Hayes used TD's travel allowance in opposition

Thu, Jul 5, 2012, 01:00

THREE UNITED Left Alliance TDs embroiled in a public row over the use of their Dublin travel allowances have found a most unlikely ally in the form of a Fine Gael Minister.

Brian Hayes, Minister of State at the Department of Finance, disclosed yesterday that when in opposition he had used his allowance, worth €1,000 per month, to cover the costs of his travel throughout the country in his capacity as Fine Gael education spokesman.

He said he had sympathy for the three TDs: Joe Higgins and Clare Daly of the Socialist Party and Joan Collins of People Before Profit.

He said that an interpretation of the rule that did not include travel outside the constituency fulfilling a TD’s essential public duties and responsibilities was “bizarre”.

His intervention came as the Houses of the Oireachtas service yesterday said legal advice it had sought confirmed its finding that the three TDs were not entitled to use the allowance for travel outside their constituencies, unless it was to and from Leinster House.

All three said they used the allowance to cover the expenses of attending meetings and rallies against household charges and water taxes outside Dublin.

Mr Hayes told The Irish Times yesterday: “My understanding in opposition was that it was for use for travelling in your own constituency, but also for travel throughout the country in your role as a public representative.

“I was the party spokesman on education and went to universities, institutes and schools throughout the State to meet people, to attend meetings, to listen to people. I was getting no money from the party for that. I used my allowance for that.

“To suggest that it does not cover travel and accommodation costs for politicians in terms of doing their public duty is, in my view, bizarre.”

“I would agree with their position bar the fact that they used it for a specific campaign (against the indirect taxes), which is different from my use of it,” he said.

Last night, Mr Higgins said he intended to seek independent legal advice on the finding and also criticised the Houses of the Oireachtas service for not acceding to his request for a meeting before issuing its conclusions. He again challenged its interpretation of the statutory instrument from 2010 and maintained travel outside the constituency was allowable under the regulations.

“I believe that the reference [in the regulations] to ‘travel expenses which the member is obliged to incur in the performance of his or her duties as a member of Dáil Eireann’ clearly refers to elected representatives honouring their election mandates,” he said.

Mr Higgins also released details of his travel and accommodation expenditure. He travelled to 22 locations outside Dublin, including Mayo, Monaghan, Clare, Waterford, Kerry, Donegal, Galway, Limerick, Tipperary, Wexford, and Offaly. His total bill for more than 6,000km travelled came to a modest €935, including a BB bill for €35.

Separately yesterday, another People Before Profit TD, Richard Boyd Barrett, disclosed that the top 10,000 taxpayers in the Republic earned an average of €595,000, and paid an effective tax rate of 29 per cent.

“These answers prove what we have been saying all along. The super-wealthy in Irish society are not paying their fair share and are being protected from the ravages of austerity while ordinary people are being crushed with cuts and taxes,” he said.