Row over payments to councillors on external bodies

Stephen Fernane

Cllr Toireása Ferris's request for a detailed report on payments and expenses claimed by members of Kerry County Council who sit on external bodies caused a heated exchange during Monday's monthly meeting.

The Sinn Fein representative tabled a motion saying that legislation requires that remuneration, expenses and professional fees should be made known to the public.

She intimated that while there are some councillors who genuinely want to be on these bodies to effect policy change, the question of 'secret expenses' had to be addressed. Cllr Ferris asked council management to confirm the names of councillors that have submitted the information required of them under legislation, and why it is only now - as a result of her motion - that councillors, who had not submitted a list of expenses, were not asked to do so over the last five years.

But Fine Gael Cllr Jim Finucane took exception to the request stating that it was 'disingenuous' and that all of the bodies outlined were public bodies that anyone can obtain information directly about expenses.

"I don't see why we should have to collate this," he said.

He did stress that payments to councillors needed to be more 'transparent and open' in light of the fact many councillors are ether employment or self-employed outside of their public representative duties. He added councillors should also pay into their own pension scheme.

"I won't be an apologist and I don't see why we should make every nomination known on what are statutory bodies. This information is known," Cllr Finucane said.

"But if we don't change the way councillors are paid - and let it be open and transparent - politics and local government will become the preserve of the agent, the unemployed or the retired. If you're self-employed, or a parent with a children, you will not be able to afford to stay in local politics. I don't make any apology for being a public representative as I work six days a week."

Cllr Ferris stated there was no suggestion that money was 'illegitimately obtained', but a substantive point is there are members of the council who were 'deliberately excluded' from accessing some of these bodies, and who have the same financial pressures outlined by Cllr Finucane.

"Every person in this chamber has a mandate and some in this chamber wanted to participate in these bodies to effect policy change but were excluded. The public is entitled to know what expenses goes with being on these bodies," she said.

Management replied that full information on expenses is not yet available for the last council, which finished at the start of June 2019. Cllr Ferris said she 'appreciates this' but asked for a report covering the last four years of the council. Management said the 'full and proper information' isn't available at this point.

The list of external bodies to which Councillors are nominated are: the Association of Irish and local Government, Governing Body of UCC, IRD Duhallow, Irish Public Bodies CLG, Kerry Airport PLC, Kerry Community Transport Ltd, Kerry Education and Training Board (KETB), Killarney National Park Liaison Committee, Local Authority Members Association (LAMA), Regional Health Forum South, SKDP, MacGillycuddy Reeks Mountain Forum, SKDP South Kerry Development Partnership, Southern Regional Assembly, Southern Regional Drugs Task Force, Udarás na Gaeltachta, and Uibh Ráthach Gaeltacht Task Force.