€600,000 public relations bill for ministers, TDs and senators
Ministers, TDs and Senators have spent a massive €600,000 on public relations services over the past four years using a little known allowance available to Leinster House politicians.
Since the 2011 General Election, more than €1m has been spent using the special secretarial allowance, which is available to politicians to spend on secretaries, training, IT services and public relations.
The vast majority - or 60pc - of this allowance has been spent on public relations, with a large amount spent by ministers who also have access to taxpayer funded communications teams.
The spending revealed by RTÉ's Investigation Unit show The Communications Clinic is the most popular public relations firm among elected representatives.
The Terry Prone and Tom Savage owned PR company was paid €211,826 by government ministers. Children's Minister James Reilly, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and the former Environment Minister Phil Hogan, now EU Agriculture Commissioner, all availed of the firm's services.
Both Mr Reilly and Ms Fitzgerald have been paying the firm monthly fees in excess of €1,800.
The highest claim for public relations services made using the allowance was by former Fine Gael minister John Perry who claimed more than €156,000 over a four-year period. This money was paid to PR firm Fennell Communications and its owner Sinead Fennell.
Environment Minister Alan Kelly claimed almost €90,000 paying more than 20 separate individuals for secretarial, IT and public relations services.
The scheme can be used to hire temporary staff and in some cases this can work out cheaper for the taxpayer than hiring a parliamentary assistant.
The figures show the vast majority of the allowance went to members of the Coalition parties - Fine Gael claimed €676,450 and Labour €270,794.
In comparison, Fianna Fáil members claimed €37,813, according to the figures released under the Freedom of Information act.