Friday, 18 December 2020
Appropriation Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
On behalf of the Green Party, I wish to refer to how we recognise and value elected members of local government and to demand fair treatment for them considering the incredibly hard work they do. All Members of the Seanad bring their own experiences and they are all very helpful in offering their opinions and making suggestions on supporting local county councillors. I would like to believe my own journey can add some value to the debate because I may have the near-unique distinction of having served in two county councils in two provinces. Therefore, I am aware of what county councillors do at the front line. I am aware of meetings that take place after midnight, when the pizzas come in and when councillors have not got a chance to put their children to bed. I am aware that county councillors comprise the lifeblood and nerve centre of our democratic system. It is only right that they be recognised not with empty lip service but with concrete action. The Minister of State, having served as a councillor with distinction in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, has, like most of us, come through the school of privilege, hard knocks and excitement himself so he knows at first hand what I am talking about.
Nine years is a long time to wait for progress on this. The Green Party is now in government. I will expect words to be translated into action. Nothing else will be accepted. I acknowledge that I have the support of the Minister of State in this regard. We will be judged by our actions. I will not go down the road of populism and ducking for cover. Our county councillors deserve a salary rise — end of story. We are losing county councillors who got elected in good faith because they simply cannot continue in their privileged role as servants of the people due to the financial constraints. That is not good enough. We are also failing to attract people to this vital tier of democracy because they cannot make it work financially.
Why is there an anomaly in the system whereby county councillors have to pay rates on their offices, unlike MEPs or Deputies? A county councillor who is working really hard and wants a constituency office is treated differently from democratically elected people at other levels. Why do the county councillors not get leave from their workplaces? Some nearly have to beg their employers to go to a plenary session of the county council.
The Government will be judged on actions, not words.This Government will be judged on actions, not words. The time for talking is long since past. The Moorhead report is gathering dust. It behoves us to move in the right direction. We have to and I implore the Government to do so. There can be no more tokenism. We need real concrete support for our hard-working county councillors.