Local government

Introduction

Ireland has 31 local authorities that are responsible for a range of local services, including:

  • Housing
  • Roads
  • Recreation and amenities
  • Planning
  • Libraries
  • Environmental protection
  • Fire services
  • Register of electors

Most (26) local authorities are county councils. There are also 3 city councils (Dublin, Galway and Cork) and 2 councils that oversee a city and a county (Limerick and Waterford).

Voters elect councillors to represent them at local level. Ireland currently has 949 elected councillors. They make policy decisions at council meetings. Local councils are managed by a chief executive who oversees the day-to-day running of the council.

Local authorities are recognised in Article 28A of the Constitution of Ireland, which guarantees that local elections are held at least every 5 years.

What does the local authority do?

Local authorities have a number of important functions.

Housing

Local authorities are the main providers of social housing for people who cannot afford their own accommodation. They own a stock of accommodation and rent houses and apartments to eligible applicants. They are also responsible for maintaining the accommodation. You can read more about Applying for local authority housing.

Local authorities provide social housing support through the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP).

Local authorities also enforce minimum standards in private rented accommodation.

Planning

Local authorities oversee planning permission. New buildings, some extensions to existing buildings, and changing the purpose or use of a building (for example, changing a shop into a restaurant) must have planning permission.

Roads

Local authorities are responsible for improving and maintaining regional and local roads. They are also responsible for:

  • Public parking services
  • Traffic wardens
  • Setting speed limits on local and national roads
  • Maintaining street lighting
  • Trimming hedges and trees
  • Drainage
  • Gritting roads during very cold weather

Local authorities also have a Road Safety Officer to promote the safe use of roads in the local area.

Fire services

Local authorities operate fire services with the Department of Housing, Planning and Government playing an advisory and policy-making role.

Libraries, recreation services and amenities

Local authorities operate a network of public libraries in Ireland. Public libraries are open to everyone and most of their services are free.

Local authorities also provide funding to local youth, arts and sports services, as well as maintaining and operating public swimming pools, leisure centres and playgrounds.

Many public amenities, like parks and monuments, are maintained by local authorities

Environmental protection and animal control

Local authorities play an important role in protecting the environment including:

Local authorities also have a role in enforcing laws on noise pollution.

Register of electors

The local authority must put together and maintain a list of voters in its area.

Elected councillors

The members of each local authority are called 'councillors'. Councillors are directly elected in local elections. The number of councillors elected to each local authority depends on the population of the local authority area.

Local elections by law are held in the month of May or June on a day fixed by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government.

Each councillor holds office for five years, councillors elected in May 2019 will hold office until 7 days after the polling day in 2024.

The number of members of each local authority is fixed by law. This means that Schedule 7 of the Local Government Act 2001, as amended by Section 15 of the Local Government Reform Act 2014, has set down the number of members of every county council, city council and city and county council throughout the country.

The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government may divide each city or county area into smaller local electoral areas and may fix the number of councillors that can be elected for each of these electoral areas.

Before making changes to an electoral area, the Minister requests a boundary committee to prepare a report of recommendations. View the most recent boundary committee reports.

What do councillors do?

Councillors make decisions at council meetings. There are 4 different types of meetings held by the local authority:

  • An annual meeting (held in May/June each year)
  • Ordinary meetings (usually held at least monthly)
  • A budget meeting (usually towards the end of the year)
  • A special meeting (held occasionally)

At the council meeting, every councillor is entitled to vote for or against resolutions put forward at the meeting. In most cases, a resolution is passed where the majority of the members present vote in favour of the resolution.

Resolutions and bye-laws

Local authorities make decisions about policies by passing ‘resolutions’. Resolutions are passed by councillors and are known as reserved functions of the local authority. Resolutions can include:

  • Decisions about annual budgets
  • Housing policy
  • Environmental protection policies

Local authorities can pass laws where they are empowered to do so by the Oireachtas (the Irish parliament). These laws are called bye-laws and are often used to regulate:

  • Parking zones and parking fines
  • Litter control
  • The control of horses and dogs

Two months before making a Bye-Law, the local authority must publish a notice in a local newspaper indicating that it proposes to make the Bye-Law. The public is entitled to inspect the proposed Bye-Law and make submissions about it before it comes into effect.

The Cathaoirleach of the local authority

Every year, the local authority elects a Cathaoirleach (Chairperson) and a leas-Cathaoirleach (vice-chairperson) from the elected councillors. The Cathaoirleach chairs meetings of the local authority.

In some areas, the Cathaoirleach is called the Lord Mayor or Mayor and the leas-Cathaoirleach is called the Deputy Lord Mayor or Deputy Mayor:

  • Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor – Cork City Council and Dublin City Council
  • Mayor and Deputy Mayor – Limerick City and County Council, Waterford City and County Council, and Galway City and County Council

The role of the chief executive

Every local authority has a chief executive (formerly called a county or city manager) who is employed to manage their local authority. Some local authorities share a chief executive. As well as the chief executive, some councils also have deputy chief executives.

The chief executive performs the executive functions of the city council, county council or city and county council. He or she supervises, co-ordinates, manages and pays the employees and officers of the council. He or she also makes contracts on behalf of the council and affixes the official seal of the council on documents.

Once appointed, the chief executive will remain in office for a term of 7 years (although this can also be extended by an additional 3 years).

The chief executive makes is in charge of making decisions on the running of the local authority, except those that are reserved decisions (decisions that are made by the elected councillors). These include:

  • Granting or refusing planning permission
  • Allocating local authority housing
  • Signing contracts
  • Managing the staff of the local authority
  • The day to day running of the local authority

Further information

Further information regarding membership of, and contact information for councillors is available directly from your local authority.

Page edited: 7 October 2020