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Ahern claims special €230,000 allowance

Taoiseach Brian Cowen has defended a €230,000 special allowance that has been paid by his department to his predecessor Bertie Ahern since he stepped down in 2008, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

It has emerged that Mr Ahern claimed the allowance on top of his annual TDs salary of €100,000, his former Taoiseach's pension worth €98,901 and the €22,000 expenses he claimed as a TD.

According to the Department of the Taoiseach, the allowance is to provide the former Taoiseach with a secretary and help with the purchase of computer equipment.

Mr Ahern claimed the amount as an allowance given to former Taoisigh after they leave office, but his €114,369 claim for 2009 alone was almost three times higher than the €38,000 paid to Garret FitzGerald and more than double the €44,890 paid to Albert Reynolds.

Mr Ahern has already claimed €41,307 in 2010.

In addition to this, Mr Ahern receives an income from his newspaper column in an English Sunday newspaper and a substantial income from his speaking engagements.

Mr Ahern, through his spokesman, denied there was anything improper about his high fee saying it was higher than the others because he is only out of office a short time.

"Well he only left office in 2008, and he still is performing a number of duties relating to his time in office, including things to do with Northern Ireland and other such matters," the spokesman said.

Since the scheme was introduced in 2001, former Taoisigh, including Mr Ahern, Dr FitzGerald, Mr Reynolds, Charles Haughey and John Bruton, shared a pot of €1,274,679 for such allowances.

Mr Haughey received a total of €199,887 before his death in 2006; Dr FitzGerald has received €303,465; Mr Reynolds has received €298,690 and Mr Bruton has received €241,978.

Labour's finance spokeswoman Joan Burton said the time for such grandiose expenditure was over and that the country can't afford this kind of thing any more. "This is a discretionary expenditure which the Taoiseach of the day can eliminate immediately. Mr Ahern is certainly not short of a few bob and given the state of the public finances such allowances must be reviewed," said Ms Burton.

Fine Gael's acting finance spokesman Kieran O'Donnell said Mr Ahern's claim was galling to hard-pressed families who are suffering.

"His plundering of the state coffers as Taoiseach is now being mirrored in his personal allowances," he said.

Defending the spend, Mr Cowen said: "Under the terms of an initiative introduced by the Department of Finance in August 2001, my department pays the salary of secretarial assistants employed by former Taoisigh. The initiative provides that a former Taoiseach may employ two secretarial assistants for a period not exceeding five years from the date when s/he was last Taoiseach."

While there are no guidelines in relation to the type of work for which secretarial assistants are employed by former Taoisigh, Mr Cowen said he understands that they carry out a normal range of secretarial duties to support the former Taoisigh in carrying out those aspects of work associated with their former roles which remain after their period in office has ceased.

However, under the initiative the secretarial assistant cannot engage in constituency work nor in active party political work.

Sunday Independent