Fiona O'Loughlin spent the most on conferences
FIANNA Fail Cllr. Fiona O'Loughlin was the top spender from the budget, attending conferences on 29 days during the year and spending a little less than 10 per cent of the total budget.
But her spending was just narrowly ahead of her party colleague, Martin Miley, and she was happy to justify the spending in the context of her council work at the time.
She also said the budget has now been cut to €2,500 per member.
In February, she attended the Merriman School in Galway for three days from February 6-8 at a cost of €657.
Later that month she attended a seminar in Louth over two days with councillors from northern and southern Ireland on local government reform, at a cost of €543.
Also in late February, she attended a seminar on vote maximisation in Dublin at a cost of €498.
She also attended a seminar on sustainable tourism in Cork at a cost of €941 from March 6-8.
On March 19-20, the council paid €645 for a Comhdhail na Gaeilge conference and on April 2-3 she was in Kilkenny for the annual conference of the Association of County and City Councillors.
On April 19, Cllr O'Loughlin attended a seminar in Athlone entitled 'Get Elected: You The Media', at a cost of €419.
On May 7-8 she was in Cork for the 25th Annual Environmental Conference, at a cost of €772.
From August 7-9 she attended a renewable energy seminar in Mayo, at a cost of €750 and shortly afterwards, on August 14-16 she was in Galway for a local government conference on the protection of water, at a cost of €720.
From the August 20-23 she was in May for the Humbert Summer school, at a cost to the council of €838. Two other council members also attended, costing a similiar amount.
Her total, though the highest, was not far above others and came to €7,425.
This is only an example and Cllr O'Loughlin was not alone on a number of these trips.
Speaking to the Leader this week, Cllr O'Loughlin said the council has reviewed the budget it has taken the view that given the current economic situation, it will be confining members to a spend of €2,500 this year. "That is absolutely the right thing to do," she said, adding that she was part of that process.
She said that there will always be a need for training and re-skilling and the conferences have been an opportunity to meet government officials and professionals in specialised areas about which councillors needed to know.
Some conferences ran over weekends and she estimated that about half the costs went into conference fees, some of which were expensive. The rest was for accommodation and mileage.
But she believes that she and other councillors have gained from this. As an example she said she attended one conference run by the Association of Festivals, which she added was expensive to attend, and has a lot of information to give to festival committees around the county.
Cllr O'Loughlin said that the list of conferences attended came from a list of "approved" conferences drawn up by officials. Councillors do not pick their own from a long list of those to which they are invited.
Regarding summer schools, such as literary ones, she pointed out that the council does have a function in the culture and the arts and councillors needed to be informed about this area.
She accepted the point that they may not be directly relevant although she had a keen personal interest and they were linked to council business, particularly in the arts and library area.
She said the council has changed the system whereby groups within the council were given a fixed amount to spend. If one member could not go, another could step in. That has stopped now under the new scheme, which she fully supports.
Five other members attented the Merriman School in February at €657.12 a head.
Five attended the conference on renewable energy in Sligo at a cost of €1,023 each.
Five also attended the 25th Annual Environment Conference in May.
Three members, Mark Dalton, Pat Black and Michael Nolan attended the Colmcille Winter School on February 27 to March 1, at a cost of €965.22.
A group of seven councillors attended a planning and development control conference in Galway in March at a cost of €827 each.
On May 13 the European Network of Homeless Organisations had a half-day seminar in North Great Georges Street in Dublin at a cost of €76.38, the cheapest on the list but nobody attended.
Only one member, Fianna Fail Cllr Liam Doyle attended a conference run by the housing organisation, Respond, which was held in the Osprey Hotel beside the council headquarters in Naas.
The conference title was: 'Is combating poverty a dead agenda?'
The full list of expenses is (number of conferences attended in brackets): Fiona O'Loughlin, FF, €7429.9 (11); Martin Miley Jnr, FF, €7237.76 (10); Liam Doyle, FF, €6841.28 (10); Willie Callaghan, FF, €6076.45 (8); Kevin Byrne, Lab, €5,625.30 (7); Michael Nolan, FG, €5098.88 (6); Geraldine Conway, FF, €5053.24 (6); Katie Ridge, FG, €4,909.09 (6) ; Mark Dalton, FF, €4574.71 (6); Pat Black, FF, €4,511.39 (7); Darragh Fitzpatrick, FF, €4491 (8); Brendan Weld, FG, €3,391(4) ; Rainsford Hendy, FG, €2,764.95 (4); Francis Browne, Lab, €1,883 (3); Billy Hillis, FG, €1,877 (3); Catherine Murphy, Ind, €1,092.30 (2); Martin Heydon, FG, €745.71 (1); Tony Lawlor, FG, €745 (1)and Fionnula Dukes, FG, €541 (1).
• Readers should be aware that some members were there for only part of the year due to the election in June but the top six spenders were there for there entire year.
• Those serving only part of the year include Geraldine Conway, Katie Ridge, Pat Black, Darragh Fitzpatrick, Rainsford Hendy, Martin Heydon, Tony Lawlor and Fionnula Dukes.
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