Friday 2 December 2016

Junior ministers furious over lack of expenses for €200 hotel nights

Published 25/10/2016 | 02:30

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe Photo: Tom Burke
Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe Photo: Tom Burke

Junior ministers are furious that they are being left to fork out up to €200 a night for hotels in Dublin, while backbench TDs get an overnight allowance.

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The issue has surfaced behind closed doors as part of the debate over whether politicians should get pay restoration along with other public and civil servants, the Irish Independent can reveal.

A number of ministers of state have confirmed that there is "great anger" in their ranks and both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe have been made aware of the disquiet.

TDs get a Travel and Accommodation Allowance (TAA) worth between €9,000 and €34,000, depending on the distance between Leinster House and their home. This is to cover mileage and overnight stays in the capital.

However, this is not available to ministers, who instead get mileage on the same basis as civil servants but no accommodation allowance.

Backbenchers are also entitled to vouched expenses up to a maximum for €20,350, compared to €16,000 for a minister.

"It's an injustice. Everybody, even in the media, accepts it's wrong," said one minister.

"Nobody will do anything about it, though, because they are afraid of the backlash."

The difference in basic pay between a TD and minister of state is €34,381.

Another minister argued that a rural backbencher who qualifies for one of the higher bands of TAA and holds the chairmanship of an Oireachtas committee now stands to make more than a junior minister. A committee chair gets an extra allowance of €8,740.

Sources said the issue of overnight allowances has "grated" on many ministers of state since they were scrapped by former public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin.

However, the decision by his successor Paschal Donohoe to stop pay restoration for junior ministers has caused renewed tension over the issue.

Fine Gael currently has a record 15 ministers of state.

Next April, TDs will be allowed to take a €2,700 hike to their salaries under the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

But Mr Donohoe has told ministers he will use an "administrative device" to ensure ministers' take-home pay does not change.

One minister hit back at the move, and said: "If this was a few years ago people could cope because hotel prices were lower, but now it's a real expense."

Another minister paid €600 to stay in Dublin four nights last week.

The three-star O'Callaghan Mount Clare, which is a regular overnight location for TDs, is quoting €197-a-night for tonight and tomorrow.

"Every civil servant, driver, councillor or anybody else who comes up to Dublin for a night to work would get their overnight bill paid," said one minister.

"They haven't the courage or the guts to do the right thing for junior ministers because it would be unpopular."

The issue of politicians' pay is set to stay on the Dáil agenda in the comings days with Sinn Féin to place a private members' motion seeking to stop any pay restoration for TDs.

However, they will be met with opposition from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, who argue it should be a decision for each individual TD.

Both parties are also likely to heap pressure on Sinn Féin to be more transparent about what happens to the salaries of its TDs.

The party's representatives only take the average industrial wage of €35,000, but the remainder does not go back to the State.

Irish Independent

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