From the 1600s until 1854, county level services in Ireland were administered by Grand Juries. As the system was dominated by large landowners, democracy was greatly improved with the passing of the Towns Improvement Act (Ireland) Act in 1854. This Act enabled settlements of a reasonable size to establish Town Commissioners with responsibility for lighting, paving, drainage and water supply.
In 1858, there were calls for Passage West to be put under the Towns Improvement (Ireland) Act, 1854. Sanitary facilities in the town were inadequate, water supply was unreliable and there was no public lighting. However, this attempt to establish local government to look after the needs of Passage West failed.
In 1898, the Local Government (Ireland) Act established a formal system of local government in Ireland, including county councils, urban district councils and rural district councils. These councils were to be established by election and services previously looked after by the Grand Juries were passed to the county councils. The first elections for the new county councils were held in 1899. William McDonald was elected for the Monkstown division. He retained this position through successive elections until 1914.
After huge effort on the part of the area electors, the adoption of the Towns Improvement Act for Passage and Monkstown was finally approved in March 1920. The council was to comprise 15 members to be elected by proportional representation. Five were to be elected for South Passage/Monkstown and the remaining ten for Passage town/North Passage. The election was held on 14 July 1920. The polling centre at the Passage courthouse opened at 8 am and when it closed 12 hours later, the ballot boxes were guarded overnight by the local Volunteers. Counting started at 11 am the following morning and of 640 voters on the register, 473 had voted. Those elected were as follows:
Patrick Tobin, gardener
Michael Barrett, farmer
James Donovan, painter
Graham Goold, solicitor
Alfred Exham, solicitor
Edward Condon, victualler
William Connell, shipwright
Henry O'Mahony, engine fitter
Peter O'Neill, engine fitter
Patrick Spillane, labourer
Timothy Kiely, labour organiser
Thomas Mahony, shipwright
William Mostyn, shipwright
William Coveney, shipwright
Oliver S.S. Piper, retired dock proprietor
The first meeting of the new Passage West Town Commissioners was held in the CYMS Hall at 12 noon on 19 July 1920 and Henry O'Mahony was elected to the Chair.
Under the Local Government (Ireland) Act, urban districts could be created from the larger of the town commissioner towns. This gave increased responsibilities to the directly elected council. In January 1922, the Passage West Town Commissioners were granted government approval for urbanisation and they became the Passage West Urban District Council.
The new Urban District Council set about upgrading and modernising housing and services in the town. By 1930, major investment had been made in local water supply. Landlords were asked to install toilets in all houses and several sewers were modernised. In 1932, public lighting was installed in both Passage West and Monkstown.
But Passage West in particular was reeling from the loss of the Dockyard. Unemployment was high and finances were low. In 1838, the Minister for Local Government and Public Health expressed his dissatisfaction with the way services were being discharged by the Passage West Urban District Council. He ordered its dissolution and on 10 March of that same year, the Council's duties were transferred to the secretary of the South Cork Board of Health. The duties of the Council were thus looked after until deurbanisation of Passage West/Monkstown in 1942. The Council became once more the Passage West Town Commissioners and all roads, sanitation and lighting responsibilities were transferred to Cork County Council.
The Local Government Act 2001 created the single title of Town Council for Boroughs, Urban District Councils and Town Commissioners. Thus in 2001, the Passage West Town Commissioners became known as the Passage West Town Council.