An Irish woman's social, political and domestic commentary
Thursday, October 13, 2005  

Councillors and Conferences

Today's IT reports :

"Councillors have been banned from claiming expenses for attending conferences organised by political parties, under new rules issued by Minister for the Environment Dick Roche. The measure follows controversy after Fine Gael councillors were last month forced to drop plans to claim State expenses for attending a party conference in Athlone.....Last month, Mr Roche said it was "outrageous" that Fine Gael councillors would have expected the taxpayer to pay for their attendance at the party's Hodson Bay Hotel conference between September 22nd and 24th......
In addition, he has told local authorities to inspect more closely the types of conference that councillors attend, amid suspicions that many of those chosen have little or nothing to do with local authority business."

As you all know my esteemed father is one such FG councillor so I am obliged to look for something positive to say about this beleagured species.

The conference merry-go-round is a complete joke at this stage but there is one thing which mystifies me. Each conference organiser sends details of their event to the County Managers or Secretaries of the Councils. These are paid profesionals. They approve the conferences for attendance by the councillors. Fine Gael did indeed send in a request to each council asking that their conference be put on the list. I think all bar 4 did so. Every other council had the option to say no and didn't. FG did chance their arm and nearly got away with it. Why is no one asking the officials why they approved the conference in the first place? Actually, the Da wrote last week to a FF TD (Pat Carey - who chipped in with criticisms of the FG conference) and enclosed a full list of conferences coming up. He highlighted several ones and asked him to raise these at some committee as they were quite suspicious. They are organised by known FnFers. I presume the list will not be announced at the committee meeting.

Secondly, I entirely sympathise with FG's attempt to get their conference funded. The government parties have the most enormous resources at their disposal and the opposition parties are expected to compete man for man with them. My particular beef is the Media Monitoring Unit (or some other ominous title) that is staffed by I think 35 people and paid for by the taxpayer. They listen to all the local radio stations and read all local newspapers and then ring up the editors and producers and harass them. When you are faced with this kind of publicly funded machine, maybe a few dirty tricks is what FG need.

Of course the real issue about councillors is that with the abolition of residential rates local government was deprived of autonomy with regard to funding and therefore of any autonomy. Without money, they can do precious little. It is easy to sneer at bogmen councillors (who don't eat rice) but most of the ones I know neglect their businesses and jobs and spend a lot of time harassing council officials to repair roads, put up signs, give people planning permissions and hurry up infrastucture projects. Local government is in huge need of reform. But who is going to vote for the re-introduction of rates? Do we abolish councillors altogether and have decisions about housing and roads made entirely by unaccountable officials (and if there's one thing we have learned it is that officials can make really really stupid decisions) While it is popular to bang on about corrupt councillors and rezoning let's remember that George Redmond, the guy who systematically took money for planning permissions was an official not a councillor. And who is Dick Roche to talk about councillors? I think in the tally of good and bad councillors it is FF who come off considerably worse.

So sorry if councillors are in the main, decent ol' fellas who eat their dinner at 1 o'clock in the day and who have a lust for travelling expenses - but someone elects them! And those someone's will generally vote for whoever supports their interests and not the interests of the common good. Could you just imagine if FG produced a policy on the reformation of local government, beginning with more local taxes? How Roche would laugh then.
So let's stop the sneering and think about what we actually want from councillors. I think

posted by Sarah | 13:18 2 comments
You probably don’t do requests but if you are serious about your upmarket focus, maybe you could do Fine Gael/Labour/Greens a favor by kite flying the reintroduction of domestic rates in the next ST column?

After all, the last so many years have shown that you can’t put outfiannafail Fianna Fail (they have cornered the market for standing for nothing etc. ) so Fine Gael etc needs to think the unthinkable and offer something that Fianna Fail never ever would.

The idea is that with people’s lives so tied with their property that they will pay the money if it is spent locally (from public swimming pools to water treatment plants etc. ) rather than wasted on INSERT ENTIRE CONTENTS OF C+AG REPORT.

Many people already pay considerable refuse charges and if you look at the profiles of County Managers shows that these are almost all capable executives who could hack it the private sector as opposed to the Martin Cullens of the world (see Vincent Browne’s column in last Sundays Business Post).

The whole Local Government system post independence pre 1977 was an underused resource anyway (maybe as we got it from the British) but now without the ability to strike a rate and spend money as it sees fit it has become quasi- ceremonial. Result we have to wait on Bertiespeed for decisions on everything.

I know I know when you have Pensioners going to jail in the UK for refusing to pay increases in Council Tax but car tax was also abolished in 1977 yet brought back. Aren’t we new and confident Europeans now?

So be the first one to call for it before that smartypants David McWilliams digs out one of the ESRI or NESC reports with the intellectual support calling for same and claims credit for it …
There is much sense in this. I shall have to wait for a News spot in the ST before I could propose this. I wonder would FG do it? Still my colleague Alan Ruddock has also begged them to abandon social partnership and proposed many logical arguments. I think FG are just terrified of proposing anything. They have no confidence. Anytime they try anything different they are attacked. Reasons for that another day. You are absolutely right about local tax for local things being the angle. For example, at the moment developers pay huge levies when the build housing estates. But the money is spread all over the county and not in the area. So these guys build houses. Pay loadsa money to the council. And then everytime a pipe springs a leak their customers have no water because there is no redundancy in the system. It REALLY pisses them off. bte, I see there are a few typos in that pieces. Will fix later. Posts are always made in desperate rush these days. I think I have an ulcer.
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