TAOISEACH Enda Kenny won't say if he personally intervened to raise the wages of any more special advisers as controversy raged over his demand for a €35,000 pay hike for a spindoctor.
The affair cast a shadow over the Budget yesterday with Mr Howlin being laughed at when he claimed the Government had "cut the overall costs of special advisers to ministers".
And Sinn Fein's Mary-Lou McDonald attacked Mr Kenny directly.
"The Taoiseach is not prepared to protect the vulnerable, but he'll fight tooth and nail to sort out Mr Conlon," she said.
But a spokesman for Mr Kenny said he did not know if the Taoiseach had personally intervened in the cases of another five special advisers who were given salaries in excess of the €92,000 standard rate.
He said there was "nothing unusual" in Mr Kenny being involved in the authorisation of pay increases for special advisers.
"The appointments of all government advisers are government decisions and they have to be sanctioned by the Taoiseach," he said.
He added that exceptions from the standard €92,000 pay cap for special advisers were allowed.
"The procedures allow for specific exceptions on the basis of experience, the role being filled, the level of expertise and the previous pay levels," he said.
Mr Conlon's previous salary as communications manager for Fine Gael has not been disclosed but it is understood it was higher than the €92,000 rate on offer when he became a special adviser to Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton.
The Department of Finance introduced a salary range of €80,000-€92,000 for special advisers to prevent a repeat of what had happened in recent years -- when former Taoiseach Brian Cowen's programme manager and special adviser Joe Lennon was paid €188,640.
But the new Government has authorised salaries about this range, which are even larger than Mr Conlon's.
Two of Mr Kenny's advisers, chef de cabinet Mark Keneally and economic adviser Andrew McDowell, are now on salaries of €168,000 each.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's chef de cabinet Mark Garrett is on €168,000 and economic adviser Colm O'Reardon is on €155,000.
Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin has appointed former Chartered Accountants Ireland director of communications Ronan O'Brien on €114,000.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte has former Irish Travel Agents' Association chief executive Simon Nugent on €97,000.
Mr Howlin recently said he sanctioned 14 exceptions to the rules, but this includes those who were appointed on the Principal Officer standard scale of €80,051 to €92,672 and put on a higher point than the minimum. However, in six cases a salary rate in excess of €92,000 was approved.