Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fianna Fail 'Insurance'!

In these bleak economic times, it is not unusual for people to diversify and focus their interests elsewhere.

I suppose that's why Fianna Fail has chosen to diversify into the world of insurance – yes, I kid you not, insurance.

The soldiers of destiny have shown that they are well able to think outside the box when it comes to saving a few bob.

And that is why they have launched their very own Fianna Fail Insurance Package – starting with the delivery of Fianna Fail home insurance.

Sure, we may be mortgaged up to the hilt and we may be drowning in negative equity, but if you are a member of Fianna Fail you can avail of the special terms and conditions of this new Home Insurance package.

According to the Fianna Fail website, this package is 'only available to our members'.

"This package of specially negotiated insurance products will be available through our preferred providers BHP Insurance," the website proclaims.

"We would encourage you all to compare your existing home insurance against the enhanced product and competitive premium available through the scheme," they tell us.

So forget about the falling value of your home, forget about wondering how you are going to meet the mortgage every month, forget about impending job losses and pay freezes – at least your home insurance will be taken care of.

But buyer beware – you will have to join Fianna Fail if you want a slice of the cake!

The New Irish

The countdown has started to the local and European elections in June and already some of the candidates in the running are showing promise.

One such candidate is Fine Gael's Mulhuddart candidate Adeola Ogusina, who is creating quite a degree of interest in the West Dublin area.

Adeola, a Nigerian national who has been living in Ireland for the past nine years, has already come up with a very sound proposals that could drastically improve the day-to-day lives of immigrants and the new Irish.

He said these sections of society are encountering serious problems because of strick proof-of-address requirements for commercial services such as bank accounts and car rental.

Adeola suggested that a simple but effective alternative would be to encourage immigrants to register to vote, and allow them to use the Garda vote confirmation form as proof of address.

"A large proportion of immigrants are sharing or renting accommodation and do not have much in the way of proof of address. This is causing them serious difficulties when they apply for commercial services which require a formal proof of address, such as opening a bank account or renting a car," he said.

"Many immigrants simply share a room or a flat, and therefore have no utility bills or registered letters with their name and address. And even when immigrants rent accommodation directly, many landlords prefer to keep utility bills in their own name."

He believes that by encouraging them to vote in the local elections, immigrants would be more inclined to take an interest in their surroundings and the local community.

Political Potholes

It was a case of life imitating politics – or in his own words a 'bad car day' - for poor Labour Senator Dominic Hannigan recently.

The Meath Senator spent the afternoon canvassing around Rathfeigh with local election candidate Eileen Drew talking to people about the problems in the area.

A big cause of concern for many of the locals were the size of the potholes in the area – some as big as trenches.

"Just a few hours later I was coming back from a meeting in Trim and I hit a similar trench on the far side of Kentstown. Once I hit it, I knew that I had done the wheels in."

"I managed to crawl into Kentstown and left the car there overnight. On Saturday, I arranged for a tow to a garage in Duleek and got both front types replaced at a cost of €300."

"It really is infuriating when this happens to you - the Council needs to get their act together in dealing with the resurfacing of local roads."

Green Goodies

The Green Party may have softened its moral stance since getting into the scratcher with Fianna Fail, but one principle they are standing by is not accepting corporate donations.

So they have come up with a novel way of raising funds for the party - their very own online shop!!

For just €14.99, the Green Party is encouraging you to ‘green’ you office by buying a Desktop Garden; wear eco t-shirts manufactured by Bono’s wife Ali Hewson for just €14.99 and protect yourself against the rain by buying a big, green brolly for just €19.99.

With all these drastic cuts in the pipeline - just where will we get the money for these goodies. We’re broke after buying all those super-green eco lightbulbs!

Lucky Blueshirts

Luck just follows some people.

Take the Fine Gael superdraw. There were some great prizes up for grabs - money, weekends away and Christmas hampers to beat the band.

And who were among the many winners?

Fine Gael TDs Bernard Allen (a weekend away), Leo Varadkar (a weekend away) and Tom Sheahan (a Christmas hamper)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Expensive Habit to Kick

Recession, recession - it’s enough to bring on widescale depression.

That’s why it was a healthy change to hear from Labour’s Ireland East candidate for the European elections raise a subject close to the heart of many this New Year - smoking and the battle to stop.

Giving up smoking is an expensive business, according to Nessa Childers. And if you are planning to ditch the weed, travel north as the patches are far cheaper there.

Nessa has described this price differencial for nicotine replacement products as truly shocking - and like all great Irish rip offs, it is.

“A friend of mine was recently in Northern Ireland and purchased a pack of nicotine replacement gum for £13.99. The following day he went into a shop in the Republic where the same product cost €27.99,” she tells us.

This is profiteering plain and simple, she says, there is no justification for such a large difference in price.

This is because sterling and euro are almost at parity and there are no additional taxes on most nicotine replacement products.

“This is money that a lot of people believe they cannot afford, even though in the long-run they will be financially and physically much better-off if they take the treatment.”

“Smokers almost inevitably end up becoming a major draw on the public purse, requiring treatment for a whole range of tobacco-related illnesses and diseases.”

“Any measure that reduces the number of smokers will reduce long term costs to the health services, so it is in all of our interests. The State should therefore do as much as possible to promote these products by making them much more affordable than they currently are.”

Nessa wants the Government to scrap the VAT (21.5%) on nicotine replacement patches and make them more affordable to people who want to give up smoking.

If there was ever a blatant, honest-to-goodness reason to cut VAT, this is surely it.

Booked Out

The Shinners may have won the war – but they haven’t won the battle.

Sinn Fein managed to pull the wool over the Oireachtas’ eye by booking the historic Round Room at the Mansion House on the day of the 90th anniversary of the sitting of the first Dail – January 21.

As a result, the Oireachtas had to make do with holding their commemoration a day earlier on January 20.

But it seems that the Oireachtas has gotten its own back on the Shinners by booking the Round Room a full TEN YEARS IN ADVANCE for the 100th anniversary of the first Dail in 2019!!

God only knows where we will all be in 10 years time but the Oireachtas were lucky to be given the date in 2019.

It seems that Sinn Fein tried to book the Round Room for the centenary of the 1916 Rising in 2016 two years ago – and were told that it was too far in advance to book anything.

“Disappointing” is the term being used by Sinn Fein.

British Empire

Staying on the subject of the 90th anniversary commemoration, the great and the good (as well as the bad and the ugly) of Irish politics was there on the day in the very room where the first Dail held its first meeting.

As one TD commented to this column on his way in – “The last time we were here, we were trying to get away from the British Empire. This time we might want to get back into the British Empire”.


We hear a lot about political dynasties and keeping the profession within the family - but what about keeping the vocation within the family?

The Donlon family from Dublin (and Longford) is certainly managing to do just that.

Maeve Donlon is currently working as a press officer with Fianna Fail and her sister Claire is working with the Fianna Fail MEPs in Brussels.

And the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree in the case of the Donlon sisters - their dad, John, is a well-known Longford man, national journalist and News Editor with the Sunday World.

Ooh la la!!

The Irish Embassy in Paris is the jewel in the crown of all of Ireland’s embassies overseas - and it has every reason to be.

Completed in 1903 by French architect Paul-Ernest Sanson for French aristocrat and politician Henry Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, it is one of the most impressive properties owned by the Irish Government.

The building was bought in the mid-1950s and is noted for its beautiful ceilings and decor. Just two years ago, it underwent a €2.6m makeover.

The woman keeping a close eye on Ireland’s interests in France is well respected Ambassador Anne Anderson and her team of Irish diplomats.

But despite the exquisite beauty of the premises and the wealth of Irish art on display there, it is still hard to stomach its address - Rue Rude, off Avenue Foch!!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Irish Political Gravy Train

With hundreds of thousands of workers facing the prospects of pay cuts and job losses, Ireland’s politicians should look at their own perks and payments before dictating to the rest of the country.

Let’s have a look at what your local TDs gets paid – as well as the tens of thousands of euro they get TAX FREE every year in expenses and allowances.


Since October 2001, Ireland’s TDs and Senators pocketed a whopping 15 pay rises to almost double their bounty every year – and this is without the extravagant expenses and allowances they claim.

Back in October 2001, a first-time TD was earning a basic salary of €65,592 a year – a handsome amount for the time.

But thanks to the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, Social Partnership, Towards 2016 and benchmarking, they have seen their basic salaries rise by 53% to a staggering €100,191 a year.

For TDs with three years service or more, they saw their salaries rise by the same percentage from €67,685 to €103,389 and those with six years service or more saw their pay pocket bulge from €69,777 to €106,582.

Senators have also seen their salaries rise over the past seven years but by a larger degree – 60%.

Back in 2001, a new Senator was earning €43,824 a year but this has shot up to €70,134 a year. A Senator with three years service now gets €72,371 (up from €45,223) and a Senator with more than six years service now gets €74,608 (up from €46,621).

And if this wasn’t enough, when it comes to office holders such as the Taoiseach, Tanaiste, Ministers and Ministers of State, they have also seen their salaries increase phenomenally.

Back in 2001, the Taoiseach was paid €126,141 on top of his TDs salary bringing his total salary to €191,733. By 2008 this had rocketed by 47% to €185,392 on top of his TDs wages bringing his total salary to €285,583.

The Tanaiste has also experienced a significant pay hike – from a total of €164,595 in 2001 to €245,325 in 2008.

Ministers and the Ceann Comhairle get an extra €125,005 on top of their TDs salaries (up from €86,178 in 2001) and the Attorney General has seen his pay rise by 48% from €151,770 in 2001 to €225,196.

Junior Ministers pay has increased by 43% over the past seven years – from €38,137 on top of their TD’s salary in 2001 to €54,549 in 2008.

Payments for the Leas Ceann Comhairle, the Cathaoirleach, Leas Cathaoirleach and Leader of the Seanad have also increased by over 40% in the past seven years to €54,549, €49,255, €27,112 and €21,525 on top of their TDs/Senators salary respectively.


The six-figure sums that our politicians are earning are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the gravy train they are riding on.

Allowances and expenses – all TAX FREE – have the same effect of almost trebling a politicians’ salary.

• ‘WALKING AROUND MONEY’: Each TD is entitled to what is terms ‘walking around’ money of €5,482.73 a year. This is supposed to cover expenses that other allowances don’t cover. Politicians do not have to supply any receipts for this and are free to use it however they wish. In the case of Ministers, they yet in excess of €13,000 a year in ‘walking around money’..

• TELEPHONE: Each TD gets €6,384.69 a year to pay for the telephone in their constituency office. If they are a Committee Chairperson or a Whip, they get an extra €1,269.74 a year – UNTAXED. Within Leinster House, they are entitled to free phone calls.

• MOBILE PHONES – A special scheme exists for TDs so they can buy their mobile phone and car-kit directly from their local dealer and they are reimbursed the total cost of the equipment. The reimbursement is on a vouched basis in respect of the equipment and a further €250 is paid to cover insurance, maintenance and miscellaneous expenses (not exceeding €770 every 18 months).

• POSTAL FACILITIES: Each TD is entitled to 1,750 paid envelopes every month. There is an additional postal allowance for Dail party whips and Seanad group whips.

• CONSTITUENCY OFFICE MAINTENANCE: TDs can claim €8,888.17 every year for the upkeep of their constituency offices. This allowance, again UNTAXED, is supposed to cover rent, rates, electricity, heating, purchase of office equipment, cleaning and insurance.

• CONSTITUENCY OFFICE GRANT: Each TD can claim a once-off Constituency Establishment Grant of €8,888.17 when setting up an office.

• SPECIAL SECRETARIAL ALLOWANCE: TDs are entitled to €8,888.17 every year in respect of expenses arising from the engagements of additional secretarial assistance.

• OVERNIGHT ALLOWANCES: Yet another unvouched allowance for TDs. The current overnight allowance is €139.67 and TDs who live more than 15 miles from Leinster House can claim it in respect of the preceding night while attending the Dail, Seanad or Committee. The TDs can also claim it on any day the Dail, Seanad or Committee sits irrespective of adjournment time. So if the Dail adjourns at 2pm on a Thursday, the TDs can still claim an overnight despite there being ample time to return to their constituencies. They are also entitled to claim this allowance if they travel to Leinster House for a meeting or if they simply have to travel to Leinster House to use its facilities.

• TRAVEL TO LEINSTER HOUSE: If a TD lives within 15 miles of Leinster House, they are entitled to a ‘Daily Allowance’ of €61.53. If they further than 15 miles, they have a choice – claim the ‘Daily Allowance’ or claim an overnight allowance and civil service mileage of €1.16 per mile for the first 4,000 miles and 54c a mile for each mile over that level. TDs can also claim full mileage even if they use public transport to travel to Leinster House.

• CONSTITUENCY TRAVEL: In addition to travel and overnight allowances, TDs also benefit from a Constituency Travel Allowance to cover travel within their constituencies. There are three rates of allowances available depending on the size of the TD’s constituency - €2,745, €5,480 or €8,782.

• INDEPENDENT ALLOWANCE: Independent TDs are entitled to a TAX-FREE payment of €41,152 on top of their salaries, expenses and allowances just because they are not members of a political party.

• If a TD is appointed the Chair of an Oireachtas committee, he/she gets an extra €20,023 and the vice-chair gets €10,241. The chair and whips of the five subcommittees receive €6,380 a year. This payment is taxable.


Take Joe Bloggs. He has been a TD for a constituency based 100 miles away from Dublin for the past ten years. He is representative of a large number of TDs in Leinster House at the moment.

Considering that Joe Bloggs spends 100 nights in Dublin and travels to the capital once a week for 30 weeks, lets see what he can expect to rake in in a single year.

SALARY - €106,582 (as he has more than six years service, he is entitled to this higher rate)

OVERNIGHT ALLOWANCE - €139.67 x 100 = €13,967 TAX FREE
MILEAGE – 200 miles a week for 30 weeks = 6,000 miles. 4,000@€1.16 and 2,000@54c = €5,720 TAX FREE.



Global Gravy Train

While the gravy train for politicians spreads across Europe and even as far as the US, Irish politicians are still coming out among the top earners in European.
Let’s have a look at the pay, perks and allowances of some of our European and American politicians.


It is not just the Irish politicians who have a season ticket on the gravy train of political perks – their European counterparts are also up to the same trick.

It seems that there is no end to the public money that politicians around Europe can claim. From grants to second homes to first-class travel and lush entertainment expenses, the public ATM is literally spitting out money.


Across the water in the UK, MPs are paid less than Irish TDs getting the equivalent of €68,500 a year or €5,708 a month but they make up for the difference thanks to a very generous expenses regime.

MPs’ expenses in the UK are published annually under nine main headings – including a second homes allowance, travel costs, staff pay and stationery.

In 2007, the claims ranged from €55,330 (the lowest) to €230,300 (the highest. On average, each MP claimed €168,400 each.

MPs are given up to £90,505 (€99,698) a year to employ staff and there is no rule against employing family members.

MPs who do not already live in London and need somewhere to stay during the week near Westminster and are entitled to claim up to about £23,000 (€25,343) a year towards the cost of running their second home, known as the Additional Costs Allowance.

Under this second homes allowance, MPs can claim for items like televisions, furniture and washing machines, as well as refurbishment of their second homes.

It emerged they could claim up to £10,000 (€11,016) for a new kitchen and £6,335 (€6,979) for a new bathroom.

They were also able to claim up to £250 (€275) without providing a receipt and up to £400 (€440) a month on food. The £250 limit has since been reduced to £25, as part of the continuing expenses review.

There is no limit on travel expenses. MPs can claim business-class air fares and first-class rail travel for parliamentary business within the UK and up to three visits a year to European institutions, as well as up to 15 return journeys a year for spouses or children.

Other expenses claimed by MPs include a £2,812 (€3,097) London supplement for MPs representing inner London seats, a stationery allowance, an IT allowance of up to £3,000 (€3,302), a £10,000-a-year (€11,016) communications allowance and an ‘incidental expenses’ allowance.

MPs who lose their seat or stand down at a general election are also entitled to a ‘resettlement allowance’ worth between 50% and 100% of their annual salary.


The members of France's National Assembly get a monthly salary of €5,180 after social security deductions but before income tax.

On top of this, they receive an expenses allowance of €5,790 a month for lodging, travel and entertainment, as well as €8,950 for staff.

Deputies qualify for free first-class rail travel around the country, as well as 40 return flights a year between Paris and their constituencies.

Deputies from overseas departments such as Martinique or Reunion get 26 return flights a year free.

Phone-calls and letters sent from the National Assembly are also free of charge.

French deputies qualify for housing loans at extremely low interest on amounts up to €76,000. This was originally devised to help poor MPs from the provinces to find affordable lodging in Paris, but is now a generally-used perk.

In addition, deputies have their own social security system which works heavily in their favour.

If an MP fails to find employment after losing their seat, he/she receives a full salary for the first six months, then a gradually declining proportion of the salary for a further two-and-a-half years.


Sweden has some of the world’s most transparent democracies.

It was in Sweden that the then Deputy Prime Minister Mona Sahlin, was forced in 1995 to relinquish her cabinet post following the discovery that she had used her ministerial credit card to buy nappies for her baby.

The Swedish Parliament or Riksdag does not provide staff for members, although it does provide some funding for staff at central offices of parties that are represented in parliament.

Election campaign costs for existing members of parliament are, however, tax deductible.

Monthly salaries for Swedish MPs are at a flat rate of 52,900 Krona (€4,845) apart from the speaker of the House and the prime minister - both of whom receive a flat 126,000 Krona (€11,549).

Travel and home office expenses are covered by parliament, although travel must be undertaken in the cheapest possible way, and must be booked through the parliamentary travel office.

Second homes in Stockholm for members who live outside the capital are provided rent-free by parliament, which owns some 250 apartments.

Those MPs who choose to live in apartments they have found themselves receive a flat 7,000 Krona (€641) compensation, but cannot claim for improvements to that accommodation, whereas the state pays for repairs and improvements to state-owned apartments.

All members are provided with a parliamentary credit card, but cards are personal and paid by members themselves.

Official expenses paid using the card must be invoiced separately to Parliament.


The basic salary for senators is €5,235 a month, but on top of that they claim daily expenses, which on average amount to an extra €4,000 a month.

They receive free flight and train tickets to and from Rome and they are also allowed to claim further expenses for travelling by car.

The politicians are expected to pay their researchers out of this monthly income but research shows that on average secretaries and researchers are paid between €500 and €1,500 a month - a fraction of the money that is claimed.

Year on year, the expenses of the Italian parliament have grown. The running costs of Italy's presidential palace is now four times that of Buckingham Palace - and while German citizens pay a maximum of €89m per year for public funding of political parties, Italians pay €270m.


A German MP receives a monthly salary of €7,339.

On top of that, an MP gets extra expenses amounting to €3,782 a month, which cover living or entertainment costs and an annual rail card.

The MP also receives €13,660 a year to run the office in the parliament and in the constituency, which includes salaries for staff.

There are no official rules for second homes which MPs may have.

If they have a second residence, they are still liable to pay tax like everyone else.


Just in case we think our Irish politicians have a licence to print money with all their perks and allowances, they still don't have the brass necks of their American counterparts.

Free haircuts, free fresh flowers and an exemption from any parking tickets are among the perks that US House and Senate politicians enjoy.

The current base salary for members of the House and Senate is $169,300 (€128,031). However, salaries for the leadership of both houses is higher.

In the Senate, both the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader get $188,100 (€142,248).

In the House, the Speaker of the House gets $217,400 (€164,442), and the Majority and Minority Leaders get $188,100 (€142,248).

Among the perks and allowances given to US Congressmen and women include free life insurance, subsidized meals in Congressional dining rooms, 10 haircuts in the Congressional barbershop, free parking at Reagan National Airport in Washington DC and free gym membership.

There is an annual staff allowance of $752,400 (€568,418) for each House member and a staff allowance of $400,000 to $2.4m (€302,000 to €1.8m) for each Senator.

House and Senate politicians get free travel to other countries, as well as a travel allowance for so-called 'Congressional Inquiries'.

They get free access to a broadcast studio, free fresh flowers from the National Botanic Garden, free income tax preparation, Congressional pensions, free outpatient hospital care from military hospitals, a $10,000 (€7,552) yearly car allowance and driver.

House members are also allowed to keep all of the frequent flier miles they rack up on lobby-funded trips, for their personal use.

But perhaps the most ludicrous perk that they enjoy is exemption from all parking tickets within Washington DC.


Table on how they all compare – a league table on what international politicians earn:

1. Italy - €132,000 a year/ Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi earns €228,000 a year.
2. USA - €127,836 as year/ President George W Bush earns €304,375 a year.
3. Ireland - €100,191 a year/ Taoiseach Brian Cowen earns €285,583 a year.
4. Germany - €88,068 a year/ German Chancellor Angela Merkel earns €261,500 a year.
5. UK - €68,000 a year/ Prime Minister Gordon Brown earns €207,000 a year.
6. France - €62,160 a year/ President Nicolas Sarkozy earns €240,000 a year.
7. Sweden - €58,140 a year/ Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt earns €138,588 a year.