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120 years of local democracy – Minister Phelan hosts reception to celebrate 120th anniversary of first local elections in Ireland

Published on Thursday, 18 Apr 2019
John Paul Phelan TD
  • First local election Ireland on 06 April 1899
  • Irish councils met for first time 120 years ago next week (22 April 1899)
  • 20 years since first Constitutional recognition of local government and enshrinement of principle of local elections every five years

The Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform, John Paul Phelan, T.D., today (18 April, 2019) welcomed representatives of local government to the Custom House to celebrate the 120th anniversary of Ireland’s first local elections. Most councils met for the first time 120 years ago next week (on 22 April). Minister Phelan launched a Department-funded visual exhibition on the history of Irish local government at the event. 

Speaking before the reception this afternoon, Minister Phelan said: “Ireland has enjoyed a rich history of local government, defined by the dedication of elected representatives and officials alike in serving their local communities. The quality of life enjoyed by our citizens is greatly defined by local services and community engagement. Local authorities have always played a major role in providing such services and facilitating this engagement. I want to pay tribute to all who have served in local politics and worked in local government over the past 120 years.

“Successive governments have sought to improve and revitalise local government. I am building on past progress through initiatives like providing supports for women and those from minority groups who are considering running for local election. Like national government, local government benefits from greater diversity. The Government has also initiated plebiscites on directly elected mayors.”

Minister Phelan added: “I’m delighted to launch this exhibition charting the evolution of local government’s structures and elections and important themes like the role of women in local government. I want to pay tribute to the Local Government Archivists and Records Managers for producing this exhibition. I am pleased that my Department was able to fund this project. I also want to thank Professor Daly of UCD for agreeing to give a historical perspective on local government in Ireland at the reception this afternoon.”

Minister Phelan concluded: “As we commemorate the first meeting of many councils, next week, let us use this historical month to celebrate the important role local government plays in the lives of citizens and communities. My department is playing its part by actively highlighting the role of local government and the services councils provide. I urge people to engage with issues of local government and be proud of their local authority, particularly in this year of local elections, by actively participating in their local democratic process.”


  • Boards of Poor Law Guardians were established under the Poor Relief (Ireland) Act 1838. There were eventually 163 Poor Law Unions based around market towns throughout Ireland. They were responsible for the operation of the system that included the workhouses and other relief work. Some guardians were elected by rate-payers, making the system partly democratic. Significantly, women could serve as guardians from 1896.  This system preceded the first local elections in 1899, provided for by the Local Government Act 1898.
  • The ‘Celebrating the history of Irish Local Government’ exhibition will travel to the different local authorities across the country during 2019.
  • Professor Mary E. Daly, Emeritus Professor of History at UCD, the keynote speaker gave a lecture on the history of local government at the reception.
  • Plebiscites on proposed directly elected mayors with executive functions for Cork City, Limerick City and County, and Waterford City and County, will take place on 24 May 2019.
  • To be eligible to vote in May’s local elections, people can apply to be included on the Supplement to the Register of Electors if their council receives their application form by Tuesday, 07 May 2019. For those seeking inclusion on either the supplement to the postal or special voters lists, the relevant application forms will need to be received by their council by Sunday, 28 April 2019.        


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