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Opening Speech to JOC by Minister of State John Paul Phelan, Thursday, 12th July 2018

Published on Thursday, 12 Jul 2018
John Paul Phelan TD

I am pleased to attend this morning to provide the Members of this Committee with an update on the position concerning the review of the role and remuneration of elected members of local authorities.

I am joined today from my Department by Mr Diarmuid O’Leary, Ms Louise Purcell and Mr Grant Couper.

The issue of supports for councillors is one to which I have devoted much time and attention during my first year in office. I have attended the Seanad on four separate occasions to listen first hand to the views of Senators on this matter.

During this time improvements have been made to the supports provided to councillors. In November 2017 I co-signed amending regulations under section 142 of the Local Government Act 2001, with my colleague, Mr Pascal Donohoe T.D., Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform.

The regulations provided for a new allowance for councillors worth €1,000 per annum, backdated to 1 July 2017, in recognition of additional workload following the 2014 reforms.

The amending regulations also gave effect to a new optional vouched expenses allowance worth up to a maximum of €5,000 per annum, which councillors may choose to opt for in place of an existing unvouched allowance worth approx. €2,500 per annum.

The terms of this allowance are based on the Public Representation Allowance (PRA) for Oireachtas Members. This means in effect that councillors can now claim for the same range of vouchable expenses as TDs given that they similarly have a constituency base to serve.

There are a range of other supports already in place to assist councillors in performing their functions. The main support is the Representational Payment, which recognises the work that councillors volunteer to undertake when they stand for election and subsequently serve their community.

The Representational Payment is currently linked to a Senator’s salary and was increased on the 1st of January 2018 by €246 to €16,891 per annum, in proportion to the increased amount of a Senator’s salary from this same date.

Councillors also receive a composite annual expenses allowance designed to defray in a structured way reasonable expenses incurred by them in attending council meetings. The travel and subsistence elements of this allowance are based on the current civil service travel and subsistence rates. This ensures that payment may be made on a tax free basis.

It is important to bear in mind that the annual expenses allowance is just that – an expense allowance. It is payable on the basis that it offsets costs incurred by the individual claiming it. The allowance is not, and should not be considered as, an income.

However, I also believe that it is equally the case that councillors should not be forced by circumstance to rely excessively on remuneration from travel expenses as a means of financial support.

I have expressed many times my strong belief that it is of great importance to support councillors appropriately, with due regard for transparency and accountability, to ensure that they can effectively carry out their role as elected representatives and can continue to give expression to local identity, local concerns and to set local priorities.

With this in mind and fully aware of concerns expressed by councillors and in these Houses about the current remuneration regime, I agreed with Minister Donohoe to the commissioning of a review of the role and remuneration of councillors.

On 21 June I announced the appointment of Ms. Sara Moorhead SC to conduct this review.

I have provided the terms of reference for the review to the Committee. As you can see, it is intended that the review will involve an in-depth examination of the role performed by councillors, including their statutory reserved functions, the political and community leadership role they perform, their governance responsibilities as Council members and their representational role within communities.

An outcome of this review will be in fully defining the role of Councillor for the first time.

It is intended that this will inform an examination of the current system of remuneration for councillors with a view to proposals for a remuneration package that is representative of and commensurate with that role.         

The review will be informed by input from both my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and will consult fully with elected members and their representative organisations

Indeed, in that regard, Ms. Moorhead has already met with officials from both Departments and had a preliminary consultation with delegations from the AILG and LAMA.

I understand that it is her intention in the coming months to consult more formally through various means with councillors and their representative organsiations, as well as wider stakeholders, as appropriate.

I am sure that Members of this Committee of these Houses will also have an opportunity to input to the review in due course.

The review will produce an interim report within five months, with the timing of a final report to be considered thereafter.

When the review is completed, its findings will be the subject of discussion between both Departments. It will be submitted thereafter for the consideration of the Government.

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.