Seanad debates

Friday, 18 December 2020

Appropriation Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages


10:00 am

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I wish to respond to the Minister of State's remarks regarding councillors' pay and conditions. Schedule 1 at Vote 34 refers to the allocation of moneys to the office of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, "including grants to Local Authorities, grants and other expenses in connection with housing, water services, miscellaneous schemes, subsidies,grants and payment of certain grants under cash-limited schemes", while Vote 35 refers to retired pay, pensions and compensation. Political courage is needed here, as is a sense of reality vis-à-visthe pay and conditions of councillors. I am not going to labour the point but assure the House that this is not about us as parliamentarians reaching out to the people who elect us but about respect. This is about recognising the role of local authority members and ensuring that people will continue to come into politics who will not be beholden to anyone else. My greatest concern is that we are making politics at all levels the preserve of the few. We should not do that.

Ireland is very different from other countries in terms of the amount spent on elections. The amount spent in America, for example, on state, House of Representative and Senate elections as well as presidential elections is absolutely absurd. In terms of raising money to run for election, we have very strict limits on political donations in this country, which I fully support, and I hope we never deviate from that. In the old days, we had what was called "walking around money" in the context of local government and we all saw what happened at various tribunals of inquiry. We can never go back to those days. I do not know anybody in this House who wants to see politics demeaned. Nobody wants to see anyone other than voters - the citizens to whom representatives are accountable - having an influence over elected members. That is why it is important to take the bold but correct decision to improve the pay and conditions of councillors. The can has been kicked down the road and the buck has been passed repeatedly. The issue is with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform at this point. To be fair to the Minister of State, he has to work within certain parameters. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, who has been in politics for a long time, both as a local authority member and as a Member of these Houses, should just sign the order to pay our councillors properly. The Leas-Chathaoirleach made reference earlier to the Moorhead report but that report did not get everything right and we should not pretend that it did. I appeal to the Minister of State to use the funding available.

I also appeal to him, as a member of the Green Party, to ensure that the lower Lee flood relief scheme in Cork is built. As can be seen from the Schedule, new Departments have been created and I welcome that. Today Mr. Barry O'Connor retires as president of Cork Institute of Technology, CIT. I mention this in the context of the new Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and thank Mr. O'Connor for his leadership at CIT and for the way in which steered the amalgamation of CIT with the Institute of Technology Tralee, ITT, to form the Munster Technological University, MTU.

The aforementioned flood relief scheme must start. The Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy O'Donovan, was in Cork a couple of weeks ago following a serious flooding event. This week we had an orange weather warning in Cork, with more flooding forecast but thanks to the grace of God, the wind changed direction and the city was not flooded again. It is time for the talking to end. We have had a gargantuan consultative process and we must now ensure that the money that has been allocated is not lost. The former Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Moran, said previously that the money could go elsewhere but I do not want to see that happening in Cork. The lower Lee flood relief scheme is being held up by a very well-intentioned group, whose motivation is not in question but the project has been seriously delayed and businesses have closed as a result. Business owners are in constant dread and families living in the inner city are worried and fearful.

I appeal to the Minister of State to raise the aforementioned issues with the Minister. We are missing an opportunity here, especially as we are dealing with a Bill that speaks to salaries, expenses and administration costs as well as referring to local government. I thank him for his attention.


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