The structure and functions of local government are under review. Changes are being made to strengthen and modernise the powers of authorities to provide greater flexibility and to ensure that local government structures are more relevant to local communities. It is intended, at the same time, to ensure that local government is more effective and efficient.
At present, the elected local authorities are the 29 County Councils, 5 County Borough Corporations, 5 Borough Corporations, 49 Urban District Councils and 26 boards of town commissioners.
- Membership and Election of Local Authorities
The members of the various local authorities are elected according to a system of proportional representation for a period of five years. Any person who has reached the age of 18 is eligible to become a member and to vote at elections. County Councils vary in size from twenty to forty-eight members. County Borough Councils range from fifteen to fifty-two members. Borough Councils usually have twelve members; and Urban District Councils and Boards of Town Commissioners usually have nine.
Each of the principal local authorities has a full time chief executive, the City or County Manager, with supporting administrative staff. The County Manager is responsible for the County Council and for every borough corporation, urban district council, board of town commissioners and every joint body whose functional area is within the county. The Manager’s role and functions are set out in legislation which describes the relationship in terms of reserved functions (the elected council) and executive functions (the Manager).
Reserved functions are discharged by the elected members at their meetings; they comprise mainly decisions on important matters of policy and principle, including control over the financial affairs of the authority, the making of a development plan, and the making of bye-laws. Any function which is not a ‘reserved’ function is automatically an executive one to be performed by the Manager, but the elected members have various powers enabling them to oversee the activities of the Manager, and to give directions in certain circumstances. In turn, the Manager has a duty to advise and assist the elected members in the exercise of their functions.
The services provided by the major local authorities can be described under the seven general headings of housing and building, road transportation and safety, water supply and sewerage, development incentives and controls, environmental protection, recreation and amenity, and miscellaneous services.
Expenditure by local authorities on the various services provided by them accounts for a sum corresponding to approximately 5.5% of GNP. This consists of current spending (approximately 65% of the total) and capital expenditure (approximately 35%). Almost all of the capital spending is funded by State grants, covering the cost of major construction works on roads, water and sanitary services facilities, and much of the housing construction programme. Revenue (current) expenditure is financed through a combination of State grants, local rates on commercial and industrial property, and through fees, charges, rents and services provided by the local authorities.
- Regional Authorities
Regional authorities - eight of which were established in 1994 - are statutory bodies comprising local elected representatives selected by constituent local authorities. Their main tasks are to promote the co-ordination of public services in their region and to review and advise on the implementation of EU Structural and Cohesion Funds Programmes.
- Health Boards
For health purposes the country is divided into eight regions, each of which is administered by a Health Board. The Boards administer community care services, general hospital services and special hospital services.
- Regional Tourism Organisations
There are seven regional tourism organisations, one of which is operated by Shannon Development (SFADCO- the development agency for the Shannon region). Each organisation is a public company, limited by guarantee. Membership is open to all persons within the region and to local authorities, clubs, associations, and other relevant groups.
- Vocational Education Committees
Vocational Education Committees provide technical and vocational education, including adult and continuing education. The committees have their own corporate status and are financed by State grants and by the local authorities.
- County Enterprise Boards
A nationwide system of County Enterprise Boards has been established to provide a focus for enterprise and employment promotion at local level. The thirty-five Boards cover all urban and rural areas and are responsible for the development of enterprise plans, with particular reference to the promotion of small enterprises.
- Fisheries Boards
The Central Fisheries Board and seven Regional Fisheries Boards are responsible for the protection, conservation, management and development of inland fisheries and of sea angling resources within their respective regions.
- Harbour Authorities
Harbour authorities are responsible for the operation and maintenance of 25 commercial harbours under the general supervision of the Minister for the Marine.