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Outgoing Dáil Chairmen paid €17,626 in February and March, despite overseeing just four hours of debate

As Ceann Comhairle and Leas Ceann Comhairle, Seán Barrett and Michael Kitt continued to be paid salary and expenses, even when the Dáil was broken up for the election.

kittbarrett Former Leas Ceann Comhairle and Ceann Comhairle Michael Kitt and Seán Barrett Source: RollingNews.ie

FORMER DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of the Dáil Michael Kitt was paid €8,340.25 between 1 February and 9 March, despite retiring from politics and not having any duties as Leas Ceann Comhairle, after three days into that period.

Fine Gael TD Seán Barrett, who was replaced as Ceann Comhairle on 10 March, received €9,285.64 in expenses and pre-tax salary for the same period.

From 4 February to 9 March, former Fianna Fáil TD Kitt was paid €3,430.25 in pre-tax salary in his capacity as Leas Ceann Comhairle, whose essential function is to preside over Dáil debates in the absence of the Ceann Comhairle, the Chairman of Dáil Éireann.

This was despite the fact that there was not a single debate to preside over, because the 31st Dáil was dissolved for the election campaign from 4-25 February, and the 32nd Dáil did not meet from 26 February to 9 March.

Similarly, former Ceann Comhairle and automatically re-elected TD Seán Barrett was paid €7,012.15 in pre-tax salary, during the 35-day period when the lower house of parliament (of which he was chairman) was dissolved.

Kitt, a former deputy for Galway East, was also paid €4,627.42 in expenses (the most of any individual) from 1 February to 9 March, even though the Dáil only sat twice during that period, and he chaired just two hours of debate.

He told TheJournal.ie he expected to pay back some of those expenses at the end of the year.

Barrett was paid €1,695.83 in expenses during February, despite also chairing just two hours of debate that month.

What did they actually do?

seanbarrett Seán Barrett presiding over debate on 2 February. Source: d mg

Oireachtas rules state that when the Dáil is dissolved and an election called by the Taoiseach, TDs can no longer claim their salaries or the Parliamentary Standard Allowance (their expenses) until the date of the election.

There are two exceptions to that: the Ceann Comhairle and Leas Ceann Comhairle can claim expenses and continue to be paid their salaries during this period.

Before the Dáil broke up for the election:

  • Video analysis by TheJournal.ie shows that on 2 February, Barrett and Kitt presided over a total of 2 hours and 3 minutes and 1 hour and 57 minutes of debate, respectively 
  • On 3 February, Kitt sat in the chair for two minutes, as Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced the dissolution of the Dáil, thus formally starting the general election campaign.
  • From 4 February to 9 March, the Dáil did not meet. There were no debates, and no committee meetings.

Despite this, Kitt claimed €3,586.25 in the Parliamentary Standard Allowance (PSA) for the month of February, official figures show, and Barrett claimed €1,695.83.

In March, Kitt claimed €1,041.17 in expenses.

Barrett claimed €2,228.09 in March, but he was a member of Dáil Éireann during that time.

Expenses

One component of the PSA is the Travel and Accommodation Allowance, which is paid on the basis of attendance at the Dáil, the need for overnight accommodation in Dublin, and travel to and from Leinster House and a TD’s constituency.

The second component of the PSA is the Public Representation Allowance, which allows TDs to write off certain expenses associated with their role as an elected Dáil deputy – such as office rental and phone bills.

Kitt told TheJournal.ie that he had recorded his attendance at the Dáil, or “clocked in”, on certain occasions, after it was dissolved on 3 February.

There were some reasons why I would have to come up, for example I have a fairly big office here, which I would have to vacate, and you’re given an amount of time to do that. For an office-holder, you’re given until the next Dáil meets.
And I have two offices in Galway, which I would have to relocate stuff to, from here [Leinster House], and so on. So yes, I did have to travel a number of times.

He acknowledged, however, that those travel requirements were limited enough that he would have to pay back some of the €4,627.42 allowance for February and March, at the end of the year.

I have to go through all those figures. I would say I’ll be paying back around €1,200, but it’s not all fully sorted out yet.

Seán Barrett claimed €1,695.83 in expenses during February, a month when TDs claimed on average €332.56, due to the dissolution of the Dáil after just three days.

We asked him and the Fine Gael party several detailed questions about the nature of his travel and accommodation requirements, and office-related spending during that time.

We did not receive a response to any of our specific questions, but a Fine Gael spokesperson did send this statement:

Deputy Barrett was Ceann Comhairle up until midnight on the 9th of March and any expenses were fully in compliance with the rules and regulations of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Salary

sec20ministerialact Source: Irish Statute Book

From 4 February (the day after the Dáil was dissolved) until 9 March (the day before the new Dáil first met), Barrett and Kitt continued to be paid their salaries as Ceann Comhairle and Leas Ceann Comhairle.

This was despite the fact that Kitt no longer had a seat in Dáil Éireann, the Dáil did not meet during that time, and on 12 February, Barrett announced he would not be putting his name forward as Ceann Comhairle in the new Dáil.

However, this arrangement is entirely legal, due to Section 20 of the 2001 Ministerial, Parliamentary and Judicial Offices and Oireachtas Members Act, which states:

33.—Despite the dissolution of Dáil Éireann prior to the holding of a general election for Dáil Éireann, a person holding office as Chairman or Deputy Chairman of Dáil Éireann immediately before the dissolution—
(a) is, for constitutional purposes, taken to continue in that office, and
(b) is entitled to be paid the salary and allowances applicable to that office,
during the period beginning with the day after the date of dissolution [i.e. 4 February] and ending with the day before Dáil Éireann reassembles after the election [i.e. 9 March].

With an annual Ceann Comhairle’s salary being €70,282, Seán Barrett was effectively paid €7,012.15 before tax, for 4 February to 9 March, when the Dáil was dissolved and he could not fulfil his essential function, as Chairman of Dáil Éireann.

michaelkitt Michael Kitt overseeing debate on 2 February. Source: Oireachtas.ie

Similarly, Michael Kitt was effectively paid €3,430.25 in pre-tax salary for the same period, based on an annual Leas Ceann Comhairle’s salary of €34,381.

This is a fact that Kitt acknowledged, when it was put to him by TheJournal.ie.

I can’t say I was doing any specific duties, but I was on standby if I was needed to perform any duties.
I’ll be straight about it – the Dáil wasn’t sitting, so I wasn’t doing that office [sic].
But there are occasions when visiting dignitaries and heads of state will come to Dáil, and either myself or the Ceann Comhairle would meet them. There is that type of work we do.

He accepted, however, that “that did not arise” during the dissolution of the Dáil, but added “It does require us to be on standby.”

When asked whether he had any personal or ethical reservations about keeping the €3,430.25 in salary paid to him during the dissolution of the Dáil, Kitt simply said:

The only thing is, as I said, I was on standby, and I had to be available for that. So that’s the only point.

TheJournal.ie asked Seán Barrett the same question, but did not receive an answer.

Read: TDs claimed more than €500,000 in expenses during March – despite only sitting twice>

FactCheck: How much have TDs and ministers been paid since the election?>

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Dan MacGuill

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