The Lord Mayor of Cork has branded efforts to create a directly-elected mayor in Cork city as premature and warned that the addition of executive powers to the office could actually distance the role from the public.
Independent Cllr Mick Finn made his comments on the plebiscite issue with just over two weeks to go before people will be asked to vote on whether they want a directly elected mayor with executive powers.
“If a new directly-elected position comes with extra funding, extra powers to influence decision-making at national level and has powers to shape the future of Cork, it would, of course, be fantastic to have such a powerful champion,” Mr Finn said.
“However, such a position flies in the face of policy up to now which has diminished the role of local government, so I’m not 100% certain of the raison d’etre behind the current move.”
People in Cork city, Limerick and Waterford will be asked to vote on May 24 - the same day as the local and European elections - on whether or not they favour the introduction of directly-elected mayors in their city. A citizens assembly will be established in Dublin to consider the question.
If there is a yes vote, legislation will have to be passed before the first directly-elected mayoral elections, which are pencilled in for 2021.
Mr Finn, who last June became the first independent councillor to don the historic chain of office in over 70 years, and only the second ever outside a political party since 1900, said the concept of directly-elected mayors is a good idea in theory but he said the current proposals need to be fleshed out.
He said there is still widespread confusion at the doorsteps about what people are being asked to consider in the plebiscite.
He also said he has real concerns that the extra workload associated with the addition of executive powers could make the position unworkable, and may even sever the links the office has today with citizens.
“As it stands, the role demands 10-12 hours, seven days a week and the placement of extra executive powers would make that totally unworkable,” he said.
“There is no way the current position of Lord Mayor, which is so accessible to communities and individuals, could operate in the same way if executive powers were added to the role.
“Whoever would get such a position must be in a position to balance such a workload - building links with the people who keep our communities strong on the ground is as important as developing strategies for the growth of the city across all sectors.”
And given the boundary extension, he said the move to a directly-elected mayoral position with advisers is ‘somewhat premature’.
“Cork city is to undergo its largest boundary extension ever and many voters at present are uncertain as to whether they are county or city, or indeed which ward or electoral area they are in,” he said.
“Central government should have deferred this idea to the next election which would have given the new city system time to bed in.”