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Dublin: 3 °C Thursday 17 January, 2019
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Noel Rock: I'm taking €0 expenses – here's why

Unvouched expenses would not be tolerated in the any other business, and taxpayers shouldn’t have to tolerate it either.

Noel Rock

IF ELECTED TO Dublin City Council, I intend to take zero expenses. Zilch. The minimum that most main party candidates take is €35,000 over a five-year term.

Some take more, for things like sitting on various committees, or travelling to conferences. Or, in one bizarre case, a course for training to be a radio presenter – we, the taxpayers, stumped up €240 for that. And for what? I’m not sure. A Councillor who can stand in for Ronan Collins isn’t much use to a constituent when they need a local issue resolved.

But the real problem with all this is in the original €35,000 figure. It’s unvouched and unreceipted, so there is no transparency or accountability. And, more importantly, it means there is no way of distinguishing between Councillor A who does a lot of work and racks up legitimate expenses, and Councillor B who works three other jobs and does little for the area, apart from the odd rant or public appearance. They both get the same lump of expenses and neither of them have to show a single receipt to prove if their expenses were legitimate, necessary or relevant to their role. It’s hugely frustrating to see and it is ridiculous systems like this which cause people to be so disillusioned with politics.

We badly need accountability

I believe that we badly need accountability and transparency in order to begin rebuilding the faith of some in politics. At national level, this has been done, and the antiquated unreceipted expenses regime has been disposed of. So, until that system comes about at local level, I am foregoing expenses and taking €0. I will lay down a motion at the earliest possible opportunity to bring about a receipted, vouched system and I will work to bring about higher standards in public office, transparency, accountability, honesty and fairness.

In taking my pledge, I have been accused of promoting politics as a rich person’s game, and that there are legitimate expenses incurred as part of any job. I am completely aware of this, but my problem is with the current system of expenses payments. It would not be tolerated in the any other business, and taxpayers shouldn’t have to tolerate it either.

The money saved by me not taking expenses is €35,000 that can go on a variety of services provided by the Council – it might mean another €35,000 for the homeless budget. Some say to me that it’s just a drop in the ocean, but either way, I’d rather be giving to my community than taking from it.

I believe that reform is urgently needed

My stance on expenses hit the headlines a few months ago when a party colleague made some ridiculous remarks on Twitter about the stance and about me. I believe the behaviour of that Councillor wasn’t appropriate for a public representative, and the response and encouragement I have received from my neighbours confirms that.

I believe that reform is urgently needed; I want to be able to look my constituents in the eye and say I never took part in an unfair, unvouched, outdated expenses system.

Confidence in politics and many of our institutions has been severely eroded in the last decade – with scandal after scandal meaning people were tricked into thinking systems can’t change and politics can’t progress. But it can.

The end of unvouched expenses is just one tiny step, but the future for democracy in Dublin – and Ireland – can be bright. We just need to make sure we get the right representatives to implement it.

Noel Rock is a Fine Gael Local Election candidate for Glasnevin, Drumcondra, Whitehall, Santry, Ballymun. 

Read: Seanad committee wins appeal over Ivor Callelly expense claims

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