Tánaiste Simon Coveney says he is “frustrated” that much of the discussion about a directly elected Mayor for Cork, Limerick, and Waterford has focussed on the salary that would come with the position, and asked the public to inform themselves on the responsibilities of the role.
Speaking a week ahead of voting, Mr Coveney also said another plebiscite could happen in Cork in the event of a No vote on Friday - if the role is proven a success elsewhere.
“I really would ask people to think about it, to make an informed decision and not get distracted by some of the commentary which focuses on a very small element of this office, around the salary of the Lord Mayor,” Mr Coveney said at a Fine Gael press conference in Cork yesterday.
He was joined by Junior Local Government Minister John Paul Phelan, former TD Bernard Allen, and Senators Colm Burke and Jerry Buttimer in calling for a Yes vote.
“The truth is any increased cost that comes from this change will be picked up by national government. Mr Phelan has confirmed that. So there is no knock-on reduction in budget in City Hall for other areas of expenditure,” Mr Coveney said.
“I find it's very frustrating that there's been a focus on the salary here, a salary that is essentially benchmarked against a Minister of State who has responsibility, but this person [an elected Mayor] has huge responsibility.
And this will be a really demanding job, probably 12-hour days, I suspect with a lot of responsibility, and it's going to take a lot of political skills to be a successful Lord Mayor.
"If we're going to attract people, from all walks of life in Cork, from business, from sports, from the voluntary sector, and so on, it's probably someone who's going to have to give up a very good job to do it. Is somebody seriously suggesting that we could ask someone to do this job almost on a voluntary basis? I just don't think that's realistic,” he said.
Mr Coveney said a directly elected Cork Mayor would be the “most powerful politician outside of cabinet”, who would lead the city into its most dramatic phase of growth since independence.
The Tánaiste said all political parties “with the exception of some hard left individuals” support the creation of the role, which would oversee an annual budget of a quarter of a billion euro in Cork after the city’s boundary is extended.
He said: “We're talking about now having political accountability for how that money is spent, and political accountability for the manifestos and the vision for Cork, which is about using that money most effectively, around housing, around planning policy, around commercial policy, transportation, and so on. If people decide not to go for this, in my view, we will have missed a golden opportunity to increase Cork's influence nationally, through the creation of this office."
He also refused to rule out a second poll should the No vote win out next week.
Mr Coveney said: “I think what you will see if people vote against this is that in five or 10 years time, people may well be looking for another plebiscite when they see how a directly elected Mayor is working in Waterford or Limerick, or potentially in Dublin and they'll want it here.
"So it's possible, of course, in the future to ask people again. But I think it would be a real missed opportunity if Cork doesn't decide to go first here."