Some senior politicians continued to make mileage claims with small percentage reductions, estimated for personal travel, despite a warning from the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPOC) that the system was ‘unacceptable’, the RTÉ Investigations Unit has learned.
Under a system agreed with the Department of the Taoiseach, Ministers were supposed to give an estimate of personal usage of their ministerial car every month or every three months.
The new arrangement was agreed after SIPOC raised concerns that a blanket ten per cent cut on claims could allow for ministers to be ‘recompensed improperly for non-official use of their own cars’.
The Standards Commission asked that ministers fully vouch for their claims – an idea which was rejected by the government on the basis that Ministers could not ‘fully divorce’ their personal activity from public responsibilities in the way that other public servants could.
As a compromise, ministers were given a copy of a new claim form by the Department of Public Expenditure and told to make an estimate of personal travel every time that they claimed.
However, several continued to make blanket cuts of five or ten per cent or subtracted fixed amounts from their mileage claims.
The Minister responsible for administering the new system did not even use the new claim form, which had issued from his own Department.
According to documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation, Brendan Howlin made a declaration of how many kilometers he drove in each month in his official car.
However, the claim forms make no mention of a cut for personal or domestic travel.
A statement from his Department said: ‘Minister Howlin has always made deductions for personal mileage from all claims as a matter of course.
‘Arising from an administrative oversight, the earlier version of the relevant form was used, net of the personal deductions made by the Minister from these claims. As of late 2014, the new forms have been introduced into the office.’
Other senior politicians – like former Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan – appear to have embraced the new system and now keep detailed logs of personal mileage.
In one month for example, Mr Deenihan deducted forty nine per cent of the mileage he had covered that month, judging nearly half his travel as domestic.
Others preferred the simplicity of the old system even though the Standards in Public Office Commission had already deemed it unacceptable.
For one month, former minister and now MEP Brian Hayes subtracted 15% from his mileage claim but from then on wrote off 10% - using the system that was supposed to have ended.
When contacted by RTÉ, he said: ‘From recollection, I think we were asked to make an estimate for personal use and ... [this] was about right in my case.
‘I had to buy a car as a minister and virtually all of the time I was in it; I was in it as a minister.’
Dr James Reilly, then at the Department of Health, came up with his own personal system, instead discounting 15% of his mileage as personal every single month, notwithstanding the government decision.
His spokesman said: ‘Minister Howlin had previously spoken of the difficulties of disaggregating personal travel. Such difficulties are especially evident in very busy departments.
‘In such circumstances Minister Reilly felt that the interests of the taxpayer were served by increasing the proportion that he ascribed to non-ministerial travel by a half – to 15% instead of 10%.
‘In each travel claim he ensured that the estimate around the non-ministerial travel was 50% higher than was the previous government norm.’
Five per cent cut
Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe also continued to make the same cut to his claim every month, opting to take 5% off his claim instead of the old system of 10%.
A statement from the Department of the Taoiseach said: ‘Minister Kehoe’s mileage for personal use is negligible. He makes an estimate [that] he is satisfied more than covers any that may occur.’
Others began to make reductions for personal travel of less than the 10% rate, which had been required under the older system.
Following the changes, former Minister John Perry made reductions of between 3.3% and 10% on his bill but was actually using the new system that was recommended by SIPO, and changing the estimate each month.
Mr Perry’s mileage claims were the highest of all ministers during his time in office and he was paid a total of €47,000 between July 2012 and March 2014.
When contacted by phone by RTÉ, he said he had no comment to make on his mileage claims and said queries should be referred to his former Department.
Junior Minister at the Department of Health Kathleen Lynch elected to take 100 kilometers off her monthly claim every month.
The Department said: ‘Minister Lynch claims mileage relating to her official business only. Outside of this, she uses the family car for personal travel at weekends.
‘On the odd occasion that she incurs personal mileage, which may be at most 20kms per month, the Minister consistently reduces her monthly mileage claim by 100kms to ensure she is in compliance with SIPOC guidelines.
‘While this cut may appear to be arbitrary, Minister Lynch is satisfied that it is a monthly estimate which more than covers any personal mileage she may incur.’
MINISTERIAL MILEAGE FIGURES: Alan Shatter, Enda Kenny, and Eamon Gilmore all had access to a ministerial car during the period for which full claim forms were made available under Freedom of Information legislation. Claims can differ significantly depending on where a Minister works. For example, Departments like Education and Health would involve considerable travel around the country, other Departments less so. The Minister’s home base also has a major bearing on the figures and the distance they must travel to Dublin – so their county is included here for clarity.
Paul Kehoe, Wexford (August 2012 to February 2014)
Total claimed: €34,230.14 Average monthly claim: €1,801.59
Dinny McGinley, Donegal (September 2012 – December 2013)
Total Claimed: €26,939.75 Average monthly claim: €1,683.73
Jimmy Deenihan, Kerry (June 2012 to March 2014)
Total: €39,535.41 Average monthly claim: €1,797.06
Brendan Howlin, Wexford (July 2012 to Nov 2013)
Total: €17,463.97 Average monthly claim: €1,027.30
Brian Hayes, Dublin (Sept 2012 – March 2014)
Total Claim: €30,162.99 Average monthly claim: €1,587.53
James Reilly, Dublin (Jan 2012 – April 2014)
Total Claim: €37,582.76 Average monthly claim: €1,342.24
Kathleen Lynch, Cork (Sept 2012 – Jan 2014)
Total Claim: €20,973.50 Average monthly claim: €1,233.74
Alex White, Dublin (Oct 2012 – March 2014)
Total Claim: €19,018.64 Average monthly claim:€1,056.59
Fergus O’Dowd, Louth (June 2012 – Apr 2014)
Total Claim: €31,564.14 Average monthly claim: €1,372.35
Ciaran Cannon, Galway (May 2012 – March 2014)
Total Claim: €34,703.70 Average monthly claim: €1,508.86
Frances Fitzgerald, Dublin (July 2012 – March 2014)
Total Claim: €20,153.99 Average monthly claim: €959.71
Ruairi Quinn, Dublin (July 2012 – March 2014)
Total Claim: €27,521.55 Average monthly claim: €1,310.55
Paschal Donohue, Dublin (Aug 2013-March 2014)
Total Claim: €5,514.99 Average monthly claim: €689.37
Lucinda Creighton, Dublin (July 2012 – July 2013)
Total Claim: €15,727.79 Average monthly claim: €1,209.83
Richard Bruton, Dublin (July 2012 – Mar 2014)
Total Claim: €10,046.07 Average monthly claim: €478.38
Sean Sherlock, Cork (July 2012 – Mar 2014)
Total Claim: €39,969.40 Average monthly claim: €1,903.30
John Perry, Sligo (July 2012 – March 2014)
Total Claim: €47,410.60 Average monthly claim: €2,257.65
Simon Coveney, Cork (July 2012 to March 2014)
Total Claim: €33,270.42 Average monthly claim: €1,584.31
Tom Hayes, Tipperary (June 2013 to March 2014)
Total Claim: €21,381.59 Average monthly claim: €2,138.16
Joan Burton, Dublin (July 2012 to March 2014)
Total Claim: €15,185.70 Average monthly claim: €723.13
Alan Kelly, Tipperary (Sept 2012 - March 2014)
Total Claim: €29,609.32 Average monthly claim: €1,558.39
Michael Ring, Mayo (Sept 2012 - March 2014)
Total Claim: €37,558.59 Average monthly claim: €1,976.77
Leo Varadkar, Dublin (Sept 2012-March 2014)
Total Claim: €25,834.39 Average monthly claim: €1,359.70
Pat Rabbitte, Dublin (July 2012 – March 2014)
Total Claim: €18,906.71 Average monthly claim: €900.32
Phil Hogan, Kilkenny (August 2012-March 2014)
Total Claim: €34,634.84 Average monthly claim: €1,731.74
Jan O’Sullivan, Limerick (July 2012-March 2014)
Total Claim: €21,114.05 Average monthly claim: €1,005.43