City Hall was packed for Monday night’s monthly council meeting.
There is usually strong attendance at these meetings. It’s where final decisions are made on the city issues that councillors get a say on.
But how, on the whole, are councillors doing when it comes to attendance for all meetings?
Using Dublin City Council records from 2015, we’ve averaged out each councillor’s attendance at all the meetings they were supposed to go to from January to December. So you can have a look and see how often your local councillors turn up.
To get our results, we totted up attendance for each individual councillor by looking at the number of meetings each one was supposed to go to, and how many of these they actually attended. On the graphs, the percentage of attendance is shown.
Meetings: A Cheat Sheet
Just as a quick reminder, aside from the busy monthly meetings that usually get the most attention, councillors have plenty of others to attend: budget meetings, strategic policy committees, and the more locally focused area committees and joint policing committees.
No councillor has to attend all these meetings, but it’s a big part of their job. They should attend the monthly council meetings and emergency meetings called by the Lord Mayor, as well as meetings concerning the local area they were elected to represent.
They should also attend the meetings of whichever strategic policy committee they are part of, which could concern housing, transportation, the environment, finance, economic development and enterprise, planning and international relations, or arts, culture, leisure and community.
What the Figures Show
On average, councillors attended just under 84 percent of their meetings.
Although no councillor has a perfect record, five have missed just one meeting each. These five councillors also had the highest percentage of attendance.
Top of the list is Ciarán O’Moore of Sinn Féin, making it to more than 98 percent of his 59 meetings.
Then follow Noeleen Reilly of Sinn Féin, independent Vincent Jackson, United Left councillor Pat Dunne and Sinn Féin councillor Emma Murphy.
Of the council’s 63 sitting representatives, 22 had more than 90 percent attendance.
Looking at the other end of the list, just six councillors had attendance below 70 percent.
At the bottom was Fine Gael’s Kate O’Connell with just 54 percent attendance at her 48 meetings. She had a baby back in October, which might explain some of her absences.
She was followed by Éilis Ryan of the Workers’ Party (61 percent), Aine Clancy of Labour (64 percent), Brendan Carr of Labour (65 percent), Declan Flanagan of Fine Gael (66 percent) and John Lyons of People Before Profit (68 percent).
(It should probably also be noted that Aine Clancy was due to attend more meetings than other councillors. In 2015, she attended 40 out of 63 meetings, while a handful of other councillors were only expected at 40.)
A Part-Time Role
For their part-time role in local government, councillors get paid over €16,000 plus expenses for meetings, call costs and conferences. Not much to get by on as a single salary, so many also have full-time jobs.
Top attender O’Moore of Sinn Fein believes it’s very important to go to meetings. “People elected us as councillors, we should be there to represent them,” he says.
As he sees it, people shouldn’t put themselves forward as candidates if they don’t have the time to do their duties as councillors and attend meetings.
He’s come across councillors resigning from committees, because the workload became too much for them. “I respect that they had the decency to do that,” he says. It’s better than just not showing up.
O’Moore is retired and so devotes his time to council work. He points out that the main council meetings always take place at 6.15pm to accommodate those who work during the day. But it doesn’t always suit him.
“I go because I represent the local people,” he says.
Councillor Kate O’Connell whose attendance lies at the other end of the scale says she was able to continue some council work from bed, though having a baby contributed to her low attendance at meetings.
“There’s no allowances for special circumstances,” she says.
But as a full-time pharmacist working in a late-night chemist, she admits it can be difficult to make it to meetings during the day or emergency meetings that are called without much notice.
“You can’t get anyone to cover you on Thursday nights,” she says. But she always has Mondays off so she can make the monthly council meetings.
She imagines the strategic policy committee meetings, which take place during the day, pose problems for a lot of councillors with full-time day jobs.
“I’ve often said that a job as a councillor suits people who are retired or unemployed,” she says. “But does that exclude some people from being represented? It excludes people who work during the day.”
For a true representation of society going forward, should councillors be paid? she asks. Should they be full-time?
Before the monthly council meeting concluded on Monday night, the chamber began to empty out.
This thoroughly annoyed O’Moore. People going in and out weren’t treating the meeting seriously, he says. “Even if they’re not interested in a particular topic, they should still stay and have their say. It’s disgraceful,” he says.
Like children before their summer holidays, he puts some councillors’ disinterest down to pre-general-election jitters.
Some candidates-come-councillors may not have to worry about attending next month’s council meeting if elected. We’ve highlighted the council attendance of general election candidates in red below.