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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 15 Apr 2015

Vol. 239 No. 6

Commencement Matters

State Examinations

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I am raising an interesting issue that has come to light recently. I am asking the Minister for Education and Skills to recognise inequities for Galway second level students where there is both dyslexia and a language exemption. This problem is particularly affecting girls. It seems from a survey that has been conducted - I can read out the names of the schools involved - that no girls school in Galway allows these students to access six subjects in the leaving certificate examination in order that they can achieve the maximum number of points in that examination. I am seeking a solution to this problem, which was first brought to my attention by a family living in Corrandulla, a small rural village approximately ten miles outside Galway city. A daughter in this family was diagnosed with dyslexia and giftedness in 2009. She got As and Bs in her junior certificate. She is a high performer in State examinations. She was exempted from Irish and foreign languages from first year onwards. She did her best to learn French, but the complexity of her dyslexia in that area made it impossible for her to do so.

This student's school has informed her that she will still be able to take her six subjects for her leaving certificate. When the language choices are excluded, however, six subjects are not available to her. She can take English and mathematics. She cannot take Irish, French and German because they are the areas from which her dyslexia exempts her. She has tried her best to learn them, but she is unable to do so. She can do three other subjects in the science area, in which she excels. That brings her up to five. She can also do the leaving certificate vocational programme, but the maximum number of points one can get from that programme is 70. This means that the maximum number of points this gifted kid can get in her leaving certificate is 570. I have met her and her family. She is looking to achieve 100%, which is 600 points plus the bonus points for mathematics, if necessary. No school in Galway will offer her that opportunity. When she did a survey, she found that the only school in Galway which offers leaving certificate students the option of doing six subjects without having to do a language to achieve maximum points is St. Jarlath's College in Tuam. As it is a boys' school, obviously she cannot go there.

This issue applies to this child and other children. Her options do not fit with the criteria required for universities in this country. She cannot access six subjects with an opportunity to get 100 points in each. When members of her family queried this problem with the principal in her school, she was told she would sit in study for the spare classes and she would have to finance a tutor to do the extra subject privately. They came across the same issue when they approached other schools. Most of the schools approached make their students take a foreign language at pass level, which allows them to access a maximum of 60 points for that subject, or facilitate them in taking an additional subject privately. This child is being home tutored. I want to keep stressing that she is a gifted high achiever. She does not see the point in sitting out so many classes in school. She is getting help at home, but it is not ideal.

A comprehensive survey was conducted of Presentation College in Tuam; St. Jarlath's College in Tuam - the boys school I mentioned; Mercy secondary school in Tuam; McHale College in Tuam; Presentation College in Headford; Calasanctius College in Oranmore; the Jesuit school in Galway; St. Enda's College in Galway; Salerno secondary school in Galway; Taylor's Hill college in Galway; Presentation secondary school in Galway; Mercy College in Galway, St. Mary's College in Galway; St. Joseph's College in Galway; Presentation College, Athenry and Athenry VEC. The only one of those schools that offers this opportunity to its students is a boys' school. Consequently, the conclusion to be reached is that girls with dyslexia are not treated fairly or equally. There is no equity when it comes to the availability of six subjects at leaving certificate level, which would enable students to try to get maximum points. The leaving certificate vocational programme is available but, as I have said, it does not allow her to get more than 70 points. I would like to come to the solution. It was said to me quite recently that the problem was that an increasing number of children were receiving a diagnosis that allowed them to be exempt from studying languages.

This is causing a knock-on effect and schools that have experienced a cut in resources have not realised the implications this has on students' entry to third level because they think the LCVP will cover the gap. The solution is that one school in a central location such as Galway city should be assigned to offer additional subjects for children with dyslexia who are exempt from studying languages. That is the best solution, because otherwise there is not equal access for all children, particularly girls. There is only one school in County Galway which is based in Tuam that can meet this gap. It is St. Jarlath's College which is an all-boys' school. I look forward to the Minister of State's reply.

I thank the Senator for giving me the opportunity to outline to the House the position on teaching resources for post-primary schools. My colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, could not attend and sends her apologies. I am happy to give feedback on her behalf.

Teacher allocations to all second level schools are approved annually by my Department in accordance with established rules based on recognised pupil enrolment. The criteria for the allocation of posts are communicated to school management annually and available on the Department's website. The teacher allocation for all schools includes provision for the learning and language support needs of the pupils in them. I recognise that teacher allocations set the parameters in respect to the number of subjects on offer in schools. However, the deployment of teaching staff in the school, the range of subjects offered and, ultimately, the quality of teaching and learning are, in the first instance, a matter for the school management authorities. Sharing arrangements between post-primary schools can help to ensure the range of subjects available to pupils is maximised. The Senator suggested one school for this. I am not sure whether the schools to which she referred have explored the option of sharing resources but the option is open to them. This, however, is usually co-ordinated at school level and it is not dictated to them by the Department.

If schools have difficulties with providing individual subjects - for example, because of the retirement of a teacher in one of the subjects concerned, short-term support is provided through the curricular concessions process to enable them to meet their curricular needs. The detail of this process is set out with the criteria for the allocation of posts and also available on the Department's website. The allocation process also includes an appeals mechanism under which schools can appeal against the allocation due to them under the staffing schedules. The appeal procedures are set out in the published staffing arrangements. The appeals board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final.

It is important to note that additional teaching resources have been provided for schools to cater for increased demographics and also to provide for pupils with special needs. During the past two years, teacher numbers have increased by approximately 2,300. Budget 2015 includes provision for 1,700 additional teachers and SNAs in schools in the coming school year. This is a significant investment at a time of scarce resources. The challenge for all schools is to maximise what is achieved with the resources provided for them and to cover as many subjects as possible. The Government's approach to restoring the economy has helped Ireland to return to a position where we are experiencing economic growth. A continuing improvement in our economic growth over a sustained period will enable us to move to a point where we can look again at providing for additional teacher resources in schools, which could bring about an improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio, class size, support for classroom teachers and increased subject choice.

While there has been a moratorium on recruitment across other sectors in the public service, this has not applied to teaching, which shows the commitment the Government has to educating future generations. The main priority for any additional resources for the foreseeable future will be to cater for the continuing increase in demographics at all levels in the education system, which the Senator has raised in the House on many occasions. We are determined that education should be prioritised for investment as the recovery in the economy strengthens.

Subject choice is up to each school locally. Perhaps the Senator might inquire if they have communicated among themselves to provide a solution. I will raise the issue with the Minister and pass on the solution she has suggested also.

The Minister of State's reply was general and not specific to the case. I accept that he has acknowledged the solution. I did not say this in my initial contribution, but this family has been on to the Minister twice about this issue. I hear what the Minister of State said about schools in a central location sharing resources to address this problem.

They have that option.

If schools do not have to move, what can the Minister request schools to do?

The difficulty is that the deployment of teaching staff in schools and the range of subjects they offer in the education system is a choice made at individual school level and they are not dictated by the Department outside of the main subjects.

I will consult the Minister and officials to ascertain exactly what can be done in this regard. The Senator's proposed solution involves schools co-operation at local level, which is permitted in any case. This matter is not dictated by the Department. I will discuss the case, on which I do not have all the details, with officials to ascertain if the Department can provide any help on this matter. It appears, however, that it could probably be resolved with some co-operation at local level. In general, the Department does not dictate to schools what subjects they offer.

It is important to provide guidelines because schools frequently do not react unless they are advised to do so.

Third Level Staff

I am raising the approach of the National University of Ireland Galway, NUIG, to gender among its academic ranks. The Minister of State may be aware that in December 2014, an NUIG academic, Dr. Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, won an Equality Tribunal case against the university for discrimination on the basis of gender in the 2009 round of promotions to senior lecturer. Dr. Sheehy Skeffington is the first female academic to have achieved this outcome in Ireland.

One of the consequences of the case was the establishment of a task force to deal with gender equality in the university. The university's hiring policies and general staff promotion systems have since come under scrutiny, which has been warranted, and many staff and students, as well as the trade union, are deeply dissatisfied and concerned about how the newly-convened task force will function. SIPTU, for example, has advised its members on the NUI Galway campus not to co-operate with the task force as it has not engaged in consultations about its establishment. The trade union went as far as describing the task force as "an effort to waste time in the hope that the issue will blow over, and with the expectation that the results from their handpicked panel will, in all essentials, be a whitewash".

Among SIPTU's concerns, which are echoed by Dr. Sheehy Skeffington and her many supporters among the staff and students of NUI Galway, are that the task force lacks transparency and was not independently constituted and that no assurances have been given with regard to confidentiality. This lack of buy-in by those who are close to the issue raises serious questions about the suitability of the task force as it stands. While I have no doubt that all parties to the problem wish to see it resolved, the issue has been greatly exacerbated by the decision, as reported in a local Galway newspaper, by the chair of the governing body of NUI Galway to decline to meet elected representatives and Oireachtas Members to discuss their concerns about gender equality issues at the university.

Despite everything that has gone before, I welcome the recent remarks made by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, in which she asserted that proper consultation between concerned parties was required if the task force was to be effective. I hope that in the event that NUI Galway fails to address the concerns of many people regarding the effectiveness of the task force, the Minister will continue to exert her influence in the matter.

On the issue of gender discrimination, it is clear that a cultural change is needed in NUI Galway and perhaps across the third level sector. To change this culture, we must face up to it, however awkward it may be to do so. An ineffectual and unrepresentative task force at this juncture will simply kick the can further down the road. All of the women at NUI Galway, both former and current and including academics, students and support staff, as well as women across the third level sector deserve equality of opportunity, no more and certainly no less. They have waited for long enough and deserve positive and determined action on this issue.

The Minister must give a commitment that she will continue to exert her influence on this critical matter in NUI Galway in respect of procedures. If we do not have faith in promotional opportunities and procedures at a third level institution, it will be a sad reflection on the students who come forward in years to come.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullilvan, apologises as she could not be present for this discussion.

I acknowledge the serious shortcomings identified by the Equality Tribunal in its ruling last November. Discrimination against women in the workplace is unacceptable in any setting and the issues brought to light in the case in question are of serious concern to me and the Minister. For this reason, we have welcomed the response of NUI Galway in unreservedly accepting the ruling of the tribunal and establishing a task force to address related issues. The membership of the task force, which I understand met for the first time at the end of March, has the breadth of experience and expertise required to allow it to comprehensively examine all of the issues involved. It is now the responsibility of NUI Galway to engage with the student body and staff to ensure the task force has the broadest possible support for its important work.

The Senator has stated that is not the case and that there is not broad support for it. We have to address that issue and must get buy-in from all parties on this if its work is to be successful in the long term. Furthermore, we are satisfied that the ability of the task force to set its own terms of reference, and to operate independently of the management of the university, will allow it to provide strong and insightful advice on policies and practices relating to gender equality issues directly to the university's governing authority.

The requirement for gender equality is well established in legislation. The Higher Education Authority, HEA, has a specific legislative role in "promoting the attainment of equality of opportunity in higher education". The Universities Act 1997 and the Institutes of Technology Act 2006 require our higher education institutions to promote gender balance and equality of opportunity among students and staff, and to prepare and implement statements of policy in respect of equality, including gender equality, across all of their activities. The HEA has a role in reviewing these policies across the higher education sector and is keeping the situation in NUI Galway under review.

More broadly, and as the Minister noted in a previous discussion on this issue here in the Seanad on 10 March, the Higher Education Authority is actively considering how best to support the improvement of gender equality across the Irish higher education system as a whole and is developing a database of staff employed in the sector in order that we can ensure gender equality at all levels within the academic profession in Ireland becomes a reality.

The data show that in Ireland women represent 43% of academic staff in the universities and institutes of technology but only 21% of professors and associate professors in universities are female. It is clear, therefore, that ensuring the fair representation and career progression of female academics is an issue which needs to be addressed. However, we also know that this is not a problem that is unique to Ireland. The European Commission's 2012 report, Gender in Research and Innovation, showed that across EU member states, women represented only 20% of professorial staff. That is often a subject of discussion at our European Council meetings also. It is being recognised across Europe that it is an issue that must be addressed and it will be.

I also lacknowledge the positive role that initiatives such as the Athena Swan charter can play in ensuring that women receive the recognition they deserve in higher education institutions and I am very pleased that all seven universities and 14 institutes of technology have signed up to this important initiative.

Returning to the particular case in NUI Galway, I urge all of the relevant stakeholders, including staff, the students and the unions, to engage as constructively as possible with the task force to ensure it can succeed in its important work. The Senator stressed that there is not that co-operation. That is something we have to try to work on and we might consult her on that issue also.

I thank the Minister of State for his answer. It is important that we acknowledge the shortcomings of this task force, in particular issues regarding transparency, as I outlined, the independence of the body and assurances to the academics regarding their confidentiality. It is imperative that the students and also members of academia have confidence in this task force. To move this matter forward I ask the Minister of State to ask his senior Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to try to facilitate a meeting between the public representatives and the members of the governing authority of the university. That is imperative if we are to iron out issues and move the matter forward.

I will raise the issue with the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, because it is important that we have everyone's confidence in the task force. Everyone wants to see this task force working, of which, as the Senator said, confidentiality is an important part. Full implementation is important also. I will talk to the Minister and revert back to the Senator directly.

I thank the Minister of State.

Social Insurance

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Keving Humphreys.

The Minister of State is welcome and I thank him for coming to the House on the issue of class K PRSI contributions and the lack of benefits accruing from these contributions. I raise the issue mainly on behalf of the countless city and county councillors, the lifeblood of local democracy, who have approached me on this subject.

Councillors are paid a representational payment of €16,590, described as a salary type payment, which is subject to deductions, including PAYE, the pension levy, universal social charge, USC, and PRSI at a rate of 4%. For most councillors, these deductions will mean a take-home payment of a little over €8,000 per annum, plus fixed allowances for travel and membership of committees, where appropriate.

Unlike their non-officeholding counterparts in industrial, commercial and service-type employment, however, who are employed under a contract of service and also pay 4% PRSI class A, local authority councillors get no benefits whatsoever from their contributions. For the same 4% level of contribution, those in class A get jobseeker's benefit, illness benefit, maternity benefit, adoptive benefit, health and safety benefit, invalidity pension, widow, widower's or surviving civil partner's contributory pension, guardian's payment, contributory State pension, treatment benefit, occupational injuries benefit, carer's benefit and access to schemes such as the community employment scheme, having served their community and, perhaps, not been re-elected. The disparity between the two groups could not be more stark. It is a case of everything versus nothing at all.

I am aware of the historical development of this situation and that up to 2011, officeholders, including Members of this House, did not have to pay PRSI. I am also aware that the social insurance fund has a significant shortfall in income compared with expenditure and therefore I believe that the widening of the social insurance net to include officeholders is welcome and fair. However, it is both unwelcome and unfair that those new contributors do not get any benefit from their contributions. It is discriminatory and flies in the face of everything we hold true about equality and justice.

The Minister may argue that the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 provides that there are two categories of persons who are compulsorily insured - employed contributors and self-employed contributors - and that councillors are neither. They do not have a contract of employment and what is generally understood as a master-servant relationship where the worker is subject to direction, control and dismissal, but neither are they self-employed. They have a unique status as public representatives, but why should they be penalised for being so?

I am not alone in expressing these views. In 2011, the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, told the Irish Examiner newspaper that he believed it was always wrong that politicians did not pay PRSI and that he had no difficulty with paying it. However, he went on to state: "[I]t’s unfair that there is no benefit accruing. There are many different classes of PRSI, but we are now the only ones who pay and get nothing back."

In explaining the Government's decision to include officeholders in the PRSI scheme, the former Minister, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, cited the solidarity principle of the social insurance fund as a reason. According to internationally and nationally accepted definitions, the solidarity principle stems directly from the recognition of the individual's right to social security protection. The principle of solidarity is what justifies the existence of social security schemes in the first place and ensures that most vulnerable categories of citizens enjoy access to the social protection they require. However, while officeholders are upholding their side of the solidarity principle by paying 4% PRSI, the State is not upholding its side of the same principle because the charge will not generate any subsequent benefit entitlement.

The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, speaking at the launch in September 2012 of the 2010 actuarial review of the social insurance fund, stated:

A core principle of sustainable social insurance systems in advanced economies is that citizens receive benefits in proportion to their contributions. I am very pleased that the philosophy of social insurance which is based on solidarity continues to hold true.

Sadly, in the case of city and county councillors, this does not hold true. The Minister went on to state, "Social insurance offers excellent value for those on lower incomes, people with shorter working lives". It might be worth pointing out here that quite a number of councillors are now unemployed or are stay-at-home housewives or house husbands, having devoted their entire lives to their councils. We must remember that the solidarity principle applies not only to those on low income but also to all those who, through the occurrence of social risks, lose a substantial portion of their earning capacities.

As politicians we all will be aware-----

The Chair has been generous to the Senator on an issue that is close to my heart and which I fully support.

Excellent. I thank the Cathaoirleach. As politicians, we all will be aware of the social risk associated with our profession such as the risk of not being re-elected, the risk of long periods out of office and the consequent implications for every aspect of our lives and financial circumstances.

While it is true many local authority members have jobs in addition to their role as public representatives, increasingly many do not. Their job as a city or county councillor is their sole occupation.

Following the passing of the Local Government Reform Act 2014, councillors with an enlarged workload and extended electoral areas now spend even more time fulfilling their public office obligations, leaving less time for other paid employment. Most councillors make a lifetime commitment to the people they represent and are elected for many decades of their working lives. In return for this and the PRSI they pay, they will never get anything back. We use the phrase “a career in politics" but who would want a career outside the protections of the social insurance fund while contributing throughout that career to it? This exclusion is particularly relevant in the context of changes to the national pensions framework. We all know the qualifying conditions for State pensions include a standardisation in the State pension age at 66 years. Some councillors aged 66 years are still paying PRSI at 4%.

Where will this leave councillors of the present and future who, having contributed for their entire career, will have no pension entitlements? Christy Burke, Lord Mayor of Dublin, with over 30 years service, will have nothing to show for it. Where does it leave those who take extended career breaks to take up mayoral or cathaoirleach positions in local authorities? Where will it leave those who find themselves unemployed following elections? Where will it leave women who are encouraged to enter politics in increasing numbers? It is a well documented fact that women are traditionally known to have reduced contributions due to time spent at home caring for children. Women are now being disadvantaged as councillors as their time spent in the service to the public will not help them to accumulate one single PRSI contribution.

The argument can be put forward that a gratuity is provided for when councillors reach the age of 50 years. This, however, does not provide for them for the rest of their lives in the way a contributory pension does. When I recently attended a 1916 commemoration event, I was reminded again that the Proclamation declared, "The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens". Elected members of local authorities are not only citizens. They are also citizens who devote hundreds of hours every week in service of their electorate and communities. By ensuring democratic accountability, encouraging active citizenship and developing valuable local services, city and county councillors provide the cornerstone for our democratic State. Discrimination against them is blatant and unnecessary.

I appeal to the Minister of State, on behalf of all officeholders, particularly on behalf of our hardworking and dedicated city and county councillors, to revisit this issue and address it as a matter of urgency.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue of which I am very much aware, having served on Dublin City Council for many years. I have also had extensive engagement on this issue with Senator Denis Landy and Dublin City Councillors Mary Freehill and Dermot Lacey who is in the Visitors Gallery. It is not a popular subject to raise and I compliment the Senator on raising it. He certainly will not get any brownie points with the public for raising this important issue.

Many councillors who work full time for their constituents will be severely disadvantaged when they reach retirement age because they have not picked up enough contributions for their pension fund. I accept the gratuity in itself does not compensate for the hours of dedication and work they have given. Not many people in the public understand the long hours put in by councillors, especially if one represents a disadvantaged area. One very much becomes a full-time advocate for the people one represents, often in difficult circumstances. I am glad that the Senator pointed out that what is not often understood by the general public is that some councillors are financially disadvantaged by representing people in their area because they come from higher paid jobs in the private sector.

Even councillors who work full time give up career opportunities such as promotions. What person working in the private sector would give somebody a promotion knowing that person works long hours representing the people? Other councillors feel duty-bound when elected and by no means see it as an advancement. They are dedicated and want to work in local government. It would be very difficult to live on a full-time salary of €16,000 plus. I have had several meetings with different groups in this regard and wish I could report progress, but I have not made much. The Senator knows me long enough to know that I say it as I see it.

Some of the following issues have been touched on by the Senator. City and county councillors are regarded as public officeholders for the purpose of charging PRSI. They are not employees and are not subject to the contribution applying to employees. PRSI charges on officeholders were introduced in budget 2011 and apply to public officers such as the President, Members of the both Houses, the Judiciary, the Attorney General, the Comptroller and Auditor General and city and county councillors. There is a very big difference between the salaries paid to the first group I mentioned and city and county councillors. From 1 January 2011, public officeholders pay PRSI on their incomes at the class K rate of 4%, providing their income exceeds €5,200. This is €100 per week, which is not an awful lot. All public officeholders are liable to pay the contribution, regardless of age. People with incomes of less than €100 per week do not pay PRSI and return their income under the PRSI class M stamp. PRSI payments by officeholders do not contribute towards establishing social insurance entitlements prior to 2011. All officeholders were exempt from PRSI on income received in their capacity as officeholders, which the Senator outlined. The income and consequential pension and retirement gratuities paid to officeholders are funded by the Exchequer. The PRSI charges on officeholders' income were introduced as a measure of solidarity. It was seen that public representatives from the very high to the very low would take an income hit and this is what happened.

City and county councillors may establish an entitlement to social security benefits based on non-council related activities. Many councillors have their own businesses or are able to stay in employment and they keep their entitlement. However, as the Senator outlined, a number of councillors work full-time and are, therefore, not entitled to these benefits after many years of service. The public does not appreciate the sacrifices many county and city councillors make. It is certainly not for financial advancement. During my time on local authorities, I did not meet many wealthy councillors. They do it because of their dedication to the community. They often enter politics and local authorities through community activities and want to make their communities better.

There is a voluntary contribution system that helps in respect of pension entitlements and there are quite restrictive limitations. I participated in that system, which is probably one of the best investments I ever made. When I became an elected councillor, I read Barry Desmond's biography in which he said that from the time he had entered full-time politics, he had paid his voluntary contributions which then gave him his entitlement. This was only to the old age contributory pension, not to unemployment benefit. Many councillors from all parties and none have faced extreme financial difficulties.

Given that their salaries were not high, they had not accumulated savings and found themselves in very severe financial difficulties. Senator Denis Landy has been engaging, not in a party sense but on behalf of everybody, and he is determined to continue to try to come forward with a resolution. If the Senator wishes to participate in this, I am happy to work with him to see if we can find a solution. Unfortunately, in many such cases, when one amends the Social Welfare Acts, there are unintended consequences. Therefore, the issue must be considered very carefully.

I wish I was coming here with good news. I am not and I do not want to spread false hope. I am happy to work with Senators and councillors to see if we can find some kind of solution that will not have unintended consequences. It must be limited and must target the councillors who are most disadvantaged. Councillors who can remain in full-time work, have their own businesses or who work in the legal or education sectors are different. This is a small group that is particularly damaged. They contribute but receive nothing. I take the Senator's points and thank him for raising them. While I cannot give a promise, I will work with interested parties to see if we can reach a fair resolution.

I thank the Minister of State. It is a difficult issue to raise here, given that to be in public service is almost regarded as a crime. I am not afraid to say the people concered are being treated very badly by the State. In anticipation of the Minister of State's answer, I have already alerted the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection that I will be proposing a debate on this issue. People who are tied up with council work suffer a serious career disadvantage. We have let our councillors down extremely badly. Although some time ago, we promised to align their salaries with those of Senators, we have not done it. We are taking 4% out of their pockets, for which they receive nothing. We must devise an opt-in solution by which a councillor who is not employed and does not have an independent source of income can opt in for a class A stamp. It will cost them no more. It is an outrage to take 4% from somebody and give them nothing in return. The Minister of State is a man of his word and is always willing to try to achieve results, as is Senator Denis Landy. I am very happy to join him and work on this issue. I call on councillors to lobby for this change. Let us not be ashamed of the fact that we are serving the State and that we are entitled to some recompense for it.

I will conclude the debate by paying tribute to the work county councillors and city councillors do. They do an extremely tough and thankless job and are often blamed for decisions that are made in these Houses rather than in the local chamber. A councillor is the face of democracy and people often vent at them in the wrong manner when they bump into them on the street. The position of councillor is very undervalued. We do not speak highly enough of the public service local councillors provide throughout the country. I thank the Senator for raising the issue.

Sitting suspended at 3.15 p.m. and resumed at 3.35 p.m.