I am committed to exploring measures that will contribute to increasing participation for all in local government, and I welcome and encourage any discussion on the matter. Consideration of this matter is important in ensuring that local authority elected Councils are fully representative of the constituents they serve.
Currently, there is no expenditure category for childcare or other caring costs incurred by councillors while attending meetings. This was an issue raised in the consultation process as part of the Independent Review of the Role and Remuneration of Local Authority Elected Members, led by Ms Sara Moorhead SC and published in June 2020. The expenditure categories for vouched expenses of councillors are aligned with those available under the Public Representation Allowance (PRA) for Oireachtas members. Oireachtas members cannot claim for childcare costs, though there is a privately operated fee-paying crèche facility available for Oireachtas members and staff.
Tailored allowances for caring costs are not available to other office holders in the State nor are they available for local authority employees who service council meetings.
In her report, Ms Moorhead did suggest that the extension of the allowable expenses to include caring costs incurred by councillors in attending Council meetings could in theory be considered. However, she acknowledged that such a proposal would be out of line with practice for other office holders and state employees, and so advised that this should be considered with a good degree of caution.
It is also worth noting that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs introduced a universal childcare subsidy from August 2017, which is available to all children in Tusla-registered childcare above the age of 6 months.
I am aware that there is a crèche on site in Dublin City Council Civic Offices on Wood Quay which is also adjacent to City Hall. Preference is given to staff and Councillors although it is open to others depending on demand. Councillors have availed of the crèche on either a full time or part-time basis, and can reserve places for Committee meetings which all take place during the working day. The fees are not subsidised for Councillors or staff.
In addition, there is a parenting room in City Hall where councillors can feed or change young children. Dublin City Council has a parenting policy which permits Councillors to bring babies and children to meetings as long as they are supervised by their parents. My hope is that the approach adopted in Dublin City Council, which has a “Parenting (or Caring) Support Group”, comprising a number of elected members, will be established in all other local authorities.
I recently approved the establishment of a working group to examine the non-pay recommendations set out in the Moorhead Review, which include such issues as childcare and parental leave. This group comprises key local government stakeholders, including representatives from the Association of Irish Local Government (AILG), the Local Authority Members Association (LAMA), the County and City Management Association (CCMA) and officials from my Department.
The first meeting of the group took place earlier this month. The terms of reference for the group include examination of the aforementioned recommendations and this will be taken forward by the group.