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Sinn Fein faces two inquiries over abuse of TDs' expenses

SINN Fein is facing two probes about its use of state cash to hire party workers.

The Irish Independent revealed yesterday that two of the party's frontbenchers were breaking Dail rules by using some of their travel and accommodation expenses to hire party workers. Now Sinn Fein is promising to repay the money if it is required to do.

But it is still insisting that its finance spokesman Pearse Doherty acted in "good faith" when he used €8,000 worth of travel and accommodation expenses to pay the salaries of two party workers.

The party's foreign affairs spokesman Padraig MacLochlainn has admitted using the "balance" of his travel expenses to pay the salary of an extra constituency secretary.

The Oireachtas Commission confirmed yesterday that TDs were not allowed to use their flat payment for travel and accommodation for any other purpose -- and that they must return any unspent money.

It is now up to the Dail committee on members' interests to investigate the redirection of travel expenses by Mr Doherty and Mr MacLochlainn -- although it is likely to require a complaint from a member of the public in order to do this.

And the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) has also written in the past week to Sinn Fein with questions about its 'industrial wage' policy.

The party only allows its 14 TDs to take €34,000 of their €92,000 salary and they have to use the remainder to hire staff. No cash is handed over directly to the party in order to avoid breaching the donation limits.


But SIPO confirmed that it wants to find out if the payment of party workers' salaries by TDs should still be classed as an electoral donation.

This is the latest expenses scandal to embarrass Sinn Fein after the revelation that its chief whip Aengus O Snodaigh ran up a bill of €50,000 on printer cartridges in just two years.

Sinn Fein said last night that Mr Doherty and Mr McLoughlainn had met a senior Oireachtas official on the travel expenses issue and were now waiting for a response.

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In a statement, the party said: "There is no suggestion but that the deputies acted in good faith. However, if any irregularity is discovered, the deputies will rectify this."

Both Mr Doherty and Mr MacLochlainn had to sign certificates last year, declaring that they had only used the expenses to pay for travel and accommodation.

The maximum penalty for any TD found to have contravened the Ethics in Public Office Act is a 30-day suspension from the Dail and a freeze on salary payments for this period.

This could amount to the loss of a month's salary of around €7,600 before tax.

Labour Dublin Mid-West TD Robert Dowds dismissed Sinn Fein's claim that its TDs had acted in good faith and said it was very clear to all TDs that travel and accommodation expenses could not be used for any other purpose.

The SDLP, which has been locked in battle with Sinn Fein in the North, said the revelations about its use of state funds were "deeply unnerving".

"Serious questions have to be answered about how transparent their approach to fundraising is and how accountable they are in disbursing their funds," a spokeswoman said.

Mr Doherty received €33,000 in travel and accommodation expenses last year but put around €8,000 of this towards the wages of two extra workers in his Donegal South West constituency.

It emerged yesterday that Mr Doherty also used a further €2,000 of travel expenses for other purposes when he was a senator. He provided details on his own blogging website about how he received around €10,200 for travel and subsistence expenses in the first six months of 2009.

But he only spent around €8,200 for this purpose, with the remaining €2,000 going towards the wages of a party worker, constituency office rental and mobile-phone bills. This was under the old and much looser expenses system.

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