Five TDs and senators forced to repay nearly €6,000 after expense allowance audit

TDS AND SENATORS had to reimburse nearly €6,000 of claimed expenses in 2018 and 2019 after an audit found they could not provide supporting documentation to substantiate these expenses.

The annual Public Representation Allowance audit carried out on behalf of the Houses of the Oireachtas found that five out of 44 public representatives randomly selected for review failed to account for expenses totaling €5,875.48 over the two years .

The five Oireachtas members required to reimburse the value of unjustified expenses were Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin; Spokesperson for Labor Education, Enterprise and Trade, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin; former Fine Gael Senators John O’Mahony and Gabrielle McFadden and Independent Senator Lynn Ruane.

The annual PRA audit is conducted to establish whether TDs and Senators have valid evidence of vouchers, receipts and invoices for monies paid to them for their expenses.

The audit covers expense expenditures under various authorized headings including rent, rates, stationery, office equipment, insurance, cleaning, telephone calls, web hosting, and distribution of flyers and newsletters of information.

A random selection of 10% of Oireachtas members is made each year involving 22 TDs and Senators, with some politicians audited in 2018 and 2019.

Audit reports just released revealed that three members were unable to provide receipts or supporting documents for €3,928.68 out of over €347,000 claimed by those making the audited in 2019.

He revealed that Ó Broin was unable to produce relevant documents relating to expenses of €2,698.08 out of more than €21,000 claimed by him in expenses in 2019.

The Dublin Mid-West TD said it had mistakenly included telephone bills from a previous year in its 2019 expenditure, while failing to include details of clinics it had held on adverts published in a local newspaper.

Ó Broin said he was also unaware that he could not claim travel expenses for a guest speaker from the UK for a conference he had organised.

“It is my responsibility to know the rules and I came across a number of technical details. I was more than happy to refund the amount in full. Audits are an important thing to allow the public to have full confidence that the money is spent as intended and that the money is fully reimbursed by anyone who knowingly or accidentally spends money outside the rules,” he added.

Former Senator John O’Mahony claimed €892.88 in expenses deemed ineligible out of a total of nearly €5,700.

Ó Ríordáin failed to secure €337.72 out of approximately €10,700 claimed in expenses in 2019.

Labor Dublin Bay North TD said the claim was made for an item printed “in error” because it was included in a series of qualifying invoices from the same supplier.

The 2018 audit report revealed that former Senator and former TD of Longford-Westmeath, Gabrielle McFadden, was unable to validate expenses of €1,831.89 out of expenses totaling more than €10,000 € claimed that year.

Ruane, an independent senator representing Trinity College Dublin, was found to have an ineligible expense claim of €114.91 out of a total of over €10,000.

The report validated expenditure of more than €343,000 on the expenditure of the 22 public officials audited in 2018.

All parliamentarians who receive accounted amounts are required to keep their own receipts and supporting documents for inspection for a period of five years.

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DTs are entitled to a guaranteed maximum allowance of €20,350 per year, while the PRA for government ministers and ministers of state is €16,000 and €12,225 for senators.

All expenses must be justified except for a monthly petty cash of €100 for TDs and Ministers and €75 for Senators.

Politicians who spend less than the allowance must return any unspent money.

Among the members of the Oireachtas clear audited were Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald; Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath and former Minister Shane Ross.

Others included junior ministers, Anne Rabbitte, Seán Fleming, Damien English and Hildegarde Naughton as well as independent TD, Danny Healy-Rae.

Auditors recommended further clarification be provided to Oireachtas members on phone and laptop accessory expenses as well as cloud storage costs, which are not explicitly stated in the guidance to TDs and senators.

They also recommended that clarification be made on the need for Facebook ad documentation to include dates and screenshots to verify that social media content complies with the rules.

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