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Wednesday 13 November 2019

TDs and senators are paying staff up to €9,200 in overtime

Paul Melia

Paul Melia

TDs and senators are signing off on overtime payments worth up to €9,200 a year for their office staff, the Irish Independent has learned.

Secretaries and parliamentary assistants are earning up to 20pc of their salaries in the additional payments, with some getting an extra €200 a week.

The payments are signed off by the Oireachtas members who hired them, and there are no additional checks.

Records obtained by the Irish Independent show some of the assistants are claiming the maximum allowable amount throughout the year, even when the Dail is not sitting.

TDs are allowed to employ one secretarial assistant and one parliamentary assistant (PA), while senators can employ one secretarial assistant. Assistants are paid between €23,180 and €44,726 a year, while PAs earn between €41,092 and €52,200.

Annual increments are paid, and they work 41 hours a week with four weeks' holidays a year.

But records released under the Freedom of Information Act show more than 80 assistants are receiving payments of more than €5,000 a year for working extra hours, despite the fact that the Dail did not sit for 15 weeks last year.

The records do not identify who received the money, but they show the total overtime bill in 2011 was almost €1.5m.

The first three hours of overtime are paid at time and a quarter and the next three at time and a half. A maximum of six hours a week can be claimed.

The records show:

- Four PAs claimed more than €9,000 in overtime during 2011, almost a fifth of the maximum salary that can be earned.

- The maximum claimed was €9,174, but a total of 49 PAs received more than €5,000.

- 151 PAs were employed during the year, claiming almost €726,000 in overtime in 2011, while €9,000 was claimed in expenses to attend training.

- Three secretarial assistants were paid more than €8,000 in overtime, with the highest getting €8,718.

- A total of 33 secretaries received more than €5,000.

- 221 secretaries were employed, with €795,000 claimed in overtime, while €14,000 was paid in expenses.

The position of parliamentary assistant was introduced in 2005 to help TDs write speeches and research issues. Twenty-seven members of the Dail and Seanad employ family members as assistants.

The overtime amounts are approved by elected members, but the payments are made by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission on a weekly basis.

Overtime payments are only questioned by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission if more than six hours a week are claimed, or if claims are made for more than 48 weeks during the year.

The figures come as the Government tries to reduce the annual €403m overtime bill for public servants and health workers.

Labour TD Jack Wall, who employs his son, Mark, as his PA, said his staff worked more than six hours overtime a week and earned every penny.

"They could be in from early in the morning until the evening if necessary. What they get is what they earn," he said.

Fine Gael TD John Paul Phelan, who employs Kilkenny councillor Pat Dunphy as his PA, said his staff generally worked more than six hours overtime a week, which was unpaid.

But Fianna Fail TD Sean Fleming, a member of the audit committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, said the amounts paid needed to be examined.

"We need to know if there is an excessive amount of overtime. It will be brought to the audit committee," he said.

Irish Independent

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