Saturday 17 March 2018

Varadkar rebukes FG councillors for mayor No vote

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar TD
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar TD

JOHN DRENNAN Political Editor

TRANSPORT Minister Leo Varadkar has severely criticised his own local Fine Gael councillors after they shot down proposals for the creation of a new position of Dublin mayor.

But Labour Party ministers and TDs are laying the blame for the veto of a referendum on the plan squarely on the shoulders of Environment Minister Phil Hogan.

Fingal County Council's vote against a plebiscite, which was backed by the other three Dublin councils, means the proposed position is now parked.

Fine Gael councillors in Fingal were among those who rejected the idea. Party councillor Kieran Dennison – mayor of Fingal and Mr Varadkar's running mate in the last election – led the charge on the council against the referendum plan.

Mr Varadkar delivered the sharpest rebuke of the council by a government minister. "It shows up what's wrong with local government in Dublin and why we need a structure to unify the city and county," he told the Sunday Independent.

"It's deeply unfortunate a minority, acting for their own local interest, are able to override the interests and wishes of the city and county of Dublin as a whole."

"My view is that Dublin would still benefit from a directly elected mayor. This mayor could have executive powers over planning, transport, housing, regional development and a promotional role in tourism and enterprise," he said.

Mr Varadkar said a commitment to have a directly elected mayor was made in the Fine Gael election manifesto.

"Despite Dublin's councillors voting 98 to 19 in favour of letting the people have their say on a Dublin mayor, it was blocked by Fingal," he said.

"When people go to Croke Park, they cheer for Dublin, not for Fingal or Dun Laoghaire. Areas of Fingal like Castleknock and Blanchardstown, which I represent, have much more in common with Lucan, the Navan Road or town than they have with Skerries or Swords."

Mr Varadkar backed the role of Mr Hogan, who Labour is blaming for the debacle.

"I have spoken to Phil Hogan since the plebiscite. It was a good conversation and he is open-minded on the issue," the Transport Minister said.

But junior health minister Alex White said the idea of there being a veto by one council "in retrospect was perverse''.

His comments were viewed as a criticism of Mr Hogan, who devised the process.

"This is now a serious political issue. Cities need that ball of dynamism that comes from a directly elected mayor, in terms of attracting jobs and development," he said.

Lord Mayor of Dublin Oisin Quinn was also critical of the Environment Minister.

"The way the process has been structured by Phil Hogan gave it a lot of hurdles and a few artificial hurdles, too," Mr Quinn said. "I made my view known when the quadruple lock was inserted, it was flagged, no one listened," he said.

Labour TD Kevin Humphreys said: "Minister Hogan – when he is in Brussels – should contemplate that as Minister he should have put a lot more thought into this."

Mr Humphreys also warned that the issue was far from dead.

"Dublin wants its own Ken Livingstone and Big Phil will have to deliver, we need a strong advocate who is not frightened to advocate for Dublin, we've been losing out for decades," he said.

Labour TD Aodhan O Riordain also said it was not well handled.

"The Minister did not go out of his way to steer it through," he said.

Sunday Independent

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