Mayor’s driver will earn more than ‘underpaid’ councillors

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THE personal driver for Limerick’s directly elected Mayor will be paid more than local councillors, according to a local Fine Gael representative who believes that councillors are underpaid and overstretched.

Northside city councillor Olivia O’Sullivan, who is self-employed and a mother of two young children, won a seat on Limerick’s joint City and County Council after contesting her first-ever election last May.

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The office of the directly elected mayor is expected to cost €313,916, including the mayor’s salary of around €129, 854 plus €16,000 expenses; an advisor and programme officer both earning €66,741; and a personal driver who will earn €34,580.

The Advisory Group that will set the timetable for the establishment of the new mayoral role met councillors for the first time at City Hall on Monday when it was suggested that the mayoral election could take place sometime in 2021.

One of the new mayor’s most important powers would be to draft the Council’s annual budget, which is currently the responsibility of a local authority’s chief executive.

When asked if the salary was too high, Advisory Group chairman Tim O’Connor said it would be terrific value as long as “the right mayor doing the right job” was elected.

The office of the new mayor would be relatively small, and the potential would be to build on the success of what Limerick has already achieved over the last several years, Mr O’Connor added.

Current Mayor Michael Sheahan, who was elected by his fellow councillors, insisted that funding must be forthcoming from central government for the new mayor’s office.

In tandem with last May’s local and European elections, the Limerick electorate voted for the establishment of the new mayoral position in a plebiscite, while voters in Cork and Waterford voted against the proposal.

Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform John Paul Phelan told councillors the role of the directly elected mayor was “a chance for Limerick to lead the way in local government reform”.

Cllr Olivia O’Sullivan, Fine Gael. Photo: Cian Reinhardt

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr O’Sullivan said she could understand the amount of the new mayor’s proposed annual salary, because government “want to get serious people for a serious role”.

However, when asked if a personal driver costing nearly €35,000 was essential to the role, she replied that while she was not going to make any presumptions about any supporting roles to the mayor, she added, “certainly the driver will be paid much better than councillors, but lets hope that will be addressed”.

“The salary for a councillor is €17,100, and obviously there are expenses, but it’s less than the minimum wage. It’s a very overstretched role and, in my opinion, it is underpaid. I’m new to it, I’m only six months in it, but there is a big commitment on a weekly basis.

“I’m self-employed and I don’t know how you could do this job and be answerable to an employer on a daily basis, because the amount of meetings and commitments; just to fulfil the role is very difficult.”

“It is very underpaid, it’s less than the minimum wage. Although it’s said to be a part-time role, the expectation of people is certainly that it is not part-time. You do have to manage it along with another job because you don’t get paid enough for it to be full-time.”

“In my case, I have got a young family and that’s my choice to go into it, but I certainly couldn’t be in a full-time job answerable to an employer and do this, not to mind going home to a family and the commitments there. So, it is definitely very over-stretched and underpaid,” she added.