Tuesday 28 February 2017

Dail break fails to see reduction in expenses

Huge claims racked up over holiday period despite payments overhaul

DANIEL McCONNELL Chief Reporter

TDs received €2.3m in expenses payments between June and September, despite the Dail being closed for 12 weeks, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

At a time when the country is facing Budget cuts of €4bn, the high spend on expenses comes despite an overhaul in the allowances paid earlier this year, which sought to reduce the amounts by up to 25 per cent.

Figures published by the Houses of the Oireachtas reveal that between the beginning of June and the end of September, members claimed €2,303,138 between them -- even though the Dail closed on July 8 and only returned on September 29.

The figures also show that despite there being no committee hearings in August as well as no Dail sittings, the 163 members of the lower house claimed €575,000 in expenses, according to official figures.

The top claimant between June and September was Fine Gael Cork South-West TD PJ Sheehan, who received €21,180. Mr Sheehan recently resigned as a party's deputy spokesman on Agriculture, after the Sunday Independent revealed that he was involved in a drunken incident with a female member of An Garda Siochana who claimed he threatened her when she prevented him from driving out of Leinster House.

"I have no comment other than to say I am the furthest TD from the Dail and the closest to the White House. You would want to cop on . . . I am fed up with news reporters ringing me up. I have to get to Dunmanway for a clinic."

The next two highest claimants were independent Jackie Healy-Rae and Fine Gael's Dinny McGinley, who each received €20,932 in expenses payments. Both face round trips of over 700km from their homes to the Dail but their amounts have been pushed ahead of constituency rivals by their parliamentary claims.

Behind them is Mr Sheehan's Cork South-West rival FF's Christy O'Sullivan, who received €20,680. Four TDs -- Niall Blaney (FF Donegal North East), Jimmy Deenihan (FG Kerry North), Michael Moynihan (FF Cork North West) and Tom Sheahan (FG Kerry South) -- all claimed €20,428 in expenses over the summer months. According to the official figures, 17 TDs claimed in excess of €20,000 between June and September.

Outspoken FF rebel TD Mattie McGrath received €19,804 in expenses payments as did former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea. Of the party leaders, FG leader Enda Kenny led the way receiving €16,616. Labour leader Eamon Gilmore received €9,000, as did former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Taoiseach Brian Cowen received €6,664 as did his Finance Minister Brian Lenihan. SF's Caoimhgin O Caolain received €19,552. Eleven senior and junior ministers, including Mary Hanafin, Batt O'Keeffe, Brendan Smith, Dara Calleary and Barry Andrews, claimed the minimum €4,000 each for the summer period.

Under the new system, which came into effect in March, expenses payable are based on members attending 120 times a year. If they show up less than that, that amount is reduced by 1 per cent a day. The amount paid to TDs also depends on how far they have to travel between their constituency and Leinster House.

"Travel incorporates not only journeys to and from Leinster House but travel within their constituencies (TDs only) and attendance at forums in different parts of the country," a spokesman said. "TDs' attendance at Leinster House is not only confined to the standard sitting hours of Houses of the Oireachtas alone.

"Members also attend for parliamentary party meetings, meetings with delegations and other commitments which often take place outside of Oireachtas sitting hours. These arrangements can mean Oireachtas members need to arrange overnight stays in Dublin," he added.

Under the new system, expenses paid to TDs also covers a wide range of activities and expenditure, including: rent, rates and other such charges in relation to an office or offices; purchase or maintenance of office furniture or equipment; purchase of stationery; telephone calls, other than from Leinster House, including line rental and mobile phone calls; advertising relating to the performance of their duties; and attendance at conferences.

The amount of expenses being paid to TDs during the summer months was criticised by Jim Power, Friends First's chief economist.

"When you are trying to get a budget through you need moral authority. Such revelations undermine any authority politicians have. People are angered by the continuing evidence of our political leaders living in a parallel universe."

Sunday Independent

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