Regions of Ireland
There are 34 primary local authorities in Ireland, including 29 county councils
and 5 city councils. At sub-county level there are a further 80 town authorities,
which carry out a representational role. Local authorities are multi-purpose
bodies with responsibility for an extensive range of services. These are
typically broken down into eight broad categories:
• Water Supply and Sewerage
• Development Incentives and Controls
• Environmental Protection
• Recreation Facilities and Amenities
• Agriculture, Education, Health and Welfare
In addition to the functions outlined above, a fundamental role of democratically elected local government is representation of local communities, voicing local concerns and responding to local needs.
Membership and Election of Local Authorities
The members of the various local authorities are elected according to a system of proportional representation for a period of five years. Any person who has reached the age of 18 is eligible to become a member and to vote at elections. County Councils vary in size from twenty to forty-eight members, with City Councils ranging in size from fifteen to fifty-two members.
Local Authority Management
Each local authority has a full time chief executive, the City or County Manager, with supporting administrative staff. The County Manager is responsible for the County Council and for any town authority whose functional area is within the county. The Manager’s role and functions are set out in legislation which describes the relationship in terms of reserved functions (the elected council) and executive functions (the Manager).
Reserved functions are discharged by the elected members at their meetings; they comprise mainly decisions on important matters of policy and principle, including control over the financial affairs of the authority, the making of a development plan, and the making of bye-laws. Any function which is not a ‘reserved’ function is automatically an executive one to be performed by the Manager, but the elected members have various powers enabling them to oversee the activities of the Manager, and to give directions in certain circumstances. In turn, the Manager has a duty to advise and assist the elected members in the exercise of their functions.
Financing of Local Government
Expenditure by local authorities on the various services provided by them accounts for a sum corresponding to approximately 5.5% of GNP. This consists of current spending (approximately 65% of the total) and capital expenditure (approximately 35%). Almost all of the capital spending is funded by State grants, covering the cost of major construction works on roads, water and sanitary services facilities, and much of the housing construction programme. Revenue (current) expenditure is financed through a combination of State grants, local rates on commercial and industrial property, and through fees, charges, rents and services provided by the local authorities.
Reform of Local Government
In recent years, with the publication of Better Local Government (BLG) proposals, local government has undergone a number of important reforms, including: the establishment of City/County Development Boards (CDBs), which aim to improve coordination between various local agencies and partners in an integrated process; and the establishment of Strategic Policy Committees (SPCs), which comprise elected representatives and representatives of the social partners and community and voluntary groups at local level. The role of the SPCs is to assist the members of local authorities in formulating and reviewing policy.
Further information on the Local Authorities in Ireland is available at: http://www.environ.ie
Ireland's Local Authorities