In this post I share a conversation I had with Councillor Duncan Smith, a local politician in my area. Day 5 of Mapping The State can be found here.
Duncan Smith is a Labour Party councillor since 2008. He is also a local representative for Fingal County Council, working with the people of Swords, Santry and Meakstown.
I spoke with Duncan about local governments, including the nomination/election process, strengths and weaknesses and income and expenditure.
” For me, I was a member of the Labour Party, after getting a nomination from my party, to stand as one of their candidates in the local elections, which take place every five years. I put myself forward in 2014. My party elected me along with two others, and then I had to contact the returning officer to officially put my name on the ballot paper.
Strengths and Weaknesses
”I think local government is quite difficult at the moment. A lot of power is with Council management, the Chief Executive Council, and the Director of Services, and Council officials who are elected.
With the last local government act, a lot of that power was strengthened further. It can be difficult for a County Councilor as we only really have the power of setting a budget and county development plans.
That said, one of the strengths of being a councillor is that you generally have a small area of which to represent. We have Swords, Portrane, Donabate, Santry etc. It is a relatively small area, so you can become very close to really important issues, be it Dublin Airport or new housing, council housing.
You’re very connected with the people, the community you represent. That is something that would be difficult for TDs representing a wider area to achieve, as well as trying to balance local issues with national legislation. But with councillors, it’s the trees, the potholes, the local authority housing. That would be the main strengths of Irish local governments. ”
Income and Expenditure
”Local governments generate income in a number of ways. Local property tax paid by every household. 85% of that goes towards to local government authorities. They also raise a lot of money from rates, so businesses paying rates. Everything from the supermarket to the local barbers pays hundreds of thousands each year in rates, and that’s the biggest source of revenue for the council.
Also, the council can get grants from central government ,for housing as an example. The Department of the Environment will transfer block funding to councils to spend on housing.
There are other little things as well, for example charging thirty euro to fill out a form. That wouldn’t really make any substantial amount though.
They spend their money on local property housing , maintaining beaches, roads and parks, keeping libraries open and developing tourist facilities, Loughshinny as a recent example. They also spend money on building piers and harbors.”