Thursday, June 10, 2010

Politicians - keeping it in the family

It is hard to believe that just a few days have gone by and there has been NO expenses scandal!

But one element of the perks that many politicians get and that is often gone unreported is the use of a parliamentary assistant.

This role is a valuable one - in financial terms - for the lucky appointee.

It carries a salary of around €45,000 a year and some insiders have suggested that it is the type of job one could take on in their spare time.

But what sticks in the craw is that a number of politicians employ their own family members as parliamentary assistants - therefore, keeping the money in the family.

There is absolutely nothing illegal about this and many of the parliamentary assistants are worth their weight in gold. But the fact that there is no open competition for these jobs is yet another hallmark of how out of touch our parliamentary system is.

There is nothing in the rule book to stop a politician employing his/her spouse, partner, son, daughter or best friend to the job - regardless of their qualifications.

A small handful of TDs advertise the jobs and hold interviews but this number is far outweighed by the number who employ family members in the job.

One former parliamentary assistant told this column that he could have done the job ‘with his eyes closed’.

“TDs have constituency secretaries and Dail secretaries, what do they need parliamentary assistants for? The job offers a good few euro and because of this - relatives should be disqualified from applying,” he said.

So what is the role of a parliamentary assistant? Well, according to official sources, the position of parliamentary assistant was
introduced in 2005 to help TDs in writing speeches, researching issues and legislation.

If that is the official job description, then it leaves the party press offices at a bit of a loose end as they are professionals
employed to do this work.

A recent Freedom of Information request - which dates back to 2008 - revealed that one in five TDs and Senators are employing a relative at the taxpayers’ expense.

It revealed that a total of 42 members of the Oireachtas have installed family members in secretarial and parliamentary assistant jobs.

And quite a few of these family members employed were also serving councillor at the time, meaning that they were already receiving a basic wage from the taxpayer of over €16,000 plus expenses.

This is yet another example of how out of touch the system of financing our parliament is.

The expenses system needs radical reform to stop the moral abuses taking place.

It also seems that the root and branch structure of employment should also be examined.

It goes to prove that politics does pay!!

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