These local authorities did not follow the spending rules
In 2014, the government introduced various new legal measures relating to councilor expenses.
These measures create certain obligations for councilors, but they also mean that local authorities have new legal responsibilities.
Councilors have become legally required to inform their local authority, on a quarterly basis, of all payments they have received from certain external bodies, as well as the distances traveled to get to meetings of those bodies that they have spent.
Boards, meanwhile, have become obligated to publish records detailing these payments.
However, an analysis by RTÉ Investigates revealed that several local authorities did not comply with this requirement.
Our analysis also revealed that the system used to calculate mileage rates for advisers’ trips to conferences, training seminars, and other meetings is haphazard and operates inconsistently.
Councilors are also expected to inform their local authorities of the number of kilometers they have driven on behalf of outside organizations. These kilometers are then aggregated with other certain board trips, and the aggregated kilometers driven are then used to determine their correct mileage rate for certain trips.
But some tips don’t ask for these details, and many advisers, even when asked, don’t provide them.
This means that many advisors are likely being paid an incorrect mileage rate for attending certain events because their local authorities do not take their trips with other outside agencies into account when determining their correct mileage rate.
Ministerial instructions issued by the Ministry of Housing, Local Government and Heritage also require local authorities to publish attendance and payment records relating to conferences and training.
In addition, they are also required to publish records on the basis of information provided by their advisers, relating to their payments to external bodies.
“The registry should be maintained on the council’s website, and it would be good practice to update it at least quarterly,” the directors say.
The instructions also explain the rationale for this requirement. “Local authorities can use these notifications from elected officials to ensure (…) no double payment when the expenses are covered by the other body,” they say.
The Association of Irish Local Government (AILG), one of the representative organizations of advisers, told RTÉ Investigates that it is reminding its members of their disclosure obligations.
“We provide introductory training at the start of each counseling period,” said Tommy Moylan, Director of AILG.
“We have also published a very detailed orientation manual for elected members, which is circulated and fully available on our website, which will give our members full details of their obligations.”
But respect for these rules, both by elected officials and by local authorities, is inconsistent.
“It is the duty of the deputy to inform the local authority”
At present, three of the country’s largest local authorities – South Dublin County Council, Fingal County Council and Cork City Council – do not publish records of payments from external bodies to their advisers.
South Dublin County Council told RTÉ it is investigating that it “has not received notification of payments made to elected members and, as such, has not published a separate record of payments.”
Elsewhere, Fingal County Council told us it does not keep this record “because no complaints have been submitted by councilors regarding payments from outside agencies.”
He also stressed that under the Law on Local Administration, “It is the duty of the deputy to inform the local authority”.
Cork City Council said “no returns were made between 2014 and 2019” but added that the councilor’s first return was made in the last quarter of last year. He said he currently had “no formal process in place” but that “a standardized reporting format is being put in place”.
Meanwhile, in several other local communities, the records of external agencies are clearly incomplete, with only a handful of entries in the past few years.
“Only two advisers submitted this information”
RTÉ is investigating requests made under the Freedom of Information Act to several local authorities seeking correspondence related to notifications from external bodies.
The correspondence shows how board trustees send repeated remainder letters to some advisers, asking them to send in their statements.
While it is also clearly good practice for the board to request these notifications, there is nothing in the rules that requires advisers to submit notifications only on request.
However, no sanction is foreseen in the law on local authorities for councilors who refuse to provide their notifications.
In one municipality, which has a register of external organizations on its website for 2014-2018 with only a handful of registrations relating to two advisers, a reminder email was sent to its advisers in April 2020.
Local elected officials who broke the spending rules
He said: “The letters [were] published in February 2019 and October 2019 informing you of your obligation to submit details of claims for reimbursement of travel and living expenses of your representation to external bodies under section 141 (1) of the 2001 Act on local government. We received a media inquiry and a request from FOI asking for details of representations to external organizations for the year 2018. “
“To date, only two advisers have submitted this information. Please email your statements to me immediately, as this information must be available for both the press release and the FOI request.”
Ministerial Instructions also provide additional rationale for the requirement to disclose external payments.
In addition to expenses, advisers are also expected to disclose the number of kilometers they have driven on behalf of outside agencies. These kilometers are then aggregated with the kilometers they have traveled for conferences and training, in order to determine on which of the four travel bands an advisor is located.
The bands, in turn, determine what rate per kilometer the counselor should be paid for conference and training travel.
The Directorates explain that local authorities can use notifications from external bodies to ensure that “the member is on the appropriate travel band, based on the aggregation of distance traveled, when claiming expenses at the local authority for conferences and training “.
But because compliance with this requirement is so uneven, many advisers are likely being paid the incorrect rates because their external trips are not aggregated with other trips they take.
In the meantime, there is an additional problem with the aggregation system.
Councils have appointment rights in a wide range of public bodies, such as education and training councils, regional assemblies, etc.
The Local Government Act specifies that councilors are to inform their local authority of details of payments, meetings and kilometers traveled, undertaken with another body to which they have been appointed, by their local authority.
But councilors often sit on other councils, not as candidates for their local authorities, but as candidates for other public bodies.
For example, many advisers are board members of education and training committees, as board candidates. Training committees, in turn, often appoint their members, including advisers, to the boards of institutes of technology, where they act as representatives of education and training committees (rather than their boards) .
Watch on RTÉ Player:
RTÉ investigation: claims, planes and automobiles
The ministerial instructions also explain: “When the travel expenses are claimed by more than one public service body (that is to say external bodies), it is the cumulative distance of all the accumulated trips that determines the travel lane the member is on at any given time. “
The confusion lies in whether travel with all public service bodies should be disclosed – i.e. public bodies where councilors are city councilors and other public bodies from which they claim expenses. separately – or only public bodies where they are municipal councilors. .
In 2018, Wexford County Council posed this same question to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
According to counsel, the “Department has indicated that ‘all travel’ includes travel for which travel expenses have been paid by a public body, regardless of whether the travel has been made in relation to the applicant’s role as an elected member. , as a candidate from a local authority to a third body, or in a personal capacity.
But, as we found out, most local authorities don’t interpret the rules that way. Ten communes told us that they felt that all public bodies should be included (i.e. they had the same point of view as the Department), while the other 21 councils said that , in their interpretation, only trips involving public bodies with council candidates were relevant.
“Complex to understand and administer”
Meanwhile, a review of advisor pay and terms by lawyer Sara Moorhead refers to some of the difficulties associated with the aggregation system.
He said representative organizations of advisers were “strongly opposed to aggregation of spending, which is complex to understand and administer.”
Its review, which was published last year, recommended that the aggregation requirement should no longer be applied, as it places “an excessive administrative burden on local authorities and councilors.”
Watch RTÉ Investigates: Claims, Planes and Automobiles on RTÉ Player.