Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Local Authority Boundaries Review
I am replying on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government who cannot attend today.
The reviews and revisions of local electoral areas have been carried out over the years in response to changing needs, including population changes. The most recent review was carried out in advance of the 2014 local elections. Before that, reviews were carried out in 2008, 1998 and 1985. Unlike the position for Dáil constituencies, there is no constitutional or legislative requirement to review local electoral area boundaries. Having said that, the Minister for Housing. Planning, Community and Local Government is empowered by section 23 of the Local Government Act 2001 to divide each county, city or city and county into local electoral areas and to amend those areas. Each of them must have a council. This can be done following a review by a boundary committee established under the Local Government Act 1991. The terms of reference for a local electoral area boundary committee are set by the Minister of the day.
The terms of reference for the last review included a requirement to have regard to the new arrangements for local government set out in the government's Action Programme for Effective Local Government. The review had the specific goal of achieving a better balance and consistency in representational ratios than were in place before that time. The committee was asked to design local electoral areas on the basis of there being one member for every 4,830 population in each council area. This was subject to a minimum of 18 and a maximum of 40 members in every authority with exceptions for Cork County with 55 members and Dublin City with 63 members. Local electoral areas were to be represented by between no fewer than six and no more than ten members.
The Local Electoral Area Boundary Committee was established in November 2012 and reported to the Minister at the end of May 2013. The Minister accepted the recommendations of the committee in full. The new local electoral areas were specified in 30 statutory instruments made in January 2014. At the 2014 local elections, 949 councillors were elected in 137 local electoral areas to 31 local authorities. These local electoral areas provided the basis for the configuration of the new municipal districts that came into operation following the 2014 local elections. These structures are the framework for the new model of municipal governance that was introduced in the Local Government Reform Act 2014. This new model was designed primarily to strengthen local government within counties and to address the widely acknowledged and long-standing weaknesses and anomalies in the previous system.
In 2015, the first full year of the revised local government structures, a broadly based advisory group was convened to carry out a review of their operation. This was done in conjunction with the local government forum for the engagement with the Association of Irish Local Government. Feedback from these deliberations, as well as the results of surveys of local authority members and chief executives, indicate that the revised structures are generally operating well but need more time to bed down fully.