Friday 23 March 2018

Howlin loosens travel expense rules for TDs

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

TDs will be allowed to claim travel expenses for journeys around the entire country under a controversial new ruling.

Previously, TDs were only allowed to claim travel expenses for journeys to and from the Dail, and for attending events within their constituencies.

But after consulting with the Attorney General, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has now decided they can claim travel expenses -- ranging from €12,000 to €37,000 a year -- for doing political work anywhere in the country.

It means there will be no need for Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins and his former colleague, Clare Daly, to repay travel expenses they used to attend anti-household charge meetings around the country.

The decision flies in the face of an earlier ruling by Leinster House authorities, who had previously deemed these expenses claims out of order.

Oireachtas officials had received legal advice earlier this year backing their interpretation of the travel expenses rules.

There is also a risk that senators could be able to claim a rise in their travel expenses.

They are currently paid a reduced amount -- ranging from €7,000 to €32,000 -- because they are only given travel expenses for their journeys to the Seanad and not for constituency travel. But the Leinster House authorities privately fear that senators will now be able to demand an increase to cover their journeys for political work around the country.

The decision will not have any major effect on the cost of the travel expenses bill for TD, given that most of them are claiming their full allowance already.

Mr Howlin made his decision after consulting with the Attorney General, Maire Whelan. But the Oireachtas Commission is refusing to make any changes until it gets further clarification from him.

The Oireachtas Commission yesterday confirmed Mr Howlin had ruled that the definition of travel allows TDs potentially to claim for travel expenses "for a wider range of activities not limited to the constituency".


It said that its secretary general, Kieran Coughlan, had raised "some issues" with Mr Howlin's department about how to apply the ruling and was "seeking further clarification".

A spokeswoman for Mr Howlin said his department had sought legal advice on the travel expenses issue at the request of the Oireachtas Commission. "That legal advice is clear and has been conveyed to the Oireachtas," she said.

The Department of Public Expenditure could not be contacted for comment last night.

Irish Independent

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