Tuesday 26 September 2017

No one knows the rules in TDs' expenses farce

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

THE entire system of expenses for TDs was under fresh scrutiny last night after a series of revelations about using taxpayers' money to fund the campaign against the household charge.

Three left-wing TDs yesterday admitted claiming mileage for travelling outside of their constituencies to campaign against the €100 charge.

But their colleague Richard Boyd Barrett fuelled the controversy by claiming he had been warned not to use his expenses in that way.

And as confusion mounted, the Oireachtas watchdog was still unable to say if this was allowed under rules covering TDs' expenses. The whole affair calls into question how complex and costly expenses claims, paid for by taxpayers, are scrutinised for all politicians.

The key issue is whether TDs can claim their travel allowance to cover political activities outside their own constituencies.

The latest controversy is focused on Socialist Party TDs Joe Higgins and Clare Daly, as well as United Left Alliance TD Joan Collins (all pictured).

The three all confirmed they had used their travel expenses to pay for journeys to anti-household tax meetings around the country.

Mr Higgins insisted his use of expenses to attend rallies in Donegal, Kerry and elsewhere outside his constituency was "entirely legitimate".

But the three were left increasingly isolated last night after other colleagues in the so-called 'technical group' said they had not used their travel expenses for this purpose.

Mr Boyd Barrett said he had personally checked with the Leinster House authorities last year because the travel expense rules were very confusing. He said he had been told it was not possible to claim for travel to meetings outside his Dun Laoghaire constituency. As a result, he used funds raised by his People Before Profit movement to pay the travel costs.

"We went to great lengths to double check all of this because I was a bit anxious about it," he said.

And Independent TD Thomas Pringle said he had used his own wages for the anti-household charge meetings he attended in Cavan and Leitrim -- rather than claiming travel expenses from his Donegal South West constituency.

"I read the regulations. It's only for travel within the constituency and for travel to and from the Dail," he said.

Independent TD John Halligan said he had attended very few anti-household charge meetings outside his Waterford constituency, but confirmed he had not claimed any travel expenses for them.

This was in stark contrast to the stance taken by Joe Higgins, who said he had spent thousands of euro in travel expenses after attending meetings in 19 different counties.

Mr Higgins insisted that he was covered to claim travel expenses for duties he was "obliged to incur" as a TD under the rules.

"I am obliged to stand by the pledge I was elected on, to fight austerity tooth and nail, and to oppose the household tax," he said.

Allowance

Mr Higgins admitted he could have paid his travel costs from a separate state source -- the €120,000 party leader's allowance the Socialist Party received last year. But he said his party was a small one, and needed to devote the funds to party structures and policy development.

United Left Alliance TD Joan Collins also said she believed she was within the rules when she used her travel expenses for anti-household charge meetings outside of her Dublin South Central constituency.

The Irish Independent yesterday contacted the nine opposition TDs who have been urging the public not to pay the €100 household charge.

They included Independent TD Mick Wallace, whose company made a €2.1m settlement with the Revenue for deliberately withholding VAT due on apartments. He attended an anti-household charge meeting in Portlaoise earlier this year.

Mr Wallace was among three of the nine TDs who could not be contacted for comment -- along with Independents Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and Seamus Healy.

The Oireachtas Commission, which is in charge of the Leinster House expenses system, said again last night that it was still examining the issue of which travel expense claims were allowed.

Irish Independent

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