Local Government Structures and Functions
The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government oversees the operation and development of the local government system and provides the policy framework within which local authorities work and deliver services to the communities that they represent and serve.
Article 28A of the Irish Constitution recognises the role of local government in providing a forum for the democratic representation of communities and in exercising and performing powers conferred by law. It also provides a guarantee that local elections will be held every five years.
The Local Government Act 2001 (extensively amended and updated by the Local Government Reform Act 2014) is the core legislative code supporting the structures, powers, functions and duties of local government in Ireland.
In addition to the 2001 Act, the operation of local authorities is affected by a range of other legislation very often dealing with specific services (e.g. housing, roads, planning, waste, etc.) which should be consulted, where relevant.
Local authorities in Ireland operate within specific geographic areas called local government areas. There are 31 local government areas and each one has a local authority. The breakdown between local authorities at county, city and city and county is as follows:
Apart from the local authorities in the counties of Dun Laoghaire, Fingal and South Dublin and the cities of Dublin, Cork and Galway, all counties and cities and counties have been divided into municipal districts with councillors representing simultaneously the municipal district and the local authority. In total, there are 95 municipal districts in the country.
There are 949 councillors in the country, with council membership in local authorities ranging from 18 to 63.
Members are elected to a local electoral area in respect of a local authority and where that local electoral area is situated in a municipal district, those members comprise the council membership for that municipal district in addition to forming part of the plenary council for the entire local authority.
Local authorities are multi-purpose bodies responsible for delivering a broad range of services in relation to roads; traffic; planning; housing; economic and community development; environment, recreation and amenity services; fire services and maintaining the register of electors.
The elected council is the policy making forum of the local authority; the municipal district members act as a decision-making sub-formation of the overall council in respect of their municipal district area. Elected councils (operating at local authority or municipal district level) exercise ‘reserved functions’ defined in law across a range of legislation. The day-to-day management of a local authority is carried out by the executive, i.e. the full-time officials led by the chief executive. The chief executive has a duty to advise and assist the elected council in the exercise of their functions. He or she is appointed by the local authority on a recommendation of the Public Appointments Service.
Further information: Veronica Healy, Local Government Development Section