Minister defends expense claims

 

Green Party leader John Gormley today defended Dáil expense claims he made in the years before becoming Minister for the Environment.

His comments come after The Irish Times reported that the Houses of the Oireachtas have declined a request by a member of the public to investigate more than €200,000 in tax-free expenses made by Mr Gormley..

The complaint covered claims made in the 10-year period before he became a minister.

Speaking on RTÉ radio this morning, Mr Gormley said he had nothing to hide and was critical of the reporting of the complaint by the media.

"My expenses are the lowest in Dail Éireann and yet we have a thing that is completely turned on its head. An individual makes a complaint, the complaint is found to be without foundation and is dismissed and yet it appears in the newspaper," he said.

"Look at my expenses. Compare my expenses with my constituency colleagues and it averages out at about €18,000 a year, that is substantially lower than anybody else," Mr Gormley added.

A constituent of the Dublin South East TD, James Casey, made a formal complaint last January about aspects of the Minister's tax-free expenses

In the course of correspondence since then, a Dáil official informed the complainant that Mr Gormley had observed the legal requirements for the expenses allowed under relevant legislation.

Mr Casey obtained details of Mr Gormley’s expenses claims through Freedom of Information requests and made his complaint on the basis of the information he received.

The core complaint involved a payment of €143,151 in “turning-up” expenses to the Green TD during the period from 1997 to 2007. Days claimed for included Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Also queried was a payment of €37,732 for setting up and operating a constituency office at Fownes Street in Dublin’s Temple Bar, printing bills of €3,800, a bill of almost €9,000 for a redesign of Mr Gormley's website and €12,638 for a report from polling company Red C in 2009.

In his complaint to the Oireachtas, Mr Casey asked how Mr Gormley could have claimed the daily “turning-up” allowance, designed to cover travel costs, when he cycled to the Dáil from his nearby home.

He also queried the payment of expenses to the Green TD for a constituency office, at the address of the former Green Party headquarters in Fownes Street, saying Mr Gormley had never alerted his constituents to the fact that his office was in operation.

In response to Mr Casey, a principal officer at the Houses of the Oireachtas, Derek Dignam, stated that the statutory authority for the expenses and allowances regime was the Minister for Finance.

“In practice, invoices are submitted by members for payment by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and are certified by them to be expenditure wholly and exclusively incurred for the purpose of facilitating parliamentary duties.

“In this context the main function of the commission in the processing of claims for members is to ensure that each claim is within the legislation which provides for the allowance and any applicable Department of Finance guidelines. We cannot comment on the detail individual invoices submitted and certified by individual members,” the letter added.

In further correspondence, Mr Casey asked the Houses of the Oireachtas to examine Mr Gormley’s claim for a constituency office between 2004 and the time he became a member of the Government when the office moved to his department.

Mr Dignam wrote to Mr Gormley on June 4th of this year asking for a response and on August 6th the personal adviser to the Minister, Diarmuid Hanifin, replied.

“The constituency office maintenance allowance payment to John Gormley between the period of 2004 and 20007 was in respect of a constituency office which was situated in Fownes Street, Dublin 2. During this time Oireachtas IT equipment, broadband and phone lines were installed in order to allow constituency business to be conducted from this office,” he said.

He added that the constituency secretary to Mr Gormley, Ann O’Conarain, worked from this office during the given period.

Following Mr Gormley’s appointment to Government she moved to the Custom House, where she continues to work for him.

“There is absolutely no question that the office was closed during this period,” added Mr Hanifin.

This information was passed on to Mr Casey in a letter from Mr Dignam last week.

“Your queries have now been addressed. However, as pointed out previously, the Minister for Finance is the statutory authority in respect of the allowances system. You may wish, therefore, to address any further queries about the statutory framework concerning such allowances to that Department,” he noted.

LEINSTER HOUSE 'TURNING UP' ALLOWANCE

The daily expenses claimed by Dublin TDs and senators to cover travel and subsistence for each day they come in to Leinster House is known as the “turning up” allowance.

Up until March of this year Dublin TDs submitted a form detailing the number of days they attended Leinster House and were paid the tax-free allowance of €55 a day.

TDs from outside Dublin were entitled to claim overnight expenses and mileage for attending Leinster House.

The system was changed in March to a standard unvouched €12,000 a year for Dublin TDs and senators with those from outside the capital falling into a range of payment bands up to €37,850.

Under the new system TDs and senators also get a public representation allowance ranging from €15,000 (unvouched) to €25,700 (vouched) as well as a special secretarial allowance apart from having a paid Dáil secretary.