€1m payout to TDs ‘not compensation’

ENVIRONMENT Minister Martin Cullen has insisted that a €1m payout to TDs forced to give up their council seats is not a form of compensation.

The minister yesterday said the 127 deputies and senators affected by changes to local government were entitled to a gratuity of 7,600 under existing legislation. The abolition of the system, known as the dual mandate, was announced yesterday and means local government will be separated from national government for the first time in the history of the State.

Mr Cullen said the system would lead to a significant influx of new blood and reinvigorate local authorities. The measures, however, have met with opposition from a number of Fianna Fáil TDs and senators, who have publicly voiced their discontent on the issue.

But in a move seen as an attempt to quell this dissent from the back benches, Mr Cullen announced the abolition of plans for the direct election of mayors. Oireachtas members will also have informal links with local authorities and will be able to access information and seek assistance from council officials.

Opposition parties criticised elements of the reform, with Fine Gael's Bernard Allen expressing disappointment that it was not accompanied by real reform.

"Fine Gael expected the abolition of the dual mandate would be part of a comprehensive package of local government reform. Today's announcement does not meet our justified expectations," he said.

Labour local government spokesman Eamon Gilmore said the decision to axe plans for the direct election of mayors was an act of political cowardice.

Liam Kenny, director of the General Council of County Councils, which represents 900 councillors, said the abolition of the dual mandate was long overdue.

"Local councils will now be able get on with business without national political agendas being fought out in the council chambers," he said.

Mr Kenny also expressed concern over the nature of special arrangements which would give Oireachtas members privileged access to council business or papers.

"That would undermine the whole principle of getting rid of the dual mandate we don't want a situation where there is access without responsibility," he said.

On the abolition of directly elected mayors, Mr Kenny said more work needed to be done on the concept to ensure there was a credible system. He said it would have been too rushed to push it through for the 2004 local elections.

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