Government orders new expenses regime for all public servants with one notable exception … Irish politicians

THE government wanted to introduce a new system of travel and subsistence expenses right across the public service with one exception … and it’s no surprise to know that it is once again politicians who are deemed exceptional.

An internal submission released by the Department of Public Expenditure explained how the travel and accommodation regime for politicians was drawn up to reflect their “constitutional obligations to attend Leinster House” as well as the “constituency obligations” of TDs and Senators.

“Therefore, it would not be intended that these changes would apply to Members of the Oireachtas, particularly since their travel and accommodation regime was cut by 10% (25% in the case of Dublin members) from 1 January 2013 and that … [it] also took account of the 2009 25% reductions,” it said.

It should be pointed out that the payments to Dublin members (the ones subject to those later 25% cut) is the €9,000 a year for TDs (€5,250 for Senators) they get simply for managing to get to work.

You can read the full submission here.

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Plans to introduce the new regime for travel and subsistence expenses across the wider public sector have also hit a series of obstacles with difficulties introducing the scheme for soldiers, gardai, prison officers and the judiciary.

The reform of expenses for the civil service was introduced last summer, which saw overnight rates increased to €125-per-night, a rise of 14%.

However, an even more significant change was made to almost double the distance a civil servant must be away from home — to 100 kilometres — before they are allowed to claim an overnight.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform believe the new system will save €2 million-a-year within the civil service, according to a ministerial submission released after an FOI request (but which was released outside of FOI for those interested in such things).

The submission reveals how the Department had originally planned to extend the new regime — to cover gardai, prison officers, soldiers, and the judiciary — and that this would save another €5 million-a-year.

The changes are being resisted by some however, with at least one representative body arguing that there are strong reasons why different rules should apply for their members.

The Department briefing document said that differences in systems for paying expenses existed for “largely historic reasons”.

“It would be difficult to defend having significantly different occupational regimes in place for different groups of public servants,” it said.

However, the soldier’s representative body PDFORRA said that there were clear “operational reasons” why a different expense regime should apply for the Defence Forces.

General Secretary Gerry Rooney said soldiers did not work normal office hours, and that a system put in place for civil servants would not be suitable.

Soldiers have traditionally been paid a 15-hour subsistence rate, for when they might have to travel long distances between barracks or for extended duty. That special rate would face abolition under the Department’s plan for a blanket scheme.

Significant issues also arose in negotiations with prison officers who have been seeking to keep their old system in place for payment of expenses.

The Department of Public Expenditure confirmed that an adjudicator had said earlier this month that prison officers should be allowed to retain the old system.

They said: “The Irish Prison Service is considering the decision and will be consulting further with the Prison Officer’s Association in its implementation.”

That adjudication could mean some prison officers will now have to be repaid expenses, which they would have been entitled to under the previous system — but which have not been paid since July of last year.

Plans to extend the scheme to An Garda Siocháná were also dropped and have instead only been applied to civilian staff of the force.

The Department of Public Expenditure explained that the Department of Justice had been in discussions with gardai about the new scheme.

However, “garda management pointed out that the administrative burden of applying two different systems to this category, depending on whether the travel and subsistence arises from their 9-5 duties or occasional duty on the front-line, would be overly burdensome.”

This may be interesting in light of the Toland report findings last year of a “deferential relationship” between the Department of Justice and gardai and one could be forgiven for wondering just how far this was pushed. The tail may still be wagging the dog here.

Garda StatementNegotiations are also taking place with the Association of Judges of Ireland about applying the new rules to their members, some of whom travel frequently, particularly if serving in the District Court.

The Department said: “Discussions are ongoing with the Courts Service and the Association of Judges of Ireland on the implementation of [the circular] to the Judiciary.”

An edited version of this story appeared in the Sunday Times at the weekend. You can read it here

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