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Dáil seeks legal advice on TD expenses claims

A number of politicians may be forced to pay back expenses they claimed for campaigning outside of their constituencies, after the Oireachtas said allowances for such work were never envisaged under the rules.

Socialist TD Clare Daly said yesterday she was willing to pay back any expense claims if it was found they breached travel and accommodation allowance rules.

The Dublin TD said she had claimed €10,000 or more from the Oireachtas for campaigning against the household charge around the country.

Fellow Dublin TDs, Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins and Joan Collins have also used the allowance to claim expenses for similar purposes.

The Oireachtas last night said it was still seeking legal advice on whether TDs had breached rules. The allowance incorporated travel to and from Leinster House and the deputy’s normal place of residence and any place in their constituency, it said.

But the statement added: "The service had never envisaged that the travel and accommodation allowance would allow deputies to travel outside of their constituencies, except for journeys to and from Leinster House."

Ms Daly told the Irish Examiner she stood over the expense claims, adding: "We obviously wouldn’t have done it if we thought we were breaking regulations. It’s work fulfilling my job as an elected representative.

"I have argued against austerity and the household tax and used my expenses for those causes.

"It’s not different than what others have done. Others used it to pay for motor tax but I paid that out of my own money. I haven’t gained financially from it.

"Yes, I was voted in in a constituency but elected to a national parliament."

Ms Daly said she made claims for money spent on petrol. "I spent weekends doing this [campaigning] and visited every county in the country. I’ve receipts for everything.

"If we find that there have been any breach of regulations, of course we are ready to pay it back."

Ms Daly, Mr Higgins and Ms Collins, in a statement, said the use of the allowance to attend rallies was "absolutely justified".

They also said questions remained over funding for other parties.

"Should the legal advice state that TDs’ travel allowance is only for use within their constituency or between the constituency and Leinster House, we will require the Government and the Oireachtas Commission to look at the following major anomaly."

They pointed out that millions of euro given to the main parties for the party’s leaders allowance was free to be used for "coordination of the activities and members of the party".

Senator set to escape sanction

A Fine Gael senator is expected to escape any sanction over his failure to supply a tax clearance certificate to authorities for over a year after being elected.

The Seanad is expected today to pass a motion saying "no action" should be taken despite Senator Pat O’Neill’s failure being the subject of a Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) inquiry in May.

Senators and TDs must supply a certificate to SIPO within nine months of being elected.

SIPO had found Mr O’Neill contravened political standards regulations by failing to provide evidence of tax compliance since being elected to the Seanad in April 2011.

The commission said they had phoned his office on four occasions and had written three letters since the January deadline passed. But SIPO yesterday said Mr O’Neill was now "in compliance".

Mr O’Neill told the Irish Examiner that he submitted his certificate in June. The senator had previously said that the delay was due to outstanding issues related to capital gains tax.

"The majority of it had been paid but a portion of the balance was not. The paperwork was delayed.

"I was trying to get something done and it took longer than I thought. I’ve no tax liability now, that’s it, the matter’s dealt with."

He said he had written to and apologised to the Seanad Committee on Members Interests, who received the SIPO report.

A Seanad motion today in the name of Fine Gael senator Deirdre Clune, the chairwoman of the committee, said the senator apologised and "that no further action is required".

But Mr O’Neill may still face consequences from a separate Fine Gael procedure on the matter.

Juno McEnroe