Q&A: Can Jim Gavin do magic in Dublin’s Citizens’ Assembly?
The former Boys in Blue manager has faced perhaps his toughest challenge yet by chairing Dublin’s citizens’ assembly, which will examine how a directly elected mayor could help the city.
So why does it look like Jim Gavin is making history again in Dublin?
After leading the county’s Gaelic footballers to five consecutive All-Ireland victories, he now leads a team with even greater ambitions.
Last weekend Gavin chaired the first meeting of the Dublin Citizens’ Assembly at the Grand Hotel in Malahide. The task created by the government is to examine Dublin’s local government structures and find out how a directly elected mayor could improve life in the capital.
“We want to see the City of Three Castles rise to its historic peak,” Gavin said in his opening remarks. We want Dublin to be a great place to visit, live, work and raise a family.”
Who’s on Gavin’s squad for this challenge?
The Dublin Citizens’ Assembly has 80 members: Gavin himself, 67 people chosen at random to represent the population (from 3,700 applications) and 12 councilors from the capital’s local authorities: Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council, South Dublin County Council and Dún County Council of Laoghaire-Rathdown.
Over the next few months, they will hear testimonies from political scientists, officials and various representative groups. “Chíonn beirt rud after bhfeiceann duine amháin,” says Gaeilgeoir Gavin (two people can see things one person cannot).
What happened in the first session?
Held over two days, it was primarily an introduction to the basic problem. A number of local government experts explained why Dublin’s current system is so weak and how this is slowing down reforms in areas such as transport, housing and waste management.
There was also a panel discussion with the chief executives of the four local authorities, who broadly agreed they would like more powers. For a bit of relief, quintessential Dublin author Roddy Doyle gave a talk on the character of the city and reportedly got his audience ‘breathing’.
UCC lecturer Dr. Aodh Quinlivan put forward the strongest argument why a directly elected mayor would transform Dublin’s fortunes. “It should result in clear political leadership and a champion for Dublin,” he said.
“She or he would have the largest electoral mandate in the country, apart from the President… Instead of having to reach a political compromise with 63 councilors in City Hall, a mayor with power and clout could take decisive action.”
What will the members of the congregation now debate?
What type of mayoral structure would suit Dublin best? The size of a mayor’s budget, how many staff he might hire, and who should hold him accountable are all key issues that need to be resolved.
As DCU geographer Dr. Ruth McManus told the gathering last Saturday that Dublin is officially a “primate city” – in other words, disproportionately large compared to any other in Ireland. So it makes sense to look at how mayors operate in other European primate cities like London, Paris and Vienna.
Does all this mean that a directly elected mayor of Dublin is a done deal?
No, Dubliners themselves must still have the final say. The meeting should present a report by next January at the latest. After that, a referendum is expected to take place to determine whether or not voters actually want a directly elected mayor.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has suggested that this could take place on the same day as local and European elections in 2024. Although an opinion poll by Ireland Thinks found that 75 per cent of Dubliners support the idea in principle, nothing can be taken for granted.
In 2019, residents of Cork, Limerick and Waterford were asked a similar question. Limerick narrowly said yes, but Cork and Waterford declined – largely due to a widespread feeling that the plan had not been properly explained.
So that’s why Dublin is first put through such a long public consultation process?
I agree. Citizens’ meetings have now become part of Ireland’s political landscape and governments use them to challenge public opinion and debate ideas in a calm atmosphere.
Sometimes they show that a policy once seen as too liberal or extreme can actually win broad support. On the subject of abortion, for example, a citizens’ meeting in 2017 shocked many politicians by recommending that abortions up to the 12th week of pregnancy should be allowed without restrictions.
“That might be a step too far,” warned Leo Varadkar, then the Taoiseach — but in fact it was exactly what 66 percent of voters backed in a referendum a year later.
Don’t citizens’ meetings also have their critics?
They definitely do. The most common argument is that we already have a citizens’ assembly – it’s called Dáil Éireann – and handing over issues like this is just a cowardly way of putting them in touch.
In recent years, town hall assemblies have made radical proposals on climate change, gender equality and lowering the voting age to 16. These are still awaiting approval.
on The Late Late Show However, last Friday Jim Gavin expressed his confidence that the Dublin Citizens’ Assembly will not just be a round of talks.
“If [the Government is] asking me to give my time for eight months and asking 67 citizens to give their time…we would expect action to be taken after that,” he said.
What are the next issues to be dealt with at the town hall meeting?
The Dublin exercise is being conducted in parallel with one on biodiversity loss being led by mathematics academic and science writer Dr. Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin.
Another meeting to discuss Ireland’s drug policy was originally scheduled for this year but was postponed to 2023 – a decision that enraged many opposition politicians.
“If cattle were dying at the same rate as people from drug overdoses, there would have been a town hall meeting yesterday,” Labor TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said.
“If Dublin doesn’t have a directly elected mayor in five years, no one is going to die… it’s a disgusting shame.”
If I have an opinion on how Dublin could be better governed, how can I contribute?
Anyone can submit an entry online via CitizensAssembly.ie or by writing to the organization at 16 Parnell Square, Dublin 1.
Gavin has asked for as much input as possible: “People in Dublin and beyond are welcome to come in through the back door, windows, skylight or even chimney to make your voice heard.”
“Dublin will thrive,” Roddy Doyle predicted last weekend, “because Dublin is the city that never shuts up.”
There’s still a lot to be said at the Grand Hotel and elsewhere before we know if Jim Gavin’s managerial magic worked this time around.
https://www.independent.ie/regionals/dublin/dublin-news/q-and-a-can-jim-gavin-work-his-magic-on-dublins-citizens-assembly-41620316.html Q&A: Can Jim Gavin do magic in Dublin’s Citizens’ Assembly?