Independent Senators call for Government to establish vouched system for Leader’s Allowance
Press Release, 21th March 2012
***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
The Independent Group of Senators (Taoiseach’s Nominees) tabled a number of amendments to the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011, at both Committee and Report stage, which completed its journey in the Seanad last week.
The wide-ranging amendments covered the allowances paid to Party Leaders and Independent Members of the Oireachtas, a ban on corporate donations to political parties, and changes to extend gender quotas for candidate selection.
Speaking in the Seanad, Independent Group Leader Senator Jillian van Turnhout said that “all allowances should be fully vouched. We should be obliged to be accountable in respect of these allowances. When I sought guidance on the Party Leader’s Allowance, I discovered that the only form available relates to political parties.” Regrettably, the Government voted against the amendments proposed by the Independent Group to ensure a system of fully vouched expenses. Today we are calling on the Government to immediately establish a vouched system for the Party Leader’s Allowance, making representatives more accountable for their use of public money.
Under the same debate, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail addressed the issue of the Leader’s Allowance, paid to leaders of political parties and to independent members of both Houses. The Senator, who is in receipt of a Leader’s Allowance, said that while there are guidelines for its use, “there is no requirement to vouch or keep accounts”. To combat this worrying situation, Senator Mac Conghail proposed that “all independent members of the Oireachtas, including myself, should have a statutory responsibility to provide detailed accounts of donations and public funding on an annual basis”.
On the issue of funding by corporate donations in Irish politics, Senator Mac Conghail said “I think that it should be banned entirely. I don’t know why it can’t.” Drawing attention to the promise in the Programme for Government to abolish corporate donations, the Senator went on to point out that the disclosure requirements in the Bill under debate mean that parties could, in an election year, keep the sources of their funding secret until after votes were cast.
With regard to proposals in the Bill to introduce gender quotas, whereby at least 30% of each party’s candidates at the next general election must be of either gender, Senator Jillian van Turnhout called for two important changes. Firstly, Senator van Turnhout called for the initial quota to be raised to 40%, saying that a quota of 30% has been shown to be “the bare minimum level of gender parity necessary to achieve critical mass”, and a figure which “does nothing but delay the inevitable”. With a 30% quota, it could be more than a decade before 40% participation is reached.
Senator van Turnhout called for electoral quotas to be extended to local elections as well as the general election, arguing that local politics is where skills and experience are traditionally learnt by those who go on to become national representatives. The Senator argued that “Excluding local government from gender quota legislation denies potential female candidates the experience and sense of political legitimacy that would protect new female candidates from any allegation of tokenism being levelled against them”.
The amendments tabled by the Independent Group of Senators were not incorporated into the Bill. The Bill enters its second stage today in the Dail, 21st March 2012.
Notes for editors: The Independent Group (Taoiseach’s Nominees) are Senators Jillian van Turnhout (Leader), Martin McAleese, Fiach Mac Conghail, Mary Ann O’Brien, Marie-Louise O’Donnell, and Katherine Zappone.