Friday 19 December 2014

How Sinn Fein TDs are breaking the rules on expenses

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

Published 20/06/2012 | 05:00

SINN Fein TDs are breaking Oireachtas rules by paying activists out of cash claimed for travel expenses.

SINN Fein TDs are breaking Oireachtas rules by paying activists out of cash claimed for travel expenses.

Prominent frontbenchers have revealed that part of their expenses claims were diverted to pay additional staff.

Unspent travel expenses are supposed to be returned to the Oireachtas under rules introduced in 2010.

Yet in one case, Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty put €8,000 worth of unspent travel and accommodation expenses towards hiring part-time party workers.

Another frontbencher, foreign affairs spokesman Padraig Mac Lochlainn, also confirmed that he used unspent expenses in the same way. The revelation is likely to fuel calls for an unprecedented inquiry into how the party uses taxpayer funds.

Despite the admissions, Sinn Fein headquarters last night denied that its TDs were using unspent expenses in this way.

The practice of diverting expenses is just one part of a sophisticated money-raising machine being used to fuel the party's expansion.

An Irish Independent investigation reveals for the first time how Sinn Fein relentlessly and efficiently uses the political funding system to maximum advantage here, in the North, at Westminster and in the US.

Our probe also reveals how:

- Sinn Fein officials monitor the bank accounts of each of the party's 14 TD to ensure that they use part of their wages to hire constituency staff.

- Each TD only takes the annual industrial wage after tax -- around €29,000 -- from their €92,000-a-year salary.

The balance, which works out at around €18,000 after tax and pension levies, is used to pay for additional constituency staff.

- Over €250,000 was legally diverted in this way last year alone.

- The cash is given directly to staff, rather than the party, to get around donation limits.

- Sinn Fein is claiming costs of £460,000 (€568,000) from Westminster for staffing and running constituency offices in the North -- even though its five MPs refuse to take their seats.

- Its fundraising efforts in the US outstrip all of the other parties combined, with $412,000 (€325,000) raised in the past six months alone.

But the revelations about the party's use of Dail expenses are likely to cause the most controversy. Receipts have to be provided for some of these expenses -- but not for travel or accommodation.

Two frontbenchers, Mr Doherty and Mr Mac Lochlainn, used some of their unspent travel and accommodation expenses to pay for hiring party workers in the past year.

Mr Doherty only spent €24,000 of the €33,000 that he received for travel and accommodation expenses last year.

He paid back €845.05 to the Oireachtas Commission, but that still left a surplus of around €8,000, which he put towards the wages of two extra Sinn Fein workers -- both part-time -- in his constituency.

STAFF

"I personally do not keep all of the wages and expenses paid to me," he said on his website. "You will also see that the remainder of the funds in the account after my wage and my real expenses are deducted is spent on part-time staff wages."

Mr Mac Lochlainn also said that he used the "balance" of his travel expenses to pay the salary of an extra full-time constituency secretary in his offices in Letterkenny and Buncrana.

"We would employ an additional person. We try to take a person off the dole," he said.

Despite the admissions made by both TDs, Sinn Fein issued a statement to the Irish Independent, insisting that the practice of diverting travel expenses to pay for party workers was "non-existent" and not party policy.

The Oireachtas Commission confirmed that the redirecting of travel expenses to pay staff wages was not permitted under rules introduced in 2010. TDs are supposed to return any unspent expenses.

However, it remains unclear what penalties Oireachtas officials can impose for breaches of the rules. It is understood that legal advice will be sought about what action can be taken in the event of a complaint.

Irish Independent

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