More than 300,000 citizens of Limerick, Waterford and Cork city will get a fourth matter to consider on polling day this Friday, and that is whether or not they would like to directly elect their own mayors.

The idea of directly elected mayors has been around in the Dáil since 2001, and while the issue has been the subject of much debate during the tenure of four ministers with responsibility for local government, it has never been enacted.

Now the people are being asked what they think of the idea in a plebiscite to be held in the local authority areas of Limerick City and County Council, Waterford City and County Council, and Cork City Council on 24 May.

The new directly elected mayor would have new powers, including the single most important function of drafting the council’s annual budget.

They would carry out a number of executive functions currently within the remit of the council’s CEO, in addition to the delivery of a corporate plan and a service delivery plan.

Cork City Council

There are, of course, pros and cons to the idea. Most agree it is more democratic and gives the mayor a solid electoral mandate to act on behalf of citizens for a period of five years, instead of the current mayoral tenure of one year.

It also gives the office of mayor more visibility to bang the drum, and work on behalf of a city and county area nationally and internationally.

But not all agree that it is a good idea. Those against it say it is costly, the salary is too high, it does not necessarily strengthen local government, and the plebiscite is being rushed without enough debate on the issue.

Much of the public debate has been dominated by the proposed new mayors’ annual salary of €130,000, plus a further €16,000 in expenses.

They will be able to employ two advisers at over €66,000 each, and a driver who will be paid almost €35,000. That is almost €942,000 a year for the three areas.

Former Limerick Mayor Kathleen Leddin, an Independent, believes the salary is too low, as it will have to attract people with corporate and diplomatic experience for a job that will be an onerous one.

She believes if councils want to attract people with exceptional business and corporate experience, then the salary will have to be even higher.

But John Gilligan, also a former Independent Mayor of Limerick believes the salary is too high. He said it is exorbitant to pay the proposed new mayor a salary of at least three times the industrial wage.

In addition, he feels if they have to appoint two advisers, then they should no t be in the job.

But he does support the idea of a citizens’ vote to directly elect mayors, because he believes the current ‘pact’ situation which arises frequently between the main political parties in local councils needs to end as it prevents Independent voices from holding the office.

Dr Aodh Quinlivan, Director of the Centre for Local and Regional Governance at UCC, who has written extensively on the issue and on the subject of local government reform, also warns about the ‘celebrity circus’ mayor.

Essentially, it means that anyone with a high profile could stand for mayor and win, without ever having the experience to run such an office or manage large budgets of almost €200 million.

The chains of the Lord Mayor of Cork

It is a sentiment echoed by businessman Jim ‘Flash’ Gordon, who runs a number of bars in Waterford and who has one of the biggest collections of Very Rare Midleton whiskey in the world.

He says he knows a lot of people around the city and county and has been given a ‘slagging’ about putting himself forward. But he says while he has good business acumen, he has no experience of running a city or a budget of that size. There is no qualification for this job except to be popular, he said.

Fellow Waterford  businessman  Brian Tynan, who runs a pharmacy in the city, and has been a voice on the Waterford Business Group, says he has  genuine concerns about the long-term costs of the initiative, the fact that there has not been enough debate about it and that the public is being rushed into the vote.

Dr Quinlivan also believes the campaign has been lacklustre and has been marked by apathy and indifference, not to the idea itself, but in how it has been sold - or not - to the public.

He is not certain that enough work on selling the idea was done by the Government and by the parties in support of the idea.

He points to the fact that in 2012, 10 cities in the UK voted on mayors, and all but Bristol rejected the idea. One of the main reasons was that not enough work was done on selling the concept.

The plebiscite poll in Limerick, Waterford and Cork city takes place on 24 May.