Participatory assemblies addressing challenging pollical issues have been a feature of the Irish political landscape for over a decade. Most noteworthy would be the assemblies which addressed critical constitutional changes in regard to equality in marriage, the question of abortion and the challenges of climate change. The outcomes of the recommendations of the various assemblies set up to address these issues have ultimately resulted in a considerable shift in the constitutional and regulatory framework in Ireland, providing the scope for national political leaderships to base significant reforms on the outcomes of such participative platforms.
Now it is the turn of local government, at least as far as Dublin is concerned. Under the leadership of Jim Galvin, a former senior coach of the Dublin Football team and retired military pilot, the Irish Government has facilitated the establishment of an assembly drawn from the population of Dublin to examine the future governance requirements of one of Europe’s fastest-growing city regions.
The Assembly is being convened to consider the type of directly elected mayor and local government structures best suited for Dublin. It includes representatives of the general population, taking the unusual step of looking to include members that are not on the local electoral registers but who are residents of the city region as well as registered voters and local elected representatives from each local authority area in Dublin, the City Council, Fingal County Council, South Dublin County Council and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council. Some 67 people along with 12 councillors and the chairman will use the next couple of months to come up with proposals to go back to the Government in terms of Dublin’s future governance.
Their thinking will focus on terms of reference which include:
- The strengths and weaknesses of the current model of local government in Dublin;
- the potential benefits, risks, challenges and opportunities associated with a directly elected Mayor for Dublin;
- what functions could be transferred from central government to regional or local government in Dublin, and how this should be funded;
- the appropriate structure for local and regional government, councils and authorities, looking at models in other capital cities (e.g. a single elected Dublin authority with a mayor and no local councils, a two-tier structure like London or Paris with a mayor, regional assembly and local or borough councils, or a mayoral structure like Greater Manchester with a ‘super’ mayor sitting above the existing local authorities);
- the perspectives of the general public, representative groups, advocacy groups, the sitting Councillors of the four local authorities, the Dublin Teachtaí Dála (members of Ireland’s Lower House in the Oireachtas or Parliament) and Members of the European Parliament, local authority senior officials and staff, experts and policy makers.
The first meeting of the Assembly started over the May bank holiday weekend. Proceedings from this first weekend can be assessed here and submissions have now been called for by the Assembly to aid in its considerations. One notable feature of the Assembly is that it is being supported by a number of the leading academic contributors to local government thinking in Ireland, something to be welcomed.
In addition, a further State-wide Assembly will simultaneously address the challenge of bio-diversity, marking an unusual twin-track approach to dealing with major institutional challenges confronting the Country. The terms of reference of this Assembly include:
- the international, European, national, regional and local dimensions to the biodiversity emergency;
- the threats presented by biodiversity loss and the opportunities to reverse this loss;
- the main drivers of biodiversity loss, their impacts and the opportunity of addressing these drivers;
- the perspectives of the general public, representative groups, advocacy groups, experts and policy makers on biodiversity loss, and its impact on Ireland;
- opportunities to develop greater policy coherence and strategic synergies between biodiversity policy and other policy priorities including, but not limited to, economic development, climate action, sustainable development, agriculture and tourism;
- opportunities to promote greater public understanding of, and support for, urgent action in response to the biodiversity emergency; and
- opportunities to improve the State’s response to the challenge of biodiversity loss, how that response can best be resourced and implemented in a strategic and coordinated manner, and how progress can be measured.
It is expected that reports will issue by the end of the year presenting the Government with the opportunity to reflect upon and bring forward potential legislation to allow, in the case of the Dublin Assembly, a possible plebiscite regarding future institutional arrangements for the City Region.
LGIU will cover the ongoing considerations of the Dublin Assembly and will examine in detail its recommendations and their possible relevance to institutional reforms for city region governance across the globe.