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Saturday 30 August 2014

Councillors get pay-offs of up to €64,000

JIM CUSACK

Published 01/06/2014 | 02:30

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Hundreds of councillors lost their positions in last week's elections due to a reform of the system
Hundreds of councillors lost their positions in last week's elections due to a reform of the system

LOCAL authority councillors who lost their seats or retired after last week's elections weekend are receiving severance payments almost as high as those for former government ministers, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

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An internal circular to members of the Local Authority Members Association (LAMA) shows that payments of up to €64,000 are being made to long-serving former councillors.

A councillor who has served just one term of five years and who lost their seat or otherwise decided to quit will get a lump sum of €16,724. If they have served two terms over 10 years they will get €33,448. The payments rise on up in five-year hitches to €63,968 for those who have served 40 years on councils.

The payments are based on the number of years served, by one fifth of the councillors' basic annual "representational payment" of €16,724.

Some of the payments at the top of the scale are in line with the sums senior government ministers are still entitled to until new legislation ending the payments comes into effect. Yet none of the councillors are coming under the type of pressure recently experienced by Justice Minister Alan Shatter over his entitlement to a €70,000 severance sum before he controversially donated the sum to a children's charity.

The councillors' pay-offs are also in line with the payments that were paid to outgoing Fianna Fail ministers, which were revealed in the Dail by Taoiseach Enda Kenny a fortnight ago.

Mr Kenny "noted" that John McGuinness, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, received €61,318. The Taoiseach also told the Dail: "Dara Calleary received €53,708, Micheal Kitt received €37,474, Billy Kelleher received €20,172, Willie O'Dea received €8,064."

The pre-election LAMA circular to councillors gives the examples of the "approximate payments to county and city councillors retiring in 2014" and offers advice on what tax may be due or be exempted for the lump-sum payments.

Up to Friday's elections, there were 1,627 town and county councillors in 114 councils. But under the forthcoming changes the numbers have been reduced to 91 councils and 949 councillors. However, the four Dublin councils have had their numbers increased.

LAMA made a submission last year to the Oireachtas Joint Committee for the Environment outlining concerns that while councillors pay PRSI on their basic salary they are not entitled to welfare benefits if they lose their jobs or are not re-elected. They also argued for a change in the current arrangement where lump sums on retirement or non-election are not paid until the ex-councillor reaches the age of 50.

Although the basic councillor salary is €16,724, they are paid roughly the same in allowances, expenses and fees.

The average payment is nearly €30,000. An investigation by the Irish Independent earlier this month revealed that 11 councillors earned more than €100k. City and county councillors received more than €52m in payments in the past two years.

Most councillors received these payments on top of their day-time jobs. However, the increases in payments in recent years has meant that an increasing number have made council work a full-time job.

Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed the average annual salary of a councillor is €29,469. This average is likely to remain despite cuts to council services and with 20 of 34 councils technically insolvent at the end of last year.

Sunday Independent

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