Local government facts and figures: Ireland

Quick facts

  • Today’s local government structure came into effect in 2014, under the provisions of the Local Government Reform Act 2014
  • Leitrim County Council is the local authority with the smallest population, with 31,798 people, while Dublin City has the largest at 527,612 people
  • At 7,468 square kilometres, Cork County Council is the largest local authority by area, and at 40 square kilometres, Cork City Council is the smallest
  • 20.6% of Irish councillors are women
  • Ireland’s youngest Mayor is Waterford’s Adam Wyse, at 22 years old.

Councils and councillors

How is local government structured?

In Ireland, local authorities in Ireland operate within specific geographic areas called local government areas. Each local government area has a council.

With the exception of from local authorities in the counties of Fingal, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, and South Dublin and the cities of Dublin, Galway and Cork, all local government areas are subdivided into municipal districts. Councillors simultaneously represent the municipal district and the local authority.

There are 31 councils in Ireland, consisting of:

  • 26 county councils
  • 3 city councils
  • 2 city and county councils

Within these, there are 95 municipal districts.

What do councils do?

Local authorities in Ireland are responsible for the provision of public services and facilities such as housing, planning, roads, environmental protection, fire services, and maintaining the electoral register.

Councils also play a significant part in supporting economic development and enterprise at a local level.

What do councillors do?

There are 949 councillors in Ireland, who are elected in local government elections every five years. The number of councillors per local authority ranges from 18 to 63.

Councillors have both a legislative/policy role and an advocacy/representative role:

  • Legislative/policy – councillors are responsible for the formulation of policy (but generally not implementation which is the mandate of the chief executive)
  • Advocacy/representative – councillors represent their constituents, who are residents and groups within their ward. They meet with them and address the issues that they raise through advocacy.

Each councillor attends meetings of the full council and the local authority committees of which they are members.

What other roles are there in a council?

Cathaoirleach – On a yearly basis, each local authority elects, from within its councillors, a chair for a term of one year. In most local authorities this person is called the Cathaoirleach, but in Limerick City and County Council, Waterford City and County Council and Galway City Council they are called the Mayor, and in Cork and Dublin City Councils they are called the Lord Mayor. Duties of the Cathaoirleach include:

  • Chairing council meetings
  • Exercising a casting vote in instances where is an equal division of votes on an issue
  • Representing the council at public and ceremonial events.

Leas-Cathaoirleach – The Cathaoirleach’s number two. This position can be called Deputy Mayor or Deputy Lord Mayor depending on the council they are in.

Chief Executive – The Chief Executive is appointed for a seven-year term to manage the local authority. They perform the executive functions of the council, which involves:

  • supervising, manages and pays the employees and officers
  • making contracts on behalf of the council
  • affixing the official seal of the council on documents

Deputy Chief Executive – Not all councils have one of these. A Chief Executive can appoint a deputy, upon consultation with the Cathaoirleach, to act on their behalf while they are absent.

Officers – includes staff such as teachers, social workers, planning officers and other staff of the council who work to to carry out its various functions.

How many people work for local government in Ireland?

As of 2014, there were around 26,800 local government employees in Ireland. This figure is down from over 30,000 in 2010.

What is the political control of councils in Ireland?

City/County CouncilPolitical Control
Galway CountyFianna Fáil/Fine Gael
KerryFianna Fáil/Fine Gael
KildareFianna Fáil/Fine Gael
KilkennyFianna Fáil/Fine Gael
LaoisFianna Fáil/Fine Gael
LeitrimFianna Fáil/Fine Gael
LimerickFianna Fáil/Fine Gael
SligoFianna Fáil/Fine Gael
TipperaryFianna Fáil/Fine Gael
WestmeathFianna Fáil/Fine Gael
WexfordFianna Fáil/Fine Gael
LongfordFianna Fáil/Ind
RoscommonFianna Fáil/Ind
OffalyFianna Fáil/Ind
MayoFianna Fáil/Ind
Fingal CountyFianna Fáil/Fine Gael/Labour
WaterfordFianna Fáil/Fine Gael/Labour
ClareFianna Fáil/Fine Gael/Ind
WicklowFianna Fáil/Fine Gael/Ind
Cork CountyFianna Fáil/Labour/Ind
MeathFine Gael/Ind
Galway CityFine Gael/Labour/Ind
CarlowFine Gael/Labour/Ind
Dún Laoghaire-RathdownFine Gael/Fianna Fáil/Green
LouthFine Gael/Fianna Fáil/Labour/Greens/Ind
Dublin CitySinn Féin/Labour/Green Party/Ind
South Dublin CountySinn Féin/Labour/Green Party/Ind
DonegalRotating Chair (all council members)
Cork CityRotating Chair (Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael/Sinn Féin/Ind)
CavanRotating Chair (Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael/Sinn Féin)
MonaghanRotating Chair (Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael/Sinn Féin)

Finance

How much do councils spend and on what?

Ireland’s local authorities planned to spend €4.1 billion in 2016. Of this, the major components were as follows:

  • Housing – €998 million
  • Roads – €832 million
  • Environment – €674 million
  • Recreation – €409 million
  • Water – €399 million
  • Development – €339 million

How is local government in Ireland financed?

Local government is financed through various sources:

Local Government Fund (LGF) – a central fund which finances part of the expenditure of local authorities. In 2016, this totaled €1.8 billion, and comes from three sources:

  • Local property tax revenues (~25%)
  • Motor tax revenues (~60%)
  • Payments from the Exchequer (~15%)

Charges for goods and services – Councils can receive payment for the services which they provide, such as housing rents, waste charges, parking charges, planning application fees. In the majority of cases, the fee is set locally although some may be fixed at national level.

Specific state grants – these are paid to councils by various government departments in respect of particular services and schemes, such as housing and road maintenance.

Rates – Councils are under a statutory obligation to levy rates on properties in their authority area which are used for commercial purposes.

The 2014 Local Government Reforms

What changed under the reforms?

  • The number of councils was reduced from 114 to 31, due to the abolition of town councils.
  • The number of councillors was reduced from 1,627 to 949
  • Counties were divided into “municipal districts” and county councillors also became district councillors
  • Waterford City Council and Waterford County Council were merged and became Waterford City and County Council
  • Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council were merged and became Limerick City and County Council
  • North Tipperary County Council and South Tipperary County Council were merged and became Tipperary County Council
  • Councillors lost the power to overturn planning decisions
  • The property tax became a source of income for local authorities

References