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How Champagne Charlie helped spread the wealth

THE leaders' allowance is taxpayers' money paid to Independent TDs and senators, as well as political parties.

It has been in existence for political parties for decades, but was introduced for non-party TDs when Charlie McCreevy was Finance Minister and Fianna Fail and the PDs were relying on the support of Independent TDs like Jackie Healy-Rae.

It is intended to fund only political activity, but is untaxed and unvouched for Independent TDs and senators.

It was given to Independent TDs to bridge the funding gap between them and party TDs in their constituencies.

For Independents, deputies get just over €41,000 a year, while senators get slightly under €23,400.

It is only given to TDs who are elected as Independent TDs, and not those who leave their parties in the middle of a Dail.

This also works the other way around, so an Independent TD would keep the allowance even if they join a party during a Dail term.

For example, former Fianna Fail TD Beverly Flynn was embroiled in controversy after it emerged she was still claiming the money despite having re-joined her party. Ms Flynn, who was elected as an Independent in 2002, gave it up amid public uproar.

The money allocated to political parties used to be allocated on the number of TDs it had, but Mr McCreevy changed the rules to also take account of senators, which increased the amount of money parties got.

It goes directly to the party, and not individual politicians. It is for political purposes only, and parties have to tell the Standards in Public Office Commission how they spend it.

They were forced to do this after revelations that ex-Taoiseach Charlie Haughey used the money to pay for expensive meals, as well as spending almost IR£16,000 on French Charvet shirts in one year.

Parties now use it on staff salaries, party events, travel and other activities.

Last year, FG received €2.25m, Labour and FF €1.4m, Sinn Fein €893,432 while the Socialist Party and People Before Profit got €120,900 each.

Parties in government get less than those in opposition, because they have the support of the civil service and ministerial political advisers.

Irish Independent