How Sinn Fein pays for its large party structure out of public money…

Interesting coda to Sinn Fein’s last minute fall off the high wire at Dublin’s High Court. It looks like the Referendum Commission is not going to let it lie and are chasing Pearse Doherty for costs. The Irish Times reports:

The Referendum Commission has argued before the High Court it was “inconceivable” that Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty remained unaware of a second statement it issued concerning Ireland’s veto over the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald was aware of that second statement issued in the run-up to the referendum, counsel for the commission said.

The costs are thought to be in the region of €200,000.

If he’d been alone in this challenge, it would be a stretch for Doherty. As reported by Gerard Cunningham he only retains €29170 of his €48213.17 net salary, the rest being paid to a constituency worker in Donegal. We might also surmise from his Cork East colleague Sandra McLellan that the vast bulk of his €57550.63 in TD expenses goes straight to the party, to deliver him centralised services from people directly employed by the party.

You can see from this recent release of TDs expenses (scroll down) that Sinn Fein TDs draw expenses of around €30k in Dublin constituencies and €50K outside the capital (Peadar Toibin in Meath East is somewhere in between).

Since the bulk of the TD’s representative resources are soaked up by the party it will be them rather than Doherty who pays for any High Court judgement. And there’s a similar system at work in Northern Ireland too.

As the Belfast Telegraph pointed out on Wednesday the resignation of four out of its five MP/MLAs was actually based upon the pressing need to maintain this massive substructure arising from recent reforms in Stormont’s funding regime:

A redrafting of expenses by the Report of the Independent Financial Review Panel will progressively reduce the average £70,000 in office expenses MLAs receive.

If the Assembly member is also an MP they received 50% back but that was already cut to 37.5% in April – some £27,594 – with further payouts being reduced to 25% next year and to just 12.5% the following year.

With four of Sinn Fein’s MLAs quitting the Assembly to focus on their MP duties at Westminster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness quitting as an MP the party will benefit from five full Office Costs Expenses allowances.

This goes someway to explain an annual party turnover of something in the region of £1.2 million pa in Northern Ireland alone.

If Doherty’s constituency worker is a guide few if any of these workers are drawing down anything other than very modest salaries.

Given Ms McLelland has talked so openly (which is highly uncharacteristic for any SF public rep) to the press about the hardship she has encountered under such a tight regime it indicates that such low earnings are, as the party starts to expand, beginning to cause some strain.

Yet from a purely public interest point of view, the real problem with this whole party run understructure remains as unaccountable as the actual use those print cartridges released to the offices of Aenghus O’Snodaigh and Pat Doherty were put to.

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  • sfearon94

    It is not public money if it is paid privately to Pearse for the job he perform. What he does with his salary is of no concern to anybody, will anyone ask you what you do with yours? Unlikely.

    Merely another meek attempt at poking pathetically small holes in the Republican project.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Who will pay the wages of the 4 MPs put out to grass? (and Mart’y replacement) They don’t receive an MPs salary, and will loose their Assembly pay, obviously EXPENSES cannot be used to subsidise them, espically if as expected they are being shunted out of the road to London and elsewhere more often.

  • Mick Fealty

    They just come onto the party’s books. Simple, surely?

  • Henry94

    Private funding from vested interests which is the FG/FF/Lab model creates a much bigger accountability problem.

    In fact most TDs use a large part of their salary to pursue re-election by funding their own constituency organisations. The consequence of that is parties fractured into personal fiefdoms while the national organisation gets funded by vested interests.

    A party, if it is to be more than a flag of convenience should be supported by those who are members. Elected representatives taking advantage of the mad salaries paid to TDs in order to finance the party is fair enough as far as I’m concerned. Where do FG get their money and what do they do for it? That’s the more interesting question.

  • Mick Fealty

    In the case of Pearse, I’ve no problem with him giving up half of his net salary. And clearly from the McLelland account of what happens, some of the €57550.63 he draws in tax free expenses goes to pay for travel, subsistence and accommodation.

    But the rest of it goes directly to the party. This helps fund a substantial party infrastructure in which it is as difficult to determine the actual use of those funds as it was Aenghus to prove what that cartridge bill paid for.

    I would suggest that that’s beyond the original purpose of the state paying individual TDs, MLAs etc money to carry out their representative duties.

  • Mick Fealty


    I’m with you on that. And it’s pretty big too when it comes to people like Denis O’Brien and questions over the awarding the 3g licence. But it is a problem nonetheless.

  • Lionel Hutz

    The policy allows Sinn Fein to bombard its constituents. The expenses for the representative are used for electioneering. Fair enough as the downside is that they will never have the quality to break their glass ceiling. Even the DUP can attract quality representatives

  • Mick Fealty

    Don’t think I follow you there Lionel?

  • Lionel Hutz

    Sinn Fein are making a choice. They’re income, from salaries or expenses, goes to this infrastructure which has produced such success and can probably produce more, particularly in the south. But there’s a flip side to this practice. They cannot attract to same caliber of representative as say the DUP can. I don’t think it’s selfish to want to be paid a wage above the average industrial wage. If you’re interested in politics and want to be able to support a family, you wouldn’t join Sinn Fein. The best they can do is a Pearse Doherty, who is over-rated – mainly because he favorably compares to the rest of Sinn Fein.

  • Blissett

    As regards the expenses, my understanding is that no expenses which were intended to employ someone, are used for any other purpose.

  • Rory Carr

    “.I don’t think it’s selfish to want to be paid a wage above the average industrial wage. If you’re interested in politics and want to be able to support a family, you wouldn’t join Sinn Fein.”

    Are we then to conclude, Lionel, that the average industrial wage is insufficient to support a family on ? If so then good job we have at least politicians like those in Sinn Féin who are on the side of all those who struggle to support a family on inadequate wages.

    If the expenses that TD’s receive are in excess of what they actually have to expend in the running of their office then it certainly seems to me that the Sinn Féin practice of turning over that excess to the party to finance the like of research and such is a much better practice than simply trousering the excess, which presumably is what other TD’s must do, since we have no mention of ay of them following SF pracrice at least in this thread. Right Mick ?

  • Mick Fealty


    Maybe SF are ahead of the curve in having their party publicly funded in this way? But even though they are making the money go further by getting the TDs to spend half of their salary on support staff, the snaffling of expenses by the central party (for purposes that may or may not be in pursuiance of an individual deputy’s representative duties) creates an uneven playing field between themselves and other parties.

    Take for example the party’s MPs. None of them now will actually have a state salary at all. So now whilst the party will get most of their expenses, they themselves will need (presumably) to apply to the party for that salary.

    So they are now, more than ever, mere party employees with a state title and the means to buy a lot of services from the party (through their ‘Hoon money’…) which in turn helps fund their new salaries…

    Given that we know from Deputy McLelland that this is condition imposed (albeit assented to by them) upon its party reps it’s clear that the party has the upper call on its reps regardless of which state or legislature that rep serves in…

  • RyanAdams

    Lionel has a good point. At councillor level Sinn Fein have some very good calibre professional people – teachers, the odd solicitor, business owners – Now if any of these people want to go into full time politics as an MLA, many would have to accept a pay cut – (well except business owners) On a flip side that means they get people who are more loyal to the party though, at expense of a section of the population who may be more articulate than say Caral …

  • seamus60

    A lot of people presuming the party isn`t aided by any other income.

  • Mick Fealty

    if you have proof of something fine… Otherwise…

  • “A lot of people presuming the party isn`t aided by any other income.”

    Apart from the unknown unknowns, seamus60 – the party is part of a larger organisation – we do have these details that were published in the Irish Independent as well as what the party says about itself. In an age of austerity as well as relative tranquillity income may have significantly declined.

  • seamus60

    Nevin. True for some and not so true for others. 2 thriving subjects come to mind. Conflict resolution and the johnny come lately community groups. Most key players within certain communities having secured salaries that exceed the average industrial wage.
    Made more noticeable by a recent shuffle of people into positions in groups that are pretty new kids on the block as opposed to those old time groups who are having the very life squeezed out of them. One job in the last 2 weeks advertised for a co-ordinater. with a salary of £37,000 for the hours of Mon to Fri 10am to 2pm. But no one outside of SF are gonna apply for it, most having the relevant degree are smart enough to know they`re wasting their and the interviewers time.

  • seamus60

    Surprised not to see Friends of SF Columbia at the bottom of that page.

  • andnowwhat

    Is Seamus referring to the money Martina Anderson gets for playing Liz Mc Donald on Corry?

  • Little James

    seamus60- You are dead right about the “community groups” & “conflict resolution” cottage industry and the £80m social development slush fund will only provide more of these makey up jobs for the SF faithful.

  • seamus60

    Anyone know if theres already any data compiled with regards to SF members and their job positions within these new day community groups ? Dev got the media. SF have got this. Lets face it, graduates greatly outnumber prospects, leaves getting involved with SF a good angle. Get a community job leading to community recognition and just wait to be co-opted. Keep an eye on who will replace Meave Mc Laughlin in Derry. Look at their track record as proof of above. then look at their family connections to party and community groups. Now theres a pattern if you ever seen one. Tony (dutch) Doherty fell victim to the Bloody Sunday gravy train ending. Not to worry as another position was quickly created at a near by enterprise zone. lol Spotlight last week was a great example of community workers rallying around SF. Some salaries around that table of woman.

  • seamus60

    Andnowwhat. No need to be insulting to Liz Mc Donald

  • Rory Carr

    Mick fealty argues that “…the snaffling of expenses by the central party [Sinn Féin]… creates an uneven playing field between themselves and other parties.

    Which could easily be remedied if other TD’s donated the excess expenses paid to them to their respective parties rather than trousering it for their own use.

    A case of the difference between the Sinn Féiners and the mé féiners we might think.

  • seamus60

    You`re right Rory but the 26 million will eventually run out . Surely a game changer. lol

  • Little James

    You will be doing well to better the Maskey family when it comes to doing well from these community groups.

  • seamus60

    I would guess there are surely a few other families in the running.

  • cynic2

    Sure isn’t the whole party leadership in the North a collection of party clans?

  • Mick Fealty

    Except Rory, that’s exactly what its is for. Their own constituency use. It is quite clear that despite her mandate from the people the party does not trust Ms McLellad to spend tat money wisely on her own.

    She has limits imposed upon her by the party who clearly take the view that they and not her were the ones mandated by the good folk of Cork East. That’s the party’s internal culture, but it’s not how the constitution works.

  • cynic2

    But the constitution of the state is illegitimate and trumped by the army councils control of the Republican Movement’s constitution

  • Mick Fealty


    As I say, that might be the party’s internal culture, but…

  • Comrade Stalin

    They cannot attract to same caliber of representative as say the DUP can.

    A lot of the DUP’s MLAs are pretty dismal – there are one or two I can think of who have barely uttered a sentence since they were first elected to the assembly years ago. Not sure about the “calibre” thing at all.

    The MP and MLA salary is well above the national average and they get tax-free expenses for things that most people have to pay for out of their own pocket, for example travel subsistence, subsidized restaurant etc. I really don’t think it’s the money that’s stopping people going into politics.

  • Lionel Hutz

    But of a straw man argument is not CS. I’m not saying that this means that the DUP will only select good candidates. I’m simply making a point about the potential for stronger candidates – particularly when they are young.

    An average industrial wage might be able to sustain a family but if you have a young graduate with student debts etc, you need to aim for a higher salary to pay for the gamble youtook.

    Say someone in my position, for arguments sake. If I had something of value to offer politics, I couldn’t go to Sinn Fein. I have too much debt. But two of my cohort are able to make waves in other parties. One in the DUP and one in Alliance. Both councilors but you could see a future in the assembly – Though demographics in Upper Banner might make more difficult for Mr Dixon of Alliance

  • Rory Carr

    Perhaps you’re forgetting, Mick that Ms McLelland was mandated by the good folk of Cork East in the full knowledge of how she would use her salary and expenses, indeed it is more than likely that it was this SF policy that made her attractive to her electorate, but, in any case, we must assume that the electorate of Cork East have mandated her in this regard as have all the other constituencies, North and South, which returned Sinn Féin candidates And there is nothing unconstitutional about it, either in the Republic of Ireland or the United Kingdom, just as there is nothing unconstitutional about the party system itself or the oft-maligned whipping procedure.

    The real problem with the SF policy of public representatives choosing to live off only that part of their parliamentary salaries which is equivalent to the average industrial wage is that it brings into sharp relief the attitude of the other parties to remuneration and, by comparison, is likely to embarrass them before their own constituents. It is not as you say “a level playing field” but then Sinn Féin have often invited all MP’s MLA’s and TD’s of whatever party, to join with them in setting an example of frugality in these straitened times by doing likewise. The invitation still stands.

  • Little James

    They don’t give the money back to the state though, the party gets it.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Your point is absolutely fair, although I think the SF supporters would say that many of their electorate do not have the luxury of those choices. If you’re lucky to get a career in law, medicine or IT, then you’re fine, but that’s not everyone.

  • Mick Fealty


    Little James has it one. The money is drawn from the national pot and directed towards the party’s resources. This means pulling down from the national pot and filling the party one, regardless of those expenses.

    What TD chooses to do with their salary is one thing, but TDs cross subsidising the salary of abstentionist MPs with expenses that were supposed to serve the needs of the TDs constituents is quite another.

    The issue in the end is accountability. Who are SF TDs accountable to? The people, or the party?

  • Rory Carr

    What then of the other Td’s? They preumably simply troser the excess expenses reimbursemnet, this means (if I may paraphrase) pulling down from the national pot and filling the individual’s wallet, regardless of those expenses.

    Of course a TD not of Sinn Féin may decide to donate all or part of the excess towards the running costs of his constituency office (and for all we know some may in fact already do this) just as they may (and probably do) make a donation towards central party funds of FF, Labour, Green, whatever from their TD’s salary. So what’s the difference? That Sinn Féin are both transparent and efficient in the way they do it?

    As to accountabiliy you ask, “Who are SF TDs accountable to? The people, or the party?”. The answer is simple: They are accountable to both, same as those of any other party (think of recent events in the UUP for example).

  • Rory Carr


    “preumably” = presumably.

    “troser” = trouser


  • Mick Fealty

    Why not get rid of the (corporate and individual) trousering altogether? Bump up salaries and axe the expenses?

  • Mick Fealty
  • Mick Fealty

    I take it you’ve withdrawn to back gmac compete for a 3-a-row for NI at the US Open… I’m off tae bed…

  • Rory Carr

    I have littl or no interest in golf. I was catching up on my recording of Spiral 2, the superior French policier on BBC4.

    Your suggestion as to salaries and expenses could work but would result in an annual binge of horse-trading and greater public attention which non-SF TD’s certainly would not wish to countenance.

    I doubt very much that SIPO will find anything untoward since there is nothing untoward to find. What TD’s do with their remuneration is their own business, whether it be to assist party research into ongoing legislation, to help build a swimming pool at their Spanish retreat or to pay for an evening of relaxation from the stress of office in a massage parlour.

  • Mick Fealty

    agree on your last. seems like the same routine as last year.. not sure I follow your last…

  • Rory Carr

    Well a TD may apply all or part of his/her salary and expenses to any (legal) purpose they see fit, whether it be to fund political/social research, make a donation to their respective parties. build a deck in the garden, donate to the African Missions or the White Babies or live a life of unbridled hedonism.

    The electorate may object at any or all of these, but only if they are made aware – hence the fear of Sinn Féin’s policy of transparency and individual frugality – it shows up the intemperate habits of the others.

  • Mick Fealty

    Up to a point. SIPOC have limits on the amount they can give to their party. And its only a fraction of the salary. So, in theory t least, constituency workers must be employed by the TD and not the party.

    This, presumably is to avoid the state sponsorship of private party organisations who’s activities are necessarily political rather than representative.

    It’s not clear to me that under current rules the party is doing anything wrong. But then again neither was Aenghus till he got found out. Then the rules changed.

  • drc0610

    Sorry am I missing something.

    but surely the phrase “excess expense” is an oxymoron.

    By definition you cannot have excess expenses. They are supposed to be solely work related and backed up with reciepets.

    If a MP / MLA or whatever public representatives wants to donate their salary to their party then fair enough, but expenses?

    Unless they get a blanket allowance regardless of expenses incurred.

  • tomthumbuk

    Do they pay their income tax before the surplus goes to the party funds?

  • Mister Joe


    Obviously you’ve never had to discuss your tax matters with a government employee of the tax authorities.

  • cynic2

    BBC last night claimed that SF are blocking reduction
    In number of MLAs “to protect smaller parties”

    nothing to do with maximising the take on expenses then.

  • Mick Fealty


    According to Gerards figures, They do.