Senators claim €2.1m expenses in a single year
Despite Lenihan's attempt to cut costs, new figures show the Seanad gravy train rolls on as 10 members get nearly €500,000
Senators claimed more than €2m in expenses -- on top of their salaries -- in just 12 months. This is in spite of a major overhaul in the way they are paid that was designed to cut costs, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
Since December 1, 2007, members of the Senate have shared an expenses pot of more than €8m or €133,000 each on average.
In fact, over the past five years, when combined with TDs' expenses, it means that the taxpayer has footed a bill of more than €50m.
The figures were released to this newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act and cover the period from November 1, 2009 to November 1, 2010.
Although the Senate sat for only 98 days during the year, the top 10 claimants were paid €496,939 in expenses. A large portion of this was tax-free and unvouched.
In March, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan introduced a new streamlined expenses system aimed at reducing the cost of running Leinster House, given the country's economic woes.
However, even with the new system, expenses claims to all Oireachtas members still topped €9.5m, compared with just over €10m in the previous year.
The top claimant during the past year was Fianna Fail's Jim Walsh, from New Ross, Co Wexford, who received €62,196.
"This amount relates to a far longer period than the 12 months in question and that's why my figure is higher than normal," he said.
"About €27,000 is for the previous year. People have a right to know where money is spent, but in my case this figure goes back a while."
Senator Walsh had also claimed €61,696 during the previous 12 months.
Behind him was Fine Gael's Jerry Buttimer, who received €50,944. Next was FF's Cecilia Keaveney, who received €49,935; then FF's Denis O'Donovan (€49,582); FG's Paudie Coffey (€48,663) and FG's Fidelma Healy Eames (€48,313).
Senate leader Donie Cassidy, who topped the list last year, was ninth this year, receiving €46,336. This doesn't include the payment he receives for being the leader.
Ivor Callely's expenses payments were stopped, pending an investigation, following a Sunday Independent report that he had claimed expenses from his Cork holiday home. As a result, he received only €23,297.
Bottom of the list were several of the independent senators, including Fergal Quinn (€13,984); Shane Ross (€15,552); Eoghan Harris (€17,351) and David Norris (€15,704). All are based in Dublin.
A spokesman for the Oireachtas Commission said that all members had seen a major reduction in the allowances and rates paid to them since 2009.
Allowances are provided to enable members to "effectively carry out their roles as elected representatives, by offsetting the cost of office expenses, utilities, telephone bills and advertising as is standard in any modern democratic system."
The spokesman added: "Inevitably, members who live further from Leinster House will incur greater costs. Claims paid in this period relate to earlier periods, so some figures may be inflated."