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£2.2m given out in golden goodbyes to retiring Northern Ireland politicians

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 04/08/2015

Since May more than £400,000 has been shared between retirees. Pictue posed
Since May more than £400,000 has been shared between retirees. Pictue posed

A pay-off scheme set up for retiring councillors has now handed out more than £2.2 million in golden handshakes, it can be revealed.

More than £400,000 has been shared since May, according to new figures.

A further 27 outgoing councillors are included in the most recent round of severance payments, on top of the 103 who already received £1.8m in settlements.

The 27 received pay-offs of up to £31,200 each.

Earlier this year the 26 councils were replaced by 11 larger super councils as part of a massive public sector cost-cutting drive.

It saw the number of councillors slashed from 582 to 462.

A severance package for those who stepped down was agreed, and applied to any councillor who served for at least 12 years.

Last month the Belfast Telegraph reported how £1.8m had been shared by councillors who qualified for the severance scheme as of May.

A fresh release of payments, covering the period from May 12 to June 28, reveals 27 more councillors have received awards totalling £412,600.

The pay-offs include:

  • £31,200 for Samuel Dunlop, who stepped down as a DUP councillor on Antrim District Council after 38 years.
  • £23,200 for retiring Magherfelt DUP councillor Thomas Catherwood.
  • £23,200 for John McLaughlin and Patrick McGowan, who both retired from Omagh District Council after 30 years.
  • And £23,200 for David Herron, a DUP councillor on Banbridge District Council for 30 years.

The severance scheme has attracted criticism, including from councillors themselves.

Austen Lennon, a former independent councillor in North Down, said he opposed the pay-offs, although he accepted his. Jonathan Isaby, the chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said that while cutting the number of councillors was welcome, costs must be kept down in the interim.

"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. Payouts must be proportionate," he said.

However, the association which represents councillors in Northern Ireland defended the scheme.

Joe Boyle, who is secretary of the National Association of Councillors, said it was a recognition of years of service. "Some of these councillors have given 30-plus years to local government. In line with many companies and different organisations, where numbers are reduced, there is a pay-off that goes with it."

Mr Boyle, an SDLP councillor on the new Ards and North Down Borough Council, said the scheme will save money in the long-term.

"We have reduced from 582 councillors to 462, so we have 120 fewer operating under the 11 council model," he added. That saving is partly offset by a rise in councillors' basic allowances, from £9,835 a year to £14,200 under the new model.

Mr Boyle added: "Their allowances are higher but they are doing more.

"They have more responsibilities now than they had with the 26 council model."

In total 130 former councillors have now shared £2,254,000 in pay-offs.

The payments range from £7,800 to a maximum £35,000.

Belfast Telegraph

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