The Dual Abode Allowance

The Examiner scooped me on Monday morning with their lede about the dual abode allowance, a story billed as a “revelation“.

I’d be working on-off on a piece on the DAA since August having heard it was racket for non-Dublin ministers.

To briefly explain: The Dual Abode Allowance is open to ministers and ministers of state from constituencies outside Dublin. It’s an income tax deduction which they can claim in a number of ways, depending on where they say they stay whilst attending the Dáil. There are no details on who avails of it, Revenue Commissioners cite “personal taxpayer confidentiality”, and several FOIs have been bounced in the last decade for the same reasons. So we know little of which ministers benefit from it, or to what extent. It’s rarely reported on due to this derth of information, though journalists and politicians know it’s there, and due to its quiet nature, it could be abused. It’s not a secret, if you ask someone relevant – even a politician –  about it and they’ll admit it exists – it’s not the Delta Force of allowances, as some may have you believe*.

It works like this; if a minister or minister of state has a second home in the capital they can claim an allowance on the mortgage for that property and on the costs of maintaining it. The maintenance costs must be vouched, unless they wish to opt for a flat-rate allowance of €6,500 (nice option, huh?). Furthermore, if the property is purchased while they’re in office they can claim for the full costs of the solicitors and auctioneers fees involved.

Ministers who rent accommodation can claim allowance for the full rent that plus maintenance costs, or a flat-rate of €4,500 per annum.

Lastly, if they’re using a hotel or guesthouse while in Dublin they can claim for the full cost of staying there, plus “additional costs associated with maintaining a second residence in a hotel” (whatever they may be, in a hotel – considering they can claim subsistence expenses generally also). A relative or friend’s house may constitute a guesthouse.

18 office holders availed of the allowance in 2005, 15 in 2006 and 16 in 2007, according to documents volunteered in August to me by the Revenue Commissioners after a brief phone call. A follow up email resulted in them supplying totals from 2002, 2003 and 2004 also. I’ve put all that documentation into one file, it can be viewed here and includes breakdowns for 2005, 2006 and 2007, which may interest some. That is the same information Shaun Connolly used for his story on the front of Monday’s Examiner, which was followed up on Tuesday and Wednesday. As he correctly points out, the cost over five years to the exchequer was just more than €550,000.

While that may seem a large figure in its own right, I didn’t think much of it upon receipt of the information. At least 18 different ministers, over three years, an average of circa €5,000, it’s not going to bring down the house – sure, the Leinster House lads spend that in a weekend at the races. I thought there may have been more to it than simply the €550,000 number, so I went looking.

I took the names of cabinet ministers who could avail of allowance and their wives names to the Land Registry to see if any of them owned property in Dublin. After checking out the results, I had drawn a bit of a blank (such is journalism; shadows, cul de sacs etc) so I tried cross referencing a few bits and pieces.

I gathered the names of every person who had occupied a minister or minister of state’s position in since 2004 and began some serious Microsoft Excelling. When I had the list of names I added their constituencies to see how many would have been able to claim the allowance each year. This wasn’t as simple as it may sound, reshuffles meant 2 ministers occupied one post in the same year. The results of the cross referencing can be seen on sheet two of this document:

  • 24 could have claimed DAA in 2004 – 13 did.
  • 23 in 2005 – 18
  • 24 in 2006 – 15
  • 28 in 2007 – 18

The numbers of claimants were not supplied for the other years, so it could not be calculated.

2005 had the smallest differential between claimants and possible claimants, so I worked on that to try and discover who exactly was claiming the allowance that year. I found this article by Harry McGee from last year in The Irish Times archive which gave me some more info. McGee reported that Noel Dempsey and Dermot Ahern travel home each night after the Dáil, making it logical to assume they don’t claim the allowance.

That reduces the differential to 3… two of the possible claimants, Barry Andrews and Mary Hanafin, are from Dun Laoghaire, which is easily within driving distance of the Dáil (particularly when you’ve a ministerial car and driver), so it may be fair to assume they don’t sleep in the city when the Dáil is in session. Assuming they don’t claim leaves one non-claimant from 2005 that we don’t know about. Taking it that a minister claiming the allowance in 2005 has continued to do so, we can logically conclude that all bar one of the following is claiming DAA:

Mary Coughlan, Brendan Smith, Martin Cullen, Eamon O’Cuiv, Willie O’Dea, Batt O’Keeffe, Micheal Martin, Dick Roche, Tony Killeen and Michael Finneran.

However, that relies on the taking Dermot Ahern and Noel Dempsey assertions that they travel home as a statement that they don’t claim the allowance and the assumption the two Dun Laoghaire representatives don’t claim.

In the end I got nothing unexpected, sometimes you chase stories and get nothing, no regrets.

Of course, the real story would be if Brian Cowen was still claiming it for his apartment behind the Four Courts, while having use of Farmleigh as Taoiseach. That was what I ultimately wanted to discover, unfortunately I didn’t have the resources to do so. Someone should consider asking An Taoiseach that question…

Note: A TD is claiming whilst not using the property personally – e.g. allowing a son or daughter to use the property while attending college in Dublin – is what is referred to in the UK as ‘house flipping’. And we know what happened when MPs admitted to that

Footnote A: I am aware there is an FOI being appealed on further details of the DAA at present.

Footnote B: It was still worth going after the bigger story to get scooped on the smaller one.

Footnote C: Enda Kenny has said he will abolish this allowance if he becomes Taoiseach; populist rhetoric of which I believe not a word. But I’ve taken note.

* now that you know about the uber-secret allowance, I will have to kill you.


Just some housekeeping items to keep readers informed.

From now on, and soon to be applied retrospectively, all FOI documents will be subject to an OCR process prior to upload to the internet. This means that the documents can be ‘read’ by Google bots, and added to the Google index. It also means large scale documents can be searched for keywords. We believe this will add greater transparency to the documents we put into the public domain. The software we will be using will be Abbyy Finereader.

This should also serve as a warning. All too often Departments and public bodies are choosing to release information in hard copy, despite the information in question being held digitally, and our requests including a preference for digital versions. Where we receive information in hard copy, it will be scanned, OCRd and uploaded to the internet. There will be no escaping the Google spiders that are coming.

Additionally, some of our recent requests have been rejected, citing numerous exemptions. Where we believe these rejections are without merit we will appeal. This is a costly and time consuming process, but we believe that in the long run such a policy will pay dividends. Up until now it has been traditional for the main drafters of FOI requests, journalists, to almost always accept and never appeal rejections (either through lack of time, lack of funds, unfamiliarity with the Act or a combination of any of the three). This will not be our policy.

Where we believe the Act is in our side, we will vigorously pursue appeals all the way to the Information Commissioner and/or the High Court. We believe this policy is to the benefit of everyone who submits FOI requests, to the media, and to the public at large.

Lastly, we want to thank everyone who has donated money to assist us with our requests and appeals. We hope that the relatively constant stream of results being put online (and the subsequent stories in the newspapers based on our FOIs) are reward enough for such donations. We believe greater transparency using the internet is change we can believe in.

TD/Senate expenses 2003/2004

Back in August we started the process of seeking all expenses records for all TDs and Senators from 1998 to 2008. We are seeking a complete representation, as oppose to previously FOId data, much of which does not cover complete calendar years. To that end we have submitted FOIs seeking this information, and now we have a complete record of 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008. It is planned to share any data we receive with, for inclusion in individual TD and Senator profiles.

Unfortunately, our request for data from 2002 and 2001 was rejected by the Oireachtas, citing Section 10 (1) (c) of the Act. This refusal has been appealed and we should hear back this month on the results of that appeal.

For now, I will attach all data we received as is relating to the calendar years 2003 and 2004. 2003 is being made available in full for the first time, as the last few months of that year had not previously been FOId. For now I will post the documents as I received them from the Oireachtas. We will be gradually adapting all years into online spreadsheets.

Senator Expenses January to December 2003
Senator Misc Expenses Allowance January to December 2003

TD Expenses January to December 2003
TD Constituency Travel & Misc. Expenses January to December 2003

Senator Misc. Expenses January to December 2004

TD/Senator Payments January to December 2004
TD Exs & Constituency Travel January to December 2004

SIPOC and donations to Fianna Fail

Some background:

Earlier this year the Irish Examiner led with a story concerning corporate donations to Fianna Fail. Figures which were previously undisclosed were revealed. This was done through Company Registration Office files, whereby companies are obliged under the Companies Acts to declare donations on their annual accounts.

Following this story, Anthony over at made a complaint to SIPOC (they are not a pro-active body and will only act where a complain is made). The complaint took months to process and about four weeks ago SIPOC found that no breach had taken place, but gave no further detail. He was advised to FOI the results of the investigation.

These were released late last week and I have uploaded them.

The FOI contains the exchange of letters between Fianna Fail and SIPOC concerning the donations in question and the process through which SIPOC decided that there was no case to answer. However, there are a number of odd elements to the story, particularly the anonymised list of donations from Durkan to party members.

The exchange of letters is worth a look.

[Disclosure: I am a personal friend of the author of the Irish Examiner story]

Martin Cullen's ministerial expenses

I finally got around to scanning and uploading the rest of Martin Cullen’s ministerial expenses for 2008 and 2009, more for the record than for pushing a story.

Our thinking behind posting these is to allow Google to pick up the content of the PDFs through OCR – so when someone searchs “Cullen Beijing trip expenses 2008” they’ll get what they’re after. We’re trying to force transparency, I guess, in our own way.

I’m crazy-busy so haven’t had a chance to look through them properly, all I spotted to raise an eyebrow was a few Cartel Limos receipts. Have a look yourself.

Beijing August 2008

Kentucky (Ryder Cup) September 2008

London (re: Olympics 2012) October 2008

Brussels in November 2008

Other details of Martin Cullen’s ministerial expense can be found in our prior posts elsewhere on this website.

Martin Cullen goes to New York (June 2009)

Martin Cullen’s Paddy’s Day spending

Martin Cullen goes to London (November 2008)

Thanks to Ken Foxe for the documents. If you have any documents you want to put in the public domain give us a shout.

NAMA – A Reality?

OPINION: Last night Leviathan discussed NAMA. The panel consisted of journalist Margaret E. Ward, banker Peter Matthews, Green Party Chairman, Dan Boyle, and Frank Fahy, the Fianna Fáil TD. The latter two spoke in favour of NAMA, and the other two, virulently against. David McWilliams chaired, though he himself is strongly against the implementation of the legislation.

I left feeling angry, upset and disappointed. Not at Leviathan itself, which is something I back fully, but the attitude of parts of the audience – who I reckon represent a large element of Irish society in this instance – and the two political panelists.
Continue reading “NAMA – A Reality?”

A step in the right direction –

I’m delighted to draw attention to the new blog from a number of Irish political scientists – The contributors list is short for now but rumour is it may expand soon. I’d heard there were plans afoot for such a blog but only happened across it yesterday, turns out it has been operating below the radar for a few weeks.

Here’s hoping it can match, which has been influential in recent months, in its respective field. To do so will require thoughtful comment from readers to match thoughtful articles. The comments often maketh reform blogs. The debate between informed readers maketh IrishEconomy.

Go check out the site, subscribe to it and consider entering the debate.

To the writers – thanks, and that doesn’t come from me alone. I hope you stick with it.

Documents relating to The Tank Field, Cork, now online

Elaine Byrne has posted a number of links relating to a decision by Cork City Council to acquire one of the few open spaces remaining in North East Cork City. You can view the information on her blog under a series of posted tagged “The Tank Field”.

Local journalists in Cork, lookin’ at you ‘ere…

The series is written in reply to a letter from the Board of Management of the school sent to the Irish Times following an opinion piece written by Dr Byrne on the matter. Links to correspondence and FOI documents are contained through-out.

There are ten points listed in the letter and Ms Byrne replies to each under a separete heading…

Continue reading “Documents relating to The Tank Field, Cork, now online”

Breen, O'Keeffe and Lowry claim €205.78 per day?

I’ve been doing the maths on the expenses documents Gav published last week. An interesting exercise…

As reported by the Tribune, the three biggest expense claimants over the last four years were Ned O’Keeffe of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael’s Pat Breen and the independent TD Michael Lowry, so I’ve been looking at them to begin.

Before I go any further I wish to say I’ll be getting the median claimant and doing something similar to this at a later date too, before any one tells me I’m a populist gobshite for picking the top three (I knew that already).

Messrs Breen, O’Keeffe and Lowry all claimed within €10,000 of €300,000 for the period covering 2005 to 2008, mainly for the same things, so for the purpose of this post I’ll won’t be differentiating between them. Additionally, Gavin has since received documents for 2003 and 2004 – which he’ll post when he gets a chance – so I’ll be including their details from those years here too. Therefore the following numbers could from FOI documents for 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 for Pat Breen, Ned O’Keeffe and Michael Lowry. Feel free to challenge my methodology, or attempt to use your own, but I’m fairly confident in my maths (while welcoming confirmation/correction from those more qualified in the field)…

All of this is on top of the their salaries of around €100,000 per annum.

Over six years they claimed €1,319,070.49 (€1.3m) between the three of them.

In an average year they each claimed €75,110.21 (Seventy five thousand one hundred and ten euro, and twenty-one cent).

That works out at €205.78 every single day, [Annual figure divided by 365].

Which equals €1440.46 per 7 days. [Daily figure multiplied by seven]

However, I know most years the Dáil sits just 96 days per year, so that means they claimed: €782.39 per sitting day. [Total figure divided by 3 then divided by 576 – which is 96 multiplied by six]

…but I also know TDs say they do crazy hours in their constituency. If I take it that they’ve worked every day except Sundays and the 9 public holidays for all six years, the figure is €247.07 per working day. [365 minus 52 (Sundays per year) and nine (Bank holidays per year), then multiplied by six, all divided into the total expenses figure of €1.3m, then divided by three]

Finally, I’ve calculated that if on every one of those days, (six days per week for six years, without exception – no holidays, no half-days, no sick leave) they worked for 12 hours, they’d be claiming €20.59 per hour. [€247.07 divided by 12]

Note: the minimum wage is €8.65. Jobs Seekers Allowance is around €200 per week. And as stated, the above is on top of large salaries.

What do you make of that? That’s some amount of phone calls, and some serious petrol and lunch bills if you ask me.

You can view the document I used to calculate these figures here.

Two things I’d like to know: Why did Ned O’Keeffe claim €675 just last year for an ISDN line. Those lines are out-dated and useless for nothing except radio interviews… and very rarely used for those as a phone line is almost always more than sufficient. They’re slightly quicker than dail-up for browsing the internet, and far slower than an off-the-shelf broadband package, what’s he using the line for so? It certainly doesn’t sound like he used it for the interview with Newstalk I drew attention to a few weeks ago. Remember? The one where he waffled about politicians being value for money and expenses keeping corruption to a minimum… I wonder if he’d appear on morning radio to defend his expenses now? Hmmm.

Also, what do the constituency offices of these three lads look like? They spent about €52,ooo each on their constituency offices between 2003 and 2008, the offices all must be century-old manor houses in need of constant maintenance if they cost that much to keep upright, surely?

Footnote: The Sunday Tribune used the documents Gavin published here last week for their frontpage story and a double-page spread inside yesterday, taking the details to an audience larger than we could hope for here. Their report was followed up on RTÉ Radio too. I noticed said “some newspapers” had reported the information, if you spotted them in papers other than the Trib, do let us know. In fact, if you notice what appears to be one of our stories in any media, whether we’re mentioned or not, throw us a mail [tips AT thestory DOT ie].

We’re not interested in invoicing or shaming those who don’t credit us (though we’re no fans of the latter), just in seeing how the information disseminates. Thus far we’re aware of mentions in the Sunday Times, Irish Times, Daily Mail, Sunday Tribune, Irish Examiner, and of course Gavin’s appearance on RTÉ’s Prime Time. Not bad for a project that only started seven weeks ago, but we’d like to keep track…

Expenses documents for Mary Harney

Ken Foxe of The Sunday Tribune has uploaded files relating to expenses claimed by Mary Harney. You can check out details by clicking the links he has supplied on his blog.

There is a massive amount of information there, far too much for one person to digest (for example “part I” is 123 pages long). I encourage you to scan through it at random and email Ken if you notice anything interesting. He is available at Ken DOT Foxe AT gmail DOT com.

If you are a blogger then you may also consider linking to his post to get more eyes on the documents. The more eyes, the better.

I have noted some people, both online and offline, have said the expenses stories, because they are based almost solely on FOIs, are examples of “lazy journalism”. Completely wrong. Try sending a random FOI on expenses and see how far you get. Writing a good FOI requires more than guesswork, it needs an understanding of how the system works, an eye on what is coming down the line, and a decent steer.

Ken, and it seems now, various other journalists, are still on the expenses case, and it is not going to stop at some point in the morning. Ministers need to make these documents available for public inspection immediately. Until they do, Ken, and others, including Gavin, will continue to FOI them – perhaps simply on a point of principle. Right now the easy choice for all ministers is to throw their expenses to the public, anything is just delaying the inevitable.

And to the Opposition, Joan Burton is the only person to put her expenses online. What are the rest of you up to? Nearly all TDs expenses are already in the public domain because the papers FOI them annually, why not put them online yourselves as a symbolic gesture? Anything less and people might get curious.

Mary Harney expenses files – Ken

Note: If there are any spelling mistakes or errors in this post they are due to my recent return from a city centre pub. Your correspondent is currently chugging a pint of water in a desperate but undoubtedly feeble attempt to avoid a mother of a hangover. I was told it works but remain highly sceptical. I am likely to report the results tomorrow via my Twitter stream.

Be assured, all drinks were paid for from your correspondents own wage packet.

I will not be answering phone calls tomorrow.

Your correspondent recommends Paulanger, if available.