Dáil expenses regime ‘far too lax’, says Varadkar

Taoiseach: ‘This whole issue is not one that should be run for ourselves by ourselves’

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that ‘it is a system that’s essentially designed by politicians for politicians’.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that ‘it is a system that’s essentially designed by politicians for politicians’.

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has acknowledged that the Dáil expenses system is “far too lax” and should not be run by politicians.

Instead he called for it to be handed over and run independently by the Standards in Public Office Commission.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that “it is a system that’s essentially designed by politicians for politicians and that should change”.

The Taoiseach said he would be writing to party leaders and the Ceann Comhairle “to suggest that this whole issue is not one that should be run for ourselves by ourselves and it should be handed over to the standards commission”.

Fine Gael has been engulfed in controversy over the revelation that former minister of State Dara Murphy collected his full allocation of Dáil expenses despite being primarily based in Brussels for the past two years where he has had a full-time paid position as the European People’s Party’s director of elections for most of that time.

Mr Murphy is set to resign his Dáil seat, possibly later this week, and become the “cabinet expert” for Bulgarian commissioner Mariya Gabriel, with an expected annual salary of €150,000.

A Dáil committee has been asked to investigate a complaint about Mr Murphy’s Dáil attendance record but will be unable to do so once the Cork North-Central deputy resigns his position.

The Taoiseach reiterated that he had spoken to Mr Murphy over the weekend and “he is willing to co-operate with any investigation by any statutory body into his attendance in Dáil Eireann, whether it’s the ethics committee, the members’ interests committee of the standards in office commission”.

Mr Varadkar was responding to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald who said the four byelections had been a damning verdict on the Government and “people’s suffering under [Minister for Housing] Eoghan Murphy’s housing failures”.

Ms McDonald referred to the letter in The Irish Times by homeless charity founder Fr Peter McVerry who wrote of attending court with a young homeless boy charged with the theft of a bottle of orange valued at €1, of a homeless man charged with the theft of four bars of chocolate valued at €3 and of another charged with the theft of two packets of Silk Cut cigarettes.

“And he contrasts that with a TD on his way to or from a very highly paid double job in Brussels who stops by at the Dáil to sign in so that he can collect his full €51,600 of expenses for attendance at a Dáil that he does not in fact attend.”

Mr Varadkar congratulated Ms McDonald on her party’s “get out the vote operation” in Dublin Mid-West where Sinn Féin’s Mark Ward won the seat.

“We will not be caught off guard on that on the next next occasion,” he added and insisted it was “not begrudgery at all” when he was heckled for his remark.

Sharp exchanges

He said a “get out the vote operation is a great thing” and a “genuine compliment” but he took a swipe at her party when he said “you should not overanalyse your success. Across the four byelections my party won many more votes than yours did so it’s certainly no endorsement of your policies”.

But he said the expenses system needed to change. “And the next Dáil should have a different regime when it comes to expenses and . . . verifying attendance and that should be done independently and separately of this House and the time we make rules for ourselves should end.”

Dara Murphy is expected to be present for the vote of confidence in Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy in the Dáil on Tuesday night. And Ms McDonald said he would make a “guest appearance” to “save the bacon of your failed housing Minister”.

She said the people deserve better than the politics of nod and winks for the boys and a Minister who lacks “humility to admit his housing policy has failed”.

She said workers and families delivered a damning verdict on the Government’s housing failures in the four byelections.