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14 TDs could face sanction for not declaring council pay-offs

The Dáil’s committee on members interests says TDs failed to honour their obligations by leaving their former council jobs out of their annual Register of Members’ Interests.

The Dáil Committee on Members' Interests, chaired by Thomas Pringle, has concluded that TDs ARE required to declare council positions if they received a severance payment.
The Dáil Committee on Members' Interests, chaired by Thomas Pringle, has concluded that TDs ARE required to declare council positions if they received a severance payment.

AT LEAST 14 TDS could face disciplinary action after the committee regulating politicians’ ethics requirements found they had breached ethics laws by not declaring their former council positions on their public register of interests.

The TDs – including members of Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin, plus two independents – did not declare their former positions as councillors in their Register of Members Interests disclosures for 2011.

The Dáil’s Committee on Members’ Interests, chaired by independent Thomas Pringle, sought legal advice on the matter after an investigation by TheJournal.ie – seeking to establish whether this meant TDs had not fulfilled their requirements under the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995.

This website revealed last month that 14 TDs and four Senators may have been in breach of that act because they did not declare their former council jobs, from which they received a severance gratuity, in their returns for 2011.

The Dáil committee has now received its legal advice on the issue – and has concluded that members did breach the ethics laws by not declaring their former council position, even though they had been forced to forfeit those jobs when they were elected to Leinster House.

This is because the members received their severance gratuity payments after they became TDs – meaning they were obliged to declare their council positions, just as if they were any other paid employment.

“Any remuneration, once it exceeds €2,600.00, renders the occupation held a registrable interest for the purposes of the Acts,” an Oireachtas spokeswoman said, confirming the committee’s conclusion.

Several of the TDs who responded to inquiries from this website last month said they believed they had no requirement to declare their council positions because the severance payments were made under law – and therefore were already on the public record.

“The severance payment in respect of local authority membership is a statutory payment and not a gift and is not therefore subject to the gift provisions of the Ethics in Public Office Act,” several Labour members had claimed.

Longer service, bigger payout

Each of the 14 TDs received severance pay-offs in 2011, after their election to the Dáil, as a compensation for having been forced to give up their council seats. These payments ranged between €3,791 and €53,259, depending on the length of each TD’s tenure as a councillor.

Though many of the 76 first-time TDs elected in 2011 had previously held council positions, only a handful are entitled to receive gratuity payments – because TDs and Senators only become eligible to receive the payments once they turn 50.

The finding means the 14 TDs could face disciplinary action for not fulfilling their legal requirements – but such action would only be taken if a member of the public was to make a complaint to the committee itself.

Two Labour senators who also failed to declare their council severance payments after election to the Seanad could also face action, though the Seanad has its own separate Committee on Members’ Interests. Though it is unlikely, this committee could seek separate legal advice and reach a different conclusion on whether members are required to declare their positions.

A further three Fine Gael senators, who did not declare their council severance payments in 2011, have amended their declarations since TheJournal.ie first contacted them to seek a comment on the matter last month.

In addition to the 14 newly-appointed TDs, a number of TDs and Senators elected for the first time in 2007 – but who failed to declare their council severance payments at that time, or since, could also be open to disciplinary action. It has not proven possible, however, to compile an authoritative list.

There are also TDs elected for the first time in 2011 for whom TheJournal.ie has been unable to find a date of birth, and who may therefore also been entitled to gratuity payments.

The Dáil Committee on Members’ Interests has the power to sanction TDs, dock their pay, and suspend them from membership of the Dáil.

In full: the 2011 members who didn’t disclose council pay-offs

TDs:

  • Tony McLoughlin (Fine Gael), Sligo County Council: €53,259
  • Sean Kenny (Labour), Dublin City Council: €50,277
  • Tom Fleming (Ind), Kerry County Council: €49,263
  • Eric Byrne (Lab), Dublin City Council: €43,795
  • Derek Keating (FG), South Dublin County Council: €38,720
  • Eamonn Maloney (Lab), South Dublin County Council: €38,720
  • Robert Dowds (Lab), South Dublin County Council: €38,720
  • Michael Colreavy (Sinn Féin), Leitrim County Council: €38,708
  • John Halligan (Ind): Waterford City Council: €36,815
  • Kevin Humphreys (Lab): Dublin City Council: €33,304
  • Heather Humphreys (FG): Monaghan County Council: €26,018
  • Sean Crowe (SF): South Dublin County Council: €8,700
  • Brian Stanley (SF): Portlaoise Town Council: €3,791

Senators:

  • Jimmy Harte (Lab): Donegal County Council: €39,009
  • John Kelly (Lab): Roscommon County Council: €24,057

Read: Dáil committee to discuss whether TDs are in breach of ethics laws

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About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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