PAC to examine 1,000 allowances as just one is cut

More than 1,000 allowances paid to public sector staff will be examined by the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) after the Government abandoned plans to abolish them for existing workers.

The spending watchdog will also meet with Brendan Howlin, the public expenditure and reform minister, who came under criticism this week for his failure to cut €75m from the allowances bill as promised.

Instead, just €3.5m will be saved, Mr Howlin said on Tuesday.

Following a review of 1,000 payments, just one — a €218 a night payment for attending EU meetings — will be scrapped for existing public servants.

New recruits, including gardaí, teachers, and other public servants will not be entitled to a range of allowances — leading to big earning gaps between them and their senior colleagues.

At its meeting yesterday, the PAC agreed to a request by one member, Eoghan Murphy of Fine Gael, to examine the full list of perks to determine if they represent value for taxpayers’ money.

The Dublin South East TD was one of a number of backbenchers who criticised the Government’s cave-in on the issue at a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party on Wednesday night.

In a letter to the PAC on Sept 10, he said the allowances should be examined “in the public interest and in order to see if the committee can assist the minister’s reform work in this area”.

He said: “I would see this as being consistent with the committee’s mandate to oversee and ensure the appropriate spend of public money.”

PAC chairman John McGuinness said the committee will write to the accounting officers of each Government department.

“We will put them on notice that we will require a full brief on the allowances relevant to their departments, the number receiving, and amount paid of each allowance,” he said.

Starting with the bigger spending areas, such as the HSE and the Department of Education, the officers will appear before the committee between now and Christmas, and allowances will be a “priority topic”, according to Mr McGuinness.

He said the committee will be looking for justification for all the allowances and will then determine if each is part of the pay scale and salary. “And if not, then why continue it,” Mr McGuinness said.

“These are all relevant questions that arise in relation to the allowances because they are paid for with taxpayers’ money.”

The committee will meet Mr Howlin early next month to discuss the public service reform plan “and as part of that discussion, we will look at the process that was involved in the 2012 review of these allowances”, Mr McGuinness said.

At least five Fine Gael backbench TDs spoke out against Mr Howlin’s failure to tackle the allowances at a meeting attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny on Wednesday.

They are a group of first-time TDs dubbed the “five a side” who met in the summer to discuss policy and are particularly critical of aspects of the Croke Park Agreement, which they believe is too generous to public sector workers.

Famous five

The group dubbed the “five a side” are Fine Gael backbenchers who are believed to have grouped following a charity football match.

They are mainly first-time, younger deputies who held private meetings among themselves to discuss dissatisfaction with aspects of the Croke Park agreement.

They attempted to play down their arrangement and said they are no longer meeting because they believe policy issues are better debated in gatherings of the entire parliamentary party.

According to sources in the party, their membership, among others, includes: Eoghan Murphy — Dublin South East; Paul Connaughton — Galway East; Brendan Griffin — Kerry South; Anthony Lawlor — Kildare North; Sean Kyne — Galway West; and Martin Heydon — Kildare South.

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