Independents face backlash: Allowances and dress code may be targeted on foot of tax scandal
INDEPENDENT TDs are facing the prospect of a double clampdown on their allowances and their dress code in the wake of the Mick Wallace tax scandal.
Mr Wallace is due to deliver a statement to the Dail tomorrow after the public backlash against the self-confessed tax cheat.
The TD was forced to cancel his trip to Euro 2012 in Poland after pressure from colleagues on the Independent benches.
But the poor handling of the affair by the Dail Technical Group of Independent and small party TDs and the wider damage caused to the political system by Mr Wallace's actions mean his colleagues are now under fire on several fronts.
Pressure is mounting on Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin to make the Independents account for the way they spend their €40,000-a-year leaders' allowance.
More than €500,000 was paid out last year to Independents, but Mr Wallace did not claim the allowance.
And the question of a dress code for TDs in Leinster House is also back on the table.
A plan to make Independent TDs ditch their scruffy look was parked last year for fear the public would regard it as a frivolous issue. "The mood has definitely changed now," a government source said.
Mr Wallace has asked the Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett for permission to make a personal statement to the Dail tomorrow.
In a statement, he indicated that he planned to remain as a TD and said he would clarify his position on his taxes.
"If Mick Wallace takes 10 minutes, he'll have to allow the leaders or representatives of each of the parties speak," a government source said.
The Ceann Comhairle was pushing for the introduction of a dress code last year in response to the casual dress of TDs such as Mr Wallace.
But at the time Fine Gael and Labour baulked at the prospect of bad publicity.
Since his appointment, Mr Barrett has taken a firm line on TDs having respect for the Dail.
When he referred Mr Wallace's case to the Dail committee on members' interests last week, the Ceann Comhairle specifically referred to the implications his actions had "for democracy and the standing of the Dail and the members".
A Dail committee is examining the rules in other parliaments. "It would be a great time to do it. There is talk about it. Sean Barrett is pushing it. He wants the dress code," a senior source said.
Meanwhile, under the party leaders' allowances scheme, every TD is allocated €41,152 a year.
TDs who are party members never see the money as it goes directly to their party organisation to pay for staff and facilities. The parties have to make annual returns to the state ethics watchdog, the Standards in Public Office Commission, accounting for the way the money was spent under a number of headings.
But the Independents get the tax-free sum directly and don't have to detail how they spend it.
Labour Party chief whip Emmett Stagg is a vocal critic. "I think it needs to be looked at. At the very least it should be vouched for," he said.
His party colleague Mr Howlin has been reviewing the allowance over the last year.
"Why is he (Mr Howlin) afraid to bring it forward? Independent TDs should get the funding but it should be vouched," a Fine Gael source said.
Last night, Social Welfare Minister Joan Burton called on the Revenue to explain how it reached its €2.1m settlement with Mr Wallace.