By Ken Foxe (@kenfoxe)
GOVERNMENT ministers have cost the taxpayer €27 million in pay and expenses since the formation of the coalition government in 2011. A painstaking examination of data from sixteen government Departments and the Office of Public Works shows that the average amount paid to each Minister has been around €631,000.
That includes almost €1.6 million that was paid in mileage on an entirely unvouched basis and without any clear records to back it up. The government has resisted calls from the Standards in Public Office Commission (click here to read ‘Government says we will not force Ministers to vouch for mileage') to make the mileage system more transparent. Instead, they use a system whereby ministers subtract ‘personal use’ from their own claims each month – they do not vouch any individual journeys however, which was what the Standards Commission had suggested.
The mileage bill has also risen in every year since the election. For the ten months of 2011 after the election, it was just over €278,000. In their first full year in office in 2012, total mileage claims stood at €405,000, rising to €438,000 in 2013 before hitting €473,000 last year.
The database of €27.76 million in ministerial payments is a companion to the ‘No Expenses Spared’ database published by the RTÉ Investigations Unit last February. It completes, for the first time, a full picture of exactly how much the most senior politicians in the country have been paid in the four years since the last general election. It covers the period from March 2011 until the end of December 2014.
Top of the list is Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who was paid €740,000 (roughly €197,000 per year on average) between the election and the end of last year. That includes his annual TD’s salary, which has averaged around €90,000 a year plus his pay as Taoiseach, which has been around €102,000 a year. Mr Kenny is also paid a small amount in expenses by the Oireachtas, bringing the total paid to him since the election to €781,533. The Taoiseach does not however, claim mileage and is provided with a state car. Under new arrangements brought in by this government, only the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister of Justice get a state car. The rest of the ministers use their own cars and claim mileage according to how much they use them.
Nine other senior politicians were paid or reimbursed in excess of €700,000 (at least €186,666 annually) between the election and the end of 2014 according to the RTÉ Investigations Unit database. They are in descending order: Simon Coveney, Jimmy Deenihan, Leo Varadkar, Phil Hogan, James Reilly, Michael Noonan, Brendan Howlin, Joan Burton and Eamon Gilmore. Costs for a further sixteen senior politicians exceeded €600,000 (at least €160,000 annually).
The figures for 2014 may in a small number of cases be higher, if for example claims or payments relating to 2014 ended up being paid in the early part of this year. This can happen in the case of mileage payments but also in relation to the allowance paid to so-called ‘super’ Junior Ministers. Minister Gerald Nash has been entitled to an annual allowance of €15,829 per annum since appointment in July 2014 because he attends Cabinet meetings but this was not paid until this year, and is not reflected in the database.
It is also possible that some of the figures may be lower as it is open to any politician to gift back a portion of their salary to the State. These ‘gifts’ are not however, normally released as part of Freedom of Information requests as they are considered private information for each individual.
At least one government minister has chosen not to take part of their salary but this is reflected in the database. Minister Joan Burton has not taken the allowance she is entitled to as Tánaiste, which would be worth around €15,000 annually to her. Her spokesman said: ‘The Tánaiste’s salary did not change at the time she was appointed to that office.’
All of the data was obtained by RTÉ through specific individual Freedom of Information requests to every one of the Departments involved. In some cases, ministers have worked at up to three different Departments since the election, meaning their costs have been spread across them. In other cases, a minister might have their salary paid by one Department but their mileage paid by another if they have a dual responsibility.
Departments interpreted the requests differently as well, and in some cases they have included the purchase of computers and other IT equipment as ministerial costs. Other Departments however, do not include it on the basis that they retain ownership of the equipment. It makes direct comparison between ministers somewhat difficult however; as some will have high bills for IT while others will have no costs in that area.
The figures can also differ dependent on where the minister lives, and also their areas of responsibility. For instance, costs for Jimmy Deenihan and Simon Coveney are particularly high because they live in Kerry and Cork respectively. Mileage bills for certain ministers can also be high if they tend to travel around Ireland more than others, as would be the case with the ministers at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Agriculture.
Pay and ministerial allowances have dropped steadily since the election with the annual salary for a TD falling from €92,672 in 2012 to €87,258 in 2014. The same drop has occurred in ministerial wages with the annual payment for a senior minister falling from just over €76,000 in 2012 to just above €70,000 by last year. For Junior Ministers, the drop was from €37,241 to around €34,000 last year. The ministerial wages are in addition to the wages they receive as a TD (currently €87,258 a year).
In line with that, the general pay bill fell significantly from €5.8 million in 2012 to €5.4 million in 2014.
Large bills were run up on mobile phones and broadband with €165,608 paid out for ministerial mobiles and broadband while another €75,601 was paid out for landlines at home or in constituency offices. Another €75,677 was spent on mobiles, tablets, laptops and PCs although that figure does not reflect the full total because some Departments did not include those costs as ministerial expenses.
A statement from the Government Press Office said: ‘It should be noted that this government has saved substantial money and introduced transparency and accountability across all areas of spending supports for the political process: cutting the cost of ministerial transport by over €4 million per annum by removing the entitlement to state cars and garda drivers (except where security requires it); imposing substantial cuts on politicians’ pay; further reducing political expenses and officeholder allowances; abolishing severance pay; and ending the payment of unvouched expenses.’
You can read all of the articles from our series ‘No Expenses Spared’ at the following set of links and you can see the original database for TDs and Senators here. It is important to note that the Dáil and Seanad database only covers the period from March 2011 to end August 2014 where as the ministerial database runs until the end of 2014. Many of the figures in the original database for Dáil salary, Dáil expenses are replicated here but this completes the database with the figures that were unavailable publicly then. It is important to note that none of these figures relate to staffing or secretarial arrangements for ministers or for their overseas travel.