Reforming local government: Must it always be democracy versus efficiency?

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The financial crisis from 2008 has had a profound impact on Irish local government. Councils were faced with a disastrous combination of factors - declining funding from central government, difficulties in collecting commercial rates as businesses struggled, and a drastic fall in revenue from development levies. Staffing levels in the local government sector were reduced by over 20 per cent, significantly more than the losses suffered by central government ministries and departments. Yet the financial crisis also offered an opportunity for reform and a fundamental reappraisal of subnational government in Ireland. A reform strategy produced in 2012 paved the way for the Local Government Reform Act, 2014. As a result of this legislation, the number of local authorities was reduced from 114 to 31 with the complete abolition of all town councils. The number of council seats also fell from 1,627 to 949. Using Scharpf’s dimensions of democratic legitimacy, this article assesses whether the focus of the 2014 reforms was on output legitimacy (efficiency and effectiveness) as opposed to input legitimacy (citizen integration and participation).

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