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John Drennan: Fianna Fail is still milking the taxpayer

FIANNA Fail may have hit rock bottom in the polls but it is still top of the heap when it comes to the critical art of extracting taxpayer's cash.

A research document compiled by Independent TD Catherine Murphy as part of a petition to the Oireachtas Commission for equal parliamentary support facilities for Independent TDs has found that Fianna Fail cost the Exchequer more per TD in political-party funding and leader's party allowances than any other party.

A table compiled by Ms Murphy shows that Fianna Fail receives €121,083 in allowances for every TD, excluding wages. This is three times as much as Independent TDs receive under the much-maligned leaders allowance of €41,152.

Sinn Fein, which has only recently given up its attempts to overthrow what it used to refer to as the "Free State", receives €119,795 per TD, whilst the figures for Labour and Fine Gael are €63,317 and €58,735 respectively.

The monies received by the Government parties are lower than those secured by the opposition because of the advantages they secure due to their current status in terms of information and resources.

The figures compiled by Ms Murphy only refer to the exchequer funding and leaders' allowances received by the parties and do not include the myriad of constituency and secretarial allowances received by TDs.

When these are included, the cost to the State per TD rises to over €200,000 a year for a Fianna Fail TD.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, the Independent TD Finian McGrath noted that: "The cost to the taxpayer of funding the research and secretarial needs of some TDs is higher than hiring a secretary-general to run an entire government department."

The research was carried out by Ms Murphy as part of a claim for greater equality when it comes to the funding of Independent TDs.

Her report notes that the current rules mean the 145 Fianna Fail, Labour, Fine Gael and Sinn Fein TDs will receive an average 51.91 per cent more of taxpayer's money than Independents.

The document claims that Independent TDs suffer a "persistent level of resource disadvantage'', which represents an "unacceptable threat to the right of each citizen to equal representation".

In spite of their favourable treatment, the research also reveals that Fianna Fail's seat losses have plunged the struggling party into a major fiscal black hole.

In 2010, it received €5.2m in party leader's allowances and Exchequer funding.

However, under the current regime, that will drop by just under €3m to €2.3m.

Fine Gael, by contrast, despite the 30 per cent reduction in the funding to which it is entitled to because of its status in Government, will, with €4.4m, retain most of its funding in 2011.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party's funding will increase from €2.1m to €2.6m.

Ultimately, the unfortunate Greens are the biggest losers of all, as their allowances went from €801,999 in 2010 to a total of zero for this and the coming years.

Sunday Independent