AAA councillor Cian Prendiville has described some conferences council members are entitled to attend as “glorified weekend breaks”.
At the full meeting of Limerick City and County Council, Cllr Prendiville tried to force a vote on which conferences councillors could attend.
But he was blocked in his efforts by council leader Kevin Sheahan, who accused his political rival of “a cheap attempt to get a bit of publicity for himself”.
Councillors are entitled to travel to conferences throughout the year, and can claim up to €700 in travel, subsistence, and the conference fee.
At each monthly meeting, a list of seminars is approved by councillors.
Normally this list is passed without comment. But at this month’s meeting, Cllr Prendiville had other ideas, making a bid to intervene, before he says he was shouted down by members.
Speaking afterwards, he singled out one conference which consisted of four sessions of 45 minutes each, spread over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. “We managed to get through a five-hour meeting in one day. But this is three hours spread over three days. If you are going, you can claim your travel, accommodation, and subsistence payment. It is a holiday really. These conferences are an excuse to go away,” he said.
Cllr Prendiville made a bit to vote on the matter, pointing out that it was allowed under Standing Orders, which is the guide book governing the meeting.
“It felt like I had disrupted the boys’ club. They were obviously very nervous. I had struck a nerve with them.”
“One company, CouncillorsConferences.com seem to be making huge money running so-called conferences which are little more than glorified weekend breaks, paid for by the council. The vast majority of the conferences have the same two ‘expert’ speakers, regardless of the topic,” he said.
However, Cathaoirleach Sheahan said: “I asked him how many conference had he attended, that he could criticise them? He never answered that question. He never answered. But I am quite satisfied that he has never attended conference.”
He pointed out that the allowance for councillors attending conference had been steadily dropping in the last few years to a figure which now stands at €700.
“That would significantly curtail the number of conferences any one councillor could attend.
“I would be concerned the councillor’s own representative body [LAMA], which organises a conference, would be unable to get the support now from councillors around the country to make their conferences a success,” he said.
Cllr Prendiville also said the major parties appeared to “close ranks”.
To which Cllr Sheahan said: “If he observed a closing of ranks, I am glad it happened. They would want to get used to closing ranks and helping the cathaoirleach run the meetings effectively.”