A personalÂ driver for Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett ended up being paid more than €10,000 in overnight expenses last year because he travelled from his home in the South East to bring the Ceann Comhairle on a nine-mile journey to Leinster House.
Dominic Hearns, a former garda, was able to claim the overnight expenses as he was based outside Dublin and was entitled to an overnight untaxed payment of €125 for each day that he worked.
The unusual arrangement was put in place even though Sean Barrett’s home is in Killiney, less than ten miles from his workplace on Kildare Street.
Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that Mr Hearns was for example paid €783.16 in overnight expenses for a single week in January of this year.
Sample claim form
That covered six nights of accommodation and a day rate but the amounts paid do not — under the rules — have to be vouched against hotel or other receipts.
In the period between January 2015 and the end of this January, Mr Hearns put in for €11,301.12 in overnight expenses.
The driver only began to submit claims for overnight expenses in December 2014, although he was originally appointed to the job in July of 2011.
Each of his claim forms was co-signed by then Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett, who under a set of revised travel arrangements for officeholders did not have access to a ministerial car like his predecessors would.
Instead, Mr Barrett had to provide his own car — was allowed to hire two drivers — and could also submit claims for mileage based on how much travel he did.
According to figures released by the Oireachtas, Mr Barrett was paid just over €48,000 in mileage payments between the time of his appointment and the end of last year. That would have been to cover his travel to and from work and whatever other official engagements he needed to be driven to.
A note from the Oireachtas said: “The reimbursement of expenses received by the Ceann Comhairle is calculated using the mileage rate set by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and covers all aspects of maintaining the car.
“The Ceann Comhairle also makes a 10% deduction in his claim to account for private use.”
The Oireachtas would not comment on whether it was economical to bring somebody on a journey of more than 100 kilometres to bring somebody on a short drive to Leinster House.
A spokeswoman said: “All such expenses are paid in accordance with Department of Public Expenditure and Reform regulations.”
A driver for former Ministers Pat Rabbitte and Aodhán O Ríordáin has also paid overnight expenses, even though both of those ministers were based in Dublin.
Kevin Eager received more than €10,000 in just over a year for driving from his home in Co Wicklow, based on the fact that he lived “more than 22.5km from the GPO” and was therefore eligible for an overnight stay.
The system for ministerial drivers was expanded by the Fine Gael and Labour coalition with “state cars” only available for the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister of Justice.
However, the unvouched nature of the claim system has also attracted controversy, particularly after it emerged one former minister Ruairi Quinn claimed mileage for travel to and from his holiday home.
Another former minister, John Perry, ended up claiming €95,000 in mileage during his period in office at the Department of Jobs between March 2011 and July 2014.
An edited version of this article appeared in the Sunday Times at the weekend