CITY councillors have claimed almost €70,000 attending conferences over the last year.
Figures obtained by the Limerick Leader show the city’s 17 representatives spent a total of €69,313.91 attending conferences across the country.
Members are entitled to claim a maximum of €4,800 travelling to conferences, the fee of the event itself, as well as subsistence.
However, events attended as a representative of the city are not counted towards a member’s personal claim.
The highest claimant in the city was Fianna Fail councillor Kieran O’Hanlon – although much of this was spent representing the city as the deputy mayor at the Pride of Place awards in Derry.
Three councillors – Mayor Kathleen Leddin, Pat Kennedy and Maria Byrne – attended the Kennedy Summer School in New Ross, Co Wexford in September, claiming a total of €1,464 between them.
Elsewhere, Labour councillor Joe Leddin joined Fine Gael’s Jim Long in April at an event in Carlingford, Co Louth, focused on ‘Starting and Growing a Chamber of Commerce in your community’. They claimed €1,278 between then, and in a report to City Council, Cllr Long said Limerick should have “a local community based chamber ... taking on board very small businesses, corporations, volunteers, religious groups and school groups.”
Four councillors were in attendance at the Merriman Summer School in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare. Between them, Mayor Leddin, Cllr O’Hanlon, Gerry McLoughlin and Tom Shortt claimed a total of €2,520.29 in subsistence, travel and conference fees on the event, which looked at whether the two societies in Ireland’s northern and southern regions were growing apart.
In his report to City Hall, Cllr Shortt said the event took a “provocative look at the evolution of the political and cultural relationships between the two states, north and south”. Cllr McLoughlin told the Leader this week: “I love linking up with my fellow nationalists and unionists on the other side of the fence. It is important we understand the social issues facing both sides. We do not understand the society up there properly, and I think opportunities like these are important.”
Northside Fine Gael councillor Michael Hourigan attended the James Fintan Lalor Inaugural School in Portlaoise in September, claiming a total of €250.00.
He also attended an event focused on local government reform in Bunratty, in which he claimed expenses for a stay overnight.
However, Cllr Hourigan this Wednesday phoned the Limerick Leader to say he would be rescinding his claim for accommodation and returning the money claimed.
Cllrs Cormac Hurley and Shortt were in attendance at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal.
Cllr Shortt claimed a total of €1,183 at this event, while Cllr Hurley received €882.89.
The northside Labour councillor was also at the 19th Byrne/Pery Summer School in Gorey, which looked at the Great Lockout of 2013.
Limerick’s sole attendee at the Colmcille Winter School in Churchill, Co Donegal, which focused on whether the euro will survive was chairman of the economic committee, Cllr Diarmuid Scully. His participation cost a total of €763.43, including the conference fee.
Fine Gael councillor Scully was also in attendance at the Parnell Summer School in Rathdrum, with the cost of his attendance at that amounting to €1,053.05.
Cllrs Kevin Kiely and Jim Long were in attendance at the Epilepsy Ireland National Conference in Tullamore in September. They claimed €389.46 between them.
In a report to City Council, Cllr Kiely wrote: “I came away from the conference very well informed about an illness I knew nothing about. This was an excellent experience for me.”
Cllrs Ger Fahy and John Gilligan attended a conference in Donegal asking whether the abolition of some local authorities was unconstitutional.
At this week’s council meeting, Cllr Kiely called for an embargo on the attendance of conferences between now and May’s local election. However, he failed to win any support in the Chamber.
“I suppose the councillors do not want to give up their six month’s worth of expenses,” Cllr Kiely commented, commenting that this would be worth around €2,500 to each of them.
Sinn Fein’s northside councillor Maurice Quinlivan was the lowest claimant, attending just one conference. He has written to the city manager Conn Murray requesting that his conference allowance of €4,800 is this year used to help those affected by the weekend floods in the city.
“I think we need to review the money we spend on conferences, especially when we are asking people to pay a property tax, and they are terrified about water taxes coming in soon. Some conferences are necessary, but some of them are ridiculous. How many people need to go to the MacGill Summer School?” he asked.
Note: for a separate report on claims by county councillors, see the Leader’s County edition.