Directly elected mayors will give cities extra clout in govt funding, says Varadkar

Directly elected mayors in Cork, Limerick and Waterford will give the cities extra clout when it comes to securing government funding, according to the Taoiseach.

Leo Varadkar also said he believes there is enough time over the next six weeks to convince voters in these areas to vote yes in the government's plebiscite for directly elected mayors on May 24 - the same day as the local and European elections and the referendum on the regulation of divorce.

The committee to oversee the plebiscite public information campaign, chaired by former judge of the High Court, Henry Abbott, launches its campaign tomorrow.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner ahead of Fine Gael's launch of its 'yes campaign', the Taoiseach defended the government's delay in publishing information about the role and powers of directly elected mayors.

"There are six weeks between now and May 24 and we think that is enough time for people to be informed about the proposal - because it’s not complicated. It’s not like a European treaty or something like that. It’s a very simple proposition," he said.

Under the Government’s proposal, people in Cork city, Limerick and Waterford will be asked on May 24 if they want directly elected mayors to assume some or all of the functions now performed by council chief executives (CE).

The first elections will take place in 2021, with the first mayor getting a two-and-a-half year term, five years from 2024.

The mayor would be paid €130,000, and have the right to appoint two advisers. The cost of the office could be up to €450,000 a year in each of the three areas.

Mr Varadkar said: "This is a big change. It means that if people want it, they will get to elect their own mayor and that mayor will be accountable to the public," he said.

"And if that mayor doesn’t do a good job, well, you can boot them out at the next election.

"That person will have a big mandate - Cork is a big city: the person elected is probably going to have 50,000 or 60,000 votes. They will carry weight when they represent the city around the world, but also when they come to central government looking for things to be done around housing and transport and investment.

"It’s going to be much harder for central government not to listen to that person, not to do something," he added.

Mr Varadkar said a directly elected mayor would be good for Cork city specifically because of the government's ambitions for it over the next 20-years.

"We want Cork to develop to become a real competitor and counterbalance to Dublin," he said.

We want the city to have its population increase by 50% by 2040 and to get that right we need all the investment in transport infrastructure and housing that are needed and having a person with a real mandate, with real status to drive that forward means it’s going to happen. And much more likely to happen.

The Taoiseach insisted that the historic title and ceremonial status of the 800-year-old office of Cork's Lord Mayor will be retained and protected in law.

He also rejected criticism of the decision to give the first directly elected mayors just over two years in office.

"It is quite common in other countries - the mayor of London is directly elected, the mayor of Paris, the mayor of New York. It’s the norm in America and like with any big change I think you have to phase it in," he said.

"The first person doing the first job in many ways will be setting it up, as powers are transferred and as functions are transferred, and the idea is to start it off with a short-term and then have a full term at the same time as as the local elections in 2024.

"It also means if it doesn’t work out there is an opportunity to make changes."

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