Cash for councillors a sensitive issue
Although the proposal for a pay increase on behalf of district councillors across Northern Ireland comes at a time when the performance of all our elected representatives is under a critical spotlight , it is still an issue which deserves to be carefully considered.
The 2014 local government review resulted in the number of councils being reduced from 26 to 11, while their responsibilities were increased to include planning and a number of other functions.
Most district authorities have responded reasonably well to the new structures, with clear progress made on a range of fronts and memories of the days when civic debating chambers were often regarded as sectarian bearpits fading into the background.
It can also be argued that, with the power-sharing administration at Stormont having been suspended for almost two years, councillors are under additional pressure to fill the vacuum.
However, what cannot be ignored is that, although the Assembly and the Executive are not sitting, 90 MLAs are still engaged in constituency commitments on a daily basis.
Unless devolution is to be completely abandoned, which practically no one is advocating, it would be difficult to imagine an outcome where councillors effectively take on the duties of MLAs.
It was never previously envisaged that the north's 462 councillors would be full time politicians, even though, as we reported on Saturday, they are now pushing for `equality' with MLAs and have called on the Department for Communities to intervene.
If councillors, who receive an annual allowance of £14,000, wish take on upgraded positions, they have the obvious option of running for Stormont, where MLAs were previously paid £49,500 per year, a figure which has been reduced to £42,075 as a result of the suspension and is due to drop further to £39,900 next month.
Should the Assembly upheaval continue for a further period of years, an outcome which cannot be ruled out after the Renewable Heat Incentive debacle, another review of public administration may be necessary.
There is expected to be a concentrated attempt to restore devolution during 2019, and, if it ends in stalemate, it would then be reasonable for the Department for Communities to reassess at least some of the packages for councillors.