Friday 28 October 2016

Ministers' aides in 'new politics' cost €5m a year

Cabinet told they can have extra staff but fails to pass any laws

Published 24/07/2016 | 02:30

'Cut costs': Enda Kenny
'Cut costs': Enda Kenny

Government ministers have been told they can take on additional staff to help deal with the Opposition, "given the composition of the current Dail", the Sunday Independent can reveal.

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At least 96 aides have been appointed, or retained in previous roles - with the five ministers in Health alone taking on nine drivers at a cost of around €300,000.

Ex-TV3 news anchor Alan Cantwell, who works for Jobs Minister Mary Mictchell O’Connor
Ex-TV3 news anchor Alan Cantwell, who works for Jobs Minister Mary Mictchell O’Connor

Some high-profile figures remain from the last government, like the Taoiseach's chief-of-staff, Mark Kennelly, who is paid €156,380.

New additions to the ranks of advisers include former TV3 anchorman, Alan Cantwell, who is on Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor's team, and former housing charity boss, Bob Jordan, who is working for Housing Minister Simon Coveney. Both are on salary scales starting at €79,401. Not all appointments by the 15 Cabinet members and 18 junior ministers have been finalised. But now each of them is allowed to take on two additional staff members, provided they can argue they are needed to help navigate the political make-up of the new Dail. Guidelines by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform say senior ministers can hire a total of 10 staff, up from eight, while junior ministers can take on seven, up from five.

It states: "In anticipation of greater resources being required on Parliamentary liaison matters, given the composition of the current Dail, Secretaries General have delegated sanction to increase the overall numbers to 10".

Ministers can do this "where the volume of activity, and in particular, the degree of Parliamentary liaison required in the ministerial role, warrants such an increase".

Taosieach’s chief of staff Mark Kennelly
Taosieach’s chief of staff Mark Kennelly

A spokeswoman for the public Expenditure Minister said any requests for additional staff for ministers’ offices will be met from within existing departmental allocations and will not incur any additional cost to the Exchequer.

Former Labour Minister Alan Kelly last night said the decision to allow extra staff was "incredible given the fact that we have little or no legislation coming from this government.

"What do they have to liaise on anyway? This parliament is legislating less than any parliament in living memory". Just eight acts have been passed since the Government was formed - and none of them has yet been signed into law by the President.

Mr Kelly said he suspected that if additional staff are hired, they will "find themselves very busy doing constituency work", though the Government rejected this assertion.

Patricia Ryan, who is on Minister Katherine Zappone’s team
Patricia Ryan, who is on Minister Katherine Zappone’s team

Mr Kelly also pointed out that the ranks of junior ministers have been increased and said the resulting extra staff will be "a nice hefty bill" for the taxpayer.

A senior Government source hit back, saying: "Labour were offered the opportunity to contribute to new politics through participation in Government but chose not to. Deputy Kelly's old-style attacks should be viewed in that light".

A Public Expenditure spokesman said appointments are still being finalised and that it will publish details of all special advisers' salaries in the coming weeks. Details of those already hired by ministers emerged in parliamentary questions last week. They were said to be suitably qualified. Their combined salaries come to more than €4.8m.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny's department has the highest wages bill at over €1m. A Government spokesman said this is down from the corresponding costs of the Fianna Fail-Green coalition of just over €2m in 2009. He added the last Fine Gael-led government also reduced the overall number and cost of advisers compared to the previous administration.

Some former Fine Gael staff have been appointed as advisers. They include senior communications figures Tom Fabozzi, Majella Fitzpatrick and Stephen O'Shea, who are working for the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Health, and Justice respectively. The party's former head of policy, Matthew Lynch, is also advising Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald. All four are on civil service salary scales that begin at €79,40. Separately, Bob Jordan, the former chief executive of housing charity Threshold, is advising Housing Minister Simon Coveney.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone has hired Patricia Ryan - previously an adviser to former health minister Mary Harney.

Each minister is entitled to two drivers, and more than 40 have been hired so far.

A health department spokeswoman said its nine drivers reflects the fact that it has five ministers. The high number of ministers shows the Government's "commitment to prioritise people's health," she added.

A Government spokesman said the previous coalition halved the cost of ministerial transport, saving €20m over a full term.

Who's paid what in Government's army of special advisers

Department of the Taoiseach  Taoiseach Enda Kenny:

- Chief of Staff Mark Kennelly: €156,380

- Government Press Secretary Feargal Purcell: €115,431

Department of Justice Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald:

- Special adviser Marion Mannion: €93,297

- Special adviser Stephen O'Shea: €79,401

Department of Finance Minister Michael Noonan:

- Special adviser Mary Kenny: €87,258

- Special adviser Sean Kinsella: €85,127

Department of the Environment Minister Simon Coveney:

- Special adviser Bob Jordan: salary scale €79,401 to €91,624

Department of Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan:

- Special adviser Sarah Kavanagh: salary scale: €79,401 to €97,194

Department of Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe:

- Special adviser Deborah Sweeney: salary scale €79,401 to €91,624

- Special adviser Stephen Lynam: salary scale €79,401 to €91,624

Department of Health Minister Simon Harris:

- Special adviser Joanne Lonergan: salary scale €79,401 to €91,624

Department of Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor:

- Special adviser Alan Cantwell: salary scale €79,401 to €97,194

Department of Communications Minister Denis Naughten:

- Special adviser Suzie Coogan: €79,401

Department of Children Minister Katherine Zappone:

- Special adviser Patricia Ryan: €79,401

Department of Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar:

- Special adviser Brian Murphy: €99,370

Department of Transport Minister Shane Ross:

- Special adviser Aisling Dunne: salary scale €79,401 to €91,624

Data comes from answers to parliamentary questions. This list is not exhaustive and salary scales have been included where precise salaries have not been published.

Sunday Independent

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