MUCH OF the centuries-old influence of Limerick’s mayor looks likely to go after the local election – and transferred to the Cathaoirleach, who will hold the portfolio of leader of the council.
After the elections on May 23, the City Council and County Council will cease to exist, and the local authority will be known as Limerick City and County Council.
This was set in train back in 2011 when Environment Minister Phil Hogan outlined plans to merge Limerick and Tipperary’s local authorities.
Limerick is to be divided up into four ‘municipal districts’. Three of these – Newcastle West, Adare-Rathkeale and Cappamore-Kilmallock will reflect the areas in which people will vote on election day.
But the three wards serving the city and suburbs – City North, City West and City East – will be merged into a single ‘metropolitan area’ serving the entire city.
It has emerged the 40 members of the new authority will meet once every two months, while members of these municipal districts will meet on a monthly basis.
The 40-member “plenary council” will be the governing body for the entire local authority, dealing with all strategic issues facing Limerick.
Meanwhile, the four district groups will meet at least once a month. These will all have equal powers, slightly enhanced from what the current two local authorities enjoy right now.
These include putting together a schedule of proposed public works, establishing a fund for the purposes of supporting community initiatives, removing traffic calming measures, and retaining the power to rename streets and monuments – a power widely discussed during the course of the debate over whether to rename the Shannon Bridge in honour of President John F Kennedy.
Until now, the mayor’s power in the city was such that almost all decisions could only proceed with his or her signature.
The mayor could set agendas, and call special meetings. Mayors also had the final say in tied votes.
But it looks like the really prestigious job at City or County Hall – it is still undecided where the new body will meet – will fall to the Cathaoirleach, while the mayor will be the leader of the metropolitan area only.
However, it is possible that with the number one citizen’s job likely to remain a one-year appointment in the short term, that the mayor could end up also having the job as Cathaoirleach, and therefore, the council leader.
The biggest change the public are likely to see is the loss of control over water services, with this function transferred to Irish Water.
However, the council will gain powers over local economic development, after the City and County Enterprise Boards – which awards funding to small to medium sized enterprises – absorbed into a new Local Enterprise Office.
This will provide a one-stop shop for new and existing businesses where they can discuss planning, and financial support in the same building in Patrick Street.
Former mayor of Limerick, Cllr Diarmuid Scully has expressed fear that the four municipal districts, which will meet on a monthly basis, could each turn out to be a “supersized area committee” taking “very few decisions”.
However, his fears about meeting irregularly seem to have been put to rest with a council spokesman confirming members of these districts will meet once a month.
The council’s Corporate Policy Group will also enjoy new powers.
This group, currently made up of the mayor, directors of service, and the chairperson’s of the various policy committees, meet to decide the agenda of meetings.
At present, it can only approve the agenda for council meetings.
But, Cllr Scully says, it is to gain “significant new powers, including the ability to question the local government auditor about the council’s finances.
“The intention seems to be to move to something similar to the UK style cabinet system of local government,” he adds.
With its powers increased, Cllr Scully wants to see the meetings opened to the press and public.
On the role of the mayor of Limerick, Cllr Scully says he will be appealing for the powers associated with that job to be retained insofar as possible.
“It’s the oldest continuously held office on the island of Ireland and it is an important part of our history and culture. Unless the metropolitan district has significant powers, the role of mayor - as chair of the district would be downgraded and that would be a pity,” he concluded.