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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 26 Jun 2003

Vol. 569 No. 5

Gratuity Payments.

As the Minister of State will be aware, I and my Green Party colleagues have long been opposed to the dual mandate and voluntarily resigned from double-jobbing last year. We did not call for payment to be made at this or any other stage, ask for kudos or seek the high moral ground. The issue was one of principle for the Green Party, which does not make us better or worse than anyone else. However, we did not ask for money for doing so. We now find that others are being paid for being forced or incentivised to do something we did willingly.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Local Government, Deputy Cullen, directly and indirectly is paying out a combined total of €12,800 to those Members who resigned or will resign their council seats between, approximately, May and September this year. This is absurd and I call on the Minister to halt gratuity payments due to Oireachtas Members for relinquishing their council seats. The €12,800 payment is nothing less than a bribe which all but a few charitable Deputies, such as Deputy Grealish or dual mandate hardliners such as Deputy Ring, will lap up without complaint.

I would prefer if the payment were not made, particularly in light of recent revelations about overspending at election time and the lack of legislation to cover spending outside these times. Des Kelly who brought the recent, useful case before the courts is from my constituency. He must have spent three or four times what one would normally spend during an election outside the election campaign. This area needs to be tightened up.

The Minister appears insistent on paying money to Oireachtas Members for resigning the dual mandate. Will this money be paid to all Members who resigned council seats before the legislation was passed and not just those who step down between May and September this year? Rumours, particularly those based on conversations party members have had with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, suggest that it will not. If this is the case it is a scandal and skulduggery of the highest order because paying money early to those who did not resign on principle is shocking and unfair. It will give other parties an advantage in terms of funding both before and during the next general election. It is basically an unfair bribe and means that my constituency rivals and their fellow Oireachtas Members nationwide will be able to afford to plaster their faces around their constituencies without having to draw on their salaries and other resources they are meant to have to do their work while the rest of us will be under more pressure. It is one thing to do the job required of one, but when campaigning for re-election one has to let people know that one is doing one's job, and unless one spends money on this one will not get re-elected no matter how good one is.

The 2002 election overspend means that more and more money will be spent between elections. The €12,800 is not a small sum and exceeds what I spent on my general election campaign. We know that most Deputies and Senators will spend it on their election campaigns and publicity material, although I acknowledge Deputy Grealish put his hand on his heart and said he would give it to charity.

Fair play to him. I hope he does not take it back.

Deputies who give up their seats on principle should not be penalised for having such standards. At the very least, they should not be put at a disadvantage by the Minister's bribing of other Members of the Oireachtas. It would be fairer not to pay anybody and put the money towards education and health. I am being consistent in this regard because I called for a pay freeze for Members before Christmas – very few people took me up on this and some remarked that I should have given back my increase. I might be green in politics but I am not a total idiot and realise that we should all decline our increases together or not at all.

Hear, hear.

I reserve the right to use the imbalance as a stick with which to beat the Government and any constituency rivals who feel they have received an offer that is too good to turn down. The headlines will read, "Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Progressive Democrats and Sinn Féin take bribes to give up double jobbing". Locally, they will read, "Joanna Tuffy takes bribe", or "John Curran takes bribe". Any representative who makes a financial killing by being bribed in respect of the dual mandate will be fair game. I call on the Minister to play a fair game and not to pay out the money or if it is paid, to pay it to all concerned. Then, perhaps, we could have an equal playing field. If no action is taken by the Minister, I reserve the right to let all hell break loose and let the electorate know exactly what is happening and exactly who has an unfair electoral advantage in the next general election.

Money is the root of all evil.

Under regulations made in 2002, all retiring councillors, whether they are Members of the Oireachtas or not, qualify for a gratuity on retirement subject to the conditions of the scheme as laid out in the regulations. These require a minimum term of qualifying service of three years, starting from 4 May 2000. The regulations were made in June last year and were notified to local authorities in that month. This notification included an information note specifically setting out the details and rules governing the scheme.

The scheme involves payment on retirement of a lump sum calculated as three twentieths of the current rate of representational payment for each year of service, that is, service since 4 May 2000, up to a maximum of 20 years of service. Subject to certain conditions, the gratuity is payable on a councillor's retirement on the basis of voluntary retirement, failure to be elected, death or ill health.

A three-year minimum service requirement attaches to the scheme, with service commencing on 4 May 2000. Thus, any councillor who resigned his or her local authority seat prior to the 4 May 2003 does not qualify for a gratuity. This is the clear position and it is in accordance with the conditions of the scheme as set out in the regulations and as made available to all councillors last year.

Members of the Green Party who resigned their local authority seats several months ago after the gratuity scheme regulations were made did so in the full knowledge that they would not qualify for a gratuity. They could have remained as councillors until 4 May 2003 and benefited from a gratuity. Under the existing rules, they would have had the required three years of service.

What about the top up?

As I understand it, for some years it has been Green Party policy that its members do not hold a dual mandate and, consequently, some of its Deputies resigned their local authority seats last year. I have heard them take credit for holding this position, particularly when the dual mandate was being discussed in the Dáil recently. Moreover, never once did they question the matter or claim that they should benefit from the gratuity arrangements. They are trying to have it both ways.

Last February the Minister, Deputy Cullen, announced, in the context of the ending of the dual mandate, proposals for modestly improved gratuity arrangements for Oireachtas councillors in recognition of their contribution to local government.

It is not modest.

However, this is subject to a minimum of three years of qualifying service, as applies for all other councillors.

There has been nothing but openness and transparency in the gratuity scheme since it was developed. The same applies to the revised gratuity arrangements for Oireachtas councillors, which were announced last February.

The Green Party has never been shy in proclaiming its opposition to the dual mandate and it is ridiculous that it is now trying to avail of the benefits in question.

I would prefer if they were not paid to anybody because they give—

Deputy Gogarty should allow the Minister of State to continue.

The members of the Green Party made a choice to resign in full knowledge of the consequences. In some respects, I and all the Ministers of State who were appointed last year would wish Deputy Gogarty well in his campaign and partly agree with him. I was a member of a local authority for 17 years and I am not getting my gratuity because I was promoted last year – the Deputy is probably only a wet day in the council. I could also cry crocodile tears but—

It breaks my heart.

The Minister of State, without interruption.

I heard the Deputy saying on radio some months ago – he mentioned this tonight – that he is overpaid. I am glad the realities of life—

We are overpaid.

—and the cost of literature have impacted upon him very quickly. Some people take years—


Deputy Gogarty is a new Member and should be aware that the Minister of State is allowed five minutes in which to reply. He is entitled to the same courtesy as the Deputy to make his contribution without interruption.