TDs take tax-free millions while dole numbers soar
Politicians' expense claims increase -- despite reductions in allowances
THE 166 TDs in Dail Eireann claimed almost €8m in largely tax-free and unvouched expenses and allowances during 2009, or over €78,000 for every day the parliament sat, new figures obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal.
The soaring cost of running the parliament is once again being heavily criticised at a time when 133,700 people lost their jobs, thousands others have been hit with pay cuts, deflation of more than 6 per cent has occurred and the country's national debt is now €75bn.
This means that in the last five years, the taxpayer has forked out nearly €50m to TDs and senators in expenses and allowances.
Fine Gael yesterday called for a total overhaul of the expenses system, saying Leinster House must be brought into line with what is happening in the private sector and said the current system is "absolutely unsustainable".
Despite a reduction in the allowances and mileage rates in response to the country's financial crisis, as announced by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan last April, incredibly, the actual amount claimed by TDs during 2009 increased on the previous year.
With the Dail sitting for only 100 days last year, in the 12 months up to December 1, last, TDs claimed a whopping €7,825,467 compared to €7,792,970 during the previous 12 months.
When added to the expenses and allowances claimed by the 60 members of Seanad Eireann during the same period, the taxpayer paid for over €10m in expenses for members of both houses of the Oireachtas.
The huge cost of members' expenses also comes in the wake of the expenses scandal during last summer which culminated in the resignation of the then Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue.
The top overall claimant in 2009 was Galway East FF TD Noel Treacy, who claimed a total of €95,233 on top of his salary. This was made up of €85,217 in expenses and his allowance of €10,016 for his chairmanship of the Oireachtas joint committee on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
Defending his claim, Mr Treacy told the Sunday Independent yesterday that his claims during 2009 related to unclaimed entitlements from previous years. "There is five years' worth of claims in those figures, and not all of the amount claim was to do with last year," he said.
However, Mr Treacy claimed €53,096 in expenses and allowances in 2008 and €8,447 in 2007. Another man in the firing line is the second highest claimant, Fine Gael's Sligo TD John Perry, who claimed €91,532 in expenses and allowances. Mr Perry has been in the top 10 list of claimants for the past three years, during which time he has claimed a total of €264,093 in expenses and allowances.
Despite repeated attempts to contact him, Mr Perry was not available for comment.
Senator Paschal Donohoe, who has been a harsh critic of the expenses system in the past, has called on for a full reform of the system to make them vouched and fully transparent.
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Speaking yesterday to the Sunday Independent, he said: "The level of spending and the way it is spent is absolutely unsustainable. These figures show the desperate need to introduce a vouched system of expenses. These records should then be published by the Houses of Oireachtas."
He added: "Every other profession can produce receipts for their work, so why can't Leinster House do the same. There should be a reduction of in the number of committees and a ban on all unnecessary foreign travel. The Government should be ashamed of themselves for not making this happen."
A spokesman for the Oireachtas said the record for expenses for 2009 may also include expenses incurred in 2008 but which were not claimed until 2009. Subsequently, the 2009 figure does not necessarily refer to expenses incurred in 2009 only.
He said: "Last year, the Houses of Oireachtas Commission produced a set of proposals to incorporate a 10 per cent overall reduction in members' expenses. These cuts are in addition to the reduction earlier last year of 25 per cent to mileage rates paid to Oireachtas members."
"During 2009, there has been a significant reduction in the costs incurred by Oireachtas members on travel. For example, the travel budget for Oireachtas Committees was reduced from €695,000 in 2008 to €254,000 in 2009, and the total expenditure on travel by Oireachtas Committees did not exceed €150,000 during 2009," he added.