TDs and Senators have been told they can claim expenses for video conferencing services but are advised against the use of Zoom.
Under current expense rules, every TD is entitled to claim up to €20,350 in what is known as the Public Representation Allowance (PRA) to cover the costs of being in politics.
A lower rate of €16,000 applies to members of the Government, while the payment is capped at €12,225 for members of the Seanad.
The latest set of guidelines for claiming for the allowance also allows politicians to invest in cloud storage so that they do not lose any valuable texts, emails, or other content.
However, they have been told they cannot pay out for preparing compilation videos of their contributions to the Dáil or Seanad.
The latest guidelines reflect changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic with a Q&A section saying subscriptions to videoconferencing services are now allowed.
“Yes, this is allowable under Category 9. Please note, however, that the Houses of the Oireachtas’s ICT Unit, for security reasons, does not approve of the use of Zoom and does not support it,” the guide said. “Therefore, installation of Zoom on an Oireachtas supplied device is prohibited. Members do have the ability to attend Zoom calls through the Web version of Zoom.”
TDs and Senators who are worried about storage services, sharing content, or losing valuable records have also been assured they can claim for cloud services like Dropbox, iCloud, and Google Drive.
An advisory said: “Yes, subscriptions are allowable. Members are advised to ensure such storage services are secure.”
The politicians have been warned however, that they cannot make expense claims for web services that compile videos of their contributions on the Dáil or Seanad floor.
TDs and Senators have already been warned about the upload of footage from the Oireachtas to social media, especially where it might be misleading or taken out of context.
Members were also told they could not pay for a speaker to travel for attendance at a conference. “The PRA covers expenses incurred by the Member only. It excludes costs incurred by third parties,” said the advisory.
The new updated guidelines also clarified that TDs and Senators could include legal fees relating to rent of a constituency office. Also clarified were scenarios where an office premises was shared with somebody else, for example with a local councillor or another business. While costs relating to rent and utilities could be claimed, these needed to be clearly apportioned in writing between them.
The guidelines are periodically updated based on queries from TDs and Senators.
Under the current system, at least 10 per cent of members are selected for audit each year and have to provide evidence of expenditure through receipts, invoices, and proof of payments. If they make claims that are not allowed, the money must be refunded.
All the records associated with the claims are considered their “private papers” and are exempt under Freedom of Information legislation, meaning they can never be examined by the media or members of the public.
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