Taxpayers aren't picking up our bar bills, says Dail boss

Geraldine Gittens

GOVERNMENT officials claim that bills run up at the Dail bar are paid in full each month and insist that the taxpayer is not being hit.

Mark Mulqueen, head of communications in the Houses of the Oireachtas, said that TDs and senators who bought refreshments on credit at the Dail Bar were not incurring any expense to the taxpayer.

His comments follow revelations that a politician had run up a bar tab of nearly €1,400.

Figures from the Freedom of Information request found that a mystery TD or senator, who had consistently maintained a food and drink bill of over €1,000 for at least three years, had yet to pay up.

TDs and senators owed almost €10,000 to the Dail Bar as a result of credit, and reports claimed that one mystery politician had been running a tab for three years

Mr Mulqueen told the Herald that it was well known that politicians working in the Oireachtas could avail of a "limited" credit facility at the bar.

"There's no ambiguity that there is credit allowed to the members who use the bar," he said. "A small proportion of the members use it and they all settle it within a short period, and it's generally within one month."

The Oireachtas spokesman said the credit facility was for convenience only, and it was used to allow members to buy light refreshments and snacks when they hosted visitors to Leinster House.

"There are 100,000 people coming in every year and that's an awful lot of people for a relatively small parliament building.

"It's a bit like if you're hosting a community event in a local hotel -- and in most cases it's community groups, sports groups, youth groups or school groups that are visiting. It's very simple, they might be buying lunch for 20 people. The taxpayer isn't incurring the cost of these refreshments.

"It has been implied that the taxpayer is incurring a cost but they're not."

Mr Mulqueen insisted that each politician's bar bill was settled "in full" at the end of each month or shortly afterwards.

He stressed that he wished to clarify that there were no "Oireachtas subsidies" for food or drink.

"The cost of food and drink reflects the fact that overhead costs such as utility bills fall under the central bill for the Houses of the Oireachtas complex," he said.

"On occasion -- and it's been a long established practice -- if people are in a large group, you can't pay for each orange or sandwich as they go by."

However, an increasing number of politicians are reported to have bills ranging from a few euro to over €1,000 at the subsidised bar.

In 2007 there were 42 members with unpaid debts, rising to 45 in 2008 and 2009, but this has now risen to 60.

Independent TD Finian McGrath told the Herald that some TDs had to "cough up" and "cop on".

"Members of the Oireachtas in an economic downturn have to show leadership and are they are not doing that," said Mr McGrath.