Thursday 23 March 2017

Taxpayer foots €2.5m bill for independent TD allowances

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin
Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell

The taxpayer has funded just under €2.5m in so-called 'Leader's Allowances' to independent members of Dáil Éireann since 2011, new figures reveal.

Figures released by Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin reveal the payments to 15 members of the Dáil's Technical Group, who have each received more than €165,000 since taking their seats.

A detailed breakdown shows that in 2011, the TDs received €34,783. In 2012 and 2013 they each received €41,151 while in 2014 they received €39,094. Since the start of this year, the members have each received €9,259.

Mr Howlin said that the annual rate payable to an Independent member of Dáil Éireann under the Parliamentary Activities Allowance, following the changes made in July 2014, is €37,037 per year.

The allowances, which are not subject to income tax, are to help the TDs in the performance of their duties and helps to cover the cost of parliamentary activities and research.

The TDs included in the figures released by Mr Howlin are: Catherine Murphy, Finian McGrath, John Halligan, Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, Mattie McGrath, Maureen O'Sullivan, Michael Healy-Rae, Michael Lowry, Mick Wallace, Noel Grealish, Shane Ross, Seamus Healy, Stephen Donnelly, Thomas Pringle and Tom Fleming.

Given his successful bid to become an MEP in 2014, Mr Flanagan received only €16,535 that year.

Michael Fitzmaurice, who succeeded Mr Flanagan as the representative for Roscommon-South Leitrim, has not received any funds to date, according to the figures released by Mr Howlin.

Donegal TD Thomas Pringle also receives an allowance as chairperson of the Committee on Members' Interests of Dáil Éireann for which the current rate is €8,740 per year.

Mr Howlin revealed the information by way of a reply to a parliamentary question by former Fine Gael Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

While the allowances can be used for cover the costs of their political duties, under the rules, an allowance paid under this section shall not be used for, or to recoup, election or poll expenses incurred for the purposes of any election or referendum.

The payment of the Leader's Allowance to independent TDs has been a constant topic of controversy in Dáil debates.

Independent TDs have argued that they operate without the backing of large party structures and the money is badly needed.

Also, analysis by independent TD Catherine Murphy reveals that the 145 TDs belonging to Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin will each cost on average 52pc more per year than the Technical Group members.

From 2016, Sipo will require all parties to publish national audited accounts. It is currently carrying out a public consultation process on new rules requiring greater transparency on how the party leaders' allowance is spent.

Spend

The allowance will be renamed the parliamentary activity allowance, as independent TDs will also be required to report on how they spend it.

In all, almost €13m of taxpayers' money was transferred to political parties in 2013.

Political parties use this money to pay the salaries of staff, office expenses and research associated activities.

When several of the Independents earlier this year announced the formation of an alliance ahead of the General Election, they were asked as to whether they intend pooling their allowances.

Responding to media questions, Independent TD Shane Ross said: "We haven't actually considered that at all."

Irish Independent

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