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Saturday 19 October 2019

'Swing-gate' TD Bailey among politicians forced to pay back ineligible expenses after audit

Maria Bailey
Maria Bailey

Two Fine Gael politicians who have been at the centre of controversy over personal injury claims have had to refund expenses payments after an audit found they were ineligible.

'Swing-gate' TD Maria Bailey and party colleague Alan Farrell were among politicians who had to refund expenses payments made under the Public Representation Allowance (PRA) for members of the Dail and Seanad. Their party colleague Senator Michelle Mulherin also had to make a refund to Oireachtas authorities.

Six TDs and Senators were found to have made ineligible claims totalling almost €10,000 in 2017 after the audit by accountancy firm Mazars.

Mr Farrell returned €4,214.79, Ms Muherin paid back €2,006.73 and Ms Bailey refunded €1,977.11. Independent Senator Lynn Ruane refunded €978.81, another Independent Seanad member, Colette Kelleher, gave back €245.85 and Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer returned €227.16.

Both Ms Bailey and Mr Farrell have made headlines over personal injury claims.

Ms Bailey dropped a legal action against the Dean Hotel after she fell from a swing on a night out in 2015.

She took a case against the hotel, claiming injuries. She received medical treatment. However, her case included a claim she had been unable to run "at all" for three months after the incident. It was revealed in May she actually ran a 10km race in less than 54 minutes just three weeks after falling.

She subsequently dropped the legal case.

Whiplash

Mr Farrell won a separate personal injury claim after a 2015 traffic collision and was awarded €2,500 by a court. Judge Michael Coghlan said there was "little or no notation to back up a claim of significant whiplash".

The random audit of 22 Oireachtas members' PRA claims found ineligible expenses from six totalling €9,650.45.

Reasons for claims being disallowed included the expenses not relating to the relevant period and claims not falling within an allowable category.

Mr Farrell said he was "disappointed" what he considered to be "legitimate expenses" were disallowed because the audit guidelines do not allow for customer credit periods.

He said invoices for "legitimate services" acceptable under the PRA issued to him in the final months of 2016 were paid in full in early 2017.

"In one case, the work was completed in January 2017 and verified by a completion report from the company in question. In both instances, the auditor disallowed the expense for the purposes of the 2017 calendar year," the Dublin Fingal TD said.

It's understood that expenses claimed by Ms Mulherin and Mr Buttimer were deemed ineligible because ads or room hire for Senators' clinics for members of the public aren't allowed under the guidelines.

Ms Mulherin said her PRA expenditure is "100pc vouched" and added she didn't gain personally.

She disputed the legal basis for the PRA guidelines on clinics and said she has complained to the Ceann Comhairle.

Ms Ruane said most of her expenses that were considered ineligible were submitted under incorrect headings. She didn't dispute the auditor's findings and "immediately paid it back".

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