Seanad debates

Monday, 22 February 2021

10:30 am

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I cannot say that I am not a little disappointed that the report in The Mirrornewspaper was clearly inaccurate. Somebody leaked a report to the newspaper that Cabinet had already signed off on pay for councillors.

I thank all of my colleagues for the respectful way in which this debate was conducted, which is a testament to all of them. Nobody here has the corner on councillors' issues.All of us are indebted, in some way or other, to the councillors who elect us and must ensure the representations they make to us are brought to the attention of the Minister of State and the Government. I recognise the AILG and LAMA in that regard. I had not been a local authority member when I entered politics, but I was always welcomed and treated with the utmost respect when I attended AILG and LAMA meetings.

I am happy that Fine Gael withdrew its proposed amendment, but I am unhappy that the issues in the amendment are not being dealt with immediately. On maternity leave, if we have learned nothing else from Covid-19, we have learned that we can use technology to get around the issues that impact young parents, not just mothers but mothers and fathers. That is something the Minister of State can examine as we move out of the pandemic. I believe it was in 2015 that a Deputy had to be in the Chamber three days after having a baby because there was an important vote. It is totally unacceptable that we would do that in this day and age.

Ms Donna Sheridan, a Fine Gael councillor and a great friend of mine from my teaching days in the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, pointed out to me that when she attends a council meeting she must take annual leave because she cannot get time off. That is unacceptable. She serves the public, as do many teachers, nurses and various other public servants. The least we should do is make arrangements so they can attend their council meetings, and if that could be done remotely it would be great.

There are some non-pay issues. It is not all about pay, as some of my colleagues pointed out today. For example, there is massive divergence around the country in the technology that is made available to councillors. Some of them are provided with laptops and printers while others have computers that are so out of date they are incapable of using technology such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Then there is the matter of postage and prepaid envelopes. I was talking to a councillor a few weeks ago who was spending €25 or €30 per week on postage. A stamp costs €1. The councillors are carrying out a public service so the Minister of State might consider the provision of prepaid envelopes for them. There is also the replacement of mobile telephones. Technology is progressing all the time and we must keep abreast of it for the sake of councillors.

As regards travel, one of my colleagues, Senator Davitt, mentioned the councillor who travels from west Cork to Cork city. It is a day's journey in and out. He stood to lose €5,000. I wrote to councillors some years ago and warned them about the accumulation of mileage. It is the one good thing I saw emerge from the Moorhead report. I am glad the Minister of State looked at that report and then consulted the practitioners on the ground. If I learned little else when I was elected to this House, I learned that most of us do not know what councillors do. I had never served on a council and it has taken me years to build up some knowledge of the amount of work and commitment involved for councillors.

I must say that I am leaving the House today on a bit of a low. I believe what the Minister of State said and I will be holding him to account. I am sure the county councillors around the country will hold all Members of this House to account for what was promised today. I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to attend the debate and I thank all my colleagues who spoke in favour of our electorate and who were not afraid to make a case for our colleagues on the front line.

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