What is most galling about the use of tax-payer funded travel expenses by our Independent TDs and members of the Technical Group in Dail Eireann that has come to light of late, is not so much the fact that such misappropriation of funds occurred, but that the deputies in question so adamantly justified their entitlement to use public moneys in this way.
So blinkered were those defending the carry-on that one member of the socialist party, Michael O'Brien, wrote this week: “It is scurrilous and underhand to suggest some kind of impropriety in using a Dail travel allowance to travel around the country addressing mass meetings and rallies against the Household Tax or indeed any other issue.
“Statutory Instrument 84/2010 refers clearly to a travel allowance that is to be used for ‘travel expenses which the member is obliged to incur in the performance of his or her duties as a member of Dáil Eireann’. It is our duty to campaign for ordinary working class people against the baleful hardship imposed by the destructive austerity agenda.”
Perhaps Mr O’Brien may eventually acknowledge – following the clarification of the definitive reach of travel expenses for individual TDs by the Oireachtas as relating to constituency work only – that it is not actually his ‘duty’ to willy nilly travel the length and breadth of Ireland incurring mileage, accommodation, and hospitality costs at tax-payers’ expense on whichsoever (law-breaking ) causes he decides to campaign on. Interestingly, the term poses no confusion among ordinary working people who are generally accountable for every cent spent on fuel to attend work-related events.
Following public backlash on the issue, Socialist TD Joe O’Higgins was at least seen to pull in his horns somewhat by Wednesday of this week, when he released a breakdown of “the costs, which I sought to recoup for the period of January to June 2012” amounting to a grand total of €995 - which included a €74 train ticket journey from Dublin to Castlebar.
While we still await further details of expenses sought in relation to accommodation (Deputy Higgins boasted in a radio interview that he wasn’t one to stay in ‘four-star hotels’ ) and hospitality expenses (eating and drinking ) also claimed on these trips, it is now clear that the entire theme of political salaries and expenses is one that urgently requires scrutiny and clarification. The very fact that unvouched expenses exist in the first place is entirely wrong. Such liberties would never apply in the private sector, which must operate on the basis of moneys in, moneys out and striking a balance.
The travel expenses issue also draws attention to the controversial notion of certain TDs currently claiming to live on the “average industrial wage”, having sacrificed the remainder of their salary entitlement to various causes. These include members of Sinn Fein particularly, alongside one Fine Gael deputy who was highlighted by the national media last week for ‘donating’ part of his salary to provide a teaching job for a constituent.
Members of Dail Eireann who ‘live on the average industrial wage’ yet draw down a full TD salary and claim expenses, are not saving the tax-payer one cent. The fact that they choose or go along with party rules to hand over a portion of their salary, is of no consequence whatsoever to the general public. Even creating one job with part of a TD salary is not worthy of note. Tax-payers did not ask TDs to use their money to set aside for someone else’s salary. Tax-payers did not ask Sinn Fein TDs to divert €50,000 or more of their salaries to Sinn Fein party coffers.
Tax-payers are not aware or do not require to know how other TDs spend their salaries or whether they are philanthropic or charity-supporting by nature. However, in those cases where TDs like to boast they are “living on the industrial wage”, they should only be allowed draw down this exact wage from their full Dail entitlement – and let tax-payers decide how the rest of the money be spent.