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Sunday 28 May 2017

How political parties splash €13m taxpayers’ cash

Kenny was paid a €50,000 salary top-up out of funds

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

POLITICAL parties are able to spend millions of euro of taxpayers' money each year without having to account for where it goes.

They can do almost what they like with the €13m annual subsidy -- such as bumping up Enda Kenny's basic salary by €50,000 -- because archaic regulations do not require them to provide invoices or receipts.

The funding substantially dwarfs the generous corporate donations the main parties received over the past 10 years.

And despite the recession, the money has not been subjected to any cutbacks.

The parties use the money for a variety of reasons. An Irish Independent investigation reveals how:

* Fine Gael used it to pay Taoiseach Enda Kenny a top-up to his salary of almost €50,000 a year when he was leader of the opposition;

* Labour leader Eamon Gilmore and his deputy leader Joan Burton had their salaries topped up by a combined total of €22,100 in 2010;

* Parties used the taxpayer funding to cover the cost of conducting private opinion polls, media training, air travel, taxis, computers and chauffeured cars.

The spending is largely unvouched, with parties only required to submit hand- written spending statements, with no supporting invoices or receipts.

The disclosure will re-ignite the debate over the level of transparency surrounding the funding of political parties.

An analysis of records filed with the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) shows that the political parties were subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of almost €89m between 2004 and 2010.

During each year in that period, Mr Kenny's pay packet was boosted by almost €50,000 a year above his Oireachtas salary, which reached its peak at €106,000 in 2008.

The top-up was worth €338,000 to Mr Kenny on top of his Oireachtas salary during this period.

Parties can draw down cash from two separate public funds, the 'party leaders' allowance' and the 'electoral act fund'.

During his period in opposition, Mr Kenny submitted handwritten statements covering €16m of funding received by Fine Gael from the party leaders' fund.

Party secretary Tom Curran also submitted handwritten statements for another €9.7m in electoral act funding.

Benefits

Out of the funds drawn down by Mr Kenny, he was allowed a payment to himself, described as "salary and benefits", worth €48,344 a year.

A Fine Gael spokeswoman said the value of the top-up was decided by party trustees in recognition of Mr Kenny's extra duties as party leader.

She pointed out that the allowance was "fully taxable and non-pensionable", and said it ended when Mr Kenny became Taoiseach.

Expenditure statements signed by Mr Kenny give overall figures for how the party leaders' allowance was used between 2004 and 2010. However, it is short on specific detail.

For example, €6.7m was spent on "salaries and benefits" for members of the party's staff.

A further €2.3m was spent on spin doctors in the party's press office. Almost €1.5m was spent on "polling or public attitude sampling".

About €500,000 was spent on items classified as media training for Mr Kenny and members of the parliamentary party. Air travel and taxis cost €288,000 and a further €277,000 was spent paying Mr Kenny's driver.

The party also spent €85,000 on what was described as "women's development activities". It also spent €45,000 on two cars.

No invoices, payroll records or receipts were enclosed with the statements as the parties are not required to provide such records under the legislation.

Last night Fianna Fail said its leader Michael Martin had decided not to take a salary top-up from his leaders' allowance, even though he is now in opposition.

Due to its former dominance of the political landscape, Fianna Fail received the most taxpayer funding between 2004 and 2010, at just under €34.5m.

Fine Gael wasn't too far behind on almost €26m over the same period. Labour was given €14.5m, Sinn Fein €5.4m and the Green Party got €5m.

Some €3.3m was given to the Progressive Democrats before the party was wound up and the Socialist Party got €200,000.

Irish Independent

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