The Constitution provides for local authorities to represent local communities democratically. They are to be elected every five years.
There are 29 local authorities in the state consisting of 29 county councils and five city councils. Each county has a county council . Tipperary has two councils, north and south and Dublin has three county councils: Fingal, South Dublin and Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown. The five cities are Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford which are separate and not under the umbrella of the relevant county council.
Within counties certain towns have their own local government which share responsibility with the county councils for the local authority functions and services. There were 80 town councils. There were five borough councils: Clonmel, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Sligo and Wexford. I
n local government terms the electorate vote in both council elections and the town council elections. Functions are shared between town councils and city councils. A wide range of functions in relation to housing, planning, roads and other services. About half the town councils were formerly were towns with town commissioners which have a more limited range of functions including representational functions, promoting the community, local bylaws.
Each council is a corporation or legal body. It has a separate existence to its constituent members. The powers and competences of local authorities are spelled out in detail in legislation. Like other legal authorities they can only undertake the functions that are conferred on them by Statute law.
Local authorities have a county or city manager who acts as salaried full-time professional chief executive officer. The manager has day-to-day running of the authority and discharges all functions other than that limited categories of functions reserved to the elected member.
Formerly in other jurisdictions the councillors themselves exercise a significantly greater amount of executive authorities. This was formerly the case in Ireland. However the system of professional managers replaced the former system which gave the elected members a greater role.
Each county is divided into local election areas. Councillors are elected by proportional representation. The council of the local government consists of the elected members one of whom is elected chairperson or mayor. There have been proposals for directly elected mayors.
There are between 20 and 48 council members in the overall county councils. County councils perform functions in the following areas: housing and building, planning and development, road transport, water and sewerage, environmental protection, recreational amenity, agriculture, education and health and welfare, representational functions.
Councils have a general power to act in the interest of their community. They may undertake measures or activities which they consider necessary to promote the interests of the local community. This includes economic and environmental, recreational, cultural or community general development functions. It includes leadership roles and providing a forum for democratic representation.
The city councils have similar powers to the county councils. They are wholly independent of each other and have a manager. The councils of the five borough councils have similar functions to the city and county councils except for certain limited activities where the parent council remains responsible. The powers of borough councils are a little bit more extensive than that of the town councils.
The former Town councils had a chairperson, mayor and councillors. They generally had nine members. They have a wide range of functions including for housing, water rating, amenity planning; in some cases the functions are in fact undertaken by the council on behalf of the town council on an agency basis. Major services such as water and sewerage are dealt with at county level. Town councils can be dissolved. Towns with populations over 7,500 may apply for town status.
Town councils which were formerly town commissioners have more limited power. They do not have powers in relation to housing, roads, water, waste or planning. They do not collect rates. Their principal function is representation and promoting development and social objectives. They may promote the community interest and provide minor amenities and make local bylaws.
Many towns are administered directly by county councils and do not have their own town councils. The legislation contemplated that new towns will only have the lower status functions and not those of the former urban district councils.
Councils provide a right range of functions under various legislation. Typically the legislation designates the council’s authority e.g. planning authority, building control authority, housing authority, drainage, sanitary authority. Sometimes authorities are joined together across a number of councils to form a single authority or to perform functions in common. Local authorities may form various committees to deal with particular aspects of their functions.
Each county and city apparently must establish a strategic policy committee in accordance with the functions of the local authorities. The committee is supported by the director of services for the function who operates under the general direction and submits policy review papers for the servicing questions.
One third of the members of SPCs are to be drawn from areas relevant to the work. Non-councillors were thereby involved. The purpose is to enable councillors play a greater role in developing policies.
Local area committees enable matters to be discussed at the area level. The recent legislation allows a committee known as the corporate policy committee comprising the caithaoirleach and the chairs of the strategic policy committee. This would envisage a cabinet style structure working with the manager to be consulted. The annual budget and corporate plan would be prepared in consultation with the corporate policy group. Councils may by resolution establish area committees comprising one or a number of electoral areas.
There are a number of committees and entities in which councils participate. The vocational education system is run and managed by the vocational education committee. They establish vocational schools, institutes of technology, community colleges, adult education centres, vocational training opportunities schemes, youth reach, post leaving certificate programmes etc.
The vocational education committees consist of members elected by the relevant council, members’ representatives and representatives of other interests. The VEC has a chief executive officer. Most funding originates from the Department of Education. Local rates make a contribution.
Harbour authorities are elected in the same year as local council elections. They are responsible for the operation and maintenance of the harbour. The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources maintains significant overall control, particularly in relation to finance appointment, qualifications, fixing harbour rates.
Some harbours are administered directly by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources under Fishery Harbour Centres Act. The Harbour Acts created new commercial harbour companies in respect of the major commercial harbours. A number of regional authorities have been established.
There are eight regional authorities: Border, Dublin, Mideast, Midland, Midwest, Southeast, Southwest, West. Members of the regional authority are elected members of the council. Two new assemblies reformed in 1999 for the principal purpose of retaining EU designation for objective one the Border, Midland and Western regional assembly and Southern and Eastern regional assembly. They are based on the existing regional authorities.
Regional assemblies manage regional programmes under the National Development Plan. They have co-ordinate roles for public services in the region. They have a coordinating role. Membership is drawn from the eight existing regional authorities.
City and county enterprise boards give an enterprise and employment creation objectives in areas not covered by the State industrial agency. The purpose was to complement existing agencies. They provide direct support for services, employment. They prepare a development enterprise plans covering sectors creating local enterprise awareness and developing an enterprise culture. They provide grant support to individuals and community groups to assist small commercially viable projects.
The county enterprise board has a Chairman and 30 member, comprised of representatives of public sector agencies including the city council manager, business farming community interest. Specialist evaluation committees assist each board and make recommendations on the level of funding on level and form of assistance.
Projects would cost in excess of €127,000 or with employment potential of more than 10 persons are generally not eligible for assistance. Local area partnerships are independent companies. The board is made up of community volunteers, representatives, social partners’ representatives, elected members of the local authorities and state agencies.
Each local authority, county and city council have appointed directors of community and enterprise and established county or city development boards. The purpose is to implement a strategy for economic, social and cultural development within the council. Involvement of local communities is fostered.
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