Tag Archives: Expenses

From top: Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe; Ken Foxe

 

Ken Foxe writes:

Some time ago, a group of eight junior ministers went complaining to Minister Paschal Donohoe that the expenses they are paid are not enough and asked him to do something about it.

Naturally, I submitted an FOI request for records related to this meeting and its outcome:

At first, the Dept of Public Expenditure (the department responsible for FOI in Ireland!) did not even answer the request.

I sought an internal review on the basis this was a “deemed refusal”. The Department eventually responded to say they held no records relating to the meeting.

I appealed the decision to the Information Commissioner. It was hard to believe that a meeting could take place between a Minister & eight Ministers of State & not a scrap of paper exist relating to it.

In particular, I asked if records might be held on phones or in private emails

The Department said they had searched all their internal emails. They’d asked officials if they held records.

They claimed it was an “informal meeting” that happened “on the margins of another meeting”. Therefore, there wasn’t a single record about it

They said it was on the record that Minister Donohoe does not use “private email accounts”. And the department said searches of such accounts could not be required under the FOI Act….

And more bizarre again, the Information Commissioner agreed that there was no reason to ask the minister if he had held any records

They said that in a previous similar case (Terry Prone/Frances Fitzgerald) I had been able to provide documentary evidence that such records existed on phones & in private email accounts. I didn’t have evidence this time. How on earth would I?

The Information Commissioner agreed with the department decision to refuse the request on the basis that no records existed….

…And there you have it, Minister Donohoe can be lobbied by eight of his colleagues to increase their expense payments and not a single record of this meeting exist.

The meeting is a shadow. Worse, this involves the department who are responsible for oversight of our FOI laws …

… worse again, the Information Commissioner believes it is up to the requester to provide evidence that such records exist. This is clearly impossible given requesters have no access to the relevant records and that is why they are making an FOI request in the first place …

… and worse again, the Information Commissioner believes it would be unreasonable to even ask the minister the question of whether he held/holds records relating to this meeting on his mobile phone or in his private email address.

And presumably we are expected to believethat this lobbying happened as if by magic. Nine government ministers sitting down having a discussion about their expenses on the “margins” of another meeting.

And the minister responsible did not take even a single note of it.

Right To Know

Ken Foxe

Keith Swanick as a GP (left) And as Fianna Fail  Senator and his voting record – the poorest in Seanad Eireann by some distance

Further to an RTE Investigates investigation into missed votes – and expense claims – in the upper house.

Via RTÉ Investigates:

In the first seven months of this year, Dr [Keith]Swanick voted in just six of the 114 votes that took place.

Dr Swanick has claimed his full entitlements under the TAA scheme. As a Mayo resident, he is entitled to claim just over €28,000 each year. From June 2016 to the end of 2018, he received close to €73,000 in travel expenses.

Dr Swanick has a general practice in Belmullet, Co Mayo. Last year, he received €520,000 under the General Medical Services (GMS) scheme, the highest amount for any GP in Mayo. In a statement, Dr Swanick said this figure was a “gross amount” and did not represent his personal income.

On Monday 8 July, RTÉ Investigates phoned his surgery to see if he was available to see patients the following day, Tuesday 9 July, which was also a Seanad voting day.

We were told Dr Swanick would be available for appointments that Tuesday at 3.30pm and at 4.50pm.

Oireachtas records show Dr Swanick was recorded at Leinster House that Tuesday.

He was at Leinster House the following morning, Wednesday 10 July, at 9am and participated in a Health Committee meeting.

RTÉ Investigates asked Dr Swanick if, following the completion of surgery on Tuesday 9 July, at around 5pm, he drove to Leinster House – about a four-hour drive from Belmullet – to record his attendance that evening.

He did not respond.

Senators, expenses and the missed votes (RTÉ)

Leo Varadkar (left) launching his ‘Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All’ campaign, when he was Minister for Social Protection in May 2017; Fine Gael TD Dara Murphy (right).

Communications Minister Richard Burton said Mr Murphy now needs to show his expense claims were justifiable.

Mr Bruton said: “Now he needs to account for what claims he made and whether those claims were justifiable.

“I mean, a lot of questions have surfaced in the media and they do have to be answered, I think it’s important that the committee on members’ interests investigate this and thrash it out,” Mr Bruton said.

Fine Gael Minister Says Murphy Should Pay Back Expenses (Irish Examiner)

Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae

This morning.

RTÉ Investigates analysed official attendance records published by the Oireachtas, together with TD voting records, to find instances where TDs signed in electronically and then failed to attend any votes.

To wit:

Those who most frequently missed every vote on days when they clocked in include Independents Michael Healy-Rae, Danny Healy-Rae, as well as Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny, Independent TD Noel Grealish, and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and his party colleague Willie O’Dea.

RTÉ Investigates found that between March 2016 and the end of July 2019, Michael Healy-Rae recorded his attendance in Leinster House for 76 days on which he missed the entire day’s votes.

In that period, there were 155 days when he signed in and a vote took place- meaning he missed 49% of the voting days for which he was recorded as present at Leinster House.

Michael Healy-Rae told RTÉ Investigates that he sometimes had meetings when votes took place. He also said that, on occasion, he would be asked to ‘pair’ – an arrangement whereby two opposing TDs agree not to vote, which generally occurs when one or both of the TDs have other commitments and can’t attend.

RTÉ Investigates – TDs, expenses and the missed votes (RTÉ)

Rollingnews

Oh dear.

Anyone?

Senator David Norris

A clip from a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform discussing the Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures Bill 2013

You may recall journalist Ken Foxe’s ongoing efforts to obtain the invoices and receipts submitted by 22 TDs and Senators.

He’s been denied access, and has been told the expenses are ‘private papers’.

At the weekend, Mr Foxe tweeted the video clip above and called into question the differences between what was said and the official Oireachtas transcript.

This is a transcript of what was said:

Sean Fleming: “…like we have no problem. Our fobs everyday, I think it’s in the paper, our attendance, from the, our electronic papers of everyday, we fob in here, and our mileage and our expenses. There’s a whole lot of records and [inaudible] that are published.”

Brendan Howlin: “That’s procedural. They’re not private papers. It’s up to the Oireachtas itself to determine private papers but I mean there will be communications that should be privileged. There are things that should not be determined to be private papers. The Oireachtas will set those rules.”

Meanwhile…

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 12.07.18

The official Oireachtas transcript, via Kildarestreet.com.

Anyone?

Previously: Crazy Like  A Foxe

UPDATE: How could political expenses be classified as “private papers” when the Minister responsible said it should not apply to them? (Ken Foxe)

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 13.47.28

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From top: Part of a letter sent from the Office of the Information Commissioner to Ken Foxe and Mr Foxe

You may recall how, back in December 2014, journalist and Dublin Institute of Technology lecturer Ken Foxe’s attempted, via Freedom of Information requests, to get the invoices and receipts submitted by 22 TDs and Senators.

Every year, accountancy firm Mazars randomly audits 10% of national politicians’ expense claims and these were the 22 politicians Mr Foxe wished to focus on for his investigation.

However, on January 16, 2015, this request was refused with the Oireachtas claiming it never physically held the records. It claimed the records passed from the politicians to Mazars.

On February 9, 2015, Mr Foxe sought an internal review of this refusal.

But, on February 25, 2015, the Oireachtas again refused claiming, under section 42(l) of the FOI Act, that the records Mr Foxe was seeking were considered to be the politicians’ ‘private papers’.

In turn, solicitor Fred Logue helped Mr Foxe put together a new appeal for the information, to the Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall.

But Mr Tyndall refused, highlighting the new FOI Act 2014, and in particular Section 42(l), which, he said: “affords a more significant protection for private papers of members of the Houses than previously existed.”

This section was introduced by the then Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform and Labour TD Brendan Howlin, on November 13, 2013.

Mr Foxe has since asked the Information Commissioner to reconsider his decision.

Further to this.

Mr Foxe writes:

Unfortunately, the battle to have the receipts and invoices of TDs and Senators made public has hit another brick wall and the Information Commissioner has said he will not reconsider his original decision.

Despite what we thought was a strong case put together by myself and with enormous assistance from Fred Logue, the case has been “discontinued”.

…In a letter explaining why they were discontinuing the case, the Office of the Information Commissioner said none of the arguments we made “would result in [them] … reversing [their original] decision”.

That now leaves realistically two options: a judicial review, or the possibility that politicians might reform the system themselves.

With the chances of politicians fixing something that benefits only themselves so remote, that leaves only a judicial review.

And that obviously is under consideration … with the reality that it would have to be paid for somehow.

For those who are interested in such things, a copy of the letter of discontinuation from the Office of the Information Commissioner, the original letter seeking review, and a copy of the final email pleading not to discontinue (with some personal details removed) are [here].

I would urge all readers again to support Right to Know and the work we are trying to do to pursue transparency in our unnecessarily secretive country.

Private Papers update: Information Commissioner refuses to re-examine his decision on keeping political expenses secret (Ken Foxe)

Previously: How They Took Back Your Freedom

frankorourkecelbridgeleinster

From top: Frank O’Rourke TD; Mr O’Rourke’s journey from Celbridge, Co Kildare to Leinster House, Dublin 2 according to Google Maps.

Intrepid expenses hound Ken Foxe writes:

A Newly-elected TD is being paid an extra €16,000-a-year in tax-free expenses because his drive to work is 500 metres above the threshold for politicians that live close to the Dáil.

Fianna Fáil’s Frank O’Rourke, who was elected in the Kildare North constituency, is being paid travel and accommodation expenses of more than €2,100 per month.

Under current rules, TDs who live less than 25 kilometres from the Dáil are paid €9,000 a year tax-free to cover their travel costs to work, and also for travel within their constituency.

However, once they live above a threshold of 25 kilometres – their rate of payment makes a dramatic jump of more than 180 per cent.

In the claim form submitted by Mr O’Rourke to authorities at Leinster House, he has said the distance that he must travel to the Dáil each day is exactly 25.5 kilometres.

However, when the trip from his home to Leinster House is entered into Google Maps, the distance is said to be 24 kilometres.

Despite that, Mr O’Rourke is correct and when the trip was measured independently, it came in at just above 25 kilometres.

Mr O’Rourke said:

“I was asked for the distance. I set the clock on my car and on three occasions and following the only way I can go – no long way or manipulation of it whatsoever, I got 25.5 kilometres and on another day I got 26. I averaged it at 25.5 kilometres.

If it was 22, it would have gone down [as that]. I’m not into that sort of carry-on or stuff whatsoever.…”

How an extra 500 metres can mean an additional €16,000-a-year in the ridiculous world of Irish political expenses (Ken Foxe)

Appointment
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From top: Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall with President Michael D Higgins and Labour’s Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin on the day of his appointment in December 2013; Mr Howlin’s introduction of ‘significant extra protection’ for politicians in the FOI Act 2014

You’ll recall Ken Foxe’s unsuccessful attempts to access copies of invoices and receipts submitted by 22 TDs and Senators, under Freedom of Information requests.

The Oireachtas refused Mr Foxe’s request claiming the documents were the politicians’ ‘private papers’.

He appealed this decision to the Information Commissioner because, in a case in 1999, the then Information Commissioner Kevin Murphy ruled that politicians’ expenses couldn’t be regarded as ‘private papers’.

However, the current Information Commissioner Peter Tyndall – who was nominated to his position by Labour TD and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin – upheld the Oireachtas’s decision not to grant Mr Foxe access to the documents.

Mr Tyndall ruled that Section 42 (1) of the new FOI Act 2014 – introduced by Mr Howlin – contained a new provision which “affords a more significant protection for private papers of members of the Houses than previously existed”.

Further to this…

Mr Foxe, a lecturer in Dublin Institute of Technology, asked Mr Tyndall and Mr Howlin’s department several questions in relation to his decision.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform had no comment to make on Mr Tyndall’s findings.

However, these are Mr Foxe’s questions to Mr Tyndall and the answers he received…

Has Mr Tyndall raised concerns with the Dept of Public Expenditure with regard to what appears to have been extra provisions put in place for protection of politicians’ private papers from public scrutiny?

The Constitution provides that the sole and exclusive power of making laws for the State is vested in the Oireachtas and it is the role of the Information Commissioner, in relation to the FOI Act, to implement the legislation passed by the Oireachtas in an independent and impartial manner.

As can be seen from the recent decision in case 150073, the Commissioner considers it reasonable to conclude that receipts and invoices for expenses incurred by members in the course of the performance of their functions would not ordinarily be considered to be private papers of the members. However, for the purpose of his review, he was confined to determining whether the Oireachtas had correctly applied the provisions of the legislation.

While the Commissioner has not raised any specific concerns with the Department, it should be noted that the Central Policy Unit of the Department receives a copy of every decision made. Accordingly, the Department is aware of the Commissioner’s findings and comments in so far as they are set out in the decision.

How can Mr Tyndall balance the very clear decision made by his predecessor that private papers was clearly never meant to apply to receipts, invoices, expenses etc.?

Mr Murphy’s decision in case 99168, taken in 1999, was based on the legislation as it pertained at the time. It is noteworthy that the records at issue, relating to expense payments made to members of the Oireachtas were held by Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas, in accordance with the expense processing arrangements which existed at the time.

In case 150073, The Commissioner was required to consider the provisions of the FOI Act 2014. The Act of 2014 contains a provision which did not exist in 1999.

Furthermore, the records sought in case 150073, namely the receipts and invoices relating to expenses incurred by the members, are held by the members in accordance with the expense processing arrangements currently in place. This is a relevant consideration in determining whether the records relate to private papers of the members, within the meaning of Part 10 of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges, and Procedures) Act 2013 (the 2013 Act).

Does Mr Tyndall believe his decision will have broader implications now, that access to salaries, expenses, pensions, overseas travel and so on relating to TDs and Senators could now be considered “private papers”?

For a record to be excluded from the FOI Act under section 42(l), the record must relate to any private paper or confidential communication within the meaning of Part 10 of the 2013 Act, or official document, within the meaning of Part 11 of that Act. The question of whether a record is captured by the provision is dependent upon a number of factors, including the nature of the record, its contents, who holds the record etc. The question of whether or not a record is a private paper for the purpose of section 42(l) is not determined by the provisions of the FOI Act. Rather, it is determined by the provisions of the 2013 Act.

It is also noteworthy that under section 42(k), the FOI Act does not apply to a record relating to any private papers (within the meaning of Article 15.10 of the Constitution) of a member of either House of the Oireachtas or an official document of either or both of such Houses that is required by the rules or standing orders of either or both of such Houses to be treated as confidential.

Keeping political expenses secret: what the government has to say (No Expenses Spared, Ken Foxe)

Previously: How They Took Back Your Freedom

Pics: OIC and Kildarestreet.com

rte

Your local representative.

On the take.

Laura Fitzgerald writes:

The programme will reveal the extent and nature of breaches [of ethics legislation] across the political system. As a result of RTÉ’s investigation, a number of politicians at both council and Oireachtas level have already corrected the record. The programme also focuses on particular cases where evidence of direct conflicts of interest has been found.

Given the scale and, in some in some cases, the severity of non-declarations, the investigation narrowed to concentrate on a select number of councillors. An RTÉ undercover investigative reporter contacted these people. The programme will broadcast footage from these meetings and will reveal requests for personal rewards to carry out work as a public representative….

RTÉ Investigates – Standards in Public Office, Monday December 7 at 9.35pm on RTÉ One.