Dublin city councillors have until 7 June to thrash out behind the scenes what coalitions are likely to be at play in City Hall over the next five years, given the changes brought on by last Friday’s election.
Of the council’s 63 seats, Fianna Fáil won the greatest number – 11, an increase of two. That’s one more seat than the Green Party, which jumped from three to 10, and two more than Fine Gael, which grew from eight to nine seats.
Meanwhile Sinn Féin, which was the largest party in Dublin City Council during its last term, took a big hit. They lost seven seats, and are now on a par with the Labour Party’s eight councillors.
The Social Democrats have quintupled their number of seats, from one to five, while Solidarity-People Before Profit return with two seats. Independents 4 Change have one seat, and the remaining nine councillors are independents.
Councillors are meeting in groups now to discuss their priorities and objectives for next five-year council term – and they’ll be wooing and dancing around each other to see who will work with who, on what.
What they Promised
Of the 63 councillors who have just been elected, 51 had responded to 10 questions from our readers, setting out their promises for what they would do if elected.
Some common themes emerged among their answers.
Using public land for public housing was a big talking point. Twenty-four of the new councillors who responded to the survey mentioned that they were in favour of using Dublin City Council-owned lands to build public housing.
However, the term “public housing” can be a tricky one – and the devil can be in the details of what kind of public housing, of whether to work with the private sector at all, and of what percentage of a given site should be used for public housing.
Eleven councillors clarified this as being a “cost-rental” model of housing – including councillors from Fianna Fáil, Green Party, Labour Party and Solidarity-People Before Profit, as well as independents. Five councillors see that as an affordable housing scheme, but they didn’t distinguish as to whether that was affordable purchase or affordable rent, or affordable cohousing.
How councillors deal with transport issues also cropped up. Perhaps reflecting the fact that councillors have little impact on how public transport operates in the city, responses to the question as to what councillors would do if they were voted in to improve transport were splintered.
Five councillors stated that they would like to see a directly elected mayor in Dublin in order to bring some cohesion to the large number of different authorities overseeing the implementation of transport networks in the city.
Another three councillors wanted to see a Dublin Transport Authority, for the same reason. Two councillors see their role as getting the different agencies to talk to one another.
Six councillors stated that there was a need for more public consultation with local communities, with some expressing concerns about how the introduction of BusConnects was handled. Six noted that they were in support of BusConnects, some saying that it would need some tweaks. One councillor came out against it.
Five councillors mentioned that they would like to see free public transport in the city, and another four said they’d be keen to have public transport fees reduced or subsidised.
Eighteen councillors mentioned that the provision of public transport (as well as better cycling infrastructure) was essential to making Dublin adaptable to the challenges of climate change, another common concern amongst new councillors, though perhaps reflecting the challenges, policy directions are not as defined as with housing.
Thirteen councillors mentioned the importance of implementing the Climate Action Plan for Dublin City Council. Eleven councillors spoke of the need to provide grants to retrofit homes, both council-owned and private, in order for them to be more energy efficient.
Forty-one out of the sixty-three councillors expressed the need for improved cycling infrastructure, or their support for big projects like the Liffey Cycle Route.
Thirteen of them wanted to see segregated cycle lanes in the city, while fifteen councillors said they wanted improved cycling infrastructure without exactly expressing what this would look like.
Getting Their House in Order
Before the new council gets into the nitty-gritty, though, each political group first needs to get its own house in order, says Green Party Councillor Patrick Costello.
They’ll be meeting to talk about what their priorities and objectives are for the council, he says.
The Green Party were doing that on Tuesday night, he said, refusing to be drawn out on any details ahead of the meeting.
Labour Party Councillor Dermot Lacey, who has been a member of the council since 1993, says groups will be crunching the numbers, and thinking about who might be allies that could agree to a common programme.
“What happens now is there is a lot of coded signals to one another,” Lacey said.
Lacey says he would prefer a cross-party policy agreement, either agreed by all parties or by a sufficient number of parties to ensure a majority on the council.
“We will agree a policy platform which we’re just putting together at the moment and then we’ll approach the other parties and the other parties will approach us through a mixture of formal negotiations and informal personal contacts,” he says.
For Fianna Fáil Councillor Paul McAuliffe, who is now part of the biggest block on the council, trust has a major role to play, both in how these negotiations go and how the council will work over the next five years.
“A city government does not have to be formed in the way that a coalition would,” says McAuliffe. “But I think there has to be a broad agreement on a policy agenda.”
Issues around illegal dumping and waste management, more cycling infrastructure, and a new public-housing model will inform Fianna Fáil’s agenda, he says.
Fourteen of the newly elected councillors who responded to our readers’ policy questions spoke of the need for Dublin City Council to take control of the city’s waste-management services again.
Twenty spoke of the need for more staff dedicated to tackling illegal waste, whether they be litter wardens or street-cleaning staff.
For illegal dumping, 16 councillors said they wanted a combination of CCTV installed in dumping black spots, along with a name-and-shame campaign.
Getting policies such as the re-municipalisation of waste-management services over the line requires trust between parties, says McAuliffe.
The re-municipalisation of waste-management services is also something on Sinn Féin’s agenda, says Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan.
Doolan noted that the SIPTU and Forsá trade unions are currently engaged in a campaign to try to get waste-management services back into the control of local authorities.
However, this is something that would need to be approved by the national government.
Parties can agree different kinds of agendas or ways to manage city business over the coming five years.
For Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam, it is somewhat similar to national government in that a majority coalition is needed in order to influence the work of the council: “Thirty-two is the magic number to form a majority.”
McAuliffe doesn’t see it that way. “It’s not national government. It’s the council versus managers,” he says.
The real work of the council is done through the strategic policy committees, McAuliffe says. They’re the committees that oversee specific portfolios: transport, housing or the arts, among others.
“A controlling group can’t subvert that either, you know?” says McAuliffe. “I think we’ve to be careful not to subvert the council committees, you know.”
“But I’m fairly certain that if there is an agreed policy platform that it would be open and people would understand it,” he says.
He still wants to see a “more action-orientated controlling group” that most parties get behind, influenced by common policies.
Lacey agrees. “Action on housing, action on approach to transport, and I say that because part of Dublin’s biggest problem is that there are currently 65 different agencies involved in transport in Dublin,” he says.
Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan says it’s important that all parties have access to committees. That’s something his party ensured occurred at the start of the previous term, when it was the largest bloc on the council, he says.
“We hope that would be applied equally,” says Doolan.
Fine Gael’s McAdam and Fianna Fáil’s McAuliffe both agree that action on housing, and what that might look like, will be the main talking point in any negotiations between the parties.
The vote for the lord mayor takes place on 7 June, during the first full meeting of the new Dublin City Council.
“Everything has to be done and dusted for the seventh,” says Costello of the Green Party.
Groups will vote according to the allegiances they’ve fostered, with the intent of eking out their objectives over the next five years.
“Until the seventh, we’re all going to be very coy,” says Costello.