Having claimed to have driven more than 8,000 kilometres in three months when the Dáil wasn’t sitting, Fianna Fáil junior minister Seán Fleming has denied submitting inaccurate ministerial driving expenses claims.
He won’t however explain why his ministerial diary accounts for less than 1,000 of these claimed kilometres. One of these months is August 2020 – when government had introduced special lockdown restrictions for Fleming’s home county of Laois – and the minister of state at the Department of Foreign Affairs claimed for 2,358 kilometres.
For August 2020, 2021 and 2022 Fleming claimed for 8,446 kilometres of ministerial driving for a total of almost €4,000, tax-free. His official diary supports less than 1,000. The Ditch has previously reported that the diaries of two of Fleming’s government colleagues, Simon Harris and Hildegarde Naughton, match their mileage claims.
Fleming told The Ditch that he “did not submit any incorrect/inaccurate ministerial mileage claims” during this period. His party colleague Niall Collins hasn’t addressed two unusually high August claims, while arts minister Catherine Martin has repaid €1,140 she said was claimed in “error”.
No events in the diary, lots of mileage
Laois–Offaly TD Seán Fleming claimed he drove 2,358 kilometres, carrying out ministerial work, in August 2020 when the Dáil wasn’t sitting. According to his ministerial diary he covered just more than a tenth of that figure.
On 8 August that year, to address the spread of Covid-19, targeted lockdown restrictions came into action for counties Laois, Offaly and Kildare. The restrictions in Fleming’s Laois were in place for two weeks and prevented people from leaving the county except in limited circumstances.
His diary shows he attended just one ministerial meeting in Dublin. No events or other meetings were scheduled for August 2020, according to the diary released to The Ditch under freedom of information. Fleming also attended a meeting and an event in Portlaoise on separate days that month, according to local media reports.
Fleming's August 2020 ministerial activity suggests he covered just 260 kilometres.
He however claimed €1969.64 in tax-free expenses for 2,358 kilometres.
The following year Fleming’s mileage claim increased to 3,136 kilometres for August. His ministerial diary shows just one entry, a 210-kilometre round trip to a meeting in Dublin, related to his ministerial duties.
In August 2022, Fleming claimed his ministerial mileage came to 2,952 kilometres. According to his diary and social media posts, he attended a meeting in Dublin and two events in Laois and Offaly, which accounts for 390 kilometres.
Fleming received a total of €3,742.84 from the Department of Finance for his August mileage claims in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
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 government policy.
In a statement to The Ditch, Fleming rejected any irregularity with his mileage claims.
“I did not submit any incorrect/inaccurate ministerial mileage claims for August 2022, August 2021 and August 2020 and any suggestion or innuendo to the contrary is incorrect/inaccurate.”
He didn’t respond when asked to explain the discrepancies between his mileage claims and ministerial diary entries.