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Sunday 21 September 2014

Ministers went 'berserk' over city mayor plan

Ten state bodies would be stripped of power

Published 23/03/2014 | 02:30

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24/02/2014 Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, T.D. at the launch of the Review of the Government Trade, Tourism and Investment Strategy at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Iveagh House, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton

Several cabinet ministers and their department officials "went berserk" over the extent of the powers planned for a directly elected mayor of Dublin.

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Jobs Minister Richard Bruton and Justice Minister Alan Shatter were among the senior government figures to object to responsibilities in their department's remits coming under the control of the new mayor.

"It would involve work, change, loss of power, so there was major opposition," another minister said.

The creation of the new role is now in danger of being stopped in its tracks.

Councillors on the four local authorities in Dublin will vote this week on whether the proposals to create the new role should be put to a referendum in the capital.

But objections from members of Fingal County Council, covering north and west Dublin, are expected to scupper the plans.

A majority of members of all four councils have to agree to the plebiscite for the vote to go ahead on May 23 – the same day as the local and European elections.

Even if the creation of the role is agreed, coalition sources said the powers proposed to be given to the mayor's office are likely to be watered down.

Under the proposals, the directly-elected mayor would have responsibility for areas such as transport, housing and planning.

The mayor would also have "strategic responsibilities" in areas like such policing and water.

But a series of government departments and State agencies would be stripped of staff and powers if the position is created.

A major transfer of powers from at least 10 State bodies to the office of a directly elected mayor is proposed.

Agencies like Enterprise Ireland, Failte Ireland and the Office of Public Works (OPW) would lose a portion of their annual budgets.

The National Transport Authority, the National Roads Authority and the IDA, would be stripped of staff to be transferred to the office of mayor.

The proposed outline of the role was drawn up by a group chaired by Lord Mayor of Dublin Oisin Quinn for Environment Minister Phil Hogan.

When the proposals were circulated to the ministers and departments, the reaction was mainly negative.

"They all went berserk. The proposal was looking for too much," a senior government source said.

The Department of Finance and Department of Public Expenditure questioned the cost of the plan and the duplication of roles through the same job being done by two different agencies – one for Dublin and one for the rest of the country.

Mr Bruton objected to the dividing of the job-creation agencies, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, being divided.

Mr Shatter was not keen on the mayor's office having responsibility over the gardai.

"I don't sense any whole of government support for the plan," a minister said.

Senior civil servants were also understood to be appalled by the idea of the mayor's office being run by individuals who could be hired and fired.

The special cabinet of directors would be appointed by the mayor and would be in charge of the running of the capital.

The directors would not necessarily be politicians or public servants – meaning individuals from a range of different professional backgrounds could be installed to positions of power.

"Sir Humphrey wouldn't want that," a senior government source said.

Sunday Independent

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