PJ Sheehan: lives furthest away

IRELAND'S politicians are still being paid expenses to the tune of more than €170,000 every week under a new revised system that was designed to save the taxpayer money.

The new system – which replaced an antiquated and unvouched regime of expenses and allowances – is expected to cost €8.89m this year.

The Houses of the Oireachtas has been paying out under the revamped regime for four months so far, with payments already approaching €3m.

However, it is thought that some small saving will be made on previous years when the total paid to our TDs and Senators each year often exceeded €9m.

The Houses of the Oireachtas said that the new system was not specifically designed to save money but to be more transparent and verifiable.

A spokesman said it was difficult to say what the true cost of it would be until next year when all payments have been made for twelve months.

"We won't have a true cost of the 2010 system until at least March 2011 for a number of reasons...The main aim of the new system of allowances introduced in March of this year was to replace 40 years of legislation with a single, transparent and verifiable parliamentary allowance.

"The reforms build on savings achieved and substantially increases the tran­- sparency of the allowances system by providing information to members of the public on how their public representatives are funded."

The biggest earners under the new system include many familiar names with 15 TDs in receipt of at least €5,000 a month in expenses.

The single largest earner so far has been Deputy PJ Sheehan who has claimed a grand total of €21,183.36 since the new regime began.

If his current rate of claim continues, he will have amassed expenses of €63,550, which is close to the maximum available in the system.

Sheehan, a Fine Gael deputy in Cork North West, lives further from Leinster House than any of the country's 166 TDs.

The next largest claimants were Kerry TD Jackie Healy-Rae and Fine Gael's Dinny McGinley who are each on target to claim €62,806 this year, and have been paid €5,233 each month.

Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney and controversial politician Beverley Flynn also claimed in excess of €5,000 each month, and if they continue in that vein, will have expenses of €60,000 in a year.

All TDs and senators are automatically entitled to some level of expenses including ministers, who receive a basic rate of €1,000 per month. The only politician not in receipt of any expenses in June was Senator Ivor Callely, to whom the Oireachtas has "ceased payment pending investigation".