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.
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.
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.