Letter by Head of Communications Mark Mulqueen in relation to a misleading story on Oireachtas expenses. It appeared in the Irish Independent on 17 November.
You opened your editorial on Saturday saying politicians must wonder why their standing with the public is so low. I doubt that very much. When they see another one-sided and negative portrayal of the cost of politics in your newspaper, they need hardly wonder at all.
Clearly, it's a waste of time asking that the pay and allowances paid to politicians for doing the important but unpopular job they are elected to do be presented fairly in the media. When one sees a trumped-up headline like your 'TDs expenses average €147k', one should know the standard of journalism one is dealing with.
For instance, despite repeatedly explaining to journalists that TDs get an annual ( not monthly ) allowance for travel and accommodation costs, some cannot resist the lazy temptation to suggest that it is a monthly allowance so that they can then suggest that TDs get expenses for the month of August when the Dail doesn't sit. They don't. They get an annual payment based on annual attendance but sure, why bother explain it again.
The fact that TDs have incurred multiple pay cuts, including all public sector pay cuts, as well as a cut in allowances, was naturally also omitted from your spread last Saturday. But of course it was.
As I had stated to your reporter, grossing-up nearly 4 years costs and allowances and creating the perennial simplistic league table of allowances is easy, dramatic and might even sell a few extra papers on the back of stoking some more outrage but it isn't really informative and doesn't represent real analysis. Nor does it capture the real story of TDs commuting long distances or the genuine demand that exists from the electorate for constituency work, especially in rural Ireland.
Of course, this letter is relatively pointless, the damage is done and your readership will continue to be misinformed on a subject that actually does deserve expert and informed analysis and debate.
So, you are right on one thing. It is no wonder that this issue is so unpopular with your readership when one thinks of such misleading headlines as yours last Saturday.
Head of Communications
Houses of the Oireachtas