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Taoiseach Micheál Martin says €20,350 allowances that allows TDs to claim for office energy bills are ‘fair’

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said TD allowances which allow them to write off their office energy bills are fully transparent and fair.

Speaking ahead of his party’s annual fundraising dinner, the Taoiseach said the expenses regime for TDs is “better than other systems” where it’s a “complete free-for-all” with no limits on expenditure that can be claimed.

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“I think a vouched system for constituency offices is fair because there is no personal gain in relation to the TD or a public representative from a constituency office,” he said.

“The offices exist to work on behalf of their constituents and the allowance hasn’t gone up to meet any increases in expenditure,” he added.

Mr Martin said it was “strange” that the Irish Independent published details of expenses claimed by TDs and details of what they can write off under the Public Representative Allowance (PRA).

“This entirely negative focus on politicians I don’t think is healthy either,” he added.

Mr Martin also said he believes every member of the public is fully aware of the details of TD allowances and what they can claim as expenses.

Independent TD Marian Harkin also defended the payment during on interview on RTÉ Radio One’s Saturday with Katie Hannon.

“The State pays one way or the other. There is no benefit to an individual TD, this is about how we run our offices,” Ms Harkin said. “The taxpayer pays to run my office for the heat and the light,” she added.

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy told the same programme there was a lack of oversight over the expenses system for politicians.

“The central issue here is we need to move to a fully vouched system of expenses and not just a random selection of TDs being checked,” Mr Murphy said.

The PRA is a €20,350-a-year allowance TDs can use to pay their constituency office energy bills or other costs associated with working as a public representative.

The allowance can also be used to pay for some of their domestic electricity and gas bills if they use part of their home as a constituency office.

Official guidance on the allowance states that home utility bill claims should be made on a “reasonable basis”.

It said if a TD is using 10pc of their home as an office then they should only claim 10pc of their energy bills.

Under the same allowance, senators can claim €12,225 and cabinet ministers and ministers of state can claim up to €16,000 for running their political operations.

The funding can be spent on a range of bills associated with being a politician, such as renting premises, paying interest on office mortgages, furniture and computer equipment.

The allowance is vouched and TDs are required to hold on to bills for at least five years. While the scheme is audited every year, only 10pc – or 16 TDs – are randomly selected to be audited and asked to produce receipts for their expense claims.

All TDs are asked to sign a declaration every year confirming they have spent their allowance on appropriate expenses.

TDs are entitled to a range of allowances along with their €105,271 salary. In addition to the PRA, they also get a Travel and Accommodation Allowance (TAA), which is calculated on the distance between a politician’s home and Leinster House.

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