Expenses issue 'untouchable' in council chamber
A COUNCILLOR who raised concerns about the payments regime has claimed he faced massive opposition from his colleagues.
Gerry Ginty, an independent councillor in Mayo County Council, said the topic is untouchable.
Councillors receive a taxable payment as well as an annual allowance, non-taxable conference expenses and a mobile phone allowance.
"If you raise it at the county council, the reaction you get is like you're trying to cut the head off a newborn baby," he said.
"No subject can raise the hackles as much."
He said that, while he accepts the chairman may sometimes have to travel as a representative of the county, he questions the need for all the other "junkets".
"The reaction I get is that they're going for the benefit of the constituents. But any person, especially the young people, will know that you can get most information you need at the click of a button on the Web."
He said he has raised the issue at council meetings previously and the reaction has been "absolutely ferocious".
Since his election in the local elections last June he said a single day doesn't go by without him receiving documentation about new seminars and conferences.
"Some (conferences) are of absolutely no use. They're an excuse for a free holiday."
He added that while some argue working as a councillor is a full-time job, it really takes about 10 hours a week -- unless you're going to "every opening of an envelope". However, Fine Gael's Michael Burke, the Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, said he believes their county has a good record of keeping conference costs down. And he defended councillors' attendance at them -- including summer schools.
"We have taken cuts right across the board," he said, claiming Mayo was never amongst the "high spenders".
"It's what you do with the information at them -- (conferences) are very valuable."
He said it's up to the councillors to go to whatever conferences they see fit.
"It's not so much that you would see benefit to the constituents that year, but I think in the longer term it's most important that the council has the information that's out there. And most of the people who give the presentations are generally very, very good.
"You don't always get that (information) too easily from the departments."
He denied the summer schools were a holiday but said there is a very important social side to them.
Councillors in Mayo claimed a total of €1,055,856 in 2008 and €1,270,446 in 2009.