Seanad debates

Monday, 22 February 2021

10:30 am

Annie Hoey (Labour)

Unlike Senator Ahearn, I am not from a family of public representatives. It is great to hear the pride in his voice as he talks about his wonderful family tradition. I sometimes wonder why there has never, as far as we know, been anyone in my extended family involved in politics. Perhaps it is because we felt there was no place for us or we would not be welcome. Perhaps it did not seem like an attractive option for us, financial or otherwise. Many speakers today have outlined the very real financial issues associated with being a councillor. As I said, I am the first in my family to go into politics but, I hope, not the last. There is no question that being a councillor is not an attractive option for those who cannot afford it. We should not have public representation for communities and local groups based on those who can afford to do it. That is not good for democracy, public engagement and public representation.

Everything that needs to be said on this issue has already been outlined. I very often talk about who is not in the room, usually in regard to education and student nurses. I take this opportunity to remind the Minister of State to make sure the student nurses are paid. Several colleagues alluded to who is not in the room when we are talking about public representation. The people who are not in the room include mothers who simply cannot afford to be public representatives.Reasons for that include the absence of decent maternity leave and I am also speaking about paternity leave in this regard.

Migrant communities are desperately under-represented in our councillor groups, as are Travellers. We do not have the diverse representation that we absolutely need on our councils and we have to look at whether - I do not think there is any question about it - it is a difficult job. Councillors get an awful lot of slack online. People can be pretty rough to councillors and now it is compounded by the fact one is paid pretty shoddily on top of it.

There is also the time it takes to be a councillor. They have to give up so much of their personal time. Their phones are ringing and they are constantly on the go. I dream a dream sometimes of it being a nine to five job where councillors just get to turn off, and off they go and it is great, as opposed to midnight phone calls on a Saturday. However, that is also part of it and those of us who are in it would never go back and undo it. People give so much time to being councillors and public representatives and it needs to be properly remunerated. Loving the job simply does not pay the bills.

The clientelism referenced in the Moorhead report is all well and good and I have joked about the time I went for a stroll along the beach in Bettystown with my father and it was the best time I ever met people because he knew absolutely everyone. However, it is not practical to go strolling along the beach to meet people. I do not have time to do that or the capacity.

I offer my full support to the motion. It is high time we recognise the work our councillors do. It is not dramatic to say they hold our democracy together and we need to do an awful lot more than we do for them.

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