Why Are the Local Elections Important?

Posted on
18 Apr 2019
by
Lily Power, Policy Officer at The Wheel
Community Matters

Within the newly-expanded public policy team at The Wheel, we have been thinking about the upcoming local elections, and what they mean for the charity, community and voluntary and social enterprise sector.

Local Elections 2019

Local and European government elections will take place across the Republic of Ireland on 24 May 2019. Voting in local elections is not restricted to Irish citizens, with all residents over the age of 18 eligible to vote once they have listed themselves on the Electoral Register. There are currently 949 local councillors spanning 31 local authorities in Ireland, with the number of representatives in each area reflecting the respective size of the population. These elections take place every five years and provide an opportunity for people across the country to have their voices heard on issues that matter to them on a local level.

What can local government do?

The role of local government and the extent of its powers has changed in recent years, following the development of several programmes and policies that culminated in the publication of the 2014 Local Government Reform Act. The Act reflected a move towards devolving a number of decision-making responsibilities to local government, with the aim of increasing broader government accountability to the electorate and encouraging increased participation. It placed a particular emphasis on extending the remit of local government to include economic and community development, as well as delivery of certain public services.

Today, local government in Ireland performs a range of functions, both representational and operational. Local councillors are responsible for highlighting and communicating the needs of the communities they represent through the forum of local government. They can also seek to raise particular issues within their political parties, which might be relevant on a national scale. On a functional level, their remit includes planning and development, the provision of essential services and the management of housing and public spaces, as well as culture, sports, heritage and recreation facilities. Certain aspects of environmental protection also come under the remit of local government.

What does this mean for us?

While national TDs often serve large geographical areas, local councillors have the capacity to interact more closely with the electorate in the smaller areas that they represent.

At The Wheel, we see the local elections as an important opportunity to highlight the immense value that charity, community and voluntary organisations bring to their communities. As well as providing essential services and contributing to community development, these organisations often provide a voice to marginalised or vulnerable people, working to increase and broaden the scope of active citizenship on a local level.

During campaigns, candidates will often highlight their personal involvement in local charities and voluntary groups to signify their level of engagement on local issues, but it is important that they understand the extent of the work done by these organisations. We want to encourage local candidates to support these organisations in carrying out their work and contributing to their communities.

Drawing on this, The Wheel will launch its Community Matters campaign on 23 April. The aim of the campaign is to highlight the value of the charity, community and voluntary sector to candidates running in the upcoming local and EU elections on 24 May. We are asking candidates to sign an online pledge here committing themselves to championing the charity, community and voluntary sector in both local and EU government, with tailored asks related to each.

The Pledge

By signing the pledge, local government candidates will commit to: valuing the nonprofit sector by becoming an informed ambassador for charitable and voluntary organisations; securing our future by supporting fair and equal access to commissioning processes and working to extend the supports available to these organisations through Local Enterprise Offices; listening local, advocating national by communicating the needs of local voluntary organisations and those they represent; focusing on those we support through encouraging a review of local government procedures and regulation, while working to ensure that resources are available for charities to meet compliance requirements; and, finally, giving us a seat at the table by encouraging and enabling all charity, community and voluntary organisations and social enterprises to take part in Public Participation Networks (PPNs) with adequate resources to facilitate this work.

You can read more about our campaign, and how you can help to promote the interests of the charity and voluntary sector in the local elections, here: www.wheel.ie/elections 

More information about the nuts and bolts of local government in Ireland can be found through www.citizensinformation.ie