Thursday 19 October 2017

Demoted minister Mitchell O'Connor's €16,000 top-up to be passed by Dáil

Mary Mitchell O’Connor with her son Steven in Copper Face Jacks at a party to mark Leo Varadkar’s ascension to the office of Taoiseach
Mary Mitchell O’Connor with her son Steven in Copper Face Jacks at a party to mark Leo Varadkar’s ascension to the office of Taoiseach

Kevin Doyle and Niall O'Connor

Legislation will have to be passed in order to top up Mary Mitchell O'Connor's TD salary to reflect her status as a 'super junior minister', the Irish Independent can reveal.

Under existing laws the Taoiseach can appoint a maximum of two ministers of State to the Cabinet table, meaning incumbent 'super juniors' Paul Kehoe and Finian McGrath are paid an extra allowance of €16,288-a-year on top of their minister of state salary of €124,439.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor was demoted by Leo Varadkar from the position of Jobs Minister but handed a soft-landing as a minister of State with responsibility for higher education.

The appointment followed a period of uncertainty after she initially turned down a post with responsibility for equality and law reform.

Sources say the Dún-Laoghaire TD held an eight-minute meeting with the new Taoiseach on Wednesday, during which he revealed she would be losing her job.

She is understood to have expressed upset at the proposed move to the Department of Justice, leading Mr Varadkar to phone her a short time later with a revised offer.

The move was criticised by a significant number of Fine Gael TDs who believed Ms Mitchell O'Connor's refusal to accept the original offer should have led to her being dropped entirely.

But last night, Ms Mitchell O'Connor suggested she should not have been sidelined, telling the Irish Independent she secured a number of "great" job announcements that have to date remained under wraps.

"There is a great pipeline of FDI (foreign direct investments) coming into the country in the next number of months," she said.

She added that unemployment had dropped significantly since she was appointed 13 months ago and she had spearheaded a number of pieces of legislation.

Mr Varadkar's decision to keep her at the Cabinet table now presents a problematic conversation with Fianna Fáil, already claiming the concept of super junior minister is "beginning to be abused".

Last year, when two super junior ministers were appointed in addition to the Chief Whip, the issue was overcome by creating a new allowance for the position then held by Regina Doherty.

By adding yet another Cabinet place Mr Varadkar is now likely to have to introduce legislative changes.

A spokesperson for the Department of Public Expenditure confirmed: "Matters, including this issue, arising from the recent announcements by the Taoiseach will fall to be considered by the Government in the period ahead, at which point an announcement will be made."

Labour Party leader and former public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin said the Taoiseach made his appointments with "little attention to the legal constraints on the number of people who can be paid for such roles".

"The Taoiseach now needs to tell us whether he is appointing one minister on lower pay than the others, or if he intends to bring forward amending legislation to allow him to give higher allowances to a larger number of ministers," he said.

Meanwhile, newly appointed Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has launched a staunch defence of his decision to leave the Department of Housing.

The Cork South Central TD issued a lengthy statement saying he asked for the housing portfolio 12 months ago "because I wanted to lead the Government's response to what was then and still remains one of our greatest national challenges".

"Over the last year, a lot has been achieved, most significantly in terms of a focused and co-ordinated approach to tackling homelessness," he said.

Mr Coveney is understood to have asked to be appointed Foreign Affairs Minister, with a special focus on Brexit.

But in his statement he said: "I am delighted to serve in whatever capacity the Taoiseach thinks appropriate, but I will take with me an enduring commitment to the objectives set out in 'Rebuilding Ireland'."

Irish Independent

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