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Wednesday 21 March 2018

SF is riding gravy train all the way to Government

Sinn Fein seems to have been running a private internal revenue service, writes Concubhar O Liathain

THE revelation in the Irish Independent last week that Sinn Fein TDs Pearse Doherty and Padraig Mac Lochlainn were openly fleecing the taxpayer by diverting unused, unvouched travel expenses to pay the salaries of party activists should ring our alarm bells.

The party that has shouted loudest in decrying the political gravy-train antics of other parties has itself been found with its hand in the open cash register -- aka the Oireachtas -- that is funded by you and me.

I'm not against jobs. I'm not against jobs for political party workers. I'm not even against jobs for Sinn Fein political activists. What I am against -- and every right-thinking person should be -- is the hijacking of our political system in order to facilitate the rise to power of a party that will use every trick possible to advance its own aims and, in particular, members.

A number of these jobs, it seems, include positions for party officials to examine the bank accounts of Sinn Fein TDs to ensure they are passing on all the "excess expenses" and the wages which exceed the average industrial wage taken by paid political representatives of the party.

Can you imagine any employment with a more sinister job description? It appears to come straight from the pages of Orwell's 1984 with resonances of Big Brother watching you.

In a recent column for the Irish language newspaper Gaelsceal, I focused on the wages of Sinn Fein TDs and how a portion of these are siphoned off by the party to meet its own expenses. The article followed a newspaper revelation that a newly elected Sinn Fein TD, Sandra McClellan, was finding it difficult to pay for make-up and other cosmetic necessities on the wages she was receiving.

Out of the €92,262 paid annually to a TD, the SF TD is left with €34,000 -- the average industrial wage -- and then has to pay tax of approximately €5,000 on that.

€63,000 is a great deal of tax to pay -- but it's not all going to the Irish State's Collector General. For as well as having its own private army in the IRA, SF has its own IRS (Internal Revenue Service).

Through myriad arrangements the Sinn Fein TDs pay a portion of their wages to party workers in their constituencies. This is what funds, in part anyhow, the growing network of Sinn Fein advice centres in many parts of the country, particularly in areas where the party is hopeful of gaining a Dail seat next time out in 2016.

I questioned these arrangements as I feel strongly that TDs should get a good salary -- this helps avoid the possibility of corruption -- and the return for that is they should serve the people, not necessarily their party, first and foremost. The arrangements of Sinn Fein TDs cast doubts on their loyalties. The money is not paid to the party as such -- so as not to pass the donation limits being observed by other parties. It's beyond doubt that the party benefits more than its fair share from this source, even if it doing so within the letter of the law.

While this is happening, Sinn Fein berates other parties for claiming too many expenses and availing of the perks of the political gravy train -- perks which include, it seems, massive supplies of printer ink cartridges. Just ask Aengus O Snodaigh.

This use of the excess of unvouched expenses and Oireachtas salaries to fund jobs for Sinn Fein activists throughout the country -- rather than lavish lifestyles for the TDs -- may be laudable in terms of Sinn Fein economics, but it's hardly praiseworthy in terms of the economic running of the parliament to which these representatives have been elected.

Sinn Fein's misuse of public funds is no less damaging to the people's perception of politicians as those who use their position to procure their own advantage than the sins of Mick Wallace or any others you care to mention.

It's worth bearing in mind that the system already provides generously for the employment of constituency workers for each TD as well as giving every party a leader's allowance. This funding is used to employ researchers and other support staff for the party. It's part of the cost of democracy and I don't mind paying it via my taxes.

If you raised these issues as I did in Gaelsceal, the first reaction of a Sinn Fein TD is to brand you as 'anti-Sinn Fein'. At least that was the first reaction of Sinn Fein TD Peadar Toibin, who tweeted to that effect. Although to be fair to Peadar he gave back to the State last year his unused travel expenses of nearly €6,000. Since when did highlighting the misuse of public funds amount to being 'anti-Sinn Fein'? He also launched an illfounded "shoot the messenger" attack at me in his right of reply in Gaelsceal.

What is most illuminating about the revelations in the Irish Independent is the detailed knowledge of the system's chinks and kinks possessed by Sinn Fein. They are prepared to exploit their insider knowledge for the benefit of their party and its relentless ride to power.

It seems the party is determined to ride the gravy train to government -- at the expense of the taxpayer. That's me and you. That's one ticket I'm not willing to buy for them.

Concubhar O Liathain is the editor of the award-winning Irish language blog

Sunday Independent

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