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European Body Issues Damning Report on Irish Local Government

Ireland has been found to be compliant in only 8 out of 20 principles of the European Charter of Local Self Government according to a new damning report from The Council of Europe.

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (CLRAE) unanimously adopted the report on 25 October 2023 at their Plenary meeting held in Strasbourg, France.

The findings come as a result of an independent investigation conducted by the Council earlier this year, which examined Ireland’s local and regional government system.

The independent report declares that “although Ireland is a solid democracy, it remains one of the most centralised countries in Europe” and “there is still a lot to be done before local self-government in Ireland is on par with other European countries”. Ireland was found to have one of the lowest scores under the Local Autonomy Index (LAI), with Irish local government scoring a rank just above Hungary, the Russian Federation and Moldova. The report also noted that Ireland’s position has remained the same over time and was not affected by the local government reforms in 2014.

The European Charter of Local Self-Government, adopted in 1985, aims to protect and promote the rights of local and regional authorities across Europe. It sets out a series of principles and standards that member states are expected to adhere to, ensuring effective local self-government and decentralisation of power.

Among the report findings, the Council of Europe expressed concerns in the following areas;

  1. Limited democratic decision-making powers: The investigation revealed that Irish local authorities had limited democratic decision-making powers, with the report highlight the imbalance in power between elected councillors and chief executives in local authorities. This leads to a democratic deficit in decision making.
  • Insufficient financial resources and autonomy for local authorities: The Council found that Ireland’s local authorities faced significant financial constraints, limiting their ability to provide essential services and adequately respond to local needs. The report also found that own financial resources which can be used at the discretion of local government remain limited. The lack of financial autonomy was identified as a key obstacle to effective local self-government.

  • Ireland having the most centralised system of local government in Europe: Although some new functions have been transferred to local authorities, the report found that local authorities do not manage a substantial share of public affairs under their own responsibilities. The report concludes that Ireland is far from compliant with the principle of subsidiarity which requires decisions to be taken at the closest point to the citizen i.e. at local level.

Responding to the report, Cllr. Gail Dunne, President of the Association of Irish Local Government (AILG) said that he strongly welcomed the approval of the report on what he described as an “accurate appraisal” of Ireland’s current local government system.

“Councillors here have fewer powers than in almost every other country and have limited revenue-raising and spending powers. Here in Ireland, we have a highly centralised local government system. This violates the Principle of Subsidiarity which is held in great esteem in Europe – this means that decisions should be taken as close as possible to the citizen.

The AILG expects the immediate implementation of the recommendations contained in the report by the Irish Government which will help strengthen the governance and oversight role of elected councillors. We are also calling for the Minister and Government to commence an immediate and urgent fundamental review of our local government system and to engage with AILG and elected members at local and national level to bring our local government closer to European norms.”

The CLRAE report includes a series of recommendations for Ireland to address the identified shortcomings and bring its practices in line with the European Charter of Local Self-Government. These include implementing an Action Programme rapidly in order to devolve more powers and responsibilities to local and regional authorities and delegate relevant competences and financial resources to the local and regional levels.

Notes to Editor

  • The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is the pan-European political assembly representing local and regional authorities from the forty-six member states of the Council of Europe.
  • The role of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is to promote local and regional democracy, improve local and regional governance and strengthen authorities’ self-government, according to the principles laid down in the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
  • The Association of Irish Local Government is a national representative body for the 949 elected City and County Councillors across Ireland and their member local authorities. It is a networking, policy development and training resource for the elected members of Ireland’s thirty-one County and City Councils.
  • The Report Conclusions and Report can be accessed HERE
  • For further information, contact Elaine Lynch, Communication Officer at 087-3470274

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