Receipts submitted by TDs and senators under a new expense regime will remain hidden and are not subject to Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation.
Under a new system of expenses, politicians are entitled to claim up to €25,700 each year if they decide to "vouch" for their money.
However, it has now emerged that their records – which would include the specific receipts recording their expenses – will not be subject to Freedom of Information legislation.
It means they can never be examined by media organisations or members of the public and will only be investigated if the TD or senator in question is subject to an audit.
A note of a meeting with the finance minister Brian Lenihan last December notes that only the audit report can be subject to FoI.
It says: "A member can inform the Oireachtas Commission whether it is intended to claim in respect of vouched or unvouched expenses. Where vouching applies, the full amount will be paid and the member will certify actual expenditure at the end of the year, refunding any balance.
"Receipts, invoices, etc, will be subject to audit. Where there is an audit, members will retain these and they will be inspected by the auditor.
"The receipts and invoices will remain in the member's possession but an audit report would be accessible under Freedom of Information."
Notes of another meeting with Lenihan that month explain how the Attorney General had approved the scheme and its operation.
It says: "Attorney General says that regime in which members retain their own receipts for inspection by an auditor, with these not becoming records of the Commission for FoI purposes, is robust."
As the Houses of the Oireachtas and Department of Finance deliberated over the new system of expenses, one senior civil servant raised a red flag over leaving receipts in the hands of the actual politicians.
He wrote: "In relation to audit, I think we need more time to think about the members holding their own receipts. The question arises as to what we would be paying out on if we do not have sight of the receipts.
"If we leave it to members [TDs and senators] we would have to develop highly prescriptive rules on what is in and what is out and, really, even with room for interpretation by members, that would still be far too wide."
It also emerged from documents obtained by the Sunday Tribune that Lenihan considered – but dismissed – a plan to give members an unlimited allowance, if they chose to vouch it. Instead, the government introduced a cap of €25,700 on the fully vouched claims or a standardised €15,000 allowance in an unvouched system.
Fears that a politician selected for audit could then pay back enough money to qualify for the unvouched system were also raised by civil servants but were disregarded as highly unlikely.