A directly elected Mayor? Do you care?

A Directly Eledted Mayor

The governance of Dublin has been a hotly debated issue over the past few years. A recent online initiative launched in 2010 by Dublin City Council, also known as Your Dublin, Your Voice asked the question: should Dublin get a directly elected Mayor?

It started as a floating question around the time the Greens and Fianna Fáil got into bed together; then other politicians, such as Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn, started throwing their opinions into the fray. Flynn said the move would “enhance the reputation of the office” while Ciaran Cuffe of the Green Party said Dublin needed a “strong and coherent voice.”

“Most modern cities have directly elected mayors with terms of three to five years. I think Dublin is the only city of sufficient scale that can support a directly elected mayor,” says the outgoing Fine Gael Lord Mayor Naoise Ó Muirí who has been a pivotal supporter of the reform.

Fianna Fáil Councillor for the South East Area Jim O’Callaghan suggested the current process where the Mayor is elected on a yearly basis conforms to the “honourary and powerless nature of the office.”

Labour’s Oisin Quinn (who also happens to be the Nephew of Minister for Education Ruari Quinn) took over the reins of the Lord Mayor’s office in mid-June, becoming Dublin’s 344th Lord Mayor.

The office of Mayor dates back to the 13th century when Richard Muton was elected the first Mayor of Dublin in 1229. The title was changed in 1841 when Daniel O’Connell became the first Lord Mayor and only the second Catholic to hold the office.

“A lot of these men were regular business men, so if you were Lord Mayor you got the opportunity to dine and socialise with some very important people. All of a sudden, you could be dining with the Lord Lieutenant and politicians,” says Lisa Marie Griffith, who works in the National Print Museum. Lisa has researched the Lord Mayors of Dublin as part of her PHD in History at Trinity College and helped to compile a collection of stories about the office in the recent book Leaders of the City.

The book profiles some of the most notable figures to take up the office including Sir Daniel Bellingham, Daniel O’Connell, J.P. Nannetti, Lorcan Sherlock, Kathleen Clarke (the first woman to be elected Lord Mayor of Dublin) and Alfie Byrne.

“It was quite an expensive office, and there were complaints throughout the office that while it was not a paid position they were given a specific sum of money, so in that period they were given 200 pounds and always exceeded that,” says Griffith.

The office was traditionally held by Protestants – Catholics were barred from the voting process, eliminating any chance at attaining office. With the enactment of the 1840 Corporation Act, all citizens – with a certain amount of yearly earnings – could hold office. Currently, election of the Lord Mayor is a pretty simple procedure; each of the 52 Councillors gets a vote on their preferred choice.

The debate about the necessity of the office will intensify over the coming year with the announcement that Dublin will get a chance to vote on the issue in 2014.

Although broadly welcomed, the plans for a directly-elected Mayor for Dublin are not free from criticism. The Leader of the Green Party, Eamon Ryan, said the current proposals by the Government for a centralised regional authority fail the city. Other concerns were raised about the costs of the office, with Fingal County Council suggesting it could cost €1.6 million if implemented.
“I think direct representation is really important and it would make the position more significant,” concludes Griffith.

Pictured: Outgoing Lord Mayor Naoise Ó Muirí and friends at the Bike to Work launch in Grand Canal Dock recently.

By Liam Cahill