What will the Mayor for Dublin actually do?

Proposals for the Dublin mayoralty have changed so much since their original inclusion in the 2007 Programme for Government that it’s been difficult to tie down what the mayor will actually do, writes Dermot Looney, a Labour Party councillor on South Dublin County Council.

The Bill to introduce the “Mayor for Dublin” – the ‘for’ is, seemingly, important to distinguish it from the lord mayor ‘of’ Dublin – has not yet been published. Nevertheless the guiding principles are included in the General Scheme – popularly known as the Heads of the Bill – which were published in February, giving us a fairly detailed sketch of the final picture. As always, the devil is in the detail – so what do these proposals actually say?

THE NEW REGIONAL AUTHORITY OF DUBLIN

The serious nitty-gritty of the bill is contained in Part 3, “Functions of the Authority.” Before examining the powers ‘granted,’ it is worth investigating the makeup of this Regional Authority of Dublin (RAD) and the mayor’s relationship with it.

Part two, chapter one of the Bill notes that the new mayor would chair the Regional Authority of Dublin. The current Dublin Regional Authority (note, again, the subtle name change) is, in essence, one of eight half-hearted attempts at regional government, suggested by EU regionalisation policies, at a level between local councils and national government. There are currently 31 members of the DRA which currently serves as a review body for planning and development guidelines. In its current format, the DRA is often held up by the media as the epitome of an ineffective quango.

“In essence, one of eight half-hearted attempts at regional government, suggested by EU regionalisation policies”

The heads of the current bill will abolish the current DRA and replace it with a new and slimmed-down Regional Authority of Dublin (RAD). The Mayor would be one of 16 members of the RAD and would act as its chair, unlike in London where the mayor does not sit with the assembly.

In addition to what the bill describes as the directly-elected “Mayor for Dublin,” the four chairs of the local authorities would also sit on this authority, ie the lord mayor of Dublin City Council, the mayors of South Dublin and Fingal, and the Cathaoirleach of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown.

“There is somewhat of a representational imbalance in favour of the city council area”

There would also be five other members of the RAD appointed from Dublin City Council, and two each from South Dublin, Fingal and Dun Laoghaire. In population terms, the City Council area has approximately half a million people, with 1/4 of a million each in South Dublin and Fingal and 200,000 in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown. There is somewhat of a representational imbalance in favour of the city council area.

Transport and planning are some of the areas the new mayor is to deal with

Under Head 15 (4) it is indicated that the members of the Authority would be nominated by the councils each year at the annual meeting of each (usually in June, when the mayors/Cathaoirligh are elected). There is no indication as to whether or not a particular councillor would serve longer than a one-year term on the RAD.

Realpolitik would determine that the party political makeup of this authority would rely on the controlling groups of the four councils involved. At present there are alliances of varying strengths between Labour/SF/Ind (South Dublin), Labour/Socialist Party (Fingal), and Fine Gael/Labour in both Dublin City and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown.

Under these arrangements the current DRA, not including the ex-officio lord mayor of the City Council, includes 11 Labour, 8 Fine Gael, 3 Sinn Fein, 3 Fianna Fail and 5 Independent councillors. It would be reasonable to expect that the new RAD would have a similar make-up, until the 2014 elections at least.

“There are no references whatsoever to a role for the regional authority or the mayor in education, policing, health or other elements of social policy which are devolved locally in many other countries”

One question deserving of being raised is what would happen in the event of the majority of members of the authority reflecting a conflicting party political allegiance to the mayor. Under the Heads of the Bill, members of this new RAD can seek the mayor to be removed from office if 3/4 of the members vote for her/his removal – but even in this unlikely event, the final say is still with the relevant Minister.

A deputy mayor would be appointed by the mayor from amongst the members of the Regional Authority, and would not be a Cathaoirleach/mayor of Dublin City or the three administrative counties. The mayor would also have the power, in essence, to fire her/his deputy.

Waste policy with come under the mayor's powers

The Heads of the Bill divide the functions of the RAD – and therefore the mayor – into five main sections, dealing in turn with general functions, regional planning guidelines, regional waste management, regional water services and regional housing, along with references to regional bodies involving transport and enterprise and a section on ministerial directives.

The policy areas dealt with are in themselves instructive as to the limitations of the mayor’s powers and, indeed, the overall weakness of Irish local government. There are no references whatsoever to a role for the RAD or the mayor in education, policing, health or other elements of social policy which are devolved locally in many other countries.

Under Head 38, the mayor is given the power to direct the four councils to implement her/his regional plans – essentially an over-riding power on matters of water, waste management and planning. However, the mayor’s power remains, in general, subservient to the Minister for Environment.

As well as being answerable, to some extent at least, to the RAD, the mayor is also compelled to attend one meeting of each of the four councils at least once a year. The mayor and the RAD are to be consulted on housing services in the four Dublin councils but will have no power in this regard.

OBJECTIVES AND FUNCTIONS

The objectives of the authority are given in Head 35 as (a) developing Dublin economically, environmentally, culturally and in terms of social cohesion, (b) providing efficient local government through co-ordinating the four councils, (c) promoting partnership between public and private interests in Dublin, (d) promoting Dublin within Ireland and internationally as an attractive place in which to live, work and invest and (e) co-ordinate Dublin’s development with that of the neighbouring Mid-East region (Meath, Kildare and Wicklow).

The principal functions, meanwhile, are given in Head 36 as strategic planning, enterprise and innovation, reviewing and improving co-operation in the local provision of public services, calling local public bodies to account, promoting co-operation between the various stakeholders involved in local administration and reviewing the overall status of Dublin and plans to meet needs for its development.

FINANCES

One of the key criticisms of Minister Gormley’s proposals is that the mayor will have no independent budget.

Under Head 41, the mayor is given a somewhat significant role in the budget process for the four councils. S/he is expected to give written directions on the setting of rates and the overall spending priorities to each of the four councils.

The council officials can reject these directions but must provide written reasons to the mayor and publish these in the draft budgets presented to the councillors at the annual budget meetings. Furthermore, the four councils are compelled to consult with the mayor regarding procurement processes involving €50 million or more.

The mayor is also given the power to establish a community fund for providing or improving cultural/heritage and recreational amenities, protecting the environment and promoting social inclusion and community development. The money for this is to be raised by the mayor from any voluntary, business or community group or local public body. It seems doubtful that hard-pressed local councils and other public groups will be able to commit, so any funding is likely to be philanthropic.

PLANNING

Heads 46 and 47 gives the mayor the power to prepare, make and review Regional Planning Guidelines for the “Greater Dublin Area” – which, as well as including the four Dublin Council areas, also includes counties Meath, Kildare and Wicklow.

There is only a consultative role in this proposal for the umbrella organisation representing those counties, the Mid-East Regional Authority. These Regional Guidelines will set the frameworks for the County/City Development Plans in the area. At present the guidelines are agreed to by the councillors on the Dublin Regional Authority and the Mid-East Regional Assembly.

WASTE MANAGEMENT

Waste management in Dublin is currently governed by the Dublin Waste Management Plan 2005-2010 which is set by council officials. Head 50 gives this power directly to the Regional Authority with the mayor proposing the plan and the councillors making up the authority voting on it.

This is one of the few direct powers given to the RAD members but it is seriously limited by the qualification that the mayor can rule a decision out of order for specified reasons of being inappropriate. The plan would then be postponed for ‘reconsideration’ by the authority members – if deadlock continues, the mayor wins out as s/he has the final say.

WATER MANAGEMENT

Unlike waste and planning, there are is no overarching water management plan for the four Dublin councils at present. Dublin City Council co-ordinate the supply of water at present on behalf of the other authorities. This Bill gives the power to prepare such a plan to the mayor, with the same role and limitations for the members of the authority in approving such a plan as in the case of waste management above.

Head 52 determines that the mayor and authority will only have a role in making a water services strategic plan, not in the day-to-day provision of services. It would seem, for example, that the mayor will have no role in the setting of water charges if the Government decides to impose them.

TRANSPORT

Much of the public discourse on the issue of the mayoralty has focussed on a possible over-arching role in transport. My Labour colleague and near-namesake Cllr Dermot Lacey is always keen to point out that more than 40 different bodies are currently responsible for traffic management in Dublin at present. So, it is perhaps surprising that there is nothing included on transport in the Heads of the Bill other than that the Mayor will have a “key role” in relation to traffic and transport management in the Dublin Region.

There have been few details provided since in this regard. Minister Gormley, in an article in the Irish Times shortly after publication of the Heads of the Bill, noted that “The transformation of the public transport system will be accelerated in the coming years. What’s missing in Dublin is strong local democratic input and leadership to guide this process. The mayor will provide this input while the Government is committed to providing the capital resources.” Again, this seems to indicate more of a consultative role than one with significant power.

DEVELOPMENT BOARD

Under Head 59, the Mayor is appointed as head of a new Dublin Region Development Board which will also include the chief executive of the RAD (see below), the Deputy Mayor, the Mayors/Cathaoirligh of the four councils, the three county managers and the city manager and a variety of other unspecified representatives and individuals to be appointed, initially at least, by the Minister.

This board will replace the three County Development Boards and the City Development Board which act at present as types of executives or mini-cabinets for each Council. This is a contentious programme which would seem to further downgrade the role of Strategic Policy Committees (SPC’s), whose chairs are currently represented on the County/City Development Boards.

ROLE OF THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE

Under Head 20, there would be a chief executive of the authority appointed – in essence, a super-county/city-manager who would be hired (and, if necessary, fired) by the mayor – but only with the ‘consent’ of the Minister, which could lead to major tensions. If the Mayor turns out to have the real power in this instance, it would be an effective reversal of the current power dynamic between elected councillors and unelected managers – and a more than welcome one at that.

“A super-county/city-manager who would be hired (and, if necessary, fired) by the mayor – but only with the ‘consent’ of the Minister, which could lead to major tensions”

The Mayor, under Head 21, may appoint no more than five members of staff in addition to the Chief Executive, with much of the staffing arrangements to be decided by Ministers. However, the Irish Times reported on February 24 2010 that “[s]ome 30 personnel will staff the office of the mayor and the regional authority.”

ROLE OF THE MINISTER

The Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government – or any future equivalent – retains most of the overall power.

Head 45 indicates that there will be a review of the functions and objectives of the Authority between the Minister and the Mayor within two years, with the Minister charged with making any subsequent recommendations.


ELECTING THE MAYOR

There was considerable confusion at the time of the publication of the Heads as to whether a sitting TD could run for office until it was confirmed that they were entitled to do so in the days following.

Under Head 72, it is stated that all Mayoral elections after the first one will be held at the same time as local elections. Therefore, the first Mayor is likely to have only three years in her/his first term, with the next election to take place with the local authority elections in June 2014.

“Independents and candidates from non-registered parties can be nominated by the signatures of 60 assentors or by depositing €1,800”

Under Head 16, the Bill allows candidates to seek election as both Mayor and county/city councillors, but the mayoralty takes predominance. Candidates for the European Parliament are not permitted to run. No mention is made of dual candidacy for the mayoralty and the Dail. When elected, the mayor would be disqualified from running for the Dail, Seanad or Europe.

Under Heads 84 and 85, independents and candidates from non-registered parties can be nominated by the signatures of 60 assentors or by depositing €1,800. Head 112 notes that details of spending and donations at an election are still under consideration by the Government.

“Curiously, Head 93 makes provisions for “polling on the islands,” anticipating an unlikely wave of emigration to Lambay or Ireland’s Eye!”

A bye-election will be held if a vacancy occurs as long as there is a 12 month gap or more with the deputy mayor taking over the role in the meantime. As expected, votes will take place under the same single transferable vote system as used in Presidential voting and Dail by-elections. Curiously, Head 93 makes provisions for “polling on the islands,” anticipating an unlikely wave of emigration to Lambay or Ireland’s Eye!

In my final article in this series, I will seek to navigate beyond the technocratic elements of the Bill and investigate the most important questions of all – how democratic are the plans, and is a Mayor for Dublin even needed?

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