Varadkar’s councillors move seen as leadership bid

Minister to consider allowing politicians to access range of social welfare benefits

One source said Mr Varadkar had been “unusually quiet” since he became Minister for Social Protection. Photograph: PA

One source said Mr Varadkar had been “unusually quiet” since he became Minister for Social Protection. Photograph: PA

 

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar is to consider allowing councillors rights to access a number of social welfare benefits.

In what some have described as a party leadership move, Mr Varadkar said local authority members were being treated unfairly and the position needed to be examined.

He said councillors pay 4 per cent PRSI but are not covered for jobseeker’s benefit, jobseeker’s allowance or illness benefit.

They are also not entitled to a State pension when they retire as county councillors.

“That is uniquely unfair,” Mr Varadkar said. “I am going to consult with them on two options. The first is to continue to pay and to get some benefits, and the second is to stop paying and still get no benefits.

“So that would bring them into line with other workers or self-employed”, he added.

All public office holders pay PRSI on their income since 2010 but do not receive the benefits other workers do.

More than 1,300 office holders are estimated to be affected, including almost 950 city, county and borough councillors.

Severance payments

The others are the President, Government Ministers, TDs and Senators, the country’s 12 MEPs, judges, the Attorney General, the Comptroller and Auditor General. However, unlike councillors, they can access severance payments and pensions when they step down.

Mr Varadkar said he hoped to address this anomaly in the Social Welfare Bill to be introduced following the budget.

Many in Fine Gael said this was the Minister’s first move in his bid to replace Taoiseach Enda Kenny as party leader.

One source said Mr Varadkar had been “unusually quiet” since he became Minister for Social Protection.

“He used his first significant announcement to announce a review of the position of councillors. Let us not forget councillors have a vote in the Fine Gael leadership contest”, the source said. “It is a brave move . . . One that may not make him so popular with the public but one the councillors will be grateful for.”