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Archive for February 18th, 2012

“The One Stop Shop is an information service for all Members relating to salary and allowances. The office also assists Members to access any other Houses of the Oireachtas office service.   It is located on the ground floor, room C 2.60 of Leinster House 2000. Office hours are 9.45am to 6pm Monday to Thursday and 5.45pm on Friday.  The office is also open during lunchtimes on sitting days.  The telephone number is 01 618 4693.” Introduction to the Oireachtas One Stop Shop – our politicians need a dedicated service given the depth and range of salary and allowances to which they are entitled

Let’s start off with a joke. In the Dail (Irish parliament) there is a so-called whip system whereby a politician from each political party is appointed to the post of whip to that party, and their job is to ensure party members turn up at work, that they vote in accordance with the leadership’s wishes and that party members are disciplined. A special additional salary payment is made to the party whip. The Socialist Party has two elected Teachta Dala (TDs, or deputies) – Clare Daly and Joe Higgins. One of them – I’m not sure which, because presumably they are too ashamed to publicly declare it – is entitled to receive a special additional salary payment of €6,000 per annum to be the Socialist Party whip! Cue the punch-line drum roll! Except it’s not a joke, and by the time you finish this blogpost on political pay and allowances in Ireland, you will not be laughing.

This country is bankrupt with an annual deficit of €15bn, in other words we need borrow €300m a week just to keep the country going. We are being bailed out by the IMF and others. We are steadily travelling in a trajectory that will see a debt:GDP of nearly 120% next year or 140%-plus of GNP, or according to most economists, on the border if not having exceeded sustainable levels. We have €3.8bn of new taxes and cuts to services in 2012, next year we will have an additional adjustment of €3.5bn, in 2014 it will be €3.1bn and in 2015 it will be €2bn, and these cuts will be cumulative, so that by 2015 – and in comparison with 2011 – there will be an annual adjustment of €12.4bn. If you think a €100 household charge here, a €5 septic tank registration fee there, a cut to emergency payments or the deterioration in public services after this month’s early retirements are anything, then you ain’t seen nothing yet.

This entry is part one of a two part blogpost examining the salaries, allowances, benefits, perks and entitlements paid to our politicians in our bankrupt country. Part One details most of the financial rewards on offer and is largely derived from Oireachtas inhouse publications, particularly the One Stop Shop and The Members Termination and Pension Entitlements guide as well as responses to parliamentary questions. The delightfully-named “One Stop Shop” is an internal Oireachtas department that helps politicians understand the various components to their salaries and entitlements. You might think its guide set out all the goodies on offer, but it doesn’t and this blogpost has also rooted out other benefits from other sources and has identified other goodies which will be described in Part Two which will be published next Sunday and focuses on the damage done to society and the economy by our gobsmackingly overpaid politicians and expensive political system.

There are three aims of this blogpost (1) to highlight the rewards on offer to politicians in our bankrupt country – these rewards are salary, additional office payments, unvouched allowances, pension, perks and allowances for expenditure which give rise to potential for personal income eg being paid up to  €1.14 per mile as a car allowance and (2) to highlight the cost of our political system, some of the expenses described below will be vouched so the politician doesn’t make a personal profit; nonetheless the country must bear the cost and (3) highlight the potential for chicanery with politicians employing, or buying goods from, family members, and the absence of any oversight on political performance.

Just to recap we have 166 TDs in the Dail, 75 FG, 35 Labour, 19 FF, 14 SF, 2 Socialist Party, 2 People before Profit, 1 Workers and Unemployed Action Group and 18 independents (including 4 independents who had previously lost the party whip). We have one TD per 27,500 men, women, children. In addition we have 60 senators in the Seanad, 20 FG, 14 FF, 12 Labour, 3 SF and 11 independents.

Dail
Basic TD: €92,672 a year, that is, €7,722 a month or €1,782 per week. The recent history of the basic salary is shown in this Oireachtas written response by the late Brian Lenihan.

 

PLUS Additional Salary payment:
Minister of State (15): €37,370
Super Minister of State (Jan O’Sullivan, Paul Kehoe): €17,205 PLUS €37,370
Minister (15): €76,603
Tanaiste: €91,733
Taoiseach: €107,328
Opposition Leader*
Deputy Opposition Leader*

Ceann Comhairle (Sean Barrett): €76,603
Leas-Ceann Comhairle (Michael Kitt): €37,370
Chairpersons of Oireachtas Committees (Andrew Doyle, Ciarán Lynch, Dominic Hannigan, Alex White, Pat Breen,Jerry Buttimer, Joanna Tuffy, Peadar Tóibín, Damien English, David Stanton, Thomas Pringle, Seán Barrett, John McGuinness , Tom Hayes): €9,500
Member of Oireachtas Commission(Senator  John Whelan, Senator  Tom Sheahan, Senator  Marc MacSharry, Deputy  Frank Feighan, Deputy  Dan Neville, Deputy  John Browne, Deputy  Catherine Byrne, Deputy Jack Wall ): €9,500

Whips
The office of “whip” is supposed to maintain party discipline, ensure members turn up to vote and ensure members vote in line with the party leadership.
Chief Whip (Paul Kehoe): no payment specified in One Stop Shop
Assistant Government Whip (Emmet Stagg): €15,000
Whip to Labour Party (Emmet Stagg): no payment specified in One Stop Shop
Asst Whip to Fine Gael (Joe Carey): €7,500
Asst Whip to Labour (John Lyons): €6,000
Whip to Fianna Fail (Sean O’Fearghail): €19,000
Asst Whip to Fianna Fail (John Browne): €9,500
Whip to Sinn Fein (Aengus Ó Snodaigh): €6,000
Asst Whip to Sinn Fein (Jonathan O’Brien): €3,000
Whip to Socialist Party (): €6,000
Whip to People Before Profit (): €6,000

The additional salary above is added to the basic salary, so for example, An Taoiseach receives €200,000 per annum comprising a TDs salary of €92,672 plus An Taoiseach’s additional salary payment of €107,328.

Seanad
Senators: €65,621 a year, that is, €5,468 a month or €1,262 per week

PLUS Additional Salary payment:
Cathaoirleach (Paddy Burke):  €44,336
Leas-Chathaoirleach (Denis O’Donovan): €24,429
Leader of the Seanad (Maurice Cummins): €19,439
Deputy Leader of the House (Ivana Bacik): €9,500
Government Whip (Paul Coghlan): €6,000
Assistant Government Whip (Susan O’Keeffe): €4,000
Fianna Fáil Leader (Darragh O’Brien): €9,500
Independent Group of Nominee Senators’ Leader (Jillian Van Turnhout): €6,000
Independent Group of University Senators’ Leader (Ronan Mullen): €6,000
Fianna Fáil Whip (Diarmuid Wilson): €6,000
Independent Group of Nominee Senators’ Whip (Katherine Zappone): €4,000
Independent Group of University Senators’ Whip (Sean Barrett):  €4,000
Select Committee on Members’ Interests of Seanad Éireann (Ivana Bacik, Deirdre Clune,David Cullinane, Maurice Cummins, Ronan Mullen, Darragh O’Brien, Jillian Turnhout) : €3,100 per annum

Dail and Seanad
Pension
TDs and senators contribute 6% of their salary a year for up to a maximum of 20 years in order to benefit from the Dail pension scheme. The scheme has different conditions depending on whether or not you joined before 2004. There are payments due to the politician under the scheme and to widow(ers) and children in the case of death. It is a final salary scheme which allows for a maximum of ½ the final salary to be paid for life from aged 65 – 1/40th of final salary is accrued for each year of service. It provides for a lump sum upon retirement and it is possible to take early retirement from age 50. It is hoped that in part two of this blogpost, there will be an estimate of how much the Oireachtas scheme would cost an employee an employee to buy in a private company.

Allowances
Travel and Accommodation: €12,000-€37,850 per annum depending on distance from the Leinster House. Senators get paid €7,000-€32,850 per annum and so-called “office holders” get paid €8,400-€36,150 per annum
Public Representation Allowance: €15,000 for TDs (no evidence of expenditure required – unvouched) or up to €25,700 (supported by invoices and receipts – vouched); Ministers €12,000 (unvouched) to €20,000 (vouched); Senators €9,250 (unvouched) to €15,000 (vouched)
Dual Abode allowance:  This applies to ministers only and allows Ministers to claim tax deductions on mortgages, rental or hotel accommodation PLUS tax deductions for maintaining property and other expenses which can be up to €6,500 UNVOUCHED. According to Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan “a tax deduction can be claimed in respect of the amount of the annual interest actually paid on any loan taken out to purchase the second residence. In addition, Ministers can claim a deduction for the actual vouched costs expended in maintaining the second residence. Examples of maintenance costs in such circumstances are lighting, heating, repairs and insurance. As an alternative to vouched maintenance expenses, a tax deduction may be claimed on an amount of €6,500 per annum.” And “If the second residence is rented accommodation, Ministers can claim for the actual cost of renting the accommodation (i.e. the annual rent). In addition, Ministers can claim a tax deduction for the actual vouched costs expended in maintaining the second residence. Examples of maintenance costs in such circumstances are lighting, heating and insurance of contents. As an alternative to vouched expenses, a tax deduction may be claimed on an amount of €4,500 per annum” and “If Ministers use hotel or guesthouse accommodation as a second residence, they can claim for the actual cost of room rental (i.e. the annual hotel/guest house bill excluding meals, etc). In addition, they can claim for the actual vouched additional costs associated with maintaining a second residence in a hotel. Examples of maintenance costs in such circumstances are laundry, etc. As an alternative to vouched expenses, a tax deduction may be claimed on an amount of €3,500 per annum.”

Independents allowance^
This is reported to be €41,152 per annum each for the 18 independent TDs (Stephen Donnelly, Luke Flanagan, Mick Wallace, Shane Ross, Thomas Pringle, Michael Healy-Rae, Michael Lowry, Finian McGrath, Mattie McGrath, Tom Fleming, Noel Grealish, John Halligan, Catherine Murphy, Maureen O’Sullivan PLUS four TDs who have had the party whip removed Tommy Broughan, Willie Penrose, Denis Naughten and Patrick Nulty ); it has been suggested that loss of a party whip doesn’t automatically give an entitlement to an independent’s allowance, and that a member must be elected as an independent before becoming entitled to that allowance.

and €23,388 for 11 independent senators (John Crown, David Norris, Sean Barrett, Martin McAleese, Feargal Quinn, Ronan Mullen, Fiach Mac Conghail, Marie-Louise O’Donnell, Jillian van Turnhout, Katherine Zappone, Mary Ann O’Brien – note the 12th independent Eamonn Coghlan joined Fine Gael last week)

Termination payments
Last November 2011, Minister for Housing Willie Penrose is reported to have been paid a termination payment when he resigned his ministerial post following a dispute over the closing of a military barracks in his constituency. The payment was reported to have totalled €30,000. Minister Penrose had been in the ministerial post for eight months. I can’t find anything in the One Stop Shop on this termination payment.
However the pensions guide does set out termination payments for ordinary TDs and senators. You get a lump sum upon termination PLUS a monthly payment for up to a year. As long as you have at least six months service in either the Dail or Seanad, you get a termination payment of two months salary. The monthly payment depends on how many years you’ve been a TD or senator eg for five years, you get three months at 75% of your salary. If you have over 14 years service, then you’d be entitled to 6 months at 75% of salary plus the following six months at 50% of salary.

Anything else?
Mileage allowances for ministers of up to €1.14 per mile for cars of 2001cc and above for the first 4,000 miles. Not bad compensation for losing ministerial cars and drivers which, incidentally, are still provided to An Taoiseach, An Tanaiste and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence.


Each minister and minister of state, except An Taoiseach, An Tanaiste and justice minister, is entitled to recruit two drivers apiece at a cost which is charged to each department.
When ministers spend the night in a hotel, they can get reimbursed for the cost of the hotel PLUS 15% as a service charge – movies and laundry I guess – plus €72.66 for subsistence – those mini-bars are bandits!
When any members attend certain so-called “parliamentary assemblies” eg the OSCE, they can claim hotel expenses, a subsistence allowance plus up to 80% of the allowance for “casual entertaining”
A Parliamentary Assistant
Up to €41,092 per TD for secretarial assistance, PR, IT and training
€8,000 per TD to set up and kit out a constituency office
Free parking in central Dublin
Gym
Subsidised restaurant
Private Members bar at Leinster House with subsidised drinks
Free tax advice service
Free language lessons
Postage – 1,500 free postage items per month for TDs and 1,000 for senators
Free toner cartridges up to a maximum value of €2,000 annually (reporting suggests this was introduced after Sinn Fein’s Aengus O’Snodaigh had been requesting 2-3 toner cartridges per day at a cost of about €130 each)
Free unlimited fixed line telephone calls
Max of €750 every 18 months to buy a new mobile phone
Dail office and conference room facilities
VHI Group scheme (this is paid for)
Automobile Association group scheme (eg €46 for Home Start)
Insurance (eg Contents cover for constituency office €51.50)
Personal Accident (prices not available) and death insurance (costs €60-90 per month)

Keeping it in the family
In Northern Ireland, it is a requirement of membership of the Assembly that members report any payments made to family members. So if a politician employs their spouse as an assistant, that is reported and made public. We don’t have any such reporting requirement in our republic. But surely our media would have exposed such practices if they were widespread. Surely there can’t be an army of underqualified, underworked €41k a year parliamentary assistants or secretaries who happen to be wives, husbands  and close family members given sweetheart jobs?

The lights are on, but is there anyone home
Michael Lowry, the controversial independent TD from Tipperary has been assigned to seat B28 in the Dail, that’s beside Mattie McGrath and Michael Healy-Rae on the front bench to the right of the speaker. Has anyone seen Michael in that seat since his speech last year in response to the Moriarty Tribunal? Of course you don’t need to be in the Dail chamber itself to observe what’s going on, and you can submit written questions. But in order to speak in debates you have to be there, they don’t do Skype yet! Maybe he’s just been coincidentally absent whenever I’ve viewed proceedings. And of course he may be performing other tasks for constituents, making phone calls, writing letters or he may be in meetings. He’s not a member of any Oireachtas committees but he does submit the odd written question. According to the Leinster House record of attendance, he has been present in the building for all 101 days in the period Feb-Dec 2011. His website does show some of his activities and he says he does write to ministers directly. His website shows him “calling for” lots of things, but it is unclear how exactly he does “call”.

In order to be present in the building, you have to tap your key fob against one of the terminals located around Leinster House, pictured below. You can also sign in at the One Stop Shop and should you do neither you can still retrospectively claim attendance if you can prove you booked a room or can show you were in the Dail, for example on video playback.

Part One today has been about stenography, recording what our politicians are paid. Part Two will examine the context of these salaries and costs.

* Not known. This is paid out of funding provided by the State to political parties. In 2010 the leader and deputy leader of the Labour party are reported to have received a combined total of €22,100. It is not clear what payments are made today to the leaders and deputy leaders of opposition parties.

^ In addition to directly paid allowances, political parties receive State funding and reporting on the use of such funding shows that it is used by political parties for rent, travel and subsistence, meetings, entertainment, telephone costs. The Labour party is reported to have received €14.5m between 2004-2010, an average of over €2m a year Some of these expenses may be claimed by politicians.

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