DIRECTLY elected mayors could be introduced to cities including Cork, Galway and Dublin after a public vote next year.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan said he would consider the move after a plebiscite in Dublin next August which could result in a mayor with policing, transport and other powers being introduced in the capital.
The introduction of a directly elected mayor is one aspect of Mr Hogan's reform of local government which will result in more than 80 local authorities being abolished and the number of councillors falling by more than 40pc.
The Local Government Bill (2013) will be enacted before next summer's local and European elections, and will scrap some local authorities which have existed for more than 115 years.
But councillors have vowed to fight the move, with the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland (AMAI) calling for local government reform to be referred to the Constitutional Convention.
AMAI president, Councillor Willie Callaghan (FF), said it was taking legal advice and could mount a challenge.
"It's a very disappointing day, it's not reform, it's abolition of town councils," he said.
"This is a missed opportunity for local democracy and the citizens who live in communities with town councils which work extremely well in most cases.
"We're going to look at the bill and we have a team of people to scrutinise the bill. If we can see a legal challenge, we will take it."
The measures, which were unveiled yesterday, are focused on improving delivery of vital public services, Mr Hogan said.
Councils would deliver "efficient and good value services" to communities, and would provide "strong leadership". Only in exceptional circumstances would "quangos" be established to deliver services outside the local authority system.
"The whole point of local government reform is to ensure that local councils deliver better services to their citizens," he said.
"For too long local government has been bypassed by quangos. I want councils to do more for citizens and local communities but I accept that first local government must regain public trust."
Details of a directly elected mayor for Dublin are being developed, and voters will be given an outline of the proposed powers prior to a vote being held next August.
If approved, the post could be extended to other cities.
The Dublin Chamber of Commerce said a mayor with real powers to reform was vital for the region,
"All over the world, mayors with strong executive powers and real vision are transforming their cities and making a real and tangible difference to the lives of their citizens," chief executive Gina Quin said.
"Dublin needs a champion who will be directly accountable to the people of Dublin as a whole on issues of regional importance."
The reform package, which was announced in October last year, includes a reduction in councillors from 1,627 to 949, and the merging of six local authorities in Tipperary, Waterford and Limerick into three.
Local authorities will also be allowed to increase or decrease property tax rates by as much as 15pc, and 80pc of the income will be held by councils.
Fianna Fail said the Local Government Bill was a "continuation" of the Coalition's policy of "moving power away from the people and into the hands of an elite few".
Chambers Ireland added there should be no increased costs to business.
Independent TD Catherine Murphy criticised the bill, saying it was "too limited in scope" and that independent municipal councils should have been created, along with three regional authorities.
"The County Managers' Association controls local government and under this legislation, that is not going to change," she said. "If we are to see real reform then we must cut the cord between the Customs House and local government."