TRADE unions representing more than 30,000 local council workers launched a campaign in Portlaoise recently for substantially increased revenue and funding powers for local authorities.
They also published research that shows Irish county councils have less autonomy from central government than their counterparts in 39 European countries. The More Power To You campaign also calls for legislative changes to facilitate directly-elected mayors and restore and expand town councils, which were abolished in 2014.
Research finds that only 8% of Irish public spending occurs at local government level, compared with an EU23 average of more than 23% and that a quarter of the Irish spend is not fully under local authority control. It also said that with just one city or county council for every 148,507 people, Ireland has far fewer local municipalities than similar-sized European countries.
The study also showed that Irish local authorities perform fewer functions than municipalities across Europe, with their roles largely confined to physical infrastructure and environmental and recreational services. The research claims that this impacts negatively on local employment, service quality, value-for-money, environmental protection and local jobs and economic development. It has also contributed to declining local election voter turnout.
The More Power To You
campaign is seeking commitments from political parties on a range of local government reforms covering waste, water, housing and energy services. These include legislative changes to facilitate directly-elected mayors; the return and expansion of the town council system, which was abolished in 2014; increased revenue and funding powers, with parallel systems of accountability and transparency to move the percentage of local authority-managed public spending towards the European average; an immediate end to the outsourcing of council housing maintenance and a medium-term shift to a new local authority-led public housing model; stronger regulation of the waste sector to ensure that every household has access to an affordable waste disposal service as a precursor to the reintroduction of improved public provision; a constitutional referendum on the right to water, which should ensure that water and waste water services remain in public ownership and control; investment in local authority environmental and sustainable energy infrastructure and staff to facilitate the maximum use of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s Better Energy programme.
Speaking at the launch, the compiler and author of the research document Dr Mary Murphy of Maynooth University said: “Local government can be an important source of economic development and local jobs, while local authorities across Europe are playing a leading role in transitioning to low-carbon renewable energy. We need to rebuild Irish local democracy and citizen participation to build strong local economies based on good jobs and decent incomes and to address climate change.”