An issue which seldom garners any attention is the profile of County Councillors in Ireland. Increasingly as local authority responsibilities have expanded, the number of Councillors who regard the job as “full time” has increased substantially. All elected members receive a basic remuneration of €16,724 and additional payments for attending meetings. I have noticed that many Councillors wear the “full-time” label as a badge of pride and another reason why we should support them.
However this evolution to more full-time representatives is ultimately bad for local democracy. The fact is the vast majority of citizens could not afford to become full-time County Councillors. It also mitigates against younger candidates as well as candidates with families. Local Government never intended having professional County Councillors.
The way Councils operate and function also needs to be examined. It is clear that as functions have expanded more and more committees have been formed meaning they have to have more and more meetings. Increasingly these meetings are held during the day which again discriminates against Councillors who work full-time and just reinforces the idea that being a Councillor is a full-time job.
Recently a number of female Fine Gael Dublin City Councillors have stated that they will not be seeking re-election next year. How Council does its business has been cited as one reason for not running. One also stated that she essentially believed that being a Councillor was not compatible with having a young family. This is fundamentally wrong, we need more women in Council Chambers, we need more young people, we need people who commute every day, we need those who have young families. We don’t need more full-time Councillors who think their function is to sit on as many committees as possible.
There also needs to be a fundamental evaluation of how useful all these committees are. One Labour Party Dublin City Councillor who also quit recently remarked that most of the committees he sat on were “useless”. It is time the executives of County Councils across Ireland undertook a proper evaluation of the work of these committees. Those committees that have not produced anything of use should be immediately abolished.