Scrap €153,000 'talk shop' expenses, says councillor
A COUNCILLOR who quit the Labour Party over health cuts has called for the abolition of regional 'talk shops' that are costing tens of thousands of euros a year in expenses claims from councillors.
Paul O'Shea, a town councillor in Ennis, Co Clare, said the HSE paid €153,000 in three years to councillors who attended meetings of its regional forum, where local politicians are briefed on health issues.
Nationally, HSE figures show that more than €120,000 in travel and subsistence claims were submitted by councillors attending regional forum meetings in 2011. The HSE West paid around €50,000 to cover councillors' expenses claims that year, while the HSE South paid out €46,000.
Expenses of €10,000 and €14,000 were paid to councillors on the HSE talk shop in Dublin North East and Dublin Mid-Leinster respectively.
Councillors who travel to these meetings are entitled to mileage rates of 64 cent a mile for smaller cars, while those driving 1500cc engines can claim 97 cent a mile.
They are also entitled to subsistence of €13.71 for between three and seven hours and €33 for more than seven hours.
Mr O'Shea quit the Labour Party last year over cuts to home help hours. He is now campaigning for the HSE to ringfence the money set aside for councillors expenses for other services including providing anomaly scans for pregnant mothers in the west of Ireland.
He said that councillors have no influence on decision-making, so the regional health forum should abolished.
"The HSE has spent over €154,000 in councillors' expenses alone on bi-monthly meetings of the HSE West Regional Health Board Forum over a three-year period," he said.
"This forum should be abolished immediately and the HSE made to provide without delay an optional routine 20-week anomaly scan for all expectant mothers at Limerick Regional Maternity Hospital and other maternity hospitals throughout the country."
The scans show up anomalies pre-birth, indicating the type of treatment or specialist care a baby will need after birth. According to Mr O'Shea, the service is routinely available in the two main Dublin maternity hospitals but not elsewhere.
"I have been contacted by expectant mothers who do not have the means to pay for anomaly scans and who feel discriminated against as they live outside Dublin," he said.