Saturday 17 August 2019

Minister spent €3,200 on 'policy formation' meetings in top restaurants and hotels

Minister of State for Natural Resources Seán Canney
Minister of State for Natural Resources Seán Canney
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

JUNIOR minister Seán Canney spent more than €3,200 of taxpayer’s cash on “policy formation” meetings many of which were held in some of Dublins' top restaurants.

It came as part of €43,164 in expenditure by the Galway East TD under the State-funded Parliamentary Activities Allowance (PAA) scheme for Independent Oireachtas members.

Mr Canney’s statement to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) outlined 17 items of expenditure totaling €3,258 in 2018 under the heading “policy formation”.

This included:

  • €332 spent in Matt the Thresher seafood restaurant;
  • €208 in Sussex Restaurant;
  • €140 in Bang Restaurant;
  • €122 in Fire Restaurant;
  • €92.40 in The Ivy.

The highest item of expenditure in this category was €874 spent in Cre na Cille. There is a restaurant with this name in Tuam in Mr Canney’s constituency.

A further €182.20 was spent at the Hodson Bay Hotel in Athlone.

Another €570 was spent in the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Last night Mr Canney said that the expenses relate to meetings with his team and supporters “to talk about policies”.

He added: “That’s’ all part of meeting people and discussing things with people”.

Asked if the meetings in Dublin could not have taken place in Leinster House, given that many of the restaurants are nearby he said:

“Sometimes if you’re in Dublin you might have it over a meal. You would meet some people and… you would go through the different things that you need to go through.”

He did not respond to later queries on what policies were discussed at the various meetings or what the €874 in spending in Cre na Cille related to.

Most of Mr Canney’s spending - €32,313 – went on “research and training” while €6,730 was spent on “consultants’ services, including the engagement of public relations consultants”.

Politicians are not required to submit invoices to Sipo in relation to their PAA expenditure but they must have their statements audited by a public auditor.

Mr Canney submitted an auditor’s report that found that “proper accounting records have been kept in respect of the said allowance and its disbursement.”

Junior Minister Finian McGrath declared the highest level of spending among Independent TDs under the PAA with expenditure totalling €45,684.

Of this €22,755 was spent on “Red C Constituency Research”.

The PAA scheme allows for spending on “polling or public attitude sampling in connection with parliamentary debates or initiatives.”

Mr McGrath told that he has never used his PAA for any election.

He said the constituency research was carried out "well after the election" and it included issues like health, housing, disablity, education, and repealing the 8th amendment on abortion.

Mr McGrath added that some of the allowance went to a disability group for consultations and research and "I never got one red cent for myself."

He said that he got advice from Sipo and he is "totally in line" with its rules.

His fellow Independent Alliance minister Shane Ross spent a total of €24,496 including just over €6,000 on “entertainment”.

This category included 72 items of expenditure on coffee mornings and lunches for constituency groups.

Locations included the catering facilities in Leinster House including the Dáil Bar as well as the branch of the Costa coffee chain in Leopardstown, Eddie Rocket’s in Stillorgan, and Union Café in Mount Merrion.

Mr Ross’s spokesperson said: “All expenses fully complied with Sipo requirements”.

Separately, records released by Sipo showed that political parties were paid a combined €7.587m under the PAA scheme.

A further €5.964m was paid to political parties under a separate scheme for Exchequer Funding under the Electoral Act.

This included €258,596 for Renua Ireland despite the party having no TDs.

Renua gets Exchequer funding as it received more than 2pc of the vote in the last general election.

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