Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming has told the Public Accounts Committee that it is the best kept secret in recent political life that Independent Senators get a "party leader" allowance.

Mr Fleming said up to 17 Senators could be in receipt of this payment.

Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Secretary General Kieran Coughlan confirmed this, saying the amount was €23,000 a year for each Independent Senator.

Mr Coughlan said this was a direct, unvouched, untaxed payment.

Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy also asked about the "party leader" allowance for Independent TDs, which Mr Coughlan said amounts to €42,000 a year and which is also unvouched.

He made the point that when the payment goes to a party leader, of say Fine Gael, it goes into the party accounts and is therefore subject to audit.

However, that this is not the case where the Independents are concerned, when the payment is a personal unvouched payment.