Varadkar to allow councillors to access social welfare benefits

Move to address anomaly where councillors pay PRSI but get no access to benefits

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar is to allow councillors access a range of social welfare benefits, including the State pension and maternity benefits.

Mr Varadkar has received Cabinet approval to introduce an amendment to the Social Welfare Bill at Committee Stage which would address the anomaly where councillors pay PRSI but get no access to benefits.

The move will allow public representatives secure the same entitlements as self-employed people. This will include access to the State pension, widow pension, maternity benefit, paternity benefit as well as the invalidity pension. There will also be an extension of treatment benefit for dental, optical and hearing care.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said the measures would not increase the net or gross pay of any councillor. It will instead move Ireland to a more European-style social insurance scheme where everyone receives something for paying PRSI.


“Councillors are in a uniquely unfair position as they are entitled to nothing at all in return for paying PRSI. They should not be singled out for special punishment or for special treatment. This measure will bring them into line with other workers or other self-employed people.”


Councillors currently pay 4 per cent PRSI, which is recorded as a class K contribution, meaning there is no entitlement to benefits.

Mr Varadkar announced a review of PRSI contributions with local authority members earlier this year. After a survey of all councillors it was agreed they would move to a class S category, which will allow them to access the same entitlements as all self-employed people.

The other option was to stop paying PRSI, but members agreed the chosen route was the fairest way.

The move has been praised by the Local Authority Members Association (LAMA). In a letter sent to all members, Councillor Bobby O'Connell, the association's general secretary, said this would end the "profoundly unfair position".

“ I would like to thank Minister Varadkar for his open engagement with LAMA on this issue, his willingness to listen to our concerns, and bring forward these changes. This change to the PRSI class will finalise what has long been a source of discontentment for councillors.”


However, Mr O’Connell confirmed councillors would continue to fight for better pay and allowances.

Local representatives currently get €16,565 a year and have previously requested an increase of €6,000. Minister for Housing Simon Coveney had sought to increase their pay by €1,000 earlier this year. However, he was overruled by Fine Gael colleague Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe.

Mr O’Connell said moves must be taken to “reflect the long hours and distances covered by councillors in conducting their duties as a public representative”.

Many have seen the issue of councillors’ pay and benefits as the first sign of a Fine Gael leadership contest between Mr Coveney and Mr Varadkar. The party rules state that the parliamentary party will have 50 per cent of the vote; councillors will have 20 per cent; and party members will have the remaining 30 per cent.