Today’s Wexford Echo has a headline saying “Corpo councillors rolling in the dosh”. Under the headline is a picture of me with the figure €14,516.25. The paper sets out the cost of councillors to the tax payer. Headings under which payments are made to all councillors are described using inverted commas, (wink wink, nudge nudge). Sadly the paper didn’t dissect my own cost and didn’t clarify that there’s a difference between cost and actual payments. Every councillor should account for what they’re paid, I’ve no problem with that.
Being a councillor is a job. I’ve never made any bones about this. When I’m on the doorstep I’ve always said that being a councillor is a job, the place for the interview is the doorstep in the next 6 weeks. Lets be clear I get the taxpayers money, as does every councillor before me and after me. The people are entitled to know not just how much but they’re also entitled to know more than the paper reveals; why and what they got for it. It’s because there’s a payment, transparency is essential, so here’s what I cost; €8,624.25, taxed at 40% and PRSI at source, annual allowance of €3,300 for expenses in relation to all WBC meetings, phone calls 2004-08 €83, Deputy Mayors allowance €500, Conferences 2008; €2008.75;including fees paid to organisers, expenses claimed for 3 over nights and mileage driven by me. By the way, I attended 5 conferences in 2008; 3 required 1 overnight each, 2 others were half days so no overnight was claimed nor paid. So when you factor out the tax and PRSI and fees and all the other expenses that goes with being a councillor, I’m not going to spoof you by saying I get nothing, I do, but rolling in it I ain’t, my passport is out of date 7 years. I note that my travel and subsistence exceeds Minister Gormley’s proposed ceiling by €8.75.
Here’s what I got, €9,933 and add to that about €670 from the VEC, which the paper forgot I was on! Now don’t tell that to the newspaper as it will only spoil a good “story”, (wink wink, nudge nudge!) If I was contacted by the newspaper, I wouldn’t have had a problem commenting. I pay my own postage and I’m not using Oireachtas envelopes. However I smile at Minister Gormley’s attack on junketing councillors. In 2008 he opened 2 of the conferences I attended and his department organised another at which he travelled from Dublin to speak. At neither did he air his concerns at junketing councillors but then at that time he wasn’t aware of the pending Green Party electoral meltdown at the forthcoming local elections. If it is a waste of money for me to attend any of these conferences then it was an even greater waste on the Minister’s part to propose a white paper on local government reform to directly elect mayors, something which I spoke against in relation to the south east as a waste of resources at the Dept of Environment briefing on the White Paper or when I was at the AMAI conference spoke about Wexford’s boundary extension.
I’ve concluded that Minister Gormley’s contribution should be carbon neutral and that we should plant a tree every time he grandstands to absorb his CO2. If councillors are travelling to conferences, signing on and immediately returning home introduce a requirement for a daily roll call. Require those attending to provide proof of car useage. The Labour Party’s Dermot Lacey usually organises Labour councillor’s meetings for conferences, other parties as best as I know do the same. It’s good to meet your own n the fringe. I don’t fraternise with developers or interested parties and I have no other access to objective advice on issues like planning or local government. I don’t go AWOL during term time for days on end to conferences but to be a councillor I need up to date, accurate and objective information that may not necessarily come from departmental spin or a vested interest. In my regard my expenses are a matter that I account for. To be fair to the Wexford Echo, in the round, they’re more than fair to me and there’s no hard feelings. I won’t however be forwarding a bottle of bubbly to them, nothing personal, its just that I don’t have the money for one for myself as it is!!
In closing I remember once David Norris recounting how he was phoned by a newspaper in relation to his expenses on a forthcoming trip and he was asked did he intend enjoying himself abroad to which David replied as only he can; "But of course, you don't think the taxpayer's are sending me abroad to look glum!" Now that's a unique way of looking at this!