Bailiffs to chase Leinster House bar tabs

Private debt collectors are to be employed on an “ongoing basis” to chase up unpaid Dáil bar tabs running into tens of thousands of euro.

The decision has been taken by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, which runs Leinster House, after it was found that a small number of TDs and senators are consistently breaching credit limits.

The committee — which includes Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett and Paddy Burke, Cathaoirleach of the Seanad — had requested a “progress report” on unpaid debts from the Oireachtas catering service.

The minutes of its May meeting state that “the commission agreed in principle to the recruitment of a credit controller who will have responsibility for this area on an ongoing basis”.

At its previous meeting in April, it agreed that the maximum credit period would be one month from the time of the transaction. The commission decided that “payments options, including deduction from salary or pension payments, as appropriate, be explored”.

The current rate of outstanding bills is unknown but, after the 2011 election, Dáil and Seanad members owed a total of €68,000 and one politician ran up a bill of €8,000.

At the end of 2012, the outstanding debt for the Dáil restaurant and bar ran to €72,000, with almost €40,000 of that unpaid for four months or more.

TDs and senators insist tabs are necessary to pay for unexpected expenses such as soft drinks, tea, coffee, and sandwiches which arise when they bring groups of constituents or school tours to visit the Houses.

The commission has been trying to get a handle on the problem for years and has intensified its efforts in recent months.

A previous proposal to introduce pre-paid cards was dropped after it was decided set-up and administration costs would be too high.

The Dáil’s drinking culture came under attack after it emerged that the bars clocked up nearly €7,000 in sales on the night of the all-night sitting for the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill this time last year.

The members’ bar — available only to TDs and senators — took in €3,326 in sales and the visitors’ bar, which can be used by journalists, political staff, and guests, took in €3,572 on that night. This was also the night of the ‘lapgate’ incident in the Dáil chamber involving Fine Gael TD Tom Barry, who pulled party colleague Áine Collins onto his lap.

The cost of running the Oireachtas will increase by €4m next year to €112.3m, including administration, salaries of TDs, MEPs, and senators as well as pensions to retired members.

The public relations and communications budget will rise from €57,000 to €141,000 excluding salaries, following the decision to air the banking inquiry on television.

The commission has also agreed to examine the definition of the “normal place of residence” of TDs and senators for claiming travel expenses.

It follows observations by the Supreme Court in a case involving former senator Ivor Callely, who had misrepresented his normal place of residence as being in Bantry, Co Cork, rather than Clontarf in Dublin, when claiming expenses.

The Oireachtas Commission also agreed to set up a special committee to draw up new ethics rules for members.

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