Minister English's speech on the Private Members Bill concerning a Directly Elected Mayor of Dublin

Published on Tuesday, 22 Nov 2016
Aire Stáit Damien English TD

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I am very pleased to participate in today’s debate. It comes at a time when Minister Coveney is advancing a process that will help inform and steer future reform of our local government structures. Any discussion that contributes to this process is welcome.

The Programme for a Partnership Government sets out a number of commitments in relation to what the Programme terms, “the next wave of local government reform”. This involves a report to Government and the Oireachtas by mid-2017 on potential measures to boost local government leadership and accountability, and to ensure that local government structures and responsibilities strengthen local democracy. The Programme also references some specific issues to be considered, including the directly elected mayor concept.

Work on foot of the Programme commitment has commenced in the Department, with the aim of building on the measures in  the Local Government Reform Act 2014.

Particular attention will be given by the Department in the coming months to:

  • measures to enhance leadership and accountability in local government (including directly elected mayors);
  • action to widen and strengthen the role of local government, particularly through devolution of functions from central to local level; and
  • measures to reinforce the effectiveness of the 2014 reforms to the local government system, such as the new municipal district structures, in light of a recent operational review, and consideration of issues around establishment of town councils.

I understand and appreciate the intention of the Bill before the House, which seeks to put in place a process that will allow the Electorate the opportunity to consider the establishment of a directly elected mayor for Dublin. A consultation process would first be undertaken leading to proposals being presented to both Houses later in 2017 that would then require a positive resolution of both Houses before being put for decision in a plebiscite of the Dublin Electorate to be held no later than May 2018.

Provided the envisaged plebiscite is successful, the mayoral election would then be held in conjunction with the 2019 local elections.

This is broadly consistent with commitments in the Government Programme to consider directly elected mayors and further devolution of powers to local authorities.

The Bill before the House does not set out the range of functions that would be devolved to the directly elected mayor, nor set out how the establishment of such an office would affect existing local government arrangements and boundaries. There is also no reference to cost.

However, the Bill does provide for a process whereby issues would be debated and decided upon by both Houses prior to a plebiscite being held.

The process set out in the Bill is in some ways similar to the  process legislated for by the previous Government under the Local Government Reform Act 2014, which also provided for a plebiscite by the Dublin electorate for the establishment of a directly elected mayor for Dublin.  However, this was contingent on securing the support of a majority of the elected members of each the four Dublin local authorities and, in this regard, it was ultimately unsuccessful.

Some concerns expressed about the previous proposal concerned the range of functions that could be assigned to a directly elected mayor; how these would be prioritised by the Mayor; uncertainty over how a directly elected mayor would be held to account; and the interface with the local authorities.

This Bill provides that the powers and responsibilities to be assigned to a directly elected mayor will be determined by the Houses. We must work to agree on a clear and fully developed proposal on how an office for a directly elected mayor will function and operate in practice.

Government Departments and State Agencies with responsibility for key public service functions that could be assigned to a directly elected mayor must be actively involved in this process. Key stakeholders from the business, retail and tourism sectors should also have the opportunity to input, as well as the general public.

The aim should be to have a broad, inclusive consultation process that allows robust proposals to be brought before the Houses for consideration within the framework of the commitments set out in the Government Programme. The Government is open to considering all workable proposals that will contribute to this process.           

We must also recognise the complexity of undertaking an ambitious reform of local government arrangements in Dublin. The functions and responsibilities of a directly elected mayor could potentially be very broad in scope and require consequential change in public services in areas such as housing, transport, tourism, heritage, and enterprise.

The amendment we are putting forward will allow for the commitment in the Programme for Government to consider directly elected mayors in cities to be implemented by mid- 2017 and provide the appropriate context for advancing to consideration of legislation on this matter.

Conclusion
To conclude, I would like to thank Deputy Lahart for bringing forward this Bill and I look forward to the future work in this area.  Thank you.

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