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Thursday 27 April 2017

Independent TDs facing clampdown on leaders' allowance

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

INDEPENDENT TDs face a clampdown on their use of an annual €41,000 taxpayer-funded leaders' allowance.

Independents are handed the money directly -- but they don't have to account for how the money is spent.

Party TDs don't receive the money directly as it goes to their party organisation, which then has to explain where the money is spent.

The funding is not subject to income tax and cannot be used for electoral or referendum purposes.

Parties use the funding to pay for their headquarters, staff, media and research operations.

Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin is planning a clampdown on the allowance and is expected to change the rules to ensure the Independents are also accountable.

The state ethics watchdog has continually highlighted the fact that Independent TDs are not required to provide a statement on how the money is spent.

"The matter is under consideration having regard to the recommendation of the Standards in Public Office Commission," a spokesperson for the minister said.

Mr Howlin is understood to want to make the funding more accountable and transparent.

The entire taxpayer funding of political parties will also be looked at during the review of all spending.

Labour Party chief whip Emmet Stagg said a TD sharing a constituency with an Independent is up against an "election war chest of €200,000" -- a figure based on the five-year gap between general elections.

"The rules for the allowance should be the same. The rules for the parties were brought in after the Charvet shirts controversy.

"But Bertie Ahern brought in the allowance for Independents in 2001 to keep them sweet," he said.

Mr Stagg also said he believed the amount given to Independents should be cut.

The leaders' allowance was extended to Independents in 2001, when the Fianna Fail-PD coalition was dependent on the support of Independents.

The rules were tightened up following public outrage at former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey, who notoriously bought handmade Charvet shirts in Paris with money from the fund.

Vouched

Finian McGrath TD, the chairman of the Independents in the Dail, said he had no objection to having to account for the funding. He said he already kept his own personal records on file.

"The Government should look at cutting the leaders' allowance by 50pc and bringing in a vouched allowance.

"There should be a tight accounting system," he said.

Meanwhile, Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae was sacked from the board of a state quango at the weekend.

Social Welfare Minister Joan Burton asked the Kerry South deputy to resign from the Citizens Information Board after his election as a TD.

When he refused, the minister used the law setting up the board to dismiss him.

Mr Healy-Rae said he had no comment to make on the minister's decision last night.

Irish Independent

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