CHALLENGES FACED BY COUNCILLORS AT THE COALFACE OF DEMOCRACY

Nov 30, 2023 | Featured Articles

Some of the ongoing challenges faced by councillors, such as online intimidation and physical attacks, which are impacting on the wellbeing and safety of elected members, were outlined at the 8th Public Lecture Series at UCC’s Centre for Local and Regional Governance (CLRG).

Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Kieran McCarthy noted that councillors must be prepared to “make sacrifices in their personal lives and in their personal time” but added that being a local public representative remains “an enjoyable and rewarding experience”.

Presenting his Director’s Report for 2022-23, Dr. Aodh Quinlivan highlighted recent CLRG publications and research outputs, including a report on gender equality in Cork City Council. Marking her enormous contribution to the study and understanding of Irish local government, former lecturer at the University of Limerick Dr Bríd Quinn was presented with the CLRG Philip Monahan Recognition Award by the Lord Mayor of Cork.

The first of the night’s three keynote lectures was delivered by Dr Quinn who described the ‘saga’ of Limerick’s Directly Elected Mayor (DEM) and what we may expect from the historic mayoral election of 2024. She raised issues about the three Ms – Mandate, Mechanisms and Means – and queried if the political will exists to enable Limerick to pioneer a strong DEM system.

Ending on a positive note, Dr Quinn argued that the draft DEM model for Limerick is ambitious and comprehensive, and she expressed confidence that Limerick can make history in 2024 and become an exemplar within the Irish local government system.

Fine Gael’s Councillor Emma Blain, Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council, described her role as a councillor as a vocation rather than a job. However, being at the coalface of democracy presented challenges, especially in relation to emerging issues which are impacting on the wellbeing and safety of elected members.

Cllr Blain criticised protests which have taken place outside the homes of councillors, as well as the growing incidents of physical attacks and online abuse. Drawing on recent research by the Association of Irish Local Government (AILG), she highlighted the fact that over 57% of respondents were ‘worried’ or ‘extremely worried’ about the impact of threats, harassment and intimidation on their families. Amongst other safety measures, she called for the postal addresses of councillors to be removed from local authority websites.

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EVOLVING ROLE OF COUNCILLORS IN IRISH LOCAL GOVERNMENT
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