Tens of thousands of pounds have been paid out to former local councillors who opted out of politics at last year’s ABC elections, according to figures released this week.
Sums of up to £25,000 were doled out from Stormont to members of the former Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon councils who decided not to stand.
The biggest winner in Craigavon is reported to be Meta Crozier (UUP), whose 26 years’ unbroken service netted her around the £20,000 mark. And a lesser five-figure amount is reported to have been awarded to DUP’s Gladys McCullough with almost 20 years of service in two stints.
Veteran Woolsey Smith pocketed £15,800 for 21 years of service, also in two periods. His is the only definite sum reported in a major investigation by a provincial newspaper this week which claims that £2m was awarded throughout Northern Ireland after last year’s change-over from 26 district councils to the 11 so-called ‘super councils’.
The report stated that Armagh and Banbridge had not taken advantage of the scheme, with only Woolsey Smith named in Craigavon – he retired the previous Christmas. But the data is out of date. The Portadown Times has learned that some former members benefitted to the tune of around £25,000.
In the old Armagh City Council, for example, former Lord Mayor Robert Turner, UUP colleague Sylvia McRoberts and SDLP’s Gerald Mallon are among the main beneficiaries. Mr Turner, with 34 years’ service, is thought to have hit the region of £25,000.
Mr Turner said, “Councillors of various political labels continued to serve during the Troubles, when it was difficult, to say the least. It was much more than council meetings, with members rarely off the go. I’d say every penny is deserved.”
Banbridge’s longest serving councillors include the respected Joan Baird (UUP), David Herron (DUP) and Jim McIlroy (also DUP). Mr McIlroy said, “Joan and David have longer service than I have, and such service has been rightly recognised.”
The cap on the cash hand-out was £35,000, but none within the three councils reached that target.
Twelve Craigavon unionists were denied longer service due to the St Peter’s GAA affair in the late 1980s when they were banned for five years (effectively two council sessions) and fined a total of £100,000.
Mrs McCullough was the only one of that batch of councillors who stood down last year, although Arnold Hatch (UUP) fought and won a seat in ABC.
The format applied to councillors who had served 15 years, with £1,000 for every year during the Troubles and £600 in more peaceful years. The minimum amount was around the £8,400 mark, achieved by quite a few in the three former councils.