12 independent senators defend €23k handouts
INDEPENDENT senators have defended a controversial €23,000 tax-free payment which was revealed as 1,200 job losses were announced around the country.
The money, which needs no receipts, is paid to the 12 non-party senators and is similar to an allowance given to party leaders.
But the Oireachtas members have been reluctant to explain how they spend it and a number have refused to answer questions about the money.
The tax-free payment is on top of the senator's €65,000 salary and travel expenses.
The controversy over the payments has broken out as Ulster Bank announced plans to axe 950 jobs -- 600 in the Republic. One hundred staff of the Issac Group hotel chain will also lose their jobs, while in Waterford Honeywell Measurex has cut 32 jobs and Cruzzo's restaurant in Malahide in Dublin has closed.
Sean Fleming (pictured), Fianna Fail's public spending spokesman, questioned the payments at a Dail Public Accounts Committee hearing saying they had to be reformed.
"These payments should be vouched independently, audited and lodged with the SIPO. We need to ensure politics is open and transparent," he said.
While some senators declined to comment on the payments, others insisted the money went on political and research projects. Meanwhile, independent TDs and senators are facing a clampdown on their allowances as Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin reviews the payment and has promised to bring proposals to Government early this year.