One third of TDs don’t submit receipts for expenses

Posted by David Farrell (February 6, 2012)

Reports are circulating that the government is about to take steps to deal with Ireland’s terrible shortcomings on Freedom of Information and Whistleblowers legislation (to be blogged about when more is known). Both measures were promised in the Programme for Government and they are important steps on the road to making Irish government more open and transparent. But there is so much more that is needed, and high on the list should be ending the disgraceful practice of allowing our elected representatives to claim expenses without having to provide receipts – ‘unvouched expenses’ to use the jargon of Irish government. The Programme for Government also promised to end this practice, but so far there is no sign of any action. As was widely reported in the media last week, TDs (and Senators) have access to generous allowances to cover travel and accommodation. What was not reported on is just how many of them still continue to opt for unvouched expenses, which prevents any financial scrutiny of the claims.Details of the travel scheme are available on the Oireachtas website. The current proportions opting to not provide receipts for their expenses are as follows:

  • 56 TDs in total (i.e. 33% of all TDs), made up as follows:
  • 23 of 76 Fine Gael TDs (30% of FG TDs)
  • 17 of 37 Labour TDs (45% of Labour TDs)
  • 5 of 20 Fianna Fáil TDs (25% of FF TDs)
  • 1 of 14 Sinn Féin TDs (7% of SF TDs)
  • 2 of 5 ULA TDs (40% of ULA TDs)
  • 8 of 14 ‘others’ (57% of all independent TDs)

The details of the scheme are as follows. This allowance covers the costs of travel to and from Leinster House, accommodation where applicable and, for TDs only, constituency travel (ministers, ministers of state, and the Ceann Comhairle are not entitled to a travel allowance). The allowance is based on the Dublin band and twelve bands of 30km depending on the distance from Leinster House with a fixed accommodation allowance. Each Member is paid a band allowance based on the distance from their declared normal place of residence to Leinster House. Currently, the maximum unvouched annual rate for TDs is €15,000 (€25,700 if vouched), and for ‘office holders’ is €13,000 (€20,000 if vouched).

Here is the list of TDs opting to take the ‘unvouched’ route (* = ‘office holder’):
James Bannon (FG)
Seán Barrett* (FG)
Thomas Broughan (Lab)
Richard Bruton* (FG)
Joan Burton* (Lab)
Eric Byrne (Lab)
Paudie Coffey (FG)
Michael Conaghan (Lab)
Seán Conlan (FG)
Michael Creed (FG)
Claire Daly (ULA)
John Deasy (FG)
Jimmy Deenihan* (FG)
Robert Dowds (Lab)
Bernard Durkan (FG)
Martin Ferris (SF)
Terence Flanagan (FG)
Seán Fleming (FF)
Tom Fleming (Ind)
Noel Grealish (Ind)
Brendan Griffin (FG)
Brian Hayes* (FG)
Michael Healy-Rae (Ind)
Joe Higgins (ULA)
Brendan Howlin* (Lab)
Enda Kenny (FG)
Seán Kenny* (Lab)
Seamus Kirk (FF)
Michael Kitt (FF)
Michael Lowry (Ind)
John Lyons (Lab)
Peter Matthews (FG)
Michael McCarthy (Lab)
Finian McGrath (Ind)
Olivia Mitchell (FG)
Dan Neville (FG)
Michael Noonan* (FG)
Kieran O’Donnell (FG)
Seán Ó Fearghail (FF)
John O’Mahony (FG)
Maureen O’Sullivan (Ind)
Willie Penrose (Lab)
John Perry* (FG)
Ann Phelan (Lab)
Thomas Pringle (Ind)
Pat Rabbite* (Lab)
Michael Ring* (FG)
Brendan Ryan (Lab)
Alan Shatter* (FG)
Seán Sherlock* (Lab)
Brendan Smith (FF)
Emmet Stagg (Lab)
Billy Timmins (FG)
Joanna Tuffy (Lab)
Jack Wall (Lab)
Mick Wallace (Ind)

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20 thoughts on “One third of TDs don’t submit receipts for expenses

  1. The news that TDs have been paid another staggering amount in expenses – about €6 million – should come as no surprise to an electorate that has become wearyingly accustomed to paying other peoples bills. But, as you point out David, the revelations have – surprisingly – failed to generate much discussion.

    Not content with trousering one of the largest pay packets among their peer groups in Europe, our TDs continue to utlilize a – quite literally -obscene expenses regime which allows them to claim up to €15, 000 unvouched from the public purse. If employed by all 166 TDs the amount claimed would run to €2,490,000 annually which Irish citizens have no opportunity to scrutinize or inspect for probity or scale. I cannot think of a single private business in the Republic that provides such a perk to its employees. Indeed there is no other part of the public service that I am aware of which affords its staff such indiscriminate budgetary largesse.

    In addition to this the chairs of Oireachtas committees are rewarded with an extra €10,000 on top of their parliamentary salaries of circa €92, 000. As a university lecturer I sit on a large number of internal institutional committees and external bodies. I neither expect nor receive an additional cent in payment for this work as I consider it part of my public service.

    Why should TDs and Senators have the right to claim substantial monies from the public purse without providing supporting documentation to Oireachtas auditors? Why do they seemingly need additional remuneration to take up committee chairmanships? Do they have to be provided with this extra monetary incentive simply to carry out duties which the rest of us in the public sector routinely perform as part of our day to day workload?

    We should remember that the distinction between ‘vouched’ and ‘unvouched’ expenses is a very recent one and was introduced as part of a series of so-called reforms a couple of years ago. If TDs think this regime constitutes a ‘reform’ I would not have very high hopes for the FoI and Whistleblowers regimes.

    It is to be hoped that the review into members’ allowances being conducted by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will at the very least put an end to this outmoded and inappropriate regime of unvouched expenses. In addition every member of the Oireachtas should be compelled to publish an online account of their (fully vouched) expense claims on a monthly basis.

    In the meantime I would urge people to email and phone their TDs to point out how archaic and unfair the unvouched expenses system is, and especially those who feature on the list of ‘Unvouched’ David has very helpfully provided above.

    Given the scale of cuts foisted on lower paid employees in both the public and private sectors it is unacceptable for the Oireachtas to go on living in an alternative universe characterized by inflated pay scales and the submission of expenses without receipts. This has to end immediately if the Oireachtas is to have any credibility in seeking to persuade Irish citizens of the long term virtue of austerity.

  2. And not one single TD/Senator/Cllr or MEP publishes the receipts they claim to provide.

    So until the receipts are published and can be verififed – and that includes for who owns the second home and local office and what mortgages on them – as we have certain people still claiming mortgage costs for places with no mortgage and the whole scam of ‘renting’ from family.

  3. Words fail. Its action stations. I will write to each of these ‘addicts’ (addicted to spending other folk’s money). I will publish my letter and any replies. Should be ‘interesting’.

    Brian

  4. On reading this post and the comments I was immediately reminded of Macauley’s “We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality”.

    Might we not, perhaps for one moment, reflect on what we really want to achieve here. How is an equality of misery going to advance Ireland’s economic fortunes? Are we going to allow the ship to sink for a ha’pworth of tar? A good parliamentarian is worth his or her weight in gold. Is there not a broad consensus that TDs should be doing a little less as constituency advocates and mini-ombudspersons and quite a lot more in scrutinising government, exercising some restraint on it and holding it to account?

    We want them to work harder for us and yet we want to force them to account for every jot and tiddle of expense? So we attack them, name and shame them, put them on the defensive and then we expect them to burst a gut in our interests? Many businesses and commercial activities use a system of per diems which allows those entitled to such allowances to get on with their primary activity,whether they spend up to the allowance or not. Many businesses place a high opportunity cost on their workers spending time preparing and documenting their expense claims and so should we.

    Yes, TDs should be honest about their circumstances, but there should be a range and banding of allowances to reflect these and to provide ample reimbursement. We don;t elect, not should we expect, paragons of virtue. These are people, representative of their voters, who take on the responsibility to make decision on our behalf on matters on which we neither wish nor are able to make decisions. Come on, cut them some slack on the expenses front, but pressurise them to do more in the Dail.

    And yes there is this perceived need to provide some sort of ‘moral example’, but is there any evidence that this has prompted the appropriate self-abnegatory reaction from the broader populace.

    We seem to have a widepread desire to spread equality of misery across all sectors, but the savings, inthe context of the fiscal gap, are negligible and their imposition is often counter-productive.

    There is, of course, a broader question about the financing of politcial activity – since many TDs may use ‘unvouched’ expenses for these purposes, but that’s probably for another day.

  5. Nice try Paul but isn’t the same argument used to justify the levels of pay awarded to those at senior levels of the public service ie if we don’t pay the big bucks we won’t get first class services and we’ve been paying big bucks for over a decade and there is not one single area of the public service – civil service or quango – that anyone in their right mind would reasonably consider to be first class so why are we still paying big bucks?

    As regards TDs it is a myth that they spend all day working, they spend a large chunk of the day hanging around and I also don’t buy into the myth that they are all decent and honest and doing the best they can – no more than everyone in other walks of life is the salt of the earth.

    The fact remains Ireland is bankrupt and when decisions are made to cut back on special needs teaching ot nursing care there is no justification at all under any circumstances for a TD on €92k or an officeholder on even more to also be allowed claim the cost of travelling to and from work – I don’t get paid the cost of my train fare to work and I don’t get a lunch allowance either.

    I get a phone on my desk and a chair and a PC etc and it’s a cost for the business. I don’t get an allowance to go buy my office equipment and then line my pocket with the change.

    Are we seriously supposed to believe the likes of Kenny, Noonan, Martin, Adams etc are still paying the mortgage for where they live in Dublin and yet they are still claiming the accomodation allowance.

    Perhaps we should be asking what are these expenses TDs claim they incur and is at least one TD can claim no expenses why can’t others? Why is it so many of them claim the exact same amount and why don’t they publish receipts – the answer is because the expenses they claim are fake and they can’t provide receipts.

    Perhaps we have a difference moral standard Paul that you don’t think there’s anything wrong iwth various politicans at local, national and EU level creaming off expenses for their personal enrichment during a major recession where if it weren’t for the safety valve of emigration we’d be even worse off.

  6. Its the Bezzle Paul. When the cash-flow slows down – lots of unseemly things get exposed. Like with a receding tide.

    Damn their expenses. Let them be like us plain folk. They get a salary: period. Live on it. Travel: get a Travel Pass for public transport. Have to stay in Dubland: use student accomodation style residence. How many units would you need: 100? That’s small potatoes. Poor dears!

    Its a privilege to serve. Not a free-ride on the backs of the taxpayers.

    Brian

  7. Oops. It seems I have stirred up even more righteous indignation, even as I sought to damp it down 🙂

    A good friend once recalled a wise old Jesuit noting that ‘it is a wise society that knows how much evil to tolerate’.

    I think we need a bit of proportion, perspective and balance. On one side, TDs are literally ‘owned’ by their constituents – even more so, I suspect, than their counterparts in other EU democracies. They become ‘public property’. I don’t think I could do it. And even if I am frequently harsh about their failings, I retain enormous respect for their general stoicism and sheer bloody-minded optimism and perseverance as they negotiate the slings and arrows of the political life – and always mindful that their voters can dispense with their services without notice or warning at the next election. This not an argument for pampering or coddling them; but we need to recognise the context in which they serve.

    On the other side, we need to bear in mind that billions of Euros are being gouged from citizens as consumers and taxpayers via inefficiencies, deadweights costs and rent-seeking in the sheltered sectors – private, semi-state and public. There is an excessive public focus on levels of pay, because these appear elevated – in particular when they are related to levels of pay in other countries. But labour is the only input to the production of good and the delivery of services. Even as the Marxian ‘labour theory of value’ has been consigned to history, most economists, policy-makers and commentators seem to be focusing on the ‘labour theory of cost’.

    But the reality is that it is inefficienciencies in non-labour inputs that are generating excessive costs. These include monopoly profits (in the private sector), inefficient management and allocation of resources (in the public sector), gloriously inefficient financing of investment (in the semi-state and public sector) and increased welfare payments to compsensate for the cost of living impact of these inefficiencies (public sector). These additional costs increase the costs of businesses and the cost of living and workers, understandably, will seek higher pay to compensate – and to protect existing levels. That”s why pay levels are elevated and appear elevated.

    But everyone persists in looking thorugh the wrong end of the telescope.

    So I would have no problem if TDs were to gorge themselves at the public but only if they were to put serious effort in to tackling non-labour costs that bedevil the economy. This is a very simple cost-benefit calculation – a couple of million on one side vs. billions on the other.

    This focus on the reimbursement of TDs’ expenses simply feeds in this obsession with pay levels and distracts attention from the fact that pay levels are high because the underlying non-labouur costs are excessive and unjustified. This, of course, suits those who benefit.

    And if we want TDs to be more pro-active in defending and advancing the collective interests of the vast majority of citizens as consumers and taxpayers, beating them with this ‘expenses’ stick is probably the worst possible way of going about it.

    • Well if one TD from Labour can cope with zero expenses I don’t see why the others can’t.

      Plus I really resent the fact some of them are claiming accomodation expenses that they do not have for places where any mortgage is long since paid off – are we really supposed to believe people who were in cabinet in the 1980s are still paying the mortgage on a falt they bought then? Rubbish so why should the taxpayer continue to line the pockets of these people.

      The basic point still stands that if politicians can’t even get their own house in order in terms of reform and transparency then they are quite clearly not fit to put through what needs to be done all across the rest of the country.

      Why should someone pay a septic tank charge when their local TD refuses to provide proof that the expenses they claim are genuine?

  8. Why in God’s holy name do they need ‘expenses’ in the first instance? Its bizzare in this day and age. They get a salary, and that is that. They could have a Travel Pass. They have subsidized food and liquor. Subsidized work spaces. Jeeze Paul, us taxpayers are being crucified by these critters. They have no (well, they appear to) have no real appreciation of where the money is coming from. Perhaps they believe that the trees in Leinster House have leaves made from 1000 euro notes or something. Just go out a pick a few any time you feel a bit peckish or you need to provide a new ‘hospital’ or whatever.

    Staying in Dubland is a cost for those who have to stay over, away from home. But what do they need? Basic student-type accom is fine – unless they have in mind some sort of ‘interesting soirees’. If the hostel is a few mins from base, the walk will do them the world of good. Expenses are from the Victorian age. Scrap ’em!

    And, I do accept you points about their constituency work. Its a real shitty job. But there is a good cure – I think! Maybe, maybe not. Have one electoral district: magnitude 100? – 120?. Voters choose a party, or one from a list of non-party candidates. This begs the question about the complete refurbishment of Loc Gov. Will not stop the crony, parish pump crapola, but maybe re-distribute it. But us voters are also addicted to the present setup. Addicts don’t do reform!

    Anyway this whole business is a bad distraction from the substantive issue – our parliament is an elected dictatorship – the best in the western world. So, maybe “They ARE worth it!” 😎

    Brian

    • These ‘addicts’ mightn’t voluntarily ‘do reform’, but if enough people were to quietly, but firmly, advise them that if they don’t ‘do reform’ the means of feeding their habit might cease abruptly at the next election it might have a salutary effect. Re-election is all that matters to them – and even for those on their last lap, ensuring the election of one of their ilk is almost equally important.

      • Amen to that. Though the current bruhaha about Big Phil’s tanks has again unmasked the raw agressivness of folk who seem to believe that the Gov has a bottomless pit of cash and will subsidize, incentivize, or apply some form of financial prosthesis to ensure they do not have to spend their own money. Its no longer bizzare or a joke. Its insanity writ large. If I were a TD I might be getting my re-election posters up to date. This could turn very nasty, very fast.

        Now if only the Troika and the EU were to tell Phil and friends – “No more moolah”. 🙂

  9. The rules for claiming business expenses are clear and established by years of litigation. They should apply to politicians and public servants.

    That said, expenses are trivial compared to the elephant in the room, public service pensions. The Bank of England, with similar terms of service to our public service, provides the equivalent of 55% of salaries as an employer contribution to fund their pension fund. For TD’s, ministers, Guards and Army a contribution 55% would not be nearly enough.

  10. On one level, it’s a bit late in the day to be complaining about the TDs’ expenses scheme which was agreed, only with great difficulty, a couple of years ago. At the time, the then Minister for Finance, the late Brian Lenihan had to send the proposed scheme back to the Oireachtas Committee asking them to think again, which they did, but only with great reluctance. The government it appears can only change the salary and expenses of parliamentarians with their consent. However, the deterioriation in the economy has accelerated and given the more recent austerity budget, and the prospect of more to come it’s surely time the issue of pay and expenses for TDs and Senators was reviewed again?

    Yesterday, Sinn Fein raised the 17,000 euro which has now been added to Super Junior Jan O’Sullivan’s salary on foot of her elevation to ‘Cabinet’. The response from Joan Burton on behalf of the Government? A petulant swipe about the £5m in expenses claimed by SF MPs who didn’t even attend Westminster. All fair enough in the normal cut and thrust of Leinster House politics, and Joan has a point about the blatant hypocrisy of SF, but is this the sort of politics we can afford any longer, never mind the levels of financial reward it attracts to those involved in it?

    The inhabitants of Leinster House appear to live in a parallel universe to the rest of us. For them, nothing has changed; whilst for those in the real Ireland outside the Kildare Street gates things are only getting worse. In a society in which citizens are experiencing demands for higher taxes, watching services disappear like snow off a ditch, hearing the stories of their beleageured fellow citizens, like carers, whose state supports are being crumbled on the airwaves every day of the week, relatively small things like unvouched expenses for TDs become symbols of a wider breakdown in the transaction between citizens and the state. Not unreasonably, citizens conclude that neither the salaries paid to the political elite nor their expenses regime are appropriate any longer.

    Further, in respect of the output of the political elite, how can such levels of remuneration be justified? By any standard of comparison with the salaries and expenses paid to members of government of very large states like Germany, the US or the UK, or comparably sized states in Europe, our parliamentarians and members of the government are ridiculously over compensated, particularly so given the mediocrity of their performance. Myopic vanity as to their own worth or the exchange of petty jibes across the Dail chamber simply add insult to injury. But the bigger problem, I would suggest, is that if they don’t review their pay and perks regime in short order they will exhaust whatever political capital they have left and the consequences for them, and for society, will not be pretty.

    • @Veronica,

      You speak of the “wider breakdown in the transaction between citizens and the state” and hint at possible civil unrest. Some tohers here suggest that civil unrest may be required to force some necessary changes. I have a slightly different take. I think we may take it as read that most people elect TDs to elect a government, expect them to stick to the sides they have chosen and spend the rest of their time as constituency advocates and mini-ombudspersons. On broader issues of public policy and proposed executive actions the people, generally, and various interest groups,specifically, tend to deal directly with government and government tries to engage, using the various instruments at its disposal, directly with them.

      The confrontation between Minister Hogan and the septic tank owners is a perfect recent example. Apart from opposition TDs gleefully seizing the opportunity to wound a Minister, the Oireachtas plays no effective roled in resolving these issues.

      So my sense is that a lot of people are coming to the conclusion that their TDs are costing them much more than members of parliaments in other countries though they may not be aware that these MPs actually do work as proper scrutineers of government policy proposals, who do exercise restraint over government in the public interests and who do hold their governments to account. They might value the constituency advocacy and ombudsperson work TDs do, to which MPs in other countries tend to pay less attention, but they are beginning to see that they are seriously overpaying for these services.

      Meanwhile, self-servingly, TDs seek to project the optical illusion that they do work in the Dail in the same way as MPs in parliaments of other better-governed countries and that they do this in addition to the heavy burden of constituency work that is much greater than that of MPs in other countries. But people are beginning to see that they are doing nothing to mediate between them and government; they have to engage directly with government themselves. So why pay so much for this dog when you have to bark yourself?

      The problem is that the public mood seems to be in favour of curtailing their rewards to match people’s assessment of the value of the services they provide, rather than demanding that, in addition, they do what MPs in better-governed democracies do.

      The challenge is to persuade people that, instead of cutting thier rations, they should make them earn their oats.

      • Paul,
        My point is that citizens perceive they are asked to pay more and more for less in terms of services from the state, whilst a political leite carries on regardless, rewarding themselves excessively and more, demonstrating arrogance and an ‘I’m worth it’ attitude when challenged. They were paid excessively to begin with. Things have got worse under their political direction. It’s time they reviewed their system of rewards and remuneration. And I cannot agree with your general thesis that none of our parliamnetarians are fulfilling their function. We have some very good politicians in the Oireacthas and some well-intentioned and talented Ministers who are doing their best for the country. The pay and perks issue is a potent symbol because there is an underlying truth in it: they are being excessively remunerated. They have to deal with that and I just wish they would.

  11. @Veronica,

    Even though you may disagree with me, I have no disagreement with what you are advancing. I have consistently been at pains to acknowledge that “[w]e have some very good politicians in the Oireacthas and some well-intentioned and talented Ministers who are doing their best for the country”. That is not at issue. It is simply that they are labouring in a system that is not fit-for-purpose. And those who are doing the best they can and those who are simply going through the motions are all being tarred with the same brush.

    It would be far, far better if they – and all others in the broader public sphere who are seeking to defend and protect what is perceived by most people as excessive remuneration – were to admit that these levels of pay are required, in the main, to compensate for excessively high costs in the domestic economy that are caused by serious inefficiencies in the provision of non-labour inputs in the production of goods and the delivery of services – and that they were resolved to do address this.

    And if they were to do this they would be able to reduce the costs of living for all citizens and costs for all businesses and levels of pay could be reduced leaving most people better off in real terms. And it would be absolutely wonderful if they were to resolve to reform the procedures of the Dail to drive the implementation of this and to, finally, in a concerted manner advance the public interest.

    Demanding some ‘equalisation of misery’ may contribute to strengthening the national common bond that is required to manage the austerity that is coming down the line, but it would be far, far better if concerted effort were applied to implement the structural refroms that are required to counteract it.

    But I fear the moment to seize this opportunity has passed and ireland will sink deeper in to the mire with increasing recrimination, bitterness and resentment.

    It’s maddening because we are better than this.

  12. “We are worth it!” – Yep, if you add the conditioner that you ‘work’ in the best, elected liberal democratic dictatorship, in the western world: pure crapola! Pay them 2 x National Industrial and be done with it. Pension? Sure, same as OAPs. As the man said, “10% of something is worth more than 100% of nothing”. Addicts rarely do rehab.

    Now. “Doing their best ….???” If our parliamentary process is a dysfunctional as I believe it to be (big Democratic Deficit here) and is “unfit for purpose” – which it suredly is, then how can you perfom well? If you mean ‘acting’ as in Oscarland, fair enough.

    I seem to recall a certain Michael Noonan, who had a lot of moxie and political Bottle. Where is he now?

    The day of reckoniong is, someway away. On that day the National Expenditure will exceed the ability of the taxpayers to pay. So much will have been borrowed, it cannot ever be repaid – ever. Oh wait!

    Methinks we might have arrived, but everyone is staying real stumm. The ‘outcome’ of this rural shit-tank crapola will be a good indicator. Gov no pays; shit-tank owners no pay; Eu no pays – but the Irish taxpayer is looted again! On the QT, and Hush-hush! 😎

  13. So how do we change how they claim their expenses and the allowances they are entitled to? I honestly thought this was one election promise that might be followed through on – more fool me. Other than emailing or writing to them, how can we do something to change this?

  14. Aisling, you become a ‘negative consumer’. You triage your expenditures: necessary, sufficient, excessive. Stop the latter. Cut the sufficient by half. Save – but be uber careful how you split it up: a) paydown some debt: b) purchase gold coins (you have to take 10 at one go, the commission is 1%)) and, c) have a cash deposit for immediate demand. Its only when tax revenues are consistently on a downward trend will those ‘looters’ start to take notice. For them, ‘borrowing’ is no longer a open option. Above all, be patient. Cheers.

    I wrote to all the TDs on Prof Farrell’s list: two replies to date – one, an invite for a face-to-face meeting (Deputy Durkin: Kildare Nth). Clare Daly and Joe Higgins sent a joint reply.

    I’ll take up JD’s offer.

  15. Might I point out that the €92,000 salary being discussed above is actually the starting salary for new members of the government? So, yes, all TDs have taken a salary cut but you will find that only first-time elected TDs are receiving this salary. Everyone else is on different salaries depending on how long they have been in the government and if they are ministers etc. I do not believe the amounts received by this group would be seen as allowances.

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