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Former Lord Mayor of Dublin, Andrew Montague at the Irish Farmers' Association Live Animal Crib at The Mansion House, Dublin. (Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland)

Column What does the Lord Mayor of Dublin actually do?

‘Few people turn the Lord Mayor down’. Andrew Montague explains what he was (and wasn’t) able to do during his year in the capital’s highest office.

Recent months have seen considerable debate over the possibility of Dublin having a London-style elected mayor – but no real movement. Currently, the capital’s chain of office is worn by its Lord Mayor. So what power does the role actually have?

Here Andrew Montague, who stepped down in June to make way for Naoise Ó Muirí, explains what he could and couldn’t do.

AT THE END of June I finished my year as Lord Mayor and for me. It was an extraordinary year: I watched the Dubs win the All Ireland, I welcomed Aung San Suu Kyi to Dublin and I was there with Sonia O’Sullivan and Jedward on stage in Stephen’s Green to welcome the Olympic Torch to the capital.

But I also discovered how much  the Lord Mayor does to promote investment in the city, encourages voluntary and community work and I learned how influential the Lord Mayor can be in changing how our city is run. The office of the Lord Mayor brings a lot of benefit to the city and any enhancements to that role, such as a five year term of office or extra powers, I believe, would be good for Dublin.

Probably the most important job for the Lord Mayor is to promote investment and tourism into the city. This is a part of the role that is done behind the scenes but is extremely valuable. Potential investors are regularly invited to the Mansion House to meet the Lord Mayor. This sends a strong message that the city values the investment and that the Lord Mayor and the City Council will help facilitate the investment in any way possible.

Likewise tour operators and often whole tour groups are frequent visitors to the Mansion House to help make their visits to the city extra special. During the last year I visited many other cities around the world in order to promote Dublin. I suppose I didn’t realise the value of this promotion for Dublin until I took up the job.

Golden opportunities

For example, Dublin is twinned with San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley, in California. Each year in March, the Lord Mayor visits San Jose. I travelled with a large delegation of Irish businesses. Because I was the Lord Mayor I was able to get access to senior executives in Google, Facebook and other companies and I was able to bring along the Irish businesses to those meetings. These opportunities are golden and should not be missed. They bring business opportunities to Ireland and help generate jobs at home.

The Lord Mayor acts as cheerleader in chief for much of the great community and voluntary work that goes on in our city. Like other Lord Mayors I opened up the Mansion House to as many visitors as possible during my term. I invited community groups, schools, residents associations and sporting clubs from all over the city to visit the Mansion House. I visited schools, sports clubs and community groups all over the city. These groups enjoy coming into the Mansion House or having the Lord Mayor come out to see their work and they value the encouragement that the Lord Mayor provides.

The legal powers of the Lord Mayor to instigate change in Dublin is limited, but the moral power that comes with the job gives the office holder the chance to make real changes to how the city is run.

Through my own personal experience and also from research done by the City Council I was very aware of the damage antisocial behaviour is doing to our city. So I set up a commission to investigate antisocial behaviour.

Few turn down the Lord Mayor

Although I had no official powers in this area, I did have the power to invite people to work with me to tackle this serious problem. And very few people turn the Lord Mayor down. I had meetings with the Minister of Justice, Alan Shatter, the Garda Commissioner, the principal secretary of the Department of Justice, the CEO of the HSE and others.  They appointed senior members of their organisations to work with me and together we produced a report on the actions that are needed to be taken if we want to reduce the occurrence of this problem.

Other projects that I promoted during my year as Lord Mayor was the expansion of the Dublinbikes scheme; a new Bram Stoker Halloween Festival which we hope will attract many visitors to Dublin; and the redevelopment of the Fruit and Vegetable Market on Mary’s Abbey (behind Capel Street) as a retail market, selling fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, cheeses, breads and pastries to the public. That plan is making progress and we hope to have the market open for a trial run this Christmas.

Changes to office

The office of the Lord Mayor is a very important office in the life of the city. I believe we should build on this office and build on the real value that the role of the Lord Mayor brings to the city. I think the Lord Mayor should be elected by the citizens of Dublin and not just by the city councillors; the term of office of the Lord Mayor should be expanded from one year to five years; and real powers in areas such as planning and transport should be invested in this directly-elected Lord Mayor.

I will be speaking about my year as Lord Mayor in the Axis Theatre in Ballymun on Thursday, 13th  September. The interview with Axis Director Mark O’Brien will look at the highs and lows of the year and also some of the fun moments. I may even sing a song or two.

Andrew Montague: A Year In The Life at Axis: Ballymun – A public interview on his year as Lord Mayor will take place on Thursday 13 Sept 2012 at 7pm. Tickets are FREE.  Call the box office on: 01 883 2100 (open weekdays 9am-5pm and for 90 minutes before an event)

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