My proposing speech on local democracy motion:
That this Ard-Fheis calls for the implementation of measures that would provide for greater participation in local democracy. (Sallins Cumann, Kildare North)
Minister, Teachta Daila, Senators, A delgaidi, etc etc,
It is a great honour to address this Ard Fheis.
In proposing this motion I intend to address a twin track of public representation and more generally citizen involvement in public institutions and volunteer sector as a whole.
Public Rep versus Private Employment
Delegates I put it to you that current structures preclude large sections of today’s society from involvement in local democracy be it at elected representative or volunteer activist.
Pressures of Modern living including commuting, raising a family, increasing demands of the workplace make it difficult for all but the most motivated individuals to find time for participation in community activity.
Furthermore we risk alienating a significant pool of talent from the ranks of public representatives if we fail to recognise the conflict that exists between private employment and public representation, certainly at local authority level.
The duties of local representation encompass a significant weekly workload, an availability of contact and access to constituents as well as journalists and other stakeholders as well as regular meetings to conduct official council business usually scheduled during business hours.
However council business is still largely regarded as an honorary or part-time occupation certainly for remuneration purposes.
Town Council is regarded as entirely a position of honour whilst after expenses county or city councillors take away perhaps one fifth the salary of a senator certainly not a living wage.
All of this poses great challenges for any individual who must combine private employment with public duties both through financial necessity and because the nature of their occupation does not lend itself to availability during business hours.
As a consequence demographics of the body politic are not fully reflective of the greater public, the majority of whom are 9-5, PAYE workers, as only certain professions can accommodate the demands of public service.
Arguably it also denigrates the representation of citizens where advocates must juggle demands of external employment with public representation as priority conflicts are not easily reconciled –
This also leads in many cases to a dilemma of double-jobbing –
And in a crisis who comes first – the boss or the constituent?
Delegates I believe the remuneration levels for councillors should be revised and made reflective of the workload and demands of the position. If we are to attract candidates from the broader demographic spectrum this is a necessary step.
In the meantime I believe there are certain measures which could help reconcile the conflict –
Council business, certainly official meetings, could be made analogous to Jury Service or training with the Reserve Defence Forces for example which currently enjoy special status.
Legislation mandating the release of employees attaining positions in public service to mandatory leave facilities akin to parental leave legislation could be enacted.
Broadening the argument to general citizen involvement an overlapping series of initiatives could be piloted to enable greater participation in community or council activity for both elected officials and general citizen involvement.
Whilst there is no substitute to face-to-face meetings for key decisions or introductions, web technologies offer many possibilities for remote conferencing and for online collaboration reducing the dependency on meetings and physical presence.
Individuals on a team can participate at times of own preference, collaborate on documents, posting opinions to web boards, using internet technologies for both remote meetings and to bring together offline contributions.
Also as corporate social responsibility grows in importance in the private sector, employees could be encouraged to participate in community activism with support from employers. Similar programmes already exist towards many charitable activities such as the Junior Achievement organisation where employers allow employees time to work in
There is no reason this could not be rolled out to community and local government participation.
Public sector employers could lead by example in this regard.
Other options may include financial allowances such as tax credits for involvement in public service duties.
Delegates let us recognise the increasing role and workload our councillors perform and let us adapt to the demands of changing modern society. I propose that councillors should enjoy sufficient remuneration to be freed from secondary occupations and in doing so that we acknowledge the huge contribution they make to local and community process.
We would also enable a currently under-represented generation and demographic to embrace the political process.
I believe this would enhance our party, our councils and our communities in the process.