It was great to hear about the Minister of State's experience as a councillor. However, was at a different time. We now have a new, growing demographic and we are living in a new and, it is to be hoped, progressive Ireland. In my two years as a Senator, I have seen the work done by councillors.
I have engaged a lot with councillors. I see what a competent councillor with ambition can deliver in the future to local and national democracy. I view councillors as the eyes and ears of local democracy that inform the national Parliament. As Ireland progresses councillors must have decent working conditions. That is necessary if we want to attract the best people to local democracy in towns and regions. Like a business, in order to attract the best people one must offer attractive remuneration and decent conditions.
I want to convey to the Minister of State the feedback that I received from councillors about the Department's latest review. To be honest, it was met with a certain scepticism. Many councillors noted that reviews have previously been conducted by the Government, the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, and others yet they have not been significant improvements in pay and conditions. I hope that the review by Ms Moorhead will lead to a better outcome for councillors.
I will relay a number of specific points to the Minister of State. Some carry more weight than others and I will refer to them in chronological order. Councillors should have franked envelopes just like the Members of the Oireachtas.
One councillor said that he had serious trouble accessing social welfare payments as the local authority will not acknowledge him as an employee. The councillor is a father of five children and only receives the income of a councillor yet he cannot access the working family supplement or any other supports. Does the Minister of State know how the councillor can be better served?
Councillors are obliged to pay their share of PRSI yet find themselves in the legal limbo of not being deemed an employee or self-employed contractor. Therefore, they cannot access the family income supplement, FIS. It seems unfair to expect councillors to pay the going rate of PRSI in such circumstances.
All of my questions can feed into the review being conducted by Ms Moorhead. The payment to representatives, as currently configured does not include work on bodies such as the strategic joint policing committees and transport policy committees. I know of a particular councillor who does this essential work. His or her work is not taken into account even though an extra 16 meetings a year take place and that includes time spent on preparing for and attending the meetings. Will this matter be considered as part of the review?
Another councillor noted that after tax is paid that the municipal allowance is of little or no benefit. It is also inaccessible to councillors in Dublin despite the fact that they represent far more constituents than most rural based councillors. I ask the Minister of State to correct me if this information is incorrect.
Another councillor mentioned the need to link a councillor's pay to a grade in the Civil Service. I know that the suggestion has been made a number of times. The proposal was meant to be considered by the Oireachtas committee on councillors' pay and conditions. Unfortunately, the committee has only met on a handful of occasions and has had little impact to date.
Some councillors want town councils to be restored, which I know the Minister of State will have heard before, to assist with the considerable workload. Town councils would recognise the different nature of local government representation between urban and rural areas. The councillors and I want to hear the Minister of State's view on re-establishing town councils. Will consideration be given to providing councillors with maternity leave or other supports to councillors who are parents, particularly of young children?
We know how much more difficult it will be for all parties to meet the next general election quota of 40% female candidates. If one cannot draw from a pool of female talent and conditions and supports are not made available to women then how will the 40% female quota be reached?
Many councillors are teachers. Unfortunately, they face issues when it comes to leave. They are entitled to ten days of leave during term time, which is subject to approval by the board of management of the schools. This matter can cause serious problems and clashes when it comes to covering council work adequately. There is another issue with vouched and unvouched expenses.
The review is welcome. I hope that Ms Moorhead conducts an indepth review and meets representative councillors from around the country or a cross-section of them so that she gets a deep view of local government at present rather than the same old story. I want councillors to receive decent remuneration and decent working conditions. If that is done then more people will be attracted to serving the public.