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The real facts on TDs' expenses

Sir -- Daniel McConnell's article (Sunday Independent, January 17, 2010), entitled "TDs share in expenses jackpot as claim hit €8m" claimed that "despite talk of cutbacks, the gravy train showed no signs of slowing down". This isn't serious journalism.

Statements such as "jackpot" and "gravy train" suggest that Oireachtas members enjoy some kind of personal enrichment from the expenses they receive and that the payments made to them are used to fund lavish lifestyles or fill their bank accounts. Fiction.

Furthermore, presenting members expenses in the form of simplistic Premiership style league tables may entertain but it does not inform your readers. For example, it is a geographical inevitability that a TD from Donegal will incur greater travel costs than a TD from Louth -- both due to the respective distance from Leinster House and the size of the area they must traverse when on constituency business.

What must be made clear is that expenses are provided to enable TDs and senators to effectively carry out their roles as elected public representatives. It is not a mechanism to enable them to top up their salaries or line their pockets.

The Irish political system has ensured that constituents have ready access to their elected representatives. Every week, TDs and senators receive thousands of representations from people who they represent in their local areas through their full-time constituency offices. In addition to this, they spend several days a week working on legislative and parliamentary business in Leinster House. Inevitably, there will be costs incurred in performing these duties.

Sometimes, for straightforward administrative reasons, Oireachtas members choose to wait a number of months or more to claim their expenses rather than obtain them on a monthly or annual basis. The way this is reported can give a false impression. For example, in your article you stated that "in one of the more interesting revelations" Padraic McCormack TD claimed €24,848 in one month. This figure actually refers to expenses acquired over an eight-month period.

Or, consider a TD who has a constituency office and is paid €8,000 per annum towards the rental, utility bills and running of such a facility. The TD receives this amount regardless of whether he decides to run two or even three such offices, as many rural members must do. Equally, a senator who chooses to have a constituency office gets no assistance to defray these costs.

From Mr McConnell's report one would get the impression that a TD or senator only works on the days that the Dail or Seanad sits each year. The facts are different. For example, I know of 30 callers to one TD's home last Monday evening week when those people had their water cut off or of 20 callers who arrive on average to one West of Ireland TD's clinic every Saturday morning.

The record for expenses paid to Oireachtas members for 2009 may also include expenses incurred in 2008 or even 2007 but which were not claimed until 2009. Again, such detail might inform your readership; but, of course, that clearly is not the priority.

As for "talk of cutbacks," much more than just idle chat has already happened regarding reductions in Oireachtas members' incomes. And your reporters are repeatedly informed of this. TDs and senators have had their earnings reduced, including the pension levy, the reduction in Oireachtas members' salaries, cuts to allowances for specific positions and decreases in expenses. In addition, further reforms are imminent which aim to make the system simpler for members and more accountable from a public perspective.

I don't expect these facts to be given prominence but maybe you might squeeze them in somewhere, in the interest of that old concept -- balance.

Mark Mulqueen,

Head of Communications,

Houses of the Oireachtas

Sunday Independent