Tuesday 21 January 2020

Fingal Councillors scupper plans for directly-elected Dublin mayor

Dublin's Mansion house, where the Lord Mayor currently is based
Dublin's Mansion house, where the Lord Mayor currently is based

Eimear Cotter and Joyce Fegan

FINGAL County Council has scuppered plans to hold a plebiscite on a directly-elected mayor for Dublin after councillors rejected the proposal.

The majority of councillors agreed the plan - in its current format - was unclear and there was not enough detail about the roles and responsibilities of an elected major for Dublin.

The three Dublin county councils voted on Monday evening on whether there should be a plebiscite - or poll - on the issue during the local and European elections on May 23.

The plebiscite will now not go ahead in May after Fingal councillors opposed the holding of it.

All four Dublin authorities had to support the proposal before the plebiscite could be put to the people.

Following a two hour meeting, Fingal councillors voted against the proposal by a majority of 16 against, with six in favour of the proposal and two abstentions.

However, Fingal councillors agreed a separate motion supporting the right of the people of Dublin city - not county - to decide whether or not they should have a directly-elected mayor to reside over the city of Dublin.

They also called on Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan to amend the legislation to allow for a referendum at a later date, saying there has been insufficient time and debate on the current proposal.

The proposal was for an elected mayor with strong executive powers. The directly-elected mayor would appoint a cabinet of directors in control of important areas such as transport, waste and planning.

During a lively debate, councillors repeatedly said there was not enough detail in the scheme.

Cllr Ruth Coppinger (SP) said the plan was anti-democratic, and quoted former London mayor Ken Livingstone as saying the potential for corruption in a position of mayor was enormous.

"Dublin County Council was broken up because of corruption and the potential of corruption, now we're talking about going back to that, the problems with rezoning and brown paper bags”, she said.

She added: "It's proposing to take accountability away from the directly elected representatives and put it in the hands of one person."

Cllr Gerry McGuire (Lab) said he would like to see people have a vote on this issue, but it was akin to "a pig in a poke" and said people did not know what they were voting for.

Cllr McGuire also said any mayor in Dublin city centre would ignore the communities in Swords and Balbriggan.

He also quipped: “there will be no chance of getting a pothole fixed in rural Fingal".

Cllr Ciaran Byrne (Lab) said he was not against a plebiscite but was against the mechanism for this plebiscite which was a “rushed proposal”.

Fianna Fail’s Eoghan O’Brien said councillors were being asked to “vote in the dark” for a Dublin mayor, as there was no detail on the ramifications for the people of Fingal.

Meanwhile, Cllr Eugene Coppinger (SP) said he was opposed to the centralisation of power to one individual and his cabinet.

Cllr Tom O'Leary (FG) said he was in favour of the people having a vote for a democratically-elected mayor but this proposal was "too quick, too little detail and the people are not informed".

He also questioned people's interest in the issues, saying he has received 35 emails about this matter, and only five were from Fingal people, adding he received more than 300 about a taxi rank in Skerries.

Cllr Cian O’Callaghan (Ind) was more optimistic about plans for a Dublin mayor, saying a recurring theme in council discussions was the devolvement of power from Central Government. He said the proposal could “go some way to do that”. 

His view received support from Cllr John Walsh (Lab) who argued councillors should back the proposal and allow the flaws and shortcomings in the proposed role of mayor to be discussed in public.

Cllr Anthony Lavin (FG) said that plans for a democratically-elected mayor was a "non-event" in Malahide. He also said he did not believe it was in the interests of the people of Fingal.

Councillors also said Fingal council had worked very hard to establish an identity separate to Dublin city, with one representative joking that four mayors were enough in the Dublin region.

Meanwhile the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr Oisín Quinn, has called on the Government to proceed with a plebiscite in Dublin to establish if the people of Dublin wish to have a directly elected Lord Mayor.

“It is wrong to allow a small number of Cllrs principally on Fingal County Council to frustrate the democratic process largely out of an outdated desire to protect a perceived separate identity.  Dublin and Fingal should not be in competition or seen to be in competition.  No single group should be given a veto on reform.

“Dublin should not be held back by small minded parochial arguments.  By not facilitating a plebiscite, the Government would be ignoring its own policy of ‘putting people first’ policy.  I hope there will be common sense shown on this matter, and democracy be facilitated on this important question which will impact on Dublin’s economic and social development,” he added."

Meanwhile Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council has unanimously voted in favour of a directly-elected mayor with many councillors saying that Minister Phil Hogan should salvage the situation in light of Fingal County Council's rejecting the motion.

It was 23 yes votes in the chamber with five absentee councillors. It followed Fingal's earlier rejection of the motion for a directly-elected mayor, at 16 to six votes against.

"I respect the decision of Fingal but I am personally disappointed on it. It's back to the minister to see what can be salvaged," said Fianna Fail councillor Cormac Devlin.

He added that it was "a lesson learnt" for the Minister in regard to the lack of clarity surrounding the proposed motion as put forward by Mr Hogan and for Fingal's reason to reject it.

Independent councillor Victor Boyhan stated that the current mayors of the four Dublin councils have "no democratic mandate" as it stands.

Fine Gael councillor John Bailey told the chamber that people have been "deprived" the right to elect their own mayor because of Fingal's decision earlier today.

His fellow party colleague Richard Neale criticised his Fine Gael councillors in Fingal saying their decision was "disappointing" and that the minister had "'taken people for granted and it backfired."

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