Fine Gael's Joe McHugh and Olwyn Enright were double-claiming for three years until they ended the practice last summer

A MARRIED couple, who are both serving TDs, double-claimed on overnight allowances worth almost €120,000 during the first three years of their marriage, details of their expenses claims have shown.

The claim forms, released by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, show that Fine Gael's Joe McHugh and Olwyn Enright were double-claiming for three years until they ended the practice last summer.

During the period in which they both put in for the overnight allowance, Joe McHugh took home an estimated €58,800 in overnight expenses while his wife Olwyn Enright made €61,600 on the tax-free allowance.

The expenses forms, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that the couple have claimed more than €509,000 in overall expenses during the past five years.

Detailed figures released by the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission show that Joe McHugh and Olwyn Enright have been claiming up to €50,000 a year each in tax-free expenses.

The massive expenses payments include the dozens of overnight allowances that the couple claimed even after they got married and despite the fact they were able to share accommodation.

In a 10-week period from 12 September 2005 to 19 November 2005, Donegal TD Joe McHugh made a total of 33 overnight claims, copies of his expense claims show. The claims would have yielded him in the region of €4,620.

During a similar time frame from their marriage in July 2005 to 8 October 2005, his wife Olwyn Enright made 24 overnight claims, which netted €3,360 in tax-free payments. In the period shortly before the couple ended their practice of double claiming, Joe McHugh submitted one expenses form covering a six-month period from 1 January 2008 to 5 July 2008.

In it, he claimed 91 overnight allowances (€12,740) and also 108 one-way journeys to Co Donegal, which totalled 29,052 kilometres. Under the rules that existed at the time, TDs and senators could claim 78c for each kilometre up to 6437km, and 38c for each kilometre afterwards.

During roughly the same period from 1 January 2008 to 27 July 2008, Olwyn Enright claimed a total of 96 overnight allowances (€13,440).

She also claimed some 13,000 kilometres in driving expenses, much lower than his because her constituency is in Co Offaly.

Olwyn Enright said: "I have only claimed allowances in strict accordance with the guidelines of the Oireachtas. In fact, the allowances I have claimed are amongst the lowest in my constituency."

Joe McHugh added: "In the course of my job as a TD I have only claimed allowances strictly in line with laid-down procedures. I have publicly supported and will continue to support much needed reform of the entire allowances system being operated in the Oireachtas.

"In response to the economic downturn I stopped claiming any overnight allowance from July last year. I also regret that our status as a married couple, unique in the Dáil, has brought on what I believe is a disproportionate level of scrutiny of our personal circumstances," he said.

The actual forms used offer a glimpse of just how lax requirements are for the claiming of expenses within Dáil and Seanad Eireann.

To be eligible for an overnight allowance, a member must state only the number of nights in each time period that he or she had to stay in Dublin on official business. There is no requirement for hotel receipts or mortgage statements [in the event of the public representative buying a home in the capital] nor does the TD even have to specify which nights they stayed in the capital. On nights when the TD or senator returns to their home constituency, they can claim mileage if they live further than 15 miles from Leinster House. There is no requirement for petrol receipts nor does the politician have to state on what dates they made the journey back to their constituency.

Once the claim form is signed and submitted, all monies on it are paid without question.

A number of TDs and Senators, who spoke to the Sunday Tribune, said the whole process had been wide open to abuse and that vouched expenses must be introduced. One TD said: "You have a situation where a person can make an automatic claim for either mileage or for the overnight allowance – but perhaps they stayed with a family member or a friend, perhaps they have an apartment in Dublin or perhaps they never travelled home.

"It is simply not acceptable and these types of unvouched expenses would not be seen as acceptable in any other walk of life."