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Ministers don't have to explain most of their €1.4 million personal expenses

A new analysis of official figures by TheJournal.ie.

Irish Government cabinet reshuffle Source: Brian Lawless/PA

CABINET MINISTERS IN the Fine Gael-Labour government have spent close to €1.4 million in taxpayers’ money on personal ministerial expenses since the last general election.

And they don’t have to account for most of it.

According to a new analysis of official figures by TheJournal.ie, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and 20 senior ministers have cost €1,385,277 in spending, including transport, flights and hotel accommodation.

Notably, some €814,806 of that has come from car mileage reimbursement, which is unvouched.

What this means, in effect, is that since 2011, ministers haven’t had to give a full explanation or detailed account of 59% of their expenses.

The vast majority of figures are the most up-to-date available, owing to a series of parliamentary questions asked by Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald earlier this month.

However, in some instances TheJournal.ie had to approach government departments directly or find figures published online, in order to resolve discrepancies presented by some ministers in their answers.

There is more on the “vexed question” of getting clear and complete ministerial expenses, below.

vouchedunvouchedfull Source: Image: PA

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has had the highest expenses, with €210,802 spent on personal flights, hotel rooms and car rental, since taking office in 2011.

This total doesn’t include the cost of running the government jet, or the ministerial car and driver afforded to Kenny, along with the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice.

The expenses below are personal to the Taoiseach, and don’t include flights and accommodation for his assistants and security detail.

They were compiled and analysed based on the Department of the Taoiseach’s monthly expense reports, published online.

endaexpensesfull Source: Image: PA

Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has had €54,596 in expenses since 2011, with 65% of that (€28,073) coming from unvouched mileage costs.

After the Taoiseach, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has the highest expenses in the cabinet – €105,217 since 2011.

Once again, the largest part of those expenses came in the form of €48,781 in mileage costs.

Expenses for Government Chief Whip and Junior Minister Paul Kehoe came to €96,743, while Michael Noonan spent a massive 81% of his €96,230 on unvouched mileage.

In his response to Deputy McDonald, however, he did state that these figures “incorporate deductions for personal related travel.”

cabinet Source: Image: PA

As Minister for Transport, and now Health, Leo Varadkar has apparently travelled many miles throughout the country.

Some 81% of his €78,168 in expenses was spent on unvouched mileage, with the rest composed of hotels, flights and subsistence.

The Minister with the lowest total expenses (€9,289) was former Foreign Affairs Minister Éamon Gilmore, although as Tánaiste for all four years in government, he didn’t have mileage costs.

You can examine the rest of the cabinet’s expenses in detail, by downloading the spreadsheet below.

‘All data are readily available…’

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

In her exchange with Brendan Howlin earlier this month, Mary Lou McDonald asked why he – the Minister for Public Expenditure – couldn’t tell her how much government ministers had been spending.

Why does the Minister not have access to, or sight of, the expenses of other Ministers?
I would have thought that his departmental officials would have their beady eye across the board.

In response, Howlin said it would be inefficient for ministers to “have to run [their expenses] by me before booking a flight…”

His spokesperson explained that while he sets policy on travel and subsistence for ministers, “day to day implementation of those is a matter for individual ministers…”

McDonald’s question, however, was why he didn’t have information, after the fact, on how the cabinet are spending money from the public purse he oversees as Minister.

Howlin claimed:

All data are readily available in every Department and published…Most of us now put everything online…

At time of publication, this was not accurate.

taoiseachexpenses

Only the Departments of the Taoiseach, Social Protection and Transport provide the public easily accessible, regularly updated expense reports stretching back to 2011, on their websites.

The Taoiseach’s department, in particular, posts highly-detailed reports on a monthly basis, with dates, explanatory notes, and specific breakdowns of costs and expenses, as far back as 2010.

However, even these only relate to foreign travel and expenses, and require trawling through the department’s archive of all publications.

Interestingly, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has started posting monthly expense reports for Minister Richard Bruton and Minister of State Ged Nash.

Unfortunately, though, they are not accessible from the department’s homepage, due to a redirect on the www.djei.ie domain. And they only cover 2015.

Seven government departments were not posting ministerial expenses in any form on their websites, at time of publication.

They are: Health, Arts, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Children, Communications, and Justice.

The remaining five departments post only limited expense reports, dating back a year or two, and sometimes in very hard-to-find places.

Let’s say you’re a taxpayer, looking for Ministerial expenses on the website of Alan Kelly’s Department of the Environment.

environ

First, you would have to do some significant trial and error to discover they’re filed under “Publications,” (and not “Media” or “Ministers” or “About Us” or “News”).

Then, you’d have to like the sound of “Corporate Services”, and not “Statistics”, for example.

Within Corporate Services, you might be inclined to click on “Dept Finance” or “Transparency Data”, but the right option is “Corporate Expenditure.”

And within that sub-section, you’ll find Ministerial Expenses. In fact, that’s all you’ll find there. At time of publication, “Corporate Expenditure” is, effectively, Ministerial Expenses.

And what is filed under “Minister’s expenses” only covers the period starting in August 2014. There are no expenses listed for former Minister Phil Hogan, or any previous Ministers.

‘I have set out data for every cent…’

Ireland's bailout programme Source: Brian Lawless/PA

Let’s say you’re not just an ordinary taxpayer, though. Let’s say you’re an elected public representative – a TD, and Deputy Leader of a political party.

Mary Lou McDonald’s PQ to the Minister for Public Expenditure on 2 July asked for:

The expenses incurred by him between 2011 and to date in 2015, to include the date, expense type, description and amount; [and] if each expense was vouched…

In response, Brendan Howlin stipulated:

I have set out data for every cent I have spent and claimed since I entered office in March 2011.

However, his answer only listed foreign travel and expenses, including €56,436 in flights, car rental, and hotels.

TheJournal.ie contacted the department to verify that Minister Howlin had had no expenses of any kind within Ireland since 2011, and were directed to four years’ worth of mileage costs.

After saying “I will give all of the information to the Deputy and hope it will satisfy her,” Howlin left out €48,781 in unvouched expenses.

TheJournal.ie asked Howlin’s department to explain why this significant amount was not included in his answer to Deputy McDonald, but did not receive a response to that question.

Notably, the Department of Public Expenditure’s website does, in fact, have a listing for Howlin’s expenses.

They’re under “Minister’s expenses” (which is under “Corporate Information”, which is under “About”).

However, that section only contains his mileage costs. It leaves out the €56,436 in foreign travel costs that he presented to Mary Lou McDonald.

Petrol money

90312912 Source: RollingNews.ie

How much does it cost the taxpayer for a cabinet minister to travel around the country?

It depends.

On taking office in 2011, the Fine Gael-Labour government ended the longstanding entitlement of all ministers to an official driver and car.

However, the privilege was kept for the President, Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Minister for Justice, Director of Public Prosecutions and Supreme Court Chief Justice.

The most recent figures, as reported by the Irish Times, show that this has cost just short of €9 million since 2011, although the government told TheJournal.ie that it had also saved €20 million.

However, all other ministers and ministers of state are still entitled to two drivers every year, although they have to provide their own car.

According to responses to a series of questions by Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea in November, this particular practice had cost €5.48 million.

Separate to that, ministers are entitled to claim back mileage costs for driving around the country in their own vehicles.

As our analysis has found, these costs have amounted to €814,806 since 2011 – 59% of the total, and by far the biggest single category of expenses.

For all other personal expenditure being claimed, ministers are required to prove that it relates to their ministerial duties.

So a minister (or their staff) must provide receipts and other evidence to show that that those flights and that hotel booking in Brussels were for their attendance at a European Council summit.

However, they don’t have to do this for mileage, instead providing “an estimate of personal travel”, and (in principle) making a reduction on their claim, based on that.

90240242 Source: RollingNews.ie

In 2012, the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) asked the government to force its ministers to start providing a detailed breakdown of their car travel, saying they must “fully and properly account for all expenses claimed from the public purse.”

The government refused.

As reported by RTÉ, the Department of the Taoiseach replied to SIPO, saying it was “unfortunate” they had even made the request, and arguing that there was an “invisible line” between a minister’s official duties and personal life.

Even private activities such as shopping, family outings, attendance at sporting or cultural events etc are liable to become mixed with public duties.

For this reason, the government argued, it would be impossible to say when mileage costs had to with official business, and when they were strictly private.

By contrast, the overwhelming majority of public and civil servants (like government Ministers) are bound by strict vouching requirements for all expenses, including mileage.

Given its apparent decision-making role in refusing to ask ministers to explain their mileage expenses in 2012, TheJournal.ie asked the Department of the Taoiseach to clarify the current policy.

We were told to direct our enquiry to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, instead.

They told us that, at present, Ministers can claim back mileage for up to 60,000 miles (96,540 km) each year.

There is no indication of any plans to change this system.

Explore the data yourself

To download a spreadsheet of expenses for all cabinet ministers, click here.

Read: Former ministers to get pension boost, but one thinks the country “isn’t ready” yet>

Read: The Lansdowne Road deal – Who’s getting what and who’s not happy about it>

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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