Ruairi Quinn expense claims and insufficient transparency

Following on from a series of postings about the mileage expense claims of Ruairi Quinn (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), the blogger Anthony Sheridan [Disclosure: Anthony is the uncle of Gavin, the other half of] made a complaint to the Standards in Public Office Commission seeking an investigation.

They returned to him last week to say that there was ‘no basis on which to pursue the matter’.

What they did say was damning in its own right however, making very clear that the rules for Ministerial mileage were ‘not sufficiently transparent’.

In the case of Mr Quinn, it simply involved stating a monthly mileage total and cashing the resultant cheque. There were no further inquiries, no petrol receipts, no odometer readings or anything of that nature sought to back up the claims. As later was discovered, the reason for the high claims stemmed largely from his travel to and from his holiday home in Roundstone, Co Galway, something the Education Minister was curiously reluctant to admit when interviewed on RTE and Newstalk.

The Standards Commission have now written to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to ask that the rules on this type of claim be changed. They have suggested that detailed claims for each and every journey – as applies to every other public servant in the country – should have to be made by Ministers.

Two observations from all this. Why is it that the systems governing expense claims by politicians are always so vague? The cynic might suggest having no rules is useful because how can you break a rule that does not exist. It is hard not to be cynical.

Credit where credit is due to the Standards Commission, as they have put Minister Brendan Howlin under intense pressure to make the change and force the country’s most senior politicians to declare their mileage journey by journey, as always should have been the case.

The letter from SIPO to Mr Sheridan follows in full:

Dear Mr. Sheridan,

I refer to your complaint of 27 February 2012 under section 22 of the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 and section 4 of the Standards in Public Office Act 2001 in relation to recent newspaper articles concerning claims by Mr. Ruairi Quinn TD, Minister for Education and Skills for traveling expenses in July and August 2011.

The Standards Commission has considered the complaint in light of the contents of letters and enclosures from Minister Quinn and from Mr. Sean O Foghlu, Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills.

It considered the matter in light of the provisions of section 4 (1) (a) of the Standards in Public Office Act 2001, i.e. as to whether the Minister’s actions as complained of constituted a ‘specified act’ or acts.

It has decided that there is no basis on which to pursue the matter.

Having regard to a letter dated 7 February 1984 from the Secretary to the Government to Secretaries of Government Departments for the notice of Ministers which refers to payment of mileage allowances to Ministers using their own private cars in respect of “the total mileage travelled and related to the office”, the Commission noted that the rules allow for the use by officials of the Ministers’ car on official business.

Having regard to the issues which were raised in the complaint, the Standards Commission considers that the rules in place for claims by Ministers for traveling expenses incurred on official business while using their own private cars are not sufficiently transparent.

It has therefore written to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to request that he amend the rules under which Ministers claim traveling expenses for using their own private cars on official business.

It suggests that detailed claims in respect of each journey undertaken in the car along with the purpose of the journey be required in line with the rules which apply to public servants generally.

Yours sincerely

Brian McKevitt

Commission  Secretariat

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