Originally, the elected members of the council played a more direct decision-making and executive role. Important local authority work was undertaken through committees under the general control of the council. The lack of responsibility suggestions of the corruption, abuse and inefficiency, led to the establishment of the management system in the 1930s and 1940s.
The executive business of the council is managed by the county manager and officers appointed under him or her. Some counties are grouped for management purposes. In some counties, assistant managers are appointed.
The manager is not selected by the elected members. He is appointed under Local Government Appointment Commission in the same way as other local authority public servants. The manager is responsible for most functions of the council and is entitled to make decisions in relation to almost all executive matters without reference to Council. He must keep the council informed.
There are two categories of functions and responsibilities under local government law. Certain reserved functions are set out which are the responsibility of the elected members. The elected members’ rights and responsibilities apply only in respect of so-called reserved functions.
The balance of powers and other functions not specifically designated as a reserved function are executive functions and the responsibility of the Minister. The councillors have powers to make directions to the county manager under certain conditions.
Generally, reserved functions relate to broad policy matters such as the budget development plan, programmes, bylaws.
The elected members play a role in relation to approval of the council budget. Formerly rates applied as a property tax on residential property, agricultural land as well as commercial premises.
Rates on domestic premises were abolished in 1978. The system of rates on agricultural land and was found to be unconstitutional. Rates now only apply to commercial property.
The council’s budget comprises principally block grant from central government, certain dedicated streams of revenue and monies raised by commercial rates.
The council make or strike a rate in each year which determines the overall rate in the pound. This rate in the pound is then multiplied by the rateable valuations for each premises. This determines the rates payable by the business. See our separate guide in relation to local authority rates.
The councillors have the power to make a special resolution directing the manager to act in a particular way. This applies to most executive functions except personnel issues. There are certain other exceptions.
A local authority can only act in accordance with its functions. A direction cannot require the council to undertake something that is unlawful.
Because of perceived abuses, the council’s power to direct the manager to make decisions was modified in relation to planning matters so that the consent of three-quarters of the council for the electoral area and three-quarters of the entire membership must approve the moment.
In addition in planning matters, the Courts have decided that the planners must act in a so called quasi-judicial manner taking account of all the relevant considerations in passing section for motion. Planning permission cannot simply be directed without regard to the proper considerations.
Appointment and Removal
The manager is appointed by the council following a selection competition by the Local Appointments Commission. Councils must now provide for directors of services rather than assistant county managers. County managers are appointed for seven year periods. Managers may often extend the seven year period by a further three to ten years.
Three-quarters of the elected members of the council may suspend the county manager. He may not be removed without the consent of the Minister. The manager has an overriding executive function in relation to council decisions. The annual budget is prepared by the county manager and is brought for approval to the council.
Some functions of the county manager are delegated to directors of services and other staff. Directors of services are the responsible officers below the manager with responsibility for specific functions. Some directors deliver all services in a particular area rather than in respect of a particular function.
County Managers and Members
The council has a general supervisory role on the manager’s conduct of business. Managers must submit members a register of executive orders made since the last meeting.
The manager must attend meetings of the Council and committees if requested to do so. The manager may attend meetings but may not vote. The manager must advise and assist the council in the exercise of its reserve functions.
The executive functions and decisions are recorded in written orders. A register of orders must be kept and made available to the elected members.
Committees and Chairs
The chairs of the strategic policy committees have a role analogous to a cabinet and provide a forum for policy positions affecting the whole council. This group must be consulted in the preparation of the draft council’s budget and corporate plan. Local authorities must hold an annual budget meeting and other meetings.
The chairperson / major may convene a special meeting at any time or any five members may convene a meeting after requisition if the cathaoirleach refuses to do so. The business of the meeting must be provided on an agenda. The cathaoirleach / mayor presides or in his absence the deputy mayor / leas cathaoirleach. Local authority meetings are regulated by standing order.
The Minister may make directions in relation to standing orders and matters to be included in them. The chairperson is elected by the council. A quorum is generally a quarter of the membership plus one.
Each council is required to establish strategic policy committees for each of its major functions. One-third of the membership is drawn from sectoral interests.
Councillors are not paid as such. They receive expenses, annual allowances for travel subsistence and a fixed allowance to cover postage, telephone and representation expenses is allowed. Representational payments at the level ofone-quarter of the salary of a Seanad member have been provided. Since 2002 councillors except those who are members of the Oireachtas became entitled to a representational payments.
The provisions of the ethics in public office and the standards in public office have been extended to local authorities. Elected members and officials of the council must submit declarations of interest annually. Each local authority manager appoints a ethics registrar who keeps a register of members interests. A member must disclose the nature of his interest in any matter arising and withdraw from the meeting, not take part in discussion or voting.
The central government has powers of control over local government. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government can remove the elected members and substitute them with a commissioner. This has been done in the past.
The Minister may remove the councillors if he is satisfied after local enquiry that the council is not duly or effectively performing its functions, neglects to comply with Judgment Order or degree, willfully refuses or neglects to comply with a requirement imposed on them by law, fails to adopt a budget, does not have a quorum.
The consent may be required from the central government in respect of ranges of actions by local authorities. These are prescribed him in legislation. Recent legislation has sought to reduce the number of cases in which consent is required. Local authority’s functions derive from some numerous statutes over 170 plus years.
Officers and Employees
Generally, the elected members are not concerned in staffing matters. Subject to the consent of the Minister the county manager can appoint, remove or fix the remuneration of local authority officers. The council may direct that management keep them informed in relation to executive matters.
Council consent is required to certain approval of new positions. County managers were also managers of boroughs and town councils in the county area.
There are approximately 40,000 employees of local authorities. The local appointment commission makes recommendations in relation to appointments. It may prescribe competitive examinations or other selection methods. Qualifications would be prescribed for certain functions and roles.
Local authorities must comply with their legal functions. Any action outside of the authorities laid down in legislation is void and may be restrained by a Court. The Ombudsman may investigate complaints in relation to local authorities. The freedom of information legislation applies to local authorities.
Local authorities must publish information regarding themselves, including information they hold and their internal rules and guidelines in decision making. Formerly, these were so-called section 15 and section 16 and manuals.
Former legislation was changed in the early 1990s to give local authorities general powers to perform broad functions to promote the interests of the community. A local authority may carry out works, maintain, preserve or restore land, structures, furnish or equip any building structure facility, provide utilities equipment and materials, provide assistance in money or kind, provide services of the benefit to the local authority, enter contracts.
Local authorities have the power to make bylaws in relation to various matters. They make bylaws in relation to their own facilities such as parks, etc. They have general power to regulate any matter in the interests of the community. There are many examples of legislation where local authorities may make bylaws including in the areas of litter, road traffic. Bylaws must be reasonable and consistent with general law. They must be clear and free from ambiguity.
Local authority competences are in the following broad areas:
- housing and building, this includes enforcement of minimum standards, provision of houses, traveller accommodation, administration of social housing.
- road traffic: this includes construction, improvement and maintenance of roads, lighting, traffic management, motor taxation, licensing of drivers.
- water supply and sewerage both public and private group schemes,
- development incentives and control of planning, control of development,
- implementation of housing strategy,
- urban renewal,
- environmental protection,
- waste management,
- fire protection,
- pollution, litter control, waste management,
- recreational amenity, swimming pools, libraries, parks, open spaces, museums, theatres,
- education and welfare,
- involvement with health service executive,
- vocational education committees.
- Miscellaneous functions: coroners, consumer protection.
McMahon Legal, Legal Guide Limited and Paul McMahon have no liability arising from reliance on anything contained in this article nor on this website.