TWELVE INDEPENDENT MEMBERS of the Seanad are each being given an annual allowance of over €23,000 – a payment one TD has described as one of the “best-kept secrets” in Irish public life.
The Public Accounts Committee was this morning told that as many as 17 members of the Seanad could be benefitting from the payment, which is given to independent members to make up for the absence of the support of any full political party.
A spokesperson for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has this afternoon confirmed, however, that 12 members are in receipt of the payment which is worth €23,383 per year.
The committee heard that independent senators receiving the allowance – known informally as the ‘party leaders’ allowance’ – are not required to account for how they spend it, though they are not permitted to use it for electoral purposes.
Fianna Fáil member of the committee Seán Fleming described the payment as “the best kept secret in public life in Ireland, to my mind”.
Seven of the Senators receiving the payment are independent nominees of the Taoiseach, while the other five are the independent members elected through the two University panels.
The five University senators benefitting from the payment are David Norris, Feargal Quinn, Rónán Mullen, John Crown and Sean Barrett.
The seven independent nominees who also receive it are Martin McAleese, Fiach Mac Conghail, Eamon Coghlan, Katherine Zappone, Mary Ann O’Brien, Marie Louise O’Donnell and Jillian van Turnhout.
The other four Taoiseach’s nominees – Fine Gael’s Jim D’Arcy, and the Labour trio of Aideen Hayden, Lorraine Higgins and Mary Moran – were appointed in their capacities as party members and so not qualify for the payment. The other University senator, Ivana Bacik, is the leader of the Labour delegation in the Seanad and is also not entitled to the payment.
Independent TDs are entitled to a similar payment worth about €42,000 per year.
While payments are also paid in respect of TDs and Senators who are members of political parties, that money is paid directly to the party itself, on a rate which changes depending on how many members each party has.
Spending of that money is audited by the Standards in Public Office Commission in the case of political parties – but not in the case of independent TDs and Senators.
This morning’s meeting separately heard that closing the Seanad – as is proposed by the government, in a referendum to be held later this year – would result in direct savings of a little over €9 million a year.
While there would be indirect savings of €13.3 million, these might not be realised as staff currently tending to Seanad duties would be deployed elsewhere within the Oireachtas.