UNCOOKED and probably not even quarter baked was the reaction of Independent Councillor Joe Conway to proposals for the direct election of Mayors for Waterford, Cork and Limerick.
On May 24 the people of Waterford will be asked — the same day as the local and European Elections — to either back or reject the proposal for the directly elected Mayor which would carry an annual salary of €130,000 and which would be as powerful as – if not more powerful – a Minister of State.
Following the May 24 vote the matter will be discussed by the Citizens Assembly. If the plebiscite passes the first mayors could be elected in 2022.
The mayors would have powers in housing, planning, roads and the corporate function of the council, and would replace the council chief executive in preparing policy in these areas.
The mayor would also replace the CEO as the person responsible for ensuring all decisions of the elected council are lawful.
The CEO – in Waterford’s case, Michael Walsh, would, however, retain powers to allocate social housing, grant licences or permits, and to deal with enforcement matters such as planning. The relationship between the two would be similar to that between a minister and the secretary general of a government department.
While mayors will be elected for a five-year term and be allowed serve no more than two terms, the initial term will be for two-and-a-half years to allow for transfers of power.
A mayor would have a deputy mayor, nominated by the mayor from the existing council but subject to approval by council vote.
Since the idea was first mooted Tramore councillor, Joe Conway, has voiced his opposition to the creation of the post. His opposition is centred mainly around the cost involved which he feels would be better spent on areas such as housing.
“My take on it is… it’s more about self-promotion than Waterford promotion, and smacks heavily of dilettantism.
“The proposals are undercooked, probably not even quarter-baked. But – if you examine the rubrics of directly-elected Mayors in other areas of Europe – the unerring fundamental is that their success all depends on funding – in other words, it all comes down to dough!
“There is much evidence to indicate that this will always be in short order in Irish local government,” he said.
Speaking last week after the Cabinet signed off on a memo from Junior Minister John Paul Phelan on the range of powers proposed for the new offices the Tanaiste Simon Coveney defended the salary being offered. He said “That’s what’s required to attract the right candidates.”
The council would have oversight of the mayor’s performance and would also have the power, in certain circumstances, to remove the mayor from the role.
Mr Coveney said he plans to campaign for a yes vote to create the office of directly elected mayors.
Value for our Mayoral buck… your view
Joan Storan, Ozanam Street
‘I’d be against it without a doubt in the world. I’ll be honest with you, I think it’s a big waste of money. Deep down what do we need a Mayor for? He’s only a figurehead and the money mentioned should be invested in services like hospitals and accommodation. We have no guarantee that this new role would have more powers and be able to do more for Waterford. Apart from going to the schools and giving them a half day he’s not doing too much.’
Carmel Bermingham, Dunmore Road
‘I don’t think it will make any difference. I’d be more inclined to leave things as they are. I don’t think they play an important role in the direction of the city like a TD does. There’s a lot of issues I’d like to see dealt with here and I definitely think that the money could be put to better use elsewhere. I have asked people coming to the door looking for votes to try and deal with certain issues but they haven’t. I feel that this new made role is just one for the boys.’
Kit Hennessy, Alphonsus Road
‘Firstly I feel that we haven’t been given enough time to think about this. I feel that I’d like to have known more about it. Over the years the role was always political – one party had it and it was passed on to another the next year which wasn’t fair in my opinion. I think I would like to vote for our Mayor though. We don’t know whether it would be a good thing for Waterford but I feel that maybe we should give it a go.’
Watty Tubbritt, Cork Road
‘I think it would be best to spend the money on something more important. There’s quite a lot of homeless people and empty buildings where they could be given accommodation. I was only thinking yesterday of all the quality shops here in the past compared to now so I feel the city needs a lot more investment to improve the economy as well. I think the TD’s should be pushing harder for us instead of this new role. They say the recession is over but it’s not showing its face here in Waterford.’