Wednesday 13 December 2017

Councillors to have 'wings clipped' with spending caps

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

ENVIRONMENT Minister John Gormley will today impose a €4,700 annual conference spending limit on the 1,000 councillors who are members of city and county councils.

The measures are part of a crackdown to halt costly junketeering by councillors.

A source close to the minister last night said the new spending limit was intended the "clip the wings" of councillors who had previously enjoyed travelling abroad to conferences and racking up mileage for conferences at home.

The new spending limits -- which will be as low as €1,000 for some town councillors -- will apply for this year's conference season and may decimate the attendance rates at many conferences.

But it is expected to provoke furious opposition from many councillors, who collectively claimed €5.1m last year for conference mileage, travel and accommodation at home and abroad. According to new figures from the Department of the Environment, the average claim per councillor was €7,000 -- which comes on top of their taxable representative payment of €17,000.

The highest claims for county councillors were in Longford, where the average was €12,300 each. This compared to average conference claims of €3,500 in Kilkenny County Council. Longford Town Council also topped the charts in its own category, with its members claiming an average of €13,333 each. In contrast, the average claim for Trim Town Council was just €89 each.

The highest claims for city councillors were made in Limerick, where the average was €12,600. This was more than four times higher than the average claim of €2,800 in Dublin City Council.

Mr Gormley will impose an even tougher €3,000 limit on the five borough councils (Clonmel, Drogheda, Sligo, Wexford and Kilkenny), as well as on some of the larger town councils.

This will particularly affect borough councillors in Sligo- who were found to have claimed almost €10,000 each on average last year. This was five times more than the €1,700 average claim in Kilkenny Borough Council.

There will be a €2,000 spending cap on smaller town councils, with this limit dropping to €1,000 for the smallest. Every local authority will be legally obliged to impose them.


Mr Gormley has been planning the change for more than a year. He carried out a consultation process with councillors' representative bodies and had several meetings with senators opposed to the changes -- who are mainly dependent on councillors for re-election to the Seanad. He is now going to introduce new spending caps by regulation.

It is understood he will say that the new spending limits are not targets to be met. He will also say he will reserve the right to lower them further if he finds any evidence of councillors deliberately trying to reach the maximum limit each year.

Mr Gormley is set to demand more "discretion, oversight and control" by councillors when they are choosing which conferences to attend.

Irish Independent

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