TDs share in expenses jackpot as claims hit €8m
Despite talk of cutbacks, the gravy train showed no sign of slowing down last year for politicians, says Daniel McConnell
The 166 TDs in Dail Eireann claimed almost €8m in largely tax-free and unvouched expenses and allowances during 2009 or over €78,000 for every day the parliament sat, new figures obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal.
The revelation will bring the cost of running the parliament back into focus at a time when 133,700 people lost their jobs, and the total jobless numbers now stand at a massive 426,700.
Despite a reduction in the allowances and mileage rates in response to the country's financial crisis, as announced by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, the actual amount claimed by TDs increased on the previous year.
In total, TDs claimed a whopping €7,825,467 in 2009 compared to €7,792,970 during the previous 12 months. When added to the expenses and allowances claimed by the 60 members of Seanad Eireann, the taxpayer picked up a tab of over €10m in expenses for members of both houses of the Oireachtas. The total spend on Oireachtas expenses in the past five years stands at over €50m, according to collated figures.
The amounts published here relate to the period of December 1, 2008, to December 1, 2009, and the information was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The huge cost of members' expenses also comes in the wake of the expenses scandal during last summer which culminated in the resignation of the then Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue.
The top overall claimant in 2009 was Galway East FF TD Noel Treacy, who claimed a total of €95,233 on top of his salary. This was made up of €85,217 in expenses and his allowance of €10,016 for his chairmanship of the Oireachtas joint committee on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
The top expenses claimant was Mayo FG TD Michael Ring, who in the 12 months up to December 1, 2009, claimed €86,527, but did not receive an additional allowance for a chairmanship of a committee.
Two of the top 10 claimants in 2009 were also in the top 10 last year. FG's John Perry claimed €91,532 in 2009 and €86,319 in 2008, and FF's Brendan Kenneally claimed €83,471 in 2009 and €93,880 in 2008, which was the highest claim of any member of Leinster House that year.
Fine Gael TD for Longford, James Bannon, was the highest claimant of a first-term TD, taking home €83,858. The winners of last year's by-elections, Maureen O'Sullivan and George Lee, were the lowest claimants of the Dail newbies. Ms O'Sullivan claimed €10,988 and Lee claimed €11,619 since taking their seats on June 9 last summer.
In one of the more interesting revelations to emerge from the figures, two TDs were paid over €55,000 between them in one month in the period covered. FG's Padraic McCormack claimed €28,745 and independent TD Michael Lowry claimed €26,848 in December 2008 (the claim may have covered more than a one-month period).
Other well-known politicians to make the top 10 claimants' list are FF stalwart Mary O'Rourke, who claimed €78,184 in expenses and allowances, Fianna Fail deputy whip John Cregan, who claimed €80,189 in total, and FF's John Browne, who claimed €83,017.
Fine Gael's party whip Paul Kehoe, who was the top claimant in 2007 is also present in the top 10. Mr Kehoe, who most recently hit the headlines for calling former Irish Nationwide boss Michael Fingleton a gangster under Dail privilege, claimed €78,664 in expenses and allowances.
Despite them living within the 15-mile zone from Leinster House, Dublin TDs were once again not shy about claiming expenses.
The top 10 highest claimants from the capital racked up €414,000 in expenses alone.
The top Dublin expenses-muncher in 2009 was Sean Ardagh, FF TD for Dublin South Central, who claimed an astonishing €66,472. This included €19,296 on travel despite him living only five miles away from the Dail, in Walkinstown.
The second-highest Dublin claimant was the former government Chief Whip Tom Kitt, who claimed €59,231 during the 12 months up to December 1. This included a travel claim of €13,574.
Former Education Minister Michael Woods also had a substantial expenses claim in 2009, totalling €47,853. He also received €10,016 because of his chairmanship of the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee.
With his constituency office, St Luke's, less than four miles from the Dail and a myriad of buses passing its doorway every hour, Cyprian Brady claimed €42, 615 in total expenses with almost a third of that going on travel.
Mr Brady's mentor Bertie Ahern was a lot more modest in 2009 on his expenses' claims than in 2008, when he claimed €54,705 in the six months after he stepped down as Taoiseach. In 2009, he claimed €22,442.
Given their position in the top 10 nationally, Noel Treacy was the highest claimant from Connacht, while James Bannon was the highest from Leinster (€83,858).
Mr Kenneally was the highest from Munster (€83,471) and Niall Blaney was the highest from Donegal (€75,973), but his claims were not enough to put him in to the top 10.
Once again, the amounts claimed by Taoiseach Brian Cowen (€21,288) and his ministers are toward the bottom of our table.
The claims from ministers are lower because many of the expenses incurred in running an office are assumed by their departments, and they also have the use of full-time garda drivers.
The fact the spend on expenses was higher in 2009 than in 2008 will be a source of embarrassment for Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and those on the Oireachtas Commission who proudly announced the reductions last year.
Mary White was the most expensive Green TD last year, taking home €62,359, well ahead of her nearest party colleague Paul Gogarty.
Mr Gogarty had an interesting 2009, and has also managed to claim a substantial €45,125 in expenses and allowances.
He began the year by repeatedly speaking out against government policy and his own party leadership, particularly in the area of education. He then rolled around the floor and played dead at a constituency meeting while a rival was speaking.
Then, last month in the aftermath of the Budget he launched his 'F word' tirade at Labour's Emmet Stagg.
Mr Gogarty was just ahead of Ciaran Cuffe, who claimed a total of €39,849 in expenses and allowances.
Sinn Fein's top claimant was Kerry North TD Martin Ferris. In total he claimed €67,105. Last August, Ferris met Kevin Walsh from Limerick and Pearse McCauley from Strabane, Co Tyrone, as they were released from prison for the manslaughter of the Limerick detective Jerry McCabe.
They have completed over 10 years of their sentences, having previously served a year on remand.
In total, the four Sinn Fein deputies, Mr Ferris, Arthur Morgan, Caoimhghin O Caolain and Aengus O Snodaigh claimed €212, 347 between them in the 12 months up to December 1.
After Michael Lowry, Noel Grealish, was the highest claiming independent deputy. During the 12 months, he was paid €68,021 in expenses alone, and he did not receive a committee allowance.
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.
Subsequently, the 2009 figure does not necessarily refer to expenses incurred in 2009 only.
The Oireachtas spokesman said: "Last year, The Houses of Oireachtas Commission produced a set of proposals to incorporate a 10 per cent overall reduction in members' expenses. These cuts are in addition to the reduction earlier last year of 25 per cent to mileage rates paid to Oireachtas members."
"During 2009, there has been a significant reduction in the costs incurred by Oireachtas members on travel.
"For example, the travel budget for Oireachtas committees was reduced from €695,000 in 2008 to €254,000 in 2009, and the total expenditure on travel by Oireachtas committees did not exceed €150,000 during 2009," he added.