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Dublin’s Elected Mayor – Democracy On A Hairpin

Dublin's Chain Of Office

The Green Party were the first of the main political parties (and I use that term loosely given their present circumstances) to propose the idea of a directly Elected Mayor for Dublin.  It is an idea that immediately caused controversy, governments, as a rule, are usually quite reluctant to devolve power from themselves.  Similarly, the local authorities were unsure of devolving power to a City Central office, they subsequently believed that county concerns would be treated as secondary.

The present coalition government, as part of the Local Government Reform Act of 2014, decided to create a Steering Committee comprised of members from all four Dublin Councils (Fingal, DCC, South Dublin and Dun Laoighre/Rathdown), to develop the idea of a directly Elected Mayor and see if it held public support.  This Steering Committee discovered that there was indeed popular support through an online poll that found 78% in favour of the suggestion.  After public consultation meetings it was also revealed that the public seemed to desire real devolution of power for the new office.

Among the Steering Committee’s recommendations were the following:

  • The term to be no longer than 5 years (nominations through a 1000 signatures)
  • The office to have executive powers in Transport, Community Facilities, Environment & Waste, Tourism & Heritage, Art & Culture, Planning, Housing, Economic Development, Fire Service & Community Policing.
  • The Office to have the power of delegating decision making bodies to all local authorities.
  • To appoint people (not necessarily Counsellors) to a City Cabinet.
  • This Cabinet would be responsible to a Dublin Assembly of Counsellors.
  •  The Dublin Assembly would vet all members of the Cabinet and have power to create their own sub committees (essentially a Dáil Eireann relationship to Government on a local level).
  • The Mayor’s budget would have to be approved by a majority of the Dublin Assembly.  The Assembly can remove a mayor through 2/3s majority.
  • The Cabinet to be tied to the Mayor, if the Mayor is not re-elected or leaves office for whatever reason, the Cabinet is dissolved.
  • The Cabinet is approved by the Dublin Assembly.
  • County Authority Mayors to act as  representatives of the Elected Mayor and no longer considered mayors in their own right, they will represent the Elected Mayor at local functions and events.
  • The budget of the Elected Mayor will come from a mixture of local rates, local property tax with appropriate transfers from the State Government.


As can be seen by the above what was being proposed was essentially a micro version of the Dáil Eireann apparatus with the Office of Taoiseach’s role being carried out by the Elected Mayor.

This Steering Committee’s report was sent to the Minister for Environment Phil Hogan complete with the above recommendations and research findings. The Minister stated that subsequent to approval from all four councils, a referendum could be held among Dubliners on the same day as the Local/Euro elections (23rd of May).   At the beginning of April, the motion to hold the plebsicite passed with three of the County Councils (Dun Laoighre/Rathdown, DCC and South Dublin) however, it failed to carry in Fingal.  This means that there are 98 Counsellors in favour of referendum for a directly Elected Mayor and 19 opposed, however, as one Council failed to endorse the motion, it is now shelved till after the elections.

And that is the story so far.

There are pros and cons with the idea of a Directly Elected Mayor, which I would now like to examine.


  • Creating an Mayoral office that is directly elected by the citizens of Dublin will increase interest in pan Dublin politics that is currently missing.  People tend to rally either behind single issue campaigns or singularly protest planning permissions. An elected mayoral campaign system will create a forum for the issues of an area, which has both the largest accumulation of wealth and the largest proportion of population on this island to be debated.
  • There is an issue of identifying who does what in local administration. No one seems to be quite sure about the powers of Counsellors versus the powers of city/county managers and administrators.  An elected office does create accountability.  A visible office that people can hold to account for issues affecting the city and its environs.
  • In other regions, such as Turin in Northern Italy, the elections for the office have seen an end to party monopoly over the role.  Whether that would happen in Ireland’s political culture remains to be seen and to be fair, party monopolisation of the office of Lord Mayor or the regional mayors was never a huge problem in the past.
  • It would be a clear decentralisation of power from the state, which makes democracy more representative in some ways.  IF the system was replicated elsewhere in the state, it could see more representative policies for different regions.
  • Assuming there was consolidation of power from the other Councils, it could then cut down on cost in local governance. However, if this is to be believed to be true, it goes against the argument above of localising power, as it follows, that in taking power from centralised government for the office is more representative, taking power from smaller more localised Councils (DCC, Fingal, Rathdown & South Dublin) makes things less representative.
  • Frees up Dublin TDs (and in the future all TDs, if replicated) from local politics to consider national issues only, an effective end to the “Parish Pump” system.


  • If there was no consolidation of offices from the other Councils, then essentially two new bodies are being created, a Dublin Assembly and overall Elected Mayor, this will mean additional costs in the administration of local governance at a time when money is needed for front line and developmental services.
  • If Dublin is the only region to have its own Elected Mayor and Assembly, then it promotes regionalism in what is already a very small and lopsided (population and commercially) state.
  •  The argument that the office will not be monopolised by a single party is not guaranteed, Turin has a different political culture, where as Irish Counsellors may vote on a compromise Independent candidates for mayor, the electorate may simply replicate its general election vote, essentially, extending the party whip to local governance.
  • By devolving too much power to the office (and the above recommendations do cede a lot of power albeit with checks and balances through the assembly) there is a danger of taking power from Counsellors.  Its one thing to say TDs should focus on national issues and not be “parish pump”, it is quite another to say the same about Counsellors who are elected for that very reason.


As can be seen by the above, this is quite a delicate balancing act for democracy.  Too much power in an Elected Mayor could see the end of localised councils being effective, at the same time it does wrestle power from the State and brings it directly to the people of a region.

There are, of course, different alternatives to what is being proposed here.  New Zealand variation of an elected city mayor has no executive power, the office simply acts as a mandated chairperson and carries weight by virtue of being directly elected.

Alternatively, an Elected Mayor could be given the responsibility of proposing a budget with support of County managers and no more.  Leaving the present Councils to debate the proposed budget and make amendments

Or an Elected Mayor could be given the sole power of suggesting a region wide development plan and leaving the local Councils to implement this plan as they see fit.

The proposals are interesting, and though shelved momentarily, it would be impossible to believe that this issue is going away.  The idea of localising power from the state has its merits but the office would have to be given serious thought lest, a system that simply copies the government whip of the day or a system with one person solely in charge be created.

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