Michael Lowry: €189k+ in unvouched expenses

MORE than €2.2m in unvouched funding has been paid out of a leader's allowance grant to 27 independent TDs and senators over the past five years.

All elected representatives in the Dáil and Seanad are paid the allowance but members of the main political parties must hand it over to party headquarters and then provide a detailed breakdown of its expenditure.

Independent TDs and senators are also provided with the allowance to help run their constituency offices or serve other political functions.

Unlike the main political parties, however, they are not obliged to furnish the Standards in Public Office Commission with an explanation of where the money goes.

One of the biggest earners from the allowance was independent TD Michael Lowry, who was given more than €189,000 since 2005. Lowry, who was forced to resign from Fine Gael over controversy about his finances, was also one of the highest claimants when it came to political expenses and took home €299,478 over four years.

That was on top of the estimated €500,000 he earned from his Dáil salary. The cost of Michael Lowry TD to the taxpayer since 2005 has been more than €1m.

The allowance for TDs – which is in on top of tidy salaries and generous expenses – amounted to more than €40,000 per person last year according to the Department of Finance. For senators, both members of parties or independents, the allowance was considerably lower and amounted to just over €23,000 in 2009.

The cost of the leader's allowance to the taxpayer is estimated at €36m over the past four years, according to figures obtained by the Sunday Tribune. Of that, €2.27m was paid to independent TDs and senators, who are not obliged to provide an account of it.

Four independent TDs were granted more than €100,000 under the allowance scheme: Michael Lowry (€189,101.36), Finian McGrath (€189,101.36), Jackie Healy-Rae (€185,672.03) and the late Tony Gregory (€148,170.65).

Controversially, Beverley Flynn was also granted €64,303 under the scheme after being elected as an independent, only to rejoin Fianna Fáil. Four independent senators were also granted more than €100,000 under their allowance, which is slightly lower than that allowed for TDs. They were: David Norris, Shane Ross, Joe O'Toole and Feargal Quinn, who each claimed exactly €108,624.11.