CITIES such as Cork, Waterford and Galway face a substantial wait to find out if they will get directly elected mayors with budgetary and planning powers.
Environment Minister John Gormley yesterday confirmed his intention to have a directly elected mayor in Dublin in 2011.
If the minister’s proposals are realised, the Dublin mayor would have substantial powers in the areas of planning, housing, water provision and waste disposal. The mayor would also act as chair of the Dublin Transport Authority.
The proposals form part of Mr Gormley’s plans to reform local government. This would mean taking certain powers from central government and giving them to local regions.
Mr Gormley pointed to the example of London but said the experience in Dublin would have to be evaluated before introducing it elsewhere.
“There’s a fixed date for Dublin for 2011. After that, we have to look at what regions, what towns, would benefit from a directly elected mayor, and we’d also have to look at the extent of the powers involved,” he said.
“I think we will certainly have it post-2011. We have to look at Dublin and the experience of Dublin first.”
Mr Gormley acknowledged that the fear of “celebrity” candidates winning had deterred previous governments from introducing directly elected mayors.
The issue of directly elected mayors is just one of a number addressed in the Green Paper on Local Government, published by Mr Gormley yesterday.
Mr Gormley said his ideal of local government was straightforward — “it should be democratic, accountable and provide quality services as close to the citizen as possible.”
Once the discussion phase is complete, a white paper will be drawn up outlining the specific plans Mr Gormley wishes to follow.
Labour welcomed the green paper, but said the failure to propose justice, education and health powers for local authorities was a “missed opportunity” for the discussion.
Mr Gormley said those issues would continue to be dealt with “on a national basis” by central government.
There was stronger criticism from the Think Tank for Action on Social Change, which said the proposal to add directly-elected mayors to an unreformed local authority system would simply “create more confusion”.
“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,” Paula Clancy of Tasc said. “By imposing a directly elected mayor on this unreformed system, all that will happen will be the creation of another layer of bureaucracy causing more administrative confusion,” she said.