From top: Lord Mayor of Dublin Mícheál MacDonncha (left) is presented with the first car registered in the capital in 2018 at The Mansion House last month; Dan Boyle
For many it won’t rate as an issue of any significance. Most may even see it as an exercise in frippery. The idea of an additional paid political position, will be instinctively reacted against, possibly by a majority of voters.
But it shouldn’t be. The idea of directly elected mayors has the potential of being the first significant positive change in local government since the inception of the State.
If that sounds overblown, it should be remembered that we have never really had local government in Ireland. When compared to the forms of local government that exist in most democratic countries, what we have in Ireland is little more than local administration.
Too few powers are developed from central government. The few powers that exists locally are horribly distributed between those who are elected (but have few if any decision making powers) and those who are appointed (who make most of the decisions but have little or no accountability for those decisions).
Directly elected mayors won’t of themselves solve the problems of Irish local government but it would be an important first step in the right direction.
Irish local government since 1922 has been an unholy mess. All changes that have occurred to the system have been to lessen and weaken its effectiveness. Part of this has been because the attachment to the county system, largely through GAA loyalties, has made change near impossible.
Even the affection ‘Lord Mayor’ is redolent of auld decency. Why a republic feels the need to hold onto such titles has always been beyond me. In Cork the questioning of the title provokes charges that the memory of MacSwiney and McCurtain is being tarnished.
The failure to equalise votes in local authorities across the country, has meant the strength of local councillors in the West of Ireland has always held greater sway than their Dublin counterparts.
It may seem counter intuitive but in voting for directly elected mayors, voters in Cork and Dublin will have a greater say in the decisions that affect their lives.
Of course none of this will mean anything if national government does not devolve more of the nationally made decisions, those that should be more properly made at local level. Most of the decisions made nationally in areas such as health, education, policing or transport, can be more easily or more effectively made locally.
The answer to better local government in Ireland is not only more local decision making with greater accountability, it is also more elected councillors on more elected councils.
One the greatest myths perpetuated, largely by civil servants at the Department of Local Government, is that Ireland has been over represented at this level of government.
Ireland not only has the weakest system of government in the democratic World, it also pro rata has weakest representation in terms of numbers.
We should re-introduce town councils as district councils. We should reverse the ill thought and ill managed amalgamations of Limerick and Waterford councils.
Most importantly of all we should devolve all necessary powers to the lowest effective level.
It isn’t what is wanted by national politicians, civil servants or officials in local authorities. It is, though, what we need as a country.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle
Top pic: Rollingnews
Dan Boyle’s ‘Making Up The Numbers – Smaller Parties and Independents in Irish Politics‘ published by the History Press is available at all good bookstores now.