4 August 2014 Edition
Democracy demands an end to managerial diktat
The Garth Brooks fiasco exposes the lack of democratic control in local councils
It is not only in relation to the Garth Brooks affair that the Dublin City Manager has been able to ignore the elected representatives
WHATEVER your views of the Garth Brooks fiasco and the role of the Dublin City Council City Manager (or ‘Chief Executive’, as he is now styled), the underlying issue is the lack of democratic control by the people of Dublin over their own affairs.
For the decision to refuse a licence for the five concerts (with the consequent disappointment of 400,000 fans and economic loss for the city) was taken unilaterally by one man, Owen Keegan, without reference to the opinions of the councillors who are elected to represent the people.
Of course, this is not a problem confined to Dublin.
In every council, it is the Manager or Chief Executive who holds all power, with the councillors only able to nudge a bit here and tweak a bit there.
The Left alliance in South Dublin, pioneered by Sinn Féin, shows that a lot can be achieved despite the imbalance of power, but the last word always lies with the Manager.
This situation came about in the aftermath of the Civil War, when many councils (among them Dublin City Council and Cork City Council) refused to recognise the authority of the Free State Government and the orders of its Department of Local Government.
• Fans queue outside Ticketmaster outlets in January
The Free State’s solution was to suspend councils that didn’t play ball and by the Local Government Act of 1923 confer the ultimate power on the Manager appointed by the central government.
This undemocratic system remains unchanged.
So it is not only in relation to the Garth Brooks affair that the Dublin City Manager has been able to ignore the elected representatives.
The Manager equally ignored councillors’ concerns over the planned but now abandoned incinerator (with significant costs to the people of Dublin), and, perhaps most pertinently after the Garth Brooks episode, in relation to the Greyhound refuse collection company.
Dublin City councillors voted AGAINST the privatisation of the refuse collection service but their vote counted for nothing as the Manager had the power to ride roughshod over their views (and the views of the people who elected them) to impose Greyhound on the people of Dublin.
• Shops stocked up on Garth Brooks souvenirs
Greyhound is now trying to increase its profits by savagely cutting the wages of its workforce and the elected councillors are powerless to stop them.
Whether or not you think that the Garth Brooks concerts should have gone ahead, the point is that the decision should have been a democratic one by the people of Dublin through their elected representatives.
And those who welcome the decision should wonder what their attitude would be if Keegan had decided the other way?
If a councillor does something you don’t like you can withhold your vote the next election. But no one is ever allowed a vote on the appointment or maintenance in office of the Manager, who is answerable to no one.
Quite simply, this is not good enough. Too many decisions that affect people’s lives are taken behind closed doors; too often people are left powerless while decisions are taken.
In all the righteous talk about political reform, this then is one area that is crying out for reform: give power back to the people and make the managers and other officials the servants of the people rather than their masters.
• Dublin City Manager Owen Keegan
One way of doing it, of course, is for direct elections of local governments mayors, but there are other ways. The point is to make the change. Certainly direct elections without power would be meaningless.
This call is not a demand for bowing down to rightwing politicians who put the interests of corporate greed in the first place, but it is a call to let people have the power of decision.
If then we elect people who take decisions we don’t like, we can only blame ourselves.
But this change is the first step towards real local democracy. So let’s put an end to this legacy of civil war politics.