I wish to be associated with your remarks, a Chathaoirligh, and those of Senator Daly. I thank him for raising the issue which is very important. It is certainly timely given that we have more or less completed all the counts of the local elections. I congratulate all those who were successful in winning a seat in recent days. I commiserate with and thank all those who ran but were not successful. Many knew it might have been difficult to start out in their first campaign. The majority have to run once or twice to become councillors and they should not lose hope. It is a big deal for people to decide to put their names forward in a public contest and face public scrutiny. We all know now that politics has changed considerably, with the scrutiny of people's work, their families' work, their background, history and so forth. It is a big deal to agree to run. It is great when it works out and one wins, but it can be hard for those who lose. I again thank all the candidates because democracy is very important. We fought hard for it and it is important for us to respect that at every opportunity.
I note all the young people present and it is great to see so many young candidates becoming involved. A big issue in the campaign was climate change, and that agenda was certainly driven by the young people in Ireland and across Europe, and rightly so. I congratulate them on doing that as it means they are also involved in politics from a very young age.
The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and I are very passionate about local government. As a Minister of State in the Department looking after local government and electoral reform, I want to ensure that the critical role of local councillors is clearly defined and fairly remunerated. Everybody recognises the pressures on that job and the long hours the majority of councillors put in over many days a week. It has been well commented on here.
I am strongly of the view that councillors must be appropriately supported and that they need to carry out their work effectively and to the highest standards of integrity, transparency and accountability. To do that they need to be well remunerated and well supported throughout the system. To that end and taking on board significant concerns raised by councillors and in debates in this House regarding the current remuneration regime, we agreed with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to commission a review of the role and remuneration of councillors.
On 21 June, 2018, the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, appointed Ms Sara Moorhead SC to carry out an independent review. Ms Moorhead has consulted widely with local authority elected members and their representative organisations, political parties, local authority chief executives and other appropriate stakeholders. Ms Moorhead submitted an interim report to the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, which was published in November 2018.
It was necessary to survey all local authority members and to seek financial information from all local authorities to progress towards the final report. The survey has now been completed and the financial data collected. In both cases, deadline extensions were granted to allow sufficient time for comprehensive responses to be made. The delays were not of the Government's making but were due to requests and to ensure all the responses would be received in time. The drafting of the final report is progressing well and the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, expects to receive it shortly.
Following the necessary consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the review will be submitted to Government in due course and published thereafter. The review will more comprehensively define the role of councillor. This informs the examination of the current system of remuneration for councillors, with a view to proposals for a remuneration package that is modernised and representative of, and commensurate with, the role. Supports to councillors of a non-remuneration nature are also considered and are important, as Senator Daly noted.
Recognising that immediate action was required, and separate to the review, we have made a range of improvements to the supports provided to councillors, although we know they are only a step in the right direction. These include providing for a new allowance for councillors of €1,000 per annum, backdated to 1 July 2017, in recognition of the additional workload following the 2014 reforms and the greater areas being covered. Certainly, massive areas have to be covered in counties such as Mayo, Roscommon or Kerry, which is well recognised. We also introduced new optional vouched expenses of up to a maximum of €5,000 per annum, which councillors may opt for in place of the existing unvouched allowance of up to €2,500 per annum. That has worked out quite well for many councillors, who are able to spend that money wisely on the supports they need to be able to do their job. In addition, the representational payment paid to councillors, which is linked to a Senator’s salary, was increased to €17,060 per annum with effect from 1 October 2018. I understand it is to be increased further in line with adjustments arising from the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020.
I welcome the continued interest of Seanad Members in this matter and I thank the Senator for placing it on today’s agenda. I confirm that the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, will brief him further once the report is finalised and published in the near future.