The new Dublin City Council began its five-year term with a meeting last Friday evening at City Hall to elect a new mayor and deputy mayor.
The public gallery was packed full of well-wishers, and there was a jovial atmosphere. Councillors, new and old, were in their very best.
There are congratulatory handshakes all around as the councillors enter the chamber. Then they start looking for their places among the council’s 63 seats.
Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn, just re-elected, welcomed fellow independent Anthony Flynn, just elected for the first time, to the independent benches.
“You’ll find your name somewhere there,” the veteran Flynn told the newbie Flynn.
“Where am I?” asked Councillor Noeleen Reilly, who left Sinn Féin during the last council term, and has been re-elected as an independent.
“Your name is down the far end,” Mannix Flynn told her.
The seating arrangement reflected the results of discussions since the election on 24 May among the parties on who would link up to lead the council this term.
Fianna Fáil, the largest party on this new council, with 11 seats, sat to the right of the lord mayor’s position, followed by the Green Party (10 seats), the Labour Party (8 seats) and the Social Democrats (5 seats).
They’ve all agreed to cooperate on an agenda they’re calling “the Dublin Agreement”, which they plan to release on Monday.
Further around the curve sat Sinn Féin (8 seats), Fine Gael (9 seats), and the nine independents. Two People Before Profit members sat just behind the Labour members.
Goodbye to the Old Mayor
Outgoing Lord Mayor Nial Ring took his position as council Senior Executive Officer Deirdre Ni Raghallaigh read the names of the councillors into the record.
“I hope we all have a productive five years as we seek to represent our constituents in the best way we can,” said Ring, who’s been re-elected as an independent councillor.
Ring thanked the outgoing deputy lord mayor, former Sinn Féin Councillor Cathleen Carney Boud, for her service.
“She was a fantastic deputy lord mayor and one of the highlights of our afternoon tea for senior citizens was Cathleen’s ‘She Moved Through the Air,’” Ring said.
“Four thousand came through the Mansion House during my time as lord mayor,” says Ring, to laughter and jokes from his fellow councillors about the shortage of stout in the residence during his tenure.
There is also praise from councillors, as they talk up different aspects of the outgoing lord mayor’s tenure, from his participation in park runs, to hospital visits, to his famous, or infamous, hospitality.
“When we were out on the canvas during the local elections,” says Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam, “I hardly met a constituent who hadn’t spent a night in the Mansion House … [T]he next Lord Mayor has a hard act to follow in that respect.”
Hello to the New Mayor
There will be a different lord mayor for each of the five years of this new council’s term.
When the moment comes to decide who will get the post for the first year, Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney proposes her party colleague Paul McAuliffe.
Fianna Fáil Councillor Daithí De Roiste seconds this. “He’s a proud northsider, but we won’t hold that against him,” says De Roiste, who represents Ballyfermot-Drimnagh.
Labour Councillor Rebecca Moynihan also speaks in favour of McAuliffe, putting Fianna Fáil’s success in the election for Dublin City Council down to “Paul’s brand of politics”.
She says that during the campaign on whether to repeal the 8th Amendment, McAuliffe looked carefully at the evidence and changed his mind.
“Paul thinks and cares deeply about issues and when he changes his mind, he does so on the basis of evidence and people’s stories,” Moynihan says.
Other groups of councillors propose competing candidates for the role of first citizen.
Independent Councillor Christy Burke a veteran councillor representing the north inner-city, nominates Anthony Flynn, referencing Flynn’s work for the organisation Inner City Helping Homeless.
Sinn Féin’s Daithi Doolan, who headed the council’s housing committee during the last term, seconds Flynn’s nomination. “Housing remains the biggest challenge,” Doolan says. “Flynn faced the homeless crisis head on.”
Fine Gael Councillor Paddy MacCartan nominates his party colleague Ray McAdam, someone he said “has a proven track record in this council”. Fine Gael’s Anne Feeney seconds McAdam.
Before the vote is held on which of these three candidates will become lord mayor, independent Councillor Damien O’Farrell pipes up.
“To the three candidates that are going forward, are they giving that commitment that they will be here for a year?” he asks, as there are dates down that this lord and deputy Mayor’s term ends June 2020.
There are groans, followed by laughter.
Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan says that should the lord mayor or deputy lord mayor not be able to finish a year in the role, another vote would have to take place.
Farrell pushes again for a commitment from the nominees.
“It’s a point of information,” says Moynihan. “Leave it at that.”
The voting begins.
McAullife wins with 33 votes. Flynn gets 17 and McAdam gets 9.
Fianna Fáil’s Tom Brabazon is voted in as deputy lord mayor, with 37 votes.
The New Leaders
After a brief interlude for celebrations, and an opportunity for McAuliffe to pose for photographs with his family, the councillors get back to business.
“The last two weeks since the elections in these rooms has also shown that many parties when they come together can share ideas, can compromise … and ultimately can put together an agreement for Dublin City,” says McAuliffe.
“Ultimately, the makeup of that agreement was with Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, the Labour Party and the Social Democrats and we’ve come together to form a leadership group on this council.”
But “we do not have a monopoly on ideas”, says McAuliffe.
The ideas they have so far are contained in a plan the parties are calling the Dublin Agreement, which they say they’ll publish Monday, 17 June before the first full council meeting.
One of the main action points in relation to housing is a survey of all land owned by the council, and public land in the city, says Green Party Councillor Donna Cooney.
“We’re also looking at forms of funding, either be it central government, or borrowing or bonds that we can start a building programme,” she says, on publicly owned land.
They will also reject the selling-off of public land to private developers without good reason, she says.
Final details of the agreement have yet to be finalised, says Cooney.
Labour’s Dermot Lacey, who is now serving his twenty-seventh year as on the council, says there are also plans to “bring in more cycling facilities and getting better access to the city, as well as strengthening the traffic department within the council”.
Lacey says the leadership coalition also aim to bring into this agreement “an ongoing monitoring of the agreement”, but that he isn’t totally sure how this will work yet.
Both People Before Profit’s Tina MacVeigh and independent Councillor Cieran Perry say they’re disappointed councillors haven’t formed a left coalition within the council.
MacVeigh, however, expressed satisfaction that the leadership coalition was embarking on a position of building public housing on public land, something she said was a minority view at the beginning of the last council.
McAuliffe finishes the meeting by inviting people to the Mansion House.
“Is there anything left?” jokes independent Councillor Vincent Jackson.