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From PR advice to computer training – how politicians spent €879,000 on a special secretarial allowance in just 10 months

2nd January 2022

MINISTERS, TDs, and Senators were paid nearly €880,000 through the little-known special secretarial allowance over the space of just ten months.

The allowance allows politicians to pay for PR advice, training, help with computers, or to hire secretarial help on a temporary basis.

Among the largest amounts paid out was the €19,400 paid by Minister of State Thomas Byrne to a firm called Behavioural Insights Training for public relations work.

Another €14,360 was claimed by Justice Minister Helen McEntee for PR advice, digital marketing, and secretarial help from Consilium Communications, GN Digital Marketing, and for secretarial help from another individual.

Minister for State Anne Rabbitte paid out €10,414 to the TV writer and author Stefanie Preissner for public relations work during the first eleven months of last year.

Minister Rabbitte has previously said she hired Ms Preissner to help provide training to her on how to become a better communicator for her role.

Junior Minister Robert Troy claimed €19,617 for public relations services from Communique International, Deirdre Featherstone and Darajane O’Sullivan, the Oireachtas records said.

Only one minister used the services of the Communications Clinic – the well-known PR firm which was used by multiple Fine Gael ministers in the past.

The latest Oireachtas records detail just €1,050 in payments to that company from Minister of State Damien English for “training”.

Altogether, ministers and TDs claimed just over €111,000 under the scheme for PR, training, and IT work, according to the records that were released under FOI.

A total of €623,000 was paid out by TDs for a temporary vouched employee, which gives politicians flexibility to hire somebody on a shorter-term basis.

Senators have also used the special secretarial allowance for public relations work or to provide other services to them.

Under the scheme, Fine Gael’s Joe O’Reilly paid €12,200 to Consilium Communications for “secretarial assistance” while Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley paid his wife Emer €8,036.50.

In total, claims totalling €879,000 were made between January and October of 2021 under the terms of the scheme.

In an information note, the Oireachtas said the allowance could be put towards expenses related to secretarial assistance, public relations, information technology (not web-related) and training services.

They said: “The allowance may also be used for remuneration of persons providing secretarial services i.e., temporary vouched employees.

“Purchase of equipment or expenses for which the Public Representation Allowance [normal expenses system] is intended, are not allowable under the Secretarial Allowance Scheme.”

The Oireachtas said ministers could opt for an annual fully vouched allowance of €41,092.

They also said that hiring under the temporary vouched employee scheme, where the person was a direct employee of the TD or Senator, had to be done based on statutory requirements including payment of the minimum wage.

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