herald

Monday 18 December 2017

Senators claim €1.65m expenses in just 8 months

SENATORS have shared a staggering €1.65m expenses pot in just eight months -- despite not actually having designated constituencies.

As the furore over the scale of the Oireachtas gravy train continues, the spotlight has now shifted to those in the Upper House.

The 60 senators, many of whom have spoken in just a handful of debates, have clocked up an extraordinary bill of close to €1.65m.

This means the taxpayer must fork out over €20,000 for every day the Seanad sits.

Some €188,000 was handed over in expenses in December alone, compared to the €600,000 claimed by their colleagues in the Dail during the same period.







Salary

Senators are entitled to a "travel and accommodation allowance" as well as a "public representation allowance", which is used for organising meetings, printing leaflets and other similar costs.

However, the fact that senators have no designated constituencies, unlike TDs, is sure to lead to renewed calls for the house to be scrapped.

And the expenses figures are revealed less than a month after we learned of a €23,000 tax-free sum being paid to 12 independent senators.

The unvouched money is similar to an allowance allocated to party leaders. Despite strong calls to return the cash, no recipient has yet done so.

The expenses comes on top of the €65,000 salary drawn by the average senator.

Topping the list of recipients is Mary Ann O'Brien, who has claimed over €46,000 in expenses since April.

The Independent senator -- who was hand-picked for the Seanad by Taoiseach Enda Kenny -- took home over €23,000 in travel and accommodation allowance as well as her €23,000 independent payment.

She didn't respond to the Herald when queried about her expenses. Ms O'Brien is followed by fellow Independents Sean Barrett (€45,000) and Katherine Zappone (€44,500).

Of party senators, Fianna Fail's Mark Daly claimed over €35,000 in expenses, followed by his party colleague Denis O'Donovan (€33,700) and Fine Gael's Fidelma Healy Eames (€33,000).

And the huge number of senators that avail of the "unvouched expenses" system will also raise alarm bells.

Some 75pc of the senators choose the unvouched system, with just 15 backing up their expenses with receipts.

An examination of all Seanad debates reveals that several senators are making just a handful of official contributions.

Topping the list is Labour's Lorraine Higgins, who has spoken in just six debates in the space of six months.

Independent senator Eamonn Coghlan recorded just 11 debate contributions, followed by Labour's James Heffernan and Fine Gael's Terry Brennan who made 15 contributions.

hnews@herald.ie

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