Taxpayer foots E3m bill for ousted councillors

TAXPAYERS will have to pick up the tab for a E3 million “consolation prize” that will be paid to hundreds of councillors who lost their seats or retired before the June elections.

An Irish Examiner survey has revealed that the 575 city, county, borough and town councillors, plus town commissioners, lost their seats or retired before the local elections.

They will now be entitled to claim a new retirement gratuity payment brought in by former Environment Minister Noel Dempsey in the 2000 Local Government Bill in compensation for losing their seats, the Department confirmed yesterday. The scheme, which will cost E3.09 million, gives councillors a variety of lump sums tax-free. The average payments will include:

City and county councils: E8,400 each.

Borough/5 large town councils: E4,242 each.

Remaining town councillors: E2,119 each.

Town Commissioners: E1,157 each.

But the Consumers Association of Ireland believes this scheme should be scrapped because it serves no real purpose for the taxpayer. "It is like giving a student who failed and exam a consolation prize it completely defies logic," said Consumers Association of Ireland chief executive Dermott Jewell.

It is local authorities and not the Department of the Environment who will be paying the new scheme out of their own budgets.

And the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland (CCI), which funds a quarter of local authority budgets through commercial rates, said once again small businesses will have to help pick up the tab for a new scheme that the Government is not prepared to fund.

"Commercial rates and other charges will have to be increased to fund it," said CCI president Mark Staunton.

But the Department of the Environment defended the schemes.

"It was brought in to give councillors who did not opt for the big retirement scheme in 1999 some compensation and recognition for their service since then," said a department spokesman.

And it is separate from the special lucrative package offered to TDs who retired early from their council seats early last September in advance of the ending of the dual mandate this June.

Those who qualify for the new retirement scheme can claim three 20ths of their annual salary for each year they served since 2000, according to the department.

The General Council of County Councils director Liam Kenny has confirmed that 297 city and county councillors either lost their seats or retired in June. And the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland confirmed that 278 borough and town councillors qualify for the scheme.

Most of these 575 councillors will be entitled to a four-year lump sum that will vary from council to council because there are different rates of pay.

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