Fianna Fáil junior minister Niall Collins won’t explain his inordinately high, tax-free, ministerial driving expenses claim for August 2022 – when the Dáil was in recess and his diary showed few ministerial engagements.
For Collins’s claim for the month to accurately reflect the ministerial work he carried out, he would’ve had to have driven more than twice as much as the average taxi driver in Ireland. His total claim of more than €20,000 last year suggests the same.
While his ministerial diary for August accounts for just over 900 kilometres of driving – he claimed for more than 6,000 kilometres’ worth. The diaries of at least two of Collins’s ministerial colleagues match what they received in expenses.
Though Collins claimed more than €1,500 for ministerial driving expenses for August 2022 alone, all but four days in his diary for the month were block booked for “constituency work”. Ministers are only to be “reimbursed expenditure necessarily incurred in the course of official duty away from home or headquarters” rather than constituency work, according to state policy.
Dáil in recess. More than 6,000 kilometres. More than €20,000 for the year
Minister of state for further education Niall Collins claimed he drove 6,044 kilometres, carrying out ministerial work, in August 2022 when the Dáil wasn’t sitting.
According to his ministerial diary and social media posts however he covered less than 1,000 kilometres as a minister.
Collins received €1,562.37 tax free from the Department of Further and Higher Education for this mileage claim.
His ministerial diary, recently released to The Ditch under freedom of information, shows Collins blocked allocated “constituency work” to every named working day in August that year. He logged just three ministerial events and a meeting in Dublin that month.
The Limerick County TD’s social media accounts suggest he attended five local events throughout the month.
These events and his trip to Dublin involved total driving of around 910 kilometres.
Collins however claimed expenses for 6,044 kilometres in August 2022.
Further education minister Simon Harris claimed less than half of Collins’s figure and the bulk of his claim is supported by the Wicklow TD’s official ministerial diary.
Despite having an exceptionally busy event schedule that month, Harris claimed expenses for 2,489 kilometres related to his ministerial work.
Another of Collins’s government colleagues, Hildegarde Naughton, claimed just 2,265 kilometres of ministerial driving in August 2022. The Galway-based Fine Gael TD had a relatively high number of official engagements that month. Unlike Collins, Naughton’s mileage claim is fully accounted for by reference to entries in her ministerial diary.
Collins's full claim for 2022 suggests he drove considerably more than twice as much as the average taxi driver in Ireland.
He was paid a total €22,915.72 from the public purse for driving 73,807 kilometres while on ministerial engagements.
Taxi drivers average 30,352 kilometres a year, according to the National Transport Authority.
Ministers can claim tax-free mileage expenses for ministerial work, which is considered distinct from their constituency work as TDs, as part of a scheme introduced by government in 1983.
Gardaí are currently examining several criminal complaints made against Collins relating to his wife’s 2007 purchase of land from Limerick County Council.
He declined to comment.