Joe Higgins: I’ll repay €1,000 expenses if I’m wrong
SOCIALIST TD Joe Higgins will repay travel allowances spent in his fight against the controversial household charge if a watchdog rules he is in the wrong.
Mr Higgins spent almost €1,000 on petrol, train and accommodation costs in the first six months of the year, for what he described as campaign-related events outside his Dublin West constituency.
He is one of three United Left Alliance TDs under fire for using expenses to drum up resistance to the €100 euro household tax.
An Oireachtas oversight committee confirmed yesterday that it had never envisaged special TD travel allowances would be used for a nationwide anti-Government campaign.
It is now taking legal advice to determine whether the deputies in question broke Dail rules in using the entitlement to fund work outside their own constituencies.
"If the legal advice sought by the Oireachtas Commission says that costs for travel to public events outside of Dublin are not contemplated by the monthly Oireachtas Travel Allowance then this amount will be restored to the fund," said Mr Higgins.
He, along with fellow Socialist Party member Clare Daly and People Before Profit TDs Joan Collins and Richard Boyd-Barrett have written to the commission calling for an urgent meeting to discuss the issue.
"We are seeking a more detailed exposition regarding the travel allowance than a mere question of whether it is to be applied only within a constituency and for travel to Dail Eireann," they said in a statement.
Mr Higgins released a detailed breakdown of his travel costs today, totalling €935.
The biggest of those included a €79 train fare to Tralee and a €35 bed and breakfast bill in Castlebar.
"When travelling by car to political or any campaign related events outside of Dublin, to recoup the cost of petrol, I use the the AA fuel cost reckoner," he said.
Mr Higgins, Ms Daly and Ms Collins all admitted to using an automatic mileage and transport payment system to recoup funds for their anti-household charge campaign.
It is understood Mr Boyd-Barrett was told not to state that his travel allowance was being used to cover the cost of attending events outside his constituency.
Dublin TDs are given travel and accommodation entitlements of €12,000 a year.
Dail rules state members must certify the money covers transport from their home or temporary accommodation to work in Leinster House in Dublin city centre.
This is backed up by a clocking-in system in the Dail, which is used to monitor TDs' attendance.
The Oireachtas Commission confirmed the service was not intended to be used by TDs to travel outside their constituencies.
A team of legal experts are expected to decide whether the deputies involved were in breach of parliament rules.
A separate payment system - the public representation allowance - permits deputies to claim for attending conferences relating to the performance of their duties as Dail members, but this excludes travel expenses.
The left-wing TDs are responsible for an ongoing campaign against the household charge, which the Government claims is used to cover costs for public services, such as maintenance of footpaths, parks and libraries.
Some 700,000 property owners have yet to pay the fee. They face a "three strikes and it's court" system in which they will receive two reminder letters to pay up before a third threatens legal action.