Former politicians had €1,741 in bar and restaurant bills written off with one owing over €300 in a drinks bill

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar was quick to say that politicians who refused to pay their Dáil bar and restaurant bills should have it deducted from their salary.

However, it has now emerged that the biggest ‘debtor’ to benefit from the controversial €5,500 write-off of bar and restaurant debts may have been his own department.

A breakdown of the €5,500 written off by the Oireachtas earlier this year has revealed that the Department of the Taoiseach were recorded as owing €965 across a series of invoices.

However, the Department has disputed the figures, saying their records show that most of the money was repaid long ago.

The departmental bill has in any event been written off by the Oireachtas, along with €4,500 more owed by six politicians, several different government departments, two committees, the government press office, and Fine Gael.

A detailed breakdown of who owes what has been released under FOI showing that one former politician owed a total of €943 to the restaurant, which will not be pursued.

Another ex-TD or Senator owes €301 directly to the Dáil bar and that debt has also been cancelled.

Four other politicians, all either retired or who have lost their seats, owed totals of between €66 and €267 to the bar and restaurant, none of which will be chased up.

The Houses of the Oireachtas has said it will not identify the six politicians who benefitted from the write-off but that none of them were currently serving TDs or Senators.

They said there was evidence that “strongly suggested” their own records may not be accurate.

“Full release could cause unfair negative exposure to the former members in question,” they said.

“[We] could not find a convincing reason to release the names of these individuals and impinge on their right to privacy, when in fact their identities may have been incorrectly associated with non-payment of balances in the first instance.”

They said that in a couple of instances, ex-politicians had even been able to provide evidence that some of the debts had been paid, which cast “doubt over all these historical imbalances”.

The Oireachtas has however, decided to release details of the government departments and committees for whom debt has been written off.

The Department of Defence, Department of Foreign Affairs, and Department of Social Protection had debts — of €417, €404, and €284 respectively — written off.

The Department of Justice had a larger outstanding tab of €692 but again the Oireachtas has said it cannot be certain if their records are accurate.

They said: “Many of the invoices in question were incorrectly directed to certain departments. Some departments had records showing that invoices had been paid … some departments had no records of any of the invoices in question and were not in a position to pay given the delay. The age of the balances casts doubts over their accuracy.”

The Department of the Taoiseach believes the €965.47 that they are listed as owing is wrong, saying they can prove they paid €785 of it.

They said: “The amounts listed … refer to years 2004 to 2010, which relates to catering services provided by the Houses of the Oireachtas for official meetings and events held in the Department and does not relate to bar facilities.”

The department said they had been in ongoing correspondence with the Oireachtas to try and reconcile the amounts owed.

They said: “The Department did not receive any invoices from the Houses of the Oireachtas in respect of the outstanding balance.”

Four other bills are also listed as having been written off: €28 for the foreign affairs committee, €518 for the enterprise and small business committee, €273 to the government press office, and €153 to “Fine Gael/HQ”.

The practice of providing credit to politicians and other public bodies continues despite controversy surrounding it, although it is currently the subject of a review.

The latest figures show that €37,256 was owed at the end of August with €5,375 of that relating to the Dáil bar and the majority of €31,881 owed to the restaurant facilities.

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