Monday 19 August 2019

Cork votes against directly-elected mayor as Micheal Martin condemns 'absolutely shambolic' campaign

  • Vote is marginally rejected in Waterford
  • Limerick votes in favour of directly-elected mayor for city
  • Plebiscite for directly elected mayor rejected in Cork
  • Micheal Martin slams 'off the cuff' campaign
‘Shambolic’: Micheál Martin criticised campaign. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
‘Shambolic’: Micheál Martin criticised campaign. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

David Raleigh and Ralph Riegel

THE plebiscite for a directly elected Lord Mayor in Cork was defeated by a margin of 983 votes.

Waterford similarly rejected the directly elected mayoral plan by less than 1,000 votes while Limerick, by a margin of less than 4,000 votes, ratified the proposal.

In Cork - which had been the centrepiece of the Government campaign - the plan for directly elected Lord Mayors was rejected by 34,347 votes to 33,364 votes.

Tanaiste Simon Coveney had insisted that the plan was "a stand alone" project - with Limerick now set to be allowed proceed as the first city in Ireland to have a directly elected mayor.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin slated the Government's handling of the campaign as "shambolic."

Counting in the plebiscite began today in Cork City Hall with partial tallies indicating it would be rejected by Cork voters.

Similar plebiscites were staged in Waterford and Limerick.

However, the Cork plebiscite only covered Cork City Council and did not extend to Cork Co Council areas.

Tanaiste Simon Coveney, who was a high profile backer of directly elected Lord Mayors in Cork, had warned it would be "a golden opportunity missed" if the move was rejected by voters.

However, Mr Martin said the campaign wasn't properly prepared and was run on an "off the cuff" basis.

The Fianna Fáil leader said a White Paper on the proposal should have been prepared - with detailed answers to issues such as mayoral powers, funding and accountability available to voters.

"None of that was done - it was absolutely shambolic. And I publicly said so," he warned.

In Cork, the campaign was dominated by a row over where the new directly elected mayor's funding would come from.

In a further embarrassment for the Government, the plebiscite faced defeat in Cork despite the proposal for a directly elected Lord Mayor being endorsed by all major political parties.

Mr Coveney said that a directly elected Lord Mayor would help drive Cork's bid to act as a counterweight to Dublin and the eastern seaboard.

Meanwhile, Limerick has voted for a directly-elected Mayor, who will receive a salary of €129,854 plus benefits.

They will also receive additional funds of between €313,000 to €450,000 to run their office.

The funds will come from a €10m Local Government Reform Fund.

Speaking after the announcement was made at Limerick Racecourse, Monday, sitting mayor of the city and county, James Collins, said he was “delighted” with the result.

Collins has said he is interested in seeking a Dail seat with Fianna Fáil.

However, he hinted he may yet put his name forward for the new mayor role.

When asked if he was interested in the job, Mr Collins replied: “Every politician is interested in an election.”

“I’ve had a very successful year under the current system and I think I’ve seen what could be possible if you had somebody with executive powers putting the best interests of Limerick at heart,” he added.

A report into the proposal, which is now backed by the public, is to be presented before the Dail, and legislation has to be drafted and voted on.

“It’s a huge opportunity for Limerick. The hope is we get what we voted for, and that it doesn't get watered down as it passes through the (Senate),” Mr Collins said.

A directly elected mayor would oversee the functions of a local authority, taking on executive functions, including overseeing the Council’s budget and development plan.

However, individual planning decisions would remain with the Council’s Chief Executive.

Despite acknowledgement by some in the Yes Camp, that the campaign had been poorly run, the vote was carried by a margin of 3,549.

The declared result showed 38,122 votes were cast in favour of the proposal, with 34,573 voting against it.

The total valid poll was 72,695 and there were 1,975 invalid votes.

John Moran, a former General Secretary at the Department of Finance, who chairs the Land Development Agency, has championed the initiative.

Mr Moran also remained tight-lipped about whether or not he was interested in the job.

“I’m not ruling it out, but I’m not ruling it in either,” he said.

Mr Moran called on Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy, who “is responsible for this” to act on the proposal sooner, rather than later.

“It’s time now for him to get this on his agenda. There’s a proposal out there and it needs to be driven home now.”

Fine Gael Plebiscite Director of Elections Maria Byrne, who had steered the Yes campaign in Limerick, said she and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar were “absolutely delighted” with the outcome of the voting.

Senator Byrne, Mr Moran and Cllr Collins all acknowledged the campaign could have been improved upon.

Fine Gael had stated in a number of public information meetings on the topic, prior to voting day, and explained that a directly elected mayor would mean stronger lobbying powers in government.

If given the green light by legislators, the new mayor’s role would help place Limerick “at the heart of the region” and “help create a counter balance to Dublin”.

Waterford has marginally voted against the idea.

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