New directly elected mayors will take over decision-making and administrative functions currently carried out by chief executives under new proposals put forward by the Government.
Voters in Cork, Limerick, and Waterford will be asked to vote on the establishment of the position in a plebiscite which will be held at the same time as the local and European elections on May 24.
It is one of the most significant changes to local government structures in recent years, with the directly elected mayor taking on the role in a five-year-term if approved. The first holder will enter office in 2022 on a shorter term before the period increases with the local electoral cycle in 2024.
The policy proposal issued by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government describes the role as a representation of 'the entire local authority area at local, national and international level.'
The estimated cost of the position is €941,748 per annum - €313,916 per local authority.
It accounts for a mayoral salary of €129,854, the same as a minister of state, with a mayoral vouched allowance of €16,000 available. There would be allocations of €66,741 each for both a special advisor's salary and a programme officer's salary, as well as €34,580 for a driver.
The department said the establishment of a directly elected mayor, similar to those in cities such as London, "could enhance local authority accountability, visibility, democracy or responsiveness, among other possible benefits".
The department warned against wholesale adoption of the role from overseas territories as it 'is not necessarily appropriate to the context of Irish cities' but that the role tends to 'have grown within specific national and local contexts, needs and circumstances'.
A public information campaign will be launched in the local authority areas by the end of next week at the latest to deliver information on the what the role would entail.
A large number of duties would be allocated to the new directly elected mayor, with existing chief executives continuing to exist with changed duties. Some of the duties may include:
- Housing: All local authority housing-related executive functions, including application and assessment processes for social housing, the adoption of traveller accommodation programmes, and maintenance programmes.
- Planning and development: Articulating a strategic vision in terms of 'proper planning and sustainable development.'
- Finance: Drafting a budget and working to achieve its adoption by council.
The mayors would not be able to allocate social housing, approve planning applications or commence planning enforcement practices, or grant licences and permits. These would all remain executive functions.
The directly elected mayors would face scrutiny and oversight by the elected council and the Oireachtas, if appropriate. They will face questioning on pre-prepared matters, similar to leaders' questions in the Dáil, and would be scrutinised by the Local Government Audit Service, NOAC and SIPO, as chief executives and councillors currently area. Councillors would have the power to commence removal procedures against a directly-elected mayor, if deemed necessary.
No directly elected mayor would be allowed to sit for more than two terms and the title in Cork City Council would remain 'Lord Mayor', as has historically been the case since 1900. In other areas, the title will be mayor.