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How Political Parties, Groups and TDs are funded

There are two main sources of direct State support for politicians and politics:

Direct payments under the Electoral Acts paid to all registered political parties which poll 2% or more of the first preference vote at the preceding General Election. This money is awarded to fund electoral activities only.

Payments made under the ‘Parliamentary Activities Allowance‘ scheme (formerly known as the Leaders Allowance). This money cannot be used to fund electoral activities.

In virtually all democracies politics is funded from the exchequer, and I believe this is as it should be if we really want to ensure private sources do not attempt to unduly influence our elected representatives.

Unfortunately in Ireland, the system of state funding that we have has evolved in a very piecemeal way since the 1930s. It has become exorbitant, is unnecessarily complex, and discriminates in the levels of funding awarded across the various political groups.

There is an additional third strand of State support in the form of additional staff which is allocated to Parties only. These party secretariats assist in the running of the legislative activities of the Parliamentary Party, but in practice extend to many other areas of responsibility. The Technical Group does not receive any of this staffing, but is expected to perform the same parliamentary functions. In the absence of this support, members of the Technical Group registered themselves as employers and pool their Parliamentary Activities Allowance to ensure they are able to fully participate in the legislative process.

You can see the full detail of the staffing allocated to the parties in this document. Bear in mind these figures are subject to change.

 

Electoral Acts Funding

This funding is awarded to all qualifying parties, which are nationally registered political parties who achieve 2% or more of the first preference vote at the preceding General Election.

All qualifiying parties recieve a basic set rate of €126,574 per annum.

In addition, there is a set pot of annual funding of approximately €4.8 million which is distributed amongst all qualifying parties according to the share of the first preference vote they have received, so Fine Gael receive 36.1% of the fund, Labour 19.5% and so on.

Originally this pot of money was linked to increases in rates of Civil Service pay, however not to decreases. In 2011 was successful in having an amendment taken to rectify this situation.

In 2011 qualifying parties between them received 83% of the first preference vote. Remarkably, the decision was taken to supplement the four main parties’ funding by dividing the remaining 17% of the fund proportionate to the vote received by Independent and small parties amongst themselves. I attempted to introduce legislation in July 2012 to have this 17% returned to the State instead, however my amendments were ruled out of order by the Government. If allowed to pass, this measure would have resulted in an approximate saving of €831,000 per annum for the exchequer.

 

Parliamentary Activities Allowance

This allowance, formerly called the  Leader’s Allowance, was introduced in 1938 and was originally intended to support the leader of the opposition in his or her duties. Over the years the allowance has grown significantly, and represents the second major source of direct funding. It is not paid directly to party TDs, instead it is paid to the party. Since 2002, it is also the only source of direct funding for Independent TDs like myself, and is paid directly.

The allowance is awarded based on the amount of TDs elected to the Dáil, rather than the share of the vote. It’s awarded to parties only according to the following formula, and is subject to audit:

€64,368 per TD for the first 10 TDs

€51,493 per TD for the next 20 TDs

€25,754 per TD for the remainder of TDs in a parliamentary party

Parties in Government have their allocation reduced by one third to recognise the supports offered them from the Civil Service.

In addition, Independent TDs (including me) receive a standard €37,037 per annum. You can read more about the Leaders Allowance, my attempts to have it changed and reduced, and what I use it for here.

The legislation is written so that even if a TD leaves or is expelled from his or her party, that party keeps receiving the money awarded based on the fact that the TD in question was elected as a party TD.