MINISTERS and judges are being rewarded for driving gas-guzzling cars with a higher rate of mileage unavailable to other public servants.
The special rate for cars with large engines is only payable to Cabinet members, ministers of state, and members of the judiciary.
It was discontinued for other civil servants as part of a review of travel and subsistence, and because of government commitments to cut carbon emissions.
However, the most valuable rate — which is as high as €1 per kilometre — has been retained for the select group of highly paid politicians and judges.
The Department of Public Expenditure said they had no plans to change the special arrangements and said ministers needed big cars to “work while travelling on official business” and so that there’d be enough room for travelling with officials.
Over the course of a year for a minister who puts in 25,000 kilometres, the higher rate is worth an additional €2,140 in tax-free payments.
For a Cabinet member who clocks up 50,000 kilometres, the difference would be worth a further €1,285 in mileage (or a total of more than €3,400).
Chartered accountant and expenses campaigner Enid O’Dowd said it was “deeply unfair” to have different arrangements in place for different groups.
She said: “As is always the case, they make the rules and they continue to look after themselves. There is nothing new in that. Having different sets of rules like this for different people is deeply unfair. Whatever happened equality?
“The public servant also only gets mileage for traveling from their place of work to other work destinations while the minister gets paid for travelling from their home to their office along with their ministerial business.
“Ministers are supposed to deduct what is appropriate for non-business personal mileage but we know that this system is self-declared and is never checked.”
The revised arrangements for public servants were part of a review of travel and subsistence, which formed part of the Haddington Road Agreement.
A ministerial submission obtained under FOI said: “The objective for the mileage review was to set new rates which better reflected modern car engineering, fuel consumption, and road infrastructure.
“We also wanted to support the government’s agenda to reduce carbon emissions.”
The submission said the new system had dramatically simplified the mileage system and was “more beneficial” for owners of cars with lower engine sizes and lower carbon emissions.
As part of the review, subsistence rates were also changed because of the rising cost of accommodation in Dublin.
The submission said public servants were having “difficulties in finding suitable accommodation … at the agreed rate” of €125 per overnight.
It was increased to €133.73 with a separate new vouched accommodation rate introduced for Dublin, which included an extra €33.61 for meals when receipts were provided in support of the claims.
Foreign subsistence rates were also updated based on the rates paid by the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs, which the Department use as a benchmark.
However, much of the submission was given over to the mileage changes and particularly the new environmentally friendly part of it.
The old system of mileage had been based on people changing their cars every three years, the records explained.
However, the Department wanted this altered to instead reflect a new purchase every five years. A compromise “replacement rate” of four was eventually decided upon.
A separate briefing note prepared for Minister Paschal Donohoe explained: “Ministers, ministers of state and members of the judiciary may claim mileage on the same basis as civil servants, so the new banding system will apply to them.
“For historical reasons, the judiciary have a fourth engine size category for claiming mileage [1888cc and above]. Ministers have a fourth engine size category for claiming mileage [2000cc and above].
“The fourth band of rates for this engine size is 20% higher than the 1500 cc band of rates and is not available to civil servants.”
However, it did not specify the reasons why the special arrangement was maintained for them and the changes were signed off on by Mr Donohoe.
The Department in a statement said: “Substantial travel throughout the country is an integral part of the work of ministers and ministers of state. The provision of a mileage rate for cars with engine sizes in excess of 2,001cc reflects the requirement for [them] to work while travelling on business.
“On such trips they will often be accompanied by one or more officials and a car of sufficient size to accommodate such numbers is required.”
They said the new mileage system would remain in place until 2020 and that arrangements for judges mirrored the system for ministers for historical reasons.
The Department also said the new “revised formula” is more beneficial than previous arrangements for those with small engine sizes.
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