THE country’s 883 city and county councillors benefited from a €28m payments’ windfall last year.
An Irish Independent investigation reveals that our part-time politicians were paid an average of €31,600 each in salary, allowances, expenses and fees for sitting on a range of public bodies. Many of these councillors earned this cash on top of their day jobs.
However, others have made a full-time living out of what is supposed to be a part-time role. A major trawl of financial records held by almost 200 public bodies revealed very high – but legitimate – pay and expense packages claimed by some councillors.
The highest-earning councillor in the country received seven payments totalling €83,000 from five different bodies – his county council and four outside bodies, to which he was nominated by virtue of being a county councillor.
The investigation also reveals:
- Councillors racked up huge foreign-travel bills, with more than 100 of them visiting 24 countries on five continents over the course of 2011.
- Another €2m was paid to councillors who attended conferences in Ireland.- At least 15 councillors also work as assistants and advisers to TDs and ministers, significantly boosting their incomes.
- One councillor received payments of more than €22,000 from a third-level institution and separate payments totalling €11,000 from a VEC.
- Councils have picked up the tab for master's degrees, website design and office equipment.
The highest earner in Ireland, Wicklow Fine Gael councillor George Jones, last night defended the €83,000 in payments he received in 2011, saying he was not "cashing in".
He added: "I'm getting no more extra than anyone else. It is just an effect of the various committees and bodies that I'm involved with."
Our investigation, conducted over four months, examined salaries, board members' fees, travel, subsistence, conference expenses and payments to attend meetings. Many of the payments are unvouched, meaning receipts did not have to be provided.
The payments were made to 883 city and county councillors, of which more than 150 also hold a dual mandate -- meaning they sit on a town or borough council as well.
This means they can claim expenses to represent two local authorities, which increases their totals.
Since 2002, councillors are paid an annual salary -- called a 'representational payment'. This is an amount of €16,724 for city and county councils and is subject to tax. Only one payment can be claimed.
There are also extra allowances for mayors, deputy mayors and chairs of council committees called 'special policy committees'. These payments are also subject to tax.
On top of these, there is also a tax-free allowance to attend council meetings and a tax-free conference budget of between €1,000 and €4,700 a year. A €600 mobile phone allowance is also given.
Some councillors privately admit that the system is open to abuse, with fears that some sign into conferences just to claim the payments and then leave. This allows them to claim mileage and subsistence payments without attending the conference.
But the payments were defended by the chairman of the Local Authority Members' Association, Monaghan councillor Hugh McElvaney (Fine Gael).
He said: "Hard-working councillors deserve these allowances. They work long days and weekends. They work a lot harder than many TDs and senators. I have no problem defending these expenses."
The high rate of payments is likely to be addressed in a major reform of local government to be revealed by Environment Minister Phil Hogan in the coming weeks.
See Monday's Irish Independent for all payments to Munster councillors and Tuesday's Irish Independent for officicals in Connacht and Ulster