FORTY politicians will have to sit down for the inaugural meeting of Limerick City and County Council within 14 days of the election on May 23 - but they still don’t know where.
The relatively cramped council chamber at City Hall – which sits only 16 around the table – makes Dooradoyle a more obvious venue but some city councillors irked over a perceived loss of prestige for the city have suggested Istabraq Hall at the city council offices.
Cllr John Sheahan, cathaoirleach, Limerick County Council, hopes to be returned to the new-look local authority and doesn’t mind where the new council meets “as long as they properly serve the people of Limerick city and county”.
Party leaders from city and county had discussed the issue and Cllr Sheahan has suggested “a neutral venue for the inaugural meeting”.
“I’m not too hung up on it but I think that would be the most sensible thing to do for the inaugural meeting and let the 40 new members make the decision from then on,” he said.
It will be the first of many decisions the new council will have to make following a merger of local authorities that has transformed the political landscape in Limerick.
Rural councillors have complained that, with 21 of the 40 to be elected from largely urban areas, the county will lose influence.
City councillors have argued that the office of Mayor of Limerick, in being subordinate to the overall leader of the council, is being reduced.
Not even the titles of those two offices have been agreed upon as yet.
Cllr Sheahan would prefer if the title of mayor was given to the overall chair of Limerick City and County Council.
Former mayor of Limerick Cllr Diarmuid Scully explained that the legislation underpinning the council merger makes the role of city mayor even more ceremonial than it currently is. The “mayor” would chair meetings of the Limerick Metropolitan District, comprising the three new predominantly urban areas representing 100,000 people. But full council meetings would be chaired by the “cathaoirleach”.
“The statutory functions will go with the position of cathaoirleach. That may not be the title because there has been some discussion as to whether, if you are introducing a mayor and a cathaoirleach, which is the more senior and some other title such as council leader or council president may be used instead,” said Cllr Scully.
“The mayor will retain the ceremonial functions for the city of Limerick but the chair of the overall council will have the statutory functions with regard to planning, signing off on contracts and all the rest.”
While the City Council has approved a mayoral salary until December, there is no provision in the legislation to actually pay the “mayor” of the metropolitan district for the latter six months.
“My understanding is that in the current legislation, there is only provision to remunerate the mayor or chair elected by the 40 members. There is nothing in there to remunerate a mayor or chair of the metropolitan district,” said Cllr Sheahan.
“As of right now,” Cllr Scully said, “from June 1, the Mayor of Limerick will not receive a salary that is something I hope will be changed.
“I do believe the salary should be lower than it currently is and that it should also be lower than the cathaoirleach or leader’s salary because there has to be a hierarchy there. The two may well be the same person; that is entirely outcome possible as well,” Cllr Scully said.
Another important matter that remained to be decided would be whether the new council would use provisions in the legislation to devolve powers to the various districts, whether that was the Limerick metropolitan district, Adare-Rathkeale, Cappamore-Kilmallock and Newcastle West.
Were this agreed by the full council, Cllr Scully said, it is conceivable that the metropolitan district would retain most of the current powers of the city council.
“My guess is that they will be devolved. The county councillors also quite like the idea that people in Newcastle West will make decisions for Newcastle West and people in Croom will make decisions for Croom.”
“The sense I get is everyone wants to work together and make this thing work but - and this is a big but - the people discussing this now, including myself, are not necessarily the people who are going to be here making the decision after the election.”