Over €1 million in spending on secretarial allowance scheme for Ministers, TDs and Senators but little transparency over payments

Ministers and TDs paid out more than €186,000 last year through a little-known allowance to cover the cost of public relations, communications, and digital marketing.

Payments under the Special Secretarial Allowance included a sum of €15,375 to Prize Nerd Limited, the company of the well-known writer and actress Stefanie Preissner.

She was contracted by Anne Rabbitte, a Minister of State at the Department of Health with five separate payments of €3,075 made to Ms Preissner’s firm through the scheme in 2023.

In the past, some ministers and TDs have made use of the allowance to hire family members or colleagues from their political party.

However, the Oireachtas – at a time when politicians have been clamouring from greater transparency in organisations like RTÉ – has adopted a policy of redacting details of all expenditure unless the money is paid to a company rather than an individual.

The allowance was used by multiple senior officeholders in 2023 with Minister Helen McEntee paying around €8,600 to a company called GN Digital Marketing.

Access to details of a further €9,200 in expenditure by Ms McEntee has been refused by the Oireachtas on the basis that it is personal information.

Payments by junior ministers included €10,000 to Communique International by Jack Chambers and €1,530 to the UCD English Language Academy by Jennifer Carroll MacNeill.

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan paid €3,056 to Sherpa Event Production while the minister at the Office of Public Works Patrick O’Donovan incurred costs of €2,200 with a company called R&F Marketing.

The former minister Robert Troy also paid €1,500 to Yewtree Infotainment, according to records released under FOI by the Oireachtas.

However, details of the majority of the €186,759 that was spent by ministers and TDs under the scheme have been withheld apart from the amount involved.

Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton paid more than €20,000 to service providers under the Special Secretarial Allowance but the identities of those paid have been blacked out in the records.

Similarly, Junior Minister Thomas Byrne incurred costs of over €16,000 through the scheme but no further detail has been provided with any identifying information withheld.

Under a separate related scheme for secretarial assistance, Ministers and TDs ran up a bill of €786,000 hiring temporary staff to work in their offices or constituencies.

The payments ranged from just €886 to almost €45,000 but once again access to details of those employed has been refused by authorities at Leinster House.