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After the election, anti-unvouched-expenses campaigner John Wolfe wrote to all the newbie TDs who live within 25 kilometres of the Dáil and asked them not to take their travel allowance.
Only Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan of Dublin Bay South and John Lahart of Dublin South West responded to him and said they wouldn’t be claiming it.
A Freedom of Information request revealed a third waverer of travel expenses: Eoin Ó Broin, Sinn Féin TD for Dublin Mid-West.
O’Callaghan, a former Dublin city councillor, says as one of the deputies living closest to the Dáil, he doesn’t need it.
“I live three miles from the Dáil,” he says. “I cycle in most mornings, unless it’s raining. So I’m in a different position to most.”
A surprising absence from the list of new Dublin TDs who have turned down their travel expenses is Fine Gael’s Noel Rock of Dublin North-West.
As former Dublin city councillor, his pledge during local elections to not take expenses was widely covered in the media. And he continued with this pledge during his general election campaign.
In an interview last June, Rock said that some councillors didn’t agree with this, while others couldn’t possibly do it, but he was annoyed that the expenses were unvouched.
He described TDs’ expenses as one of his biggest bugbears, particularly the travel allowance. Those who live within 25 kilometres of the Dáil can claim up to €9,000 annually.
Rock said he doesn’t see why politicians should be treated any differently to people in other jobs, who rarely receive expenses.
So Why’s He Taking Them?
While he handed back his expenses as a councillor, Rock said by email that he is taking a different approach to expenses as a TD.
In theory, by not taking expenses as a councillor, Rock’s unclaimed money was going back into the council and therefore into the community.
But he says it was probably just being used to to pay the expenses of other councillors, and he was often approached by community groups asking if they could use some of this money.
He says he returned all of his council expenses, which added up to more than €10,000.
“In my own experience of returning my unvouched, unreceipted expenses to Dublin City Council, as a new councillor I quickly discovered the huge flaws with the council system, and I learned the hard way that the money you didn’t claim wasn’t distributed as I wished even within the council, so I couldn’t request it be prioritised for homeless services or parks services. It simply went to the pot to pay other councillor’s expenses,” he says.
So this time, he wrote, he is claiming all the unvouched expenses that he is entitled to as a TD and — along with the expenses claimed by Norma Sammon, his replacement on Dublin City Council — this money will go into a community fund for the north side of the city.
“Therefore, I contribute these expenses back to the community fund and take care of the travel expenses out of pocket,” he said.
Is That Allowed?
In the past, TDs have come under scrutiny for allegedly rerouting travel expenses for reasons other than travel, although they were later cleared.
Rock says he isn’t breaching any rules.
“I am fully in compliance with the legislation on this matter as it stands and have confirmed same with independent advice,” he said.
He is currently sorting out how the fund will work, but expects it will have some kind of application process, and independent arbiters to award funding to local community groups, sports clubs and schools.
“The bursaries will range from anywhere from €100-€750, and will be awarded quarterly with approximately a little over €4,000 being returned to the community each quarter,” says Rock.
While Rock praises Fine Gael for making other allowances vouched, he says the legislation surrounding parliamentary travel expenses still needs to be completely overhauled.
“It’s a self declared, unreceipted, and therefore unvouched system,” he says. “Which is what I have always had an issue with.”