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Sunday 4 December 2016

Government won't alter rules to exclude no-show politicians

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

Published 28/10/2010 | 05:00

THE Government has "no plans" to change the system that allowed five politicians to be classified as attending the Dail or Seanad when they were actually stranded abroad during the volcanic ash cloud crisis.

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Former Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue; Fine Gael deputy leader James Reilly; Fine Gael TD Jim O'Keeffe; Fine Gael TD Bernard Allen; and Fine Gael senator Paddy Burke missed out on a week of sitting days last April after being trapped in various countries abroad.

But the Oireachtas Commission said it had "no major plans" to change the current system, which allows politicians to be marked present in the Dail and Seanad if they are absent due to illness, official travel abroad or extraordinary circumstances such as the volcanic ash cloud.

A spokeswoman for Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk said he had made his decision to grant the politicians' requests because of the "exceptional circumstances" that had caused them to miss a week of Dail and Seanad sittings last April.

"The volcanic ash cloud would have been unusual and exceptional," she said.

Radio programmes were flooded with calls yesterday from people who complained that they were docked pay for missing work during the volcanic ash cloud crisis.

Threshold

The extra attendance days granted to the TDs will help them to reach the 100-day attendance threshold required for them to claim their full travel and accommodation expenses -- which can be up to €37,000 annually.

But in the wake of the controversy, it emerged that the four Fine Gael politicians have decided to write to Mr Kirk to request that the extra attendance days should not be taken into account when calculating their travel and accommodation expenses at the end of the year.

Mr O'Keeffe said he had made his request to be marked present in the Dail after being stranded on holidays in Thailand over the Easter Break. He said this was designed to put the reason for his absence on record rather than to claim expenses.

"TDs are required to attend the Dail for 100 days in the current year. I have almost exceeded this threshold already this year and will definitely have done so by year's end," he said.

In a statement last nigh, former Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue said he would also not be claiming the days he was granted towards his travel and accommodation expenses for 2010.

"My attendance record over the last 23 years has always been excellent," he said.

Under the current rules, Mr Kirk has complete authority to grant such a request if he believes there are extraordinary circumstances that are "good and sufficient and which could not have been foreseen by the member".

Irish Independent

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