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