Thursday 21 February 2019

Revealed: councillor pay surge hits €83m

Shane Phelan and  Edel Kennedy

COUNTY and city councillors have received more than €83m in payments over the past three years.

An extensive investigation by the Irish Independent reveals how the earnings of the country's part-time politicians have now surpassed the average industrial wage.

Councillors raked in an average of €33,347 last year in wages, allowances and expenses -- some €730 more than the average industrial worker's take-home pay.

Many councillors received much more than this, with the top earner netting over €155,000 in the past two years.

Some €16,600 of the average councillor's pay is taxable. However, with some exceptions, most of the remaining earnings are tax free.

Our investigation -- conducted over four months and involving information collated from more than 120 different bodies -- revealed that councillors' earnings have grown rapidly each year since 2005, when €26m was paid.

This jumped to €27.8m in 2006 and to €29.4m in 2007.

The investigation revealed surprisingly high, but legitimate, pay packages and expenses claimed by some councillors. These included:

l A Dublin councillor travelled to Buenos Aires, Hong Kong and Geneva at the taxpayer's expense for transport conferences.

l One councillor received more than €43,000 in payments from a third-level college over the course of the past two years.

l Another received almost €19,000 for serving on the board of a VEC in the same period.

l A councillor received payments totalling €23,000 from a regional authority, while another councillor received a similar sum from a regional assembly.

l A council picked up the €2,800 tab for a councillor's masters degree.

l A councillor claimed almost €4,500 for office equipment.

Councillors only started to receive a formal salary, known as a representative payment, in 2002. It now stands at around €16,600 and is taxable.

Added to this, councillors receive a tax-free annual allowance, a tax-free conference budget, and additional tax-free allowances for committee chairpersons.

Allowances for mayors or chairpersons of councils are taxed on a modified level, with up to €10,000 being tax-free.

Councillors also receive payments if they are nominated to outside bodies, such as regional authorities, regional assemblies, regional health forums, fisheries boards, third-level colleges and VECs. Some payments from colleges and VECs are taxable, depending on the type of work the councillor does for the body.

The Irish Independent investigation comes as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government John Gormley considers plans to increase remuneration for councillors, while at the same time clamping down on erroneous expenses claims.

Reform

Mr Gormley is preparing a white paper on local government reform.

Other measures being considered include the introduction of a directly elected mayor for Dublin by 2011.

Department of Environment officials have privately expressed fears that "a sizeable number" of councillors sign in for conferences and immediately leave.

This allows the councillors to claim mileage and subsistence expenses without actually attending the conference.

There are also suspicions that some councillors are signing the names of colleagues on conference attendance registers so that mileage and subsistence expenses can be claimed by their cohorts.

A spokesman for Mr Gormley said: "The minister does have concerns that the current expenses regime for conferences is open to abuse and needs to be addressed.

"At the same time, he is more than willing to look at the issue of remuneration for councillors.

"He knows that a lot of councillors work extremely hard and they do endeavour to provide a good service to the people they represent."

In the first part of our investigation, the Irish Independent looks at the 15 councils in Leinster, including the four Dublin councils.

We detail the payments received by the 392 councillors in Leinster, which totalled €11.7m in 2006, and €12.4m in 2007.

Last night, the chairman of the Local Authority Members' Association (LAMA), William Ireland, defended his colleagues, saying that councillors deserved more recognition for their work.

The LAMA president also condemned any alleged abuse of conference expenses by councillors.

Revealed - The councillors who are earning up to €77,000 a year.

Find out what your local elected representatives in Dublin and Leinster are earning in payments and expenses. And tomorrow – see what their counterparts in Munster can earn. Read all the details of our special Irish Independent investigation - only in the Irish Independent newspaper editions.

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