Local E-Government in Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Local government here was characterised until very recently in terms of the standard model of representative democracy, where citizen’s interests are present only through their elected representatives. The Local Government Renewal document of 2001 advocated the development of a more participatory form of democracy. This reflected the broader EC shift from government to governance, and the inclusion of the voluntary sector in the partnership approach advocated at central government level in the ROI. The renewal would more or less be achieved by bringing together, under County Development Boards (CDB’s), the systems of Local Government and Local Development. These two systems had operated as parallel distinct structures hitherto, but were now to be integrated. Local development initiatives, often worked through participative models of democracy, focused strongly on social inclusion and involved local actors actively engaging in collective policy formation on local development as a response to local needs. This provided an alternative model of local governance and a very active citizenship engagement combined with community empowerment. The model of citizenship in place in the Local Government system was quite simply that of ‘client’ or ‘customer’ of public services. Marrying the two systems into the work of City/County Development Boards represented a move to modernise, rationalise and revitalise Local Government. The e-Government agenda of a one-stop-shop for transactional service delivery would only be possible if this merger took place. It remains to be seen how each County/City integrates both systems. Is progressing e-government by improving service deliver to ‘customers’ the only outcome, or are other objectives of e-governance being pursued at CDB level? Overall it would seem that embracing citizens as ‘partners’ in policy development may well be progressing very unevenly.
Consultation processes represent one of the key changes of practice since Local Government Renewal and the analysis of the number and quality of these consultations is central to our understanding the nature of the shift that has taken place at local level. Is it significant enough to indicate an actual shift from government to governance? Does the quantity and quality indicate that the merger has foreclosed the strength of local development? An overwhelming emphasis on service delivery and customer satisfactions as the major achievements of the consultation process might indicate that this was the case. The targets of the consultation processes would also be indicators, in that seeking the input of the whole population would be more about representative democracy. How are communities being defined -as communities in the traditional sense or as communities of interest? The stage in policy making that the consultations occurred would also indicate what model was dominant, that is, if occurring at an early stage this would reflect a development model. Levels of transparency and accountability built into the consultation processes would reflect a meaningful shift to governance. Innovative and multiple techniques of consultation would indicate the pursuit of inclusive and democratic mindedness on the part of the particular CDB.
The 2000 report by SOCITM and IDEA,  characterised e-government in The Republic of Ireland as falling into the category of an ‘e-knowledge’ model, as opposed to an ‘e-services’ or ‘e-governance’ model, with an emphasis on community based economic and social regeneration. This reflects the strength of the local development model at the time, but this was prior to the renewal of local government. Is this still the case or is there now a significant amount of e-governance in place in addition to transactional service delivery?