Thursday 22 March 2018

Expenses not for TDs to travel to protests – Leinster House

Socialist Party TD Clare Daly
Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins
United Left Alliance TD Joan Collins

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

THREE left-wing TDs should not have used their taxpayer-funded travel expenses to go around the country canvassing against the €100 household charge.

The Leinster House authorities finally confirmed they had never intended TDs to claim travel expenses for attending events outside their constituencies.

But it was unclear last night if they would have to repay the travel expenses because the authorities are waiting for legal advice before making a definitive ruling.

Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins, his colleague Clare Daly and United Left Alliance TD Joan Collins all had maintained they were entitled to use their travel expenses to attend anti-household charge rallies around the country.

Mr Higgins and Ms Daly had insisted they were the victims of a "smear campaign" and that their travel expense claims were entirely legitimate.

But they were forced to backtrack after the Oireachtas Commission -- which is in charge of Leinster House -- said that travel expenses were designed for journeys to the Dail, as well as travel around the TD's constituency.

They and Ms Collins are now offering to repay the money -- if the legal advice rules that they should.

Last night, Independent TD Mick Wallace was the only one of the nine backbenchers urging a boycott of the €100 household charge to maintain his silence on his use of travel expenses.

He attended an anti-household charge rally in Swords in Dublin alongside Ms Daly earlier this year, as well as another protest in Portlaoise.

Ms Daly broke her silence on the issue yesterday by insisting that the travel expenses controversy would not damage the household charge campaign -- with 700,000 out of 1.6 million households refusing to pay the €100 tax.

"We'll be involved in building that campaign regardless. It will go on," she said.

And she tried to divert attention by attacking local Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell for his use of travel expenses.

During an on-air row on local radio station LMFM yesterday, she questioned how it was possible for Mr Farrell to claim €10,000 last year if he only used it for travel in Dublin North.

But Mr Farrell told the Irish Independent last night he could stand over his travel expense claim.

"I've travelled up and around the constituency, which is the largest in Dublin," he said.

"I do monthly clinics, public appointments and I fill my tank in my car at least every eight or nine days at €100 a pop," he said.

Mr Farrell said it was "absolutely bizarre" for Ms Daly to have used taxpayer-funded travel expenses to tell people not to pay a tax.

He said it was "even more ironic" that one of the TDs supporting the boycott was a tax defaulter.

He was referring to the €2.1m settlement made by Mick Wallace's construction company with Revenue after the firm deliberately withheld VAT due on apartments.

The controversy over travel expenses has raised questions about the vague rules governing the travel and accommodation allowance.

The allowance ranges from €12,000 to €37,000 for TDs depending on how far they live from the Dail.

Independent Tipperary South TD Seamus Healy, who confirmed he had not used travel expenses for attending a anti-household charge meeting in Kildare, said that receipts should be required.

Yesterday, Sinn Fein was the only political party which gave an assurance that all its TDs are only using their travel expenses for constituency travel and journeys to the Dail.

But just last month, the Irish Independent revealed that the party's finance spokesman Pearse Doherty had used €8,000 of his travel expenses to hire two part-time party workers.

Fine Gael said yesterday its TDs were obliged to follow the travel expense guidelines, while Labour said it was a matter for its individual TDs.

Fianna Fail did not respond.

ULA TD Joan Collins said she had believed that it was possible -- under the "very confusing rules" -- to claim travel expenses for attending anti-household charge meetings outside her Dublin South Central constituency.

"If the legal advice comes out that TDs only have their allowance for travel in their constituency, we'd have to make a decision and pay that money back," she said.

Irish Independent

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