This is the final part of a three part series examining the rewards on offer for Irish politicians. Part One examined direct rewards in detail, Part Two attempte to put these rewards in some context and Part Three today will examine the cost to us all of political parties in the State.
Political party funding
In addition to direct rewards for being a TD, we also pay for the funding of political parties. The funding depends on the number of TDs and senators in each political party. This is how the funding works in 2011
And this is how much the political parties are expected to get from us in 2011.
So what can the political parties use the funding for?
But in practice what is the money spent on? Examining the expense returns submitted by each political party in 2010 – which I presently can’t see anywhere online and can’t post here yet – the following stood out. Yes apparently Fine Gael spent €70,000 (or €76,000, the hand-writing is not very good) on “media training”. And the second is the salary cost for FG leader Enda Kenny in 2010
So how does each party spend the money?
And do they spend it all each year? Not always which might be taken to indicate it is excessive and it is noteworthy that the allocation to parties increased by 48% between 2009 and 2010 – from €5.4m to €8m. And that the amount spent by all parties increased by 31% between 2009 and 2010 – from €5.9m to €7.8m. Austerity is plainly not for political parties in Ireland.
Whilst each party’s spending of its political funding from us must be audited, and I see that the great and good of the Irish accounting sector feature amongst the auditors – PwC and Mazars – the audit remit is to ensure that the money claimed by the party is supported with evidence of the spend. There is no apparent attempt to verify value for money. I see that both Fine Gael and Labour paid their party leaders a salary – something not done by Fianna Fail, the Greens or Sinn Fein in 2010. The amount of funding seems to have increased significantly overall despite the economic crisis facing the country. Independents who receive nearly €42,000 per annum are not required to provide any accounting for the spend, unlike political parties.
Having had the time to verify that the Twitter account above was authentic – are ye listening there, at RTE Frontline – it can be said that this tweet from one of RTE Television’s two political news correspondents dates from Wednesday 22nd February, a few days after the first of this series of blogposts, and a day or two after the post about political interference in NAMA. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the man, David Davin Power is the rapey looking one who is always delivering his piece to camera whilst looking from side to side as if he’s doing the final check on a haircut in a barber’s mirror, perhaps to see that both sides are even; which is gas really, given the number of people who suggest his hair is mad. “Minor academic” indeed! But enough of the ad hominem. As far as David’s political reporting goes, it’s perfectly fine, reflecting over 10 years experience, there’s no finer reporter to tell you of the days political events in the Oireachtas and elsewhere. And in that, he is joined by a creaking bench of political journalists who oftentimes occupy a gallery just above An Ceann Comhairle’s head in the Dail chamber from his own and other media outlets.
The thing is that whilst researching this series of blogposts, I could not find in the print media at all nor in broadcast media any in-depth exposition of the rewards on offer to Irish politicians. And what about politicians hiring family and other members for assistance? Our neighbours in Northern Ireland require the timely notification of such appointments; mind you, they also require the timely notification of outside interests AND the income that attaches to such interests and that is the true natural of democratic transparency. On this side of the Border, such transparency is not only not officially available but there is precious little reporting on such conflicts in the media. It really does seem that the job of an Irish political reporter is to pass on the day’s events and leave it at that. Having said that, in the past couple of weeks, we have seen the Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday report on Minister Ruairi Quinn’s mileage claims with curiously rounded substantial claims in months when his diary suggested he had little official business travel, and in the past week, we have had the almost too brilliantly successful Freedom of Information request which exposed the gobsmackingly high usage of toner cartridges by Aengus O’Snodaigh. Both reports struck a chord with the public, so perhaps media companies will pursue this line. Having said that, this series of blogposts provides an overall picture of rewards on offer, and as far as I can see this picture has not been portrayed before.