Independents paid €1.73m in allowances
FIFTEEN independent TDs elected to the Dail have been paid more than €115,000 each in tax-free allowances, the Irish Independent can reveal.
A total of €1.73m has been paid out to the deputies in the form of the controversial party leaders' allowance.
All independents elected to the Dail in February 2011 have claimed an annual tax-free allowance of €41,152, on top of their €92,000 salary, according to figures supplied to Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin.
Among those who claimed the full amount are Tipperary North TD Michael Lowry, Wexford TD Mick Wallace and Kerry South TD Michael Healy-Rae.
The allowance – which is unvouched and untaxed – is supposed to be spent by independents on areas such as research. Deputies have up to now been under no obligation to account for how it is spent.
While political parties are paid proportionately larger amounts, the sums go directly to the organisations which have to explain how the money was spent.
This is due to change, however, following the announcement of a crackdown by Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin.
A new Oireachtas Bill will result in a 10pc reduction in the sums paid through the scheme to political parties and independents.
According to Mr Howlin, this will save the taxpayer €840,000 in a full year.
The bill will also see all independent TDs having their spending of the allowances audited in order to ensure "greater transparency and accountability".
In response to a parliamentary question by Mr Griffin, Mr Howlin confirmed that all 15 independent TDs elected to the Dail in 2011 have drawn down the full amounts.
"For the first time, independent members will have to record and account for expenditure from the allowance, all of which is to be expended in respect of parliamentary activities, including research," Mr Howlin said.
Mr Griffin told the Irish Independent that he believes the sums are "hugely excessive".
"This is a huge amount of money at a time of national cutbacks, when ordinary families are all struggling," he said, calling for a "full explanation".