Local government in the Republic of Ireland

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Local government
in the Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland counties and cities.svg
CategoryUnitary state
Number26 County Councils
3 City Councils
2 City and County Councils
Populations31,972 (County Leitrim) – 527,612 (Dublin city)
Areas54 km² (Galway city) – 7,468 km² (County Cork)
  • Council government

Local government in the Republic of Ireland's functions are mostly exercised by thirty-one local authorities, termed County, City, or City and County Councils.[1][2][3] The principal decision-making body in each of the thirty-one local authorities is composed of the members of the council, elected by universal franchise in local elections every five years from multi-seat local electoral areas using the single transferable vote. 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 Chief executives.[4] 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.[2]

Local government in the state is governed by Local Government Acts 1925 to 2019, the principal act of which is the Local Government Act 2001.[5] The Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 is the founding document of the present system.[6] The Twentieth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland (1999) provided for constitutional recognition of local government for the first time in Ireland in a new Article 28A. The Local Government Reform Act 2014 changed the structure by the abolition of all town councils and the merger of certain county councils. The reforms came into effect in 2014, to coincide with that year's local elections.[7][8][9]

Historical development[edit]

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. 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.

Sixty years later, a more radical reorganisation of local government took place with the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898. This Act established a county council for each of the thirty-three Irish counties and ridings (County Tipperary was divided with North Riding and South Riding). County boroughs in each of the cities were separate from the counties. Below the county level were urban districts and municipal boroughs, town commissioners and rural districts. 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, which included 27 administrative counties and five county boroughs.

Rural districts were abolished everywhere except County Dublin in 1925, and in County Dublin in 1930.

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 Local Government Act 2001 simplified the local government structure, with the principal tier of local government (county and city councils) covering the entire territory of the state and having general responsibility for all functions of local government except in 80 towns within the territory of county councils, where the lower tier (town councils) existed with more limited functions. The five county boroughs of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Waterford, and Limerick were re-styled city councils, with the same status in law as county councils. The lower-level tiers of borough corporations, urban district councils and Town commissioners were reduced to a single tier of town council, with five permitted to retain the title of borough council: the city of Kilkenny and the four towns of Sligo, Drogheda, Clonmel, and Wexford.

The Local Government Reform Act 2014 enacted changes which took effect after the 2014 local elections:

The civic and ceremonial status of existing cities, boroughs and larger towns was retained after being merged with counties. Those municipal districts that included existing cities or boroughs merged became either "metropolitan districts" or "borough districts". They continue to have mayors as do those districts containing county towns. In all other councils the equivalent office is known as Chair or Cathaoirleach. Each municipal district was issued with a new statutory charter setting out its powers alongside any historic charters that already existed.[10]

Upcoming reforms[edit]

An election for a directly elected mayor for Limerick City and County Council is planned for 2021.[11]

On 6 June 2018, the government announced that Galway City Council and Galway County Council would merge into a single local authority by 2021 at the latest.[12]

Local government structures[edit]

County and city councils[edit]

Historical province County or city council Population
Head office Title of Chair Number Per resident Code[a]
Leinster Leinster 2,630,720 19,774.2 133.0
Carlow County Council 56,875 897.9 63.3 Carlow Cathaoirleach 18 3160 CW
Dublin City Council 553,165 117.6 4,703.4 Dublin Lord Mayor 63 8780 D
Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown County Council 217,274 126.9 1,711.5 Dún Laoghaire Cathaoirleach 40 5432 D
Fingal County Council 296,214 453.1 653.8 Swords Mayor 40 7405 D
South Dublin County Council 278,749 223.0 1,249.9 Tallaght Mayor 40 6969 D
Kildare County Council 222,130 1,694.2 131.1 Naas Cathaoirleach 40 5553 KE
Kilkenny County Council 99,118 2,071.7 47.8 Kilkenny Cathaoirleach 24 4130 KK
Laois County Council 84,732 1,719.5 49.3 Portlaoise Cathaoirleach 19 4460 LS
Longford County Council 40,810 1,091.3 37.4 Longford Cathaoirleach 18 2267 LD
Louth County Council 128,375 831.9 154.3 Dundalk Cathaoirleach 29 4427 LH
Meath County Council 194,942 2,334.5 83.5 Navan Cathaoirleach 40 4874 MH
Offaly County Council 78,003 1,989.8 39.2 Tullamore Cathaoirleach 19 4105 OY
Westmeath County Council 88,396 1,824.9 48.4 Mullingar Cathaoirleach 20 4420 WH
Wexford County Council 149,605 2,365.3 63.3 Wexford Cathaoirleach 34 4400 WX
Wicklow County Council 142,332 2,032.6 70.0 Wicklow Cathaoirleach 32 4448 WW
Munster Munster 1,280,394 24,607.5 52.0
Clare County Council 118,627 3,442.3 34.5 Ennis Cathaoirleach 28 4237 CE
Cork City Council 210,000[b] 187 1,122.9[b] Cork Lord Mayor 31 6774[b] C
Cork County Council 331,574[b] 7,280.9 45.4[b] Cork Mayor 55 6028[b] C
Kerry County Council 147,554 4,734.6 31.2 Tralee Cathaoirleach 33 4471 KY
Limerick City and County Council 195,175 2,760.0 70.7 Limerick Mayor 40 4879 L
Tipperary County Council 160,441 4,304.2 37.3 Clonmel & Nenagh Cathaoirleach 40 4011 T
Waterford City and County Council 116,401 1,858.7 62.6 Waterford Mayor 32 3638 W
Connacht Connacht 550,742 17,713.2 31.1
Galway City Council 79,504 50.6 1,572.2 Galway Mayor 18 4417 G
Galway County Council 179,048 6,099.9 29.4 Galway Cathaoirleach 39 4591 G
Leitrim County Council 31,972 1,588.9 20.1 Carrick-on-Shannon Cathaoirleach 18 1776 LM
Mayo County Council 130,425 5,588.3 23.3 Castlebar Cathaoirleach 30 4348 MO
Roscommon County Council 64,436 2,548.0 25.3 Roscommon Cathaoirleach 18 3580 RN
Sligo County Council 65,357 1,837.5 35.6 Sligo Cathaoirleach 18 3631 SO
Ulster Ulster[c] 296,120 8,087.3 36.6
Cavan County Council 76,092 1,931.9 39.4 Cavan Cathaoirleach 18 4227 CN
Donegal County Council 158,755 4,859.5 32.6 Lifford Cathaoirleach 37 4291 DL
Monaghan County Council 61,273 1,295.9 47.3 Monaghan Cathaoirleach 18 3404 MN
Ireland 4,767,102 70,182.2 67.8 949 5,014
  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ a b c d e f The boundary between Cork city and county was changed in 2019, so the corresponding population at the 2016 census can only be estimated from the nearest Small Area Population Statistics.
  3. ^ The remainder of Ulster is in Northern Ireland.

European Union territorial divisions[edit]

Eurostat, the statistical Directorate-General of 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 three broad areas. The Third level (NUTS 3) splits the Second level into a total of 8 regions.[14] Below this are local administrative units (LAU) which are the basic statistical components for the regions, and in Ireland these are the electoral division (EDs). Electoral divisions have no local government functions, and are used solely for statistical purposes and for defining electoral boundaries.[15]


Following the abolition of domestic property rates in the late 1970s, local councils 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.[16] The dependence on Exchequer has led to charges that Ireland has an overly centralised system of local government.

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.[17][18][19]

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.[20]

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, while 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 Housing, Planning 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."[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Local Government Administration". Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Archived from the original on 13 November 2018. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Irish Local Government Management Agency". Archived from the original on 2 August 2021. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  3. ^ "Local Government Administration". Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Archived from the original on 6 March 2019. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  4. ^ "Irish Local Government Management Agency 2012 Board Membership". Archived from the original on 9 June 2018. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  5. ^ Section 1 of the Local Government Act 2019 (No. 1). 25 January 2019. Act of the Oireachtas. Retrieved 2 March 2019, Irish Statute Book.
  6. ^ Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 (c. 37). 12 August 1898. Act of the UK Parliament. Retrieved 4 March 2021, Irish Statute Book.
  7. ^ Telford, Lynsey (16 October 2012). "'Long overdue' reform of local Government to save €420m". Irish Independent. Archived from the original on 18 November 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  8. ^ "Phil Hogan says local government reform will save €420m". RTÉ News. 16 October 2012. Archived from the original on 19 December 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  9. ^ Carroll, Steven (16 October 2012). "Local authority plan 'to save €420m'". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 7 November 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  10. ^ "Putting People First" (PDF). Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. October 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 June 2014. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  11. ^ "Plans for a directly elected mayor with executive functions for Limerick City and County". Government of Ireland. 26 January 2021. Archived from the original on 3 March 2021. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  12. ^ "City and County councils will merge by 2021". GalwayDaily.com. 7 June 2018. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  13. ^ "Preliminary Actual and Percentage Change in Population 2011 - 2016 by Sex, Province County or City, CensusYear and Statistic " Central Statistics Office Ireland Archived 29 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "Information Note for Data Users: revision to the Irish NUTS 2 and NUTS 3 Regions". Central Statistics Office. Archived from the original on 13 November 2018. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  15. ^ "LOCAL ADMINISTRATIVE UNITS (LAU)". Eurostat. Archived from the original on 14 January 2020. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  16. ^ "Local Government Finance". Archived from the original on 14 June 2013. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  17. ^ Local Government Management Agency (Establishment) Order 2012 (S.I. No. 290). 26 July 2012. Statutory Instrument of the Government of Ireland. Retrieved 4 March 2021, Irish Statute Book.
  18. ^ "What we do - Local Government Management Agency". Archived from the original on 28 February 2021. Retrieved 4 March 2021.
  19. ^ Section 26 of the Water Services Act 2013 (No. 6). 20 March 2013. Act of the Oireachtas. Retrieved 4 March 2021, Irish Statute Book.
  20. ^ Local Government Act 1998 (No. 16). 29 May 1998. Act of the Oireachtas. Retrieved 4 March 2021, Irish Statute Book.
  21. ^ "County Manager David O'Connor's quotation – Fingal County Council". Archived from the original on 26 February 2012. Retrieved 24 February 2012.


  • 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)

External links[edit]