The rewards of serving in local government are likely to result in heavy competition for seats at next summer’s local elections. It will be the first time TDs or Senators will not be eligible to stand for council seats.
A study of figures by the Farmers Journal of payments to members of 15 county councils shows more than 20 received at least €50,000 in 2002. Two-thirds of the almost 400 councillors were paid over €35,000. One member of a council in Connacht received €75,056 in expenses and allowances, while a counterpart in Munster was paid over €74,500.
John Egan, chairman of the General Council of County Councils, said it was unfair to quote figures without mentioning that any income is taxed.
“Some of us pay 42% on the allowances we receive as council members, so the cost to the taxpayer isn’t as high as it seems at first glance,” he said.
“The money that chairpersons receive is necessary because nobody could do the job properly without an allowance because it involves an awful lot of time and work,” said Cllr Egan.
He said expenses received by local authority members were exactly that, and they were paid for travelling to meetings and doing the job for which they were elected. Up to last year, councillors received no allowances for their work but representational payments of up to €11,000 were introduced under the Local Government Act, 2001. Under the legislation, they also received a lump sum back payment of up to €15,000 each, which accounted for a fair proportion of the money earned last year.
Councillors can also earn expenses and allowances if they are appointed to health boards, port authorities, regional authorities, VECs and other local bodies.
Of the 883 men and women elected to the country’s 34 councils at the 1999 local elections, 382 were Fianna Fáil members.
Fine Gael had 277 successful candidates, Labour had 83 and the Progressive Democrats won 25 seats.
The abolition of the dual mandate which means Senators and TDs can no longer also hold council places will mean at least 100 new councillors will benefit from the allowances after next summer’s local elections.