Reply by Deputy Damien English to questions posed in The Seanad concerning Councillors’ Terms and Conditions

Effective local government structures are an essential part of our democracy. In turn, effective local government cannot be achieved without the hard work and commitment of elected members who give of their own time in service to their community. As has been said this morning, for many it has become a full-time job because it is so busy. Many people dedicated their lives to it. A range of financial supports is already in place to assist councillors in their vital work. These include a representational payment, fixed annual expenses allowances, travel and subsistence allowances, a mobile phone allowance, a retirement gratuity and conference and training provisions.
The reforms introduced by the previous Government in 2014 addressed widely acknowledged weaknesses in the previous system, including the problems of divided administration between town and county authorities for key functions. Under the new municipal district system there is full integration of local authority resources across each county and elimination of duplication both in administrative and electoral terms.
As part of an operational review of the local government reforms, the Department conducted a survey last year of elected members, with the support of the Association of Irish Local Government. More than 500 elected members participated in the survey. The results indicate the revised structures are generally operating well but will need more time to bed down fully. Particular concerns were expressed, however, about increased work demands and the increased size of electoral areas. Apart from the submissions, we have also heard this in conversations with Senators and councillors throughout the country and it is a given at this stage. In this regard, A Programme for a Partnership Government includes a commitment to review the supports provided to councillors, in consultation with representative bodies, to enable councillors to continue their important and valued work.
Shortly after assuming office, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, met representatives of the Association of Irish Local Government and the Local Authority Members Association. The Minister has since attended the autumn seminars of both associations and is aware there is a strong view among the membership that positive consideration be given to their proposals for improvement in the range of supports available. The Minister intends to give further consideration to the issue, in consultation with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, and to reach a conclusion as soon as possible in the context of wider public service pay policy and taking all relevant factors into account.
I wish to take the opportunity to refer to proposed amendments in the area of social welfare benefits. Section 10 of the Social Welfare Bill, which is before Seanad √Čireann, provides that elected members will, in future, be brought into social insurance cover as self-employed people, in so far as entitlement to the wider range of benefits is concerned. This is an improvement on the current situation whereby elected members pay 4% PRSI but no benefits accrue from these contributions. I again thank the Senators for raising the matter. The Minister intends to, and will, give careful consideration to the issues raised by the representative associations and individual councillors and reach a conclusion in this regard in the very near future.

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