Voters in Limerick, Waterford and Cork city will be busy at the ballot box this Friday as they will be asked to consider the matter of a Directly Elected Mayor as well Local and European elections and the Divorce Referendum.
What powers will a directly elected mayor have?
The idea of a directly elected mayor is a person who will oversee the functions of a local authority and bridge the gap between the work carried out by council staff, known as the executive function and the work of the elected councillors, known as the reserved function.
The Government is proposing that the elected mayor will take on some of the executive functions.
It will be up to the elected mayor to bring forward the council budget and development plan.
However, individual decisions on planning will remain with the Council Chief Executive.
The elected mayor will also have to prepare and oversee the delivery of a programme of office, a corporate plan and annual service delivery plan.
The mayor will also chair the joint policing committee and represent the local authority area locally, nationally and internationally. It is also proposed that the mayor will act on behalf of the Council in legal actions.
What's the difference between the mayors we have now and a directly elected mayor?
Although current incumbents will point to the honour and a privilege of the role, it's largely a ceremonial one, which is generally shared among elected councillors and parties.
Although there are mayoral allowances, the role doesn't carry the set salary which is being proposed for directly elected mayors. A directly elected mayor would be elected by the voters and may not necessarily be from a political party or background.
What will happen the role of Council Chief Executive then?
According to the Government, the relationship between the mayor and the council CEO would be similar to that which exists between a secretary general of a government department and their line minister.
It's proposed the chief executive would still be responsible for practical delivery of the council's policy plans and managing staff and other resources on a day-to-day basis.
They will also retain executive functions such as managing staff, processing individual cases or applications, enforcement matters, revenue gathering activities and certain planning functions.
How much will a directly elected mayor be paid?
They would receive a salary of €129,854, and the additional costs of running an office for the directly elected mayor could range from around €313,000 to around €450,000.
Where will the extra money come from?
The cost won't affect existing local authorities' budgets.
According to the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government John Paul Phelan the extra money required for the new salary will come from a €10 million Local Government Reform Fund.
Will the buck stop with a directly elected mayor?
In its favour, the elected mayor will be directly and democratically accountable to the voters. However, it does mean increased power in a single elected individual and their office.
Under the proposals, there would also be a recall and impeachment procedure to deal with "mayoral misconduct", i.e. the electorate will have the power to fire their mayor.
Why is it only Limerick, Cork and Waterford?
There was a commitment in the Programme for Government that directly elected mayors for cities would be considered.
The National Planning Framework identifies Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford as the five largest cities. Galway was originally to be included in proposals for a directly elected mayor, however, voters will have to wait until the city and county councils are merged before being asked their views in the year 2021.
What about a directly elected mayor for Dublin?
Because Dublin is currently made up of four local authority areas, the issue is to be referred to a Citizens' Assembly. The Government has said that due to the complexities of local government in Co Dublin and the Dublin metropolitan area, it needed to allow space for detailed and informed public discourse on the matter.
What happens if it passes / fails?
If the proposal is accepted by a majority of voters in any of those administrative areas, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is required to bring legislative proposals to the Oireachtas within two years for a directly elected mayor with executive functions for that area.
The Government has indicated that if legislation for a directly elected Lord Mayor was enacted, the first election could take place in 2022. The result of the plebiscite in one administrative area will have no consequence on the other administrative areas in question.
How has it worked in other countries?
Directly elected mayors have been working well in some countries and achieved good results for their communities. In France, there are 36,000 directly elected mayors who represent the state locally, organise elections, conduct marriages, grant planning permission and can be a political force to reckoned with.
In the UK, the Mayor of London is seen as a powerful, high profile, political figure. However, it hasn't always worked. In 2012, voters in Hartlepool, Co Durham, voted to abolish the role of directly elected mayor after ten years. Stuart Drummond, who became mayor in 2002 posing as Hartlepool United mascot H'angus the mascot, was re-elected twice by voters before the position was abolished.