Independent TD for Tipperary Michael Lowry spent most of his parliamentary leaders' allowance in the second half of 2014 on PR and consultancy fees, while TD Shane Ross used over half his allocation to fund an opinion poll in his constituency of Dublin Rathdown.
The details of how Independent and non-party TDs spend the allowance is contained in the first returns they submitted to the Standards in Public Office Commission. The returns were a new requirement introduced by Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin in the 2014 budget.
Mr Howlin reduced the allowance for non-party TDs from €41,142 to €37,137 per year and those of non-party Senators from €23,383 to €21,145.
Until the policy change, there was no requirement on Independents to disclose how they spent their leaders’ allowance. It led to periodic criticism in the
The first audited returns submitted by non-aligned Oireachtas members covered the second half of 2014. In all, Independent TDs and Senators were paid almost €800,000 in leaders’ allowances during the year.
Spending was divided into six categories: technical advice; research and development; policy formation; consultancy including PR; polling; and entertainment.
The highest-spending category for Dáil deputies was technical advice (€45,000 collectively), followed by policy formation (€40,000) and consultancy (€33,000).
A number of TDs spent very little of their leaders’ allowance of over €18,000 for the second half of 2014 and carried it forward into 2015.
They included Kerry TD Tom Fleming who spent €1,832 and carried forward €16,687. Two other Independents, Noel Grealish of Galway West, and Mattie McGrath of Tipperary, carried forward over €14,000 each into 2015.
In the Upper House, Senator Jillian van Turnhout has decided not to accept any of her leaders' allowance and her return is nil. TCD Senator Sean Barrett spent none of his allowance of €10,523 and carried that sum forward.
The Wicklow TD Stephen Donnelly spent most of his allowance (€16,373 on policy formulation).
The details for some TDs were scant. Others such as Kerry TD Michael Healy Rae had more detailed returns: "Meetings held through the accounting period, expenses involved in having these meetings. Each meeting has an individual receipt for costs involved."
Finian McGrath included a return for research on gangland crime. Mattie McGrath spent €2,411 on the distribution of leaflets and information gathering.
All the Independent TDs who are members of the Technical Group in the Dáil contributed €1,832 to its administration costs.
Mr Ross listed a Red C Poll which he commissioned in September 2014 canvassing “constituency attitudes”. The cost of the poll was €9,370. He also spent €922 on legal advice.
In general, Senators gave more detailed advice on their spending. Fiach MacConghail itemises all the books and subscriptions he bought, and itemised expenses for a fact-finding trip to
and the Palestinian territories.
Fine Gael Senator Eamon Coghlan, who entered the Seanad Independent, spent €960 on entertainment and carried forward the balance into 2015.
Many of the TDs and Senators who spent most of the allowance used the funds as part-pay for staff members, or to hire freelance researchers to help with policy papers and private members legislation.