Anger over plan to block rural votes for the mayor of Limerick

Nick Rabbitts

Reporter:

Nick Rabbitts

Anger over plan to block rural votes for the mayor of Limerick
FIANNA Fail councillor Kevin Sheahan has called for an urgent meeting of Limerick County Council after it emerged rural members will not get to vote for the mayor in the new council.

FIANNA Fail councillor Kevin Sheahan has called for an urgent meeting of Limerick County Council after it emerged rural members will not get to vote for the mayor in the new council.

The Local Government Bill contains a series of directives for the newly merged Limerick City and County Council.

It includes confirmation the new local authority here will be reduced from 45 members to 40.

The balance of power will be shifted away from unelected council staff to elected representatives.

However, there is anger in the county this week after new regulations were published which will prevent the 19 rural councillors in the new local authority voting for the mayor of the city.

All 40 members will be entitled to vote for the Cathaoirleach, who will chair the newly merged local authority - but only the 21 city members can vote for the mayor.

This has led to strong criticism of Environment Minister Phil Hogan, with Fianna Fail’s councillor Michael Collins asking that a cross-party delegation will be seeking a meeting with him.

Even city councillor Jim Long agreed that all 40 members - whether urban or rural - should vote for the city’s first citizen.

Councillor Sheahan, who used to sit on the Local Authority Members Association (LAMA), has accused Mr Hogan of engaging in an “abuse of power”.

He said this is part of a wider “downgrading” of county councillors to “second class”.

“I have no idea what some of the government members are doing with regard to our local authorities. What can we say to the people who have elected us when we have less power than those in the city,” he asked, “We need to get the message out to the minister that we are demanding an amendment to this.”

He said local TDs should support councillors.

Cathaoirleach John Sheahan said he would be happy to arrange a special meeting to discuss this matter, and pointed out that Fine Gael had already as a group sought a summit with Mr Hogan.

He said the issue is wider than “who elects whom”, saying he is “Looking for real reform”.

“It is more about the powers that the new chairman of the council will have. Are we going to enhance the councillors powers, or are we just rejigging the seats on the same type of authority we have presently,” he asked.

City councillor Kieran O’Hanlon, Fianna Fail, supported the proposal to have the mayor elected from the urban districts.

“Traditionally, cities would have mayors and counties would not. This is a worldwide phenomenon: go to New York, Boston and you meet the mayor of the city. But you don’t meet the mayor of a county,” he said.

Under the proposals, there will be a harmonised commercial rate, while the manager of the council - designated as the CEO - will be required to provide a monthly report to councillors.