Essentially elected councillors are responsible for formulating policies for their local areas, while the council's Chief Executive and their staff are tasked with implementing decisions.

In theory it is a part-time role, but in practice many councillors will clock up in excess of a full working week dealing with matters brought to them by their constituents.

Currently, councillors get an annual gross payment of €17,000 to represent their constituents, which is subject to tax.

They also get an annual expenses allowance to cover travel and subsistence and a mobile phone allowance.

On retirement, they get a lump sum payment equivalent to approximately €17,000 for a councillor with five years' service.


The 2014 local government reforms saw the numbers of councillors shrink from 1,627 to 949 with the reduction of some councils and the abolition of town councils.

This means there are roughly 5,000 constituents per councillor, giving them a potentially bigger workload than many of their European colleagues.

Many local representatives say their caseload of constituents' problems has increased.

A full-time position?

The Government recently commissioned Senior Counsel Sara Moorhead to review the pay and conditions of local councillors.

Her interim report highlighted the different views among many parties and councillors on whether the role should be a full-time paid position or not.

"On the one hand, there is a view that it should be a full-time position paid accordingly. However, this would deprive persons who are involved in other walks of life from active involvement in their community and forming part of local government. However, as the demands on those persons' time become greater, it appears to be unrealistic to expect them to attend to their functions in the working day," her report stated.

Spending and power

While the local councils are responsible for housing, planning, roads, environmental protection and leisure facilities, the work is divided into the executive function, which is the day-to-day operation by staff, and the reserved function, such as agreeing a budget, which is overseen by councillors.

Local government in Ireland has weakened in terms of spending and power, according to Dr Mary Murphy of Maynooth University, who authored a paper "Democracy Works if You Let It" for the Fórsa trade union campaign for better services.

Dr Murphy, of the Department of Sociology, said: "Ireland compares poorly compared to other small EU states like Denmark.

"Denmark for instance has 98 municipalities with an average population per unit of 57,421 and 65.9% of general government spending is local government expenditure.

"Ireland on the other hand has only 31 municipalities with an average population of 148,517 per unit and only 8.4% of government spending flows through Irish local government."

She said: "Ireland local government fares badly in terms of local autonomy, highly controlled by central government is the weakest form of local government when it comes to self rule."

Planning policies

Local councillors have to agree an annual budget and every six years they formulate a Development Plan, setting out planning policies.

While councillors decide planning policy, they do not make planning decisions as this is an executive function.

The 2014 reforms saw councillors lose the power to overturn planning decisions.

"Over time Irish local government and local councilors have lost functional power, water for example is now centralised, refuse collection and associated charges are now market based, while driving licences and higher education grants, once the prerogative of local government,  are now delivered through two new central authorities," Dr Murphy says.

Gender breakdown

Just over 20% of Irish councillors are women, compared to an EU average of 32%.

The Government recently announced a funding scheme to incentivise political parties to increase the proportion of female candidates ahead of the Local Elections in May.

Read more: Elections 2019