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Senator declares Mayo home is now 200m closer to Leinster House so will receive fewer expenses

Michelle Mulherin told relevant authorities that route changes knocked her travel distance just below the 240km threshold for greater allowances.

Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

A FINE GAEL senator has had her travel expenses cut after changes to the route between Dublin and Mayo shortened her commute to Leinster House by 200 metres.

The fractional change in the distance between the national parliament and the home of Ballina-based politician Michelle Mulherin has moved her to a lower band for the purpose of expenses.

TDs and senators are entitled to claim a unvouched Travel and Accommodation Allowance (TAA) based on the distance they have to travel between their place of residence and their Kildare Street workplace.

The tax-free allowance is paid to senators at 13 different rates depending on the length of their commute; ranging from €5,250 per annum for those living within 25km of Leinster House to €29,565 for those living more than 360km away.

Mulherin signed a declaration certifying that her commute was 240km in each of the years between 2011 and 2016, during which time she was a TD. This placed her in Band 8 for the purpose of the TAA.

Band 8 applies to senators living between 240km and 270km from Leinster House and provides for travel and accommodation expenses to be paid at a rate of €26,865 per annum.

However, Mulherin changed the distance on the declaration form that she signed last December to 239.8km. This shortened the distance by just 200 metres but resulted in her changing from Band 8 to Band 7 for the purpose of the TAA.

Band 7 applies to senators living between 210km and 240km from Leinster House, who are paid €26,184 per annum to cover travel and accommodation expenses – €681 less than Band 8.

Asked about the change in distance between her home and Leinster House, Mulherin explained:

Band 7 pertains to a distance of 210km or more but less than 240km. I am in a position to declare Band 7 owing to route changes.

Politicians claiming expenses under the scheme are required to calculate the distance using the shortest practicable route. Both AA Route Planner and Google Maps calculate the distance between Mulherin’s home and Leinster House as 238km.

Records published by the Houses of the Oireachtas show that the Fine Gael Senator did not receive any payments under the TAA scheme between her appointment to the Seanad in May and last December.

She signed and submitted her declaration on 9 December and received expenses of €16,644.69 later that month, which included a backdated payment under the TAA scheme.

TDs and senators are entitled to claim the allowance without providing receipts to show how the money was spent. Instead, they are required to sign a form at the end of the year certifying that all of the money received was used solely for its intended purpose.

Claimants are also required to ‘clock-in’ on 120 days a year in order to receive the full amount of the allowance.

The expenses regime is currently the subject of a legal challenge in the High Court, which argues that Oireachtas members are being treated preferentially to ordinary citizens in contravention of the Constitution and EU Law.

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Darragh McDonagh

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