The role of the Lord Mayor comprises four key responsibilities, namely to chair the City Council meetings, to represent the city at public functions and events across Ireland, to represent the City at public functions and events abroad and finally, to pursue a policy agenda.
The term of office is one year and the role of Lord Mayor is a demanding one with well over 2,500 diary appointments in the course of that year. The amount of travel involved in this role varies based on the priorities of each Lord Mayor, however, internationalisation is a critical part of my agenda and so far I have been on missions to Beijing, Hamamatsu (Japan), Helsinki, Brussels, Barcelona and London. I will shortly travel to London again and I also expect to travel to Guadalajara in Mexico and our sister city of San Jose in California in late March. There is also likely to be a mission to Munich in Bavaria in May. In this regard, I believe that the term of a Lord Mayor is too short. I am frequently asked by my compatriots abroad “What can you get done in a year Lord Mayor?”
Directly elected Mayor
The prospect of directly electing a Lord Mayor of Dublin city was reiterated by the Government in the Action Plan for Local Government, launched in October 2012. While I am hugely supportive of a directly elected Mayor, there are a number of factors I would prefer to be adopted first, should this ever become a reality. Firstly, it would be preferable to have an election solely in Dublin and for the role of the city manager to be transformed with a transfer of executive power to the Mayor. In addition to these two amendments, I would like to see the ability to maximise local taxation decisions or raise finance locally to be embedded within the local government system.
There is certainly a political tension around the idea of a directly elected Mayor for Dublin, mainly within the civil service in my view. For example, what official within the Department of Finance would be willing to devolve taxation policy down to one region that generates 35 to 40 percent of the country’s economic output? Nevertheless, every major capital city in the developed world has a directly elected mayor and in my view, Dublin needs to follow suit or risk being left behind.
Crime in the city centre
Dublin’s city centre is safe and we have worked very closely with An Garda Síochána to improve the situation, particularly with respect to O’Connell Street and its environs. 20,000 people an hour pass the Spire on O’Connell street at peak and the key crime statistics show that the risk of serious assault in the area is now approximately 1,000,000 to 1. That being said, we are engaged in a constant battle to deal with a negative media perception of this area and while we are acutely aware that there are certainly ongoing issues to be dealt with (including street-dealing and trading of prescription drugs), I feel that the overall improvement is very positive.
Dublin and tourism
If we all pull together, tourism in Dublin is an industry that has huge potential for growth. Dublin does not need a rebranding exercise, it is a city of intimate cubbyholes from which each visitor inevitably departs with their own story.
Additionally, the beauty of tourism is that it is labour intensive but does not require highly-skilled workers.
Construction in Dublin
Based on international norms, Ireland should be able to support a steady state construction industry of about 12 percent of GNP. This equates to an annual industry worth approximately €15bn which would bring with it 170,000 jobs and translate to 60,000 people in the greater Dublin region working in
the construction industry. It is therefore vital for Dublin that we get back up to this level of activity.
Dublin and sport
Research states that just a little regular exercise has significant benefits on one’s general health and longevity, especially as you get older. With that in mind, we have set up a Lord Mayor’s Challenge to recruit 200 runners of all shapes and sizes to participate in five road-races taking place throughout the City. The 200 places were snapped up in jig-time and we have just completed the 4th of five races with the St. Patrick’s 5k Race through the Georgian Streets of Dublin.
Wifi in Dublin city centre
We looked at this idea previously in 2005/2006 but ran into a state-aid related road-block. This time around we have therefore adopted a different approach by awarding a concession to a partner. The city provides the base infrastructure on which the service is mounted (street lighting poles etc) and the partner installs and operates the service. It is an experiment for the city but one which has huge potential. The challenge now is to get the city, businesses and citizens to develop and utilise the service in innovative ways. Dublin has major advantages in its quest to be a leading Digital City in the world but we cannot sit back on our laurels.
Links with London
It has always amazed me that the civic links with the capital of our biggest trading partner remain underdeveloped. Dublin was, after all, the “second city of the Empire” many years ago and a massive portion of the population of greater London acknowledges their Irish ancestry.
With this in mind, we will be building on opportunities to positively celebrate shared British/Irish heritage in years to come.
Dublin on New Year’s Eve
This year New Year’s Eve in Dublin proved greatly successful with a combined attendance of nearly 43,000 people. 15,000 people attended the countdown concert on College Green alone. One of the big changes in the organisation of the event was the family focus of the celebrations. The Peoples Procession of Light, for instance, started at 6.30pm and the fireworks over Stephen’s Green at 8pm. In my opinion, making the needs of families a priority contributed greatly to the success of the night. Also encouraging was the fact that a third of attendees were visiting from outside of Ireland and 93 percent of survey respondents said they would recommend the event to friends or relatives. Dublin is now on the international map for New Year’s Eve and hopefully this will continue.
In my view, the property tax is needed and I will be paying it. It is something which is a feature of most developed European societies and can be put to good use in funding local service provision.
The renewal of Grafton Street
Some will class the renewal of Grafton Street as a vanity project for the City, but I disagree. It is the premium part of our central business district and it is vitally important that we present it in the best light possible.
Living in the Mansion House
You get the option of moving in – and how could you not? Dawson Street is a busy street but St. Stephens Green is some garden! The formal rooms are all on the ground floor and the living quarters (3-bed apartment) are on the 1st floor. The house dates back to 1705 and parts are rumoured to be haunted – based on what we have seen thus far I am inclined to agree with that assessment.
This article first appeared in the March edition of the Public Affairs Ireland monthly Journal. To view this issue click here. For more information on subscribing to the Journal click here.