Oireachtas Commission to discuss controversy over fobbing in

Catherine Murphy calls for the entire fob-based system to be stood down

A spokesperson for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission confirmed  correspondence relating to the issue was sent to the commission by Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

A spokesperson for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission confirmed correspondence relating to the issue was sent to the commission by Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The body responsible for running the Houses of the Oireachtas will meet on Tuesday morning to discuss reforms to the Dáil’s expenses system following the so-called “Fobgate” controversy, The Irish Times has learned.

The current system, which requires TDs to “fob in” in order to claim travel expenses, came under scrutiny last month when it emerged many members were missing votes on days when they had been marked as present in Leinster House.

A spokesperson for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission confirmed that correspondence relating to the issue was sent to the commission by Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy, who also sits on the oversight body, and would be discussed on Tuesday.

In her letter, which has been seen by The Irish Times, Ms Murphy told the Ceann Comhairle that recent controversies “bring the entire system into disrepute and has a consequence for the Dáil itself and indeed each Deputy”.

It also in recent weeks emerged that Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae had been registered in attendance on the same day he was present at a funeral in Kerry, several hours drive away. Mr Healy-Rae has strongly denied any wrongdoing, and said he fobbed in at his Dáil office early in the morning and left for Kerry shortly afterwards - a practice not prohibited by Dáil rules.

Ms Murphy is calling for the entire fob-based system to be stood down and replaced by a signing in measure, as well as significant sanctions being put in place for transgressions

Under Dáil rules, TDs can claim Travel and Accommodation Allowance payments if they personally attend Leinster House on at least 120 days per year. Attendance records are based on the fobbing-in system. The TAA payments are worth tens of thousands of euros in each Dáil term to individual TDs, and costs the exchequer around €2.9 million per year.

Ms Murphy has requested that Mr Healy-Rae appear before the commission to discuss the recent controversy. She is also calling for reform of the travel requirements of the allowance, telling the Ceann Comhairle that there is a provision of an allowance for Dáil deputies who “have no need to avail of overnight accommodation”.

“The justification of the travel aspect also needs to be reconsidered. I am suggested we look at how other parliaments run their affairs,” she wrote. The Kildare North TD has also urged the Ceann Comhairle to refer a report on the practice of deputies voting for absent colleagues to the committee on members interests.

Rise TD Paul Murphy first raised concerns around the fobbing-in system with the Ceann Comhairle late last month. Mr Murphy wrote to Seán Ó Fearghaíl in the wake of the recent voting controversy, warning that there were not sufficient safeguards in place to prevent TDs from fobbing in on behalf of colleagues. He urged that a review be undertaken to “ascertain whether it is possible to establish whether the fob in system has been abused in the past, and what measures could be taken to prevent any future abuse.”