Monday 19 August 2019

Senator finally repays €30,000 golden handshake, three years on

Written to numerous times: Senator Ray Butler. Photo: Tom Burke
Written to numerous times: Senator Ray Butler. Photo: Tom Burke

Darragh McDonagh

A Fine Gael senator who received a €30,000 golden handshake when he lost his Dáil seat, on condition that he would not become a member of the Seanad, has finally repaid the money - three years after it fell due.

Internal records show the Houses of the Oireachtas had to write to Senator Ray Butler four times in an effort to recoup the final instalment, and ultimately resorted to deducting it from his salary.

Mr Butler accepted a total of €30,904 in termination payments from the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission when he lost his seat as a TD for Meath West in the last General Election.

These payments are made on the basis that the recipient is no longer a member of the Oireachtas, and Mr Butler signed a declaration indicating that he would not subsequently consent to being nominated to the Seanad.

However, he accepted the nomination of Taoiseach Enda Kenny and was appointed to the Upper House on May 27, 2016, just three months after losing his Dáil seat.

On taking his seat in the Seanad, the termination payments immediately had to be repaid.

But records show that the authorities wrote to him seven times seeking to recoup the money without success.

The senator replied by letter on September 21, 2016, and said that he was "not in a financial position presently to repay this lump sum in its entirety", and suggested repaying it in instalments.

He was initially told that repayment by instalments was not possible under the legislation but, following a meeting with the Ceann Comhairle and the Clerk of the Dáil, an arrangement was made for him to repay €1,000 a month.

A compound interest rate of 4pc on the money due to be repaid - which was stipulated in the declaration signed by Mr Butler - was waived by the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act show that a final instalment of €1,000 was deducted from the senator's salary in November 2018 - two-and-a-half years after the total amount fell due.

This left a balance of €374.67 which Mr Butler said he would pay directly to the Houses of the Oireachtas in an email on October 25, 2018.

However, this payment was not received and the parliamentary authority wrote to him four times without reply between February 14 and March 21 this year, asking him to "urgently transfer" the outstanding balance.

The final letter warned that if it was not received by April 5, it would be deducted from his salary. This was done in May.

Mr Butler did not respond to a request for comment, but previously described the requirement to repay the money as "a ridiculous rule" and said it was unfair that he had been left without a wage after losing his Dáil seat.

"It's actually my money that I'm giving back. It's very unfair.

"I have a young family as well, and I had nothing for four months so I had to live on something to pay the mortgage," he said.

Irish Independent

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