A Directly Elected Mayor for Cork City? Government takes first steps by agreeing in principal to a plebiscite

1 October 2018
By Bryan Smyth

Government agrees to the holding of plebiscites on directly elected executive mayors for cities

Mr John Paul Phelan TD, Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform announced in the past 24 hours that the Government at its meeting of Thursday, 27 September, agreed in principle to the holding of plebiscites on directly elected mayors with executive functions in Cork City Council, Limerick City and County Council, Waterford City and County Council and Galway City Council and Galway County Council (in anticipation of a full merger of those two local authorities in 2021). The plebiscites are to be held at the same time as the Local Government Elections in May 2019.

At present Cork City has a “Lord Mayor” who is elected from within the pool of Cllrs. A directly elected mayor – in contrast – would be elected by the public.

The issue of directly elected mayors for Dublin is to be referred for more detailed consideration and citizen engagement to a Dublin Citizens’ Assembly to be specially convened in 2019.

These decisions arise on foot of a policy discussion paper entitled “Local Authority Leadership, Governance and Administration”, prepared by Mr John Paul Phelan TD, Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform, which is part of the response to the Programme for Partnership Government (PPG) requirement for a report to Government and the Oireachtas on potential measures to boost local government leadership and accountability.

The paper is also a specific response to the PPG commitment to consider directly elected mayors for cities. In that regard, the paper outlines two main options for the enhancement of the role of local authority mayors, namely:

Directly elected mayors, without additional functions but based on the current role performed by Cathaoirligh/Mayors/Lord Mayors of local authorities, and

Executive Mayors, whose functions would include both existing Cathaoirleach/Mayor functions and executive functions currently residing with the chief executives of local authorities, and who could be either elected directly by the electorate or indirectly from among the elected members of the Council.

Executive mayors, either directly or indirectly elected, could be put in place in Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. The Government has agreed that the decision to establish the role of a directly elected executive mayor could rest with the electorate of the local authority through a plebiscite in each area.

The holding of plebiscites to coincide with the May 2019 local elections is subject to the necessary legislative provisions being included in the Local Government Bill 2018. Further detailed proposals on the plebiscites and the questions to be put to the electorate, as well as the specific powers to be given to executive mayors are to be brought to Government in the coming months.

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