Sunday 19 November 2017

'Reformed' system sees TDs earn over €200k

When all pay and allowances are taken into account, the cost to taxpayers adds up, writes Ronald Quinlan

ASK a TD how much they earn and they'll tell you they get €92,672 a year. An examination of all the pay and allowances to which our politicians are entitled under the Dail's 'reformed' expenses system, however, shows how a TD living in Dublin can cost the taxpayer as much as €209,644 once all pay, expenses and staff for his office are taken into account. The costs for a rural TD can be as high as €235,494.

And as if that wasn't enough, the cost of cosseting our Dail deputies climbs even further once they assume any responsibility beyond their primary role of acting as either lobby fodder for the Government with its unassailable majority, or serving as a member of the Dail's dwindling Opposition (see table below).

Indeed, TDs appointed as chairpersons of Dail committees or as members of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission are entitled to additional payments of €9,500, while those deputies selected to act as Whips within the Government or their respective political parties are entitled to sums ranging from €6,000 in the case of Sinn Fein to €19,000 in the case of Fianna Fail.

But as exorbitant as these extra payments might appear, they pale in comparison to the standard allowances being paid for out of the taxpayers' increasingly threadbare pocket. In the case of the Travel and Accommodation Allowance (TAA) for example, even Dublin TDs living within 25km (15 miles) of Leinster House are entitled to claim €12,000.

For TDs living more than 25km but less than 60km (36 miles) from the Dail, the TAA skyrockets to €28,106 a year, before rising in varying increments up to a top rate of €37,850 for TDs living more than 360km from Leinster House. Apart from paying for a TD's commute and his or her hotel room where required, the taxpayer also has to foot the bill for being 'represented' by them.

Never mind the €92,672 they're already getting paid to do their jobs, under the reformed expenses system introduced in March of last year, a Public Representation Allowance (PRA) ranging between an unvouched annual amount of €15,000 up to a maximum vouched annual sum of €25,700 is also payable to members of the Dail for use in the performance of their duties. Not that your TD will be unavailable to take your call given that all Dail deputies are entitled to claim up to €750 every 18 months for the upgrade of their mobile phone.

But while such payments could be considered acceptable for ordinary TDs given the out-of-pocket expenses they might incur within their constituencies, its payment to ministers -- up to and including the Taoiseach -- will be more difficult for the public to comprehend given the range of comforts afforded to members of the Cabinet by virtue of their offices.

Indeed, only three weeks ago, Finance Minister Michael Noonan revealed in response to a parliamentary question on what ministers from outside Dublin are entitled to claim for in "vouched additional costs associated with maintaining a second residence in a hotel" in the capital. Highlighting one such cost for which ministers are entitled to claim, Mr Noonan wrote: "Examples of maintenance costs in such circumstances are laundry, etc."

Outside of the salaries and allowances paid to TDs, the taxpayer also foots the bill for the staff they employ in their Dail offices.

Having claimed a one-off sum of €8,000 to establish their constituency offices, TDs are entitled to retain the services of a secretarial assistant on a starting salary of €23,180.

Beyond this, Dail deputies are entitled to employ a fulltime parliamentary assistant on a starting salary of €41,092. Alternatively, that money can be used to employ someone to carry out defined work such as secretarial assistance, public relations, IT or training. Where neither of the above options is availed of, a TD is entitled to claim an unvouched allowance of €8,888.17 and vouched allowances of €11,591 a year to pay for defined work such as secretarial assistance, public relations, IT or training.

Sunday Independent

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