Independent Allowances… March 28, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Some will be aware that Independent TDs [non party Independents] get an individual and untouched for ‘leader’s allowance’. As the Irish Times noted last year:
INDEPENDENT TDs and Senators have been paid more than €4.6 million in “party leaders’ allowances” since 2005, according to figures from the Department of Finance. Non-party TDs were paid a total of €2 million in party leaders’ allowances, while Independent Senators got more than €2.6 million.
This is part of a broader system of funding for TDs and political parties (and Senators as well).
Members of political parties in the Oireachtas are also supported by the taxpayer but the money goes to the party organisation, which has to account for how it is spent. Parties use the funding to pay for staff and headquarters and carry out research. Political parties received €13.5 million in State funding last year. The money must not be used for election purposes.
The media discourse on this is interesting. The Irish Times piece above although noting the party funding doesn’t make clear that the party leaders allowance is pretty much all the funding Independent TDs receive.
The State ethics watchdog, the Standards in Public Office Commission, has repeatedly pointed out that Independent members are not obliged to provide a statement of expenditure in relation to money they receive under the allowance.
The money continues to be paid to individual TDs in the current Dáil even though most of them have formed themselves into a technical group to avail of the same entitlements as political parties during debates.
Nor does it note that membership of the Technical Group does not permit extra funding to TDs – unlike those in political parties.
Moreover the issue is presented in such a way as to make it appear as if then status quo is approved of by Independent TDs. However, the Technical Group Independents themselves banded together and expressed their support for reforms of this system including that they vouch for the expenditure of the leader’s allowance and that the entirety of expenses should be reworked and potentially cut.
There’s a debate to be had about the nature of expenses provided for public representatives. But it seems reasonable that some level, above and beyond salary, is necessary in order to cover the costs of a range of functions and services provided by them.
Independent TD Catherine Murphy has produced an interesting report, entitled “Political Funding in Ireland”, on this very issue which is well worth a read for those intrigued by the labyrinthine complexity of party and TD funding in this state. It’s also an eye opener as to how things have been done across the years.
It convincingly demonstrates that in terms of funding and staff entitlements Independent TDs are at a stark disadvantage in comparison to political parties. Net funding of party members in the Dáil ranges from €121k for FF, €119k for SF [opposition parties receive more in order to balance out advantages of scale government parties received through being in government], €63k for the LP and €58k for FG. Paradoxically the smaller parties, the SP and PBP both receive €71k per member.
In contrast Independent TDs, whether in the Technical group or outside it (that happy trio of Lowry, Healy-Rae and Grealish) receive €41k.
In terms of staff entitlements the allocations are even more striking.
FG as a parliamentary group are entitled to 39.6 staff, the LP 19.5 staff, FF 15.2 staff, SF 11.2 staff, the SP 1.6 and PBP the same whereas the Technical Group Independent TDs, in relation to their membership of the Technical Group, are entitled to none.
There are some fairly esoteric formulae for calculating all this. For example ‘Qualifying Parties are entitled to 0.8 Secretarial Units per TD’.
As the report by Catherine Murphy notes;
As can be seen, Independent TDs in fact receive significantly less funding than their party politically affiliated colleagues and no group supports of any kind to administer their group parliamentary business, draft legislation and amendments, respond effectively and efficiently to national issues.
The 16 TDs within the Dáil Technical Group recognise that, outside the workings of the Dáil, the Dáil Technical Group does not perform an equal function to that of a political party. Furthermore, the group’s membership is satisfied to continue functioning as a purely technical group and does not intend to form a political party from its constituent members. Thus the Dáil Technical Group does not intend to make any attempt to qualify for annual exchequer funding as provided to qualifying parties.
The members of the Dáil Technical Group would like it noted that they are keenly aware of the difficulties presented by the lack of a legal onus on them to vouch for the manner in which they spend this allowance. The membership encourages and supports a change to the laws in question that would compel them to do so however, until such a measure can be enacted, are happy to account for the manner in which their Party Leaders Allowance is spent on a voluntary basis.
What’s more there are certain party funding allocations which neither Independent TDs, either as members of the Technical Group or not, or the SP and PBP TDs are entitled to. This funding is for administration; research, education and training; policy formation; and coordination of activities of branches and members of the party. The ULA parties are not entitled because they did not reach 2% of the vote at the last election. The Independents because they’re… well… Independents. The Murphy report notes:
Using the cited source material, it has been calculated that if the Dáil Technical Group was recognised as a qualifying party and was therefore inserted into the equation below it would cost the exchequer €734,414.30 per year. In this instance, the correspondingly adjusted figures for the existing qualifying parties would be: Fine Gael €1,913,274.72; Labour €1,089,399.09, Fianna Fáil €901,862.23; and, Sinn Féin €618,825.0812.
The Leaders Allowance has an history that dates right back to the 1930s. An accompanying document to the Murphy report from the Oireachtas Library and Research Service notes:
…the party leaders‟ allowance, has been in place since the 1930s. It is provided for in the Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Act 1938, which was amended by the Ministerial, Parliamentary and Judicial Offices and Oireachtas Members (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2001. The allowance is to cover expenses arising from parliamentary activities and the allowance for each leader is based on the size of their parliamentary party (see below). To lessen the gap in resources between government and opposition, these allowances are reduced by 1/3 for government parties.
But that latter date and Act, the Ministerial, Parliamentary and Judicial Offices and Oireachtas Members (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2001 is central to this tale. That was when the Ahern led FF/PD coalition, that exemplar of probity and rectitude, incorporated unvouched expenses on behalf of that cohort of Independent TDs who gave support to the government into the Act (given the history of deals done during that period which remained off the public record a pattern emerges). And in a way that’s where this issue has sprung from, clearly no one envisaged almost 20 odd Independent TDs back in those days when they were near enough an endangered species around the Oireachtas.
What’s telling though is that this was a system that was established by Fianna Fáil and has continued to be implemented by Fine Gael although the latter has promised to reform the situation. That said in February they and Labour voted down proposals by Independent Senators to seek vouched expenses.
A week or so ago Phil Hogan, as Minister for the Environment, said
…he expected proposals would be brought to government shortly in relation to the auditing of “leaders” allowance payments to independent TDs and Senators.
Phil Hogan told the [Seanad] House that this was getting active consideration by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin.
But one suspects that it has provided a handy stick to beat the Independents with across the first year of the life of the Government. During a debate last year on the issue the tone could be perfectly captured by this exchange:
Deputy Joan Collins: Cutting TDs’ wages by 50% would do far more to lessen the damage done by certain people who abused the system by phoning celebrity contests, being unsure whether they lived in Dublin or Cork, or the activities of Deputy Lowry for which he has been censured in this Chamber.
I am not sure people are aware that €11,640,000 is being paid out annually to political parties, with €4.5 million going to Fine Gael, €2.3 million to Fianna Fáil and the same to Labour. A 50% cut in those payments would save taxpayers almost €6 million.
Deputy Tom Hayes: ￼ ￼ What about the Deputy’s €40,000 tax-free allowance?
And that, along with stuff about it ‘being the best kept secret’ in Irish political life and so on has characterised much of the discussion, such as it has been.
There’s a very real issue here. The Constitution does not recognise political parties but instead individual TDs, and yet as can be seen the parliamentary system – at least as evidenced by these expenditures – has been weighted towards the party structure and at the expense of Independent TDs.
One could argue that the leaders allowance is an unfortunate blip, in respect of its lack of transparency, though indicative of the wheeling and dealing indulged in by Ahern and FF during the 1990s and onwards. But one could also point to it as an example of why the overall system so badly requires reform.
This was an enormously comfortable polity for many mainstream politicians and despite some turbulence in recent times it largely remains so. The level of supports for that mainstream are striking even at this remove, and a certain sense of entitlement, perhaps best exemplified by stratospheric salaries awarded in the latter days of the Ahern administration, speak of a detachment from the broader society, albeit a reflection of a market that was in many respects unhinged.
Independents are a feature of Irish political life, sometimes for ill – but I’d argue generally for good. Since most small parties have come up through those ranks – in terms of treatment in the Oireachtas it’s clear that this weighs heavily against smaller and more marginalised voices, whether party or individual. Indeed as a means of crafting structures that depress Independents and the representatives of smaller formations this is no doubt entirely adequate to the task. But it seems deeply inequitable that they as public representatives should find themselves at a disadvantage to other representatives who happen to be members of a political formation.