Allowances for local council chairs' expenses

The expense allowances available to cathaoirleachs and leas cathaoirleachs (chair/mayor and deputy chair/mayor) of local councils are interesting to examine. Or at least would be if we could see them all in the one dataset.

Under the provisions of Section 143 the Local Government Act 2001 a local authority may pay an allowance to its chair and deputy chair for “reasonable” expenses. This means councillors vote on how much the council chair (also a councillor) gets for expenses, which are unvouched in the vast majority of cases and often untaxed. Of course that also means the allowances vary from one council to another.

Last week one New Ross Labour councillor, Bobby Dunphy, made a good case for changing this system. He proposed that mayoral expenses be reimbursed instead of awarded as a fixed amount. He told the News Ross Standard [paywalled link]…

All I was proposing was a system that would give greater openness and transparency. The only reason for opposing that would be that you did not want openness and transparency. For example, while the €8,000 is intended to cover anticipated expenses, in reality any expenses incurred can be and are claimed separately. The €8,000 is, in effect pocketed as a tax free salary. There is no scrutiny, no value for money analysis… Because it is public money we Councillors have a duty to oversee the proper disbursement of this money

It’s perhaps insightful to note that Dunbar couldn’t get another elected member to second his proposal. This meant he couldn’t speak from the floor to argue why such a change would be beneficial to the people of New Ross. According to the council website there is another Labour member on the council.

Back in August last year I began looking for information on these allowances. This being Ireland, there is no public database containing information for allowances per council. When I contacted the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government I was told that if I was to get information for each council I’d have to contact each one individually. All 120 or so of them. I started attempting to collate the list in September with plans in mind to pitch the resultant story to some, or several, paying media. These types of things will usually have a few angles that I could have pitched to various regional papers, so I thought it was going to be worthwhile. That didn’t really work out for me.

To begin with the list of email addresses for each council administrator on the department’s website proved to be hopelessly out of date. Around half of them bounced back immediately; ‘no such email address exists’. Three weeks later half of those which hadn’t bounced back hadn’t responded. I began calling. That was a nightmare because it usually takes two calls per council to get onto the right person. Over two months I made calls between shifts, however since January I’ve been too busy to continue the process. I simply don’t have the time to continue contacting these authorities now. Frustrated, I’m publishing what I’ve got, maybe others can add to my results. The spreadsheet below has data for about half the authorities.

Spreadsheet for local authority allowances

To get a comparable figure for each council I’ve added in population data from the most recent census for the areas for which such information is available. In dividing the mayor’s allowance by the census’s population data we get a figure for euro per head of population. A number of out-liers appeared from this calculation, most being areas with a small population, which makes sense as the smaller population centres should have a higher such figure.

It’s interesting to observe that Cork City Council and Limerick City Council both large population figures, both rank high on that column. It’s also notable that two of the top three councils with the largest mayor’s allowance are Cork’s. The mayor of Cork City gets the highest allowance in country, more than €90,000, significantly higher than the second figure, the Lord Mayor of Dublin’s €69,000.

In January I asked the Cork deputy mayor why that was so. She told me it was because Dublin’s mayor gets a house, Cork’s doesn’t. Make of that what you will… €21,000 a year in rent in Cork?

Anyway, I sure it is expensive to run a People’s Republic.

Last observation; if you take out the cities and small populations (less than 25,000), the largest per-head figures are all in the midlands. The first reason springing to mind for that would be “it costs more in expenses to be mayor of a midlands area as the population centres are dispersed”. That doesn’t stack up though, Kerry, Galway County and Cork County are all well down the list on euro-per-head, yet their mayors would have to cover a similar geographical area. Strange then that the level appears – at least from the 50 percent sample size – that it could be related to the answer to the question; “what is the neighbour getting?”

Other observations and additional information gratefully accepted in the comments. Is your council covered? Fancy calling them?

4 thoughts on “Allowances for local council chairs' expenses”

  1. Interesting article and no surprise at all that you have had difficulty in getting responses from councils etc, transparency and openness would not be high on their agenda, just wondering have you ever considered also the amount of money that local councilors receive for a few hours work each month, and doing very little in positions that most people assume are voluntary and dont realise the amounts of money these people get etc.

  2. The issue of councillor’s remuneration will inevitably be tied into the ‘ould chestnut of ‘Local Government’; and be used as a weather vane pointing to increased devolution, decision making and democratic will of a regional electorate.

    That said the role of the councillor has changed considerably in the past 20 years. Where previously a medical card might have been secured by a cllr, now, it might only be the form. Playing out that particular issue, the role of the cllr is obsolete considering that said forms and information are now increasingly accessible via a network of public offices, internet etc. The key: Broadband: Universal and free broadband and the role of the councillor will be no more.

    Secondly, and related to your fantastic article is the issue of ‘CONFERENCES’. The theory is that councillors attend said conferences to assist them in their work and to gain a greater knowledge of the issues that affect their constituents. The reality is however that a conference in on British Irish Studies is of now real relevance, a conference on 18th Century Literature is equally useful. It might be a subject of follow up:
    – ‘What conferences have Councillors attended in the last 3 months?
    – ‘ Who are the organisers of these conferences?
    – ‘ How is attendance at these conferences recorded for the purposes of reimbursement of costs?
    All attendances have to be sanctioned by the County Secretary so they are traceable.

    Equally, how many councillors are running ‘consultancies’ aimed 100% at…’ve guessed it!….Councillors!!

  3. Very good article. One question though. relating to Dundalk UDC, Drogheda Borough Council, Ardee UDC and Louth County Council, there is no financial data entered in your spreadsheet. Does this mean you did not receive any information from any council in County Louth? Pity. I emailed a labour County Cllr and a Sinn Fein Cllr late last year with comprehensive details of a questionable transaction of 200,000 euros of a Fianna Fail county councillor (then Louth County Council Chairman) to a community group he is a Director of and neither of them were willing to address the issue. I feel they are all sleeping in the same bed. I sent them Company records in Black & white which clearly showed the money trail.

  4. I don’t know, counting up receipts isn’t the brilliant idea it looks like for day-to-day expenses. It’s different if someone is going on a one-off trip to inner China or something where the costs are hard to anticipate and manage, then expenses on the basis of expenditure are the way to go, undoubtedly. But having vouched expenses for local travel, etc. is just putting temptation in people’s way. Some sort of flat rate is a better idea, although the question of how much and of taxation are still going to be arguable.

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