Public Affairs

The role of directly elected mayors

Voters in Cork, Limerick and Waterford will face an extra question on 24 May, the day of local and European elections. Citizens of the three cities will be asked to vote in a plebiscite on the creation of directly elected mayors for their councils. eolas examines the proposed roles and the powers they would entail

The proposed roles are said to be imbued with extensive executive powers, with the Mayor of Cork City set to become the most powerful politician outside of the Government Cabinet should the plebiscite pass.

Mayors will have powers in housing, planning, roads and the corporate functions of their respective councils. They will replace the chief executives of their councils in preparing policies in these areas, as well as in the area of ensuring that all decisions taken by the councils over which they preside are lawful.

Chief executives will retain their powers in areas such as social housing, granting licenses and permits and enforcement matters. The prospective working relationships between these directly elected mayors and existing council chief executives have been likened to that of a government minister and a departmental secretary general.

Should the plebiscites be successful, it is envisaged that the first mayors will be elected in these cities in 2022. Although mayors will serve five-year terms, with a limit of two terms, the inaugural mayors will serve for two-and-a-half years in order to facilitate the transfer of powers. Mayors will choose their deputy mayors from existing councilors, with their choice subject to ratification from the council. The mayor’s council will have oversight of mayoral performance and will have the power to remove the mayor in certain circumstances.

Mayors will be paid an annual salary of 130,000, with the overall remuneration for the three offices created by the passing of the plebiscite expected to exceed 1 million. The Cabinet have signed off on a memo from Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform John Paul Phelan TD outlining the proposed range of powers for the mayors.

Tánaiste and Cork native Simon Coveney confirmed his intentions to campaign for a yes vote in the plebiscites, which are provided for in the Local Government Act 2019, which also transferred territory from Cork County Council to Cork City Council. The decision was taken not to include Dublin in the Local Government Act 2019 due to the “complexities of local government in County Dublin and the Dublin Metropolitan Area”. Instead, the “detailed and informed public discourse on the matter” called for in the Act will take place in a Dublin Citizens’ Assembly, due to be set up this year.

Calls for a directly elected mayor in Dublin and other cities in order to increase the visibility, accountability and public engagement of local government have only grown stronger since the foundation of the office of the Mayor of London in 2000. More recently, Manchester has received its own directly elected mayor, with former Labour and Co-operative MP Andy Burnham elected as the first Mayor of Greater Manchester in 2017. The Local Government Act 2001 had included a provision for the election of mayors, starting with the 2004 local elections, but this was repealed in 2003.

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