What TDs earn: the extras
THE SALARY for a member of Dáil Éireann is €92,672 and that for a Senator €65,621. It’s not bad money in the current climate, but the focus of public resentment in recent days is the expenses and allowances that go with the jobs, especially at a time when other public-sector allowances are under scrutiny.
A Dublin-based TD could have a package worth almost €200,000, including unvouched expenses and two secretaries or parliamentary assistants at a combined salary of €70,000, in the first year after election. With vouched expenses he or she could be pulling in about €210,000. If the TD lived in a far-flung district of Co Kerry, extra travel expenses would bring the figure to about €235,000 – and if the deputy were an Independent there would be €41,152 on top of that, making a total of about €276,000 before tax.
This week the clerk of the Dáil, Kieran Coughlan, suggested that Oireachtas allowances, which are currently subject to policy decisions by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin, should be overseen by an independent body.
Coughlan told the Committee of Public Accounts that the total spending on members’ expenses this year will be about €11.7 million, or 11 per cent of the parliamentary budget – and that this figure, combined with just under €20 million on salaries, “represents a tiny fraction – one-thousandth – of total State expenditure for 2012”.
All 166 members of the Dáil and 60 Senators are eligible to receive a public representation allowance, but Ministers, who get tax relief on a second home if they live outside Dublin, do not receive the travel and accommodation allowance.
The travel allowance is paid to members in bands based on the distance to Leinster House from their “normal place of residence”. It covers the cost of travel to and from parliament, overnight stays and, for TDs, other travel expenses. Senators are paid a lower amount, with no allowances for constituency travel.
Questions were raised recently when Joe Higgins, the Socialist Party TD, was allowed expenses for travelling around the State to promote the anti-household-charge campaign. Attorney General Máire Whelan SC told Howlin this was a legitimate claim, but the clerk of the Dáil told the Committee of Public Accounts this week that the allowance “was always to apply to a Deputy going to and from Leinster House and around his or her constituency”.
If they live less than 25km from the Oireachtas, TDs are allowed €12,000 and Senators €7,000. There are 12 bands, paying different rates, the maximum being for distances of 360km or more – in those cases TDs can claim €37,850 and Senators €32,850.
The public representation allowance is payable to all members (including Ministers and Oireachtas office-holders). Members can opt for either the certified unvouched amount or the fully vouched amount. Members opting for the vouched amount must retain receipts for the full sum claimed and may be audited. Currently, TDs can claim€15,000 unvouched or €25,700 vouched; Ministers and Ministers of State can claim €12,000 unvouched or €20,000 vouched; and Senators can claim €9,250 unvouched or €15,000 vouched.
The Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy probably echoed public sentiment when he told the Committee of Public Accounts this week: “If there is an expense for a TD or Senator that is not vouched, then it should be vouched.”
All backbench TDs are entitled to a full-time secretary. (Ministers and office-holders have separate arrangements.) Senators are entitled to a half-time secretary.
There is an additional vouched allowance of €41,092 for secretarial assistance that TDs can use to employ an extra person full time or divide among individuals for a range of services, such as PR, secretarial or computer work.
Alternatively, a TD can claim an annual allowance of €8,888.17 unvouched or €11,591 vouched. Senators have similar options but at reduced rates.
Less well known are the additional allowances paid for other positions within the Houses of the Oireachtas. As of March last year, for example, being the Fianna Fáil whip brought an extra €19,000; the same post paid €6,000 in People Before Profit, Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party.
Assistant whips also get extra allowances. In the Government the sum is €15,000; in Fianna Fáil €9,500; in Fine Gael €7,500; in the Labour Party €6,000; and in Sinn Féin €3,000.
In the Seanad, as of May this year, the deputy leader of the house received an additional €9,500; the Government whip €6,000; the assistant Government whip €4,000; the Fianna Fáil leader €9,500; the leader of the Independent Group of Nominee Senators €6,000; the leader of the Independent Group of University Senators €6,000; the Fianna Fáil Whip €6,000; the Independent Group of Nominee Senators’ whip €4,000; and the Independent Group of University Senators’ whip €4,000.
Chairs of Oireachtas joint committees and members of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, a group of TDs and Senators that oversees the administration of services at Leinster House, receive an extra €9,500 a year. Each committee chair has an annual allocation of €2,539 for entertainment.
The Programme for Government promised that expenses would be vouched for, on the basis that “politics must be about service to the public, not financial gain for politicians”.
A spokeswoman for Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said that in 2010 there was a “major reform of the system” that , along with a reduction in 2009, was expected to save about €900,000 this year. Last year the Minister reduced the payments to committee chairs and party whips and is “considering all options” in the context of December’s Budget.
At a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts this week, Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin said she could “see no good reason” to give €9,500 to the chairs of committees. “At a time of austerity, when the cupboard is bare, the payment should be dispensed with. The payment of €9,500 each year to the members of the Oireachtas Commission is scandalous.”
She could have widened her range of targets. Expect further pressure to come on Oireachtas members in the lead-up to the budget, with more and more calls for them to set an example and take a lead in the austerity stakes.
Perks and privileges: Oireachtas funding
What TDs can claim
Dáil Deputy’s salary €92,672.
TDs’ travel and accommodation allowance from €12,000 (for those living closest to Leinster House) to €37,850.
Public representation allowance, for renting an office, hiring rooms for clinics, producing leaflets and newsletters, and so on €15,000 unvouched or €25,700 vouched.
Full-time secretarial assistant plus additional secretarial allowance of €41,092 vouched or €8,888.17 unvouched, plus an annual allowance of €11,591 vouched.
Leinster House provides free telephone and postal facilities, including 1,250 prepaid envelopes a month.
Up to €750 every 18 months to buy a mobile phone and car kit, including installation costs and insurance.
One-off grant of €8,000 to set up an office outside Leinster House.
Chairs of Oireachtas committees and others have an additional telephone allowance of €1,100 a year (or €1,700 for the chair of the Committee of Public Accounts).
Party leaders’ allowances
For a party’s first 10 TDs, the allowance is €71,520 per deputy. (The Government party receives a third less, or €47,680.)
For a party with between 11 and 30 members, the allowance is an additional €57,214 (Government party €38,143).
For more than 30 members the allowance is an additional €28,616 (Government party €19,077).
Reduced rates are paid in the Seanad.
Independent TDs are entitled to an annual allowance of €41,152 each (€23,383 for Independent Senators).
In 2011 parties received a combined total of €7,211,402, including Fine Gael €2.579 million; Fianna Fáil €1.746 million; Labour €1.634 million; Sinn Féin €933,875; Socialist Party €120,903; People Before Profit Alliance €120,903; and Green Party €75,583.
The Ceann Comhairle (Seán Barrett, Fine Gael) receives an additional annual payment of €76,603; the Leas-Cheann Comhairle (Michael Kitt, Fianna Fáil) receives €37,370; the Cathaoirleach (Paddy Burke, Fine Gael) receives €44,336; the Leas-Chathaoirleach (Denis O’Donovan, Fianna Fáil) receives €24,429; the leader of the Seanad (Maurice Cummins, Fine Gael) receives €19,439.
This week the Dail approved estimates for next year’s Oireachtas expenditure without debate, prompting Stephen Donnelly, the Independent TD for Wicklow, to say, “This is a joke of a parliament.”