the local enterprise offices. That was a positive measure and has worked very well. Is my time up?
It was up three minutes ago.
I take on board the Members’ comments. This will be decided in the next two weeks. My officials and I will consider every other contribution that has been made. I ran out of two pens while taking notes, so much was said. I thank the Members for their contributions.
I thank the Minister of State. That concludes statements on directly elected mayors. It is somewhat surprising that there were not many more Members offering to speak on a matter of very considerable importance, but c'est la vie.