Minister defends ‘value-for-money’ local councillors

ENVIRONMENT Minister Dick Roche yesterday defended local councillors who spent over €4 million a year attending conferences and insisted that they were not “junkets”.

But Mr Roche insisted that there will be no place for corruption or wrongdoing in the local government service - by councillor, manager or staff.

There are 883 councillors in the country who can claim €5,000 in expenses for attending conferences away from home each year. This amounts to €4.4m in expenses on top of the average €14,500 annual salary each councillor now gets.

Speaking at the Local Authority Members Association (LAMA) 25th anniversary conference in Cork, the minister said: “I do not take the view that conferences are junkets - that cliché is overused and while some people abuse the system, the vast majority of councillors give value for money.”

Mr Roche said he felt that there is a lot of criticism of councillors which is ill-focused and unfair.

“I feel that councillors do not get credit for a lot of the work they do - particularly LAMA in building up North/South relations,” he added.

But LAMA representatives will be meeting with Mr Roche on April 12 with a list of demands including more power for local councillors and bigger budgets for local government.

Asked if he planned to give councillors more powers, the minister said an independent review of local government was commissioned in 2004 and he did not want to pre-empt it.

“But councillors still have extensive powers that they could use more creatively if they want to make firm decisions on things,” he said.

On the proposed M3 motorway through the Hill of Tara, the minister confirmed that he does not plan to revisit the decision by the local authorities to give the project the go-ahead because he has no statutory right to do it.

But the minister said media reports which claimed that he had refused to issue a licence for the archaeological excavation of the Tara Hill site were incorrect.

“I received a very detailed response from Dr Pat Wallace of the National Museum on Tuesday and I will make my decision about the archaeological excavations within two to three weeks,” Mr Roche said.

Meanwhile, councillors who expressed concern about diminishing power heard two of the country’s most powerful lobby groups detail how they tried to influence Government.

IFA deputy president Ruaidhri Deasy said councillors should use the power of the people in their argument for change.

Meanwhile, Garda Representative Association general secretary PJ Stone maintained they should put party politics aside and highlight inadequacies where they exist. He also called on councillors to support GRA calls for the recruitment of more gardaí to fight crime.

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