So the Sinn Fein expenses system again. On Friday we sketched a view of how it seems to work, with the party’s TD’s giving a large slice of their expenses in services provided centrally to the TD. Now we have confirmation from Michael Brennan in the Indo of what’s really been happening:
Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty put €8,000 worth of unspent travel and accommodation expenses towards hiring part-time party workers. Another frontbencher, foreign affairs spokesman Padraig Mac Lochlainn, also confirmed that he used unspent expenses in the same way.
Indeed Pearse Doherty is quite open about the difference between ‘real’ expenses and what he actually claims from the Oireachtas:
You will see from these tables that I personally do not keep all of the wages and expenses that is paid to me. Sinn Fein policy states that our elected representatives will only take home the average industrial wage. So therefore I receive a payment from this account equivalent to the net average industrial wage.
You will also see that the remainder of the funds in the account after my wage and my real expenses are deducted is spent on part time staff wages. This is to individuals that I have personally employed in my constituency offices and pay taxes on their behalf.
So party policy requires Pearse to claim for his real expenses and then spend the rest on part time workers. The problem is that he’s claiming these expenses for one thing and then spending it on another.
Specifically Brennan notes:
Mr Doherty only spent €24,000 of the €33,000 that he received for travel and accommodation expenses last year. He paid back €845.05 to the Oireachtas Commission, but that still left a surplus of around €8,000, which he put towards the wages of two extra Sinn Fein workers — both part-time — in his constituency.
The Oireachtas Commission confirmed that the redirecting of travel expenses to pay staff wages was not permitted under rules introduced in 2010. TDs are supposed to return any unspent expenses.
According to WiredwithWhelan the total amount spent in Oireachtas expenses is around €40 million. He also details precisely what more general expenses may be spent on, which includes the hire of two secretaries at 41,092 per year each, which is well above the average industrial wage.
Brennan also notes:
– Sinn Fein officials monitor the bank accounts of each of the party’s 14 TD to ensure that they use part of their wages to hire constituency staff.
– Each TD only takes the annual industrial wage after tax — around €29,000 — from their €92,000-a-year salary.
– The balance, which works out at around €18,000 after tax and pension levies, is used to pay for additional constituency staff.
– Over €250,000 was legally diverted in this way last year alone.
It begs the trite question of who (if anyone) keeps tabs on the member for Louth’s bank accounts?
Despite a blanket denial by the party that it had done anything wrong, Mr Doherty said this morning:
“…if I am in breach in any way, shape or form of any rules or regulations then no problem whatsoever, I will pay that money back.”
Slugger understands that SIPO, having previously taken similar assurances from Sinn Fein at face value is to ask the Sinn Fein TD for Cork East Sandra McLelland to clarify her reported claims that the party is simply taking parts of her salary to put to their own party political use.
Let’s be clear, this is hardly an issue that will bother its base. But there’s considerable debate in the confines of the Leinster House bubble, where in the midst of a financial crisis that shows no sign of abating, a political vacuum is developing where traditional forms of funding are at a premium and there’s big stakes being played for.
Sinn Fein has been aided in using the system by the willingness of its public representatives to do or say whatever it takes to fund crucial electoral assets in order to target constituencies across the country.
The Oireachtas hawks are circling…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty