Seanad debates

Monday, 22 February 2021

10:30 am

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am aware he has not been long in office but anytime I have made contact, he has got back to me. It is a good omen. I also welcome Ms Mary Hurley, assistant secretary, to the House. Ms Hurley was an important player in housing and in Rebuilding Ireland and she is now in local government. The Minister of State has an able person by his side or perhaps he is by her side. I do not know which but they make a formidable team. I wish them well.

I also acknowledge the enormous work that Deputy Phelan did. He did not succeed where, hopefully, the Minister of State will. It was not through any fault of Deputy Phelan's but was due to the tricky politics around this issue for so long. That is a disappointment. However, I do not doubt his commitment, as someone who was elected in 1999 when I was first elected to local government. I want to acknowledge Deputy Phelan.

I also thank the city and county councillors for their ongoing work and service to local government. We do not state it enough. I thank them, in particular, for their work on the community call initiative. Their response was amazing. Local government is at its best when it is out there providing a service, when everyone is harnessed together for one thing - community gain and representing the people.

It is a wonderful honour to be elected a city or county councillor. Between the day I arrived in the county hall of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, to which I was first elected in 1999, and the day I came into Seanad Éireann in Leinster House, my first day in a local council was a greater day and sense of achievement. It is worth pointing out.

I thank the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, and Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, and their respective presidents - Councillor Mary Hoade, president of the AILG, and Councillor Micheál Anglim, chairperson of LAMA. The executive and directors of both these associations are responsible positions. Many other representative bodies would not have taken a longer or more pragmatic view. We have to acknowledge and respect the responsible roles they have played in this debate, conscious that they represent their membership.

I raise the issue of councillors' pay, expenses and allowances. We all agree in that regard. Before I came in here, I did a tot of how many Members would speak today and, more importantly, of how many of them were councillors. Almost everyone in this House, bar a few, have been councillors. I include the Minister of State in this. We are all on the one page. It is disappointing it has taken so long. It is perceived outside as internalising and as fighting about pay. Let us get it over the line and acknowledge the role these people play.

One of the hardest things to have to hear over the last few years in regard to councillors' pay is that men and women have had to dip into their household income to subsidise their work in local government. That is not right or proper. I do not want to get into a big debate about vouched and unvouched expenses but whatever regime applies to the councillors should apply in here. I will insist on it. We all have to be treated the same.

I do not support the idea that councillors are out on a limb, linked into public service pay. They are politicians, Senators are politicians and Deputies are politicians.Respect the fact that they are politicians. Reward them appropriately according to their work and their responsibility, which is important. Responsibility is also another important aspect of this, as is the issue of governance of local authorities and accountability. We do not hear too much talk about our elected members holding the officials to account. We need more councillors exercising more powers. They have plenty of them and they need to be exercised. That is important.

The time is over for empty promises, rhetoric and dodging the bullet. The Moorhead report is not the silver bullet. There are loads of issues, of which the Minister is aware. We must be careful what we wish for. We need to be clear that €17,000, with taxes and PRSI deducted on top of that, is simply not good enough remuneration for people who represent their communities, who have a very responsible role in county development plans, who advocate for enterprise and who advocate for their cities and their counties. It is not enough and it is wrong. The Minister of State, Deputy Burke, knows this within his party with the very able Fine Gael councillors. Fianna Fáil and Independent Senators know likewise. Councillors are committed. They want to do the job but they cannot do it if they are dipping into their housekeeping money and shorting their own families for finances to carry out this job. It is very important that we address these issues.

I believe we want a better deal for local government. I too want a fairer deal for councillors. I want to work, as do the Minister of State and everyone in this House, to develop a stronger local proactive and pro-participatory democratic local government.

Colleagues, we need to join forces to unite and be in solidarity with our councillors up and down the country. We need to agree to financially support councillors who want to continue to serve. We need to provide an enhanced package and pension for those who wish to retire. We must proactively, encourage and support new entrants into the noble profession of city and county councillor.

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