Ireland has fewer politicians per capita than all other EU member states and several other democracies; We also have a system of Local Government that has far fewer powers than most other countries. These are the findings of a piece of research published today by Fianna Fáil Senator, Malcolm Byrne.
His report “Undervalued and Underrepresented: Local Government in Ireland Compared with Other Democracies” examined how local democracy operates in Ireland and in 34 other jurisdictions (the other 26 EU member states; the United Kingdom (and its constituent parts), Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States). The study found that Ireland continues to have a very centralised system of government and that local Councils here have continued to lose powers, making local administration in Ireland among the weakest in the democratic world.
Senator Byrne also found that with each of the 949 Councillors in Ireland represent on average 5,399 people, Ireland has fewer local elected representatives per capita than any other country. In similar sized countries, the ratio is far lower. For example, in Denmark, each of their 2,432 Councillors represent on average 2,399 people; in Finland, their 8,859 represent on average 627 people; and in Slovakia, each of their 20,646 Councillors represents an average of 265 inhabitants. In Northern Ireland, the ratio is one Councillor per 4,119 people.
He pointed out,“Exact direct comparisons are not possible and in some countries, the powers of Councils vary depending on their size. But in almost every case, even small Councils in other countries have more powers than in Ireland, including in areas such as education, policing, healthcare and elder care. There has been a steady and continual erosion of local government powers in Ireland. This has had an impact on our national legislature which see TDs and Senators spend significant amounts of time on local issues, while many of local Councillors feel they lack power to influence decisions in their communities.”
“If the Custom House (the Department of Local Government) is serious about its remit for local democracy, we will see proposals for greater devolution of powers. There is an ideal opportunity to test this with the planned election for a Directly Elected Mayor for Limerick. I suspect the Department officials want this to be a toothless and tokenistic office : we need to challenge this if it happens. Senator Byrne, who previously served on Wexford County Council, noted, “Irish politicians have always been very accessible to our constituents but there are fewer of us than in any other democracy. Unlike in Dáil elections, where the number of TDs is determined by the size of the population, that does not happen for local elections. The role of the Councillor is increasingly becoming full time and with a growing population, Councillors have to represent more people than ever before.”