FORMER Lord Mayors of Cork have claimed a directly elected mayor will erode the ceremonial duties of the office and have called for Government clarity on what the role could entail.
A plebiscite regarding the prospect of the position will be held as part of May’s local elections with the first elections to be held in 2021 for a two-and-a-half year term, with subsequent elections being held for five-year terms from 2024 on, in line with council elections.
Limerick and Waterford will also hold plebiscites on directly elected mayors earning €130,000 a year.
There are fears from councillors that a mayor with executive powers could reduce the power of elected representatives.
Current Lord Mayor Mick Finn told councillors that there has been “zero correspondence” from Minister of State John Paul Phelan in relation to what the role of a directly elected mayor will entail but added he would respect the outcome of the plebiscite.
Councillor Tony Fitzgerald, who held the office of Lord Mayor in 2017, said he is concerned the new role would not allow the mayor to carry out ceremonial duties such as holding receptions and meeting members of the public.
“I think there’s a definite silence about [the role of a directly elected mayor]. I am very concerned about the legacy of Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney. The Lord Mayor’s office is a unique position in Cork. There will be a plebiscite and the people will decide but what the Government hasn’t done is consult with the office of Lord Mayor.
“I can’t see how we can continue with the diary of the Lord Mayor which is set by the people. I can’t see how the office of the Lord Mayor can do both executive functions and the unique functions of Lord Mayor. The Mayor’s office has a great relationship with the office of the chief executive.
“Do we really have enough information to tell the people of Cork on how the role of Lord Mayor of Cork will work [if directly elected].
“There is a history and a legacy of MacSwiney, MacCurtain and Donal Óg Ó Ceallacháin. All that would be lost if this is implemented and I am surprised there has been no consultation with the chief executive on the details of the role before it goes to a plebiscite. We have a lot of history and symbolism of the unique office of Lord Mayor that the people want to retain,” he added.
Lord Mayor in 2011, Terry Shannon, said the role would supersede that of local Government Ministers.
“It is a concern to all of us who occupied the next office as to the next stage in this so-called plebiscite of a directly elected mayor. I have spoken to the Minister and he has said that it will be up to the Council to decide the title and we have to hold on to the title of Lord Mayor. It represents 800 years of governance in the city of Cork. I have my suspicions the Government is not committed to this. If they were, they would have all this dealt with a long time ago.
“If there is a directly elected mayor in Cork, he or she will be the senior politician in Cork and no Minister wants that.”
He described the role as “window dressing” and claimed a budget of nearly €500,000, including a salary of €130,000, would have to be accounted for in the annual City Council budget to service the position.
Fiona Ryan said Cork is being used as part of a “political experiment” by the Government and fears councillors could be sidelined.
“We actually have no idea what we are voting on. My concern would be [the role of a directly elected mayor] would be less about taking executive motions from Council management and more undercutting of councillors and local democracy powers and centralising them. It provides for a huge concentration of power for one individual wia th pseudo cabinet of appointed officials around them.”