AN ALL-PARTY COMMITTEE of TDs and Senators is to meet next week to discuss the impact of a little-known change made to the TDs’ expenses system in February which allows some members to be paid twice for the same bills.
The joint committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform is to scrutinise a statutory instrument signed by Brendan Howlin in January which added to the list of ways in which politicians are allowed to spend their Leinster House allowances.
The move – first reported by TheJournal.ie in February – mean that members are now allowed to use their Public Representation Allowance, the standard allowance paid to all members of the Dáil and Seanad, for expenses like public relations or secretarial support.
This is in addition to paying for utility bills in constituency offices, buying stationery, mobile phone bills and venue hire.
Independent TDs and Senators, however, were already paid a separate allowance – colloquially known as the ‘party leader’s allowance’ – which covered those expenses already.
And because the latter payment is not vouched – with the government recently blocking two Seanad moves to require independent TDs and Senators to vouch for how this allowance is spent – the system allows members to effectively claim some expenses on the double.
Independent TDs receive €41,152 each year under the allowance, while non-party Senators are given €23,383.
The national political spending watchdog, the Standards in Public Office Commission, has repeatedly called on governments to close the loophole and to require independent members of the Oireachtas to vouch for how the allowance is spent.
Ironically, the newly liberalised regime only impacted a handful of TDs or Senators – as records published by TheJournal.ie in February show that all but a handful of members were already claiming the maximum possible allowances.
The meeting, being held on Wednesday at 4:30pm, will also examine an order signed by Enda Kenny on the same date, January 31, which awarded an extra €17,205 allowance to junior housing minister Jan O’Sullivan after her promotion to cabinet.
The government defended that move by pointing out that ‘super-junior’ ministers have regularly been paid more than other junior ministers in light of their attendance at cabinet meetings.
Brendan Howlin will attend a later section of the meeting where members will discuss plans for new legislation to protect whistleblowers.