THE taxpayer paid almost €140,000 in a "lavish and wasteful scheme" to employ a secretary for former taoiseach John Bruton while he was living in America and working in the role of EU ambassador to the United States.
Under a scheme introduced in 2001, former taoisigh are entitled to claim an allowance to employ a secretarial staff and purchase computer equipment.
It has emerged that Bruton claimed the allowance each year from 2001 to 2008; this includes four of the years that he lived in Washington to perform the EU ambassador role from 2004 to 2009.
Details of the payment to Bruton's secretary have been obtained in a reply to a parliamentary question tabled by Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.
The sum claimed varied each year starting with €26,020 (2001). After that he claimed €32,475 (2002); €18,943 (2003); €35,538 (2004); €36,984 (2005); €38,514 (2006); €40,635 (2007) and €11,103 (2008). He has claimed €1,766 this year to date under the scheme.
Bruton is not the only beneficiary of the special allowance as it has also been claimed by other former taoisigh Bertie Ahern, Garret FitzGerald and the late Charles Haughey at a cost of €1,274,679 to the public purse.
Even though he is still a Dáil deputy, Ahern has received €230,000 since he stepped down in 2008. He claimed the allowance to pay a secretary, on top of his annual TD's salary of over €100,000, his former taoiseach's pension worth €98,901 and the €22,000 expenses he claimed as a TD. Ahern's claim of €114,369 for 2009 was almost three times higher than the €38,000 paid to Garret FitzGerald and over double the €44,890 paid to Albert Reynolds.
Last Tuesday, Taoiseach Brian Cowen faced questions from Ó Caoláin, Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore over the controversial allowance that is paid for through Cowen's department. Cowen outlined that the initiative allows former taoisigh to employ two secretarial assistants for five years from the date they leave office and one secretary after the five-year period has elapsed.
Ó Caoláin said, "This is a lavish and wasteful scheme. The current Taoiseach's defence of it was extremely weak.
"The fact that a serving deputy, Bertie Ahern, benefits from this scheme is doubly wasteful, given that he is already entitled to two full-time paid staff as a TD.
"It is equally unacceptable that ex-taoiseach John Bruton benefited from it while holding a highly lucrative EU ambassadorial post. Contrast this with government cuts which are hitting the most vulnerable hard. The scheme should be scrapped and the savings used for some real social benefit."
Bruton could not be reached for comment when contacted by the Sunday Tribune and it is unclear if the secretary employed by him was based in Ireland or accompanied him to the US when he was working for the EU from 2004 to 2009.