Monday, 26 January 2009

Two-thirds of councillors 'too busy' to attend their meetings

Just a third of the country's elected county and city councillors, who earn an average of €33,000 in wages, allowances and expenses each year, attended all of their council meetings last year.

Despite the fact that the average council only sat 18 times in 2008 some councillors missed as many as 14 full council meetings in 2008.

Ahead of the local elections this summer, figures compiled and obtained by the Irish Independent reveal that councillors take their roles with varying degrees of seriousness.

Although many councillors were present at the vast majority of their meetings, others cited personal issues, business interests and work as a reason for missing full council meetings -- a key part of a local representative's duties.

Dublin City Council's John Kenny -- who was drafted in as a Progressive Democrat replacement for Wendy Hederman in 2007 -- only turned up to six of the council's 16 meetings.

Mr Kenny said he just came to the realisation that "politics wasn't for me".

"I'm going to be retiring from politics, I've been very busy work-wise," he said. He said he did not think he should have continued attending meetings in order to serve his constituents and claimed he "tried his best".

In Kildare, Cllr Geraldine Conway missed five out of 14 full council meetings up to the end of October. She said she was "exceptionally busy" and accepted that there were some meetings she "just couldn't get to".

Cllr Veronica Neville missed 13 of Cork County Council's 25 meetings, although she gave birth to a child in February. Also on Cork County Council, Patrick Buckley missed 11 meetings, while former independent councillor Christopher O'Sullivan missed 14 meetings.

The 25-year-old, now a Fianna Fail representative -- who is running again this year -- said that his constituents didn't have a problem with the fact that he went travelling for six months and missed 56pc of last year's meetings.

And, according to minutes on the Donegal County Council website, of six councillors in the Donegal town electoral area, two councillors missed eight out of 18 full and adjourned council meetings, one missed five, and another missed four.

Fine Gael's Barry O'Neill -- who is recorded as missing eight -- said that there was often no need for him to attend adjourned meetings because his issues had already been dealt with. Cllr O'Neill pointed out that he was not a full-time councillor and also had to work as an RTE journalist.

Donegal hotelier Sean McEniff, who missed five from 18, said his business sometimes interfered with council duties. "If I miss meetings, I miss meetings because of circumstances beyond my control," he said.


The lowest attended meeting was also in Donegal, where only 13 councillors out of 29 showed up at a special meeting in Lifford on February 8.

Several councillors contacted by the Irish Independent stressed that they had many more duties than just attending full council meetings. They said they had to attend to their constituents' needs and also had to attend other meetings.

However, some councils around the country recorded extremely high attendance rates, such as Cavan, where the most meetings missed by a single representative was three.

Dun-Laoghaire-Rathdown also had high attendance records, with the 'worst' attendees only missing two meetings. In Leitrim, seven councillors each missed just one meeting.

In Roscommon, 17 out of 25 councillors managed to attend all full council meetings. Nobody in Roscommon missed more than three meetings.

The figures also reveal a wide variation in the number of times councils meet.

Clare County Council racked up 38 meetings in 2008 while Galway County Council sat just 12 times, according to minutes supplied to this newspaper.

Fiach Kelly
Irish Independent

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