Dáil clerk suggests independent body should set allowances

 

AN INDEPENDENT body might be best placed to set the rates for TDs’ and Senators’ allowances, the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee was told yesterday.

Clerk of Dáil Éireann Kieran Coughlan said it might be a means of countering the critical media coverage and poor perception among the public that surrounds expenses and allowances claimed by national politicians.

It came as the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform set a deadline of the end of next February for the completion of the review into the 88 allowances for serving public servants it has earmarked for abolition as a priority.

The secretary general of the department, Robert Watt, told the PAC at the same hearing that allowances should be payable only when they met three criteria. These were that they reflected the arduous nature of the job or unsocial hours associated with it; that they ensured that work of additional value was received by the employer; and that they should cover a cost accruing to a worker as a result of their employment.

Mr Coughlan described the allowance system in place for the 166 deputies and 60 Senators. Some €11.5 million is paid each year in allowances to the 220 members, more than half their combined salaries of €20 million.

In his opening submission, Mr Coughlan said: “In view of the apparent persistent negativity in regard to any expenditure in this area, is it time for the Minister’s role in setting the rates and scope of allowances to be changed to an independent body as is the practice in other countries?

“I suggest consideration of this option both from the perspective of ensuring public trust in how these public funds are accounted for but also as it may help insulate our parliamentary democracy and our parliamentarians from unfair commentary that is corroding the public’s trust.”