Friday 23 March 2018

Coveney's bid to hike councillors' pay fails

Simon Coveney: forced to abandon council pay plans. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Simon Coveney: forced to abandon council pay plans. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Housing Minister Simon Coveney was forced to abandon his plans to announce a €1,000 hike in the annual pay of councillors following an intervention by his Cabinet colleague Paschal Donohoe, the Irish Independent has learned.

Mr Coveney was warned that any move to increase councillors' pay would risk a public backlash in light of the recent threat by members of An Garda Síochána to strike.

Speaking to Fine Gael senators last Wednesday, the Cork South Central TD signalled his intentions to use a meeting of councillors that week to announce the pay hike.

He also spoke of his plans to change the councillors' expenses system at the behind-closed-doors meeting at Leinster House, according to several Seanad sources present.

Mr Coveney even consulted Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, who are understood to have been supportive of the move.

But Mr Coveney then backtracked after being informed that Mr Donohoe, the Public Expenditure Minister, was deeply concerned about the plans.

The Irish Independent can reveal Mr Coveney came under fire from a number of Fine Gael councillors at a meeting in Bantry, Co Cork, on Friday, which was organised by the Local Authority Members' Association (LAMA).

Councillors became angry after Mr Coveney said he was not in a position to increase their pay in the Budget.

He told those present he needed to take into account that members of An Garda Síochána are threatening to go on strike as a result of their pay dispute.

He said he was deeply conscious that pay is an issue for councillors - but that it will not be addressed by him in the upcoming Budget.

Several sources say Mr Coveney even mentioned the "negative reaction" he received on social media after the planned pay hike was reported on Wednesday night.

At the event, some councillors raised the fact that Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has vowed to address the issue of councillors' PRSI at the meeting.

Mr Coveney is believed to have responded that this was in the context of wider PRSI reform being carried out by Mr Varadkar.

"He made the point that with gardaí warning of potential strike action, he couldn't be singling out councillors for a pay increase," one source said.

Party TDs say they believe the confusion of the planned pay increase will damage Mr Coveney's leadership credentials.

While councillors make up just 10pc of the overall leadership vote, they are seen as being influential in the final result.

Last night, a spokeswoman for Mr Coveney insisted he never announced a pay increase for councillors at the meeting with senators.

She said he merely discussed a "range of options", adding that there are a number of upcoming conferences which Mr Coveney is attending and he may decide to discuss the issue then.

In relation to the meeting of councillors last Friday, Mr Coveney's spokewoman said the "vast majority" of those present were receptive to what he had to say.

Irish Independent

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