A PLAN for local government reform published by Minister for the Environment, John Gormley, yesterday was described by the Opposition as "disappointing", due to the limited number of concrete proposals.
One key commitment made by Mr Gormley was that the Dublin region will have its own directly elected mayor with real power in three years time but the details of those powers have still to be worked out.
Launching the Green Paper discussion document, "Stronger Local Democracy: Options for Change," the Mr Gormley said he favoured the Dublin mayor having executive powers to deal with issues like planning, waste and transport, akin to the mayor of London.
The Green Paper acknowledged the need for proper funding of local government but made no specific proposals. However, Mr Gormley expressed support for the idea of the mayor having the power to impose congestion charges on the London model.
The Minister pointed to the fact that the Green Paper proposed a range of executive powers for the mayor to deal with planning, housing, water provision and waste disposal and it also proposed that the mayor should act as chairman of the Dublin Transport Authority.
Mr Gormley said he had discussed this issue with Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey, who had no objection to the plan.
The Green Paper also proposes that all cities and counties should ultimately have directly elected mayors and also that key gateways such as Limerick, Waterford and Sligo should have revised structures of local government.
"We need to give local government greater freedom and capacity to tackle local issues locally, working on its own initiative and in partnership with other local and state agencies.
Fine Gael spokesman on local government Phil Hogan expressed disappointment at the Minister's plans, which he said were high on rhetoric but low on detail. "The proposals include a directly elected mayor for Dublin, with the possibility of directly elected mayors in other cities and counties, but do not explain the functions of this office. There is no indication either in the document of how devolved functions would operate from central to local government, or how local government will be funded into the future."
Mr Hogan said that citizens required good quality services at local level with meaningful, democratic and accountable structures but the Minister had ignored the issues of devolution and funding which would enable those objectives to be met.
Labour Party spokesman on local government Ciaran Lynch welcomed the Green Paper and said that at first glance it raised many issues, and included some proposals that were broadly in line with his party's policy.
He added that there was no logic in leaving direct elections for a Dublin mayor to 2011 when all the other members of Dublin local authorities will have been elected for a five-year term in 2009.
"It would be illogical and impractical to have mayors and other members operating overlapping periods in office. There is no reason why the plan cannot be in place for 2009. The Minister also seems to have ducked issue of the creation of new town councils," said Mr Lynch.
Tasc, a think tank for action on social change, expressed "profound disappointment" at what it termed the Government's "fudge" over local government reform. Paula Clancy, director of Tasc, said the proposal to create a directly elected mayor for Dublin was a red herring .
"The Green Paper does not propose to reform in any meaningful way Ireland's centralised and dysfunctional system of local government by transferring real powers from central to local government," said Ms Clancy.
"By imposing a directly elected mayor on this unreformed system all that will happen will be the creation of another layer of bureaucracy, causing yet more administrative confusion."
Green Paper: main proposals
The main elements of the Green Paper are:
A directly-elected mayor for the Dublin region.
Directly-elected mayors in other cities and counties.
Devolution of decision making to town councils.
New ethics legislation for councillors.
A cap on council election spending of €5,000 per candidate.
A new system of funding local government.
A change in the role of county managers, with more power given to elected representatives.
Improved customer service.
The Irish Times