Directly elected mayors in Cork, Limerick, and Waterford will give the cities extra clout in securing State funding, said the Taoiseach.
Leo Varadkar also said there is time over the next six weeks to convince people in these areas to vote yes on May 24 in the plebiscite for directly elected mayors, 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 a former judge of the High Court, Henry Abbott, launches its campaign today.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner ahead of the launch of Fine Gael’s yes campaign today, Mr Varadkar defended the Government’s delay in publishing information about the role and powers of the 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,” he said.
“It’s not like a European treaty, or something like that. It’s a very simple proposition.”
Under the proposal, people in Cork, Limerick, and Waterford will be asked if they want directly elected mayors to assume some or all of the functions now performed by council chief executives.
The first elections will take place in 2021, with the first mayor getting a two-and-a-half-year term, and 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. And if that mayor doesn’t do a good job, well, you can boot them out at the next election.
“So, essentially, it’s giving more power to an elected person over an official and it’s giving the people of Cork the power to elect a person who will represent the city.
“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.”
Mr Varadkar said that a directly elected mayor would be good for Cork City.
“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 investment in transport infrastructure and housing, 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 added 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.