Stephen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform:

  • the changes he proposes to make to the funding and resourcing of individual TDs and political parties;
  • the timeframe for implementation of these changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:

Aside from salaries and other allowances in the nature of pay, there are three main ways that funding and resourcing of individual Deputies and political parties are provided by the taxpayer: first, amounts provided to political parties and independent representatives by way of the party leader allowance; second, payments under the Electoral Acts; and third, allowances paid to Members of each House in respect of their duties as public representatives and in respect of free travelling and other facilities in accordance with Article 15.15 of the Constitution.

The party leader allowance is provided for in the Oireachtas (Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices) Act 1938, as amended by the Oireachtas (Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices (Amendment) Act 2001.  The allowance is paid to the parliamentary leader of a qualifying party in respect of expenses arising from the parliamentary activities of that party, including research.  Payments are made in respect of members of the party elected to Dáil Éireann and elected or nominated to Seanad Éireann in the preceding general election or a subsequent by-election, or nominated to Seanad Éireann after the preceding general election.  The conditions governing calculation of and entitlement to payment of the allowance are set out in the Act.  The primary restriction on the use of the allowances in the Act is that they may not be used in respect of election expenses.

The legislation also provides that payments may be made to Members of Dáil Éireann who at the last preceding general election or a subsequent by-election were elected as Members other than as members of qualifying parties.  Such qualifying Independent Deputies are entitled to an annual rate of €41,152.  A similar provision in the Act provides for an annual payment of €23,383 for Independent Senators.  I intend to bring proposals on these allowances to the Government shortly.  Any changes proposed following that review will require primary legislation, which is currently being prepared.

Responsibility for the Electoral Acts is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.

Following a major review, a new system of expense allowances payable to Oireachtas Members was introduced in 2010.  I have also reduced the number of pre-paid envelopes Members may receive.  It is my intention to continue to ensure that the greatest value for money can be achieved for payments and expenses of this nature on an ongoing basis consistent with ensuring maximum efficiency and output from Members.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Finally, additional supports for the activities of Members of each House, including secretarial assistance, are provided directly to Members under the auspices of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.  Since 2004, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission has been financed from the Central Fund.  The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act is amended every three years to provide the Oireachtas funding allocation for the following three years.  The legislation is also amended as necessary to update finance, staffing, and governance procedures.  It is envisaged that amending legislation will be enacted before the end of 2012.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly:

The question encompassed resourcing and funding for all Deputies and political parties.  The Minister did not get a chance to finish the reply.  I will assume – he may correct me if I am wrong – that the changes being introduced are purely to leaders’ allowances and allowances for Independent Deputies—–

Deputy Brendan Howlin:

No.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly:

—–and that there are no major changes proposed for the political parties.  The Minister might clarify that in his reply.

We have a major opportunity to lead by example in two ways.  We need radical cuts to political funding and funding for Deputies.

I welcome the vouching of the leader’s allowance.  It is extraordinary that I am allowed unvouched payments and I do not think I should.

As the Minister will be aware, the resources provided to Independent Deputies are a fraction of those paid to Members who are in parties.  For example, Independent Deputies receive one fourth of the amount paid to Fianna Fáil Deputies.  When one adds the leader’s allowance to the Exchequer funding, the funding per Deputy is several times higher in Opposition parties than it is for Independents, while Government parties receive approximately twice as much.  Total expenditure on leaders’ allowances is €4.8 million annually, based on 2011 figures, with an additional €4 million in Exchequer funding.  Will the Minister consider bringing the total State funding for individual Deputies to the current level paid to Independent Deputies, that is, approximately €40,000 before reducing the amount by a further 10%?  My calculations suggest that we would save the State between €7 million and €10 million if political funding to parties was at the level currently paid to Independent Deputies.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:

I would welcome a debate on the matter when I publish my suggestions.  The Deputy is wrong on a couple of points, however.  I will be reviewing all allowances, whether to political parties or to Independent Deputies.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly:

That was a question.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:

I thought he was making an assumption.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly:

No.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:

The claim that Fianna Fáil Deputies are receiving multiples of what is paid to Independent Deputies is also incorrect.  As an Independent, Deputy Donnelly personally receives €41,152.  The first ten Fianna Fáil Deputies receive €71,000, which is less than twice that paid to Independent Deputies, the next 11 to 30 receive €57,000 each and above 30 the figure is €28,000.  The idea behind this system is that the demands on a major Opposition party in terms of fronting Parliament and analysing major national events are different to the work of an Independent Deputy.

I am willing to consider these matters in the round.  We have had extensive debates on the funding of politics by business and there was considerable pressure to exclude political donations of all kinds, even personal ones.  From my perspective, I do not see a great difference between a check sent from Tony O’Reilly in a personal capacity and one from Independent News and Media.  However, if one is to restrict private as well as public funding for political parties, how will the political system continue to operate?  As we saw in the last referendum, there are significant external funders for debates in this country.  I do not think that is healthy but we need to debate these issues.

 Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly:

The figures I provided are correct.  The figures I received in a parliamentary question solely refer to the leader’s allowance.  The Minister cited the Electoral Acts, which give Fianna Fáil an additional €1.1 million.  When one adds the leader’s allowance to the funding provided through the Acts, public funding to political parties such as Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil is several times that paid to Independent Deputies on a per capita basis.  I can provide the Minister with the figures.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:

I have them in front of me.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly:

I welcome that he is going to review all forms of political funding because it needs to decrease across the board.  As part of that review I ask that he consider providing funding directly to Members.  There is nothing in the Constitution on political parties.  Power, authority and the democratic mandate are vested in each of us as Members of Dáil Éireann.  I suggest that a healthier system would involve the allocation of money to individual Deputies and Senators and, if they then chose to be a member of the Labour Party or other party, it would be up to them to contribute a portion of their resources.  The Constitution does not vest the democratic mandate in parties.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:

I do not accept the Deputy’s argument.  Obviously we come from very different traditions.  I joined a political party to drive the agenda to which I subscribe.  We debate democratically within the party and attend national conferences which provide a space for input from our membership.  I do not come to this House as a sole trader.  I come with a political agenda and I believe Deputies Fleming and McDonald are involved in politics on the same basis.  The essence of our democratic system is not that we ask an array of individuals to represent us but that Governments set out manifestos that will be implemented, sometimes after negotiations on a programme for Government.  The Deputy’s proposal would fracture the basis of our political system and I, for one, am not keen to pursue it.