herald

Saturday 25 January 2020

TDs and senators get 300,000 calendars and cards printed free

Independent Seamus Healy
Independent Seamus Healy

TDs and senators used Oireachtas printing facilities to produce 271,250 personalised calendars and 34,450 bespoke Christmas cards during the past year.

More than a quarter of the calendars were ordered by Independent Tipperary TD Seamus Healy, who used the free printing facility to produce 70,000 of the items in 2018.

Niall Collins and Timmy Dooley, the Fianna Fail TDs sacked from the party's front bench over the recent Dail voting controversy, each ordered 50,000 calendars during the past 12 months.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was among 33 Oireachtas members who used the printing facility to produce Christmas cards last year, while 26 members used the facility to print calendars during the relevant period.

Fine Gael senators Frank Feighan, Paul Coghlan and Joe O'Reilly printed the largest number of Christmas cards, ordering a total of 3,000 each. Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe was the next largest consumer of festive stationery, ordering 2,500 cards in December 2018.

The cost of the consumables involved in printing the Christmas cards and calendars, such as paper and ink, was just under €10,000. Other costs such as pay for print staff and graphic designers were not available.

One Oireachtas member, Fianna Fail senator Terry Leyden, used the printing facility to produce 500 calendars last year but decided to pay for them himself.

"I thought they were quite useless, frankly. I didn't want the bother of having to explain why I got them," he said.

Mr Leyden said he would "neither encourage nor discourage" his colleagues from following his example of personally covering the cost of printing calendars or Christmas cards.

"I never give advice to other Oireachtas members. It's a matter for themselves - judge not and thou shall not be judged," he said.

Opposed

Seamus Healy defended his use of the taxpayer-funded printing to produce 70,000 calendars last year, pointing to the fact it was the only item he had printed during the 12-month period.

He also explained the calendars featured contact details for important services such as local hospitals, social welfare offices and emergency services.

"Constituents need to have this information at hand so they can quickly access the services to which they are entitled, sometimes in emergency situations," said Mr Healy.

He said he has always opposed unnecessary public expenditure, has voted against pay restoration for TDs and has waived pay increases in each of the past two years.

According to Oireachtas guidelines, the print facility must be used only for material relating to parliament and the representation of constituents. It precludes electioneering or campaign messaging.

The cost of printing facilities for elected representatives has been in the spotlight since it emerged a move to replace equipment with a new printer which did not fit into the building is likely to cost over €2m.

Details of Oireachtas members' use of the print facilities were released under the Freedom of Information Act.

They reveal Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell was at the head of the queue for festive greeting cards last year, placing an order for 500 as early as July 6 and 500 more on November 21.

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