Saturday 24 August 2019

Political parties coy about pay and perks for officials

Tom Curran
Tom Curran
Sean Dorgan
Brian McDowell
John Downing

John Downing

Political parties - which share millions in taxpayer financing each year - remain remarkably coy about the salary packages of their most senior officials.

In the wake of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) pay furore, all the big parties were asked about the salary and perks of their general secretaries.

Fine Gael replied, saying the €141,000 annual salary of its general secretary, Tom Curran, was made public last year.

But the party utterly refused to discuss non-salary items such as health insurance, car, or pension funding, all perks which added to IFA members' fury this week.

Fianna Fáil said its general secretary Seán Dorgan's specific salary was "private". More generally, it said the post had a salary ranging from €119,000 to €138,000 per year, and this is understood to be originally based on the salary of a civil service assistant secretary.

Fianna Fáil also refused to discuss the question of perks, and Labour took a similar stance. It said Labour general secretary, Brian McDowell, who recently took up the post, was paid "something ranging from €90,000 to €108,000", understood to be related to the party's own pay scale.

Sinn Féin was the most plain-spoken on the issue. It said its general secretary, Dawn Doyle, got the average industrial wage of €34,900, and "no car, no health insurance and no pension funding".

The party also has long insisted that this is the position for its TDs, senators and MEPs. But it irks many politicians in other parties who react with scepticism.

More generally, all the "big four" parties at Leinster House benefit from considerable taxpayer-funded finance. But smaller parties and groupings say the system militates against their development.

The parties point out that spending, including the rule that grants cannot be used for election or referendum campaigns, is rigorously policed by the independent Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipoc).

But smaller and newer parties argue that the system favours the established parties by boosting their brand and organisation. Under recent reforms, the Independent TDs are entitled to a pro-rata share of one section of the taxpayer funding, which amounts to €37,000 per year, per individual.

As well as handsome taxpayer funding, the big parties benefit from other money donated by the public in the form of yearly subscriptions, draws and other fundraisers.

This will increasingly attract calls for greater transparency and openness on how money is spent.

Sipoc says that from next year, all parties must publish fully audited accounts. But how much change - if any - that brings remains to be seen.

Sipoc has already lost a battle with former Environment Minister Phil Hogan over revealing party branch funds.

Parties get taxpayer-funded subventions

None of the smaller parties and groups have a secretary general.

But all parties and Independents TDs and Senators benefit from generous taxpayer-funded finance.

This totalled €13m in 2013, the last full year for which information is available.

The funding is not to be spent directly on election or referendum campaigns.

But it gives the big players a big boost in covering administration, staff, research and organisation.

The parties themselves say these funds are "policed" by the Standards in Public Office Commission.

The 2013 taxpayer financing of the parties is as follows:

n Fine Gael received almost €5m.

n Labour received €3m.

n Fianna Fáil received €2.8m.

n Sinn Féin received €2.4m

All parties also charge member subs and fundraise.

Irish Independent

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