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Claire Byrne: Our TDs just won't cop on... €27k in unvouched expenses is not reform -- it's an insult

It was a golden opportunity and they blew it.

All any of us want to see is a level playing field but instead what we got this week was our TDs unashamedly giving themselves an unvouched for, tax-free allowance of at least €27,000 per annum in expenses.

In an era of pay cuts and job losses, those who inhabit Leinster House still don't understand that the days of free money are over for everybody else.

They don't understand that expenses without receipts is a phenomenon that just doesn't happen in the real world and they obviously don't see that real people have to work for a long, long time to get that sort of money into their hands.

The lower rate of expenses -- for Dublin TDs -- is made up of €12,000 for travel and accommodation and €15,000 for constituency costs.

How much does it cost a Green TD from Dublin to cycle into work? How much does it cost him or her to stay in their own homes at night? It's easy to work it out and yet, we are handing all TDs at least €12,000 in expenses for travel and accommodation without asking them to account for it.

Is there anyone else living and working in the city who is given, without question, €12,000 a year on top of their salary, tax free, to pay for diesel and car costs? If there is, I want their job.

For representatives who are from outside the capital, there will be genuine costs involved in coming to Leinster House and spending time in the capital, but they should be asked to provide receipts. It's no more than anyone else in employment who incurs expenses is asked to do.

The other lump sum is for 'constituency expenses'. There can be no doubt that busy TDs clock up large phone bills, possibly rent for office accommodation and other costs associated with what is akin to a small business but, again, where is the issue with providing invoices? And what is the reason for not asking for documentation? It's a sop to the pampered few who have been used to handouts for years and who couldn't cope with the radical overhaul that we expected to see.

In putting together the new regime, you might expect that they would have considered just how long it would take a person on the average industrial wage to earn the amount of money they pay out to themselves on top of their salary.

There are some changes for the better; asking them to turn up to the Dail 80pc of the time is an improvement, but isn't that what we all have to do in order to earn a salary?

There is no point bleating on about fairness and equity and expecting people to accept harsh salary cuts if you are not prepared to play the game too. If the Government was serious about reform across the public sector and the wider economy, it would have insisted that every penny that TDs get should be accounted for with a receipt or an invoice. After all, an expense claim is a reimbursement for money that you have actually spent, not a grace and favour payment for money that you might have spent.

Public representatives work hard and they get plenty of stick when they get it wrong. But it's a profession that they choose to join.

Hard work and a public profile shouldn't automatically mean that you deserve free money for turning up.

By voting to continue with a system of unvouched expenses, the Government has missed a golden opportunity to introduce real reform. Instead it has decided to highlight the fact that those who make the rules for everyone else don't have to abide by them.


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