When the Irish state was established, it inherited the British system of local government, which pre-dated the state’s birth. After independence, no constitutional provision was made for local government.
A centralized system of governance
The Irish state developed a highly centralized system of government. The Irish government’s desire for centralized power was, however, concerned less with political principle and more with finding immediate and pragmatic solutions to the problems of government in the aftermath of war. The preference for functional efficiency, even at the expense of democratic accountability, is a trait that has characterized local government in Ireland since its foundation and perhaps best exemplified by the ‘managerial system’ of local administration.
Ireland is now divided into three regions, the Connaught-Ulster Region, the Southern Region, and the Eastern Midland region. The functions and structures of regions and associated regional bodies are determined by the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The report discusses in greater detail the organisation and functions of regional governance since the implementation of the recent local government reform legislation.
The Local Government Reform Act 2014 follows a series of national and supranational reports on the financing, functions and structures of local government in Ireland. It is clear the economic crisis, more specifically the state’s current budget deficit and agreement with the ‘Troika’, has been a significant engine of change for the current coalition government.
Role of the EU in Irish regionalisation
Despite the acknowledged and extensive role of EU structural and cohesion funds in Ireland, changes to the fundamental policy architecture of the state were minimal. Notwithstanding EU desires to promote the role of sub-national actors and sub-national policy capacities, Irish regionalisation was superficial and the state remains a highly centralized one. This reaffirms the view of the state as ‘gatekeeper’ to EU influence.
However, the equally acknowledged and highly significant impact on Irish policy styles and approaches. Whilst the central institutions of government were not substantially altered, the ways of operating within and between them have completely changed. Policy programming, monitoring, evaluation and partnership are now firmly established Irish policy protocols. This seems to uphold Bulmer and Radaelli’s (2004) view that even where national governments remain the key actors, Europeanization impacts can still be significant in establishing EU-wide vocabulary, criteria and belief systems implicit in the ‘communities of discourse’ co-created with EU cohesion funding.
Whilst there has been significant success in Ireland’s operationalization of both Multi-Level Governance and partnership approaches, much of the associated policy learning has taken place outside the formal institutions of local government.
In many cases, the Managing Authorities for successful cohesion and development initiatives have been independent partnership companies, funded by EU regional policies, with the support and approval of the Irish government, but outside its own formal remit. In the current climate of financial crisis, these are the very organisations that are now first in line for funding cutbacks.
by Maura ADSHEAD & Cian FINN
The Report on the state of Regionalisation in Europe.
More than 40 experts contributed to this work, by delivering detailed reports about the state of regionalisation and multilevel governance in chosen European countries. The study covers 41 countries, and each country report is based on a similar structure, thereby allowing a comparative approach among all studied countries.
- The first part of the report gives the political impetus from the main European stakeholders
- The second part of this report entails a summarised version of the country reports. The objective is to provide interested readers with a short overview of the main features of regionalisation in various European countries. The complete versions of the country reports are available on the AER website, under LINK
- The third part provides a thematic approach based on the main findings delivered by the country reports and the current state of regionalisation in Europe. The trends and outlooks lead to open questions on the future of the regions in the European landscape, and more broadly on the role of subnational authorities in the shaping of the continent.
- The fourth part gives the floor to the actual regional decision-makers in Europe, across a series of interviews and statements by Presidents, Vice-Presidents and elected representatives of the European regions.
Over the next months, we will be focusing on a different European country’s approach to regionalisation. During these months, look out for #RoR2017 on Twitter and/or Facebook and follow us at @europeanregions.
Strong European regions are a pathway to a stronger Europe.