Defending their worth

IN what are tough economic times, the Leinster Express this week asked Laois/Offaly’s six Oireachtas representatives if their combined salary and expenses of €841,747.32 per annum represented good value for money.

IN what are tough economic times, the Leinster Express this week asked Laois/Offaly’s six Oireachtas representatives if their combined salary and expenses of €841,747.32 per annum represented good value for money.

Deputy Charlie Flanagan commented, “It is an honour to serve the people of Laois/Offaly and I accept that it is a well paid job. Like other public servants I have taken a reduction in salary in the context of the economic climate. My current salary is considerably less than that which I have earned or could earn in the private sector.

“I am very conscious of the need to cut back and save where possible. It is in this regard I returned in excess of €8,000 to the Department of Finance earlier this year.

“I work hard and work to the best of my ability representing the people who will ultimately judge that.”

Deputy Sean Fleming indicated it was his understanding that his salary and expenses are the lowest of any TD in the constituency.

“There are five full time offices provided between Castletown, Portlaoise, Tullamore and other places. I think the fact that they are available all week every week is a good local service and I accept that times are tough.

“As a member of the public accounts committee we have called for salaries and expenses to be decided by an independent body like the standards in public office commission such that TDs or Ministers have no part in setting their own salaries or expenses.”

Deputy Fleming confirmed the cost of the recent year planner sent out by post had been printed by the Oireachtas printers which is a publicly funded service for TDs and Senators. He did not know the printing cost but estimated that it cost “a few hundred”.

Deputy Brian Stanley said Sinn Féin had brought forward legislation to reduce TD’s salaries to €75K per annum but it hasn’t been supported by the other parties.

“Sinn Féin has consistently demanded that all expenses be vouched. I receive approx €47,500 (salary) per annum after deductions. Out of this I employ a second person part time to provide a constituency service and am a registered employer. I have an office in both Portlaoise and Tullamore and provide a full constituency service.

Asked if he was value for money?, Deputy Stanley said, “After everything is taken out I earn the equivalent of the average industrial wage. I try to make sure that the public gets good value for money from my work in the constituency.

Senator John Whelan pointed out that there was no secrecy about his salary and expenses. “Those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear. My monthly net salary after tax, stoppages and deductions amounts to €3,401.98 net per month.

“The expenses amount to €3,000 per month. These expenses are used for travel, subsistence, accommodation (overnights in Dublin), the operational costs, (rent, phones, heating etc) for a full time constituency office in Portlaoise.

Senator Whelan worked as a journalist for thirty years but spent three years on the dole prior to contesting the general election.

“I ran up a lot of debts and bills. I have personally lived and know full well, first hand the kind of pressures on families and businesses as people do their utmost to pay their way. I’m not looking for sympathy, I am entitled to nothing, but like to think that I earn what I get.

“When I go to work, I work hard and do my best. I am available 24/7 to do so and whether or not that represents value for money will be up to the people of our community to decide at the next general election.”

Deputy Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy said she is prepared to take a pay cut. “I can assure you that the money I receive from vouched expenses circulates and isn’t staying in my own pocket, My salary is taxed. €25,700 of my vouched expenses goes towards the running of my constituency office and €32,000 go towards travel, accommodation and overnight costs.

“I realise we are highly paid and I am prepared to accept a pay cut if that what the Minister decides. Our jobs aren’t from 9am to 5pm. We are constantly on call.

“Do we represent good value for money, that is the proverbial six marker! I work hard but I think the electorate will have the final say.”

Deputy Barry Cowen said his salary and expenses are fully transparent. “They are published on the Dáil website and whether I represent good value for money, well it is the electorate that will decide that at the next general election.

“In relation to the figure of €57,550 those are vouched expenses which are parliamentary approved and it is at the discretion of the Minister to amend the system.”