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Tuesday 21 May 2019

Ministers miles apart with 'farcical' expenses

Rising expenses: Minister for State Batt O'Keefe
Rising expenses: Minister for State Batt O'Keefe

THE current system of paying junior ministers' mileage has been described as a "farce" after it emerged a TD in Dublin claimed 100 times more in petrol expenses than a TD in Galway.

Figures seen by the Irish Independent show that Noel Ahern, who represents Dublin North West, ran up mileage expenses of €19,710 last year and €20,390 to date this year.

This is 100 times more than the €190 which was claimed last year by Noel Treacy, who represents the people of Galway East.

But last night, Mr Ahern claimed the figures supplied by the department about Mr Treacy were "ridiculous" and "wrong". He said he is usually at the lower end of claims when a full list is compiled adding: "I don't think that (€19,710) is necessarily that much."

Miles

Figures show the Department of the Environment -- which is headed up by the Green's John Gormley -- has covered the most road miles.

The biggest claim last year was lodged by Cork's Minister of State for Environment, Batt O'Keeffe -- who ran up a travel bill of €62,638 and has already run up expenses of €32,240 so far this year.

Opposition members last night launched a scathing attack on the Government. Fine Gael TD Leo Varadkar pointed out the mileage costs are on top of their already large ministerial monthly allowance.

Labour's Joanna Tuffy said that in light of the the recent move to increase the number of junior ministers from 17 to 20, the situation "is a farce".

Deputy Varadkar -- who tabled written questions to all departments on the issue -- is now calling to close this loophole and allow junior ministers the use of state cars.

Junior ministers were allowed to claim expenses following a Government decision in 1983 barred ministers of State from using a state car. Junior ministers do receive a civilian driver -- but in a bid to cut costs, the Government allowed them to claim travel costs on up to 60,000 miles.

As long as ministers can prove that they used their car for official State business they are covered -- and can claim travel allowance like any public servant on official business.

Only the Department of the Environment, the Department of Finance, the Department of Justice, the Department of Education and the Taoiseach's office released figures when asked.

Minister of State for Finance, Noel Ahern, saw his expenses rise by €4,459 over five years -- with expenses of €15, 931 logged in 2003 rising to €20,390 to date in 2007.

Minister for State at the Environment Department, Batt O'Keeffe, saw an increase of €51,667 over the three year period -- with expenses of €10,971 in 2004 rising to €62,638 in 2006.

Figures for only two years were provided for Minister of State Pat "the Cope" Gallagher. However, they show expenses of €53,483 were claimed in 2003, dropping slightly to €35,477 in 2004.

The Taoiseach's office had a tighter rein on its finances -- with expenses only logged when Mary Hanafin was a junior minister between 2003 and 2004, totalling €8,466.

Minister for State and Chief Whip Tom Kitt claimed a total of €2,577 from the same department in 2005 and 2006.

Fianna Fail declined to comment on the figures last night. However, the Government press office said that the amount that could be claimed was limited and therefore not open to abuse.

Labour environment spokesperson Joanna Tuffy said that the figures "bear out the fears that we have, that the costs related to junior ministers are spinning out of control.

"The additional junior ministers was nothing more than a move to allow Mr Ahern to offer consolation prizes to disappointed Cabinet aspirants.

"Staffing alone for the additional three will cost the taxpayer in the region of €1.2m per year. Looking at the expenses already being claimed it is a drain on the taxpayer," she said.

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