Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Questions (49, 958)

Shane Cassells

Question:

49. Deputy Shane Cassells asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when a report (details supplied) into the pay and conditions for councillors will be published. [23896/19]

View answer

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

958. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the date on which the final report of the independent review of the role and remuneration of elected members to local authorities will be published. [23318/19]

View answer

Oral answers (4 contributions) (Question to Housing)

I wish to ask my good friend, the Minister of State, when the report by Sara Moorhead SC, on pay and conditions for councillors will be published. Obviously, the 949 councillors who were elected last week and others will be interested in this. Many young people will be entering politics for the first time. I know that feeling as it was 20 years ago today when I entered politics for the first time in Meath, alongside the young man, Deputy English, who is sitting beside the Minister of State. While an interim report was published before Christmas, when will we see publication of the report itself?

I did not think it was 20 years ago - that was the same day I entered myself.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 49 and 958 together.

Following the recent local elections, our 31 new councils are beginning their five-year term serving their communities. I want to join with the Deputy in wishing each of the 949 councillors elected the best of luck in the work that lies ahead for them in the next five years.

To support this critical work, the Government is committed to modernising the role of local authority members and ensuring that the associated remuneration package is fair and equitable. Taking on board feedback from local authority elected members and their representative bodies regarding the current remuneration regime, my colleague, the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, and I agreed to the commissioning of a review of the role and remuneration of councillors. Ms Sara Moorhead SC was commissioned to carry out the review in June 2018. She submitted an interim report to me at the end of November 2018 and this has been made publicly available on the Department website.

It was at this point where some delay occurred. To progress towards the completion of a final report, it was necessary to survey all local authority members and to seek financial information from all local authorities. In both cases, deadline extensions were granted to allow sufficient time for comprehensive responses to be made. The information requested has now been received and collated and the drafting of the final report is progressing well. I expect to receive it shortly. Following the necessary consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the review will be submitted to Government and published thereafter.

In the 20 years since we were first elected to local authorities the workload has increased substantially for those who find themselves as members of local authorities. The requirements for legislative knowledge and how councillors must deal with development plans and other areas are far more demanding. Crucially, the pressures, especially on young people entering public life, are considerable. We discussed this matter in the joint committee before Christmas. Representatives of all parties experience this when it comes to encouraging people and managing the abuse to which they are subjected. These people are effectively community leaders. The people in this House are professional politicians but the people at local level are community leaders. The online abuse for those who are trying to do good for their community is abhorrent. There should be a proper package in place in order that they can combine their work life and commitment to local government in light of the pressures that are being put on them now.

I appreciate that the Minister of State gave a deadline extension. Will the Minister of State indicate whether the report that is to be published has been cleared by the Department on the financial side? Will the report to be published be stood over from the financial side?

I agree with the Deputy. This is something I found during the course of the election. The pressures referred to by the Deputy, especially those relating to social media abuse, for the want of a better term, were an issue in attracting people to stand for election. We need to have a broader discussion in that regard.

The Deputy is also correct in pointing out that the workload, attendance at meetings, the number of meetings and the number of different groups in which councillors are involved have increased significantly in the past 20 years. This is why, as well as reviewing remuneration and what councillors receive for their work, we also asked Ms Moorhead to review the role of councillors and what we see the role being in future. We sought a view to point towards additional roles that should be devolved to local government as well.

The report is being finalised at the moment with drafting. Once that is done there will be consultation between my officials, myself and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Then there will be discussion at Government. I am committing to the House that the report will be published as soon as that discussion has happened.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.