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Opening Speech to Joint Oireachtas Committee by Minister of State John Paul Phelan – 5th December 2018

Published on Wednesday, 05 Dec 2018
John Paul Phelan TD

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  • I am pleased to attend this evening at the kind invitation of the Members of this Committee to provide an update on the position concerning the review of the role and remuneration of elected members of local authorities.
  • I welcome the Committee Members’ continued interest in this matter and thank them for their invitation.     
  • Since I was last here in July, a substantial amount of work has taken place.
  • When I appeared before you in July on this subject, I had, with the agreement of my colleague, Mr Pashcal Donohoe TD, Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, recently appointed Ms Sara Moorhead SC to conduct an independent review of the role and remuneration of local authority elected members. 
  • The terms of reference agreed for the review were provided to the Committee at that time and the review was broadly welcomed by the Members.
  • While the review is, in accordance with the terms of reference, being informed by input from both my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, it is an independent review, the outcome of which I do not wish to pre-empt.
  • I can confirm, however, that a good deal of work has taken place by Ms Moorhead since her appointment.
  • In the first instance, she has met with a range of key stakeholders, including representatives of the Association of Irish Local Government (AILG), the Local Authority Members’ Association (LAMA) and the County and City Managers’ Association (CCMA). She has also sought submissions from those representative bodies and other key stakeholders, including political parties.
  • In order to ensure that Ms Moorhead has the widest possible range of opinions from local authority elected members, a formal invitation issued to all 949 Councillors at their November council meetings to make individual submissions. A number of submissions have been received to date.
  • I believe that a formal notification also issued to the Chair of this Committee inviting submissions from the Committee and/or its members.   
  • As a key decision making stakeholder, a formal submission has been sought from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, seeking that Department’s comments in relation to the terms of reference and a number of very specific related questions. That Department’s response was received by Ms Moorhead in recent days.
  • Ms Moorhead has also requested a formal submission from my Department as the parent Government Department for the local government sector and the key policy maker in this regard. Her request asked a number of important and very pertinent questions which have required detailed consideration. My Department’s response is near finalisation and will be issued to Ms Moorhead shortly.
  • I think it is fair to acknowledge that contributions from the two Departments are vital to arriving at any meaningful and acceptable conclusions for the purpose of the review.
  • I received Ms Moorhead’s interim report, as required under the terms of reference, in recent days. I have provided this interim report to the Committee for its information.
  • The interim report details the actions taken to date as part of the review and sets out a number of observations arising from that work. It also sets out a range of further steps which will be taken over the coming months.
  • These are deemed by Ms Moorhead to be necessary to build a solid base of information from which to draw appropriate conclusions.
  • These will include an in-depth online survey of elected members.  It is specifically hoped that this survey exercise will facilitate the development of an evidence based account of the current workload undertaken by elected members.  In doing so, it will also help to inform the development of an appropriate definition of the role of local authority elected members. 
  • There will also be a survey of local authorities which will largely focus on the financial aspects of the current remuneration regime with a view to building a better statistical analysis of the costs involved. 
  • Desk based research along with technical consultations with other Government Departments and bodies including with officeholders in these Houses, will take place.  This will further inform the review and allow for accurate comparisons.
  • I know that the issue of the remuneration of local authority elected members is one that is of huge importance to elected members, as has been articulated by their representative bodies and indeed by the members of this Committee and these Houses on a number of occasions. 
  • As Ms Moorhead however pointed out in her interim report, the issue is an extremely complex one, both conceptually and administratively. 
  • For my part, I believe councillors are sincere, hard-working and give much of their own time in engaging with and contributing to their local communities. I am also strongly of the view that it is important to support councillors appropriately, with due regard for transparency and accountability, to ensure that they can effectively carry out their role as local elected representatives.  
  • It is I believe also important that the role of councillors is clearly understood.  
  • Given the complexities involved and the range of perspectives among stakeholders, Ms Moorhead has made it clear that a considerable amount of work remains to be undertaken.  This work is however proceeding and the intention is that a final report will be ready for submission by the end of quarter 1, 2019.
  • As per the terms of reference, this final report will then be the subject of a discussion between my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
  • Let me conclude by welcoming the Committee Members’ continued interest in this matter and thank them for their initiative in placing it on today’s agenda.
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