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Saturday 17 November 2018

O'Donoghue deal worth €543,000 over two years

Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

EMBATTLED Dail chief John O'Donoghue has received almost €330,000 in allowances and expenses on top of his basic TD salary since his appointment as Ceann Comhairle, an Irish Independent investigation has found.

The under-fire Kerry South TD -- currently at the centre of a storm over revelations of lavish expenditure on travel and hotels while he was Arts, Sport and Tourism Minister -- has received a taxed ceann comhairle's allowance of €235,044 and untaxed allowances and expenses of €94,244 since becoming chairman of the Dail in 2007.

The taxed allowance is paid on top of Mr O'Donoghue's basic TD salary of €106,500, in recognition of the extra duties performed by the Ceann Comhairle and brings his total remuneration on par with that of a minister. That means he has earned nearly €543,000 in the two years since his appointment.

Details of the payments were contained in documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. They revealed the country's TDs have received an average of €110,500 -- or €55,250 a year -- in expenses and allowances on top of their salaries since the last general election.

That means €18.35m has been allocated to the country's 166 TDs on top of their basic wages in the two years since the May 2007 poll.

The bulk of the cash -- €16.37m -- was not subject to any tax and consisted of mainly unvouched allowances and expenses.

The remaining €1.97m was paid in the form of taxable allowances given to 86 TDs appointed to specific jobs, such as Ceann Comhairle, Leas-Cheann Comhairle, party whips and Oireachtas committee chairpersons.

The revelations will fuel debate over the Oireachtas expenses system, which does not require TDs to produce receipts for most of the expenditure they incur.

Documents obtained by the Irish Independent reveal that over the past two years:



  • €7.6m was claimed by TDs for travel and subsistence costs.
  • A further €1.5m was claimed by TDs for travel in their constituencies.
  • €1.5m was claimed by TDs in miscellaneous expenses.
  • €1.9m was paid out to TDs to cover telephone costs.
  • A further €55,000 was allocated to TDs for the purchase of mobile phones and car kits.
  • €440,000 in constituency office grants was allocated to TDs.
  • A further €2.4m was allocated towards constituency office maintenance.
  • Special secretarial allowances totalling €548,000 were also paid.
  • TDs claimed €248,000 in Oireachtas committee travel expenses.


Many of the amounts previously claimed by TDs and senators have been significantly cut back in recent weeks as the Government's purse strings tighten.

Earlier this month, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan signed off on a 10pc reduction in various expense allowances. The cuts were first announced in April's crisis Budget.

The new regulations will see reductions in the amounts politicians can claim for miscellaneous expenses, travel within their constituencies, telephone costs and office accommodation allowances.

Penalties

An overnight allowance given to the country TDs to cover the cost of staying in Dublin while on Dail business has also been reduced by 10pc, while mileage rates were cut by a quarter.

However, politicians are bracing themselves for further changes to their expenses regime, with Mr Lenihan considering the introduction of penalties for those who don't attend in chambers.

Legislation which would allow for a single composite allowance for TDs and senators, known as a parliamentary standard allowance, has already been enacted, but has yet to be brought into force.

This would replace a host of existing separate expense allowances.

Ironically, this proposal was first made by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, which is chaired by Mr O'Donoghue.

Calls to Mr O'Donoghue's constituency spokesman for comment on the issue of allowances and expenses went unreturned over the weekend.

In a local radio interview earlier this year, Mr O'Donoghue said reducing TDs' salaries and expenses would result in poorer quality politicians. The Ceann Comhairle has refused to comment on the controversy over revelations about the size of his travel and hotel bills while he was Arts, Sports and Tourism Minister.

The former minister, his wife and his private secretary ran up a travel bill of over €126,000 in the space of just two years.

The expenditure included bills for €900-a-night hotels in Venice and €1,400-a-day chauffeur hire at the Cheltenham racing festival.

Mr O'Donoghue also spent €472 on a limousine to take him between terminals at Heathrow Airport -- a journey which would have taken just three minutes on the airport's free shuttle service.

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