Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Higgins in travel allowances pledge

Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins spent almost 1,000 euro on petrol, train and accommodation costs in the first six months of the year

A Socialist TD will repay travel allowances spent in his fight against the controversial household charge if a watchdog rules he is in the wrong.

Joe Higgins spent almost 1,000 euro on petrol, train and accommodation costs in the first six months of the year for what he described as campaign-related events outside his Dublin West constituency.

He is one of three United Left Alliance TDs under fire for using expenses to drum up resistance to the 100 euro household tax.

An Oireachtas oversight committee confirmed that it had never envisaged special TD travel allowances would be used for a nationwide anti-Government campaign. It is now taking legal advice to determine whether the deputies broke Dail rules in using the entitlement to fund work outside their own constituencies.

"If the legal advice sought by the Oireachtas Commission says that costs for travel to public events outside of Dublin are not contemplated by the monthly Oireachtas Travel Allowance then this amount will be restored to the fund," said Mr Higgins.

He, along with fellow Socialist Party member Clare Daly and People Before Profit TDs Joan Collins and Richard Boyd-Barrett, has written to the commission calling for an urgent meeting to discuss the issue.

"We are seeking a more detailed exposition regarding the travel allowance than a mere question of whether it is to be applied only within a constituency and for travel to Dail Eireann," they said in a statement.

Mr Higgins released a detailed breakdown of his travel costs, totalling 935 euro. The biggest of those included a 79 euro train fare to Tralee and a 74 euro bed and breakfast bill in Castlebar.

Mr Higgins said he intended to seek independent legal advice on the interpretation of the rules. He maintained they include a reference to a travel allowance to be used for "travel expenses which the member is obliged to incur in the performance of his or her duties as a member of Dail Eireann". This clearly refers to elected representatives honouring their election mandates, he said.

However, Mr Higgins said that should a clear body of legal opinion establish his interpretation was mistaken, he will "reconcile and recompense" as required the amounts used for travelling to campaign meetings against the Government's austerity agenda outside of Dublin West.