Friday 20 April 2018

Higgins and Daly face probe over use of their Dail salary

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

THE state ethics watchdog is investigating how Socialist Party TDs Joe Higgins and Clare Daly use their Dail salaries to fund the work of their party.

Both TDs have long maintained that they only take the average industrial wage of €33,000 out of their €92,000 Dail salary, with the remainder going to the party's activities and campaigns.

But there are strict limits on how much can be donated by TDs to their party.

Now the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) is seeking details about whether any of the surplus money from their wages is also used for party activities at local level.

It has reminded the party about the strict donation limits in place for TDs who want to support their party.

So far, Mr Higgins and Ms Daly have refused to say what the precise figure for their 'average industrial wage' is or provide details of how the rest of the money is spent.

The term 'average industrial wage' is no longer used by the Central Statistics Office as more workers are now employed in services than manufacturing. But its most-up-to date figure for 'average annual earnings' is €33,327 per year.

This is lower than the €37,609 earned by workers in the manufacturing sector.

There are limits to how much a TD can donate from their salary to their party every year.

Mr Higgins donated the maximum of €6,348 last year and Ms Daly €1,500. They have said that the remainder is given to campaigning groups, workers on strike and other national and international organisations.

Mr Higgins refused to give details of his party's industrial wage policy or the groups that benefit from it.

Donations

He said: "We answer to our voters, constituents and Socialist Party members on all issues of policy, programme and financing."

Yesterday, Environment Minister Phil Hogan's new legislation to tighten the rules on political donations was passed by the Seanad. It will ban anonymous donations of more than €100 to political parties and effectively ban corporate donations of more than €200.

In its annual report, SIPO said this would lead to some "significant improvements" in the transparency of political funding in this country.

So far, SIPO has only written to Sinn Fein and the Socialist Party for information on their industrial-wage policies.

SIPO said it could not comment until its investigation was concluded. It confirmed that it had already received initial responses from the Socialist Party and Sinn Fein.

But other TDs in the Dail operate a similar policy.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett said he took around €24,000 per year after tax -- which means that he is on a gross salary of €29,000.

He said: "We're well aware of the guidelines. We've met several times with SIPO and we're fully in compliance.

His party colleague, Dublin South Central TD Joan Collins, said she took only the wage she formerly received when she was working in human resources with An Post.

This was "around half" of her €92,000 Dail salary, with the remainder being lodged into a "solidarity fund", she said.

"It's for people in my own area, if community groups need support, if a strike was happening I'd support them."

Ms Collins said the groups she had donated to included the Campaign Against the Household Tax, the Defend Our Homes League and the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which was designed to deliver aid to the Gaza Strip.

Irish Independent

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