What do Local Authorities 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?
Councillors create local laws, called bye-laws, to regulate the local area, they also set high level decisions about how the Local Authority does its job.
For example, councillors can make bye-laws which can put restrictions on what can happen in public spaces, for example some areas have brought in regulations for on-street busking, while other areas have banned the use of rickshaws. Councils have the power to open or close roads, alter the names of local areas, or restrict or charge for parking rights.
But their overall their powers are pretty limited, this is because when councillors set policy, it has to be interpreted by the County Manager who runs the Local Authority on a day to day basis.
Secondly councillors have the role of representing, or speaking on behalf of, the people in their local electoral area. They meet with local people and try to solve the issues that you have through helping you fill out forms correctly, or helping you find out who the correct person to talk to in a government service.
Finally, councillors also oversee the budget process for their area. This means that they have the power to raise and lower Local Property Taxes and, in effect, business rates.
What are the Local Elections for?
Every five years elections are held in each Local Electoral Area in Ireland to choose the members of the 31 Local Authority Councils in the country.
Your councillors, as the members of your Local Authority Councils are called, will have roles setting policies for you Local Authority, developing the by-laws and Local Area Plans which affect your community, while also deciding upon the budget for your council.
The Local Area Plans and Local Economic and Community Plans which are decided upon by your councillors will shape the services that your Local Authority can provide and where they will be provided.
Their impact is wide as your Local Authority decisions will affect your roads, environmental protection services, recreational areas, housing services, and planning.
Their planning powers are now a bit more limited than they were in the past though as Local Area Plans now must abide by the National Development Plan, as well as the Regional Economic and Spatial Strategies or they won’t be accepted by the Planning Regulator. Anyone who is ordinarily resident in Ireland can run in any Local Electoral Area, and anyone who is ordinarily resident in an area can vote in it. Unlike in other votes, anyone (regardless of their nationality) can vote in a local election.