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Minister John Paul Phelan's speech at the City Leadership and City Governance Panel - UCD

Published on Friday, 21 Jun 2019
John Paul Phelan TD


  • Good morning

  • I am delighted to be here and very honoured to share this platform with Councillor Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor of Bristol, whom I welcome warmly to Dublin, and with Dr Niamh Moore-Cherry of UCD’s School of Geography.


  • Our discussion should I suggest be considered in the context of the Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework.  The NPF sets out a vision for a more balanced, concentrated and sustainable growth which targets Ireland’s five cities – Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford – for half of the overall national growth between them.

  • The issue of governance and leadership in achieving that vision for our cities is a key consideration.

  • The Government’s Programme for a Partnership Government commits to consideration of the issue of directly elected mayors for cities in the context of the next phase of local government reform. 

  • In that regard, plebiscites on Government proposals for directly elected Mayors with executive functions were held recently in the local authority areas of Limerick City and County Council, Waterford City and County Council, and Cork City Council.

  • I would mention also another significant event: on 31 May this year, the boundary of the administrative area of Cork City expanded to four times its previous size, following the enactment of the Local Government Act 2019 in January.

Plebiscites on directly elected Mayors with executive functions:

  • Let me turn first to the issue of directly elected mayors and the plebiscites on directly elected mayors with executive functions held in Cork City, Limerick City and County and Waterford City and County on Friday 24 May.

  • As many of you here will know, our local government legislation divides local authority functions into reserved functions, performed by elected councils, and executive functions, performed by the chief executive and officials.

  • The Government’s proposals for directly elected mayors with executive functions seek to bridge the two categories of functions.

  • They address a perception in the Irish local government system that a great deal of power currently rests in an unelected chief executive.

  • In essence, the Government’s proposals are that the directly elected mayor would be assigned some or all of the executive functions currently held by the chief executive, while also exercising reserved functions as a member and chair of the elected Council.

  • These proposals will enhance political accountability in the delivery of services, while giving a strong voice and democratic legitimacy to the head of the local authority.

  • As you will know, the people of Limerick voted in favour of the proposal to allow them directly elect a Mayor for their City and County Council, while voters in Cork City and Waterford City and County Council areas narrowly rejected the proposal.

  • I fully respect the outcomes of the three plebiscites. My priority now is to deliver the mandate given by the people of Limerick.

  • As Minister, I am required, within 2 years, to prepare and submit to the Oireachtas a report specifying legislative proposals which would provide for a directly elected mayor for Limerick City and County Council.

  • This will involve a significant piece of work to analyse all legislation conferring functions and powers on local authority chief executives, as well as consultation with stakeholders, across Government, but particularly in Limerick.

  • The detailed division of functions between the Mayor and the Chief Executive will necessarily form part of the work of the legislative review.

  • I have asked the Department to prioritise this work with a view to bringing the Report and legislative proposals forward at the earliest opportunity.

  • In the expectation that the preparatory work can be carried out and the legislative process is prioritised in the Oireachtas, the first election for mayor could take place in Limerick City and County Council in 2021.

  • I firmly believe that the establishment of the directly elected mayor presents an opportunity for further ambitious local government reform.

  • The directly elected mayor and the elected council of the local authority must be empowered to take responsibility for delivering as wide a range of services as possible and be accountable in their delivery of those services.

  • It is therefore my intention to ask Government to consider which powers could be suitable for devolution to local authorities.

The situation of Dublin:

  • The Government recognises that the situation of Dublin is a more complex one: the county of Dublin comprises four local authorities, while the Dublin metropolitan area, as defined by the NPF, comprises some or all of seven local authorities.

  • The function of a Citizens’ Assembly is to inform the public and increase overall awareness of topics being examined.

  • For that reason, the Government agreed last week to convene a Dublin Citizens’ Assembly to consider the best model of local government in Dublin and, in particular, but not exclusively, the issue of a directly elected Mayor for Dublin and his/her powers.  

  • The Department has been considering the governance of other major international cities and how those models might work in Ireland, especially in the case of Dublin. I expect that the Department’s work could contribute to the deliberations of the Citizens’ Assembly.

  • In this whole process, however, we should in my view keep in mind the objectives of the NPF to enable population and jobs growth, while managing better the trend towards overspill into surrounding counties and to address infrastructural bottlenecks, improve quality of life and increase housing supply in the right locations.

The expansion of Cork City:

  • The boundary alteration in Cork City has been described as the most significant of its kind undertaken in the State and has brought about the transfer of a significant amount of territory and population from the jurisdiction of Cork County Council to that of Cork City Council.

  • The scale of the expansion is very significant, involving the transfer of 147km² occupied by about 85,000 residents from within the administrative area of the County Council to the administrative area of the City Council.

  • This expansion happened on foot of two independent reports that examined local government structures in Cork and concluded that the old boundary was outdated. The government chose to expand the City Council area. An expansion offered the best solution in terms of the structure of local government and a strong focus on the needs and demands of the metropolitan area, while recognising the specific needs of rural areas.

  • The NPF presents a real opportunity for Cork City as a natural counterweight to Dublin. The growth of the ‘City-region’ of Cork will be key in taking advantage of future opportunities and driving growth for the wider Cork area.


  • In relation to Galway, provisions enabling the amalgamation of Galway City and County Councils and the holding of a plebiscite on a directly elected mayor for Galway included in the Local Government Bill were not passed by the Oireachtas. For that reason, for example, a mayoral plebiscite did not proceed there last month. 

  • The Department is now working with the two local authorities to consider and recalibrate the local government modernisation programme in Galway in light of the passage of the Bill.


  • Today’s discussion on the subject of City Leadership and City Governance is timely, coming as it does at this interesting - even exciting - time in the development of policy relating to the governance of Ireland’s cities.

  • As we plan the growth and development of Ireland’s cities until 2040, the issues of leadership and governance are of immense importance, and issues on which the Department and the Government are fully seized.   

  • Let me conclude by thanking Dr Paula Russell, Assistant Professor at the UCD School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy for her very kind invitation to participate in today’s plenary panel and to congratulate her on this excellent conference