Monday, 22 February 2021
Councillors' Pay: Motion
Aidan Davitt (Fianna Fail)
I fully agree with the general push of this Private Members' motion. I have worked with Senators Boyhan and Keogan for many years on councillors' pay and conditions, the latter during her time as a councillor and as a Senator. Most of this has been agreed by the Government parties and is due to be implemented during its first year in office. As far as I am aware, the Government has not been in place for a year, although maybe I am missing something.
I was lucky to have served on the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, executive in 2015 and 2016. Since then I have dealt with several Ministers on improving the lot of councillors. For the first time, we are at the pinnacle and can now deliver, due to the work of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, who is here with us today. I will give the analogy of a bus. The bus has been pushed to the top of a hill, meeting much resistance on the way, and most of my old colleagues, from all parties and none, were instrumental in getting that bus to the top of the hill. These include ex-presidents of the AILG, such as Councillors Pádraig McNally, Pat Daly, Mick Cahill, Damien Geoghegan, and, currently, Mary Hoade and John Joe Fennelly and, indeed, Tommy Moylan who has been a great help and resource to them. Many Local Authority Members Association, LAMA, members, such as Councillors Micheál Anglim, Joe Malone, Damien Ryan and Paudie Taylor, have also been instrumental in the work that has been achieved.
However, now that the bus is at the top of the hill, all the hard work has been done and this document is nearly ready to go to cabinet, Senator Craughwell wants to jump in the bus and drive it down the hill. I suppose freewheeling it down the hill would be more like it at this stage. I spent many months picking up the pieces from Senator Craughwell's previous proposal. He talked about it today and I was surprised he brought it up. He talked about aggregated mileage in 2018. My phone was inundated at the time. I spent many months explaining to the then Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy John Paul Phelan, the damage this would do to councillors. It would have taken €5,000 of mileage from a plethora of councillors and none would have been better off with the proposal. I urge caution as implementing the Moorhead report, as proposed, would not be the best option for councillors, as most of us who have studied it and know how councillors pay and conditions work understand, as does the Minister of State.
To be fair to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, they understand that. The full implementation of the Moorhead report would not be in councillors' best interests and I know the Minister of State, as a former colleague when he was chairman of Westmeath County Council, has listened to councillors and has their concerns at heart. He was happy to change the recommendation in the Moorhead report that councillors work 18 and-a-half hours. As we know, 30 hours would be a better figure to work from or possibly even 40.
Councillors are not employees; they are officeholders. Any talk of incremental pay increases would be disastrous as this is long overdue. There has been enough about councillors' pay in the media recently, particularly in some of the red tops, which is not helpful. It would not, therefore, be helpful to pay this on three occasions, that is, if it is to be paid incrementally. This would be detrimental and something the Minister of State should veer away from at all costs.
Mileage under the Moorhead report would have the same effect as the aggregation. Councillors like Gearóid Murphy and Joe Carroll in west Cork, to name but two, would be €5,000 per annum worse off under the proposed new mileage system. People may ask where the money will come from.The money is already there, as the Cathaoirleach mentioned, due to the abolition of town councils and the cutting back of county councils. The Exchequer has saved approximately €10 million per annum. The Minister of State can add the figures up. The money is there. It has already been ring-fenced from cutbacks and savings.
Much work has been done by the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, and many Senators, including Senator Gallagher, who gave me some of his time to speak, so I should mention him. I would not be speaking, but for him.
The Minister of State, Deputy Burke, has a comprehensive proposal and I look forward to it going to Cabinet soon. I thank the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, for their great work in preparing the proposal. The sooner we get it through, the better. I am aware it is a high priority for the Minister of State. Everybody in this House has worked towards it. I appreciate the work everyone has put in over the years.