New regime to revolve around vouched costs

 

EXPENSES REFORM:MINISTER FOR Finance Brian Lenihan said yesterday he would introduce a new regime of vouched expenses for TDs and Senators to open up the system to full public scrutiny.

In a decisive rejection of reforms drawn up by the cross-party Oireachtas commission proposing "monthly block grants", Mr Lenihan said the only system that guaranteed openness and transparency was one where expenses were fully vouched.

The Government said yesterday the system proposed by the commission, where all TDs and Senators would be paid a monthly stipend covering expenses and allowances, would mean a reduction for some but increases for others. The amount would depend on how far the constituency was from the Dáil.

"It is not transparent. It is in fact the reverse. It would be opaque," said a senior Government figure yesterday.

Mr Lenihan, speaking on RTÉ yesterday, said he was not prepared to sign off on a system where all expenses were combined into one monthly block grant, that was both unvouched and based on the distance travelled to Dublin. "I looked at this and was unhappy with it. I think we need far more verification of expenses. I discussed the issues with my own parliamentary party last night, and they are in full agreement with me."

However, Mr Lenihan was unable to specify which expenses would need to be vouched.

"We can't have a system that allows any inference that expenses are being drawn for personal profit," he said.

Earlier, Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore, former Labour leader Pat Rabbitte and Senator Dominic Hannigan criticised Mr Lenihan for delays in implementing the recommendations made by the commission on reforming the system.

Mr Rabbitte said that among the significant reforms not yet implemented were: a recommendation to reduce the number of Oireachtas committees from 23 to 15; the termination of a special secretarial allowance for Ministers; the single monthly block payment model for TDs; and verification of the allowance paid to independent TDs.

Reaction in Killarney, the heart of Mr O'Donoghue's Kerry South constituency, was mixed yesterday.

Mary Prendergast, a native of Castlemaine, in mid-Kerry, said: "John has done great work. There isn't a soccer club or a GAA club that hasn't benefited."

At the Park Retail Park, Killarney's largest retail area, Eileen Spring said she could not bring her husband on work-related trips and claim for him. Mr O'Donoghue's resigning was "a cop out" and he should repay the lavish expenses.

Jackie Healy-Rae, interviewed by Radio Kerry, said he had directed Mr O'Donoghue's early election campaigns. "This is a sad situation to see John O'Donoghue go like this." However, he believed he had to go given "the desperate pressure" put on by the media and others."The man was hounded out of office, there's no doubt about it."