A DIRECTLY elected Limerick Mayor must be given the tools to be more than a ribbon-cutter, a Limerick TD has said.
Green Party Deputy Brian Leddin said that after the people of Limerick spoke four years ago to have a directly elected Mayor, the plans and details of the powers of the position will be published this month.
But Deputy Leddin says it is vital that the move be the start of a new way of local democracy with powers being given to those the people elected rather than civil servants who do not have to answer for decisions.
Deputy Leddin said “this legislation will determine if the mayor’s role is just an honorary position involved in ribbon-cutting ceremonies or is the beginning of a new way of running Ireland and tackling the problems we all want solved.”
“It is vital the voice of Limerick is heard, and we give the new mayor the tools to make a real difference.”
The Green Party deputy said that local government needs significant reform. “We have one of the most centralised systems of government in Europe, so a major part of that reform must be devolution of powers to local level.”
“Additionally, democratic accountability must be strengthened. The unelected chief executives (known until recently as county managers) are the people who hold whatever power does exist at local level, but they are not answerable to citizens or, in most respects, even councillors.”
At the time of the vote favouring a directly elected Mayor, it was intended that the holder of that office would have many of the executive functions currently held by the local authority’s chief executive, such as housing, transport and environmental services and additional powers devolved from central government.
“Since then, the silence has been ominous. To divest powers such as these to a directly elected mayor probably sounds sensible but none of this makes any sense unless the mayor is given a proper budget and the staff necessary to govern,” the Deputy said.
“There are plenty of vested interests that don’t want this experiment to succeed — but the people of Limerick have spoken, and it is essential for democracy that their wishes are honoured.”
Deputy Leddin predicted that a successful implementation of a directly elected mayor, with full democratic accountability and devolved powers, will encourage other cities to press for a directly elected mayor in future and vital local government reform.
“Ireland is late to the party and is now an outlier in Europe. A wave of reforms across the Continent from the 1990s means many cities in northern Europe have followed the long-established traditions of France, Spain and Italy to elect mayors with real powers. Next time you wander around a town or city in southern Europe and marvel at the quality of local services, remember that one of the main reasons is the electorate can hold their mayor to account.’
Deputy Leddin outlined how “Greens here believe the best decision-making processes should be as devolved as possible. While it is vital for local decision-making, powerful mayors can also improve decision-making elsewhere in the political system.
Quoting political academic research he said that research proves “that mayors are better at addressing global issues than the heads of nation states as they are pragmatic problem-solvers. He argues countries are dysfunctional in global relations because they are blinded by an obsession with sovereignty and national culture while mayors have to fix things — from bins to buses.”
“The legislation is one of the best opportunities we will get to help the city and county chart its own course and to recover from decades of neglect from central government and some poor decisions made closer to home.”