Ireland, Northern Ireland Democracy, devolution and governance, Economy and regeneration

The 21st Century Councillor in Irish Local Government – AILG 2024 Conference


Association of Irish Local Government 2024 conference. Credit@AILG

In this short article, LGIU’s Head of International Operations, Hannah Muirhead, shares some key highlights from the 2024 Association of Irish Local Government (AILG) annual training conference. The event focused on the 21st Century Councillor in Irish Local Government and delved into some key developments in Irish local government in the year of local elections.

On Wednesday and Thursday last week in the town of Arklow in Co. Wicklow, the AILG held its annual training conference. The theme this year was the role of the Irish councillor in the 21st century, based on a ground-breaking piece of AILG-commissioned research from Maynooth University and the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD), The 21st Century Councillor in Irish Local Government, that was launched in January this year.

The conference was opened by a panel of speakers, including AILG President Gail Dunne, who praised the report as a reflection of AILG’s commitment to shedding light on the contemporary issues and trends in the work of councillors; Wicklow County Council CEO Emer O’Gorman, who spoke of the importance of the symbiotic relationship between the elected members and council staff and how the role of the councillor is paramount to the effective functioning of the executive; and Cllr Aoife Flynn Kennedy who, in light of some of the issues raised in the report, called on councillors to ensure they build a culture in their own chambers that is inclusive and welcoming, as, despite the erosion of the councillor’s remit, it remains in their power to make their councils safe spaces.

The following morning, the conference heard from the Land Development Agency (LDA), a state-sponsored body with a remit around maximising the capacity of publicly controlled land across Ireland to provide affordable and social homes. There was a particular focus on two of their four pillars of operation: affordable homes and public lands. An example from each being:

  • In partnership with councils, the LDA offers affordable purchase homes through the Local Authority Affordable Purchase Scheme, which targets the “squeezed middle” would-be homeowner who might not be eligible for government housing support but who also struggle to qualify for a mortgage.
  • The LDA also conducted the first-ever register of relevant lands in Ireland, mapping all public and state-owned lands to facilitate the identification of available or under-utilised land that can be used for sustainable and affordable housing.

The LDA said they were committed to strengthening their relationship with local government and working with them to make sure their priorities for land and housing are aligned. There were certainly a lot of questions from the audience for the LDA speakers, suggesting that there is definitely scope for further engaging with councillors about their work.

(L) Emer Gorman, CEO Wicklow County Council, Tommy Annesley, Cathaoirleach of Arklow Municipal District, AILG President, Cllr Gail Dunne, Cllr Aoife Flynn Kennedy, Cathaoirleach of Wicklow County Council (R)
(L) Emer Gorman, CEO Wicklow County Council, Tommy Annesley, Cathaoirleach of Arklow Municipal District, AILG President, Cllr Gail Dunne, Cllr Aoife Flynn Kennedy, Cathaoirleach of Wicklow County Council (R)

The second half of the session was on the aforementioned AILG & Maynooth/ICLRD The 21st Century Councillor in Irish Local Government report. ICLRD researchers Caroline Creamer and Brendan O’Keefe gave an overview of some of the findings of the report before hearing from Dr Bríd Quinn and Former TD Noel Dempsey, and a discussion followed focused on what the next steps might be now we have this report, which “gives voice to councillors and evidences their significant contribution to society”.

For example, now that the research has identified the multiple roles performed by the 21st century councillor in Ireland, we now need to ask further questions such as, how can we raise awareness of these roles among the public? And how can we equip councillors to fulfil these roles? The report highlights skills and knowledge gaps faced by councillors across Ireland, and prompts the need to now think about what professional development is required and what technological supports or information resources will help to close those gaps (I personally would recommend LGIU membership for that last one, get in touch with me at [email protected] to discuss!).

The rest of the afternoon the councillors spent in a series of training sessions in preparation for the May local elections, getting to grips with such matters as election expenditure limits and the use of community radio during campaigning, before an evening reception that what was likely to be the last big get-together for this cohort of councillors before the electorate go to the polls in May.

Thanks to the AILG for having me over to observe another highly informative and enjoyable conference. It was so great to see such important research being done into the role of, and the challenges facing, councillors in Ireland, and for giving an evidence base to support some of the changes in the local government sector we all want to see.

Further LGIU Ireland resources…

Community Planning in Fermanagh and Omagh District Council

Local government comparative climate challenges in Ireland and the UK

125 years of local democracy: placing councillors at the heart of vibrant local government

What it’s like being a city or county councillor in Ireland? The real story revealed.


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