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MEPs: Show me the money

What are the European Parliament election candidates fighting for?

Some of them will claim they want to represent the Irish people, though they will have signed a legally binding contract with their parties to abide by the whip system, so they will be voting fodder for their leadership, much like a backbench TD, and there will be no room for standards.

But every elected MEP will make sure to claim every cent available from expenses and allowances, not because they’ll have incurred such costs, but because they can. The basic, gross monthly salary of an MEP is €8,020.53, up from €7,956.53 in 2012.

It can be subject to Irish tax, but most Irish MEPs avail of the lower, special EU tax rate, which results in a net payment of €6,250.37. Only Nessa Childers publishes her net monthly salary, although she doesn’t publish a tax certificate, which she states is €4,716.90 for 2013. That is in line with what an Irish person earning the same salary, paying full PAYE and other taxes, would take home.

No other Irish MEP (and not the Sinn Féin ones either, though they claim to take home the average industrial wage) provides details on their net salaries.

Then, there are the expenses. MEPs are refunded the cost of travel upon provision of a receipt, and are also entitled to a fixed allowance based on the distance and duration of the journey (including to the airport, etc, for the flight) but there’s no information about the allowance.

Is it €1 or €10, and how is it verified and is it tax-free? Added to this is the tax-free, €4,243 for ‘travel’ to meetings within member states.

But that’s not all. There is also the tax-free, €304 per day to cover the ‘cost’ of accommodation and lunch, which is €152 a day when outside the EU, with travel and hotel costs paid directly.

Also, there is the tax-free office allowance of €4,202 per month and there is a flourishing market in MEPs buying, selling and renting Brussels homes from each other, not to mention the trading in local constituency offices, all of which is funded by the taxpayer.

Let’s not forget the final salary pension, which exceeds the usual two thirds maximum of most final salary pension schemes, which, for MEPs, is capped at 70% of their final salary and which is 100% free for MEPs and completely funded by the EU taxpayer.

Every Irish MEP should be required to publish their own personal tax certificate, their monthly salary slip, details of the ownership of the property they live in while in Brussels, and of their constituency office.

Also, they should publish actual receipts for the expenses claimed, plus tax certificates for every person they employ, together with their diaries, to show who has lobbied them. They should also be required to publish line-by-line, audited accounts of how they funded their election campaigns and where they spent the money.

They should do all of this, not because they have to, nor because they are not entitled to receive the above income and expenses — because clearly they have designed the system specifically so that they can — but because it’s the right thing to do.

Is it really asking too much that there could be some people in Irish politics with the ethics and honesty to give the rest of us some hope that not all Irish people are chancers and cute hoors?

If MEPs from other countries can do this, without the sky falling in, then why can’t Irish MEPs, for once, aim for the best standards, instead of settling for the lowest.

Desmond FitzGerald

Canary Wharf

London

England


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