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Friday 24 November 2017

Oireachtas watchdog seeks legal advice over potential travel allowances breach

Ed Carty

LEFT-wing politicians funding nationwide travel to fight the €100 household charge under special Dail allowances have been breaking the rules, it has been confirmed.

Socialist Party TDs Joe Higgins and Clare Daly and United Left Alliance's Joan Collins have admitted using the automatic mileage and transport payment for their anti-government campaign.



An Oireachtas oversight body has revealed it never envisaged constituency travel allowances would be used in this way.



Rules on travel and accommodation entitlements - €12,000 a year for every Dublin TD - say members must certify the money covered transport from their home or temporary accommodation to work in Leinster House.



In a statement, the Houses of the Oireachtas said: "The service had never envisaged that the travel and accommodation allowance would allow deputies to travel outside of their constituencies, except for journeys to and from Leinster House.



"It is currently seeking legal advice to clarify the position."



A team of in-house legal experts is examining the rules and regulations on TDs' and senators' expenses to assess if the politicians were in breach.



It is understood Richard Boyd-Barrett was told not to state that his travel allowance was being used to cover the cost of attending events outside his constituency.



However a separate payment system, the public representation allowance (PRA), says TDs can claim under this for "attendance at conferences relating to the performance of his or her duties as a member (except expenses relating to travel)".



A spokesman for the Socialist Party said the expenses dispute was a smear campaign co-ordinated by pro-government parties, supporters of the 100 euro household charge and some elements of the media.



"We're told that we need a break from the parish pump politics and that TDs should be concerned about what happens outside their cabbage patch but that's not the approach," he said.



"It shows a lack of imagination on the part of the Oireachtas that TDs would not be concerned with acting on issues which affect people outside of their constituency. TDs are national legislators."



Some 700,000 property owners have yet to pay the charge and face a "three strikes and it's court" system. Two red reminder letters will be sent before a third threatens legal action.



"It is scurrilous and underhanded to suggest some kind of impropriety in using a Dail travel allowance to travel around the country addressing mass meetings and rallies against the household tax or indeed any other issue," the Socialist spokesman added.



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