Local Elections 2019 Overview
Jun 28, 2019
Shane Conneely, Senior Policy & Research Executive at Chambers Ireland, outlines the the impact Local Election results will have on the National Development Plan.
For the 2019 Local elections Chambers Ireland was tasked by our member chambers with promoting election awareness and supporting them with voter-registration and “Get out the Vote” activities.
We worked with our network on the “Our Time to Vote” campaign, creating a Local Government policy manifesto that was distributed countrywide. Parallel campaigns featured us in national and local papers, in addition to a social media campaign that reached tens of thousands of individuals.
The New Local Government Arithmetic
At the major party level, both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael made gains. The Greens and the Social Democrats made stronger gains, though from a very low base. Independents held their own with 22% of the first preference share, and little change in their overall number of seats. Meanwhile, 2019 was a disaster for Sinn Fein and the hard left as the vote which they had mobilised in 2014 failed to deliver for them in May.
For Fine Gael, there was an overall gain in seats nationally which didn’t reverse their 2014 losses, arising mostly from the reduction in Local Electoral Areas (LEAs) with large numbers of seats. Of the nine Local Authorities that make up the National Development Plan (NDP) growth cities, Fine Gael won a role in the majority coalition of only three.
The reduction in the average size of LEAs also benefitted Fianna Fáil who now participate in the coalitions in charge of all the NDP growth cities excluding Waterford and Galway county.
The soft-left parties made gains in predominantly urban areas. But, hampered by their lack of national reach and a shortage of candidates left seats behind them on polling day and depressed their share of the total vote.
For Sinn Fein and Solidarity/PbP parties low turnout in working class areas reduced their voting shares by almost half.
Local Election 2019 Consequences
Nationally, a critical issue emerging from 2019’s local election is the Green party’s role in shaping urban planning across the NDP growth cities.
Local governments’ role in the planning system faces a challenge in the short term. Project 2040’s national planning strategy removed much of the autonomy previously exercised by Local Authorities. Councils create Local Area Plans (LAPs) for districts within their regions. These LAPs shape how planning departments make decisions for that area. The Office of the Planning Regulator now review LAPs, changing them where not coherent with the NDP.
This creates a tradeoff for Councillors, particularly in NDP cities. They can court populism with their LAPs knowing that the bureaucracy will amend them, but losing their opportunity for applying focused planning responses to local needs. Alternatively, Councillors can accept the general shape of the NDP and tailor it for local needs, with planning payoffs accruing over decades.
Project 2040 will see most of the development occurring in Ireland happen in and around the cities of Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford. These growth cities will see huge investment, increases in populations, and significant changes to their physical infrastructure and to the transport networks that these cities are embedded in.
Urbanisation and denser housing are important features of Project 2040 and will be significant factors in how we transition to a low carbon society. Except for Limerick, which encompasses both Limerick City and County, the Green party is now a member of all the governing coalitions in all the growth cities. The important question emerging from the local election is how the Greens will balance localism, urbanisation, and environmentalism?
For the Greens the challenge will be following through on their ideological policy choices at the risk of antagonising change-resistant local electorates or being populist while knowing that the blunt response of central government will lead to less-than-best planning decisions in their areas.