Wednesday, 22 November 2017
Councillors' Conditions: Statements (Resumed)
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, to the House for our resumed discussion on the pay and conditions of councillors. At the conclusion of statements last week, which were adjourned due to the Minister of State's time constraints, there were four Senators waiting to speak, only two of whom are currently in the Chamber. Other Senators who did not speak the last day may do so this evening, but anybody who already spoke is not permitted to contribute. I call on the Leader to begin.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. All of us who are former members of a local authority recognise the work done by councillors and the strategic importance of local government in our democratic system. Senator McDowell, in one of his recent contributions on the Order of Business, was critical of Dublin City Council both from a strategic planning perspective and for the way in which the council operates. We are all concerned to ensure we have good local government which delivers for citizens. The Minister of State has made an important step in that direction by increasing the pay and conditions of councillors. My own view, with which the Minister of State is familiar, is that public representatives at local authority level should be linked to a grade in the Civil Service and paid accordingly.
I am engaged in ongoing discourse with local authority members and I have a brother who is a councillor. One of the main concerns they have expressed to me is that under the proposed new regime, they will have less capacity for discretionary expenditure in their roles and, second, a lower remuneration than is currently the case. It is important to stress that these concerns are not about money per se. Politics, including at local government level, is about service to individuals and the community. What concerns me is that if we are in a race, which we were for a decade, of reducing pay and conditions for everybody, is what the outcome of that will be for the political system.I am not saying the Minister of State is doing this, but it a general concern. Will we have a situation as in other parts of the world where big money influences political decision making, where the campaigns of local politicians are paid for by business interests and the independence of public representatives is diminished? I do not want to go down the same road as the United States, in particular, where politics is the preserve of the few. Many of us, the Minister of State included, have come up in politics the hard way, via involvement in the local GAA sporting organisation and so on and operating with little or no money. We have worked hard to represent people and gain their trust sufficiently that they will give us their votes. That is how politics should continue to operate in this country.
We all recognise that the workload of local authority members has increased significantly. Senators Boyhan and McDowell may have a different view on this, but my view is that the municipal districts as they are currently constituted are much too large. In parts of west Cork, for example, the areas involved are vast.
I am just making that point in the context of the position of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, and other members of the Independent Alliance. The important point to make is that the priority must be ensuring adequate representation for citizens. I give the Minister of State credit for having engaged on this debate and delivered the first steps towards progress, in keeping with the commitment in the programme for Government. It is only fair to acknowledge this given that other Ministers have not done the same.
I have had a constant flow of representations from councillors on the question of the unvouched allowance of €2,500 versus the vouched allocation of €5,000. They see the choice available in the Oireachtas in terms of vouched and unvouched expenses and would like a comparable level of flexibility. We all want to ensure there is transparency and accountability when it comes to the expenditure of public moneys, a point I made yesterday during the discussion on the Leader programme. We must get the balance right between ensuring transparency for taxpayers and adequately compensating public representatives, including at local level.
I am aware that the Minister of State is considering an independent review of councillors' pay and how it might be benchmarked. I hope that if we do have such a review, the pay of local authority members will be linked to a grade in the Civil Service, thereby ensuring a proper and fair wage for them. We are well served by the vast majority of our councillors, who are generally well-intentioned and decent people. The importance of local government can be seen every day and was never more evident than during Storm Ophelia and its aftermath.
I thank the Minister of State and for taking the first steps towards improving pay and conditions for local politicians. He will not be able to keep everybody happy but if we make changes as we go along, it will be very helpful to our councillors throughout the State.
I thank the Minister of State for returning to the House for the resumption of our discussion on councillors' pay and conditions. I acknowledge his own involvement in local government over many years and his personal commitment to the role of councillors. I will not be saying many good things about the changes we are seeing but the best thing about them is the attempt to achieve parity between municipal district members and other local authority members. I was the only Senator who raised that particular issue when this subject was last discussed six months ago. It was unfair that municipal district members should receive an additional €1,000 while councillors in the four local authorities in Dublin and in the cities of Cork and Galway would not. We will at least now have parity between the different types of local public representatives on that particular matter.
I was very proud to be elected three times to local government and to spend a total of more than 12 years serving on four different councils. During that time I served also as chairman of an area committee of 20 councillors, for which I did not receive any allowance. That was fair enough and I did not seek any such compensation. However, the reality is that this particular committee was larger than some local authorities. The workload, too, was large, with two-hour meetings taking place twice per month every month, on the first and fourth Monday. Meanwhile, there are cathaoirligh of municipal districts, some of which have only six members, in receipt of an allowance of €6,000, €12,000 or €18,000. Serving as first citizen of a county is undoubtedly a very important job but if we are going to have chair allowances for municipal districts, and I have no problem with that, then there also should be a recognition of the work involved in chairing an area committee. I do not aspire to go back to that role any time soon but, who knows, I might be back in it sooner rather than later. There should be parity of esteem between chairmen of municipal districts and those local authority members who chair very large area committees with very substantial meeting schedules. Of course I chaired some meetings that did not last very long but I am sure that also happens in municipal districts.
There must be an acknowledgment that councillors in urban areas deserve to be compensated on the same level as those who represent rural areas. I was very happy to serve for more than 12 years in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown but I must point out that the €1,000 payment is taxed. Most people were expecting that allowance not to be part of representational payment but, rather, a payment in recognition of the efforts made by councillors serving large populations. There are councillors in Dublin city in eight-seat and nine-seat areas who have almost a whole Dáil constituency or certainly more than half a constituency to service. Consider the outcome if we were to allocate the appropriate numbers of representatives in accordance with the recommended ratio of one councillor for every 4,700 citizens.Dublin City Council does not have 63 members, it has 119. All areas are slightly different but those councillors are effectively representing double the average number of constituents. In some rural areas, there might only be between six and nine councillors, rather than a minimum of 18. I am not having a go at these councillors at all, not in the slightest.
It is important to realise that while councillors in Dublin might represent relatively small geographical areas, they service a huge population. They may not be doing great mileage - I will deal with that matter in a moment - but it may take them a very long time to cover the distance. Many of us spent a lot of time - some more than others - travelling through Dublin earlier and anyone in the city today would realise that. If a councillor is in a more rural area in which traffic is light, he or she may have to travel a fair distance but will at least get some recompense through the mileage allowance. In Dublin, a councillor must still spend the time travelling but he or she will not get anything for it.
We are asking many of our councillors to operate on an almost full-time basis. Many of them would not get re-elected if they were not working almost full-time. A large number of councillors are putting in more than 40 or 50 hours a week. It is not a nine-to-five job. They work weekends, they attend functions, cake sales and fairs and the attend meetings of the committees of which they are members by virtue of being councillors. We are asking for a part-time wage of €16,000. I think most people in this Chamber or elsewhere would acknowledge that it would be very difficult to live on €16,000. That is less than the minimum wage and does not reflect the hours they work. We need to acknowledge that they make a great contribution. We ask them to do a great deal of work and to serve on an awful lot of committees, yet they are not being treated in the way we would acknowledge that they should be treated.
Councillors are the only people in the entire public service who do not get pensions. People working part-time in the most basic grades of the public service get pensions based on their years of service, although they are probably on very low salaries and would receive very low pensions as a result. Councillors are the only people in the entire public service who do not get that. I acknowledge the work on PRSI but, up until very recently, councillors were also paying a 4% politicians' supertax and getting nothing for it.
Many councillors work on many committees for nothing. I was on theatre boards and the board of DLR Properties. There were no expenses or allowances. I sat on boards on which half the people - members of the audit committee, the non-councillors - were getting paid €4,000 to act as chair for four meetings or €2,000 to attend those meetings as members. The rest of us, the local authority members, got nothing for our work. We were sitting on the boards and some people were being paid while some were not. There were those who were getting expenses while others were not. All those matters need to be addressed.
The €1,000 is welcome, although it is paltry enough. Much more needs to be done. I acknowledge the Minister of State's bona fides on the issue. Hopefully, we will see more. We need to realise that many councillors will be worse off. The mileage rates are being cut. Most people realise that they will be on less money next year than they were this year, despite the €1,000. That needs to be acknowledged.
It now has nearly 6,000 people - perhaps more - on its payroll. Its functions seem to be diminishing due to the outsourcing of all sorts of engineering contracts, etc. Its stock of social housing has not expanded. The point I was making is that it is all very well to pay councillors more - and I do not begrudge councillors decent pay for the hard work they do - but the time has come to take a look at bodies such as Dublin City Council and ask whether that €1 billion is really justified. Is the local property tax really justified? Householders in Dublin are paying huge sums of money in local property tax. I have seen tiny cottages, both north and south of the Liffey, which have a road frontage of 10 ft or 12 ft and a depth of 20 ft being auctioned for €350,000 and €450,000. The occupants of those houses are paying far more in local property tax than people in large Georgian and Victorian homes 80 or 90 miles from Dublin.
We have to address the wider issue of local government and its powers. When I was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I introduced local policing committees and tried to introduce a provision which would have given local authority members the right to determine closing times for nightclubs and so on in their areas. I also tried to bring in CCTV schemes to be operated by local authorities, as well as other proposals to increase the democratic accountability of local government. It seems that local government in Ireland is distrusted by central government to an extraordinary extent. Elected councillors in the United Kingdom are given a much greater say over planning decisions in their areas than is the case with our councillors. Perhaps there is good reason for that. Such powers may have been abused in the past. I do not know but I think Irish councillors should be trusted to do more work, especially if they are now being paid.
The time has come for a much broader review of local government. It is just a system of local administration with a smattering of democracy in the form of elected members. It could be radically different. I chose to use those words about Dublin City Council. I regard it as a body which now should be called to the bar of public opinion and asked to justify both the €1 billion it spends every year and the 6,000 people it employs. It should be asked to explain to the people of Dublin why they are paying such huge sums of money in local property tax.
Local property tax will be an issue in the next general election. I believe that very strongly. Anybody who thinks that will not be the case will be disappointed come the next election. We know that elections can happen when they are not expected and that people can suddenly be faced with situations which they did not expect and in which they have to confront the electorate. The time has surely come to reform local property tax, to admit it is unfair and to change it radically. There are many proposals. I have put some forward. The time has surely come to take a second look at local government.
I recall when the issue of Deputies' pay came into the public domain a number of years ago. At that point, serving Members of the Dáil were earning more than €100,000 per annum. The Taoiseach was earning more than €300,000. People asked serious questions about the levels of pay Deputies were receiving. It was stated that if pay was to be cut significantly, it would mean that only the wealthy would be attracted to politics and that other people - small business people and those earning a certain amount - would be disinclined to go into politics. That was the reason given. The wage of a Deputy is now approximately €92,000. The Taoiseach earns approximately €250,000 or something of that nature. It is a huge amount of money.If one looks at our councillors, and I was proud to serve as a town councillor and then a county councillor, the reality is that people are being asked to be available 24-7 and deal with the most stressful of circumstances. Anybody who is a public representative knows that the types of phone calls one gets, the types of situations that one is faced with day in and day out are immensely difficult, challenging and very stressful. There was this huge disservice because for a number of years there were issues in politics for sure in terms of pay and expenses that needed to be challenged. I believe that in these Houses in some categories people are overpaid. However, it was deeply unfair to the significant majority if not the vast majority of what were town councillors and county councillors to listen to them being denigrated regularly by sections of the media suggesting that they were in it for the expenses and they were getting paid to go to funerals and wakes. It is disgusting because the vast majority of public representatives that I have been honoured to serve with since I became a town councillor in 2002 are entirely honourable decent people of all political parties and none. Nobody stood up to fight for them, nobody got in there and said this was wrong. It we are going to denigrate politics, people lose faith in the ability to have change and it is hugely damaging for democracy. The turnout at elections in this country again and again proves that we have a problem.
I strongly believe that city councillors and county councillors should have a wage, not linked to the way it is now. They should have an average industrial wage at the very least that would allow them to go full time if they wish. What we have done, and think about this, we have put in €5,000 of vouched expenses. At first read that looks pretty good. It is €5,000 to use for leaflets, advertisements, whatever it is to communicate. However, think about that. I started this talking about politics being for the rich man and woman. Local politics is definitely for the rich man and woman. It is an invitation because one can now give €5,000 to someone to do one's secretarial work and €16,500 is just a handy few bob, and one can show up at a couple of meetings and use the resources. In other words it is an invitation for local politics to be most advantageous to the very wealthy. In other words it becomes a hobby to be a public representative. They might get away with it. We are punishing large numbers of decent men and women who step up to be counted to take up the civic responsibility. For the reasons I have outlined it is often thankless work. It is denigrated and not fully appreciated. It is decent, honourable people taking up their civic role and we are just treating them with contempt with what we pay them.
I probably will not be standing for election to the Seanad looking for votes from county councillors in the next election. That will probably be the case one way or the other. I want to say that just in case anybody says I am speaking to the Gallery. I want to be clear that I am saying it from my own experience and from the councillors that I speak to and that I listen to. We are treating councillors with disrespect and with contempt, and we are playing into the hands of those who would denigrate democracy and accuse people of being in it for the expenses. That is a disgusting label to put on the vast majority of honourable people who serve us across the State.
I welcome the Minister to the House and I was glad to hear him on this matter when we discussed it last week. The nub of this is, as Senator Mac Lochlainn has just said, we need to pay councillors a decent living wage. Given the pressure that they are under they are almost expected to be full time. If we are going to attract the proper, talented and best people we are going to have to pay them properly. Otherwise, as we have seen, and Senator Boyhan has seen this, councillors in his area in South Dublin have dropped off because they could not afford it. They had to return to other jobs and that is a pity. There is the issue of the vouched and unvouched payments. If we could make it easier for them on an unvouched basis it would be preferable. They should be eligible for a pension of course when they reach retirement age. I very much welcome that, even though it is not happening yet but the Minister has committed to it, it will be put on a level with a Civil Service grade. Is that right?
That is to be welcomed.
Local democracy is the foundation of our political system. We want the best people in there. Unfortunately we have seen instances of people who cannot keep pace with it, they just cannot afford it. That needs to be addressed.
We know that both the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, and the Local Authority Members' Association, LAMA, have always played an extremely important role in providing training and education for councillors on a whole range of issues regarding their roles as members of local authorities. These training days are a great chance for councillors from all parts of the country to interact with each other, swapping and sharing knowledge. However, the new proposed mileage system could theoretically result in a drop-off in attendance for all of these training days as it may not be financially viable for a councillor to travel to them. The reason, as I understand it, is that depending on the index of local authorities, once one travels 1,500 km per year there are only then a further 4,000 km to put one in at the higher mileage rate before it drops by more than half from 83.53 cent per kilometre to 32.32 cent per kilometre after 5,500 km. They are going to suffer and they are very upset about that provision as the Minister of State knows. I do not know what the Minster of State can do about it but if there was something he could do it would be greatly welcomed.
I accept what the previous speakers have said. I also served on a local authority, both town and county, and they are very decent people. They are hard-working people. They are the front-line troops. One could get a knock on one's door any hour of the day or night, or a phone call. More often it was a phone call. One reacted to it because if one did not one was out. They are more troubled and put upon than we as Senators are. Perhaps everyone is different, I do not know. I know we probably work clinics and we go to places to meet people but the councillor, as I say, he is the first port of call generally, no matter what it is.
We are aware of the work commitments, as is the Minister of State. I appreciate what the Minister of State is trying to do in making a move, and there is movement. However, councillors are not on a proper living wage and they are not entitled to a pension. There is more that can be done for them. It behoves us to attempt very seriously to do this for them.
I do not want to go over ground that has already been covered last week and again this evening. I welcome the Minister of State back to the Seanad on this very important issue. I know that above all recent Ministers he is most aware of the difficulties that councillors are facing. He was one himself and I know his sister was a councillor. He is in daily contact with his own councillors in County Kilkenny and working very closely with them.
From talking to councillors throughout the Twenty-six Counties they are united in one belief and that is that they feel let down. They feel let down by all of us. They also say to me that there has been enough talk and while I welcome the Minister of State's review, and I will refer to that in a second, they feel that there has been enough talk. They are fed up of letters from Senators telling them all the work that we are doing on their behalf.They cannot go to the local shop and buy groceries for their families with those letters. I know that the Minister of State has inherited this issue but he has now signed off on it and councillors are not at all happy about this. As Senator Mac Lochlainn and others here stated already, we have to bite the bullet once and for all when it comes to this review. We as Deputies and Senators are well paid and well resourced to do our jobs, but the first port of call and the main pillar of our democracy is our councillors. If we value democracy then we will value these men and women on our local authorities, and we can start by paying them a living wage.
We in Fianna Fáil are preparing a paper for submission to the Minister of State, and in order to formulate Fianna Fáil policy on this matter. We believe that councillors should be paid a basic salary, equivalent to a third of that of a Senator. These people are not civil servants; they are politicians. As the first pillar of our democracy their pay should be linked to this Parliament, and I suggest that be in the form of a third of a Senator's salary. We also need to pay them proper expenses for doing their job. If not, as Senator Mac Lochlainn has suggested today, we will end up with hobby councillors who can afford the office. Senator Buttimer said that our councillors focus on service, community and people. It is true that they do all of those things. They have to be able to live, however, and we are not affording them the opportunity to do so.
I compliment the representative organisations that are working extremely hard and extensively on many of the issues that are currently very important to local authority members. These matters include, to mention but a few: the national planning framework; the public services Bill; and the funding of local government. Along with trying to get better pay and conditions for their members, this is the kind of work currently being undertaken by the representative organisations, the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, and the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA.
I know that we are pushing an open door here with the Minister of State. I know that he is having difficulties with his officials. When it comes to some of those officials it would be far easier to get certain things through the eye of a needle than get better pay for councillors. We are going to have to stand up and take on these officials, and indeed take on the media, which would happily have us all out sweeping Kildare Street and paying for the privilege. That is how highly we as politicians are regarded by the media. We stand up for our own pay and conditions and now we have to stand up and be counted when it comes to supporting the main pillar and front line of our democracy, namely, our local councillors.
I will finish by briefly mentioning the mental health survey carried out by our colleague, Senator Swanick. The results were frightening but they came as no news to me or anyone else in daily contact with councillors. They are entitled to be supported when it comes to matters of mental health. I compliment my colleague, Councillor Shane P. O'Reilly, and his colleagues in the AILG for recently providing a mental health training day. They did so out of their own resources but matters of mental health should really be separately resourced.
I welcome the opportunity to clarify some things such as the abolition of the difference between city and county councillors, as introduced in the reform of local government, and the measure to ensure city councillors are treated in the same way and are no longer subject to a six-month delay. There was previously a certain view that municipal districts should be treated differently to area committees. Having abolished the two-tier system, any move to reintroduce it would have been a retrograde step, to say the least.
I will now respond to the issues raised this evening. The committee that I will refer to later, which will look at councillors' pay and conditions in advance of the next local elections, will certainly examine Senator Horkan's concern over how area committee chairmen are treated compared with municipal district chairs.
Senator McDowell raised a number of interesting points, not all of which concern councillor remuneration. It is certainly fair to say, however, that Dublin City Council with its budget of €1 billion is a very significant organisation and it is only right to ask questions about how that money is spent. It is also only right to ask about the local property tax, the review of which will take place in 2019, and may we all still be here for it. Apart from addressing rates of collection, part of that review must also examine the distribution of the LPT through the local government fund. The fund and the mechanism for its distribution are based on a time that is now passed and this must also come under the examination of the review. Whatever property taxation system exists, however, areas with the highest demand and prices for property will almost invariably receive higher tax revenue on those properties. People in both south and north Dublin, for example, have certain benefits that others around the country do not. That is not to say, however, that the current system should not be reviewed or that things could not perhaps be made fairer.
Senator Mac Lochlainn's point about Senators earning the average industrial wage is a fair one. I do not agree with him, however, when he suggests that local government could end up the preserve of the wealthy. I am a student of local government and of the Poor Law Acts of the 1850s and 1860s, which acted to set up a system of local government and were then superseded by the Local Government Act 1898. At that point in history, local government bodies were entirely composed of the rate-paying landed classes. Things have changed dramatically. During my own time on Kilkenny County Council I was lucky in that I was a student living at home, with parents who provided me with a house and older brothers who gave me a banger of a car. At the end of the month I would get a cheque for £200 or £300, which I, as a second year college student, was happy to get. Things have moved on a lot since then. That is not to say that I disagree with the argument that councillors do not get paid enough. I fundamentally agree and that is why the committee I will refer to later is going to deal with this issue.
Senator Wilson is one of the wisest old owls of the Oireachtas. I fundamentally disagree with him, however, when it comes to the idea that councillors' pay should be tied to that of Senators. It should not. It should be tied instead to a grade in the Civil Service, along with all of the knock-on benefits, including a pension and increments as part of wage agreements. I do not think that councillors should be linked to other politicians like the Taoiseach, Ministers, Ministers of State, Deputies and Senators. They should be linked to a grade. That is my own view, but it is a matter to be dealt with by the committee I am going to refer to.
Senator Boyhan argued that 2019 is not good enough. Those who stood for local election in 2014 knew what terms and conditions currently apply to councillors, this slight modest improvement aside. I feel then that it would be appropriate to introduce a fundamentally new system at the start of a new term. I suggest to Senator Boyhan that what is particularly important here is that people know what the terms and conditions are well in advance of the next local elections.None of the speakers who spoke so eloquently from the Fianna Fáil benches last week to criticise the €1,000 allowance allocated for councillors pointed out that Fianna Fáil had cut councillors' pay by €1,400 over the course of the lifetime of the last Fianna Fáil-led Government. A number of external factors were at play, but I thought it was interesting that they failed to remember it. I suppose it is my job to remind them.
I thank the Senators for their contributions. I want to get into a few specifics. It is fair to say that councillors do have a much broader portfolio function at sub-county level, and even at county level, than they would have had in the past. I take Senator McDowell's point about extending the powers of local government on board. Three reports on local government from my Department were due in the last couple of weeks. One concerns municipal governance for our larger cities, one concerns the remuneration issue and the other is on urban governance in general, in terms of the absence of town councils. Those reports are imminent. It is important that our expenses and salary regime for councillors is of the highest standards and is transparent. It was absent in my comments last week, but it has always been my intention that the rules of vouching expenses that apply to Members of the Oireachtas will apply to councillors. My words last week indicated differently, and I have been able to get clarification on a number of matters in that regard. If Senators and TDs are audited in terms of their expenditure - I have had the pleasure of being audited for the past two years -----
I will never forget it, that is why I wanted to remind the Seanad that councillors will be treated the same. I am happy to be able to say that secretarial support, on the basis that Oireachtas Members can vouch it, will apply under this scheme. It will not have to be registered agency secretaries but will apply to people who have a PPS number and when details of work that has been carried out are provided. It works in the same was as the PRA arrangement for Members of the Oireachtas.
Rent for offices, rates on offices and utility costs for those offices will be vouched expenses in the new regime. The days of unvouched expenses for anyone in public life or Civil Service do not exist any more. They should not exist any more. Equally, the vouched system must reflect the expenses that people incur in order to do their job. I believe Senator Mark Daly said last week that ink was not covered. I do not know where he read that, but I can assure this House that all stationery items are fully covered. I have been waiting for the opportunity to point it out to him.
I am investigating a further matter at the moment. I am personally very amenable to this idea, but we need clarification on it. It is the inclusion of child care costs incurred by councillors when they are attending council meetings. Many councillors are also carers. Having done two Seanad elections, during which I met every councillor in the country, I was struck by the number of councillors who were caring for someone, whether it was a child, a sibling or a parent. The costs that they incur from having someone in their home to do the caring while they are out doing council work should be a vouched expense. We are investigating if that can happen and if there might be knock-on effects in other areas.
On the issue of revised annual travel rates, the Revenue Commissioners have previously ruled that travel rates that are higher than the prevailing Civil Service travel rates set by the Minister of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform can incur a tax liability unless the person claiming higher travel rates can demonstrate on a vouched basis that it is to offset actual costs incurred. I am afraid I do not have more positive news on the travel rates front.
On the issue of linking councillors to the Civil Service, into the future - by which I mean the turn of the year - I will be establishing a local authority members remuneration reform group to review pay and supports provided by councillors with the intention of streamlining, modernising and improving these supports. This group will operate on a cross-departmental basis as appropriate and will include representation from councillors and local authority management. Some Senators mentioned these groups in their contributions. The group will report ahead of the next local elections in 2019. The intention is that the group will commence early in 2018 and report at the end of the year. That will happen if I get my way on the issue. The linking of councillors' remuneration to an appropriate grade in the Civil Service is long overdue. It will ensure that people who want to stand and have something to offer in local government should not be put out of pocket or disadvantaged by their decision to run. It should not be left to the wealthy class. I do not come from that background myself.
I did not refer to the work that councillors do last week because I had a limited time to speak. Running for the Seanad is actually an uplifting experience in which one meets so many people in their own communities and sees different places in the country. I remember having a mini breakdown around north Donegal during my second Seanad election, when I was sure I was not going to get re-elected. One meets so many people who are active in their communities. The political badge they wear is a small part of their life. Their real drive comes from doing their bit for their own community, whether that community is in Donegal or the north side of Dublin city or anywhere else. For a young man out of college with no background in politics it was a real eye-opener as to how the country works and to how real politics on the ground operates for communities. If I get the time I will deliver a link between councillors' remuneration and the Civil Service so that this is not a matter that will come up for a Minister in the future.
I am disappointed with some of the reaction to the changes that have been announced. The figures are small, and everyone acknowledges that. However, in my first meeting with the representative groups of councillors I was asked about increasing expenses and pay, and although it is modest it has happened within the first six months. Many of my predecessors talked about it for years. I know that the job is not even half done. The job is to ensure that we have a system of paying local authority representatives that is fair to the taxpayer and the ratepayer of their local authorities, but also ensures that the best people, the people that we want in local government, are in a financial position to stand for election at the next local elections in 2019 and into the future.