LIMERICK now has two mayors, following a vote by the merged local authority at a meeting this Monday.
Councillors voted to abolish the century old title of Cathaoirleach in favour of creating a new office of Mayor of the City and County.
Former Cathaoirleach, Askeaton-based councillor Kevin Sheahan, takes on the new title while Monaleen-based member Michael Sheahan - previously Mayor of Limerick before the change - is now Mayor of the Metropolitan Area.
But city councillors could yet to decide to strip the metropolitan mayor of his title, and downgrade him to being a chairman of the urban area.
Council chief executive Conn Murray asked councillors to consider abolishing the title of Cathaoirleach of the council and replacing it with mayor under the Local Government Act 2001.
“This is an attempt to preserve the prestige that came with the mayoralty. It will give a clear recognition (to the title) and will address an issue which has caused a lot of confusion,” he said.
“This is also an attempt to bring the type of leadership necessary.”
While Fianna Fail, Labour and Sinn Fein backed the change of title, Fine Gael argued bitterly against it, with the 818th Mayor of Limerick Michael Sheahan in particular speaking out against Mr Murray’s motion.
After Labour councillor Joe Leddin said he could not believe departmental officials did not include a provision which could have stopped Limerick having two mayors, Cllr Michael Sheahan said: “I think the legislation was left woolly, so CEOs can put forward their own policy. It is to facilitate the CEO, so he can push his own legislation.”
Fellow Fine Gael councillor Daniel Butler expressed sorrow at the demise of the title of Cathaoirleach, a role his father, the late Richard Butler fulfilled in 2010 and 2011.
He said it was a shame one of the few Irish terms in the council was being done away with, a notion shared by Sinn Fein’s Seighin O’Ceallaigh.
Fine Gael party leader Cllr John Sheahan called for “breathing space” and the public to be surveyed on what they would like to see before any changes are made.
His plea fell on deaf ears, however, as 23 councillors comprised of members from Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail, Labour and the Independents all voted to change the title of Cathaoirleach to mayor.
The three members of the Anti-Austerity Alliance abstained.
A clearly upset Mayor Michael Sheahan then criticised Sinn Fein, saying: “This Republican party has deleted the beautiful title of Cathaoirleach - well done!”
Cllr Kevin Sheahan’s elevation proved immediate with members referring to him as mayor for the rest of the meeting.