Friday 23 February 2018

Standards watchdog moves to clamp down on double expense claims

SIPO want Brendan Howlin to act
SIPO want Brendan Howlin to act

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

THE Government standards watchdog is pushing for the introduction of new measures to stop politicians from double claiming expenses.

The move comes after the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) found a former county councillor behaved "recklessly" by claiming expenses he shouldn't have.

Padraig Doherty, who lost his seat on Donegal County Council in the local elections last month, was criticised by SIPO after it investigated complaints about expenses he claimed in 2007 and 2008.

The watchdog found the former Fine Gael councillor, who ran as an Independent last month, did not act in good faith in relation to each of the contraventions.

In one instance he lodged expenses claims with two different bodies, his council and Udaras na Gaeltachta, for attending a conference.

As a result he received over €1,000 in additional expenses he was not entitled to. SIPO said it was now seeking action from Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin to put in place measures which would prevent councillors from making duplicate expenses claims from different public bodies.

It wants a joined-up approach where different bodies that pay expenses to public representatives co-operate with each other to ensure duplicate payments cannot be claimed.

SIPO chairman Daniel O'Keeffe told the minister he was "concerned at the scope for abuse by persons making such claims to more than one public body".

A spokeswoman for Mr Howlin said he had yet to receive the report, but would consider its contents when he does. Councillors can claim expenses from several bodies, including councils, regional authorities, regional assemblies, health forums and educational institutions.

They can attend conferences on behalf of many of these bodies. However, it is forbidden under the Standards in Public Office Act for councillors to claim duplicate expenses from more than one body for attending an event.

Mr Doherty declined to comment on the SIPO findings when contacted by the Irish Independent.

At a hearing earlier this year he admitted to breaches, but insisted these had been "unintentional" and "inadvertent".

The complaints against him were made last year by Donegal county manager Seamus McNeely and then county mayor Frank McBrearty.

As a result SIPO investigated expenses claimed by Mr Doherty for his attendance of the Association of County and City Councils' Annual conference in Dungarvan, Co Waterford between March 8 and March 10, 2007.

SIPO heard that Mr Doherty claimed travel and subsistence expenses totalling € 1,021 from Donegal County Council for attending the event.

However, he also claimed expenses totalling €1,032 from Udaras for going to the conference.

He repaid the council in full in 2011 after reviewing his expenses claims.

SIPO does not have the power to impose any sanctions on Mr Doherty.

Irish Independent

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