This week the tragedy that is mass unemployment was intensified further with the official rate rising to 14.9%, a total of 440,600 people and the highest since 1994. This week, also, the Troika is in town to make sure that the Irish people continue to wear the suffocating straitjacket of austerity in the interests of salvaging the fortunes of the failed property gamblers from the European financial markets. Last week a further €1.2 billion was paid out to unsecured bondholders.
Against this unfolding national crisis, sections of the billionaire owned press spent days manufacturing giant headlines and spilling buckets of ink in a frenzy of artificial outrage because three Dublin based, Left wing Members of the Dail said they used part of a travel allowance they are paid, to take up invitations to speak at mass meetings all over the country. They were invited by campaign groups mobilising against austerity and against the household and septic tank taxes in particular. This, screamed a few journalistic hacks, was an abuse of taxpayers’ funds because the fixed allowance which all Dublin TDs receive should only be used in Dublin.
With the shrill clamour, some people might have been fooled into thinking that a grand larceny was underway, that the nation was being raided by unscrupulous public representatives, enriching themselves on the backs of taxpayers. Being one of the deputies involved I thought it appropriate to let the truth speak to this media abuse of power by outlining the reality, which is truly unshocking.
Between January and June this year, I travelled to public meetings and rallies in 21 cities and towns. Thousands of people on aggregate attended with 700 coming to one very vibrant rally in Waterford . I travelled by train or car. I took Bed and Breakfast on three occasions, stayed with friends or activists on other occasions, but mostly drove back to Dublin often arriving in the early hours and on many occasions having pulled off the road for a short sleep to ensure safe driving while very tired.
On Wednesday I outlined in a statement how I sought to determine the cost of this work to recoup the bare expenses involved. When travel involves a car, the AA Road Planner website has a very convenient ‘fuel reckoner’ which gives the cost of fuel for any journey. Using this, the cost was €74 for travel to Castlebar, €56 for Clonmel, €14 for Wicklow town and so on. The accommodation was €35, €36 and €54 – a total of €125. Total petrol and train fares came to €810 which means the entire costs were €935. For that I covered 6,289 kilometres or 3908 miles. Had I been able to make the journeys by ass and cart, I couldn’t have done it more cheaply!
A Travel allowance for Members of the Dail is regulated by Statutory Instrument 84/2010 under the relevant legislation. It states that it is to cover travel from the Member’s residence to Leinster House and then adds, ‘and travel expenses which the member is obliged to incur in the performance of his or her duties as a member of Dail Eireann.’ The Commission which administers this allowance says that this means only travel within the constituency and that their legal advice agrees. I view my duty as being an active representative for working class people and those campaigning for justice on many issues no matter which part of the country is involved. That is why I am now seeking independent legal advice to clarify this issue.
The very modest travel costs of a few Left wing TDs who work flat out straining to assist the fight against austerity merited several full pages in the Evening Herald. We were denounced as having sold out and it was cynically implied that we were on the ‘gravy train’. This is nothing short of a smear campaign to try to vilify and destroy the credibility of socialist deputies and their political parties, which are strongly fighting on behalf of ordinary working class people against the massive and unjust austerity agenda and for an alternative society run for the millions rather than for billionaire greed.
The massive anti Household Tax Campaign involves 50% of homeowners boycotting the tax. This is a barrier to the establishment agenda to go over to a property tax that, with other impositions, will quickly go to a €1,000 and beyond. Seizing on the non issue of Dail Members travelling to campaign meetings and barely covering their costs is intended to try and damage this campaign also. It won’t succeed.
Elected representatives to a national parliament should have modest expenses incurred in their work reimbursed with a system that would ensure the very minimum expenditure of public funds. But a legislator’s role, while serving their local constituency, is also, crucially, a national one.