Seanad debates

Monday, 22 February 2021

10:30 am

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael)

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I acknowledge the importance of this debate and those who have put down the motion. As a former member of a local authority, Galway County Council, I was privileged to have spent from 2004 to 2011 in that chamber and to serve as deputy mayor. I was due to be elected as Mayor of County Galway in 2011 but other things conspired against me that year when I was elected as a Deputy. I have a lot of experience and I know, as we all do, the very important role that councillors play. They are ambassadors for their area and work for the betterment of their counties. In the Galway County Council chamber and in interviews I often said that people have different party politics and hats, and are members of all parties or none, but everybody wants to do their best and do what they can for their local area. Effectively, that is the role of the councillor.

I acknowledge the role of the Local Authority Members Association and the Association of Irish Local Government for their advocacy on behalf of their members. I congratulate my colleague in Galway, Councillor Mary Hoade, as the first woman president of the AILG. I am aware that she is in regular contact with the Minister of State on behalf of her members with regard to the issue of councillors' pay.

I also acknowledge the work of the Minister of State's predecessor, the former Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, who together with the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, invited Ms Sara Moorhead, SC, to carry out a review of the role and remuneration of the councillor. The interim report was published in December 2018 and the final report was published last year, although unduly delayed I must concur. I would also agree with some commentary of other Members that the reality of the role of a councillor was not as clearly expressed in the Moorhead review as it perhaps should have been with regard to the hours, the meetings and the accountability. Once upon a time a councillor would have received written letters in the post or would have met with somebody in the community. Nowadays the councillor is accessible by mobile phone, text message, Facebook, Instagram and all the other forms of social media.As a result of the fact that everything is now instant, people expect instant replies. It is not always possible to provide such replies in respect of what can be difficult areas.

Other Senators mentioned the array of committees and outside bodies of which councillors are members, such as SPCs, joint policing committees, municipal and local area committees and CPGs. When I was a councillor, I was on the board of Galway Rural Development, Forum Connemara, Galway Harbour Company and the Lough Corrib Navigation Trustees at various stages and in different terms. There are also all the meetings of local residents' groups that councillors must attend. There was much demand for speaking time during this debate and my colleague Senator Currie asked me to make a few points about the role of a councillor. She stated:

The role of a councillor is not part-time and nor do constituents expect councillors to be available on a part-time basis only. I worked full-time as a [councillor], which meant most of my salary went towards paying for childcare. If I didn’t have a supportive partner and family, as a mother, I would not have been able to take on the role. What does that say about the prospects of increasing women in politics and our political system? [Councillor] pay must be addressed. Common sense must prevail. Proper pay and measures to balance work and family commitments, such as maternity have to be introduced.

I acknowledge the work the Minister of State has done to get this resolved. He has been hands-on with it since early in his role and has engaged with the AILG, LAMA and other groups to ascertain councillors' views on Moorhead report, which was published shortly before he came to office. I ask him to reflect on some of the pitfalls in the report and to bring his proposals to the Ministers for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and Public Expenditure and Reform, with the expectation that they would be brought to the Cabinet. I hope the Minister of State gets to present these plans to Cabinet at the earliest opportunity. That is very important. We have to ask whether we want councillors to work full-time or part-time. If we want the latter, they cannot have the level of responsibility that they do; that is neither right nor fair. They have responsibilities and it is important that they be paid for them.

When I was urging people to run for the council on the second to last occasion, I recall telling one potential candidate that the council meeting would be held every fourth Monday, starting at 2 p.m. As it happened, when that individual was elected to the council, the meetings were brought forward to 11 a.m. As a teacher, she was immediately on the back foot. It was as though I had sold her a pup and misled her, which, of course, I had not, but with the increase in the number of councillors, Mondays were effectively gone. The same is true of committees. I could not possibly say that politics were at play. It was ensured that municipal meetings were also held earlier in the day to disenfranchise that person.

They are, unfortunately, some of the issues. I appreciate that some local authorities hold evening meetings but in Galway, for example, where there are 39 councillors, the meetings when I was a member were held at 11 a.m., while the municipal meetings were also held early in the day. It did not fit for somebody who was working in another role as well. Many members, therefore, were retired or self-employed, whereas PAYE workers could not take up the role of a councillor because they would be disenfranchised and find it very difficult to carry out their role.

I commend the Minister of State on what he has done thus far. We need to get this over the line and he is the person to do it. I look forward to the final decision being made at Cabinet, whereby this issue will be brought to a conclusion and councillors will receive the pay they deserve.

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