Strengthening Local Democracy
Labour Party Manifesto 2020

Labour wants to strengthen every elected Council’s ability to decide important matters at local level.

Too much power has been centralised in Government Buildings. Only 8% of public spending is under the control over local government here, compared to a European average of 23% and more than half of all spending in some countries. Many smaller European countries have much stronger local government than Ireland, and give local representatives a greater say over education, health, policing, social services and transport.

Labour wants more public money to be under the control of local government rather than being controlled from the centre. With greater financial autonomy comes greater responsibility, and we will promote transparency and greater accountability to local people.

Stronger local democracy also means ending the situation where public agencies by-pass elected local councils when making decisions that impact on local people. Labour wants both local council management and the management of other public agencies to be required to answer the questions of elected local Councillors, to ensure accountability to residents for all public services provided locally.

We will call for a Citizens’Assembly to be set up to discuss a new model of stronger local government, and how to fund it

  • Up to 20% of public spending should be under the control of local government, with the relevant powers over education, social care, employment affairs, policing and transport to be devolved to local government
  • Too often, central government and its agencies create unnecessary delays for local councils, such as for council housing projects. We will seek to reduce these delays

We will restore Town Councils to every urban area with a population over 5,000 and 1,000+ dwellings

  • We will reconfigure existing Municipal Districts to cover the areas not covered by Town Councils
  • Coherent town plans must recognise the centrality of towns as social and economic hubs. To do this we will restore the role of town architects, and seek special status and supports for the largest towns, such as Drogheda, so that they can develop into well-planned cities
  • We’ll research the possibility of establishing smaller-scale Borough Councils in Dublin, to replace the existing four local councils in the event of a Greater Dublin Council being established for County Dublin under a directly-elected mayor, with these borough councils having functions and powers analogous to Town Councils

Labour representatives will continue to speak truth to power and to seek greater accountability of public bodies

  • We believe that public agencies that make decisions that impact on local people should be accountable to local councils
  • It is vital that local council Chief Executives are held accountable for their actions. We would reduce the range of decisions that Chief Executives can make without reference to elected representatives
  • We will encourage and support Labour Councillors to use Freedom of Information requests and other mechanisms to hold to account the management of local HSE, ETBs, Gardaí, etc. for the delivery of services affecting local people

The financial independence of local councils needs to be strengthened. It is time to reduce interference by central government and other public agencies in deciding annual council budgets

  • Labour Councillors will continue to ensure that the public are getting the best value for money
  • We believe in the need to look at other countries to see how local councils deal with funding. For example, other countries allocate some tax revenue from income tax or VAT directly to local government
  • We will call on government agencies to pay local commercial rates as they did until the 1980s, but provide an exemption to local council archives
  • Labour Councillors will support the principle of a fair taxation of property/assets at local level, and seek for local councils to have greater flexibility to modify the level of Local Property Tax (LPT)
  • We want to avoid a sudden spike in LPT due to the revaluation of properties, for example by lowering the rate from 0.18%
  • We would call for a review of Site Value Tax (SVT) and its consideration as an alternative to Local Property Tax (LPT) that could promote the development of affordable housing
  • We need to explore options to keep 100% of LPT or SVT tax locally while creating national schemes to support poorer local council areas
  • We’ll advocate for councils to have the option of introducing tourist levies, to fund local arts, culture and heritage facilities and festivals
  • We’ll seek transparency to residents and local businesses through a Plain English annual statement about local government revenue and spending, to demonstrate value for money for commercial rates, Local Property Tax and other local taxes and charges

Ireland’s cities need to have directly-elected mayors with adequate resources so they can take on the executive powers currently held by council officials

  • Voters in the relevant areas need to be given clear information about the proposed powers and functions of these mayors, as well as information about how elected councils will function alongside them
  • The Labour Party supports a Yes vote for directly-elected mayors in local votes being held in Cork, Limerick and Waterford, on the basis of voters being given adequate information on what powers will be held by these mayors
  • Chief Executives should be renamed Chief Operating Officers in local councils with directly-elected mayors

As we have always done, Labour councillors will support active citizenship and participation in all communities

  • Local people need to be given a real chance to discuss and propose ideas for the communities they live in, that’s why we will promote “town hall” style public meetings and other productive forums that give local people a voice
  • We will reform Public Participation Networks to ensure they provide real benefits to local communities
  • Local people should get a say in how their money is spent locally.We fully support the development of participatory budgeting at local level
  • Meetings of the Council should rotate through different towns to increase visibility and accessibility of the Council’s deliberations

We need to encourage more diversity in the political system. We need to make it easier for local people to get involved

  • We will continue to encourage and support the election of candidates from different backgrounds, including to Town Councils, in order to develop the capacity of more people to consider a career in electoral politics
  • Labour councillors will continue to improve Maternity Leave and Paternity Leave for councillors to make the role more family friendly, and seek for substitute councillors to be co-opted during the time that a councillor is on extended Maternity Leave

Click here for a list of the current powers of local government in Ireland (since 2014).