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#Elections2019: Many parties were 'absent' in campaigning for directly-elected mayors, says Jerry Buttimer

#Elections2019: Many parties were 'absent' in campaigning for directly-elected mayors, says Jerry Buttimer

The people of Cork city and Waterford may be asked to again consider the proposal of directly-elected mayors after voters narrowly rejected a mayoral plebiscite.

Also, a war of words erupted within minutes of the result being announced in Cork City Hall as Fine Gael accused Fianna Fáil of remaining 'absent' in the campaign and of playing party politics with the city's future.

It followed a nail-biting count of 67,711 valid poll papers where 33,364 supported the idea but 34,347 voted against - a margin of 983.

Waterford, meanwhile, voted 22,437 to 21,718 against the proposal while Limerick voted in favour, 38,122 against 34,573.

Senator Jerry Buttimer, who led Fine Gael's plebiscite campaign in Cork, said given the narrow margin of defeat on Leeside - 49.3% to 50.7% - there was merit in considering a citizen's assembly approach as was being adopted in Dublin, for voters to consider the proposal, again.

He said that approach would facilitate more discussion on the merits of the new mayoral role.

Mr Buttimer defended what critics described as a shambolic and lacklustre effort from the Government to sell the proposal in Cork city, and he launched a broadside at Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

"This is a huge opportunity now lost for Cork," he claimed.

"We were very positive in our campaign. We had a very positive message about the future and importance of the role of the directly-elected mayor.

"What was disappointing was the focus was on one element of it and one element only - the salary and the costs."

"And there was an abdication of responsibility by many political parties, in particular, the Fianna Fáil party and its leader.

"Others parties, those who claim to be for local government reform, went absent. They played party politics with Cork's future.

"The leader of the opposition has to have his performance on the plebiscite questioned.

"He claims to be for it, yet did nothing for it."

Fianna Fáil's Cllr Terry Shannon, an outspoken critic of the current proposal, said that view was being peddled by people who ran a "shambolic campaign".

"It isn't that we don't want a directly-elected Lord Mayor - we didn't want this proposal which was minimalist, at best," he said.

"If something comes back of a substantive nature, I'll be happy to get involved in that debate and support it.

"If we are going to do this, let's do it properly. Let's be radical and let's get on with it.

"But this notion that Limerick, all of a sudden, is going to surge ahead of us because they have some fella in a 'Mickey Mouse' job in their City Hall roaring and shouting for something, that's not going to happen."

Newly-elected Green Party Cllr Oliver Moran, who led a cross-party campaign in favour of the proposal in Cork, said he was disappointed with the result but said the slim margin of defeat proves there is a huge appetite for change.

"There is a mandate for a citizens assembly on this question in Cork," he said. "This proposal was something that was built in Dublin and delivered to Cork without local input.

"It takes time to explain the reasons for political reform. It takes more time than was allowed on the doorsteps during a local election campaign. If I got 20 seconds with any voter, I could convince anyone of the merits of this proposal."

Solidarity TD Mick Barry, whose party opposed the proposal, said it was defeated on the role's proposed €130,000 annual salary alone. "This was seen as an arrogant proposal from an arrogant political establishment - jobs for the boys," he said.

Lord Mayor Mick Finn said the result came as no surprise and revealed he voted against the proposal. He said it was the main point of discussion among the people he met while canvassing, and the public was "genuinely confused with what was being proposed and how it would be paid for".

"I voted against it myself, not because I didn't think it was a good idea because I think it is, but I think more information needs to be given out; where it sits with the CE (chief executive), the extent of the executive powers and how it's going to be costed.

"I think the government and the whole campaign was poorly thought out, leaving it six weeks before the election before embarking on a public information campaign was not giving people enough time."

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