Time to review the system of parliamentary expenses

Post by David Farrell (August 2, 2011)

Today’s Irish Independent has good coverage of the situation regarding expenses for TDs and Senators. The details of how the ‘unvouched’ system works is usefully explained here; and this article reports on just how much expense have been drawn down by certain members, showing that more than 20% of those TDs who ‘sign-in’ (i.e. as being actually ‘in the House’) missed a fifth of more of the votes that took place in the House at the time. As discussed in a previous post on this site (see here), the current system is wide open to abuse. Surely now is as good a time as any to urgently review the system and replace it with something more transparent.

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9 thoughts on “Time to review the system of parliamentary expenses

  1. Obviously the expenses scandal continues unabated but I have another question. Why is their a bar in the dail? Deputies have run up over 63.000 Euro’s on tabs in this bar that is a god almighty lot of drink being done in the national parliament. Maybe it explains some of the dreadful decisions that have been made on behalf of the Irish people.

    There should be no bar in the dail it is an absolute disgrace. Let them drink outside Leinster House.

  2. IMO, we should be re-examining the total remuneration package and support provided for all our elected representatives, rather than just simply focusing on expenses.

    This raises a number of issues
    1) Should elected representatives be full-time?;

    2) If full-time, why should TDs (ie. directly elected members of the national legislative assembly) be paid less that the Accounting Officers (usually Secretaries General of Government Departments or their equivalent) who in theory, have to account TDs (eg in the Public Account Committee) for the monies that the TDs have voted for various programmes etc;

    3) If full-time, what kind of support (in terms of staffing) should TDs have, if we really want them to act as the major check-and-balance (though not the only one) on the Executive side of government?
    Why not provide each Dail Deputy with adequate personal staff
    to cope with both constituency work and with the research
    needed to monitor/control the executive? This contrasts very
    poorly with the continuous increase in the staffs of Ministers – for constituency work.

    4) Given that we elect TDs, why should public funds be given to parties? Let us give TDs the resources (ie. salary, staffing) we feel so that each has the means to independently assess the policies, programmes, performance and practice of the Executive. TDs could decide to allocate some of that allowance to their political party, if they are members of such groups.

    5) The total remuneration package should have no more generous tax allowances, pension rights and expenses than those in employment.

    6) IMO, there is no other role in democratic society like that of a TD and a Minister.
    So I suggest we should start by looking at their total remuneration package using criteria that ….”reflect the overarching
    requirement of underpinning export and foreign earnings growth
    through enhanced competitiveness.” as set out in a paper (by Don Thornhill and Donal de Buitléir) at the Dublin Economics Workshop in Kenmare in 2007.

    7) In addition to focusing on TD’s expenses, it would be very helpful to discussion here if people could point to how parliamentarians are paid in other smaller democracies, in addition to setting out the total remuneration package (eg. staff costs, pension rights, termination allowances, allowances).

    • Donal,

      Far as I remember it took a few skirmishes with the late Brian Lenihan before the latest expenses regime was finally agreed by the Oireachtas office/committee on which all parties have representation. I wonder too about this media focus on this one aspect of the parliamentary remuneration system, especially in the Indo, which seems to be more about inspiring envy/hatred of the political class than holding them to account. I think you are right – the real debate should be about how politics is funded in this country, not just politicians’ immediate pay and perks. Incidentally, far as I know, the basic TD salary is pegged to the rate of Assistant Principal(?). That was pretty low in the days before benchmarking, so the expenses were designed to make up the shortfall and make a political career attractive to young men/women who might otherwise surmise they could make more money and have more hassle free lives outside politics than within it.

      • Subject to checking, I believe that our TDs salary are now tied to the Prinsipal Office scale (General Service) ie. lower than what Dept of Finance POs are paid.

        What I would really like to get are some comparisons with those of members of national legislatures in other democratic states of similar size to us.

        Time to ask the Dail PR people.

  3. Hey, how come my post was removed? I didn’t say anything libelous in it and can provide the e-mail I received from Enda Kenny’s own office about his mortgage and the details of the official complaint I made about his expense claims which is making its slow progress through the Oireachtas system … so much for free speech!

    This isn’t Russia or China you know!

  4. I read Desmond FitzGerald’s post last night and it was eminently well reasoned if phone calls are being made and pressure being applied then who is at the other end of the phone, email etc.

  5. As my post was removed for being too ‘close to the bone’ I’ll try again …

    No matter where you work there is a cost to the employer which can roughly be broken down into salary, then tax and pension cost, then the cost of providing the facilities to carry out the job.

    So, we know there are far too many TDs when you analysis what it is most TDs spend most of their time doing, ie doing things that people should be perfectly able to do for themselves but the clientalist system that is so fiercely protected by TDs prevents giving people that power or sefl awareness, TDS prefer people to feel indebted rather than letting people get on in sorting out their own problems.

    We also know that for all the talk of ‘reform’ there isn’t going to be any real or meaningful reform with a government of people whose political personality was formed during the worse periods of cronyism – perhaps the younger TDs elected thsi year will prove their worth in time, but it’s unlikely Mr Kenny, Gilmore, Martin, Adams etc are capable of pushing through reform, no more than we can expect people in the church to change a mentality they had had drummed into them over decades to reflect the current reality – intellectually they simply cannot do it.

    How would a die hard GAA fan in their 60s cope if they were told they had to change from GAA to rugby and cricket and could never ever look at, listen to, discuss or read about a GAA sport again?

    It’s doubtful they could make the change at their stage in life – so too it is with the politicians who claim they want and can make things change. They can’t and don’t.

    We know the basic salary of a TD/Sen, we don’t know how much their benefits like VHI, critical illness, sick leave etc and pensions cost but we know they all have them, then we know they work in a very plush environment and it’s easy to see how you can lose touch with reality so fast – you can spend a whole day in Leinster House going from meeting to meeting and never get to see an outside window to know what the weather is like.

    Why is a TD paid for their lunch? Does someone in an insurance company get paid for their lunch? They might have a canteen if they are lucky and get luncheon vouchers, so why are highly paid TDs/Sen not able to pay for their own lunch.

    Why are TDs/Sen paid for driving to work? Others at best get an interest free season ticket loan for their commute.

    Then there are the expenses they claim for staff and offices and other expenses.

    Are others in jobs allowed to decide how much the desk they use costs or is it provided by the office facility department? So why would a TD get to decide on such things, are we allowed choose the computer we use or the fax machine or copier? Of course not.

    There needs to be a change from the job profile of a TD in the personal to a profile of the actual job itself so that regardless of who the actual TD is the desk/copier/fax machine etc are standard for all and chosen centrally with zero input from the TD or Sen.

    Then they are allowed claim for a Dublin base, who verifies the cost of this? It is highly possible that there are TDs/Sen who are claiming accomodation costs for bases that have long since been bought and paid for so the taxpayer has paid for the capital asset and is now paying extra for rent/equity release or a second mortgage.

    For the few dozen TDs/Sen who have to stay in Dublin – if the rest of us have to commute daily as far as Cavan or Carlow or Offally then why shouldn’t TDs – it would be cheaper in the extreme for the state to run a mini hotel where each constituency can have a room for the TD, with a bathroom, kitchen and living area but where the TD never owns it and cannot benefit from it by usinig it for family etc.

    Every single position paid for by the taxpayer, be it an ambassador or an assistant should be advertised nationally and the names of all staff on the public payrol should be publically listed.

    If TDs/Sen need local offices they should be allocated to the seat, with the actual TD/Sen having no say in the matter and all together in the same one stop shop – the upstairs of the local dole office for example and when the TD loses their seat/retires the next TD takes over that office space and the facilities provided centrally with the cost published.

    All positions to work for/with elected representatives should be

    It is possible to stop all expenses for accomadation.
    It is possible to stop all expenses for travel.
    It is possible to stop all expenses for employing family/friends.
    It is possible to stop all expenses relating to local offices.

    That’s before given starting on Councillors or how parties and candidates (elected or not) are funded.

    It is possible but does the new government have the will?

    I would argue that it emphatically does not have the will to implement real reform.

    • Must admit to having had only time to quickly scan through your original post here last week before to my surprise I saw it had been removed the following day. Interesting post though. Not sure I’d go quite as far on all things as you propose. Still feel a TD should be able to employ or be assigned an assistant or two (via a more rigorously vetting process though). And perhaps much of the routine office work could instead be done by a shared pool of office employees in Dáil Éireann. Think this was much more the case in the past. A TD’s job is rather unusual in that they are simultaneously based in two places: their constituency and Leinster House. I would make some allowances for that. But I’d feel a Dublin TD should really receive nothing in travel expenses. But a TD in Donegal or Kerry should IMO receive some modest percentage of their basic wage in compensation. Perhaps a graduated percentage, which would be largest in outlying areas like Kerry or Donegal, but gradually dwindling to zero for Dublin. Most of your other suggestions seem very reasonable to me. I like the general idea of publicly-owned constituency offices (not sure about them all located in the same building though!).I do feel TDs should be generously remunerated with a decent wage. Politics should not be purely a rich man’s game. But the Dáil expenses gravy train really needs to be severely curbed.

      • I don’t have a problem with TDs/Sen having assistants who do a proper job. I do have a problem were they abuse the system to get more staff for themselves rather than asking what the staff are doing that more are needed ie how much time do TDs/Sen and their staff spend on passports or medical card issues and other issues that people should be perfectly capable of sorting out for themselves.

        Either you are entitled to something or you are not and no one should need to get a TD/Sen involved to sort out some issue they have and the TD/Sen involvement should never result in someone getting something they wouldn’t have got anyway.

        Staff should be for proper research (not being used as a personal errant runner for the TD/Sen or their family) and reviewing legislation and preparing speeches and contributions to committees etc.

        The way I see the local office thing is that you have TDs from various parts of the constituency who make out they need an office in their ‘area’. To me that is part of the problem, as it fosters the idea that people have to elect people from their ‘area’ – why not elect someone due to their talent and ability no matter where they are from?

        A centrally based suite of offices where the facilities are shared between all the staff ie they do the work of a certain TD but they all share and use the same office facilities with a code for each TD so that the costs incurred for each and by each can be published.

        I’d also like to see publication of what TDs/Sen make submissions to what departments and why ie how many times have they asked for the passport office to pull a stroke to get a quick passport and how much time has it taken and how much cost is that to the taxpayer – the names and addresses of the constituent don’t need to be published and add in all the other utterly pointless letters sent to and from TDs/Sen to all manner of government departments.

        We are also in danger of romaticising the past – cronyism was even more rampant in the past than it has been recently and TDs have never been poor – they’ve always had other incomes be it the Four Gold Mines or Property and local planning. It is a myth that there was some golden age of parliamentarianism in Ireland so we should bear that in mind when designing a system thats fit for purpose now.

        If a TD/Sen lives in Donegal then why should the taxpayer fund a second home in Dublin, the flat complex owned by the government and linked to the constituency not the person is far better and cheaper and there is no reason at all for TDs travel expenses except the train to and from Dublin, they have no need to drive when they are in Dublin as there is a perfectly good public transport system and non of them go anywhere except to party meetings and let the party pay for their taxi.

        Also, they come up and down to Dublin once a week, so the Oirechtas can book and pay for their train fare and publish the receipts and cost of the fare.

        Has anyone in Ireland ever seen a TD/Sen sitting beside them on public transport at any time – work or personal? I always see politicians on the tube going about their business and no one bats an eyelid.

        The less involvement TDs/Sen have with money the better.

        That’s before we even get started on local government. Can you imagine the money that can be saved in that area!!

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