TDs to vote themselves extra funds before Christmas

 

NEW legislation increasing funding for party offices in Leinster House from £600,000 to £1.5 million, and also adjusting TDs' expenses, is to be rushed through the Dail tonight, passing all stages between 9.30 and II p.m.

It is very rare for a Bill not to be published until the same day that it is due to be passed. Government sources said the final version had to be approved by Cabinet this morning.

It is understood opposition parties have been consulted on the contents of the Oireachtas (Miscellaneous Provisions & Ministerial & Parliamentary Offices) Bill, 1996 which is being introduced by the Minister for Finance, Mr Quinn.

The Bill revises the system of party leaders' allowances. At present almost £600,000 is provided to parties with seven or more seats in the Dail. This amount is to be increased to £1.5 million and distributed more widely, bringing Democratic Left, the Greens and independents into the system.

The bulk of the funds is provided to leaders of opposition parties on the basis that they cannot avail of Civil Service assistance. At present the funds are divided as follows: Fianna Fail £296,745; Progressive Democrats £147,429; Fine Gael £104,804; Labour £45,079.

But this arrangement was considered unconstitutional following the Supreme Court ruling in the McKenna case on political funding. Under the new legislation, described by Government sources as "more logical and rational", funding will be made available to DL, the Greens and independents.

Fianna Fail sources said the entire amount provided to their party leader was spent on employing staff, that it was insufficient and the balance had to be made up from the party's own resources.

They believed the new arrangements would be "severely discriminatory" against the large parties, but other sources said the bigger parties would do well.

Labour sources said Mr Quinn was endeavouring to create a more equitable method of distribution.

A spokesman for the Department of Finance said the Bill was also intended "to provide a legislative base for employment of secretarial assistants".