NO MORE SUSPENDED ANIMATION FOR LIMERICK
#LiveableLimerick warmly welcomes the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage issued today and calls on the Government to implement the recommendations without delay.
We want to thank the committee members, other witnesses and all those who made written submissions supporting our call for radical change. We particularly thank the members of the Committee and its Chair Steven Mathews for their hard work and balanced and well researched report which reinforces why the initial provisions needed radical change not just for Limerick but for all local authorities in Ireland.
The new office of directly elected mayor will be the catalyst for Limerick and the Mid-West region to move forward and finally reach its true potential.
This change in local government is the most important reform and change since Independence and the adoption of Bunreacht na hEireann and the decision to join the EU.
The people of Limerick voted for more local democracy. They want the right to choose their mayor directly for themselves, they want that mayor to have the right powers and funding and they will hold the Mayor accountable if s/he does not deliver.
This report shows that there is now all party consensus that the scheme of legislative proposals initially circulated by the Government did not deliver on what was promised to the people of Limerick when they voted to have the right to choose their own mayor.
Like others, #LiveableLimerick asked the members of the Committee to recommend key changes in three areas:-
- To immediately transfer to the office of the Mayor all the extra powers they need to be able to deliver on their democratic mandate
- To transfer to Limerick the funding and spending power needed to so deliver, and
- To make key changes in the structure of the office and its relationship with other actors so that the will of the people of Limerick will not be frustrated.
They responded with important recommendations.
Each area for change is the leg of the one three legged stool. That stool will fall over if those opposed to the reform are now allowed to cherry pick the recommendations for change.
The recommendations of the committee now need to be implemented quickly and in full and without delay.
We call on Minister Burke to ensure that the election he and now two successive Governments promised for 2021 a deadline which has been missed will be held no later than the Spring of 2022.
Every further week of delay is yet another a week lost for the people of Limerick.
There is no time to lose.
It is time to put an end to the suspended animation of our local government.
November 16, 2021
Further detail is attached in Annex A of the recommendations and our related submissions.
#LiveableLimerick is a social movement of volunteers who love their county and want to bring about change to make it more liveable.
#LiveableLimerick is about a community coming together for public fun events or campaigns and engaging under five key values:
- Long Term Ambition: Creating a long term ambitious vision for a greener and cleaner Limerick and successful Mid-West region.
- Desirability and Fun: Making Limerick city centre the most desirable, safe and fun place to live, work, shop and visit.
- Inclusion: Cherishing and engaging all communities old and new, urban and rural, people of all ages and abilities.
- People Focused: Designing best-in-class public realm and urban mobility strategies for all who use our county not just those who drive in cars.
- Valuing or Heritage: enjoying or world class build heritage and protecting it for future generations.
|Committee Recommendations||What #LiveableLimerick asked for|
|“The Committee notes that if the office of the mayor is to be a success, not just for Limerick but for our democracy and country, it must be of additional value (emphasis added) to the democratic processes and not just amount to a new office and role”||As per our Submission:- “It is not too late to fix things There is time to repair the existing legislation and create a workable model for the future. I place my trust in your Committee to see how that can be done.” “Are the proposed provisions true to the first three principles of the Government’s own objectives of March 2019, (1) that the mayor must “add value”, (emphasis added) (2) the “subsidiarity principle” whereby national government should not take action where action could as effectively be taken at regional or local level, and (3) the need for “Empowerment” which means the directly elected mayor should be as empowered as possible to perform their functions while remaining appropriately accountable?”|
|Rec 1 – The committee recommends that the proposed Bill be amended: To ensure that any of the specified functions [reserved to CEO] could become a function of the Mayor, to further consider the issue of Mayor’s powers before the Bill is enacted using..paper…approved by the Government in March 2019 as a guide; and for the Bill to contain provisions for a review of those powers after one year||From our Submission:- “The Mayor has not enough powers. This is where we get to the core of the issue. Head 28 sets out the powers of the mayor. There are 3 categories – (a) those of the CEO today less ones kept by the CEO as Director General going forward, (b) those maybe coming under Part 3 which does not give any and (c) those coming in the future but not given now. So let’s call a spade a spade. With the refusal to transfer powers now and only a vague promise of a review in 2024 to allow for a transfer for the next election in 2029, the first mayor and perhaps many more are lame duck mayors with even less powers than the CEO at present but a public expectation of someone finally who will deliver for Limerick. Because enactment, this has to change and should with respect be a clear recommendation from the cross party committee.” “The time to stop the talking is now. Don’t allow it to be deferred again. The Committee must now make clear recommendations to transfer immediately the powers and budget identified in the consultation committee and the Government must act to prefer the democratic will of the people of Limerick over unelected control merchants.” “Now is not the time to kick the can down the road even more. To me, this reads seems like legislation to plan for more legislation dealing with the real issues in another 5 or 7 years rather than fixing the problem now.|
|Rec 2 – The Committee believes that the powers and functions of the Directly Elected Mayor should be in line with successful models in other countries. The Committee therefore recommends that the proposed Bill be amended to provide significant additional powers and functions to the directly elected mayor including, but not limited to, transport, planning, health, climate adaptation and mitigation measures and the oversight of housing and regeneration strategies.||From our Submission:- “Instead, of establishing the empowered effective mayor Limerick needs to deliver change based on models from other successful cities this legislation has created a new role – the most important taxpayer paid lobbyist in Ireland. “ “Now is not the time to kick the can down the road even more. To me, this reads seems like legislation to plan for more legislation dealing with the real issues in another 5 or 7 years rather than fixing the problem now. Limerick and other suffering regional cities cannot wait any longer. Limerick for example badly needs a new holistic democratically local management structure which can deliver for Limerick, solve its housing problems, its unemployment blackspots social deprivation and a failure to invest in infrastructure to combat climate change and have a truly green city region which can reach its potential to be an economic engine in Ireland.”|
|Rec 3 – The Committee recommends that the proposed Bill provide the office of the DEM with funding and revenue raising powers as outlined in the IAG report, including an annual block grant and access to and management of a special sub-fund to be created through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. It should be clarified that the meant “revenue raising powers” to include a decentralised approval for borrowing with a separate multi-annal borrowing limited provided to LCCC as per the IAG report||From our Submission:- “In the legislation there is no references to new sources of funding. There are 12 pages in Chapter 3 setting out the “Functions” of the mayor and how they will be exercised but by contrast a whopping 222 pages talking about the procedural issues of the process for running the election. That gives some indication of where the emphasis was when drafting. Hard decisions have been long-fingered to hold power in Dublin. “ “The democratically chosen mayor and Limerick’s councillors will not even be trusted to spend more wisely the money the state knows it has to spend on the Mid-West than unelected officials in Dublin who might not even have visited Limerick let alone understand its needs.” … “There is only one safe way. What needs to happen is that the additional powers to solve the problems of Limerick need to be given to the office before the election so we know the candidates will have the powers to deliver their promises or are just telling porkies. What needs to happen is that a fair budget in terms of other national priorities must be allocated for the full term of the mayor so that the candidates promises can be gauged against that. What needs to happen is that the decision makers in Dublin finally trust the people of Limerick.” “What therefore gives central government the continuing need to say that a mayor of Limerick elected by a majority of 150,000 people, held democratically accountable by 40 or so elected Limerick councillors and ultimately accountable to the Oireachtas itself cannot be trusted with a budget of several hundreds of million.” From the Committee Report:- “Mr Moran noted that this would not entail requesting additional funding but constitute utilising the funding available to Limerick over the course of the mayoral term and delegating the decisions and priorities in relation to how that funding is spent to the Limerick mayor and councillors. “Mr Moran advised that without known budgets or powers there is a danger that mayoral candidates will campaign on unrealistic expectations and provide the electorate with false promises. In contrast, Mr Moran noted that if the right powers and an envelope of multi-year funding were to be provided to the mayor, the electorate could assess the promises of mayoral candidates to ascertain the bona-fides of various programmes of office.”|
|Rec 4 – The Committee recommends that the proposed Bill be amended to provide the mayor with the power to convene meetings of the Directly Elected Implementation Forum and that the forum be statutorily obliged to meet quarterly.||From our Submission:- “Read the text carefully as the traps are carefully laid unless significant changes are made before enacted. For example, there are very promising provisions about a new forum for the implementation of the reform but read carefully it soon becomes clear that the new first citizen of Limerick wanting to have a meeting with the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance to discuss failures of implementation or extra powers or budget they need cannot even convene the Forum if the Minister for Housing does not want to call it and has no guarantee the Minister for Finance or DPER will even be there and certainly their boss the Taoiseach will not be to ensure valid arguments are implemented.” From the Committee report:- “In discussing this provision (that about the Forum), it was noted by Mr Moran that if the Directly Elected Mayor seeks to have a meeting with the Minister for Finance or Housing, Local Government and Heritage to discussed additional powers, funding or failure of implenmtation, they are unable to convene (emphasis added) such a meeting.”|
|Rec 5 – The committee recommends that the proposed Bill contain provisions that allow the elected council to assess and make recommendations on the Mayor’s Programme for Office.||From our Submission:- “Risk of stalemate in the Council Chamber from the get go. Another illusory power as written is that related to the “Programme of Local Government”. It is to be prepared by the mayor presumably reflecting the priorities of the election but is to be sent “for approval” by the Council. What if the mayor was elected with a political mandate different from that of the majority of the council? Surely the important mandate is that of the mayor. It is of course only right to have to present and listen but stalemate cannot result so early in a term. It must be recognised that the political allegiances of the mayor might not be the same as those of the majority of the Chamber. Limerick voted in 2019 to concentrate that power in one individual, subject to checks and balances but not to have other arms of state frustrate the mandate of the mayor, subject only to the need to get the budget approved annually to move forward. The mayor might make changes having listened but should still have the power to drive on with his or her programme and seek compromises on budget approval day. Even mayors following national policies could be hi-jacked by a local council wanting impossible to achieve Limerick exceptions.”|
|Rec 6 The Committee recommends that the requirement for the first Mayor’s Programme to have regard to the existing corporate plan be removed.||From our Submission:- “Unnecessary delays in the production of the legislation are also making it hard for a new mayor to work change. Limerick is now waiting at least 3 years for the promised election and in the meantime core statutory documents will be finalised and will make it impossible for the mayor to do different things during their term even if that is what the people vote for in 2022.”|
|Rec 7 – Regarding the Review of functions, the first review should be commenced earlier than 2024 and it should be open to the newly elected mayor to commence this process on assuming office||From our Submission:- “Now is not the time to kick the can down the road even more. To me, this reads seems like legislation to plan for more legislation dealing with the real issues in another 5 or 7 years rather than fixing the problem now. Limerick and other suffering regional cities cannot wait any longer. Limerick for example badly needs a new holistic democratically local management structure which can deliver for Limerick, solve its housing problems, its unemployment blackspots social deprivation and a failure to invest in infrastructure to combat climate change and have a truly green city region which can reach its potential to be an economic engine in Ireland.” Noted by Committee:- “…this point was also elaborated on By Mr Moran as he advised in his opening statement that with little powers being transferred at present and a review promised for 2024 to allow for a transfer for the next election in 2029, the first mayor risks being a “lame duck” mayor with fewer powers than the Director General but with a public expectation to deliver for Limerick.”|
|GOVERNANCE AND STRUCTURE|
|Rec 8 – The committee recommends that the proposed Bill provide the Mayor with the power to select and appoint all staff members (referred to under Head 22 of the General Scheme) of their choosing to their office.||From our Submission:- “With the Cathoirleach introduced as a strong political check, the mayor to deliver for the people, should get back the HR powers (emphasis added). If operationally had those powers the mayor could still decide to delegate to the CEO. That is possible under Head 45 but, importantly, if things are not working he or she can take them back. Without that power, the Mayor is not driving the bus. They have no effective power to be able to apply a break if things are being done recklessly or put the foot to the accelerator if things are happening too slowly.”|
|Rec 9 – The committee recommends that the proposed Bill provide for a procedure where the Director General can be sanctioned or removed in the event they are underperforming or inhibiting delivery of the Mayor’s mandate||Noted by the Committee:- “Mr Moran expanded on the importance of the relationship between the Mayor and the Director General and advised that it is important that there is total alignment of interest between the two. Mr Moran noted that while the Mayor is supposed to deliver on the Councils’ priorities and his or her programme of office, ….they have no power to appoint or remove a Director General if they are not delivering. In this regard Mr Moran advised that this is a receipe for “unelected official ambushing of a democratically elected executive head”. Mr Moran noted the implementation of the elected councils’ directions by the Director General can only be effective if there is effective oversight by the Mayor. He noted…. that the legislation needs to be clearer on how issues with an underperforming director general can be resolved, what the Mayor’s role should be in this regard and the role of the Mayor in choosing a replacement.|
|10 – The Committee recommends that consideration be given to appointing the Mayor the power to reassign the responsibilities of the Directors of Service within the Local Authority.||The Committee noted:- “Mr Moran noted that while the Mayor is supposed to deliver on the Councils’ priorities and his or her programme of officed, they cannot choose which Directors of Service are best served to deliver….”|
|Rec 11-15||We would agree with these suggestions but had not requested these items, dealing mainly with future plebiscites|
|Rec 16 – The committee recommends that the proposed Bill provide for the Directly Elected Mayor to be allocated a seat on the Southern Regional Assembly and that this provision be included in any future legislation governing mayoral plebiscites||From our Submission: “Southern Regional Assembly – another climb down Here we have yet another climb down from the earlier proposals. The explanatory material proposed the Mayor have a seat on the Southern Regional Assembly. This has been watered down to being consulted on the RSES. Without a more formal presence this has no meaning. The public always has to be consulted on the RSES and as a resident of Limerick the mayor is one of the public! He or she should be present in the Chamber to make sure that the priorities of the one Limerick he or she represents are present not just views from the type of political vote block appointments rejected in 2019.“ The Committee noted: “In discussing this with the Committee, Mr Moran noted that if the mayor was t have a seat on the Southern Regional Assembly, they would be involved in the discussions concerning how Limerick would interact with counties like Clare and Tipperary and beyond. Mr Moran further advised that this would be significant benefit as future directly elected mayors in other cities such as Cork and Waterford would then be sitting together at an appropriate level and would be able to work together to advance the interests of the broader southern region.”|