Westmeath county councillors received average annual payments of more than €28,000 over the past two years, with four councillors earning in excess of €40,000 last year.
Moate’s Cllr Joe Whelan, as well as Mullingar’s Cllrs Fintan Cooney, Jim Bourke, and Pat McLoughlin all received payments above the €40,000 mark, with Cllr Cooney topping the list as the county’s highest earner for 2009 with a payment of over €47,200.
During the year in question, Cllrs Whelan and Cooney each served as cathaoirleach of the county council, a position which comes with a chairperson’s allowance, while Cllrs Bourke and McLoughlin received a retirement gratuity after they failed to hold on to their seats last year.
Reacting to the figures, according to which he earned over €44,000 last year, Fine Gael’s Cllr Joe Whelan said the payments are “not a money-making scam”, and that councillors merely spend within the parameters of what is approved by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
“In 2009 I was chairman so I got a chairperson’s allowance. People have misinterpreted that we use the money for travelling around the place, but we don’t. We have a base figure and we work within it. If it was delved into properly, people would see it’s not a money-making scam; in some cases councillors are left out of pocket,” he said.
“The figures the Department have approved are the figures we get, we don’t get over and above this. We work for our money, and are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. I don’t have a problem with the figures. If you look at the other counties, I think you’ll find Westmeath gives good value for money.”
Deputy Mary O’Rourke feels Westmeath councillors are offering value for money.
“I would take the opinion that it’s their own business. I know many very good councillors from many parties, who serve their county and their own areas well.
“I was a councillor back when there was no payment of any kind,” she added.
In neighbouring Roscommon the average payment to councillors over the past two years was almost €33,000.
The figures, published by the Irish Independent this week, reveal that average earnings nationally were €32,400, while councillors ran up a total payments bill of €75.6 million for each of the past two years. Payments have almost tripled since 2005, when the total figure was €26 million.