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DCC Chief Executive Owen Keegan
DCC Chief Executive Owen Keegan
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

'Strong case' for directly elected Mayor for Dublin, council CEO says

The campaign for directly elected mayors has grown in recent years.
Dec 27th 2018, 11:01 PM 10,282 31

THERE IS A strong case to be made for a directly elected mayor for the capital, Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan has said.

“It is a feasible proposal. But if it is to be done it should be done properly,” he told TheJournal.ie in a recent interview. 

Keegan – who has been DCC chief executive since 2013 – argues that proper devolution of powers has to be worked out by state agencies first. 

Calls for directly elected mayors in Ireland have increased since the idea was first floated back in the early ‘oos. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has previously said that he is “very enthusiastic” about the idea.

The government plans to put the question to the cities of Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick at next year’s local elections. The possibility of a mayor for Dublin, however, will be put to a citizens’ assembly.

That plan, however, hinges on the relevant minister bringing detailed proposals to government on how exactly these votes would work. It is also unclear at present what executive functions or powers a directly elected mayor would hold. 

But “for a directly elected mayor to make a real difference he or she would have to have significant powers, though” DCC’s Keegan added. “Those powers have to come from somebody.”

Local government has gradually been stripped of powers in favour of central Government control. “What I’ve noticed in the debate to date is that nobody has identified where the powers will come from.”

The creation of a new role is not necessarily a panacea to solve a city’s issues, Keegan has said.  

‘Strong, strategic direction’

Dublin-based Green Party councillor Ciarán Cuffe, however, believes that a directly-elected mayor could benefit from a “strong, strategic direction”. 

With 63 elected councillors and three adjoining local authorities it’s not always clear where the buck stops. 

Paris, Barcelona and New York, Cuffe says, are good examples of cities with political leaders in place for “the long-term. They rally together the different bodies in the city to work towards a common goal.”

At the moment, the Green Party’s Cuffe says that “there’s a complete mish-mash with what the public think the city can do and the powers the city actually has.”

We should be talking to the mayors of  Birmingham, of Manchester, Liverpool and London.

DCC’s Keegan says that London’s mayoral model – where the mayor has executive powers over city transportation and policing – works well. 

Not everyone believes the British model like in London is the most effective use of direct power, however. 

‘A toothless assembly’ 

“The problem with the London model is that the Greater London Authority is quite powerless,” Labour councillor Dermot Lacey says. 

Instead, Lacey favours a “partnership model” between the mayor’s office and the council.

“I’d personally do it by having a smaller [council] and unlike the London model, the policy makers should come from the council.”

While local authorities around Ireland work to solve urban issues, where the power will come from under a new system needs to be hashed out, says DCC’s Keegan.

And, how the current structure of Ireland’s local authorities could change by the election of a mayor with direct powers.

“It would be absolutely ludicrous to impose a directly elected mayor on top of four Chief Executives and 200 councillors and make no other changes.”

Council officials and elected representatives aren’t the only “big players” in the mix either in Ireland’s major cities either. 

There are also numerous national bodies dealing with issues affecting, for instance, transport in major cities; the National Transport Authority, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. 

“So if you’re saying there should a single or greater unity of purpose over transportation  – and the mayor’s going to have function over that – somebody has to give them those powers.”

That means taking them from other people and I haven’t heard anybody offering that.
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Cónal Thomas

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