Why should I not have the right to vote for whom I want?

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In an open letter to the Limerick Post John Moran, Chair of #LiveableLimerick gives his reasons for voting Yes for a directly elected mayor.

A recent poll on Twitter showed Limerick would vote by almost 2 to 1 for a directly elected mayor.

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It would be a great result if this were replicated on the 24th. But people still need to get out and vote.

Many people not exposed to the live Twitter debate do not yet know all of the pros and cons.

We should be having a more fully robust debate.

But it a rather simple idea at one level

We pay our taxes, why should we be denied the right to choose ourselves who proposes how to spend that money.

The people who should have explained it all to us have not done so. They tell us it is complicated. Better to trust others to make that choice for us behind closed doors.

The media and other leaders even including Blindboy of the Rubberbandits have tried to fill the gap.

At #LiveableLimerick we have also tried to do our bit.

With gusto our politicians put up posters everywhere for their own personal campaigns. On the other hand, up to when I wrote this, their enthusiasm for campaigning on this most important issue has been deafening in its silence bar perhaps from the Greens and some members of Fine Gael (who after all to their credit have proposed the plebiscite in the first place).

One can understand their lack of enthusiasm though.

By supporting the Yes vote, they risk seeing a change go through which reduces their powers. The end of a closed system of mayoral selection for a significant salary of some €50,000 for a part time role with few powers. A role which because it is an annual one will be shared around quite widely to party councillors elected with less than two thousand votes. And let’s not mention the risk that someone not even from one of the major parties could become mayor and secure the backing of several tens of thousands of votes for a programme of more radical change of wider appeal.

Alternatively, by coming out strongly against the change to protect the status quo, they risk having their own electorate openly disagree with their views and relish the opportunity to take back more direct control (and that at a time when they want to be re-elected themselves by those same voters).

Self-interest dictates silence or weak support it seems.

The twitter poll result shows people who debated the issue say the merit in the concept.

Most people agree that the proposal is not without its issues. But this is the once in our lifetime chance to be seized now not rejected to move us forward.

It is not the Lisbon Treaty where we might get a second chance.

There is also a risk that if we vote no, Cork and Waterford vote yes then Limerick is left behind – right at the time when finally Limerick is starting to show what it can do!

Interestingly, the poll result was picked up by Cork commentary worried that Limerick was now likely to vote yes, Cork might vote no and the list was long of all the things they thought they might lose.

In 2001, we had legislation to give us the directly elected mayor before. But people decided we were not mature enough to make our own decisions and they took the right away from us.

We want it back.

As Dr Diarmuid Scully, former mayor and Doctor of Political Science pointed out recently on Live 95, “massive vested interests” are opposed to the idea of a directly elected mayor. The last time we were supposed to have this, the councillors and the city manager “pretty much scuppered the last proposal” he said and the “civil servants are terrified by the idea of devolving power to the cities and counties”.

A power they would be giving up to whom?

To the people who would elect the mayor for their own area.

To greater democratic control.

Why is democracy a bad thing?

It is fair to say that we have been very well served with the leadership of Conn Murray as CEO. But his term is ending soon.

Not surprisingly, people have asked then why change a good thing? When Conn leaves we’ll just get another great CEO.

Let’s not discount that we have not always had great CEOs and our council and we will not have the powers to change him or her.

On the other hand, the council would get powers to remove an underperforming mayor.

For me, the transformation to (a) a multi-year and (b) directly elected mandate are key.

Firstly, five years give sufficient time to make bold changes promised in an election campaign. But also gives time in parallel to build the necessary relationships to influence other policy-makers views along the same lines and to listen directly to evolving views of the electorate. It certainly gives the time to make sure officials and others in Dublin know that you are not going to have disappeared by the end of the year (and are easily dodged) but will be stubbornly coming back over and over until you get what is needed for Limerick.

I am not saying we should not question why further powers have not been transferred from central government. But a democratic mandate gives an awful lot of leverage and one might say soft power to gather people into a room here in Limerick or demand to be listened to in Dublin and when required to crack heads together to get the right result for the area and make bold changes.

Limerick is now for me the Irish county best suited to become a great place to live in a sustainable way – best in class and affordable places to live with high quality public realm and services, more business opportunity and international connectivity than today, better social integration and less inequality, a welcoming city for new-comers whether coming from abroad or even relocating from Dublin for a better quality of life. With a city and county working in harmony.

That future is within our grasp.

But it has to be seized with bolder decisions taken at local level. The current structures are no longer suitable for that.

A positive result gives the people of Limerick back the power to elect themselves the mayor who will have the power to propose the budget to reflect what THEY the people want.

The budget will have to reflect the priorities of those who elected the mayor from neighbourhoods of the city and all parts of the rest of the country, whether larger towns like Kilmallock and NewcastleWest or smaller villages like my own Mungret and Patrickswell.

To get elected, the mayor will have to prove to be multi-skilled, experienced, credible and empathetic. A good manager, a good politician and above all a good diplomat. They will be mayor for all citizens irrespective of gender, culture, sexuality, racial or social backgrounds and political beliefs and they need to be credible in representing and understanding the role of Limerick within our nation and in our European community.

Limerick has many great leaders across all sectors of society.

I do not buy the argument that one or more of them will not come forward to become our mayor.

The government will not long-finger the transfer of the additional powers from Central Government required for the mayor to succeed. This should include much greater authority and powers in areas like transport, health, education and policing.

But do not expect the Dublin based policy makers to cede those powers without a struggle.

The best chance of getting a transfer is to have it demanded for by a mayor who knows that he or she speaks for everyone one of us when they fight that battle on our behalf.

We are exposed to 21st century challenges such as global warming, urbanisation and housing, increasing concentration of wealth and inequalities, security, and the impact of loneliness particularly among our aging population in the city and rural areas.

Our mayor can align and collaborate with mayors of the other regional cities to develop a plan for all of the regional cities and fight against inequalities – whether economic, social or regional.

Our former mayor Ted Russell, freeman of our city, said “It took a lot of time, and sacrifices had to be made but it felt right being involved to such an extent in Limerick”.

It is for me a very small sacrifice by comparison to make to go to the poll on the 24th and exercise the vote I am so fortunate to have at least this time to take back control directly of who will be my mayor.

 No one should have the power to refuse me the right to choose that every five years!

That is why I shall be voting yes!