MINISTER JOHN PAUL PHELAN: ‘Why people of Kilkenny should be allowed to elect their own mayor’
LAST week on KilkennyNow.ie, the writer Michael Wolsey argued against the case for directly-elected mayors, basically intimating that they are waste of money.
Michael, of course, is entitled to his opinion, but it appears his polemic was based on some inaccurate information out there about what is the most fundamental change proposed since local governments were founded in 1899.
It’s important to point out that directly-elected mayors are only being proposed for now for Limerick city and county, Cork city and Waterford city and county in votes to be held in May with the local elections. Depending on the outcome, consideration will then be given to extending this other counties. Why shouldn’t Kilkenny have an opportunity to elect its own mayor?
Under the existing system, council Chief Executives, who have by and large served their counties well, have had all the executive power, all the clout. It is therefore true that we have a distinct lack of democracy in local government and one of the most lopsided system of local government in all of Europe.
All executive powers currently lie with a single individual who was not elected by the people. Meanwhile, those who have come through the local electoral process, have their ear to the ground and are deeply rooted in their communities have very little power.
Some people argue that all councillors do is talk. Well, under the current system their main route for implementing change is talk and raising matters at council level. But what we are proposing in these three counties will rebalance the system.
At the moment, even the mayor or the chairman of the local authority are nothing more than the public fact of a council. Now, the Mayor, who will be elected by the people and for the people, will have executive powers in areas such as transport, housing, economic development, parks and recreational areas and a host of other functions. Reserved functions enjoyed by councillors in areas such as the drafting of budgets and development plans will be retained.
And contrary to some commentary, their salary will not be €130,000. No decision has yet been taken on that matter and the mayor’s salary will vary from one authority to another – depending on the size of that electorate. There are also others who say we have too many councillors –yet Ireland has one of the lowest ratios of councillors per population and they serve three times more people than their counterparts in France, for example.
These proposals are all about addressing the massive democratic deficit at the top of local government.
In all fairness, 120 years is a long time to wait for change!
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