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

Ruairi Quinn and his Galway holiday home mileage claims

The mystery of Ruairi Quinn’s unusually high mileage has finally been solved, as he was claiming for trips to and from his holiday home.

Mr Quinn, when interviewed on RTE and Newstalk last month, explained that the reason the claims were so high was because officials used the car and not all official travel was marked in his diary.

The background to this story is here and here and his diary entries and expense claims can be found in previous posts on here and here.

Copies of expense claims submitted by his driver now show that the main reason his mileage was so high in July and August was because he was claiming for trips to and from Roundstone, Co Galway where he has a holiday home.

In total, there were 12 claims either to and from Galway, many of them listed as Roundstone.

In many of the cases, the car would travel to Galway to collect him and bring him to events.

On a couple of occasions, it appears as if Mr Quinn was simply driven to Roundstone with no official business listed for those days.

Mr Quinn also made a claim for mileage (while his driver claimed subsistence) for the Labour Party think-tank in Tullow, Co Carlow last year.

The claim form from the Department of Education specifies that all mileage must be carried out as part of official Ministerial duties.

Asked whether this type of claim was acceptable, particularly in light of Labour’s previously hard-line policy on expenses claimed by Ivor Callely and John O’Donoghue amongst others, one of Mr Quinn’s special advisers said he was working in the car during these journeys.

His spokeswoman said: “All of Minister Quinn’s claims for expenses and mileage are strictly in accordance with the arrangements outlined by the government.

The Minister is often required to interrupt his holidays to attend official functions and undertake government business.

In order to carry out his considerable workload at the Department of Education and Skills, the Minister carries confidential official papers in the car and works while on route to his destinations.  This is considered to be official travel.

The drivers of the minister are entitled to claim for subsistence when on official business, again all of which are in accordance with the guidelines.

As has been pointed out to you on several occasions, the Minister’s electronic diary does not reflect all official uses of the car.

Here are the documents:

The Ruairi Quinn Mileage Claims – Part Two

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn has been asked to explain a second expenses claim, this time relating to a month in which he spent 22 days on holiday.

In August 2011, Mr Quinn signed off on a claim for 2,800 kilometres worth around E800 despite the fact his official diary shows that he was working for only nine days that month.

That works out at an average of 311 kilometres every day, the equivalent of a round-trip to Waterford on each working day, about four hours driving time.

His diary makes apparent less than 1,000 kilometres of the total that was claimed for, including two trips to Maynooth and a trip to Clifden.

Here is the detailed story I wrote about this expense claim.

Also published here are Minister Quinn’s expense claims for the period between March and the end of August 2011, and those of his colleague in the Department of Education Ciaran Cannon over a similar period.

Ruairi Quinn’s official diary for August 2011, which lists him as having been on holiday from August 6 to August 28 – apart from a single day – can also be examined.

Here are the claims:

July diary:

August diary:

Ruairi Quinn and his mileage claim

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has been asked this week to explain a mileage claim he made in July of last year.

For the month in question, Mr Quinn claimed for 5,100 kilometres (worth €1,451). Searching his official diary for the month however, shows that Mr Quinn had only a single engagement outside of Dublin, when he spoke at the MacGill summer school in Co Donegal.

On six of the days that month, he was on an official visit to Chicago while a further seven days are either specifically marked “private” or simply left blank.

Calculating all of the mileage that was apparent from the diary comes to less than 1,000 kilometres of the total, making it impossible for the public or media to identify how the other 4,100kms were incurred.

Over the course of three weeks, a number of queries were submitted to Mr Quinn’s Department, the upshot of which was that the official diary does not account for all travel.

Subsequently, in radio interviews on Newstalk and RTE this week, Mr Quinn said that some of the mileage relates to other people, including civil servants and so on, traveling on his behalf.

Here is the lengthy story that I wrote based on the documents.

The diary and expense claims for the month can be found here:

At the very least, this shows an expense system that is badly in need of reform with simply no way of retrospectively checking how the mileage was incurred.

There are few, if any, private companies (or indeed public bodies) that would simply allow readings from an odometer to count for the purposes of paying out a not insignificant amount of money. Almost all would seek a detailed list of journeys conducted, their purpose, their date and so on. And when people talk of vouched expenses, that is the type of system they mean.

Vouched expenses does not mean a TD making a claim, then holding on to a receipt, with only a 10% possibility of being audited. Nor does it mean simply entering a round figure on an expense sheet without supporting documentation.

Garda expense claims 2004 – mid 2010

As I referred to last week I am publishing all Garda expense claims in all categories. Google spreadsheets can’t handle a 641,576 row database so I am using Socrata – the data is downloadable from there in a variety of formats.

The data contains anonymized individual expense claims for all Gardai over a 6.5 year period, totaling some €181,605,359.30*. The number of Gardai on the payroll in 2009 was approximately 17,000. The data was anonymized not because it was redacted but because it was the most effective way for the data to be released. Under the Criminal Assets Bureau Act, members of the force who are part of that Bureau cannot be named. In order to expedite the release of the data, I agreed that the column containing names of members of the Gardai generally could be removed – however this does not stop people from seeking it.

Some of the larger individual expense claims appear to be aggregated and relate specifically to the Corrib Gas project.

*Additionally I can’t speak much to the provenance of the data – or how it was exported – but it was from an Oracle system. Indeed there may be duplicate claims if the data was exported in a way related to ‘version history’ of claim. However it is often the case that multiple Gardai will be able to claim precisely the same amount under each category.

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Gardai expenses – a breakdown

The Gardai are getting some press today for the amount spent – €14.5 million – on resources for the Corrib gas site. It is interesting to contextualise this figure. In total, Gardai travel and subsistence claims totaled €181,605,359.30 from 2004 to mid 2010.

I will publish the entire 641,576 row database shortly. It does not contain the name of any personnel.

Ned O'Keeffe mobile phone expense claims

These are the mobile phone expense claims of Ned O’Keeffe for 2004 – 2009. Thanks to the Sunday Times for the documents. The Irish Mail on Sunday has made certain claims about how the claims, and complaints over them, have been handled by the Oireachtas.

Over 100 politicians overclaim expenses has obtained from the Oireachtas FOI documents released to journalist Ken Foxe, who sought details relating to the expense claims of TDs and Senators. The documents show how more than 100 TDs and Senators claimed expenses to which they were not entitled between 2007 and 2009. Some claimed for attending committee meetings which they hadn’t attended, while others submitted claims for attending the Dail when they were abroad. The documents appear to show two things: one that many politicians claimed for expenses they were not entitled to, and two that the Oireachtas has been writing to politicians consistently, checking that particular overnight claims were justified.

Beverly Flynn was blocked from claiming expenses for a committee meeting to which she had sent “her apologies”. Noel Grealish tried to claim for eight overnights – each worth €130 – whilst away on an official trip in Thailand, New Zealand, and Australia.

Fianna Fail’s Ned O’Keeffe received 11 separate letters from the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission regarding his expense claims for 33 “overnight” claims – with an estimated tax-free value of €4,290. Minister of State Peter Power also had a total of 16 overnights, which would have yielded around €2,080, blocked from his claims.

Fianna Fail TD Eamon Scanlon received no less than 10 letters from the Oireachtas to say his expenses were not in order. The letters detailed overclaims of 30 one-way journeys from Sligo to Dublin and 38 overnights worth more than €7,000 to which he was not entitled. Outgoing Fine Gael TD PJ Sheehan lodged an expense claim for a meeting he never attended.

Outgoing Fine Gael TD Bernard Allen was informed that he was not entitled to 22 overnight allowances for “using the facilities of the House” and could only claim for 12 of these. Outgoing Fianna Fail TD Chris Andrews was contacted twice, both for an overclaim of a single day, with his daily turning-up allowance of €60 disallowed.

Bobby Aylward of Fianna Fail was also written to three times, twice for overclaims of a single night worth €130 and once for an overnight claimed whilst in Brussels with the Joint Committee on Climate Change delegation. Fine Gael’s James Bannnon made the same mistake twice and claimed for overnights whilst he was abroad on Oireachtas junkets.

Niall Blaney from Fianna Fail was contacted on four occasions by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission after more than €1,800 in expenses was disallowed. Fine Gael’s Pat Breen was also contacted twice, once for an over-claim for mileage and secondly for overnights while abroad.

John Browne of Fianna Fail received four letters from the Houses of the Oireachtas outlining six overnight allowances of €130 to which he was not entitled, including one whilst on official business in Strasbourg. Noel Coonan of Fine Gael made an overclaim worth more than €900 according to the records and had expenses for seven “overnights” ruled out.

His party colleague Michael Creed was contacted on six separate occasions, with the letters concerning a total of eight “overnight allowances” to which he was not entitled. Green TD Ciaran Cuffe, who was entitled to a daily allowance of around €60 simply to turn up at work made a claim in 2009 for 86 days of official business in the Dail when the maximum he could claim for was 60 days.

Wexford politician Michael D’Arcy was twice contacted about his expenses claiming for 75 overnights in a period where 65 overnights was the maximum allowed. Fine Gael’s Jimmy Deenihan and his party colleague Bernard Durkan also saw an expense claims disallowed. Fine Gael TD Damien English had four overnights worth €520 disqualified after he claimed whilst abroad. Fianna Fail TD Frank Fahey over-claimed for nine separate ‘overnights’ – worth around €1,200 – while overseas.

Sinn Fein TD Martin Ferris had 13 one-way journeys to Kerry and six overnights were being disallowed because he had already reached his quota. The Mayo TD Beverley Flynn made a claim for €260 for a committee meeting that she had not attended. Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher had four one-way journeys from Co Donegal disallowed as was a claim for attendance at the Dail on a day when no sitting took place.

Labour’s Michael D Higgins claimed expenses while abroad and three overnights claimed while in Oslo were also blocked. Maire Hoctor of Fianna Fail received three letters disallowing a total of 11 overnights and six one-way journeys from Tipperary, worth an estimated €2,000.

Fine Gael’s Phil Hogan had two overnight allowances disallowed.

Peter Kelly of Fianna Fail claimed for one night’s expenses on the basis that the meeting had taken place on September 15. However, it subsequently emerged that the meeting happened the following day and coincided with a Dail sitting day, for which the TD had already claimed. He also had six one-way journeys from Longford dismissed because they coincided with a five day visit to Strasbourg.

The Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny had a claim disallowed for thirty overnights to attend the Dail when the maximum he could claim was twenty six. Michael Lowry made the same mistake, putting in for twelve nights in Dublin when the maximum he could ask for was eight. Fine Gael’s Padraig McCormack was also blocked from claiming overnight expenses for meetings he did not attend.

Similarly, Dinny McGinley of Fine Gael was also blocked from claiming expenses for a committee meeting … one of which hadn’t even taken place. The former Minister John McGuinness was told he was entitled to just five of nineteen overnights put in for, and disallowed claims worth €1,820. Minister Martin Mansergh was told an overnight would not be paid for a meeting of the Finance and Public Service Committee, that had been cancelled in January 2008.

Cork TD Michael Moynihan received three letters ruling that seven overnighters in Dublin, worth €910. Fine Gael’s Dan Neville claimed for four overnights when he was on a visit to Prague. The outgoing Fianna Fail TD Noel O’Flynn got letters concerning excessive overnight claims totalling seven nights, or the equivalent of around €900. He also claimed for travelling to the Dail on four occasions when he was in Washington at the time.

The Minister Batt O’Keeffe also had his expenses trimmed after claiming for four overnights in a period between June 14 and June 19 in 2007. The Houses of the Oireachtas subsequently wrote to him and told he was entitled to just one. Emmett Stagg put in a claim for 83 daily turning-up allowances, when he was entitled to just 71.

Fine Gael’s Billy Timmins was disallowed from claiming two nights worth of expenses for a European Affairs meeting that he had not been at, according to records. The Green Party TD Mary White also put in for a meeting of the Enterprise, Trade and Employment committee in September 2008 when she had sent apologies and according to Oireachtas records she was not in attendance.

The documents do not include Ministers whose expenses are paid by their Department.

Here are the original documents, indexed by politician on the right (click the expand button on the bottom left to see the full page). The document can be downloaded from the right hand menu:

This is the full statement issued by the Oireachtas:

The Houses of the Oireachtas operates a robust and meticulous administration of TDs and Senators expenses and entitlements. Every application is fully vetted and no payments are made until the Oireachtas is fully satisfied that each claim is consistent with the Department of Finance regulations.

The former system of members’ expenses, was a complex scheme based on a number of various elements including; claiming for a number of Oireachtas sittings; claiming for a number of journeys to and from Leinster House and for entitlements for attending the Oireachtas for parliamentary business and Committee meetings. Due to its complex structure, the irregular nature of claims and the changeable Oireachtas schedule this gave rise to inaccuracies.

Last year, in order to make the system more simple and streamlined for members and more accountable from a public perspective, the Houses of the Oireachtas overhauled the arrangements for paying expenses to TDs and Senators.

These changes feature a regular all-in allowance and a standard travel and accommodation allowance based on distance from Leinster House. The travel and accommodation allowance is verified by means of a fobbing~in system and deductions are applied for non-attendance. All details of members’ expenses and attendance records are also
published on line.

On any occasions where errors did occur, the Member was written to and notified of their mistake. The matter was also referred to an Oireachtas internal audit report.

HSE expense claims 2007 to 2010 all regions

This is all claims for expenses from people working in the HSE from 2007 to mid 2010. The total comes to €260,450,676.60.

Contextual documents:

FOI letter
Internal review decision
Expenses context

HSE South: €39,532,886.69, 23,415 rows, 15.18% of the total claimed

HSE South 2007
HSE South 2008
HSE South 2009
HSE South 2010 (to end June)

HSE Northwest: €35,786,735.08, 16,715 rows, 13.74% of the total claimed

HSE Northwest all years

HSE Midlands: €31,470,046.22, 14,807 rows, 12.08% of the total claimed

HSE Midlands all years

HSE West: €45,275,421.66, 20,298 rows, 17.38% of the total claimed (the largest)

HSE West all years

HSE East (Right click and save as.., or open in new tab)

HSE East 2007
HSE East 2008
HSE East 2009
HSE East 2010 (to end June)
HSE East AP 2007
HSE East AP 2008
HSE East AP 2009
HSE East AP 2010 (to end June)

HSE Southeast
HSE Southeast, all years

HSE Midwest

HSE Midwest all years

HSE Northeast

HSE Northeast Jan – Mar 2007
HSE Northeast Apr – Jun 2007
HSE Northeast Jul – Sep 2007
HSE Northeast Oct – Dec 2007

HSE Northeast Jan – Mar 2008
HSE Northeast Apr – Jun 2008
HSE Northeast Jul – Sep 2008
HSE Northeast Oct – Dec 2008

HSE Northeast 2009

HSE Northeast Jan – Mar 2010
HSE Northeast Apr – Jun 2010