Councillors refuse to cut expenses for conferences
Councillors in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council have overwhelmingly blocked a cut in conference expenses.
A proposal by People Before Profit Councillor Hugh Lewis called for the conference budget to be dropped from just over €130,000 to €26,000 a year.
Cllr Lewis, who has never attended a conference, said that there was "no accountability" for what councillors learned at conferences and that it was one of the few areas that hadn't been cut by the budget.
The budget allows for councillors to be given a tax-free sum to cover costs. But the council came under fire when it was revealed that some councillors ran conference bills of up to €8,000 in 2008.
The council spent €94,055 on conferences and trips abroad in 2009. The Department of the Environment has ordered that an annual €4,700 cap for each councillor.
However Cllr Lewis says that this does not go far enough. His proposed reduction was the equivalent of €1,000 for every councillor excluding the two People Before Profit councillors who refuse to attend conferences which People Before Profit Councillor Richard Boyd-Barrett described as "junkets".
"We never get the merits of these conferences explained back to us, we never get a report back.
"Looking at the names of some of these conferences it is hard to see their merits," he said.
"I don't believe the public should be funding summer breaks where there are no obvious benefits to this council. It would prove a positive signal to send out given the current economic climate."
However, many elected representatives spoke of the benefits. Fine Gael Councillor Maria Bailey spoke of how when she was a new councillor several conferences on day-to-day council business were vital to her understanding of the work.
Her party colleague, Cllr Barry Ward said: "I think that Cllr Lewis makes a good point when he says that there should be more transparency. I went to a conference last year and I didn't think it was worth the money spent.
"We get lists of emails about conferences every week. However, I worry that by capping it off at €26,000 it may limit councillors from learning skills that they feel they need."