€100 million in pay and expenses for politicians - Web FeatureFriday 20 May 2016 10.47
More than 75 different politicians have been paid in excess of half a million euro each in salary, expenses and other payments in a little over three years in office.
A database of payments has been created by the RTÉ Investigations Unit covering all of the myriad payments made to politicians since they took office following the last general election.
The money – which comes close to €100 million in total – covers the period from March 2011 to July 2014 and this is the first time it has been made available in such detail.
The figures show that the country’s 166 TDs have been paid €78 million, an average of around €470,000 each over the 41-month period for their work, which equates to around €138,000 per year in salary, taxable allowances and expenses.
However, some public representatives choose not to be paid expenses or certain taxable allowances, and receive much less.
Another €19.8 million has been paid out to 60 Senators, with each of them receiving on average €330,000 between March 2011 and July 2014. That equates to around €97,000 in total remuneration per senator per year.
Of the money made available to TDs, €22.9 million of it was paid out in expenses to cover the costs of their travel, accommodation and constituency spending. The expenses figure works out at over €34,000 per TD per year.
A further €6 million was paid in expenses to Senators, according to the figures compiled. This works out at over €29,000 in expenses per Senator per year.
How the expenses work
Expenses are paid in two separate categories: under what are known as the travel and accommodation allowance, and the public representation allowance.
Although the government says publicly these payments are vouched, they are not accounted for in any way that can be examined by the media or public.
The travel and accommodation allowance is paid out on the basis of a ‘band’ system, worked out according to how far the politician lives from their place of work in Dublin.
For TDs, the payment ranges from €9,000 per annum for those based in the capital up to €34,065 for deputies living more than 360 kilometers from Leinster House.
The payments are slightly smaller for Senators and range from €5,250 to €29,565, again according to their geographical location.
This travel and accommodation is paid out on an entirely unvouched basis and takes no account of how a person travels – whether using public transport, walking, cycling, or sharing a car as some TDs are known to do.
It also takes no account of how much is being spent on accommodation in Dublin, whether hotels are used or if the politician already owns a property in the capital or can stay with relatives.
The second part of the allowance is paid out to cover the costs ‘incurred in the performance of his or her duties’ as a parliamentarian.
The system is extremely complicated, so much so that the Oireachtas had to create a 28-page handbook to guide politicians through it.
Crucially, the Oireachtas and government have repeatedly stated that this half of the expense regime is now completely vouched.
However, TDs and Senators are not required to submit ANY receipts unless they are subject to a random audit.
The chances of that happening in any given year is just 10% whereby an outside accountancy firm is contracted to carry out an examination of their files.
The documentation retained by the politician is not subject to Freedom of Information legislation and can never be examined by the media or members of the public.
Even if the politician is subject to the random audit, the receipts involved still remain largely private, never to be seen by anybody except the auditor.
A statement from the Oireachtas to the RTÉ Investigations Unit said they were the ‘administrators of allowances that are legislated for by the government of the day’.
They said there was independent oversight of the vouching system through the outside independent audits that were conducted each year.
In addition, at the end of each year politicians can repay expenses that they have not spent and a large amount of TDs and Senators choose to make repayments each year.
On top of those expenses, more than €42 million has been paid out in salaries and taxable allowances to TDs since March 2011.
Their annual wages have gone down however, and were cut from €92,672 per annum to €87,258 per annum since the last general election.
Many politicians are able to bolster their earnings through certain allowances available for specific jobs as committee chairmen or for what are known as ‘specified positions’.
All of these payments are subject to all normal taxes including PAYE, USC and so on.
A committee chairman currently gets an extra €8,740 a year and is also entitled to an additional telephone allowance to cover the cost of their calls.
Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission – which is effectively the board of Leinster House – each gets €8,740 annually as well.
Other positions also yield significant income boosts with the Fianna Fail party whip paid a hefty top-up of €17,480 on his salary.
The largest payment is reserved for Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett who gets an additional €70,282 on top of his TD’s salary.
His deputy – the Leas Ceann Comhairle – Michael Kitt gets an extra €34,381 per year.
Some Senators are also entitled to additional payments, including the Cathaoirleach Paddy Burke who gets a top-up of €38,160 on his salary.
Those taxable allowances are paid in addition to the annual salary of €65,000 to which all Senators are entitled.
It is open to any of the politicians in receipt of such allowances not to take them.
And some elect not to take the payments by either waiving them or gifting them back to the State.
Labour TD Joanna Tuffy and Independent TD Thomas Pringle for example do not take the annual €9,500 allowance to which they are entitled. However, these waivers are not made available publicly by the Oireachtas and are considered private to the individual.
The database does not include the extra salaries paid to the Taoiseach, Tanaiste, Ministers or Ministers of State as that money is paid out by their individual Departments.
Each of them is paid their normal salary from the Dail but get an ‘allowance’ for their more senior position.
The Taoiseach for example gets another €98,092 on top of his €87,258 as a TD for Mayo, bringing his total annual salary package to €185,350.
The Taoiseach and his Ministers do not claim expenses in the way that ordinary TDs and Senators do and are allocated a much smaller allowance by authorities at Leinster House.
They can however, claim mileage from their own Departments along with additional day-to-day expenses, and are also entitled to claim additional expenses under the Secretarial Allowance scheme.
Politicians can also claim expenses in two other separate categories to cover the cost of setting up a constituency office and to cover the cost of buying mobile phones.
Only new TDs elected in March 2011 are entitled to the constituency office grant however and not all have claimed it in full. The maximum allowable is €8,000.
TDs can also use what is known as the ‘direct purchase scheme’ to buy mobile phones and accessories like car kits or extra batteries.
It is paid out to a maximum of €750 every eighteen months and must be accompanied with full shop receipts, which are publicly available.
It was fraud involving this scheme, which led to the arrest and imprisonment of the former Junior Minister Ivor Callely.
Cabinet members and Ministers of State are not entitled to partake in this scheme, and their mobile phones – along with laptops and tablets – are purchased directly by their Department.
By Ken Foxe (@kenfoxe)