Having a Particularly Sociable Lord Mayor Was Expensive

The costs of having a sociable lord mayor of Dublin have been totted up.

The annual costs incurred by Dublin City Council for running the Mansion House and the Office of the Lord Mayor have increased by about €665,000 in recent years.

They grew from €1,166,000 in 2015/16 to €1,831,000 in 2018/19, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Renovation work carried out in the Mansion House in the summer of 2018 contributed to this increase, says a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.

But the biggest leap came last year, when the lord mayor at the time, independent Councillor Nial Ring, shelled out almost €390,000 on food, drink and entertainment for lord mayor’s receptions. That was on top of getting around 20,000 pints of beer donated by Diageo.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that its protocol committee, which is made up of councillors, has now appointed a subcommittee to carry out a review of lord mayors’ spending on receptions.

“New procedures will be put in place on completion of the review,” they said.

Who Spent What?

Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh took office as the lord mayor of Dublin in June 2015, and spending was about €1.17 million for 2015/16.

A year later, Labour Councillor Brendan Carr took the chains of the city, and the total costs in 2016/17 were around the same as the previous year, at €1.18 million.

His successor, Sinn Féin Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha took office in June 2017, and total spending for 2017/18 increased to €1.38 million.

And then, last year, independent Councillor Nial Ring took office in June, and the total spending for his 2018/19 term was €1.86 million.

That’s including the lord mayor’s salary of €50,000, but not the councillor’s salary of €17,000, and unvouched expenses of between €5,000 and €8,000 each year – which have all held steady.

Running costs

The biggest line each year has been for “Spending Office of the Lord Mayor/Mansion House”.

That doesn’t include the mayor’s salary, receptions or awards. Instead, it includes: staff salaries, Mansion House maintenance, and utility bills – as well as other bits and pieces, like printing and stationery, according to a council spokesperson.

In 2015/16 that big line came to €949,000, and it crept up to €968,000 the following year. Then, in 2017/18 it increased to €1.12 million, for reasons unclear.

Refurbishment works took place in the Mansion House in the summer of 2018, and while most of those costs were billed in the next term, some costs may have been incurred during the 2017/18 term.

A guest apartment was refurbished in the Mansion House, and while that was a capital project, some costs – including architects’ fees – came under the Mansion House’s budget, as did some purchases, according to the council spokesperson.

Due to those works, “Spending Office of the Lord Mayor/Mansion House” reached €1.27 million in 2018/19.

Lord Mayor’s Awards

Spending on the Lord Mayor’s Awards in 2015/16 was about €40,000, rising to €60,000 the following year, then €57,000, and €72,000 in 2018/19.

Each year, the lord mayor picks five or six groups or individuals who have made remarkable contributions to life in Dublin.

The recipients invite friends and family to a sit-down meal in the Round Room of the Mansion House. About 100 people attend the meal, which is followed by entertainment provided by a band or DJ, says Ní Dhálaigh, the former lord mayor.

The costs are for the meal, decorations, band hire and presentations to recipients. “It’s a big ceremony,” she says. “There is a big fanfare and speeches and they are presented with an award.”

Musicians, artists, charities, sports stars and community leaders are among those who have been honoured in the ceremony.

Last year, the recipients included the boxer Kellie Harrington, the businesswoman Norah Casey, and Aslan frontman Christy Dignam.

Civic Receptions

Civic receptions are not held at the discretion of the lord mayor.

They include entertaining visiting VIPs, including foreign presidents and royalty, as well as hosting banquets for winning sports teams.

Also, homecoming dinners for Dublin Gaelic football All Ireland-winning teams were included as civic receptions in each of the past four years.

There were two homecoming events in each of the last two years as both the men’s and women’s teams were All Ireland winners.

Spending on civic receptions in the last four years was €28,000, €29,000, €67,000 and €44,000.

Lord Mayor’s Receptions

Each year, the mayor chooses to invite groups from across Dublin – charities, sports clubs, residents’ committees, school groups and the like – to lord mayor’s receptions in the Mansion House.

The lord mayor and their partner can also host private parties at the Mansion House, which is their family home for the year.

They get lots of free beer from Diageo, so most of the money goes on catering, snacks, soft drinks, wine and entertainment – including music, as well as Christmas decorations.

In 2015/16, Ní Dhálaigh spent about €88,000 on hosting and entertainment for lord mayor’s receptions. In 2016/17 Brendan Carr spent €76,000. In 2017/18, Mac Donncha spent €85,000. And then, in 2018/19, Ring spent €390,000.

The budget set for the lord mayor to spend each year on hosting and entertainment is €92,000, according to a spokesperson for the council.

Ring spent four times this – so what action was taken by council management to guard the city’s coffers?

“Discussion with Lord Mayor by Senior Management,” says the council spokesperson.

An Eye on Costs

Ring has said that his increased focus on hosting and entertainment as lord mayor was a positive thing for the city, and that he opened up the doors to the Mansion House to the people of Dublin.

“The Mansion House is belonging to the people of Dublin. It is not for me or anyone else to say, ‘I’m sorry but you can’t come in,” he said back in February.

Ní Dhálaigh says the Mansion House was extremely busy while she was there too – especially since half of her mayoral term was during the 1916 centenary. This was the case for Brendan Carr too, because the mayor changes in June each year.

The council’s press office was unable to provide numbers for how many people visited the Mansion House during each of the last four lord mayors’ terms in time for publication.

Ní Dhálaigh says she was constantly concerned about keeping the costs down for the taxpayer when she was in office.

“Even when I was planning the Lord Mayor’s Awards, not that I was penny-pinching, but I was careful,” she says. “You don’t always have to pick the most expensive thing.”

She expressed surprise at last year’s spending on lord mayor’s receptions. And she pointed out that the lord mayor now does a full afternoon tea, while her daytime visitors just got tea and biscuits.

“A new afternoon tea event was introduced for Senior Citizen groups this year,” says a spokesperson for Dublin City Council. Those afternoon teas cost a total of around €18,000 last year, according to the documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The full afternoon tea is a nice touch especially for older visitors, says Ní Dhálaigh. “It is beautiful, it is a lovely thing to do. But if you do that then you should cut back on other things and perhaps not have as many night-time guests,” she says.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says there is oversight of the lord mayor’s spending on hosting and entertainment. “Quarterly reports are prepared for all cost centres and budgetary monitoring is carried out on an ongoing basis,” she said.

Whether the budget for entertainment should be restricted, or oversight increased, is currently being examined by the council’s protocol committee, she says.

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Laoise Neylon: is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at laoiseneylon@gmail.com.

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