Department believed “private papers” law should never have been applied to political expenses

The plot thickens in the saga of the “private papers” and how a law meant to protect sensitive communications has been cynically misused to keep political expenses secret.

In February of this year, the Department of Public Expenditure answered some questions from me after I asked about the decision by the Information Commissioner to refuse public access to the expenses of TDs and Senators using the “private papers” excuse.

The Department said they had no comment to make on the ruling by the Information Commissioner.

But they did say that any paper in possession of a TD or Senator in relation to their political (or party-political) role falls within the definition of a “private paper”.

DPER Response

But now it turns out they didn’t believe that at all but perhaps felt they could not interfere in the Information Commissioner’s decision.

In a series of internal emails released to me following a subsequent FOI request, a number of senior civil servants and advisers were expressing serious disquiet about the “private papers” defence.

The most damning is from Assistant Secretary William Beausang to Ronan O’Brien, the special adviser to then Minister Brendan Howlin:

Beausang Email

The second was the query Ronan O’Brien had sent to William Beausang in the first place:

O'Brien Email

And lastly, an email between two civil servants in the Department, both of whom have considerable expertise in the area of Freedom of Information:

O'Connor Email

Between this and the video of Minister Brendan Howlin explicitly saying that expenses were “procedural” and would not qualify as private papers, it is hard to see how this shameful decision can be allowed to stand.

One or other of the Information Commissioner, Oireachtas, or Department of Public Expenditure needs to reexamine this in the public interest.

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How could political expenses be classified as “private papers” when the Minister responsible said it should not apply to them?

The most frustrating aspect of the entire saga of how political expenses came to be classified as “private papers” has been the fact that this simply should not have happened.

The designation of “private papers” had a very specific function, and it was designed to allow TDs and Senators do their job without fear that their communications could be accessed afterwards.

The legislation was introduced by Minister Brendan Howlin and he had a very specific, personal, and justified reason for wanting it.

Many years previously when he had been contacted by whistle-blowers in relation to garda corruption in Co Donegal, extreme pressure was later put on to try and get access to their identity.

And Mr Howlin was completely right that this type of protection was needed for such sensitive types of communication.

However, and this is a big however, he made very clear that this designation of “private papers” was not intended to be a catch-all for all sorts of records.

When myself and Fred Logue made our appeal to the Information Commissioner, we knew that, not least because then Minister Howlin had been clear that “procedural” documents should not be included when the matter came up for debate at committee stage back in 2013.

Procedural Papers

So we thought that this was at the very least grounds for a reconsideration of the matter by the Information Commissioner. Unfortunately, he did not agree (as you can read about here).

Now, it has emerged that the exchange upon which we relied from the Oireachtas website did not even given the full picture. In fact, the conversation had been much more explicit in its conclusion.

The transcript is missing one critical word … the word expenses, as you can see at the following link.

So when the Minister responsible for the legislation was very clearly asked if things like expenses, mileage and attendance records would constitute “private papers”.

His response was crystal clear: “They’re not private papers.”

Yet here we are three years later – and political expenses are being hidden from public view by classifying them as “private papers”?

And you would really have to ask the question how that has been allowed to happen?

In a further extraordinary intervention, the Minister for Public Reform Paschal Donohoe has waded into the debate with a bit of a nothing to see here approach.

He said: “The ruling that they [the Information Commissioner] have made is that they are seen as private papers.”

But no, that is not the ruling the Information Commissioner made.

That was the ruling the Houses of the Oireachtas made, and the Information Commissioner felt he could not disagree with it.

It is only the politicians who want to keep these papers private.

The Information Commissioner has already made clear he believes that political expenses should be made public.

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Private Papers update: Information Commissioner refuses to re-examine his decision on keeping political expenses secret

The saga of politicians, their expenses and whether they should be considered “private papers” has been rumbling on for almost two years now.

Unfortunately, the battle to have the receipts and invoices of TDs and Senators made public has hit another brick wall and the Information Commissioner has said he will not reconsider his original decision.

Despite what we thought was a strong case put together by myself and with enormous assistance from Fred Logue, the case has been “discontinued”.

The decision also comes despite the Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall’s own personal concerns about the perils of keeping political expenses secret.

In a letter explaining why they were discontinuing the case, the Office of the Information Commissioner said none of the arguments we made “would result in [them] … reversing [their original] decision”.

That now leaves realistically two options: a judicial review, or the possibility that politicians might reform the system themselves.

With the chances of politicians fixing something that benefits only themselves so remote, that leaves only a judicial review.

And that obviously is under consideration … with the reality that it would have to be paid for somehow.

For those who are interested in such things, a copy of the letter of discontinuation from the Office of the Information Commissioner, the original letter seeking review, and a copy of the final email pleading not to discontinue (with some personal details removed) are below.

I would urge all readers again to support Right to Know and the work we are trying to do to pursue transparency in our unnecessarily secretive country.

You can read more about the “private papers” saga here, here and here

 

 

Dear Sir,

I wish to make a submission to the Office of the Information Commissioner regarding the decision, which has been made to discontinue the review (Ref. 160177).

You have explained that this decision has been made because the matter to which the application relates has been the subject of another review.

I am opposed to this on a number of grounds:

– The records sought are not the same set of records sought under a previous request and relate to a different year.

– The grounds for refusing access to these records by the Oireachtas are much different to the original grounds for refusal, and include an important new rationale. This rationale is explained in detail in their decision letter and has not been examined yet by the Office of the Information Commissioner.

– The standing orders underpinning the refusal have been amended since the original decision was made by the Office of the Information Commissioner. This also needs to be considered as part of any decision on these records.

– The matter is of significant public importance as acknowledged by the Information Commissioner in remarks made at publication of your annual report. Discontinuation of this appeal means it will be impossible to pursue this matter any further.

– The question has not been addressed as to whether it is within the powers of the Information Commissioner to make a determination of what constitutes “private papers”.

I do not believe Section 22(9)(a)(iii) is a strong enough reason for discontinuation when so many facts have changed since the original request.

Although the request is being made by the same person, the records are not the same, the same reasons for refusal are not being relied upon, and significant changes have been made to the standing orders underpinning that original refusal.

The Information Commissioner has already stated publicly that his decision in this case was made very “reluctantly”.

He has gone as far as to say that the Oireachtas should reconsider whether the decision was justified and consider releasing the records concerned.

Given his remarks, it is clear that this matter is one of significant public interest, and given he has asked the Oireachtas to reconsider their position, I would ask that he reconsider his own position on this matter.

I believe that the Information Commissioner should reconsider this matter, and if necessary state a case to the High Court on the matter.

Yours Sincerely,

Ken Foxe

 

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Nine HSE pensioners received lump sums worth more than €400,000 on retirement while 16 get annual pensions of over €125,000

NINE former senior staff of the Health Service Executive were paid lump sums in excess of €400,000 when they retired from their jobs.

The nine pensioners were among 232 HSE employees who have walked away with golden handshakes worth more than €160,000 over the past six years.

These enormous lump sums have cost the taxpayer €63.5 million even while their former employers in the health service struggled desperately with cost over-runs and keeping to their yearly budgets.

The 232 former staff are also entitled to generous pensions, with 16 of them in receipt of annual payments worth between €125,000 and €139,000.

Another 78 are paid at least €100,000-a-year in their pension, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the HSE.

HSE Pensions

The pensions have, at a conservative estimate – and based on the assumption that all of the individuals are still alive –  cost €76 million to pay since 2010.

And they will for each year that they all continue to be paid cost just over €20 million more annually for the HSE.

Details of the pensions have been provided in a heavily anonymised format so that individuals cannot be identified based on previous pay.

They show that of the people who received lump sums worth more than €400,000, five retired in 2010 and four more the following year.

Nineteen more were paid lump sums of between €350,000 and €400,000 with two of them having only finished working with the HSE in 2015.

Another 68 former staff got between €300,000 and €350,000, with a raft of senior retirements over the course of three years: 26 in 2010, 17 in 2011, and 21 in 2012.

The sheer scale of lump sum payment does appear to have levelled off over recent years with a steady rise in the numbers being paid at the still incredibly generous rate of between €250,000 and €300,000.

The highest earning pensioners on an annual basis all departed between 2010 and 2013, according to the records.

Of those being paid between €125,000 and €139,000, nine ceased working in 2010, 3 in 2011, 3 in 2012, and a single person in 2013.

There was a raft of departures between 2010 and 2012 with enormous annual pension payments being made although the rates of pay will have faced cuts in recent years under financial emergency measures.

Of those being paid between €100,000 and €125,000, 29 left service in 2010, 22 in 2011 and another 20 in 2012. Three people who retired last year are also in that category.

Another 59 people are getting an annual pension worth between €75,000 and €100,000, while 76 receive an annual package worth between €50,000 and €75,000.

The HSE said in a statement: “Pension figures are calculated in accordance to pension scheme rules. Retirement benefits, retirement lump sum and annual pension allowance, are calculated on the scheme member’s pensionable remuneration at retirement.

“Pensionable remuneration comprises annual salary and pensionable emoluments. Emoluments consist of additional payments such as regular allowances … there were no enhanced arrangements in place for HSE staff.”

They said retired employees were entitled to their retirement benefits as calculated in accordance with the rules and that public sector pension reductions had applied to “all HSE pensioners”.

The figures were revealed in the week that the government disclosed figures to Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty that 500 public sector pension earners get more than €100,000 each, every year.

That means that of those 500 top earners, just under one-fifth of them are former employees of the HSE.

Those figures also include senior politicians including former taoisigh, Presidents, and government ministers along with other formerly high-ranking civil servants.

Among the highest earning former politicians have been former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, who both received golden handshakes of approximately €175,000 in 2011.

Since then, both Mr Ahern and Mr Cowen have been paid a six-figure annual pension, which in 2014 was worth just over €134,000 each.

Former Presidents Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson also received six-figure pensions with Department of Finance figures showing Ms McAleese was paid €137,749 last year and Ms Robinson €121,158.

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“Hardship” payments of almost €1 million for Irish diplomats living in cities like Beijing, Buenos Aires, and Bucharest

IRISH diplomats have shared almost one million euro in bonus payments because they are based at so-called “hardship” postings in foreign cities including Buenos Aires, Beijing and Bucharest.

The top-ups have been paid to 91 staff of the Department of Foreign Affairs who are stationed at embassies and consulates abroad.

Figures obtained in response to a Freedom of Information request reveal that just over €657,000 was paid out in 2015 in “hardship” payments for staff based in 31 different cities around the world.

So far this year, another €333,000 has been paid out to diplomatic staff at 30 separate locations, with one city – Bucharest in Romania – losing its hardship status.

The single largest hardship payments have been to staff based at the embassy in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, where close to €80,000 has been shared amongst an undeclared number of people based there.

On average, the payments have been worth around €11,000 per diplomat over the past two years.

The postings are slotted into one of five different categories with ‘A’ considered the highest level of hardship and ‘E’ at the other end of the spectrum.

The Department said the payments were designed to take into account “significant factors” that might arise in certain locations.

They explained that these included personal security and political tension, climate, health, language, culture, goods and services, housing, education and isolation.

While some of the cities certainly do seem to merit their hardship category, it is more difficult to see why others might attract the bonus payments.

Payments for Category ‘E’ cities ranged from €8,000 to €12,500 but included popular holidays cities like Buenos Aires in Argentina, Abu Dhabi in the Gulf, Seoul in South Korea and Tel Aviv in Israel.

Perhaps more surprising were some of the cities categorised as ‘D’, which included both Shanghai and Beijing in China, Bangkok in Thailand, and the Russian capital Moscow.

In Category ‘C’ were a number of African cities including Nairobi (Kenya), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), and Cairo (Egypt), along with Hanoi in Vietnam and the Indian capital New Delhi.

Just five cities featured in the top two categories, with the West Bank city of Ramallah, the Indonesian capital Jakarta, and Maputo given a ‘B’ grade by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Only Abuja in Nigeria and Freetown in Sierra Leone were given an ‘A’ ranking, considered the gold standard of ‘hardship’ for diplomatic staff.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement: “Hardship locations are scored by an independent employment conditions consultancy and scored according to hardship themes.

“Locations that score above a defined threshold are defined as hardship, and placed in different categories of hardship according to the overall score.

“During the annual review process, a location’s status as a hardship location can change as the scoring attributed to them under the various themes alter – locations move in and out of hardship status and in this context, Bucharest lost its status as a hardship post in 2016.”

 

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Sinn Féin TD moves house and is entitled to an extra €16,000-a-year in travel and accommodation expenses

A SINN Féin TD is being paid an extra €16,000-a-year in unvouched tax-free expenses after she moved house following the general election.

Louise O’Reilly – a newly elected deputy in North Dublin – had originally given her home address in Crumlin in her formal declaration to Leinster House.

If she had been paid her travel and accommodation expenses on the basis of that address, she would have received just €9,000 per year like most Dublin TDs.

However, around a month after the election, she moved to Skerries in North County Dublin where she is now being paid a travel and accommodation allowance worth €25,295 annually.

The massive jump means the amount of expenses she receives monthly has jumped from €2,445.83 in March to €3,803.75 in each month since, according to Oireachtas records.

O'Reilly Expenses

Both of these figures include a monthly payment of just over €1,695, which is paid to TDs irrespective of where they live and is designed to cover the costs of public representation.

In her second declaration to Leinster House, the Sinn Féin TD changed her address to her new home in Skerries, which is around a 35 kilometre drive from Leinster House.

That puts the new address firmly in what is known as Band 1 of the expenses system, which covers politicians living at least 25 kilometres but less than 60 kilometres from the Dáil.

She is one of fourteen TDs currently in that zone. One of them Labour’s Brendan Ryan, who also lives in Skerries, has been taking €445 less a month than what he is entitled to.

Ms O’Reilly said: “I was claiming for the address I was living at; it was less than twenty kilometres [from the Dáil]. That is the case … [it is] entirely in line with the Oireachtas rules.

“It is the case that I had to make a second declaration when I moved house. When my normal place of residence changed, that’s what we had to do.

“Once I moved house, I changed that – I filled out the form. I haven’t done anything that was not in line with procedures.”

Ms O’Reilly, who previously worked as a union official, said she had been involved in negotiating travel and subsistence payments on behalf of workers for years.

She said: “If there is going to be a review [of these expenses], I’m sure that will come up at the Oireachtas Commission.

“I’m more than willing to participate in it. I haven’t talked to them about, it, I have simply filled out the forms I was required to.”

The Sinn Féin TD had flagged in advance of the election that she was planning a move into the heart of her new constituency.

She explained in a statement: “I am planning a move to Fingal. The timeline of the move will take into consideration a number of factors, including my family.”

Travel and accommodation expenses have been the cause of considerable controversy because of the seemingly arbitrary but enormous jump in expenses between TDs living in Dublin and those in the commuter belt.

The Band 1 total of €25,295-a-year was originally calculated on the basis of 150 overnights paid at civil service rates, according to the Department of Public Expenditure.

In one instance, a Fianna Fáil TD Frank O’Rourke is being paid at the higher rate because he lives 500 metres above the threshold for Band 1 expenses.

If he had lived just one kilometre closer to Leinster House, he would have been paid €16,000 less each year.

In a statement, the Oireachtas has said the allowances also include money for constituency travel and that it is open to all TDs to pay back money at the end of the year if they wish.

The original version of this article appeared in the Irish Mail on Sunday at the weekend.

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Department of Justice looked for €65 million extra for gardai including a million-a-day for Joe Biden visit

The Department of Justice asked for €5 million to cover the cost of security for the visit of US Vice President Joe Biden to Ireland.

The money was sought in a letter from Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald as part of a €9.45 million bill for policing VIP visits and commemorative events this year.

It also included a plea for an extra €950,000 to cover the security costs for the short visit of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, to Donegal in May.

The letter, released under FOI, was sent to the Department of Public Expenditure as part of a formal request from Ms Fitzgerald’s Department seeking sanction for an extra €65 million allocation for policing in 2016.

Remarkably, almost 8% of that related to the Biden visit, with the Department of Justice also told it must find savings in prisons and others services to help ease their overrun in spending.

The €5 million for the Biden visit was the same as what had been allocated to a high-profile policing operation in Dublin to tackle gangland crime earlier this year.

In the letter to party colleague Paschal Donohoe, Ms Fitzgerald wrote: “In addition, extra costs will arise in the context of necessary security arrangements relating to the protection of visiting dignitaries.

“The costs associated with the recent visit of HRH Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall on 25 May 2016 are in the order of €0.95 million.

“Vice-President Biden is scheduled to arrive for a 5 night visit next month and it is likely that some €5 million will be required to provide necessary security services.”

The Department of Justice said the final bill for the Biden trip was “not yet available”.

Mr Biden’s six-day visit to Ireland took place in June, when he travelled here along with his brother and sister, his daughter, and five grandchildren.

As well as several days spent in Dublin, he also visited Newgrange, and the Cooley Peninsula in Co Louth where his ancestors had lived.

He also stopped off in Co Mayo where he watched Ireland’s Euro 16 match against Italy in a pub in Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s home town Castlebar.

Although the trip was described as deeply personal for Mr Biden, that made no difference to security arrangements which involved hundreds of gardai and Defence Forces personnel.

The extra €65 million was sought by Minister Fitzgerald in May to deal with the “unprecedented level of policing activities” that were to take place this year.

However, following negotiations with the Department of Public Expenditure, that figure was reduced to €55 million.

Ms Fitzgerald explained how significant resources had already been spent trying to tackle gangland crime, particularly related to the Kinahan Hutch feud.

Ms Fitzgerald wrote: “In light of recent atrocities, particularly in the Dublin inner-city area, considerable garda resources are currently being deployed to disrupt and investigate activities connected with serious organised crime gangs.”

She said that €5 million had already been allocated for the feud but that more money – the exact figure for which has been redacted from the letter – was needed to keep going.

“These operations, while labour intensive, are clearly having an impact – both in detecting and interrupting the criminal gangs and reassuring the public,” she wrote.

The Minister also said she was looking for extra money (with the amount again redacted) to continue Operation Thor, a crackdown on burglary gangs particularly in rural areas.

She explained that there had been 19,000 anti-crime patrols and 23,000 targeted checkpoints, which had “achieved notable success”.

Lastly, money was also needed to keep on track programmes for increasing garda numbers, both full-time and reserve, increasing civilian staff, and investment in IT, cars and stations.

In an email between senior civil servants, the Department of Justice was told it should review its figures to try and bring them down.

It said: “Your Department must re-examine and pursue all opportunities to reallocate/redeploy resources from other less priority areas.”

In the email, the Department of Justice was told it was “not acceptable” that with a €2.2 billion budget, there was not room to look for savings elsewhere.

“It would be much better for the outcome if your Department tables a reassessment of the ask for additional Exchequer funding, which this time includes a more acceptable and realistic component of … savings,” it concluded.

In a summary document prepared for the Department of Public Expenditure, it was explained that ultimately a total of €55 million would be needed.

That was made up of €50.9 million in garda overtime, €2.648 million in travel and subsistence expenses, €226,000 for other expenses, and €2.139 million for operational equipment.

The Department of Justice also promised to make savings of €15.5 million through cost cutting in other areas like prisons. The document said that would bring the extra allocation needed down to €40.5 million when the savings were taken into account.

You can read the documents below: the email back to Dept of Justice and the letters from Frances Fitzgerald.

Justice Email

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Ivor Callely claimed there was simply “a level of ambiguity” over fraudulent expense claims for mobile phones

Former minister Ivor Callely claimed there was simply “a level of ambiguity” over fraudulent expense claims in a bizarre set of letters sent to authorities at Leinster House.

The former minister, who was caught red-handed after a newspaper investigation into his claims for mobile phone expenses, said he wished to “withdraw” the claims and repay the money involved.

However, in the letters he made no admission that the claims had actually been forged using invoices from a company that was no longer in business.

In two letters released by the Oireachtas following a Freedom of Information request, he repaid close to €3,000 to the taxpayer.

In the first, he wrote: “As you are aware, I received a payment in November 2007 of €2,879.45 following the process of my claim.

“However, there is a level of ambiguity regarding this claim and therefore I wish to withdraw this claim, refund the monies that I received and attach cheque for same. I regret any difficulties that this matter has created.”

The letter is signed simply Ivor.

In a second letter sent five days later, the then Senator made a further repayment after being allowed to examine expense claims he had made to the Oireachtas.

He wrote: “Thank you for your accommodation of my request to inspect my expense file for mobile phones under the Direct Purchase Scheme.

“I noted that five of the six claims and receipts submitted were from a business operating at Communications House, Fairview Strand, Fairview, Dublin 3.

“Due to the ambiguity associated with this business, I withdraw the April ’08 claim for €737.60 and refund the monies as attached.”

He said he again regretted “any difficulties” the claims had created.

There was in fact very little “ambiguity” over the expense claims, which had been exposed in the Irish Mail on Sunday just a few weeks previously.

He had submitted claims for four mobile phones using invoices from a business in Dublin, which had actually gone bust close to a decade before the claims were made.

Under the so-called Direct Purchase Scheme, TDs and Senators were allowed to claim €750 every eighteen months for the purchase of a new mobile phone.

And in November 2007, Mr Callely submitted a claim to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission for almost €3,000 using four separate forged receipts.

A declaration on the form said: “I hereby certify that the expenses claimed have been actually and necessarily incurred by me in relation to my membership of Dáil Éireann and the particulars furnished herein are in all respects true.”

Despite the fact that the invoices showed clear evidence of having been fake – including outdated six-digit phone numbers and pounds signs instead of euros – they were still paid out by authorities.

It was only following the newspaper expose that the truth emerged and a garda investigation into the claims was launched.

Mr Callely later pleaded guilty to fraudulently using six invoices to claim a total of €4,207.45 and was given a five-month jail sentence.

The former politician’s troubles did not end there however, and in May, he avoided jail after settling a long-running debt.

The ex-Fianna Fáil minister cleared a debt of €1,755, which had been outstanding for more than three years to an accountancy firm and over which he led the court on a “merry dance”. He was back in the news today.

Mr Callely was one of two TDs discovered to have made fraudulent claims of mobile phone expenses along with another former minister Ned O’Keeffe.

The Oireachtas said they did not have any records of correspondence with Mr O’Keeffe surrounding his expense claims and said a repayment of €3,737.50 was received from him in January 2015.

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Central Bank refused to give government names of staff who had benefitted from controversial top-up scheme

The Central Bank was told to provide clarification on legal advice they had received that allowed them to pay up to half a million euro in top-ups to a select group of staff as “retention payments”.

They were also told that if advance legal advice had not been received allowing the payments, they would have to take steps to recover the money from the workers who had benefitted under a controversial bonus scheme.

In correspondence with the Department of Public Expenditure, a series of questions were raised about the retention payments, which were described as “large [but] ineffective”.

Large But Ineffective

In an email exchange within the Department, a senior civil servant wrote that only three staff had actually stayed long enough in their jobs at the Central Bank to collect the full top-up.

The email also explained how the Central Bank had not received “advance legal advice” and were facing queries from the Comptroller and Auditor General about the payments.

The top-ups have been heavily criticised because bonus and performance-related payments were expressly forbidden under the FEMPI legislation introduced right across the public service to deal with the financial crisis.

However, the Central Bank – unlike all other state bodies – did not have to seek express sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure for payments.

According to a memo for then minister Brendan Howlin, which was obtained under FOI, this was because there was a provision under the Maastricht Treaty, which gave them a special status that they “guard jealously”.

Jealously Guards

That memo also explained how the payments were to be “kept confidential”, but expressly warned that “news that these payments are being made available to a small group may become publicly known”.

The retention payments did become public and were the subject of a flurry of correspondence after the payments, which then totalled around €234,000, were criticised at the Public Accounts Committee last November.

In a letter sent to the Central Bank late last year, the Department of Public Expenditure demanded all documentation relating to the scheme along with the names and amounts paid to each individual.

DPER Demands

In response, the Central Bank said that “retention payments” had been sanctioned for eight employees in May 2011 amid concerns these staff could be tempted into the private sector by better pay.

The bank refused to provide the names of the individuals who received the payments on the “basis of confidential contractual provisions”.

Non-Disclosure

It also said: “Specific legal advice were not obtained at the time but we have since consulted with our external legal advisers and, based on the advices received, we are satisfied that the Bank had a valid and legal basis for making the payments at the time.”

An internal Department email commented: “No advance legal notice, but a general assertion that the payments were compatible with the purpose of FEMPI, as opposed presumably to the strict letter of it.”

The Department responded to the Central Bank again seeking confirmation that they had legal advice that the payments were in compliance with law.

“In the absence of such advice, or agreement, I would be grateful if you could detail what steps will be taken on behalf of the Bank to recover monies paid to employees,” it said.

In a further short email response, the Central Bank said: “I stated in my [previous] letter … that the Bank had received legal advice in respect of the 2011 retention payments and the Bank was satisfied, on the basis of that advice, that the Bank has a valid and legal basis for making the retention payments at the time.”

The Central Bank said they were satisfied the payments were in order and that there was “no question of repayment of funds”.

A statement said: “This policy was developed in response to the Bank’s risk of losing key employees who are in certain strategic roles critical to strategically significant projects.”

The Department of Public Expenditure said they had nothing to add.

Two sets of documents below on the discussions for those interested (redactions of personal email addresses and mobile phone numbers are mine):

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Why do TDs living a relatively short drive from work in commuter towns get €15,000-a-year in “accommodation” expenses?

TWELVE TDs are each being paid over €25,000 in travel expenses per year which includes a generous allowance for overnight accommodation, despite living a relatively short commute to Leinster House.

The politicians all live within a 60 kilometre radius of their place of work, travelling to Dublin from popular commuter towns like Navan, Co Meath, Drogheda, Co Louth, and Newbridge, Co Kildare.

But while many of their constituents take the bus or train to work each day at their own expense – the TDs are paid a tax-free sum of €25,295 each to cover the cost of their travel and accommodation.

That allowance is calculated on the basis of 150 overnights paid at civil service rates according to a statement from the Department of Public Expenditure (which makes up around 60% of the annual payment).

The only ones who don’t get the accommodation element included are the Dublin TDs.

dper on accommodation bigger

The rest of the €25k-a-year allowance is based on travel to and from work, and whatever additional travel they undertake in their constituency or nationally as TDs.

For these TDs, it is hard to see the issue of overnight accommodation would arise in the same way as for those travelling from say Kerry, Mayo, or Donegal who have no choice but to stay in Dublin or face very lengthy drives back home.

The twelve politicians are all in what is categorised as “Band 1” for the purposes of their Dáil expenses, living between 25 and 60 kilometres from the Dáil.

In the latest publication of Dáil expenses for April, they are all listed as being in receipt of €3,803.75, which includes their monthly travel and accommodation of €2,107 and a separate payment to cover the costs of public representation.

Another politician, the Labour TD Brendan Ryan also qualifies for Band 1 expenses for his address in North Co Dublin. However, he has opted to take a lower monthly amount and was paid €445 less than the others in April.

Four other politicians also live in Band 1, but have all been appointed as Ministers or Ministers of State and will be paid expenses under a different ministerial system. Another has been incorrectly listed.

One of the Band 1 TDs, Fianna Fáil’s Frank O’Rourke, has already been the subject of controversy over his claiming of the full amount.

He lives exactly 25.5 kilometres from the Dáil in Celbridge, Co Kildare … just five hundred metres above the threshold for Band 1 expenses. If he lived just one kilometre closer to Leinster House, he would be paid €16,000 less each year.

The other eleven TDs all live in the commuter belt counties of Wicklow, Kildare, Meath and Louth.

They include five Fianna Fáil TDs: Pat Casey, who lives in Glendalough, Co Wicklow, Shane Cassells in Co Meath, Fiona O’Loughlin in Newbridge, Co Kildare, James Lawless in Sallins, Co Kildare, and Thomas Byrne in Co Meath.

Three Fine Gael TDs are also listed in Band 1 including former minister Fergus O’Dowd in Drogheda, Co Louth, Martin Heydon in Newbridge, Co Kildare, and Bernard Durkan in Co Kildare.

Two Sinn Féin TDs are also listed in Band 1 in Oireachtas records, Peadar Toibín in Navan, Co Meath, and Imelda Munster in Drogheda, Co Louth. Social Democrat Stephen Donnelly is the last of those listed, and he lives near Greystones, Co Wicklow.

I contacted each of the twelve to ask them if they thought the allowance for their travel and accommodation was too high. Four responded.

Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne lives 52 kilometres from Leinster House in Co Meath, not far from the town of Drogheda, Co Louth.

He said: “The allowances in place apply to all TDs and relate not only to our commute to Dáil Éireann as you suggested, but to all travel and accommodation expenses incurred in the course of a TD’s constituency and national responsibilities. I will comply in full with whatever expense regime the Oireachtas introduces.”

Sinn Féin’s Imelda Munster said: “Yes it is a generous allowance but that is the one that has been set down and currently in place. Sinn Fein believes all expenses should be fully vouched and have called for change in this process. Sinn Fein has already submitted motions to reduce salaries of TDs and Senators.”

Fine Gael’s Bernard Durkan, who lives 32 kilometres from the Dáil, said he regularly travelled right around the country on party business.

He said the rates of expenses for Dublin TDs were in fact the problem, as they were too low and putting serious pressure on them to cover their political costs.

“I think that the Dublin band is too low and I believe they have difficulty doing all of the work they need to do. I would be strongly of opinion that any changes that might be made would benefit them. They are disadvantaged, there is no doubt about it,” he said.

“I don’t look for any special arrangements. Whatever the band is, I didn’t set the band. It’s not my manufacture. The distance from my home to the Houses of the Oireachtas is whatever it is.”

Fianna Fáil’s Fiona O’Loughlin, who lives 49 kilometres from Dublin in Co Kildare, said: “I will comply in full with whatever expense regime the Oireachtas introduces or that it has in place.

“The allowances that you are referring to are not only relevant to the daily commute to the Dáil but also to any travel or accommodation expenses that I may incur as I carry out my constituency and national responsibilities.

“I find myself on the road seven days a week and often find that plans change at the last minute, which brings extra expenses when trying to book accommodation at short notice.”

Chartered accountant and campaigner on political expenses Enid O’Dowd said: “I can’t understand why the allowance includes a generous overnight rate when so many of them only have a normal commute.”

In a statement, the Oireachtas said that rates for the allowance system were set by the Department of Public Expenditure and that they administer the scheme.

They pointed out that the allowance also allows for constituency travel, and that this must be factored in. They also said that it was open to TDs at the end of each year to refund part of their allowance if they wished.

A version of this article with a very useful graphic appeared in this weekend’s Irish Mail on Sunday where you can often find my work.

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