Calls for suspension of TDs' €250k travel pay during virus lockdown
TDs are still entitled to a total of around €250,000-a-month in travel and accommodation expenses from the taxpayer - despite limits on the numbers allowed to attend the Dail in the coronavirus lockdown.
The continued payment of the Travel and Accommodation Allowance (TAA) has prompted calls for it to be cut back during the crisis.
The Dail has met just six times since the election and in reduced numbers for most of those sittings due to social distancing rules. The TAA has annual rates based on the distance between a TD's home and the Dail and it is paid in monthly instalments.
It is designed to cover costs associated with travel to and from Leinster House, overnights, and other travel expenses including in constituencies.
An analysis of payments for February suggests that eligible deputies can claim more than €250,000 between them - for the full month.
Cork-based Solidarity TD Mick Barry, who is entitled to €2,614 a month under the scheme, said: "Although some TDs pay round-the-year rent on accommodation, I think the case for cutting back on travel and accommodation expenses during the lockdown is unanswerable."
Dublin-based Rise TD Paul Murphy is entitled to €750 monthly under the scheme, but said: "There's a serious case to either suspend the payment altogether while the crisis is going on and the Dail is barely sitting or to cut it back substantially."
Both Mr Barry and Mr Murphy said their practice had been to pay back any unused TAA funds to the Exchequer each year and they expected the sums they paid back this year to be greater due to the lockdown.
The Ceann Comhairle and ministers, including the Taoiseach, are not entitled to make claims under the TAA.
In return for the allowance, TDs are required to clock into the Dail for at least 120 days over the course of a year. For every day short of the target, they must pay back 1pc of the annual allowance.
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen the suspension of the clock-in system and Oireachtas authorities have asked that as few TDs as possible attend sittings in Leinster House.
The next House of the Oireachtas Commission, which consists of TDs and civil servants, is expected to examine the issue in the future.
It's likely that the number of days needed to clock in will be reduced to ensure TDs can claim their full annual allowance, but the commission may also examine if other mechanisms can be used to reflect how TAA payments are made to TDs during the lockdown.