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New rules may allow independent TDs to be paid twice for same expenses

A new regime means independent TDs and Senators are now paid two different kinds of allowance – to cover the same expenses.

New Leinster House expenses rules mean that independent members are paid twice - by two separate bodies - to cover some of the same expenses.
New Leinster House expenses rules mean that independent members are paid twice - by two separate bodies - to cover some of the same expenses.
Image: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Updated, 17.04

A NEW SYSTEM of TDs’ expenses quietly introduced last month may allow independent TDs to be paid two different allowances for the same spending, TheJournal.ie can reveal.

Regulations approved by public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin last month add to the list of items for which TDs and Senators are paid expenses by Leinster House authorities – who give politicians allowances for the cost of hiring PR agencies and secretarial support under the Public Representation Allowance.

But a separate Leaders’ Allowance – which is paid directly to independent politicians, and given to political parties for those who are members of one – already covers some of the same costs for which members are now given their expenses.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which directly manages the Leaders’ Allowance, lists spending on “the engagement of public relations consultants” and on “general administration” in the course of parliamentary duties as some of the items for which the allowance can be paid.

Because non-party politicians are treated as if they were individual parties in their own right, Independent TDs are given an annual Leaders’ Allowance of €41,152, while independent Senators receive €23,383.

The overlap in the new rules means that independent TDs get separate allowances from the Oireachtas and from the Department of Public Expenditure – which are intended to pay for precisely the same costs.

And because the State’s political spending watchdog does not require independents to submit receipts or any kind of statement for how they spend their Leaders’ Allowance, it’s now possible for TDs and Senators to use their Leinster House allowance to pay for some spending – and keep the allowance paid by the Department for themselves.

The amended rules introduced by Howlin also allow TDs and Senators to use their Public Representation Allowance for spending on IT and training services, in addition to the previous rules which covered costs like hiring and decorating a constituency office, mobile phone bills, and renting venues for meetings and clinics.

Timing

The new rules were signed by Howlin on the same day that the Oireachtas released expenses figures for December – which revealed that TDs had received over €6 million since the general election of last February.

Members of the Seanad – which is intended to be a part-time chamber – had been paid €1,305,821 in expenses since their own election was held in April.

On that same day, January 31, Howlin confirmed to the Dáil that the party leaders’ allowance paid to TDs or their parties is meant to cover costs like “general administration” and “the engagement of public relations consultants”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform pointed out that although the new rules expands the list of spending that the Public Representation Allowance can be used for, they do not raise the amount that members are actually given each year.

Ironically, the newly liberalised regime will not have an impact for the majority of TDs or Senators – as Leinster House records show all but a handful of members are already being paid the maximum allowances permitted under the appropriate laws.

TheJournal.ie understands that authorities in Leinster House intend to publish revised expenses figures in March, taking account of any expenses returned by TDs and Senators who didn’t use them.

The two different types of allowances come on top of a TDs’ basic salary of €92,672, and a Senator’s wage of €65,621.

Author’s note: This piece was updated at 5:04pm to more accurate reflect that expenses are paid in advance of being incurred, and not as ‘refunds’ thereafter, and also to further clarify that the two allowances are paid by different bodies.

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About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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