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Saturday 20 September 2014

Politicians hand back €16,000 after random expenses audit

Published 22/12/2012 | 05:00

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MORE than half of TDs, ministers and senators who had their expenses audited last year were unable to provide evidence that all of the money was spent correctly.

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Seven members of the Oireachtas have been forced to return a total of more than €16,000 after they failed to properly account for the expenditure.

It was the result of a random external "sample" audit by consultancy firm Mazars of expenses for 12 members from January to December last year.

The revelation has fuelled calls by one audited member for a full review because a majority of those audited had to refund some of their expenses.

Of those audited, Fine Gael TD Derek Keating returned the most after it was found that €7,571 worth of his claims were ineligible.

The report showed that he had claimed €13,420 correctly.

Mr Keating said he published all expenditure on his website. He said he accepted the findings, but his interpretation of what was allowed under the scheme was different to the auditor.

Next was fellow Fine Gael TD Ray Butler, who was unable to provide receipts or documentation to show that €4,923.69 was claimed correctly.

Guidelines

The audit found that he had correctly vouched for €16,210 paid to him by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

A spokesperson for Mr Butler said that as a new TD he didn't completely understand the guidelines, but that he held his hands up and repaid the money. She said that the guidelines for expenses should be clarified.

The report found that Labour TD Ciaran Lynch had to repay €1,316, but correctly vouched for €22,527, while Fine Gael TD Joe O'Reilly returned €1,400 and legitimately claimed €22,643.

Mr Lynch said that the anomaly included bank charges previously not permitted under the scheme but due to be allowed next year, office expenses for his secretary during the election, and cleaning expenses where a receipt went missing.

Mr O'Reilly said he accepted the auditors' report and had returned the money.

He made donations to local charities and GAA organisations which he viewed as promotional and was unaware that these did not fall within the scope of the expenses scheme.

Labour junior minister Alex White and Fine Gael junior minister Ciaran Cannon were asked to return €466 and €308 respectively. They could not be contacted for comment last night.

Senator Susan O'Keeffe was asked to repay €91. She said it was for the tea and coffee that was on an invoice for a room she had booked for a meeting.

Ms O'Keeffe said the expenses system was "cumbersome". She called for an audit of all vouched expenses given the amount that was returned as part of the sample.

The current Oireachtas expenses system was introduced in 2010 to ensure greater transparency.

TDs can receive €15,000 a year unvouched, or up to €25,700 with receipts and senators can claim €9,250 a year unvouched or up to €15,000 vouched.

The Mazars report was based on a sample audit of Oireachtas members who chose to claim vouched expenses to ensure they were claimed correctly.

At the Budget, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said that the unvouched option would be abolished from next year and the amount claimable would be cut by 10pc.

Irish Independent

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