Sen­a­tors and TDs seek an ex­tra €5k per year for travel …all tax-free

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - NEWS - By Ken Foxe [email protected]­sun­day.ie

THE Depart­ment of Pub­lic Ex­pen­di­ture has been asked to give TDs and sen­a­tors more than €5,000 ex­tra in un­vouched, tax-free travel and ac­com­mo­da­tion ex­penses – be­cause ho­tels in Dublin are too ex­pen­sive.

The sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Oireach­tas wrote to the depart­ment ask­ing if it in­tended to re­view the rate of overnight sub­sis­tence that ap­plies to politi­cians in light of a ma­jor hike in rates for civil ser­vants.

The let­ter ex­plains how TDs and sen­a­tors cur­rently re­ceive a rate of €98.10 per overnight stay in Dublin but that this is now sig­nif­i­cantly lower than

Hike would bring pay­out to €20k a year

the rate for other pub­lic ser­vants, which has been in­creased to €133.73.

The let­ter from sec­re­tary gen­eral Peter Fin­negan was made pub­lic by the Oireach­tas af­ter an ap­peal un­der Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion leg­is­la­tion. Ac­cess to it had orig­i­nally been re­fused on the ba­sis its re­lease could ‘con­tam­i­nate’ a re­view of ex­penses and al­lowances for politi­cians.

The let­ter was sent to Robert Watt, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Ex­pen­di­ture, in De­cem­ber of last year fol­low­ing the re­view of civil ser­vice ex­pense rates.

‘The rate for ac­com­mo­da­tion in Dublin has been in­creased to €133.73 due to the dif­fi­culty in sourc­ing suit­able ac­com­mo­da­tion in Dublin within the stan­dard rate,’ wrote Mr Fin­negan.

He ex­plained that TDs and sen­a­tors were paid for 150 overnights as part of their travel and ac­com­mo­da­tion al­lowance. This is paid in full if they meet at­ten­dance re­quire­ments in Le­in­ster House.

Un­der the cur­rent sys­tem, it is paid at the rate of €98.10 a night and in a cal­en­dar year is worth €14,715 in an un­vouched and un­taxed al­lowance.

Were the higher civil ser­vice rate to ap­ply, it would in­crease the an­nual value of the ac­com­mo­da­tion al­lowance to €20,059, a hike of €5,344.

Mr Fin­negan wrote: ‘In look­ing at this is­sue, it is noted that the rate payable for overnight ac­com­mo­da­tion to civil ser­vants has been in­creased since 2013, while the TAA [travel and ac­com­mo­da­tion al­lowance] has re­mained the same.

‘As the TAA rate for members has gen­er­ally fol­lowed the rate payable to civil ser­vants for overnight ac­com­mo­da­tion in the past, I would ap­pre­ci­ate if you could ad­vise if, as the reg­u­la­tory au­thor­ity in this mat­ter, the depart­ment … in­tend to re­view the rates payable to members.’

The let­ter is part of a se­cret re­view within the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Ex­pen­di­ture of sev­eral as­pects of how politi­cians are paid ex­penses.

It is un­der­stood pres­sure has been in­creas­ing from TDs and sen­a­tors over the cost of ac­com­mo­da­tion in Dublin.

Ear­lier this week, it was re­ported that ju­nior min­is­ters had com­plained to Fi­nance Minister Paschal Dono­hoe about the rate of ex­penses they re­ceive when set against spi­ralling ho­tel costs.

The Gov­ern­ment in­creased the VAT rate for ho­tels to 13.5% from 9% in Oc­to­ber’s Bud­get and this takes ef­fect from Jan­uary 1. It was a re­ver­sal of the 2012 de­ci­sion to cut the tax by the same mar­gin in an ef­fort to stim­u­late the sec­tor. The de­part­men­tal re­view is look­ing at four sep­a­rate ar­eas of the ex­penses regime, ac­cord­ing to records ob­tained un­der FoI.

Ac­cess to the records them­selves has been re­fused, with the depart­ment say­ing they are ‘still un­der con­sid­er­a­tion’ and that no de­ci­sion on them has been made. As well as the overnight rate paid to politi­cians, the re­view is ex­am­in­ing the sys­tem of travel bands that ap­plies for pay­ment of travel and ac­com­mo­da­tion. Un­der the cur­rent sys­tem, ‘com­muter belt’ TDs and sen­a­tors liv­ing be­tween 25km and 60km from Dublin re­ceive the full overnight al­lowance even though they can eas­ily drive to and from work.

The depart­ment is also look­ing at how to pay ex­penses to ‘ex­pat sen­a­tors’ who are liv­ing out­side of the coun­try and is bring­ing for­ward pro­pos­als for a pos­si­ble ma­ter­nity al­lowance. The ma­ter­nity al­lowance pro­pos­als were pre­vi­ously re­vealed by the Ir­ish Mail on Sun­day.

The depart­ment said it had no com­ment to make on the re­view of ex­penses be­cause the doc­u­ments in­volved were the sub­ject of an ap­peal un­der FoI laws. In a state­ment, it said: ‘Pend­ing the out­come of the ap­peal we are not in a po­si­tion to com­ment.’

A spokesman for the Oireach­tas said the let­ter re­leased was ‘self-ex­plana­tory’ and that it was im­por­tant to note that what was asked was if the depart­ment in­tended ‘to re­view the rates payable to members’.

Paschal Dono­hoe re­ceived com­plaints

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