Saturday 23 September 2017

Senators are 'worth €3m in expenses'

Top claimant Cassidy says cost justified for 'great sacrifices made to do the job'

DANIEL McCONNELL Chief Reporter

Fine Gael wants to abolish it, it sat for only 99 days last year, yet its members racked up almost €3m in expenses and allowances and the top claimant said they deserve what they get, given the great sacrifices they make to do the job.

In total, the 60 members of Seanad Eireann claimed €2,765,452 in largely tax-free and unvouched expenses and allowances during 2009, or over €27,000 for every day the upper house sat, new figures obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal.

The top Seanad claimant overall, Senator Donie Cassidy, yesterday strongly defended his €86,000 expenses and allowance claim last year, saying they are justified given the sacrifices he and his colleagues make in the public interest.

Mr Cassidy said of course his figure would be near the top, given he is leader of the house and is there four days a week.

"I'm not surprised my name is at the top. I'm here all the time working hard trying to save the taxpayers' money. All of the claims are 100 per cent legitimate and appropriate. They are also justified given the great sacrifice made by many members of the Oireachtas in order to carry out their public duties," he said.

Mr Cassidy's comments come despite him receiving a basic salary of €70,134 and an additional allowance of €21,525.

He was also highly critical of this newspaper's publication of TDs' expenses last weekend and our portrayal of top Dail-claimant Noel Treacy, who claimed €95,233 in expenses and allowances.

"Noel Treacy is one of the hardest working deputies and the impression was given that he pocketed all that money directly, which isn't the case. A secretarial allowance is included in that amount, none of which he receives."

Mr Cassidy called for the Oireachtas Commission to publish the amounts monthly to prevent the "gross distorting" of what is actually paid to members in expenses each year.

"When the public sees these amounts of money, they are appalled because they are given the impression we are stuffing our pockets with the money. That's not the case, and I think the Oireachtas Commission has to act on this now and publish the actual figures given to members on a monthly basis," he added.

The figures of two of the top six claimants, FF's Pat Moylan (€68,162) and FG's Paddy Burke (€71,038), the Seanad's chairman and vice chairman, do not include additional payments for occupying their positions.

As chairman, Mr Moylan received an additional €49,255 while Mr Burke received an extra €27,112. These additional payments are omitted from the expenses list as they are paid as part of their overall salary package.

Between them, the top 10 claimants racked up €697,220 in expenses and allowances.

The period covered the 12-month period from December 1, 2008, to December 1, 2009.

The soaring cost of running the parliament is once again being criticised at a time when 133,700 people have lost their jobs, thousands of others have been hit with pay cuts, deflation of more than six per cent has occurred and the country's national debt stands at €75bn. In the last five years, the taxpayer forked out €50m to TDs and senators in expenses and allowances.

Fine Gael yesterday called for a total overhaul of the expenses system, saying Leinster House must be brought into line with what is happening in the private sector and said the current system is "absolutely unsustainable".

Despite a reduction in the allowances and mileage rates, as announced by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan last April, the amount claimed by senators during 2009 actually increased on the previous year.

Fine Gael's Paschal Donohoe, who has been a harsh critic of the expenses system in the past, has called for a full reform of the system to make them vouched and fully transparent. "The level of spending and the way it is spent is absolutely unsustainable. These figures show the desperate need to introduce a vouched system of expenses. These records should then be published," he said.

A spokesman for the Oireachtas said the record for expenses for 2009 may also include expenses incurred in 2008, but which were not claimed until 2009.

Sunday Independent

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