How an extra 500 metres can mean an additional €16,000-a-year in the ridiculous world of Irish political expenses

A NEWLY elected TD is being paid an extra €16,000-a-year in tax-free expenses because his drive to work is 500 metres above the threshold for politicians that live close to the Dáil.

Fianna Fáil’s Frank O’Rourke, who was elected in the Kildare North constituency, is being paid travel and accommodation expenses of more than €2,100 per month.

The enormous monthly payment is being made even though Mr O’Rourke lives in Celbridge, where a large number of residents travel to and from Dublin each day.

Under current rules, TDs who live less than 25 kilometres from the Dáil are paid €9,000 a year tax-free to cover their travel costs to work, and also for travel within their constituency.

However, once they live above a threshold of 25 kilometres — their rate of payment makes a dramatic jump of more than 180 per cent. You can see all expense payments made to TDs since the election here and how the system works here.

In the claim form submitted by Mr O’Rourke to authorities at Leinster House, he has said the distance that he must travel to the Dáil each day is exactly 25.5 kilometres.

However, when the trip from his home to Leinster House is entered into Google Maps, the distance is said to be 24 kilometres. Despite that, Mr O’Rourke is correct and when the trip was measured independently, it came in at just above 25 kilometres.

O'Rourke Declaration

Mr O’Rourke for his part said he had personally measured out the drive on several occasions to make sure his declaration was absolutely correct. He even offered to repeat the trip with me.

He said: “I was asked for the distance. I set the clock on my car and on three occasions and following the only way I can go — no long way or manipulation of it whatsoever, I got 25.5 kilometres and on another day I got 26. I averaged it at 25.5 kilometres.

“If it was 22, it would have gone down [as that]. I’m not into that sort of carry-on or stuff whatsoever. All I did was done very honestly and openly. I’ve been a councillor for five years, never went [anywhere] or claimed a cent aside from the bare minimum. You’re quite welcome to join me any day and I’ll zero the clock.”

One of the reasons why the allowance is so high is because many TDs from outside of Dublin have to pay for accommodation when working in the Dáil.

However, Mr O’Rourke said that since being elected he had not stayed in Dublin and returned home to Celbridge each night.

“I commute home and [it’s] dependent on the business [of the Dáil] whether I take public transport or bring my car. It’s a complete mix for me,” he said.

Asked whether he felt the level of expenses paid were justified considering the costs involved for him, he said he had simply abided by the system in place.

He explained: “I’m very genuine and serious about this. Many years as a councillor, I was the councillor who claimed the lowest, [there was] no additional for conferences, or extra committees — [just the] salary and expenses you’re entitled to claim. It’s no different here.

“All I’ve done is I’ve done what I was asked to do. I drove into the Dáil and I measured it, that was the measurement that came up. I handed that into the One Stop Shop [Oireachtas administration] and I signed the forms.

“I would do a huge amount of travelling in the constituency. I was in Naas twice or three times [one day]. I will look at it at the end of the year, it’s too far down to consider.

“The allowance is given dependent on different situations and conditions. That’s as much as I can say. I’m only in the job two and a half months. I’ve done everything that’s been asked from me. If something changes in the [expenses] system, that will be fine as well.”

You can read the full story in today’s Irish Mail on Sunday.

Chartered accountant and expenses campaigner Enid O’Dowd said the case highlights just how ridiculous the political expenses system can be.

She said: “The system needs changing but the current one benefits all members. As they make the rules, they have no incentive to change the current system.

“However, there is a court challenge being taken against the system. Our constitution says all citizens are equal but they are not when it comes to travel to work costs. All other citizens have to pay their own costs to work including Mr O’Rourke’s constituents who travel from Celbridge to Dublin, which is a normal commute.”

That court challenge is being taken by John Wolfe, who recently featured in the Dublin Inquirer. Anybody who would like to help him, especially with fundraising for a legal team, can contact him at malahidejohnwolfe AT gmail DOT com.

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