Local elections: What does a local councillor do?

Green Party Dublin City councillor Hazel Chu says that while some of the powers of councillors have been eroded in recent decades, they still play a key role in local Government

Q: How many councillors are there in Ireland?

A: There are 949 councillors across 166 local electoral areas in Ireland. Reforms introduced in 2014 saw the numbers of councillors shrink from 1,627 to the existing level. In the upcoming local elections on Friday, June 7th, about 2,000 candidates will fight it out for those 949 seats.

Q: What does the day-to-day life of a councillor involve?

A: Councillors are the public face of the work of a local authority, and essentially they work to address the concerns of the constituents in their local area.

Green Party Dublin city councillor Hazel Chu says that while some of the powers of councillors have been eroded in recent decades, they still play a key role in local Government.

“Your main powers are around disposal of public land, of zoning, while the city development plan is another big item for councillors. But a lot of councillors’ powers have been eroded in the last couple of decades. The national Government funds the local authority. The managers in place are unelected. But day-to-day council work would be dealing with constituents’ queries. It could be everything from parks to roads and housing.”


Councillors also represent the local authority on various local community and voluntary boards, groups and committees.

“I sit on the housing strategic policy committee, for example. I also chair the homeless subcommittee looking at homeless policy in the city, looking day to day at what we should do. On housing, I look at a lot of vacant and derelict properties. There are a lot of them and we need to do more,” says Chu.

Q: What powers do councillors have?

Councillors have the power to make decisions on the rate of Local Property Tax (LPT), the annual budget of the local authority, climate action plans and local area plans. They also have the power to hold the local authority to account by scrutinising annual accounts, examining targets, following up on audits and requiring the chief executive to report on different matters.

Councillors also have the power to back candidates to get on the ballot for the presidential election. There are limitations to their powers. The chief executive is ultimately the person responsible for following through on whatever actions are decided upon by councillors, and they have a number of separate executive functions. Councillors cannot influence planning decisions. Central Government also dominates housing funding provision and housing policy.

Q: What do councillors get paid?

A: A new increased salary for councillors, which now stands at €28,724, was introduced in 2021. They also get an annual expenses allowance to cover travel and subsistence and a mobile phone allowance.

Q: Do councillors get a pension?

A: There is no pension scheme for councillors but a gratuity, introduced 24 years ago, is paid instead.

Under new rules, councillors who lose their seat or retire after June’s local election will be in line for increased “retirement gratuity” payments.

The change means a councillor with 20 years’ service will get a maximum payment of €86,172 once they leave office, €8,356 more than the maximum of €77,816 they would have received under the old system.

Councillors who have left office are entitled to the payments once they reach the age of 50 and have at least two years qualifying service.

Gratuity payments are also made to councillors who are elected to the Dáil, Seanad or European Parliament once they are over 50.