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Local government in the Isle of Man

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Local government in the Isle of Man

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the Isle of Man
Isle of Man local authorities and sheadings

Local government (Manx: gurneilys ynnydagh) in the Isle of Man was formerly based on six sheadings, which were divided into seventeen parishes (today referred to as "ancient parishes"). The island is today divided for local government purposes into town districts, village districts, and parish districts, as follows:


The Isle of Man is divided into six sheadings: Ayre, Glenfaba, Garff, Michael, Rushen and Middle. The sheadings are now significant only as:—

The Coroners are responsible for process-serving and enforcement of judgments, not for holding inquests of death; that function is carried out by the High Bailiff, who is ex officio Coroner of Inquests.

The origins of the term sheading are unclear. There are three main possibilities:

  • from the Norse word skeid – meaning ship-assembly, with each sheading providing men for a warship.
  • from a Celtic word meaning sixth part – with the sheadings having been a 14th-century Scottish introduction.
  • from the Middle English word for an administrative division, scheding – with the sheadings having been introduced following English rule in the late 14th century.


The parishes have ecclesiastical roots, and are thought to have introduced to the island in the 11th century from Scotland, the bishopric having been established in the 10th century. Civil parishes also existed from at least the late 15th century, their boundaries diverging significantly in some cases, where one or more Treens might pay their ecclesiastical tithes to one parish, but their Lord's Rent to another.[1] Parish boundaries broadly followed physical features such as rivers and watersheds, but there were many detailed divergences. For example, a mill and its croft, located on the west bank of a river, could be included in the adjoining parish east of the river by a loop in the boundary.

The parishes of each sheading of the Isle of Man are currently:

Reforms in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries

Town districts

An Act of Tynwald of 1777[2] provided for the appointment of a High Bailiff for each of the 4 towns, Castletown, Douglas, "Peeltown" (Peel) and Ramsey, with various judicial and administrative responsibilities.

The Towns Act 1852[3] provided for the first elected local authorities in the Island, enabling a board of Town Commissioners to be elected for each of the 4 towns, with responsibility for street cleaning, lighting and sewerage. However, the Act was not adopted by any of the towns,[4] and special Acts were passed establishing Commissioners for each town: Douglas 1860,[5] Ramsey 1865,[6] Castletown 1883[7] and Peel 1884.[8] The boundaries of the town districts have been extended over time to incorporate new developments.

In 1896, Douglas was incorporated as a municipal borough by the Douglas Municipal Corporation Act 1895,[9] which replaced the Town Commissioners with a municipal corporation entitled "The Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Douglas", acting through a borough council, consisting of a mayor, aldermen and councillors. In 1989[10] the office of alderman was abolished, leaving the council composed of the mayor and councillors. The 18 councillors are elected from 6 wards, each for a four-year term expiring on 1 May 2012, 2016, and so on. The mayor is elected annually by the councillors, usually (but not necessarily) from their own number. Although there are no longer any aldermen, the corporation's legal title is unchanged. As its name implies, it is a body corporate, but the borough council is not.

Village districts

The Public Health Act 1884 [11] permitted the creation of elected sanitary authorities for sanitary districts. Port Erin was the only sanitary district so defined.

The Local Government Act 1886[12] provided for elected boards of Village Commissioners and the creation, by resolution of Tynwald, of new village districts. The existing sanitary authority of Port Erin became a board of Commissioners. Port St Mary was created a village district in 1890, Laxey and Onchan in 1895, and Michael in 1905.

In 1986 the existing village district and parish district of Onchan were merged to form a "local government district of Onchan" under a single body of Commissioners (but with a separate consultative "rural committee" representing the former parish district).[13] In 1989 the village district and parish district of Michael were similarly merged (but without a rural committee).[14] The new districts are village districts.

Parish districts

The Local Government Amendment Act 1894[15] created boards of Parish Commissioners for 17 parish districts, each of which comprised so much of the corresponding ancient parish as was not comprised in a town or village district. As noted above, Onchan and Michael parish districts have since been amalgamated with the corresponding village districts.

Joint boards

In 1938 the Local Government Board was empowered[16] to create a board (commonly referred to as a "combination authority") consisting of members of two or more local authorities to exercise specified functions of those authorities. Such an authority, now called a "joint board",[17] is a body corporate, and its members are appointed from the members of the constituent local authorities (and in some cases representatives of the Department of Local Government and the Environment). Joint boards are created for a specified purpose, and existing boards deal with refuse collection, sheltered accommodation, civic amenity sites, and swimming pools. Local authorities also have power[18] to set up "joint committees", which are similar to joint boards but are not bodies corporate.

Central supervision of local authorities

A Local Government Board was established in 1894 with responsibility for supervising the new local authorities.[19] It was reconstituted in 1922, 1946 (when it was renamed "Isle of Man Local Government Board"), 1952 and 1957.[20]

In 1987 the Board was dissolved and its functions transferred to a new Department of Local Government and the Environment, headed by a Minister for Local Government and the Environment.[21] The functions of that Department relating to local government were in turn transferred to a new Department of Infrastructure in 2010.[22]

Local government reorganisation

The structure of local government in the Isle of Man has been recognised as unsatisfactory since before the Second World War, but no consensus on how it should be reformed has been achieved. Proposals for reform were made by the Local Government Board and various committees in 1934, 1949, 1963 and 1967.[23]

A Select Committee of Tynwald in 1985 recommended a thorough review,[24] and an interim report of a further Select Committee in 1986[25] led to a consultation document Time for Change containing proposals by the Department of Local Government and the Environment, issued in December 1991. Two interim reports[26] were followed in 1994 by a final report by the Department making recommendations for reorganisation, itself incorporated in a report by the Council of Ministers,[27] which however failed to endorse those recommendations.

In 1999, as no progress had been made, the Council of Ministers admitted that it had been unable to agree on proposals, and Tynwald set up a further Select Committee which reported in 2001 with a scheme to reduce the number of local authorities to four.[28] However, it merely "received" the report, declining to approve its recommendations.[29]

The next set of proposals, also for four local authorities, were made by the Department of Local Government and the Environment in 2004,[30] but were shelved because of opposition from the existing authorities.[31] An alternative plan, which would have preserved the existing authorities but transferred their waste collection and housing functions to joint boards, was produced shortly afterwards but also abandoned. The Department revived its previous proposals in 2005,[32] but shelved them again due to lack of support.[33]

After 30 years, the only step taken towards any reorganisation of local government, apart from the mergers in Onchan and Michael (above), has been to confer on the Department power by order to merge two or more local authorities with their consent.[34] This power has not been exercised.

Local government today

Map № Local Authority Type Sheading Keys Constituency
1 Andreas parish Ayre Ayre
2 Arbory parish Rushen Rushen
3 Ballaugh parish Michael Michael
4 Braddan parish Middle Middle
5 Bride parish Ayre Ayre
6 Castletown town Rushen Castletown
7 Douglas town Middle Douglas East, Douglas West, Douglas North and Douglas South
8 German parish Glenfaba Glenfaba
9 Jurby parish Michael Michael
10 Laxey village Garff Garff
11 Lezayre parish Ayre Ayre
12 Lonan parish Garff Garff
13 Malew parish Rushen Malew and Santon
14 Marown parish Middle Middle
15 Maughold parish Garff Garff
16 Michael district Michael Michael
17 Onchan district Middle Onchan
18 Patrick parish Glenfaba Glenfaba
19 Peel town Glenfaba Peel
20 Port Erin village Rushen Rushen
21 Port St Mary village Rushen Rushen
22 Ramsey town Garff Ramsey
23 Rushen parish Rushen Rushen
24 Santon parish Middle Malew and Santon


  1. ^ James Woods, 1867 A New Atlas and Gazetteer of the Isle of Man
  2. ^ Statutes of the Isle of Man vol.I p.327
  3. ^ Statutes of the Isle of Man vol.II p.297
  4. ^ See recital to Douglas Act of 1860, below
  5. ^ Statutes of the Isle of Man vol.III p.1
  6. ^ ib. vol.III p.196
  7. ^ ib. vol.III p.267
  8. ^ ib. vol.III p.286
  9. ^ Statutes of the Isle of Man vol.VII p.27
  10. ^ Douglas Corporation Act 1988 s.2, Statutes of the Isle of Man 1988 c.14
  11. ^ Public Health Act 1884 s.5, Statutes of the Isle of Man vol.V p.374
  12. ^ Local Government Act 1886 ss.6 & 7, Statutes of the Isle of Man vol.V p.512
  13. ^ Onchan District Act 1986, Statutes of the Isle of Man 1986 c.8
  14. ^ Michael District Act 1989, ib. 1989 c.97
  15. ^ Statutes of the Isle of Man vol.VI p.562
  16. ^ Local Government (No.4) Act 1938, Statutes of the Isle of Man vol.XV p.116
  17. ^ Local Government Act 1985 s.7, ib. 1985 c.24. See also Recreation and Leisure Act 1998 s.7, ib. 1998 c.1
  18. ^ Local Government Act 1985 s.18
  19. ^ Local Government Amendment Act 1894 s.5, Statutes of the Isle of Man vol.VI p.562
  20. ^ Local Government Amendment Act 1922, ib. vol.XI p.339; Isle of Man Local Government Board Act 1946, ib. vol.XVI p,322; Boards of Tynwald Act 1952, ib. vol.XVIII p,147; Boards of Tynwald Act 1957, ib. vol.XVIII p,909
  21. ^ Department of Local Government and the Environment Order 1986 (Government Circular 192/86)
  22. ^ Transfer of Functions (New Departments) (No.2) Order 2010 (Statutory Document 155/10)[1]
  23. ^ Local Government: A Time for Change (consultation document), Appendix 1; Department of Local Government and the Environment, December 1991
  24. ^ Report of Select Committee of Tynwald on the Rating of Domestic Property, September 1985
  25. ^ Interim Report of Select Committee of Tynwald on the Structure of Local Government, May 1986
  26. ^ Time for Change: Interim Report, Department of Local Government and the Environment, November 1992; Time for Change: Second Interim Report, Department of Local Government and the Environment, July 1993
  27. ^ Time for Change: Final Report: The Restructuring of Local Government in the Isle of Man, Department of Local Government and the Environment, February 1994, appended to The Structure of Local Government in the Isle of Man: A Report by the Council of Ministers, February 1994
  28. ^ Report of Select Committee of Tynwald on Local Government Reform, September 2001
  29. ^ Tynwald Votes and Proceedings 17 Oct 2001
  30. ^ Report of the Department of Local Government and the Environment on the Effectiveness of the present Local Government Structure in the Island and the Department's Supervisory Powers, November 2004
  31. ^ Motion for approval not moved: Tynwald Votes and Proceedings 14 Dec 2004
  32. ^ Report on Further Consultation on the Structure of Local Government, Department of Local Government and the Environment, June 2005
  33. ^ Motion for approval not moved: Tynwald Votes and Proceedings 21 Jun 2005
  34. ^ Local Government Act 1985 s.6A, inserted by Local Government Act 2006 s.5: Statutes of the Isle of Man 1985 c.24, 2006 c.18
  • Local Authority Handbook, Department of Local Government and the Environment
  • - ParishesA Manx Note Book, Francis Coakley
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