Two Waterford senators are amongst the highest earners in the Seanad, netting almost a quarter of a million euros in mainly untaxed expenses and allowances between them, on top of their wages, since the last general election in 2007.
Documents recently released to the Irish Independent under the Freedom of Information Act have shown that Fine Gael’s Maurice Cummins was the eighth highest earner in the Seanad during that time, receiving €127,026 in expenses in addition to his €70,000 plus senator’s salary.
Of this, a €12,982 allowance for his position as party whip was taxed and the remainder was made up of untaxed expenses and allowances.
His party colleague Paudie Coffey, who sits on the Industrial and Commercial panel, received €104,308 in addition to his salary, while Kilkenny-based John Paul Phelan netted €107,159. Senators are paid a basic wage of €70,134, rising to €72,371 after seven years and €74,608 after 10 years’ service.
The publication of the figures have led to increased demands to reform the Upper House. In total, the 60 members of Seanad Eireann netted an additional €5.6m above their basic pay over the past two years – an average of almost €94,000.
The unvouched allowances and expenses include costs for travel and subsistence, telephone calls and Oireachtas committee travel expenses.
Senators living within 15 miles of Leinster House receive an untaxed daily allowance of €55, which was cut back from €61 earlier this month. An overnight allowance to cover the accommodation costs of senators from outside Dublin currently stands at €126-per night, having been cut back from €139. Senators also receive a telephone allowance of €3,750 and an annual miscellaneous expenditure allowance of €4,112 for which receipts need not be produced.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan has cut the rates of many of these expenses in recent weeks as he struggles to balance the books amid fears of further major public spending cuts later this year. The minister is considering plans to implement a new all-in-one expenses system to replace multiple expenses claims for mileage, office, telephone and overnight expenses.