It was one of those hare and the tortoise moments.
I had headed out from the Dáil to peddle up Dame Street to the 'Governance and the Citizen' conference in the Coach House behind Dublin Castle. Halfway down Dame Street I hear this loud roar behind me and a Ferrari shoots past. By the time I arrived at Dublin Castle our pal in the red car was stopped and discussing the lack of a tax or insurance disk with a guard just beside City Hall on Cork Hill. Meanwhile those of us on bicycles (and you can see Duncan Stewart on his trusty stead) arrived in good time for the Conference, although I'm sure Ferrari man perhaps had another destination in mind.
The Conference was about Dubliners and their City, and focused on new thinking on citizen engagement in the governance of cities.
Minister John Gormley discussed the options Government faces in providing a directly elected mayor, as provided for in the Programme for Government that we negotiated with Fianna Fáil almost two years ago. In late 2007 the Green Party responded to the call for submissions and put forward our model of local government reform. The Department of the Environment published their Green Paper on Local Government entitled 'Stronger Local Government Options for Change' last year, and I'm looking forward to a White Paper, followed by legislation some time this year.
I want to see a Metro-Mayor for all of Dublin, including Dún Laoghaire, Fingal, South Dublin and Dublin City. The job specification would include strategic planning for water, sewerage, transport, planning, and development. Checks and balances would be provided by the councillors' annual approval of budgets, and of course this would require that councils had greater financial autonomy from central government. If you liked the mayor's track record over five years then you'd re-elect her. If weren't impressed, she'd lose her job. Currently we have a revolving door with mayors in each council selected by their fellow councillors. They only serve a twelve month term of office, and mostly have more of a 'show up at the function' role rather than strategic leadership and direction.
Svend Auken from the Danish Social Democrats gave a great speech about the Aaurhus Convention - a document and process that increases citizens access to information and decision-making. He suggested that Dublin was the Bangkok of Europe in traffic terms, and talked about how one third of the journeys to work in Copenhagen are made by bike (and don't they know how to do it in style)! He described how the Convention is NOT a power of veto, but what it does do is empower citizens. He neatly finished his contribution by stating we must do well by doing good.
Gabriel Metcalf from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) spoke about the future of citizenship. I've heard about their work for years, and their website looks great, but I had to high-tail it back to the Dáil for a vote at that stage and missed the other speaker's contributions. I would like to have heard Labour Councillor (and former Lord Mayor) Dermot Lacey's contribution, but I'm sure he'll pick it up in a blog alert and summarise it for me. Dublin City Manager John Tierney also spoke, and I'm sure he considered the positive potential of a mayor for all of Dublin who would give additional vision, leadership and direction to the city.
WendyLimerick on Twitter pointed me in the direction of Aodh Quinlivan's paper on 'Reconsidering Directly Elected Mayors in Ireland: Experiences from the United Kingdom and America. I'm hoping to read that this evening, before the vote on the National Pensions Reserve Fund (Amendment) and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2009 at 10 O'Clock this evening. If you see me on the Dáil feed with my head submerged in reading, you'll know what I'm up to.
All in all, a great conference from all reports. Well done to Dave O'Gorman, Raymond Sexton, Ciaran Fallon and Geraldine Walsh for the organisation, great to have an upbeat discussion in these troubled times about the future of our city.