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Majority of members keep silent on perks in office

MOST of the Independent senators appointed to the Upper House by Taoiseach Enda Kenny last night refused to answer queries on how they spent their €23,000 leader's allowance.

The Taoiseach can appoint 11 people to the Seanad, and in a coalition these are usually split between the two parties.

Mr Kenny announced the appointments to the 24th Seanad in May, with four of those recommended by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.

Of the 11, seven are Independent, and those who did not respond to queries included: l Katherine Zappone, the former CEO of the Women's Council of Ireland, who was appointed on the recommendation of Mr Gilmore. l Fiach Mac Conghail, the director of the Abbey Theatre. Mr Mac Conghail is chairperson of the citizen's group 'We the Citizens', which was funded by American philanthropist Chuck Feeney. l Mary Ann O'Brien, the founder of Lily O'Brien's chocolates. l Martin McAleese, the husband of former president Mary McAleese. Mr McAleese's office said he would answer queries but could just not be contacted.

The other Independents -- Marie Louise O'Donnell, Eamonn Coghlan and Jillian van Turnhout -- defended the payment and said it went towards carrying out research for their jobs.

Ms O'Donnell and Ms Van Turnhout said they would be willing to give it up if it was abolished for all -- including political parties.

They said the payment goes into a separate bank account every month.

Ms O'Donnell said hers went on "projects, research, and things I want to pursue over the next year and I think I was told that's what it's supposed to be for since we're not part of a party".

Asked of he would be willing to give it up, Mr Coghlan said "certainly no" if he had to incur personal expense to perform his research-related activities.

Other Independents who did not return calls included David Norris and Sean Barrett, both elected in the Trinity College constituency, and Ronan Mullen and Feargal Quinn, elected for the National University of Ireland (NUI) constituency.

Irish Independent