Mixed views on €450,000 proposal for directly elected Limerick mayor

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Limerick County Hall Chamber. Photo: Cian Reinhardt

WHILE much of the national focus is on the local and European elections, Limerick voters will also ballot on the Government proposal for a directly elected Mayor on May 24.

Under the Government’s proposals, a directly elected mayor would perform a significant amount of the executive functions currently performed by local authority chief executives.

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They would also prepare and oversee implementation of a programme of office, similar to a programme for government, and ensure that the chief executive performs the functions of the local authority in accordance with the mayor and elected council’s policies.

Independent local election candidate for City West, Jim Long is encouraging people to vote yes on the plebiscite for a directly elected Limerick Mayor.

A former Mayor of Limerick, he believes a directly elected Mayor would be the people’s choice and the office holder must act responsibly within the role that’s assigned to them.

“The Mayor has a duty to the people and to Limerick. The office is seen as a local, national and international window that represents the region and is inclusive in the delivery of transparent business, education, culture, housing and well-being of our citizens,” the Ballinacurra Gardens man told the Limerick Post.

“Certainly the Mayor must have an executive role in financial, environmental and planning issues as well as being the impartial chief over the political spectrum on the Council.

“There is however some disquiet among chief executives and some politicians in the area of executive power in planning. This is seen by many as controversial as it is the sole responsibility of the Council’s chief executive and there is a low confidence of public opinion with this function,” Long claimed.

The function of executive power of planning, he believes, could be shared by the Mayor, Council chief executive and legal adviser.

“It has been stated locally in recent days that this position would lead to a dictatorship. This assertion, in my opinion, is present now; this is the reason why change is needed.”

However, another former Mayor of Limerick City and County, Cllr Kevin Sheahan sees the whole thing as an “attempt to pull the wool over people’ eyes”.

He accused the government of trying to take the focus off the real issues.

“I am asking my fellow councillors to oppose a directly elected mayor and to campaign to have people oppose it. I know elderly people who say they won’t even vote in the local elections because they are so confused by the number of boxes they now have to tick on the ballot paper. It is purely an attempt to pull the wool over people’s eyes,” he added.

Meanwhile, Limerick Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan has called for a review of the salary and cost of the office of the directly elected mayor.

“The total cost of the office is €450,000 for the mayor and two special advisors. I am calling on the Minister to clarify why the office will cost nearly half a million euro a year?

“There is a real risk that the cost of the office could become the focal point of the plebiscite and this is due to the Government’s failure to meaningfully engage with the public about this proposal.

A directly elected mayor is an exciting opportunity to strengthen local democracy in Ireland and will remove some of the democratic deficit at local authority level as we have one of the weakest systems of local government in Europe,” Deputy O’Sullivan said.

Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan said a vote in favour of the Limerick plebiscite next month will provide a catalyst in driving the city, county and the entire Mid-West region forward.

“This is the most important role being created in local government because it is about our place – Limerick, our communities and our people. We have seen directly elected mayors work in other cities – the upcoming plebiscite now gives us an opportunity to make this change that will benefit us into the future,” he said.

Senator Maria Byrne, who is also a former mayor,  said that cities can benefit from strong, visible leadership and international standing that a mayor, elected with a clear mandate, can bring.

“We need a strong voice in Limerick to create a strong city to drive the region.

“Under the current system, there is no consistency. If for example, the mayor is working towards a trading relationship with a country, by the time they come to meet key stakeholders, their term of office has expired,” Senator Byrne said.