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£1.8m payday for councillors retiring for Northern Ireland's new super councils

By Rebecca Black and Adrian Rutherford

Published 13/07/2015

Councillors who quit politics when the new 'super councils' launched this year received almost £2m in golden handshakes, it can be revealed
Councillors who quit politics when the new 'super councils' launched this year received almost £2m in golden handshakes, it can be revealed
Kieran McCarthy MLA
Maurice Mills

Councillors who quit politics when the new 'super councils' launched this year received almost £2m in golden handshakes, it can be revealed.

According to official figures, the largest payout of £35,000 was handed to five long-serving councillors - two DUP, two SDLP and one Ulster Unionist.

The 26 old councils were merged into 11 as part of a massive public service cost-saving exercise, and the number of councillors dropped from 582 to the 462 in April.

Councillors with more than 12 years' service were offered golden handshakes based upon how many years they had served.

Last year Environment Minister Mark H Durkan, whose department is responsible for the severance scheme, refused to reveal the identities of the elected representatives involved.

But figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph from his department reveal who shared in a total jackpot of £1.8m.

The highest hand-out of £35,000 went to:

Maurice Mills (DUP) who served 43 years on Ballymena Council,

Roy Gillespie (DUP) who served 42 years in Ballymena,

Harry Connolly (SDLP) who served 42 years in Ballymoney,

Samuel Glasgow (UUP) who served 42 years in Cookstown, and

Patrick Daly (SDLP) who served 42 years in Dungannon.

The smallest payout was £7,800 which was received by Pat McGinn (Sinn Fein) for 13 years on Newry and Mourne Council.

Of the 26 former councils, six had not taken advantage of the golden handshakes by May 12. They are Armagh, Banbridge, Castlereagh, Magherafelt, Newtownabbey and Omagh.

It can also be revealed that four former councillors who received payouts are MLAs. They are Maurice Morrow (DUP, Fermanagh-South Tyrone), Kieran McCarthy (Alliance, Strangford), Gordon Dunne (DUP, North Down) and George Robinson (DUP, East Londonderry).

Former East Antrim MP Roy Beggs (UUP) received £15,000 for the 42 years he served on Larne council.

In North Down, husband and wife Brian and Anne Wilson received a combined total of £38,000 for 34 and 20 years' service.

However, one of the former councillors who received a payout has said he opposed them, even though he accepted his.

Austen Lennon, who was an independent councillor in North Down for 22 years, received a £15,200 pay out.

He has welcomed the details of the severance payments being made public.

"I opposed the severance payments, even though I'm now going to take mine," he said.

"I don't feel the slightest bit hypocritical, because I'm not rich enough to turn down the £15,000 that they gave me.

"But I fought against them the whole time because we did a job and we were told what we were going to be paid - each month, each year.

"We took that on voluntarily without any promise of severance pay at the end."

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said pay-offs must be proportionate.

"Cutting the number of councils and councillors should be good news in the long run for taxpayers, but costs have to be kept down in the interim," he said.

"Too often, public sector individuals - either elected or otherwise - walk off with sizeable pay-offs and we have to learn our lessons if any further downsizing occurs."

Meanwhile, Derek McCallan, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association - the umbrella body for councillors here - defended the pay-offs as recognition of the "long and outstanding service of many elected members".

"The councillor severance scheme was designed to streamline and to recognise the contribution of long-serving councillors who did not be stand for re-election, many of whom have served their communities during periods of instability for up to 40 years," he said.

"These councillors made a significant contribution to the needs of people in their areas and were accountable to people in local communities 365 days a year.

"When compared to public sector severance schemes made available in other sectors, and when put beside councillor severance schemes in Scotland and similar neighbouring jurisdictions, this is a proportionately small overall figure and average figure per recipient.

"Recipients were required to have served for a minimum of 12 years and there was a cap on individual payments of £35,000 - the average receipt is actually less than half that amount."

He said the pay-outs were a crucial part of forward planning.

"In public life and in business, succession management is crucial and the minister through his departmental budget has implemented this scheme at no additional cost to ratepayers, the 26 legacy or 11 new councils."

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