Green Party Cork City Councillor Dan Boyle
It is midweek in the middle of August. Instinct would indicate that not a lot should be happening, and certainly a lot less.
I’m calling to a number of residents at their request. One has a planning concern. They physically want me to see the nature of that concern. The other has an issue with housing maintenance.
Between visits I engage in an email correspondence with a Director of Service on why there is seeming reluctance and unnecessary delay, in opening a gate that would allow pedestrian and cyclist access to an amenity park.
I’m also making contact with another official trying to organise a speaker on biodiversity for an imminent meeting.
A local journalist phones to ask for comment on footpath renewals and on the purchase by the City Council of bollards to install along cycleways.
A migrant rings to ask for help in relation to a number of difficulties he is experiencing.
It’s just another day in the life of a local councillor. Always interesting, often frustrating, knowingly and gladly entered into.
The last government commissioned a report to discover what was the workload of elected local representatives, and if that work was being appropriately remunerated. A member of the judiciary was appointed to examine this task.
The Moorehead Report has worked out that, on average, councillors work 33 hours a week. Some more, some obviously less.
Most combine being a public representative with paid employment/self employment. Up to a quarter though act as full time public representatives.
I am one such councillor myself. My circumstances allow me to be so. As someone older and without a need to directly support dependents, my income is adequate, my needs are sufficient.
For others though, first time younger councillors, the expectation of the workload is not matched by income.
Base salary for local councillors in Ireland is about €17000. With expenses this can rise to €25000. The Moorhead Report suggests these should be converted into salary. This has been presented in the media as an €8000 increase, which of course it isn’t.
This week a Green Party colleague has justifiably cited this as a factor as to why he has decided to resign as a councillor, to take up a position in the civil service.
There is no shortage of obstacles that restrict local government in Ireland from being the most effective it can be.
Proportionately, and against the prevailing myth, Ireland has less local public representatives than any other country in Europe. Too few decisions affecting local communities get made by local councillors.
Too many get made in Dublin, too many b unelected officials.
The local councillor gets to interact more with the general public than any council official does; more than many members of the Dáil get to do.
They are more likely to be the first and frequently only recipient of public anger and frustration. As a result they are also more likely to be aware of discontent, its sources and how it best might be responded to.
I like the work. It gives me a sense of purpose. It allows me to believe I can contribute positively.
But it is work, socially useful work I hope. It is work that could be more effective if allowed to operate under the circumstances that prevail elsewhere.
I’m off now to leaflet a few houses.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle