Public service unions have launched a campaign to boost the powers of local government and to bring privatised services back under the control of local authorities.

The 'More Power to You' campaign by Fórsa, SIPTU and Connect will run ahead of the local elections in May and will urge the public and politicians to sign up to a pledge backing measures including directly-elected mayors, and bringing previously privatised services back under the remit of the public service.

Addressing the launch, Dr Mary Murphy of NUI Maynooth presented a report saying that "four dead hands" had strangled the capacity of local authorities - including privatisation of functions like housing and waste, centralisation by central government, increasing executive control in councils, and austerity.

She said that during the last decade of austerity, a quarter of the resources of local government in terms of expenditure and staffing levels had been lost.

She noted that on an international local authority index, Ireland was rated as the worst performer for local government autonomy - and the trend was getting worse.

She also cited statistics that in Denmark, 65% of public spending is channelled through local government, while in Ireland, that figure is 8.4%.

The unions argue that bringing services including waste, water, housing and energy back into the local authorities can deliver significant savings.

They also say that there is a growing trend in local government world-wide towards "remunicipalisation" - or bringing previously privatised services back under the remit of the public service.

Rosa Pavanelli of Public Services International, which has affiliates representing 20 million public service workers globally, told the launch that in 2016, there had been 867 cases internationally of returning local government services from the private sector. 

She said the move had delivered significant savings which could be reinvested in local government.

Fórsa National Secretary Peter Nolan said local authorities needed a champion to advocate for them - and the campaign needed to reach local communities.

He criticised some politicians who treated local government as an apprenticeship but forgot about them when they graduated to national politics.

SIPTU Divisional Organiser Adrian Kane noted that Brexit had been driven by people having a sense of being disconnected from government.

Connect National Official Derek Kelleher also called for services like housing to be brought back under the remit of local authorities, saying  his union - the largest craft union in the country - had the skills to provide housing faster than the private sector.