Howlin cuts political expenses but how much are politicians actually losing?

Brendan Howlin, the public expenditure minister, touted reductions to political expenses in his budget speech.

But how much will politicians really lose, and, more importantly, what will they retain? This is an approximate breakdown:

Allowances for TDs:

Mr Howlin announced a 10% cut in the expenditure limit for the parliamentary standard allowance (PSA). The PSA is made up of two strands: a “public representation allowance” to cover expenses related to phones, leaflets, conferences, etc, and the “travel and accommodation allowance”.

At present, a Dublin- based TD can claim a maximum of €37,700 from the two allowances. A 10% cut would see this reduced by €3,770 to €33,930.

TDs outside Dublin receive a higher travel allowance. The highest is for TDs living 360km or more from Leinster House. In their cases, the maximum they can currently claim from both allowances is €63,550. A 10% cut would mean a reduction of €6,355 to €57,195.

Oireachtas envelopes:

Mr Howlin announced a 50% cut in the number of prepaid Oireachtas envelopes TDs get. They currently get 1,250 envelopes a month. That will fall to 625.

Party leaders’ allowance:

Mr Howlin announced a 10% “across the board” cut to the party leaders’ allowance, which is one of two forms of state funding paid to political parties each year. In 2011, Fine Gael received €2.5m in party leaders’ allowance, Fianna Fáil €1.7m, Labour €1.6m, and Sinn Féin €933,000 while other Dáil parties received smaller amounts.

Because there was an election last year, and the allowance is, among other things, dependent on the number of TDs each party has, the 2012 figures will look different to 2011. Nonetheless, if a 10% reduction were applied to last year’s funding for the purposes of illustration, Fine Gael would lose €250,000, Fianna Fáil €170,000, Labour €160,000 and Sinn Féin €93,300.

Independent TDs also receive a party leaders’ allowance of €41,152 apiece (although not all claim it) to compensate them for the lack of a party structure.

The 10% cut here means each of the Independents claiming the allowance will lose €4,115.

Mr Howlin was silent on the second form of state funding paid to parties — namely Electoral Act funding. Fine Gael received €2.1m from this source last year, Fianna Fáil €1.3m, Labour €1.2m, and Sinn Féin €685,000. It does not appear there will be any cuts to this funding.

Severance pay:

When ministers leave office, they receive severance pay for up to two years (entirely separate to whatever pension entitlements they have accrued). The severance pay is meant to cushion them for the loss of their job. But because it is linked to salary, and salaries soared during the boom, severance pay soared, leading to huge payouts for departing ministers. Mr Howlin said he believed severance was no longer justifiable, and would therefore be abolished for current and future ministers and office-holders.

Politicians’ pay:

Mr Howlin left politicians’ pay untouched. So the Taoiseach will continue to get €200,000 a year, senior ministers €169,000 a year, junior ministers €130,000, TDs €92,000 and senators €65,000.

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