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Proposal for directly elected mayors – Minister Phelan's Opening Dáil Statement

Published on Thursday, 24 Jan 2019
John Paul Phelan TD

Dáil Statements: proposal for directly elected mayors – Thursday, 24 January 2019

Opening Statement – John Paul Phelan, Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform

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Ceann Comhairle,

  • I wish to thank you and the members of this House for allowing time for statements on the issue of directly elected mayors.
  • I would like to take this opportunity to outline proposals, which I intend to present to Government in the coming weeks, for directly elected mayors with executive functions and to inform those proposals further through input from this House and Seanad Éireann.  
  • As you will be aware, the Programme for a Partnership Government includes a commitment to consider directly elected mayors in cities as part of a broader range of local government reform measures aimed at strengthening local democracy.
  • On foot of that commitment, I submitted to Government last September a policy paper entitled Local Authority Leadership, Governance and Administration, which included a number of policy proposals for directly elected mayors in cities.
  • This policy paper was approved by Government at its meeting of 27 September, 2018 and forwarded to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government for its consideration.
  • The Government also agreed in principle that plebiscites would be held on directly elected mayors with executive functions in Cork City Council, Limerick City and County Council, Waterford City and County Council, and Galway City and Galway County Councils at the same time as the local government elections in May 2019.
  • This decision was subject to the necessary provisions for the holding of the plebiscites being included in the Local Government Bill 2018 and the requirement that I would revert to Government with more detailed proposals on the plebiscites, the questions to be put and the specific powers to be given to mayors.
  • Following progress of the Local Government Bill 2018 through these 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 Government in the coming weeks.
  • Prior to reverting to Government with these more detailed proposals, I now wish to consult with both Houses to understand their views on the matter.
  • As you will be aware, local government legislation divides local authority functions into executive and reserved functions. I believe that 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 to the directly elected mayor.
  • The directly elected mayor would be an ex officio member of the elected council, continuing to perform the functions currently exercised by local authority cathaoirligh, mayors and lord mayors, including reserved functions. This would encompass a civic and representational role, where the mayor would act as the ‘face’ of the local authority both domestically and internationally.
  • Given the potentially very 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 to the local authority chief executive as a Government Minister has to a Secretary General of a Government 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 Civil Service Departments, where the Secretary General is responsible for such matters.
  • The elected council would of course 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, as well as exercising its existing and future reserved functions.
  • A mechanism to recall the mayor should also be set out. 
  • In addition to the directly elected executive mayor proposals, I will propose a strengthening of Strategic Planning Committees. My intention would be to create a ‘cabinet-style’ system, where the chairs of the various SPCs would form the mayor’s cabinet, replacing the Corporate Policy Group.
  • 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 of 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 government elections in May 2019.
  • 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 with executive functions.
  • Regulations for the holding of the plebiscites and their necessary requirements and arrangements, will be made by Minister 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 Dublin Citizens’ 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.
  • There is also a range of complex policy questions to be examined by the Dublin Citizens’ Assembly, including:
  • consideration of functions of the directly elected mayor for Dublin;
  • the proposed relationship between the directly elected mayor and the local authority elected members and executive of the local authorities involved; and
  • the geographical area that would fall under the Dublin mayor’s remit.

Ceann Comhairle,

  • Let me conclude by thanking you and the Members of the House for your ongoing engagement on the issue of directly elected mayors.
  • 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.

I look forward to hearing today the views of Members of the House in that regard.

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