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The two 'most transparent' councils in Ireland are in Dublin

Fingal County Council and South Dublin County Council have topped a new index of the country’s 31 local authorities.

County Hall, Tallaght, South Dublin.
County Hall, Tallaght, South Dublin.
Image: Google Street View

TWO LOCAL AUTHORITIES in Dublin have ranked the highest when it comes to behaving in a transparent manner, according to a new report.

Transparency International Ireland’s (TII) annual National Integrity Index (NII) ranks the country’s 31 local authorities based on three criteria: transparency, accountability and ethics.

Fingal County Council and South Dublin County Council have topped the 2019 NII, receiving 22 points out of 30. Monaghan County Council finished in third place with 21 points out of 30.

On average, local authorities improved their scores by 9% compared to last year. The three biggest improvements were seen in Wexford, Galway County and Kilkenny.

County and city councils published more financial and ethics-related information in 2019 than last year. However, TII said too few councils are publishing details of their efforts to address the risk of corruption including councillors’ political donations and ethics declarations.

The index and report examine systems and practices for promoting integrity in local authorities, and draws from information available on council websites, freedom of information requests and feedback from local authority staff and councillors.

council Source: Transparency International Ireland

Dr Elliott Jordan Doak, TII Advocacy and Research Coordinator, said it is “encouraging to see local authorities publishing more information than was the case last year but there can’t be any room for complacency”.

While there have been relatively few recent scandals, the incentives and opportunities for abuse are still there.

“Almost €5 billion was spent by councils last year and they play a key role in managing land, delivering public services and protecting the environment. Given the scale of their powers and resources, it’s vital that they have adequate fraud and corruption controls in place.”

The report was published today to mark International Anti-Corruption Day 2019.

Improvements 

Dublin City Council had the highest score for the transparency category with 75%, while Fingal County Council had the highest score for the ethics category with 75%. South Dublin County Council, Kildare County Council and Cavan County Council all scored 100% under the accountability category.

Of the 31 local authorities surveyed in the NII, 23 (74%) have improved their scores. The report also finds that even where councils performed relatively poorly, the lowest score received in 2019 was 12 points (Kerry and Westmeath), in contrast to a lowest score of five points (Galway County) in 2018.

The NII for 2019 also sees a 42% increase in the number of local authorities publishing their protected disclosures policies; a 32% rise in the number of councils sharing information on the procedures they have in place to investigate contraventions of Local Authority Act; while 29% more local authorities had a comprehensive page on their website dedicated to ethics and governance.

councils improve Source: Transparency International Ireland

However, the report also notes that only 10 out of 31 local authorities had published their councillors’ political donations or their ethics declarations, while over half (55%) had not published reports on the number of protected disclosures received during the previous year. The Protected Disclosures Act requires that all public bodies publish this information by 30 June every year.

Lobbying

Likewise, five (16%) fewer local authorities demonstrated efforts to inform individuals of their responsibilities under the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015. There was no improvement at all in respect of some other indicators, with no local authority reporting that it had published its Chief Executive’s diary.

In addition, TII found a continuing lack of transparency in the pre-planning consultation process across the local authorities. The Planning and Development Act 2000 requires councils to keep a record in writing of any pre-planning consultations, and to include them in the planning application files.

TII found that only six out of 31 local authorities (19%) were consistently including pre-planning consultation reports in the online planning files for applications in which such consultations took place.

“Although we’ve seen a marked improvement in the number of councils reporting on their anti-corruption and ethics procedures, our recommendations remain largely the same as they did last year,” John Devitt, Chief Executive of TII, said. 

He added that the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government “needs to be far more proactive in preventing and addressing corruption in local authorities, while the Oireachtas needs to pass the long-delayed Public Sector Standards Bill 2015″. 

Doak stated: “It should be remembered that this report and index are not measures of corruption in city and county councils. Rather, they are measures of how well-prepared local authorities are in stopping corruption.

Likewise, the index does not tell us which authority is the most or least transparent, accountable or ethical, but which has the best systems and practices in place to ensure transparency, accountability and ethics.

Doak said local authorities “don’t need vast resources to have these systems in place”, adding: “There was no significant relationship between the sizes of the councils and the councils’ performance on the index.”

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Órla Ryan

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