Holes in Oireachtas expenses records

THE Oireachtas Commission is unable to provide a complete record of TD and Senator expenses over the last decade because of a 32-month gap in official archives.

Coming after the latest revelations over Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue’s expenses, the Irish Examiner has learned that complete records for a near three-year period between January 1998 and June 2003 have not been found.

Responding to a Freedom of Information request seeking a detailed breakdown of all TD and Senator expenses since the start of 1998, the commission said an “estimated” 3,200 pages of records had been lodged between 1998 and 2004 alone.

The expenses have already been paid out, but the reply admits “a gap in the hard copy records in respect of the period from January 1, 1998, to March 31, 1998”, meaning archived details for the periods were currently unavailable.

And in a further admission, it confirmed that “material has not as yet been located” for the periods April-October 1999, June 2000 to June 2001, and July 2002 to June 2003.

The early 1998 gap is partially the result of the FOI act only coming into place at this time.

However, the inability of the commission to locate 29 months of expenses over subsequent years – including a full year in the run-up to the June 2001 general election – has led to fresh concerns over the transparency of Dáil and Seanad expenses.

Since 2004, the annual level of expenses for Ireland’s 166 TDs and 60 senators has consistently exceeded €8 million, with Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue alone spending over half a million euro while Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism between 2002 and 2007.

According to weekend reports, the Kerry TD and his wife ran up a travel bill of at least €350,000 during his first three-and-a-half years in office alone.

A further €178,000 was spent on government jet travel during his ministerial tenure, while €175,000 was spent on first and business-class flights, five-star hotels and limousines.

The issue has led to angry calls for stringent examination of the payments to Ireland’s 226 TDs and Senators.

However, despite more than a month of public outrage over the payouts, Mr O’Donoghue has steadfastly refused to comment on the matter, with his Government colleague, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, blaming some of the excesses on civil servants.

* A full breakdown of the FOI request and the response are online at www.thestory.ie.

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