Christmas 2020: and the Mayor of Dublin looked back on another successful year. The capital city had enjoyed record visitor numbers, with the St Patrick’s Day Festival the largest one ever staged. The latest Luas extension was now up and running, and enjoying runaway demand. Dublin had confirmed its place as a global hub for innovation and industry. The city had also staged another high-profile sporting fixture, drawing in fans from across Europe. To cap it all, several cities sent delegations to study Dublin’s model of local government, and see why it’s working so well. And all of this was organised through the office of Dublin’s powerful new executive Mayor.
Could this happen? Should Dublin have its very own Boris Johnson, or Michael Bloomberg? I believe that Dubliners should at least have a choice.
Dublin’s four local authorities and their mayors have set up a working group to look at various options for a single Mayor of Dublin. If all goes to plan, then Dubliners will be able to vote for a new Mayoral system in a plebiscite at the local elections next year.
At this stage we don’t know whether the working group will recommend a Mayor for all of Dublin with real executive powers – like the Mayor of New York, Paris or London – or whether they will instead recommend the model put forward by John Gormley for a Chairman, who would preside over the four existing local authorities – a sort of quango Mayor.
I think if people were given the choice, they would support a mayor on this big city model. My own view is that a powerful executive Mayor is by far the best option.
We increasingly live in a world of cities which compete for investors, tourists, and big business. Dublin isn’t so much competing with Cork, Limerick or Belfast – it’s competing with Copenhagen, Barcelona and Tel Aviv, all of them with an executive mayor. But Dublin has a big disadvantage, because it is split up into four separate authorities.
My view is that Dublin needs a directly-elected Mayor with executive powers to head up a single local authority. This Mayor would have executive power over planning, transport, housing, policing, regional development, promotion, and enterprise.
I have asked my own Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport to see what assets and services could or should be transferred to an executive Mayor. Facilities like Dublin Airport should probably remain at Government level, because it’s a national asset. The M50 and Dublin Port Tunnel are less clear-cut. But a case can easily be made to transfer the Luas or Dublin Bus, which only operate in Dublin. The review is also looking at areas like train and bus timetables, taxi regulation, and planning for roads, cycle and bus lanes.
Tourism is another vitally important area for Dublin. Any executive Mayor worth their salt would be promoting Dublin in terms of visitors, conventions, major events and festivals. The Gathering has brought home to me just how much we promote Ireland as a country. But there is also a space to promote Dublin to tourists as a city in its own right, with a powerful Mayor acting as a figurehead and a promotional tool.
In terms of sport, the National Sports Campus is a national facility but the Mayor would likely take an interest in developing sporting facilities and activities in the city. This would almost certainly include the hosting of high-profile sporting events like the American College Football game taking place in Croke Park next year.
If we want to do any of this in a meaningful way, we also need to reform the four local authorities. I would propose that Dublin needs around a dozen full time councillors who would work with the Mayor on city-wide issues. Separately, you could also have borough or district councils with unpaid members, who would focus specifically on local issues, without having to worry about separate administration structures.
The working group of councillors is now seeking your views on what type of Mayor, or Mayors, is best for Dublin. There’s more information at dublincity.ie. My own view is clear: the best way to promote and grow Dublin is through a single Mayor with executive powers.
Published in the Evening Herald on Wednesday 18th September 2013