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Political parties pocket €12.6m in State funding, says watchdog

THE country's political parties were paid €12.6m from the State coffers last year, according to figures released by the State's ethics watchdog.

The four main parties - Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and the Labour Party - received combined funding of €5.5m.

The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) details every year the level of funding paid to parties and their politicians under the Electoral Acts.

While the allowances can be used to cover the costs of their political duties, under the rules, an allowance paid under this section can not be used for, or to recoup, election or poll expenses incurred for the purposes of any election or referendum.

Of the political parties in receipt of the funding, Fine Gael received €2.28m - the largest single sum - due to the number of TDs and senators in Taoiseach Enda Kenny's party.

The Labour Party received €1.29m.

Fianna Fail received €1.17m, according to the figures, followed by Sinn Fein which got €720,000 in funding.

The SIPO figures also detail the extra €7.117m in funding paid to party leaders which is used for staff costs, research and office expenses.

The details released yesterday also show that independent TDs received €563,866 through what is known as the leaders allowance.

Independent senators received €249,130 in State funding in 2014.

The payment of the leaders allowance to independent TDs has been a constant topic of controversy in Dail debates.

Independent TDs have argued that they operate without the backing of large party structures and the money is badly needed.

Analysis by independent TD Catherine Murphy reveals that the 145 deputies belonging to Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein will each cost on average 52pc more per year than the Dail's Technical Group members.

From 2016, SIPO will require all parties to publish national audited accounts.

The decision came after Government ministers pledged greater transparency and accountability over funding.

It is currently carrying out a public consultation process on new rules requiring greater transparency on how the party leaders allowance is spent.

The allowance will be renamed the parliamentary activity allowance, as independent TDs will also be required to report on how they spend it.