Thursday 22 March 2018

Councillors fear showing their faces -- at Facebook web course

Majella O'Sullivan and Edel Kennedy

JUST a handful of councillors attended a controversial seminar explaining how to use Facebook.

The conference organiser refused to say how many councillors cancelled just prior to the event -- a move that could leave the taxpayer picking up the cost.

Questions were raised about the merits of the two-day event after details of it were revealed in the Irish Independent.

The seminar at the Killarney Heights Hotel at the weekend cost €195 per person, but mileage and hotel costs could bring the price to €500 per councillor.

Conferences and seminars are paid for by the county councils -- and ultimately by the taxpayer.

Organiser of 'Facebook for Councillors: a Business Perspective', Michael Noonan of TGR Seminars, said the number signed up to attend the conference was "privileged information".

He refused to say whether bills would be sent to anybody who cancelled at short notice saying it was a "matter for each individual councillor".

Most of the councillors attending were reluctant to speak to reporters.

"I think the media caught on to the words 'Facebook' and 'councillors' expenses' and put the two together," Mr Noonan said.

He said the course content covered Facebook, Linked In and other social networking sites. "It's an investment and it's there to help them and their electorate.

"We never forced anybody to come here and it's up to people if they want to come or not."

The controversy has sparked debate over the whole conference system with Fine Gael's Brian Hayes calling for councillors to be paid a larger representative allowance rather than "traipsing around the country and claiming for hotels and allowances".

Lucan-based Fine Gael Councillor Derek Keating attended the seminar but pointed out that he had paid the course fee himself as well as expenses.

"I made the decision to pay my own way out of solidarity with the many people in my constituency who are suffering," said Mr Keating.

One councillor from the southeast who did not wish to be named said he did not understand what all the "fuss" was about.

"It's just like any other conference, the only difference is that this one is about Facebook.

"I don't have a Facebook page, although I do have a website, and I'd like to find out the ins and outs of getting one.

"It might be something that's of benefit to my constituents," he said.

Irish Independent

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