Monday 18 November 2019

TDs sneak through own budget with just 2.5pc cut

€108m a year to run Dail and Seanad

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

TDs who have been backing harsh Budget cuts to child benefit and respite care grants will cut their own budget by just 2.5pc.

They will quietly vote through a budget for running the Dail and Seanad of €108m a year -- and then head off on their Christmas holidays.

The necessary legislation has been published without any publicity from the Leinster House authorities.

The €324m budget for the Dail and Seanad for the next three years is down only 2.5pc on the €332.5m spend for the previous three-year period.

This represents an average running cost of €108m a year for the Dail and Seanad.

The budget is due to be voted through by the Government today, with a maximum of three hours allocated for debate.

The Dail is due to adjourn for its Christmas break a few hours later.

It represents a repeat of the move two months ago to rush through the 2013 Budget before the Dail took its Halloween break -- which led to an Opposition TD branding the Dail "a joke of a parliament".

The biggest cost in the Oireachtas budget is paying for the wages, travel expenses and supports for the 166 TDs and 60 senators.

Despite the modest cut, junior minister Alex White said the €324m budget target would be "challenging" and would require "substantial economising" by the Leinster House authorities over the next three years.

"The Oireachtas must show the public that it is ready, able and willing to participate in the general reduction of administrative costs," he told the Seanad.

But Fianna Fail public expenditure spokesman Sean Fleming said his party would be voting against the Oireachtas Budget Bill because of the Government's "broken promises" on Dail reform and the failure to cut bureaucracy in the Dail.

"The Sir Humphreys are still in charge," he said.

During Seanad discussion of the bill, Sinn Fein senator David Cullinane called for cuts in politicians' salaries as well as the €750 mobile phone allowance available to TDs and senators.

"I have not availed of that allowance," he said. "Why is a mobile phone allowance of €750 for phones and car kits payable every 18 months?

"What other job would pay such an allowance?"

Fine Gael senator Paul Bradford said he too could not understand why there was a mobile phone allowance.

However, he warned against cutting politicians' salaries on the grounds that it might mean that only wealthy farmers, doctors and lawyers could afford to get elected, as was the case in the 1950s.

"In the rush to score cheap popularity with the public, especially with changes to the income structure of politicians, we should be careful to ensure we do not return Irish politics to being the preserve of a wealthy elite," he said.

Last year, the cross-party Oireachtas Commission, which is in charge of Leinster House, had 453 staff on its payroll, costing €24.6m per year. Some 378 staff were employed in the offices of TDs and senators, costing €18m per year.

Although the number of TDs is to be cut by eight, this will not take effect until the next general election, so no cost savings will be made till then. According to a recent estimate, the annual cost per TD to the State is €277,063 – or more than €46m in total.

The Oireachtas Commission said the €324m three-year budget is 10pc less than the previous one of €360m, but it represents a reduction of only 2.5pc on the €332.5m actually spent over the 2010 to 2012 period.

No press release about the bill to provide the Dail and Seanad with a €324m budget has been released, although the commission said there had been an explanatory memo, which is available on its website.

It said the reduction in the budget for the Dail and Seanad included cuts in the salaries of TDs, senators and staff, reductions in the number of staff employed and savings from renegotiating contracts with suppliers.

Irish Independent

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