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Oireachtas questioning legal advice about use of travel expenses

The head of the Houses of the Oreachtas Commission believes allowances should not cover travel around the country.

Kieran Coughlan, the top civil servant in the Oireachtas, said he believed travel expenses were only payable for travel within constituencies and to Dublin.
Kieran Coughlan, the top civil servant in the Oireachtas, said he believed travel expenses were only payable for travel within constituencies and to Dublin.

THE CHIEF civil servant at the Houses of the Oireachtas has said his body is questioning the government’s legal advice over whether politicians’ travel expenses can be used to cover travel around the country.

Kieran Coughlan, the secretary-general of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, said the commission was seeking its own legal advice on whether the Travel and Acccommodation Allowance paid to all TDs and Senators should cover travel other than commuting to and from Dublin, and around their constituencies.

The comments came after advice from the Attorney General said it was acceptable for Socialist Party member Joe Higgins to use his travel allowance to cover travel around the country, helping to organise events opposing the household charge.

Coughlan told TDs this afternoon that his body and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform were “in communication” about the matter.

In order to try and resolve the dispute, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform had “sought advice from the Attorney General”, the secretary general of that department Robert Watt said.

“The Attorney General has given advice which we communicated back to the Houses of the Oireachtas,” he said. The Department had no role in formulating that legal advice.

Coughlan said it had always been the Oireachtas’ interpretation that travel allowances were to cover a member’s transit to and from Leinster House, and within their own constituency, but not for travel elsewhere in the country.

The statutory instruments under which the travel allowances are paid say members should be compensated for travel costs they are “obliged to incur in the performance of his or her duties as a member of Dáil Éireann”.

Guidelines published by the Oireachtas itself, however, refine this by saying the travel allowance only covers “costs of travel to and from Leinster House, accommodation where applicable and, for Deputies only, constituency travel.”

Read: This is how much your TD claimed in expenses in 2011

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Gavan Reilly

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