Tag Archives: Expenses

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

18iYdhna_400x400

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
howlin-1024x437

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.

000b1ea1-642

Ken Foxe, for the RTÉ Investigations Unit, has created a database of ministerial pay and expenses from March 2011 until the end of December 2014.

It follows a database that Mr Foxe created in January which outlined TDs and Senators’ pay, allowances and expenses from March 2011 until the end of July 2014.

In his latest investigation, Mr Foxe found that, as a whole, Government ministers have received approximately €27million in pay and expenses since the Fine Gael/Labour coalition was formed in 2011, while the average amount paid to each minister during the period was €631,000.

He also found:

· Almost €1.6 million was paid in mileage on an unvouched basis.

· The mileage bill rose each year since 2011 to €473,000 in 2014.

· An Taoiseach Enda Kenny was paid more than €780,000 in salary, expenses and other costs during the period, and is top of the list.

· Nine other senior politicians were paid or reimbursed in excess of €700,000 (at least €186,666 annually) between the election and the end of 2014. They are in descending order: Simon Coveney, Jimmy Deenihan, Leo Varadkar, Phil Hogan, James Reilly, Michael Noonan, Brendan Howlin, Joan Burton and Eamon Gilmore.

· Costs for a further 16 senior politicians exceeded €600,000 (a minimum €160,000 annually).

· At least one government minister chose not to take part of their salary and this is reflected in the database. Minister Joan Burton did not take the allowance she is entitled to as Tánaiste, which would be approximately €15,000 annually.

· €165,608 paid for ministerial mobiles and broadband while an additional €75,601 was paid for landlines at home or in constituency offices.

View the database here

Ministers paid more than €27 million in pay and expenses (RTE)

Previously: On Your Dime

Thanks Laura Fitzgerald

MmulherinMichelle Mulherin and Danson Kole

Last week RTÉ’s Ken Foxe reported that a TD or Senator ran up a €2,000 bill in calls to a mobile phone in Kenya. The person wasn’t identified as confidentiality rules forbid the Oireachtas to find out who made the calls.

But yesterday the Sunday Times reported that phone records showed Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin  was “the only politician whose attendance is documented on each of the 19 days when the calls were made”.

In response, Ms Mulherin went on RTÉ R1’s Today with Sean O’Rourke this morning to set the record straight have a chat.

Sean O’Rourke: “Maybe you might just explain the two figures and the calls?”

Michelle Mulherin: “Well, I’m not really in a position to explain any figures because the first, or the only information I have is what’s out in the media in relation to the issue of phonecalls. I have never been contacted by the Oireachtas or Leinster House in relation to any problem with phonecalls. Yes, I made some calls to Africa, none of them were personal. And, indeed for the most part, they were pertained to a third party who is a private citizen who has been maligned and shamed in a newspaper article because of association with me and potential legal action is arising there from. So, I’m not really at liberty to go into that further but what I can say is that I understand at all times, in relation to the use of the phones which is, I suppose, the same as people would operate in business. It’s not for personal, it’s for business and my phonecalls were not personal.”

O’Rourke: “But can you give us an idea…were all the phonecalls, first of all, were they all made to the same number?”

Mulherin: “Well, I don’t know because, as I say, I only…what I have done is, I suppose, just to, because I only know about what’s in the media. We have contacted the Ceann Comhairle. I’ve written to the Ceann Comhairle and I’ve asked them to investigate it. You know the Ceann Comhairle is chair of the oireachtas commission which runs the houses of parliament which looks after the day-to-day affairs of what happens in Leinster House and I’m asking him to look into it. And basically I’m open to whatever he has to say about it. And, basically, the commission which is the committee that he sits with, who then deliberates on these issues in relation to the propriety of any phonecalls I made. At this point, until that clarification is given, I mean in fairness the phonecalls listed there to all over the world, I’d say as there has been every year, and that’s the nature, we’re a parliament, we’re international and I’d like to get more information.
What I will say is if there is a problem and the, I know I’ve made calls and the figures that have been given seem excessive or expensive, if I say it that way. I have no problem in paying or refunding money. But I’d just like to make the proviso all calls have been made in the course of my work and as part of me being a politician. Nothing else, nothing personal. And I suppose what I feel is this really throws open another vista which is maybe a game changer which is if a private individual contacts me, or I contact them and there’s an ongoing matter or indeed if I phone a journalist, in relation to a sensitive case and if that business is ongoing, do politicians and do TDs and senators now run the risk of that now confidentiality that confidentiality which is assured to the communications of TDs by constitutional protection. Is that gone by the wayside? Because, to me, this is the whole new situation we’ll be talking about. We’ve a lot of debate, I suppose, about whistleblowers, confidentiality, things like that. And this is really a new departure in relation to the houses of the oireachtas. And I’ve also asked that the Ceann Comhairle would investigate that.”

O’Rourke: “Yes, but the Sunday Times says, though you don’t seem to be as clear about it, but, I’m not saying they’re more accurate than you but they say that it’s been established that all the calls, 19 calls, were made to the same mobile number. And…”

Mulherin: “But sure we don’t know what that number is, Seán.”

O’Rourke: “Yes but you seem to accept that you did make those calls…”

Mulherin: “I did, I made some calls Seán I made some calls for sure and their, I’m, I’m not taking from that but look all of this has coming at me from the media. As I said, nobody has ever, nobody has within the houses of the oireachtas, you have the clerk of the Dáil, you have the assistant clerk of the Dáil, we’re often sent out memos about issues arising and, as I said, there are a lot of international calls made and if there was a problem in relation to my usage of a phone, or in general, I’d imagine that I’d have been told about it. And I maintain that the manner in which I keep a phone was within the standard way, except that it just happened to be somebody who was in Kenya.”

O’Rourke: “Yes, but I think in this instance, the Sunday Times and the [Irish Daily] Mail today both indicate they had, that you were not available to explain or comment to them about the situation. Now obviously that’s changed this morning.”

Mulherin: “Just to be clear, again Seán, I have contacted Ceann Comhairle to get to the bottom of it, so has not, this isn’t something that has been brought to my attention before this, in terms of the houses of the oireachtas telling me there’s a problem…”

O’Rourke: “Yes but…”

Mulherin: “So I have to find out that myself and I think that…”

O’Rourke: “Yes, and in fairness there may be no problem at all, Michelle, there may be no problem at all but, in the meantime, it’s emerged that Ken Foxe [of RTÉ’s Investigations Unit], the RTÉ reporter, he got details or he looked for details of the recipient of the calls in an FOI appeal to the Information Commissioner in 2013 now the appeal outlines how the Oireachtas contacted the number to establish who, to establish who was the recipient of the calls and concluded it was a local Kenyan mobile number of a personal phone of a private person, that’s what it says here in the text…”

Mulherin: “Well, I wasn’t contacted.”

O’Rourke: “But are you saying that you should have been. I mean this is just seeking information about who made the calls.”

Mulherin: “No, Seán, I’m not trying to make any less or more here of this. As I said I have absolutely no problem in making refund if that’s what’s required. But what I am maintaining is that I didn’t act outside the jurisdiction or what I’m allowed to do, as part of my job as a politician. And the big issue I think is how the confidentiality of not just myself but of somebody that I might call and this may happen in the future and where does that put all these calls…where does it put, where does it put communications with journalists, where does it put communications with citizens with ongoing problems, if you have an investigation journalist who’ll go to that length to identify individuals…”

O’Rourke: “And that’s presumably why the confidentiality was preserved through the Office of the Information Commissioner. Maybe the big question is, aswell, is there a matter here that has to do with taxpayers’ money being spent on personal phonecalls?”

Mulherin: “Well, in relation to that, I have confirmed to you it isn’t. I actually, being honest with you, don’t have a personal life. All my life is pretty much taken up with politics and that’s everyday of the week. I haven’t got the liberty of having long, lengthy personal phonecalls out of Leinster House..”

O’Rourke: “Ah no, but you would, you would remember maybe making…”

Mulherin: “Is this story just to do with the cost of the taxpayer or, might I suggest, that there’s an attraction to link my personal life, as it has been in the past, with someone in Africa. And to go down that route, and it is of interest to some sectors of the media that that angle would be taken on it. I mean there’s calls made all over the world there so there is, from Qatar to Columbia, several calls to Columbia. Look, this is bigger than Michelle Mulherin, this will be sorted. What I’m saying is there’s a total confidentiality issue here in relation to how politicians can do their business with people, which is political business…”

O’Rourke: “No but you’ve gone some way towards explaining or at least giving us an explanation by saying these calls were made in the course of your business, as a TD. Now, just to give you some of the listener reaction, ‘Does this woman – in otherwords, you – know if she made the calls? Yes or no?’.”

Mulherin: “I’ve already said I made calls to Africa, I don’t know if they are those calls. I have made the request to the Ceann Comhairle in relation to, getting further information and, with respect, not from the media but from the houses of the Oireachtas that keep the records and that also have rules of conduct in relation to how we conduct ourselves which I am more than willing and happy to attend to and oblige to.”

O’Rourke: “When you talk about those calls being made in the course of your work, as a TD, have to do with an individual who was ‘maligned’ in the media. Is this the person that you were friendly with? That you helped in your campaign? I think, if I pronounce his name correctly, Danson Kole?”

Mulherin: “I don’t want to be going into this third party situation, to add insult to injury but, yes, the individual who was maligned and defamed, was that third party and, as I say, there are more people who are connected with the revelations or the spurious information that was given in a particular newspaper article and they’re private citizens and I don’t want to be going into it.”

O’Rourke: “But can I just clarify? He’s a person who’s maligned, as you say, in the media. Is he the person to whom you made the phonecalls?”

Mulherin: “Yes, in relation to that particular matter, yeah.”


O’Rourke:
“Right, so where does the third party come into this then?”

Mulherin: “Well, he is a third party private citizen who got mentioned in a newspaper article just because he was associated with me.”

O’Rourke: “Right, no, so my interpretation of third party was that the calls were made about a third party when, in fact, the calls were made directly to him.”

Mulherin: “No, well, depends on where you begin and end, define a third party.”

Talk over each other.

O’Rourke: “There may be no big mystery…”

Mulherin: “…also associated with this story, ok? As I say, look, it, my phonecalls were not personal and the individuals that you’ve referred to there, he is a private citizen and he doesn’t need to be put into newspaper articles because he’s associated with me and in the manner in which a story was reported.”

O’Rourke: “And were those phonecalls then, were they all about the malignment of him in the media?”

Mulherin: “In relation, my, what I have said is that, for the most part, they were but I have had communication with this individual, I’ve had communications with Dan over a period of time and, as I say, he’s somebody that I would have dealings with in relation to political situations, as I do have other people who I would call political confidantes or people that…”

O’Rourke: “Sure and your basic position, if I could summarise it and tell me if I’m being unfair or incomplete or otherwise is that you made calls on 19 days to Dan and they had to go with the fact that he was maligned in the media and they were calls that were made directly to him, to his mobile in the course of your work as a TD and not in any other setting?”

Mulherin: “It’s all in the context, if I want to be making calls besides, and I have done, I can make them on my own phone and I’ve done it. So and in relation to the number of calls and the actual calls themselves, this is something I am getting clarification from, from the House of the Oireachtas and I think that, in fairness, I should be entitled to do that.”

O’Rourke: “Of course..”

Mulherin: “As far as I’m concerned if something is deemed excessive or there’s a problem in relation to calls that I made I have no problem making a refund but I just want to stress it’s in the course of my political business. And I believe that this invasion of the confidentiality of phonecalls that I have made, in the course of my political business…it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger that Michelle Mulherin and, as I say, that issue will be sorted. It’s about confidentiality in relation to anybody who today or tomorrow decides to ring a TD or a senator about their business.”

O’Rourke: “Does the question of spending, be it €968 or €2,000 or taxpayers’ money, on these calls, is that an issue?”

Mulherin: “What I’m saying is that I have no problem refunding money if that’s what’s required to be done here.”

O’Rourke: “OK, we’ll leave it there.”

Listen back here

Previously: Who’s Phoning Kenya?

Related: ‘Fornication row’ TD’s own little secret: Deputy’s partner has a lovechild… by a girlfriend 17 years his junior ( Alison O’Reilly, Irish Mail on Sunday, April 21, 2012)

000a0c9b-642

Nobody can stop them.

A TD or Senator has run up significant bills by making dozens of expensive calls to a single African number yet confidentiality rules prohibit the Oireachtas from finding out who is responsible.
Records released by the Oireachtas show that the Kenyan mobile was the destination number for 38 out of the 100 most expensive calls during late 2011 and 2012.
In 2013, the number of calls to the phone reduced somewhat, but it still remained responsible for 16 out of the 100 most expensive calls made that year.
Authorities at Leinster House are powerless to contact the politician’s office responsible to ask them to cut down the cost or to use a free service like Skype.
They have however, been able to contact the owner of the Kenyan mobile number but have said they are prohibited by law from finding out what TD or Senator is responsible.

Anyone?

Politician’s €2,000 bill in calls to one Kenyan mobile phone (RTÉ)

Part of an eye-popping haul of parliamentary expenses garnered by Ken Foxe at the RTÉ Investigations Unit.

View the full database here

sf

Last night on BBC One, Spotlight’s Mandy McAuley investigated the use of public money to pay the rent of constituency offices of MLAs including Arlene Foster (DUP), Ross Hussey (UUP) and Sinn Féin members Martin McGuinness, Francie Molloy, Mitchel McLaughlin and Daithí McKay.

If ye can’t beat them, rob them.

The second part of the two-part exposé continues next Tuesday.

Part one is repeated tonight on BBC Two NI at 11:20pm.

Spotlight: Sir Alistair Graham calls for probe into Northern Ireland MLAs’ rent money (BBC News NI)

Previously: Kerching Féin