Seanad debates

Monday, 22 February 2021

10:30 am

Mark Wall (Labour)

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also thank Senators Craughwell, Boyhan and Keogan for tabling this very important matter during Private Members' time. Having had the honour of being elected to Kildare County Council for the first time in 2009, I have seen the role of local authority members change quite considerably each year since then. The increase in the areas to be covered and the increase in population size after 2014 have totally changed the way councillors are expected to work. There is no doubt that remuneration for the role has not kept pace with these changes.

Councillors work seven days a week and are definitely not limited to eight-hour days. Their work has progressed to a stage where they are expected to be constantly on. The old way, of course, was to contact a councillor by phone, a clinic or even email. Today, given the various and growing social media outlets, councillors are expected to cover every phone call, every text and every email, as well as every Facebook message, WhatsApp message and Twitter message. I am sure there are many other examples of social media in use today. The role of the councillor has changed dramatically over the years. Councillors are taking more and more calls from constituents who find themselves in a desperate situation. Councillors find they are the first point of contact and then have to suggest and arrange consultations with various professionals to help the person who has contacted them.

We cannot and should never prevent those who wish to run for local government from doing so because of the pay and conditions. If the Government does not change the pay and conditions we are simply saying that unless people have substantial additional income or, as has already been mentioned in the House, substantial family savings to support them, then we are, unfortunately, saying local government is not for them. This is not good enough.

The pay and conditions must also be changed for those who are serving at present. More and more councillors ask themselves and their families whether they wish to continue to serve given the time and cost of doing so. We must ensure that those who wish to continue in the service of their local area are properly paid given the hours and workload they put in at present. The simple fact is that remuneration for a councillor does not reflect these hours or this work.

We all know we need to improve the gender balance in local authorities and in the Oireachtas. We have to attract more women to contest local elections. We must ensure greater gender balance. We also need local government to reflect the many great changes in our communities that have happened in our country over the past 20 to 30 years.

I am aware that a working group has been established to examine the important non-pay recommendations contained in the Moorhead report and how these could be progressed. The Minister of State indicated the objective of the working group is to examine these recommendations and explore opportunities to allow for their implementation at the earliest opportunity. I would appreciate an update on this. Will the Minister of State include in this review the issue of abuse, online and elsewhere, of councillors? I have been contacted by and spoken to a number of local representatives who have been the subject of this abuse. We need to have this conversation as there is very little in the Moorhead report about it. We need to address it. Like other Senators, I would appreciate the consideration of the Minister of State of these matters.

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