It’s local election time, that traditional season where prospective councillors tell you complete lies, and I thought maybe it would be a good time for a little refresher on precisely what powers they have and what powers they do not have. The second list is considerably longer than the first.
Councillors individually have no powers at all. They have no authority, no budget and nobody reports to them. A councillor cannot get you a house. A councillor cannot get your road resurfaced. A councillor cannot get you permission to build your dream home.
As a group, they also have no decision-making powers, in the executive sense. Their only role is in setting policy, to a very limited extent, covering only the roles set out in law. These are sanitation, housing, roads, planning and environment, with a mixed bag of miscellaneous items thrown in, mostly to do with cheese and wine. The role of councillors is strictly confined to broad policy, not specifics.
Even in the roads category, councillors have no responsibility for roads managed by the NRA, although they are fairly fond of sending deputations to Dublin for the benefit of the local papers. Half an hour with the NRA, a day mooching around Dublin, a few pints and a nice T&S claim for everyone in the audience. How bad?
Councils have no role whatsoever in national legislation, health, policing, agriculture or foreign affairs. They only have a role in education to the extent that seats are reserved on VEC boards for local representatives, but again, these powers are strictly limited to policy. A councillor can’t get your little genius into your school of choice.
If a candidate’s election literature says they’re against property tax, tear it up and throw it out. Councils have no function in regard to taxation and no influence. Likewise, if a candidate is against water charges, congratulate them and then ask them what that has to do with being a councillor, since it’s outside the scope of their brief. They’re scamming you.
A law-and-order councillor is a useless councillor since they have no role in that area. A pro-farmer councillor is a waste of space, since agriculture is not one of the prescribed areas for which local authorities have responsibility. A councillor who has a position on Irish policy abroad is a bullshitter who needs to be shown the door. A councillor who claims to be pro-sport is a chancer. A councillor who promises to work for better healthcare is a liar. A councillor who wants to shorten the dole queues needs to be sacked. A councillor who tells you he’s working for education or the local economy is just looking for a free junket to China.
Councillors have no role in any of these things, or for that matter in food safety, immigration, mortgage resolution, curbing prostitution, teenage drunkenness or tv licences. This is a classic example, from a character running for Galway County Council.
Let me repeat: they’re responsible for policy-making on a very narrow range of issues and individually they have no power at all.
Many people believe the Mayor is the boss of the council.
This is false.
Mayors are just elected councillors like all the rest, with a few minor procedural responsibilities but no executive power whatever. They have no budget, no authority and no staff. Nobody reports to them. A Mayor is just a person who chairs council meetings, signs the minutes and nothing more, apart from the dubious authority to extend the tenure of a city or county manager, which can lead to a certain conflict of interest.
If you want a favour done, you’d be far better advised to make friends with the janitor who’s probably on good terms with those staff-members who actually have some authority to make decisions.
Here’s a checklist. Print it out and keep it by the front door for when they arrive looking for your vote.
|Powers of local councillors|
|Collective powers||Planning policy||YES|
|Allocation of housing||NO|
|Selecting houses for repair||NO|
|Selecting houses for improvement||NO|