Local government in the Republic of Ireland
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the Republic of Ireland
Local government functions in Ireland are mostly exercised by thirty-four local authorities, termed County or City Councils and eighty Town and Borough Councils. These eighty town councils form a second tier of local government operating in smaller towns and cities and are subsidiary to the relevant county council. The principal decision-making body in each of the thirty-four local authorities is composed of the members of the council, elected by universal franchise in local elections every five years. Irish Local Authorities are the closest and most accessible form of Government to people in their local community. Many of the authorities' statutory functions are, however, the responsibility of Ministerially appointed career officials termed city or county managers.
The area under the jurisdiction of each of the authorities corresponds to the area of each of the 34 Local administrative unit (LAU 1) Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS) areas for Eurostat purposes. The competencies of the city and county councils include planning, transport infrastructure, sanitary services, public safety (notably fire services) and the provision of public libraries.
Local government in the state is governed by Local Government Acts, the most recent of which – the Local Government Act 2001 – established this two-tier structure. The Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 is the founding document of the present system. The Twentieth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland (1999) provided for constitutional recognition of local government for the first time in Ireland.
The Local Government Reform Act 2014 will change the existing structure, in line with those announced in October 2012 by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. These include the abolition of all town councils and the merger of some county councils. Some of the reforms are planned to come into effect in 2014, to coincide with the next scheduled local elections.
The county was a unit of judicial and administrative government introduced to Ireland following the Norman invasion. The country was shired in a number of phases with County Wicklow being the last to be shired in 1625. The traditional county of Tipperary was split into two judicial counties (or ridings) following the establishment of assize courts in 1838. Sixty years later, a more radical reorganisation of local government took place with the passage of the Local Government (Ireland) Act (1898). This Act established a county council for each of the thirty-three Irish counties and ridings. The geographic remit of the Irish Free State, which was established pursuant to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, was confined to twenty-six of the traditional counties of Ireland and thus included 27 administrative counties. To this number may be added the county boroughs. In 1994 Dublin County Council and the Corporation of Dún Laoghaire were abolished with their administrative areas being divided among three new counties: Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown, Fingal and South Dublin.
The 2001 Act simplified the local government structure, in which the principal tier of local government (county and city councils) cover the entire territory of the state and have general responsibility for all functions of local government except in 80 towns within the territory of county councils, where the lower tier (town councils) exists with more limited functions. The five county boroughs of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Waterford, and Limerick were re-styled as city councils under the Act, with the same status in law as county councils. The remaining county boroughs in place at the foundation of the state were downgraded by the 2001 Act to town council status.
In introducing a second tier of local government, the Act had the effect of:
- abolishing Urban District Councils
- abolishing boards of Town commissioners
- reducing the status of certain borough corporations from a position of equivalence with county councils to one of equivalence with town councils.
From 1 January 2002 the existing Urban District Councils and boards of Town Commissioners were renamed as Town Councils. Additionally, the city of Kilkenny, along with the four towns of (Sligo, Drogheda, Clonmel, and Wexford) were reduced in status to the level of Town Council. In recognition of the previous history, the towns were permitted to use the title of "Borough Council" instead of "Town Council". There are 75 other town councils in addition to these five borough councils. Outside the towns, the county councils are solely responsible for local services.
This structure is a modified version of the system introduced in 1898, with some county boroughs renamed as cities, urban districts and municipal boroughs renamed as town councils (or, as noted, boroughs), and rural districts abolished (everywhere except County Dublin in 1925, and in County Dublin in 1930). The distinction between urban district and "towns with town commissioners" has been abolished.
At various times in the past, other entities at a level below that of the county or county borough have been employed in Ireland for various judicial, administrative and revenue collecting purposes. Some of these, such as the barony and Grand jury, no longer fulfil their original purpose while retaining only vestigial legal relevance in the modern state. Others, such as the Poor Law Unions, have been transformed into entities still in use by the modern state, but again, their original functions have been substantially altered.
On 28 June 2011, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan announced that Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council would be merged into a single local council. The proposed merger would come into effect following the 2014 local elections. The new entity would be headed by a directly elected Mayor, with a five-year term. The Minister also said that he would not rule out other local council mergers and that the proposal for a directly elected Mayor for Dublin was being re-examined.
On 16 October 2012, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government published Putting People First, an "action plan for effective local government". The document set forward a series of proposed changes which it is intended to bring into place in time for the 2014 local elections:
- A reduction in the number of local authorities from 114 to 31, including the abolition of all town councils (a reduction of 83 councils).
- A reduction in the number of councillors from 1,627 to 950 (a reduction of 677 seats).
- All counties to be divided into "municipal districts", with county councillors also being district councillors.
- Waterford City Council and Waterford County Council to merge.
- Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council to merge.
- North Tipperary County Council and South Tipperary County Council to merge.
- Councillors to no longer have the power to overturn planning decisions.
- Local services to be funded by a property tax.
- Existing local authorities in the Dublin area to be retained, but a plebiscite to be held in 2014 on the introduction of a directly-elected mayor.
The civic and ceremonial status of existing cities, boroughs and larger towns is to be retained where they are merged with counties. Those municipal districts that include existing cities or boroughs merged would be "city districts" or "borough districts". They will continue to have mayors as will those districts containing county towns. In all other councils the equivalent office will be known as Chair/Cathaoirleach or Leader. Each municipal district will be issued with a new statutory charter setting out its powers alongside any historic charters that already exist.
Local government structures
County and city councils
|County or City Council||Historical
|Title of Chair||Code|
|Carlow County Council||Leinster||54,612||897.90||60.7||Carlow||Cathaoirleach||CW|
|Dublin City Council||Leinster||527,612||117.61||4,486.1||Dublin||Lord Mayor||D|
|Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council||Leinster||206,261||126.95||1,624.7||Dún Laoghaire||Cathaoirleach||D|
|Fingal County Council||Leinster||273,991||453.09||604.7||Swords||Mayor||D|
|South Dublin County Council||Leinster||265,205||223.01||1,189.2||Tallaght||Mayor||D|
|Kildare County Council||Leinster||210,312||1,694.2||124.1||Naas||Mayor||KE|
|Kilkenny County Council||Leinster||95,419||2,071.69||46.1||Kilkenny||Cathaoirleach||KK|
|Laois County Council||Leinster||80,559||1,719.46||46.8||Port Laoise||Cathaoirleach||LS|
|Longford County Council||Leinster||39,000||1,091.25||35.7||Longford||Mayor||LD|
|Louth County Council||Leinster||122,897||831.99||147.7||Dundalk||Cathaoirleach||LH|
|Meath County Council||Leinster||184,135||2,334.54||78.8||Navan||Cathaoirleach||MH|
|Offaly County Council||Leinster||76,687||1,989.81||38.5||Tullamore||Cathaoirleach||OY|
|Westmeath County Council||Leinster||86,164||1,824.86||47.2||Mullingar||Cathaoirleach||WH|
|Wexford County Council||Leinster||145,320||2,365.27||61.4||Wexford||Chairman||WX|
|Wicklow County Council||Leinster||136,640||2,032.6||67.2||Wicklow||Cathaoirleach||WW|
|Clare County Council||Munster||117,196||3,442.32||34.0||Ennis||Mayor||CE|
|Cork City Council||Munster||119,230||39.61||3,010.1||Cork||Lord Mayor||C|
|Cork County Council||Munster||399,802||7,467.97||53.5||Cork||Mayor||C|
|Kerry County Council||Munster||145,502||4,734.65||30.7||Tralee||Mayor||KY|
|Limerick City Council||Munster||57,106||20.35||2,806.2||Limerick||Mayor||L|
|Limerick County Council||Munster||134,703||2,739.67||49.2||Limerick||Cathaoirleach||L|
|North Tipperary County Council||Munster||70,322||2,046.3||34.4||Nenagh||Mayor||T|
|South Tipperary County Council||Munster||88,432||2,257.94||39.2||Clonmel||Cathaoirleach||T|
|Waterford City Council||Munster||46,732||41.58||1,123.9||Waterford||Mayor||W|
|Waterford County Council||Munster||67,063||1,817.13||36.9||Dungarvan||Mayor||W|
|Galway City Council||Connacht||75,529||50.57||1,493.5||Galway||Mayor||G|
|Galway County Council||Connacht||175,124||6,099.95||28.7||Galway||Mayor||G|
|Leitrim County Council||Connacht||31,798||1,588.85||20.0||Carrick-on-Shannon||Cathaoirleach||LM|
|Mayo County Council||Connacht||130,638||5,588.31||23.4||Castlebar||Cathaoirleach||MO|
|Roscommon County Council||Connacht||64,065||2,548.04||25.1||Roscommon||Cathaoirleach||RN|
|Sligo County Council||Connacht||65,393||1,837.46||35.6||Sligo||Cathaoirleach||SO|
|Cavan County Council||Ulster (part of)||73,183||1,931.88||37.9||Cavan||Cathaoirleach||CN|
|Donegal County Council||Ulster (part of)||161,137||4,859.51||33.2||Lifford||Mayor||DL|
|Monaghan County Council||Ulster (part of)||60,483||1,295.92||46.7||Monaghan||Mayor||MN|
The Acts do not differentiate between Borough Councils and Town Councils in terms of their powers; only in terms of the number of elected councillors do the entities differ. Nevertheless, for historical reasons, the distinction has been maintained in the twofold division illustrated below.
European Union territorial divisions
The European Union uses a geographical hierarchy system called the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS) for various statistical and financial disbursement purposes. The entirety of Ireland is a First-level NUTS of the European Union. The Second level (NUTS 2) divides the state into two broad areas. The Third level (NUTS 3) splits the Second level into a total of 8 regions. Below this third level there are two further sub-divisions – the Local administrative units (LAU) which are the basic component for regions. For each EU member state, two levels of Local Administrative Units are defined: LAU 1 and LAU 2. In Ireland, the LAUs are structured as followed:
- LAU 1 – County councils (29) and their legal equivalent City councils (5). This means that there is a correspondence between NUTS and the upper level of local government in Ireland.
- LAU 2 – District electoral divisions. (DED)
The lower level of local administration in Ireland – town councils – only cover a small percentage of the territory of the state and do not correspond to the second level of the LAU. Instead, DEDs serve as LAU 2 units although they have no local government functions.
Following the abolition of domestic property rates in the late 1970s, local councils have found it extremely difficult to raise money. The shortfall from the abolition of property rates led to the introduction of service charges for water and refuse, but these were highly unpopular in certain areas and led in certain cases to large-scale non-payment. Arising from a decision made by the Rainbow Government domestic water charges were abolished on 1 January 1997 placing further pressure on local government funding.
The Department of Finance is a significant source of funding at present, and additional sources are rates on commercial and industrial property, housing rents, service charges and borrowing. The dependence on Exchequer has led to charges that Ireland has an overly centralised system of local government.
It is worth noting that over the past three decades numerous studies carried out by consultants on behalf of the Government have recommended the reintroduction of some form of local taxation/charging regime, but these were generally seen as politically unacceptable. However, in 2012 the Local Government Management Agency was established to provide a central data management service to enable the collection of the Home Charge, the Non Principle Private Residence (NPPR) charge and the proposed Water charge.
The most recent report on local government funding, carried out by the Indecon Consortium, is due to be published in the near future.
Since 1999, Motor Tax is paid into the Local Government Fund, established by the Local Government Act 1998 and is distributed on a "Needs and Resources" basis.
In 2013, a local property tax was introduced to provide funding for local authorities.
Local government has progressively lost control over services to national and regional bodies, particularly since the foundation of the state in 1922. For instance, local control of education has largely been passed to Education and Training Boards, whilst other bodies such as the Department of Education and Skills still hold significant powers. In 1970 local government lost its health remit, which had been already eroded by the creation of the Department of Health in 1947, to the Health Board system. In the 1990s the National Roads Authority took overall authority for national roads projects, supported by local authorities who maintain the non-national roads system. The whole area of waste management has been transformed since the 1990s, with a greater emphasis on environmental protection, recycling infrastructure and higher environmental standards. In 1993 the Environmental Protection Agency was established to underpin a more pro-active and co-ordinated national and local approach to protecting the environment. An Bord Pleanála was seen as another inroad into local government responsibilities. Additionally, the trend has been to remove decision-making from elected councillors to full-time professionals and officials. In particular, every city and county has a manager, who is the chief executive but is also a public servant appointed by the Public Appointments Service (formerly the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commission), and is thus answerable to the national government as well as the local council. Therefore, local policy decisions are sometimes heavily influenced by the TDs who represent the local constituency in Dáil Éireann (the main chamber of parliament), and may be dictated by national politics rather than local needs.
Local government bodies now have responsibility for such matters as planning, local roads, sanitation, and libraries. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has responsibility for local authorities and related services. Fingal County Manager David O'Connor: "Local Authorities perform both a representational and an operational role because the Irish system of Local Government encompasses both democratic representation and public administration."
- Twentieth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland
- Category:Local councillors in the Republic of Ireland
- "Local Government Administration". Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
- "Irish Local Government Management Agency". Retrieved 28 April 2013.
- "The most radical reform of local government in over 100 years" (Press release). Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. 17 October 2013. Retrieved 18 October 2013.
- Telford, Lynsey (16 October 2012). "'Long overdue' reform of local Government to save €420m". Irish Independent. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
- "Phil Hogan says local government reform will save €420m". RTÉ News. 16 October 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
- Carroll, Steven (16 October 2012). "Local authority plan 'to save €420m'". The Irish Times. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
- "Limerick Reorganisation Plan". Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. 28 December 2012.
- Carroll, Steven (28 June 2011). "Limerick local authorities to merge". The Irish Times.
- "Limerick councils to be merged". RTÉ News. 28 June 2011.
- "Tipperary's local authorities to be merged". RTÉ News. 26 July 2011.
- "Putting People First". Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. October 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
- "Census 2011, Preliminary results", Table 8. Central Statistics Office Ireland
- The code refers to the code in use for the purpose of vehicle registration plates in Ireland. The code may straddle the jurisdictions of several council areas, as in the case of the 4 entities of the Dublin Region.
- The county council's headquarters are in the Limerick suburb of Dooradoyle which lies outside the administrative area of the city council
- "Local Government Finance". Retrieved 28 April 2013.
- "WATER SERVICES (AMENDMENT) ACT" (PDF). Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. July 2010. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
- "Local Government Act, 1998". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
- County Manager David O'Connor's quotation – Fingal County Council
- Desmond Roche, Local Government in Ireland (1982)
- Mark Callanan and Justin F. Keogan, Local Government in Ireland Inside Out (2003)
- Matthew Potter, The Government and the People of Limerick. The History of Limerick Corporation/City Council 1197–2006 (2006)
- Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government – List of Local Authorities
- Association of County and City Councils
- Local Government Management Agency
- Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government – Local Government Overview
- City Mayors article
- Performance Matters Measuring Performance in Local Government in Ireland — Our Experience So Far