Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 5 December 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Business of Joint Committee
Role and Remuneration of Elected Local Authority Members: Discussion
At the request of the broadcasting and recording services, members and visitors in the Gallery are requested to ensure that for the duration of the meeting their mobile phones are turned off completely or switched to safe or flight mode, depending on device. It is not sufficient to just put a phone in silent mode as it still causes interference with the broadcasting system. The next item is a discussion on the role and remuneration of elected local authority members. Today's meeting will involve an engagement with the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, on the topic. On behalf of the committee I welcome the Minister of State and his officials to the meeting.
Before beginning I draw the attention of members and witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence given to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of the evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
Before beginning, I am letting members know that if a vote is called in the Chamber, Senator Martin Conway has agreed to take the Chair to allow the meeting to continue. As is normal practice, I will take comments from committee members first in their engagement with the Minister of State. I will take others as they indicate. There are many people here today and we do not have much time so I will limit each contribution to two minutes in the hope we can get around for a second time. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I thank the committee for allowing me the opportunity to address it. I will not go through the speech delivered earlier and I will take it largely as read, although I will refer to a few points in it. I acknowledge the presence of the representatives of the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, and the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, in the Gallery. I also acknowledge the efforts that Members of the Oireachtas have made in both highlighting the matter of councillor pay and remuneration and the interest in this interim report. I thank Ms Sara Moorhead, senior counsel, for the work she has done so far and the work she will do over the next number of months in producing the full report. I should also acknowledge the efforts of officials in the section of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government dealing with local government. I acknowledge that from the start, my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, has, with his Department, been a key stakeholder in this process in ensuring Ms Moorhead was appointed and the terms of reference were agreed. They also ensured the review process got under way.
The interim report is short and it deals primarily with aspects of remuneration. As Ms Moorhead outlines, much of her work over the coming months will reference the role and function of elected members.
In her interim report, she also outlined the fact that, in order to put a precise figure on the remuneration package for councillors in the future, she will have to do the core work in respect of the role and function of elected members. Notwithstanding this, she gives a pretty clear indication of her train of thought on the issue. She accepts that the current system of councillor pay and remuneration in its fullest extent, including allowances and expenses, is in serious need of modernisation and streamlining. She indicates a number of matters Senators, Deputies and councillors would have raised with me in recent years in terms of looking at the full role that local authority members play and how that should be connected in the future with the broader public sector, including consideration of the PRSI entitlements of councillors with reference to pensions and so on. I look forward to her full report in the spring of 2019. I reiterate my intention that Ms Moorhead's report be acted upon. Members here will probably highlight again a fact of which I am acutely aware, namely that many of those elected to local authorities and particularly younger people, are considering leaving because of the demands on them, the time pressures they experience and the fact that they feel that they are not being remunerated appropriately for the valuable role they perform.
I will endeavour to answer as many questions as possible in the time available.
I welcome the Minister of State and his team to the meeting. I also welcome the councillors, the representatives of the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, and the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, who are in the Public Gallery and those who have tuned in to watch proceedings. I assure the Minister of State that many people are tuning in to this meeting today because they had a broad expectation that this interim report would contain some robust and strong recommendations. Clearly, on the basis of the Minister's opening statement and the contents of the report that was circulated at approximately 3 p.m., that is not the case. Within minutes of the report being circulated, I received emails and text messages from councillors from all parties and none who are bitterly disappointed. They are not bitterly disappointed with the Minister of State but rather with the fact that after all of the talk and the widespread expectation, they will not be getting proper remuneration. We must put the facts on the record of the House. Councillors are in receipt of €17,000 per year after tax. As the Minister of State has indicated, young men and women, as well as older men and women from different backgrounds and traditions and from all parties and none are saying that they cannot go on any longer. They cannot wait for another six months for the Government to decide on their future. They cannot afford to pay out any more. The role of councillor is costing them money. Councillors are telling us that they are dipping into their housekeeping money. They work very long hours but do not feel valued for the work they do.
In terms of the submissions made to Ms Moorhead, I would single out the one from the AILG which was excellent and which made very clear recommendations. Now we are hearing that there will be online surveys of councillors. There are 949 councillors and we are going to have further desktop studies and requests for formal submissions. The Minister of State indicated that his Department's response to the interim report has almost been finalised. The Department has not even finalised its response but there are plans for further in-depth online surveys of elected members as well as surveys of local authorities and management with regard to the structures of remuneration. There will be desktop studies and technical consultants will discuss them. The Minister of State's script goes on and on about what will be done in the future and that is a real disappointment. I reiterate that I am not disappointed with the Minister of State because I do not doubt for one moment his personal commitment to councillors and to local government. Like me, he was first elected to a council in 1999. I have travelled many a road with him in the context of his membership of the AILG and the General Council of County Councils before that. I do not doubt the Minister of State's intentions but he must provide a commitment that the final report will be published in the spring and implemented. This has gone on for far too long. We do not need to have another round of online surveys and consultations. We have had all of that already. We need to just get on with the work and deliver. As stated previously, councillors should be earning between €30,000 and €35,000 per year. That is reasonable and it is half of what Senators are paid. We need to recognise the value of councillors, pay them properly and acknowledge that they are on the front line in terms of the delivery of local government services.
I will make some brief introductory remarks and then make an appeal to the Minister of State. I am strongly of the view that most of us in this room are overpaid, certainly those of us who are Deputies and Senators. I have long held this view. I am also a little concerned that people watching this might get the wrong impression because this is the largest attendance at a meeting of this committee for a very long time. There are four times more people here than would normally be here. I do not want people to get the impression that the subject we are discussing today is more important than all of the other issues this committee discusses because that is certainly not the case.
We have a real problem and the Minister of State knows it. Councillors who are working full time, many for between 40 and 60 hours per week, are paid approximately €23,000 gross. If we want to keep the good councillors that are in the system and to attract new councillors into the system, particularly if we want more women, we must try to tackle that bit of the overall pay issue in advance of the next local elections. Having read the interim report however, it does not look like that is going to be possible. I ask the Minister of State to consider breaking this issue into two parts and dealing with the more complex issues and subsidiary payments after the local elections. I ask him to send a very clear signal to people who are currently considering getting involved in local government, people who want to make a really good contribution to their local community and who have to make decisions about child care, paying for children at school and so forth. If we are only offering them, at the top end, €23,000 in gross pay per year, they are not going to get involved or do the work. If we could fix that bit and then come to the rest at a later stage, that would deal with the substantive problem. I make that appeal to the Minister of State.
For the benefit of those watching who do not know the background to this, the remuneration for full-time councillors is at a level that I would not ask anyone to accept for a full-time job. This is not about us asking for significant pay increases for people who are already well paid. This is about trying to address the fact that if we want the right people for the job, we must give them a basic rate of pay that is appropriate for the hours that they work.
Not 1874, although that was a very interesting year for local government. In 1974, councillors did not get paid at all. There was no money and that is the truth. One did not get paid for attending meetings of sub-committees either. Meetings then were very active and vibrant. That is still the case. People do not get involved in local government for money. Most people want to be councillors because they believe in improving their communities. The problem is that as time has gone on, the demands on councillors have increased enormously. There are issues with family-friendly hours, particularly for those councillors who already other jobs. Councillors are out at night a great deal, attending public meetings and so on. They do an awful lot of work. I would not measure the work of a councillor in terms of a sum of €35,000 because I do not believe that is adequate. In my view, there should be fewer councillors but they should be better paid. I do not know if that is an option but it could be looked at in the studies that will be undertaken. I do not know what happens in other countries because I am not involved in local government on the ground anymore. Being a councillor is a full time job, particularly if one wants to do the work properly and to address the widespread and significant community issues involved. I would set the pay at a higher level than the sums that have been mentioned here but would reduce the number of councillors elected. The public would get a better deal in that way.
Reference was also made to the reform of local government structures and the idea of directly elected chairpersons is a good one. We also need to see more power devolved to elected members but, in return, they must be more accountable.
That is the road to take. The sense of powerlessness is incredible. When one is on a council one does not have any real power at all. The council is an echo chamber and there is no real grasp of issues. Sometimes councillors do not wish to take that responsibility. Sometimes they are delighted that the manager makes the awkward or unpopular decision. Councillors must make unpopular decisions and be paid for their work. I agree that further study should be undertaken and the time can be abridged until next spring or whatever. The problem is that one cannot get people to stand for election. People just will not join a council because the work does not pay, the hours are not family friendly and councillors have no power. This is an important discussion to commence and it has gone on for a long time. My party has found it difficult to get candidates, particularly female candidates, to stand for local elections as they have families. I acknowledge that men have children too and am not trying to be sexist in my comments. I am trying to be honest and truthful at the same time. To get the proper balance, I have outlined what one needs. We are starting on the road, which is welcome. Truthfully and honestly, I do not know what happened in other countries. Having to travel to so many meetings on the one day is a joke and is wrong.
To respond to something that already has been said, I welcome that there is a large attendance here today. I value local democracy and people should do so. No one should take any inferences from the large attendance and I find it strange that someone would draw people's attention to the attendance in a roundabout way.
This issue has been going on for quite some time. Most parties do not have the financial wherewithal to subvent councillors to allow them to be full-time councillors. My party is one of those parties that do not subvent their councillors or give them extra pay or free offices in which to work. Independent councillors do not have those resources either. In the context of councillors' pay, we must consider the majority of the 949 councillors but not all of them.
It is a pity we are not discussing the report. I am not being disrespectful by stating there is nothing really to discuss, as the final report will be published at the end of the first quarter. I was a councillor for three short years. From the work that I do in Dublin and across the country, I can tell the committee that councillors and local government perform an important role in the workings of this country. The Minister of State will know this to be true. People have the perception that councillors are full-time and the demands placed on them are full-time. Such work costs their careers and councillors make great sacrifices in terms of their family life.
Does the Department track the number of retirements or early retirements by councillors? I am aware of a number of councillors who have chosen not to stand in the next election because of the pressures caused by their work.
I saw the interview by the Minister of State last week. I thought what he said about more women being involved in local politics and at a county council level, as well as new Irish communities and people from other ethnic backgrounds, was good. People do not become councillors for the pay. The salary is €17,000 a year or a gross payment of €23,000. We should consider removing the allowances and paying a proper salary. The salary is an issue. I am not being ageist but if one wants younger people and a more diverse group of people to represent communities at a local level, then the current structures simply will not work and an ever increasing number of councillors will leave.
The written statement provided by the Minister of State states "This work is however proceeding and the intention is that a final report will be ready for submission by the end of quarter 1, 2019." Will he insist that the report is ready by the end of quarter 1? Will there be specific recommendations about remuneration, working conditions and so on?
He continued by stating the "final report will then be the subject of a discussion between my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform". I agree with that. How long will the discussion take? Will he set a timeframe or leave it open-ended? We should be ambitious and seek the process to be concluded by the time the next group of councillors take office, after 24 May 2019.
I will answer the questions asked by Deputy Darragh O'Brien in reverse. It is very much my intention that the report will be produced by the end of quarter 1, which is the end of March. I understand there will be recommendations but I do not know whether it will be a series of options or direct recommendations. My absolute intention is that the new system will kick in with the new local authorities. That will require extensive discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, in particular.
Deputy Ó Broin asked an earlier set of questions. We must be conscious when we have this discussion that there is a broader context of public sector pay. Part of the job that Ms Moorhead is doing, and will do over the next few months, is making the most robust case possible as to why councillors, as a group, should be paid more and better than, and differently from, how they are paid now. In order for us to have a successful conclusion to negotiations with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, we need to make the strongest case possible. That is the job that she has set herself to do.
The point that has been the thread in earlier questions and will come up later is that this discussion we are having about councillors' pay takes place in a broader context. There is political acceptance that the ad hocsituation that exists at present, namely, the basic payment plus a series of allowances and expenses, needs reform. That is why Sara Moorhead was given the task to consider this matter. The discussion will take place in the broader context of public sector pay. If we are to make the argument, and I want to make this argument in the spring of next year, that councillors should be paid using a more streamlined, clear-cut and better system than at present, and more than they are at present, then we need to jump the hurdle of public sector pay discussions in which the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is heavily involved almost all of the time.
Deputy Darragh O'Brien said it was a pity that we are not discussing the report. I remind him that this report was always going to be an interim report. I understand from discussions that took place before I came in, and my own email, as well as comments by contributors here, that people expected a figure would be stated in the report. The clear indication, as I read it, and I have had no contact with Ms Moorhead since she was appointed to her position, is that she feels that in order to put that figure, she must first do the background work. That situation is deeply frustrating for councillors in all parties and Independent councillors. All sorts of groups are now thinking and considering standing in local elections, which is why it was important to get an interim report and give an indication. This report is only an indication of the way that she is thinking and where the ultimate report will end up. I ask people here, never mind councillors, who may be watching or elsewhere, not to despair. It is absolutely the intention of the Government that what she produces will be implemented and we need the strongest report possible to do so.
Deputy Ó Broin specifically spoke about public sector pay and councillors working full-time. We must be conscious of the fact, and this was mentioned in the interim report, that quite a lot of people in local government have other jobs. However, the jobs may not be full-time but part-time.
It is a difficult proposition to try to see how we will marry meetings, times and so on. This is Deputy O'Dowd's point. Ms Moorhead has spoken in her report about other, softer supports for councillors, but one matter that will be examined is the supports that will be available to people working in private business to get the time necessary to attend meetings and do the work of a councillor.
Council chambers should be representative. This means more women. In the last local elections only three people born outside the State were elected as councillors, despite the fact that 12% of the people who live in the State were born outside it. We have open voting regulations for local elections. Basically, everyone who is resident in the State and over the age of 18 has a vote in local elections. This is not the case in many other countries. Part of making councils more representative is not excluding people who have another job. Marrying these two elements is a difficult task but, again, that is part of the task Ms Moorhead faces over the next few months.
Deputy O'Dowd spoke about family friendly hours and reducing the number of councillors. We are at the lower end internationally regarding the number of councillors per population. There was a substantial change in this regard in advance of the last local elections. A further reduction in local representation would enable local authorities to be in a stronger position to pay councillors more but there is not much merit in a high ratio of population to councillors. The role of a councillor is to be as close to his or her community as he or she can. This should not be a reason to fail to pay them correctly, and I am not using that as an excuse but I do not favour reducing the number of councillors we have.
I just want to mention Senator Boyhan, who expressed his disappointment. I can give him a commitment that the report in spring will be published, and it is my intention that it be implemented. We need the best report, and I want this change to kick in. I indicated in a discussion on councillor pay in the Seanad that I want this to be the case for the new councillors once they are elected in May next year.
I welcome the Minister of State and our colleagues, the councillors. It is important that we represent the councillors. Most of us have served as councillors. I was a councillor for 20 years so I know exactly a councillor's role. I was a little disappointed by some of the Minister of State's remarks about councillors because he was once a councillor. By the way, he is in my constituency, which I welcome. The greatest issue is a councillor's role. Until this is got right and the councillor's role and the way in which councillors play a significant part in communities are addressed, it does not matter how many surveys are done. Ten or 20 surveys could be done but this will work. Councillors' roles are undermined. We should allow for their role and give them more money. What the Minister of State said is true: most councillors have two jobs. The reason for this is that they cannot afford to live on a councillor's pay. The Minister of State should not even have to look at this. We should give back more power to councillors. Most of the powers local authorities had were taken from them following the loss of our town councils, which was a nightmare because all our funding was cut and we ended up with councillors going to municipal meetings with no funding for town councils, which had a detrimental effect on towns throughout the country. The Minister of State should go back, look at this and ask how we might address it. We should give a larger increase in pay to our councillors. They deserve it for the work they do because it is a 24-7 job. All 949 councillors are there for the love it. However, the Minister of State needs to look at giving them back the powers that were taken from them. Until he addresses this, it does not matter how many reports or surveys are carried out - it will not work.
I was looking back on the time when the abolition-----
When town councils were abolished, there was a €5 million saving with a 40% reduction in the number of councillors. As I said, the Minister of State needs to look at this. It boils down to funding. No matter what anyone says, I firmly believe that the reason the town councils were abolished was funding. Regarding the €5 million that has been saved through the abolition of town councils and the 40% reduction in the number of councillors, whose workloads have trebled, can we not look at giving them back the proper money for the work they do and give them back their powers, if only in appreciation of their workload? This is where we are falling down.
I wish to make just a couple of quick points before I go to the Seanad to vote. This boils down to pounds, shillings and pence. The way one respects people is by paying them well. The old quintessential saying in my part of the world is, "You pay peanuts, you end up getting monkeys." This is what will happen eventually if we do not deal with this problem. While I have the utmost respect for Ms Moorehead, whom I do not know and whom I have never met, this problem is simple and can be dealt with simply. It is about more money for people doing an incredibly hard job. The municipal districts structure which came into existence in 2014 after the local elections thwarted like an elephant the work that was done by county councillors. Unfortunately, the Minister of State's fellow countyman, Phil Hogan, substantially reduced the remuneration councillors received. I would like to see the report published with recommendations for a substantial increase in salary. If people are working full time at this, they will pay the standard rate of tax on their salaries. If it is a part-time job for some people working in the private sector, they will ultimately pay a higher rate of tax, so eventually an equilibrium is achieved anyway.
This has gone on so long that the least councillors deserve is that, whatever recommendations are made, this be backdated to when these discussions started, which is probably two years ago at this stage. When Noel Dempsey introduced the changes in 2002, they were backdated to the day after the 1999 local elections. The Minister of State knows this himself because he was a councillor at the time. I am not looking for such a backdating; I am just looking for whatever is decided to be backdated to the beginning of this discussion process, when it became an issue and when Government accepted it was an issue that needed to be dealt with. There is precedent for backdating it going back to 2002. I thank the Chairman for her indulgence.
We must finish no later than 5.45 p.m. We have a little leniency to finish at 5.50 p.m., but a select committee meeting must start no later than 5.59 p.m. I, therefore, ask members to be as brief as they can be. Some members are going to 2 minutes and 30 seconds. I call Deputy Barry.
I have three points to make. I will first make an observation about the attendance at the meeting. I came in here a couple of weeks ago for a discussion on Traveller accommodation. Four members of the committee were present. We are having a discussion this evening on increasing pay for councillors, and there were 12 people in attendance when I came in the door. That says a lot about priorities and there can be no surprise about the cynicism of ordinary people when they see stuff like this. I have no problem with 12 people being here, but let us have 12 people at all the important discussions that must be held.
I wish to make a point about class S self-employment for councillors. I refer to a full-time councillor whose partner recently became unemployed. He applied for jobseeker's allowance. Because his partner was class S, the full amount of her income was taken into account in the assessment, whereas if she had not been in the S category, half her income would have been taken into account.
The result was that the partner and the household lost out to the tune of €188 per week. That is a significant amount over a month or a year,. I will not give a view as to whether councillors' pay should be increased or kept the same. We will save that for another day, but councillors should not be discriminated against in that way, and that needs to be examined.
It is not unknown for employers to cause difficulties for councillors who are working people, who have jobs or who work in the private sector when the councillors need to attend council meetings. That is not democratic or right, and the blocks that private sector employers put on some councillors from attending meetings needs to be addressed as part of this review.
I do not intend to criticise the Deputy, but it is not for us to judge why members are in attendance or not. As always, the committee has an open door policy, and whether one is a member or not, he or she is most welcome at any time.
Unfortunately, from a councillor's point of view, more has been achieved for Travellers and their rights by this committee than by councils. Councillors are being treated like second-class citizens in respect if their pay. It is not certainly not the Minister of State's doing, and he has been frank with all elected members. He has been frank With our Fianna Fáil team regarding what he hopes to achieve, and he has laid it out to us in the Seanad on a number of occasions. The report, however, lets him down slightly because there were more specifics in some of his contributions in the Seanad than in what has been outlined in the report. I appreciate Ms Moorhead is not trying to hamstring herself and prove a case for wages, pay and so on, but heretofore we had talked about matching the pay with that of a grade III or grade IV civil servant. That is on record but it is not specified in the document, where it has been kicked to touch more than ever.
The savings from putting people first that the European Commissioner and former Minister, Phil Hogan, had outlined, which were accumulated from the town councils and county councils, is approximately €25 million to €30 million per annum, which is a significant sum. If we were to increase the figure of €17,500 for the 950-odd councillors by €10,000, which would bring the figure close to €30,000, in rough figures, it would cost approximately €9.5 million. If we did that and increased the pay, it would then be up to the councillors in regard to what tax bands or whatever else they fall into. That is their own kit and kaboodle at that stage. Councillors would find a way, by cutting back on secretarial work, jumping around in their second jobs or whatever else has to be done. If the councillors are paid, they will find a way to accommodate everything else. A fair wage for fair work is all we want, and I appreciate everything the Minister of State is trying to do.
I welcome the members of the AILG, LAMA and the councillors, and I thank them for their engagement and the submissions they made. I also thank Ms Sara Moorhead for her interim report and the Minister of State for his work and the attention he has given. I understand the committee is under time pressure and, therefore, I will condense my remarks. There is no point rehashing everything that was said.
I turn to the witnesses' concluding remarks because therein lies the meat of the issue. The final line related to how it will be a difficult task to reconcile positions and to do so without clearly defining a way forward for local government as a whole. In itself, that shines a light on the issues at play. Many genuine opinions on the work councillors do have been expressed at the committee, and I made a submission in that regard on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party. As I have stated at the committee previously, when I first joined the local authority in 1999 before spending 17 years there, the motivation for everyone doing it was the same: a commitment to one's local community.
In the time I was a local councillor, the role changed drastically in the context of what one was expected to grasp, namely, the legislation passed by the Houses, its implementation, and reading in-depth analysis of what is expected of a local authority member. To report back by the end of the first quarter, if one is to adjudicate on what exceptional remuneration is, as the report has done, one will have to delve into the extent of the work being done on research and the role. One can apply oneself as much or as little as one wants, but one is expected to be at the beck and call of the public. It must also be borne in mind that local authority members are subject to a higher level of public scrutiny through the advent of social media than they ever were when the Minister of State and I first became councillors. They are effectively part time and subject to considerable public discourse, which can be hostile. They are not full-time, professional politicians, as we are. The concluding remarks made the point that there is a debate about whether they should be full time, but that is not reconciled in any way. The Minister of State said he will implement the recommendations in full, but will he outline his own impressions of that concluding remark? I am sure he has thoughts on it and I would like to hear them.
I thank the Chairman. I am here to represent those who are my electorate, as any other politician does, and I make no apology for being here.
The Minister of State needs to make up his mind about whether councillors are employees. If they are not, we need to talk about the allowances that are paid to them and we need to pay them the correct amount. The sort of figures that have been thrown around, such as €35,000, seems to be reasonable.
He said the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform needs a rationale, but let me give the Minister a rationale. If he wants high-quality people looking after the Government's party interests on the ground, he should pay them the money and he will get them. The council needs to be accessible to all, that is, single mothers, unemployed people and people of all ages. If they are not paid, the Government will not get them.
I could go through many matters but I know the committee is under time pressure. On PRSI, I wrote the first report on class K PRSI and delivered it to the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection. I took the Minister of State's Department to the High Court on PRSI and class K, and it capitulated immediately in regard to the five councillors I brought to the High Court, giving them a reward. The previous Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar, introduced class S for councillors, which was a good move but it was not good enough because of those who are not in private employment and those who became unemployed after becoming councillors. I have a case on my table of a county councillor who applied for optical benefit. He was paying a rate of 4%, which is the same as anyone on class A, he went for optical benefit last week for a miserable pair of glasses and he was told he did not qualify because he had broken his PRSI record. He was told he must move to retrospectively recognise the 4% that was paid by every county councillor since he or she was elected. It is unjust to say the least, and it is morally wrong in every way that people are being denied the same social welfare entitlements that anyone else who pays 4% gets.
The issue of pensions brings me back to the issue of pay. If councillors are not servants, and if there is no servant-master relationship, we need to decide what they are and ensure they have a pension. Nobody in the Houses will leave without a pension, however small it may be. At the end of the day, we must look after those we expect to represent people. The difference between me and a county councillor is that I can enter a public toilet and leave without anyone stopping me or asking me if I can assist with this or that problem. I have never been a county councillor and I do not know why so many of them do it, because we do not care about them and if we do not care about them, the public see them as something to be used. It is time we put them on an equal footing with everyone else in politics and looked after them.
I will start at the end again. The Senator speaks for himself when he said we do not care about councillors. As has been outlined, I have been acutely aware that councillors are not adequately remunerated.
They are probably fed up hearing me say that but in order to change anything, one has to produce a body of evidence for why it should happen. The need for change might be obvious to Senator Craughwell and to me but citizens, ratepayers and property taxpayers have to be convinced because it is their money not the Senator's or mine. I am committed to changing the system.
It is interesting that among the issues identified by Ms Moorhead in her report is the PRSI discrepancy to which many members referred. I acknowledge what has been done in the past but we must now decide on the way forward. My position from the commencement of this process has been that politicians should not be deciding the pay of other politicians and that councillors should be linked to the public sector. I am sure this might be one of the proposals that comes out of this process. I expect that what we will end up with is different potential solutions. That is my preference but I have tasked Ms Sara Moorhead with that job. She is brilliant and her forensic skills are all over this short but succinct report. I encourage members of the committee, and the non-members who are in attendance, to read the report a few times because sometimes the solutions are not obvious on a first reading. I get a sense from councillors that they are disappointed that no amount is mentioned in the report but there are a lot of indicators as to how Ms Moorhead believes this issue should be resolved. Ms Moorhead will take up these trains of thought with the secretariat over the next few months.
I acknowledge the points made about Ms Moorhead's concluding remarks. The report also seeks to address the issue of whether the role is part-time or full-time. Deputy Barry referred to people who are working in the private sector and having difficulty getting time off work. In the second last line of the report, Ms Moorhead states that it would be fair to say that much of the engagement to date has not just concentrated on remuneration for councillors but on support systems for them and how the executive can support them. That support system must address issues such as how they can access time off and in a way whereby employers will not be at a loss. This may involve other measures in other Departments that we have not mentioned in terms of taxation. I do not know what Ms Moorhead will recommend, but that would be an obvious option that has just come to mind.
Several members spoke against surveys. I am not against them. Some councillors are more involved with the AILG and LAMA than others. When I was a councillor, I was a member but I do not disrespect anybody who is not. Surveys should not be an issue. The submissions that were received from the AILG and LAMA were excellent. I read them several times. Surveying councillors directly outside of the representative groups is the right thing to do.
I agree with Senator Murnane O'Connor that the role of the councillor is central. This is supported in the interim report. To come up with a final package, one has to examine powers and functions. The reality is that town councils do not exist and are unlikely to re-emerge in the short term. In terms of savings in that regard, Senator Davitt referenced a saving of €25 million and another member mentioned €5 million. The unanswered question is why should people in particular towns get two ballot papers while everyone else gets one. It is a basic question of democracy as far as I am concerned that it should be one person, one vote for local authorities. The AILG and LAMA broadly support a marrying of the old system with the municipal district structure and the transfer of funding previously given to the town councils to the municipal districts. I would not be averse to doing that.
Senator Davitt mentioned that the report lacks specifics. I have already indicated my position in that regard. Reading between the lines of what I have to hand - the only communication I have had is the report as well - the indication from the chair is that to give specifics we will have to deeper delve. I will endeavour to ensure that we get the report in March and that this kicks in for the new councils.
I thank members for their contributions. I will be back, I am sure, to discuss this issue further.