News Editorial

Thursday 2 October 2014

Editorial: Councillors' cuts in blitz on wasteful spending

Published 02/06/2014 | 02:30

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Minister for Environment Phil Hogan. Photo: Tony Gavin
Minister for Environment Phil Hogan. Photo: Tony Gavin

EVERY little helps. The cuts in local councillors' allowances and expenses, which come into operation today, amount to very little in terms of overall public spending, but they constitute an attack – all too rare – on wasteful and anomalous expenditure. Councillors' salaries are small. But the recipients also benefit from such perks as expenses for attending conferences and training courses and fees for sitting on public bodies to which they have been nominated.

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The total in 2012-'13 came to almost €23m. In terms of individuals, the reductions will be meaningful, even painful in some cases. They will average 60pc, and they will bear down with particular force on what Environment Minister Phil Hogan calls the "scandal" deriving from the abuse of a system which pays expenses for travelling to "pointless and ineffective" conferences. The lord mayor of civic-minded Cork may well spend every cent of his or her €79,000-a-year salary (now down to €30,000) on public duties and end the year out of pocket, but Mr Hogan was right to reduce the €4,700 for conferences and training courses to €700.

Some councillors claimed expenses for travelling considerable distances to events of doubtful value. The question of training courses, meanwhile, prompts a raised eyebrow and a wry smile. From now on, attendees will be paid only if the events are "relevant" to their role. One has to wonder about the story of the irrelevant courses. Mr Hogan has refrained from cutting several payments to local authority members. The rationale for these payments, which can amount to as much as €64,000, is not immediately obvious. Certainly some councillors – often the most useful and the hardest-working – have made sacrifices in the interests of public service. Others contribute very little. But how is any outsider to make judgments? The question must be left to the electorate.

There is, however, another and more important question which has attracted far too little attention – and almost none in the context of the recent local elections. Mr Hogan lately carried out a reform of local government which centred on the reduction in the number of councils from 114 to 91 and the number of members from 1,627 to 949. This meant the abolition of local democracy for many small towns. The move prompted almost nothing in the way of protest. That implies a lack of interest in a subject which should concern everybody. A true reform of local government should be aimed at giving all citizens a voice.

It is time to take heat out of sunshine and drinking

Sunshine and alcohol can make bad companions. Over the weekend at Howth, they combined to make what should have been a delightful day at the beach into an outbreak of violence. Up to 100 young people engaged in something very like a riot. The pictures of an innocent victim, Eva Drum, tell the tale. She was attacked for no reason, punched, kicked and bitten.

Similar – and worse – shocking incidents are not new. In the last couple of years, we have seen serious violence at, for example, Portmarnock beach and the Forty Foot bathing place at Sandycove. They are not confined to the seaside. And in every case, alcohol is involved in Dublin.

Prevention is better than a cure, and much the best means of prevention is a strong Garda presence. We understand that this in fact existed at Howth. To prevent possibly worse trouble, the gardai arranged for a train not to stop at Sutton station.

Must we accept that there will be more brawls of this kind and that the gardai will have to mount a stronger presence? There is another option, perhaps better, certainly necessary. At the root of the trouble is not so much the sunshine as the sale of cheap alcohol to the young. We must curb it.

Irish Independent

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