Local government in the Republic of Ireland

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. Irish 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 Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland counties and cities.svg
CategoryUnitary state
Number26 County Councils
3 City Councils
2 City and County Councils
Populations43,229 (County Leitrim) – 527,612 (Dublin city)
Areas54 km² (Galway city) – 7,468 km² (County Cork)
GovernmentCouncil government
SubdivisionsMunicipal district,
Local electoral area

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. 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.[6][7][8]

Historical developmentEdit

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. Sixty years later, a more radical reorganisation of local government took place with the passage of the Local Government (Ireland) Act (1898). This Act established a county council for each of the thirty-three Irish counties and ridings. 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 and thus included 27 administrative counties. To this number may be added the county boroughs. 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 2001 Act simplified the local government structure, in which the principal tier of local government (county and city councils) cover the entire territory of the state and have general responsibility for all functions of local government except in 80 towns within the territory of county councils, where the lower tier (town councils) exists with more limited functions. The five county boroughs of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Waterford, and Limerick were re-styled as city councils under the Act, with the same status in law as county councils. The remaining county boroughs in place at the foundation of the state were downgraded by the 2001 Act to town council status.

In introducing a second tier of local government, the Act had the effect of:

From 1 January 2002 the existing Urban District Councils and boards of Town Commissioners were renamed as Town Councils. Additionally, the city of Kilkenny, along with the four towns of (Sligo, Drogheda, Clonmel, and Wexford) were reduced in status to the level of Town Council. In recognition of the previous history, the towns were permitted to use the title of "Borough Council" instead of "Town Council". There were 75 other town councils in addition to these five borough councils.

This structure was a modified version of the system introduced in 1898, with some county boroughs renamed as cities, urban districts and municipal boroughs renamed as town councils (or, as noted, boroughs), and rural districts abolished (everywhere except County Dublin in 1925, and in County Dublin in 1930). The distinction between urban district and "towns with town commissioners" had been abolished.

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.

2014 ReformsEdit

On 28 June 2011, the then-Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan announced that Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council would be merged into a single local council.[9][10] The merger came into effect following the 2014 local elections. The new entity would be headed by a directly elected mayor, with a five-year term.[11] The Minister also said that he would not rule out other local council mergers and that the proposal for a directly elected mayor for Dublin was being re-examined.[11]

On 26 July 2011, the merger of North Tipperary County Council and South Tipperary County Council was announced.[12]

On 16 October 2012, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government published Putting People First, an "action plan for effective local government".[13] The changes for the 2014 local elections were:

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.[13]

Proposed reformsEdit

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.[14] Under the Local Government Act 2019, a plebiscite was held in Cork City, Limerick City and County, and Waterford City and County on whether to have a directly-elected mayor. It was passed only in Limerick, being rejected in Cork and Waterford.[15]

Local government structuresEdit

County and city councilsEdit

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

European Union territorial divisionsEdit

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.[18] 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.[19]


Following the abolition of domestic property rates in the late 1970s, local councils have 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.[20] The dependence on Exchequer has led to charges that Ireland has an overly centralised system of local government.

It is worth noting that 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.[21][22]

The most recent report on local government funding, carried out by the Indecon Consortium, is due to be published in the near future.

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.[23]

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."[24]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Local Government Administration". Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Irish Local Government Management Agency". Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  3. ^ "Local Government Administration". Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  4. ^ "Irish Local Government Management Agency 2012 Board Membership". Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  5. ^ "Local Government Act 2019, Section 1". Irish Statute Book. 25 January 2019. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  6. ^ a b Telford, Lynsey (16 October 2012). "'Long overdue' reform of local Government to save €420m". Irish Independent. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  7. ^ a b "Phil Hogan says local government reform will save €420m". RTÉ News. 16 October 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  8. ^ a b Carroll, Steven (16 October 2012). "Local authority plan 'to save €420m'". The Irish Times. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  9. ^ "Limerick Reorganisation Plan". Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. 28 December 2012. Archived from the original on 14 June 2013. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  10. ^ Carroll, Steven (28 June 2011). "Limerick local authorities to merge". The Irish Times.
  11. ^ a b "Limerick councils to be merged". RTÉ News. 28 June 2011.
  12. ^ "Tipperary's local authorities to be merged". RTÉ News. 26 July 2011.
  13. ^ a b "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.
  14. ^ "City and County councils will merge by 2021". GalwayDaily.com. 7 June 2018.
  15. ^ "Proposal for directly elected mayors – Minister Phelan's Opening Dáil Statement". Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. 24 January 2019. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  16. ^ "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
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "Information Note for Data Users: revision to the Irish NUTS 2 and NUTS 3 Regions". Central Statistics Office. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  19. ^ "LOCAL ADMINISTRATIVE UNITS (LAU)". Eurostat. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  20. ^ "Local Government Finance". Archived from the original on 14 June 2013. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  21. ^ "Bureau Services of the Irish Local Government Management Agency". Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  22. ^ "WATER SERVICES (AMENDMENT) ACT" (PDF). Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. July 2010. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  23. ^ "Local Government Act, 1998". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  24. ^ County Manager David O'Connor's quotation – Fingal County Council


  • 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 linksEdit