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Taxpayer to foot bill for crash course on Facebook

COUNCILLORS will attend a crash course this weekend on using social-networking site Facebook -- for a €195 fee.

However, when the hotel and travelling costs are included each councillor could run up fees and expenses of more than €500.

Last night the conference system was branded a "flagrant waste of taxpayers' money" that brings no benefit to the public.

The conference is called 'Facebook for Councillors -- a Business Perspective' and will run tomorrow at the Killarney Heights Hotel, Co Kerry.

The conference concludes on Sunday with a keynote address. However, many councillors will travel tonight, therefore claiming overnight expenses for two nights in the three-star hotel.

The event aims to help public representatives exploit the vast communication potential of sites like Facebook -- and hone their social-networking skills.

The conference organiser declined to comment on which local authorities would likely be represented at the event or how many councillors have confirmed their official participation.

Last night Fine Gael councillor Michael Fitzgerald -- former president of the Association of County and City Councils -- defended the conference, saying it would bring benefits to councillors and constituents.

He said it would benefit constituents because councillors would "get to know different people" and their roles within the community. However, Fine Gael's Brian Hayes, spokesman on public expenditure, blasted the conference system.

"Every councillor knows the entire industry built around councillor conferences is simply there to help people claim expenses," he said.

"It would be much better if people were paid properly rather than traipsing around the country and claiming for hotels and mileage."

He believes councillors should be paid a larger representative allowance, but forbidden from going for days, or even a week at a time, to conferences.

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"The whole thing is a complete scam," he said, adding that huge sums were being spent on mileage.

Earlier this year the Irish Independent revealed that councillors received €75.6m in payments in 2008 and 2009. The average annual payment was more than the industrial wage -- with some councillors paid more than €9,000 in conference expenses each year.

One council was found to have spent €88,000 on conference fees and €284,000 on hotels and mileage.

Last night Sinn Fein councillor Seamus Coleman, a member of Fermoy Town Council in Cork, said any local authority member attending the event in an official or paid capacity would be nothing more than "a joke".

He said the overwhelming majority of Irish councillors knew youngsters who could explain the basics of internet social networking to them, and they could check with the communication sections of their own local authority if any specific questions arose.

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