TD denies cronyism claim over hiring wife as 'temp'
THE latest Government TD to hire a family member as part of his staff claims he had no other option than to employ his wife after his secretary took maternity leave.
Fine Gael TD Noel Coonan has his wife, Pauline, working as his paid, part-time parliamentary secretary until the end of the month.
The Irish Independent revealed earlier this month that 25 out of 166 TDs had hired family members -- positions that they are not obliged to advertise.
The list included two junior ministers hiring two family members each in their departmental staff.
Mr Coonan's wife is also a North Tipperary county councillor, after taking over her husband's seat.
"My parliamentary secretary, Anne Marie Meehan, is on maternity leave. Her leave coincided with the dissolution of the Dail. All contracts end then," Mr Coonan said.
"As such, I couldn't have a replacement for my secretary at that particular time as I had to wait for her to sign a new contract."
Mr Coonan rejected the suggestion that the appointment is another example of cronyism.
"Pauline did temporary work in her absence. She has filled in for a few weeks and is acting as secretary. It is a temporary, stand-in position."
Mr Coonan confirmed his wife had been filling in for about six weeks.
"It is not that long a time. It's just a quirk of the system the way it happened. I found myself in these circumstances at the dissolution of the Dail.
"I found myself without a secretary and we had to issue new contracts and to do that you had to get elected.
"The election came quicker than we thought. I wasn't in a position to train somebody to do that job in that length of time," the Fine Gael TD said.
On top of privately earned income, Mrs Coonan is entitled to payments and expenses as a serving North Tipperary county councillor.
The average annual salary for a parliamentary secretary is €25,000.
At the Fine Gael selection convention in Thurles last year, where Mr Coonan was selected as the candidate's sole representative in the constituency, party leader Enda Kenny declared that FG would "put an end to cronyism and open up the government books to the public and show them how this country is being run".