Aside from salaries and other allowances in the nature of pay, there are three main ways that political activity is funded by the taxpayer, namely the amounts provided to political parties and independent representatives by way of the Party Leader's Allowance and under the Electoral Acts, and the allowances paid to members of each House in respect of their duties as public representatives and in respect of free travelling and other facilities in accordance with Article 15.15 of the Constitution.
The Party Leader's Allowance is provided for in the Oireachtas (Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices) Act 1938, as amended by the Oireachtas (Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices (Amendment) Act 2001.
The allowance is paid to the parliamentary leader of a qualifying party in relation to expenses arising from the parliamentary activities, including research, of the party. Payments are made in respect of members of the party elected to Dáil Éireann and members elected/nominated to Seanad Éireann at the last preceding general election, or a subsequent by-election or, in the case of Seanad Éireann, nominated to it after the last preceding general election. The conditions governing calculation of and entitlement to payment of the allowance are set out in the Act. The primary restriction in the Act on the use of the allowance is that it may not be used in respect of election expenses.
The legislation also provides that payments may be made to a member of Dáil Éireann, who at the last preceding general election or at a subsequent by-election was elected as a member other than as a member of a qualifying party. Such qualifying Independent TDs are entitled to an annual rate of €41,152. A similar provision in the Act provides for an annual payment of €23,383 for Independent Senators.
I intend to bring proposals to Government shortly in relation to reviewing the Allowance. Any change proposed following that review will require primary legislation to be prepared.
Responsibility for the Electoral Acts is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.
Under the Electoral Acts, provision is made for two payments to be made to qualifying political parties. Section 50(c)(ii)(I)(a) of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001, provides for an annual sum of €4.948 million to be shared among qualified political parties. Payments are calculated on the basis of the share of first preference votes obtained by an individual qualified party at the previous general election. Section 50(c)(i)(a) of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001, also provides for an annual payment in each period of 12 months to each qualified party of €126,973.81.
The Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 which is currently before the Houses of the Oireachtas provides for a number of changes to the Electoral Acts, including provision for decreases, as well as increases, in civil service pay to be applied in future to the fund disbursed annually to qualified political parties under Part 3 of the Electoral Act 1997.
In addition, Section 5 of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2011, enacted in July 2011, provided for a reduction in the maximum amount that can be reimbursed to a qualifying candidate at a Presidential election from €260,000 to €200,000.
Oireachtas Members can avail of the Parliamentary Standard Allowance, provided for under section 3 of the Oireachtas (Allowances to Members) and Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Act, 2009 which has two elements: a Travel and accommodation allowance and Public Representation Allowance.
From 1 February 2012, occasional additional secretarial support as well as public relations, certain information technology and training services was included within the scope of this allowance. This change was effected by the provisions of Statutory Instrument No. 37 of 2012. The expenditure limits for this allowance remains unchanged.
In addition Statutory Instrument No. 328 of 2011 reduced the number of pre-paid envelopes available to members as follows from 1 July 2011:
Deputies: reduced from 1,500 per month to 1,250 per month;
Senators: reduced from 1,000 per month to 750 per month.
The estimated savings of this change was €0.152m in 2011 and €0.36m in a full year.
Finally, additional supports to the activities of members of each House, including secretarial assistance, are provided directly to members of each House under the auspices of the Oireachtas Commission. Since 2004, the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission has been financed from the Central Fund. The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Act is amended every three years to provide for Oireachtas funding allocation for the following three years. The legislation is also amended as necessary to update finance, staffing, and governance procedures. It is envisaged that amending legislation will be enacted before the end of 2012.