fROM rain harvesting to NAMA, Laois County Councillors attended over 50 conferences last year at a cost of almost 85,000 euros to the taxpayer.
More than 150 trips were made, but none of the councillors are named or their individual expenses bills are not published. However, the total expense bill has dropped by some 55,000 euros on almost 140,000 euros paid out in 2009.
A wide variety of topics are covered at the conferences attended, including social networking, child protection, defamation, tourism, banking, NAMA and rainwater harvesting.
The councillors went to the usual variety of summer schools which debate current affairs. Last July, ten members attended the 2010 Patrick McGill Summer School which ran for five days in Glenties. The cost of the summer outing ran to more than 9,500 euros - an average of nearly 1,000 euros per councillor.
The Local Authority Members conference in Sligo, which brings together councillors from all over Ireland, was attended by ten councillors, four less than last year. This year’s bill exceeded, 5,250 euros.
Ten councillors travelled to Ennistymon in Clare last November for a conference on Achieving World Class Tourism at a cost of nearly 5,800 euros. Seven delegates, meanwhile, travelled to Sligo for a conference on ‘The Role of Small Enterprises in Overcoming the Recession’ at a cost of almost 5,400 euros.
Six councillors went to the Association of Municipal Authorities Spring Seminar which cost almost 3,400 euros. The ‘Wars of Independence Challenging Authority’ conference, in Leitrim, attracted seven councillors who claimed expenses of nearly 3,500 euros.
Five councillors travelled to Tralee for a conference on ‘Radon - A hidden killer’ which cost more than 2,800 euros. A building regulations meeting on renewable energy meeting, also in Tralee, attracted six councillors at a cost 3,351.08. The banking crisis was of interest to four councillors who travelled to Tralee last April for a conference titled ‘Banking, Insurance and NAMA.’ It cost nearly 2,400 euros. ‘Possible consensus or conflict between entrepeneurs and economists’ was the subject of a conference in Tralee last September. One councillor went at a cost of 580 euros.
A child protection conference in Letterkenny cost more than 2,400 euros for three councillors to attend. A conference on water conservation, as a result of the impact of the EPA guidelines on planning, attracted four councillors to Tralee at a cost of more than 2,500 euros.
Many of the conferences were attended by just one councillor. The most costly was a two day Climate Change meeting in Letterkenny which cost nearly 790 euros. One unnamed councillor went to a ‘practical guide to embracing school networking as a modern medium for councillors’ conference in Letterkenny. It cost nearly 740 euros. On the other end of the scale, one politician claimed just 60 euros to travel to Dublin for an energy security conference.
Conscious of the media, three politicians attended a defamation seminar in Limerick, while two went to an Irish media and IT skill conference in Clonakility. A planning seminar attracted four delegates, while others attended a ‘Change Management in Local Government’ meeting in Westport, and Council Budgets 2011 event in Tralee.
This year’s destinations of choice for Laois councillors included Kerry with eight conferences, and Donegal with seven. Galway and Donegal hosted four each, which Laois councillors attended, and two in Roscommon.
Not one conference was hosted in Laois, and councillors only attended eight conferences in nearby Kildare and Dublin.
The details of the conferences attended in 2010 by councillors were contained in the Draft Annual Report 2010, It was approved by members at last week’s full council meeting. Other councils publish the names and expenses of councillors who attend meetings but Laois does not. Decisions on who goes to what conferences are made behind closed doors.