Tuesday 21 January 2020

Disability U-turn: Joan Burton in storm over €128k aide pay

- Adviser's salary breaches cap
-Minister in U-turn on disability

Fionnan Sheahan, Michael Brennan and Fiach Kelly

JOAN Burton, who was forced into an embarrassing climbdown on disability payments yesterday, personally secured the largest salary above the Government's pay cap for a spin doctor.

New figures released to the Irish Independent show Ms Burton's special adviser, Edward Brophy, is on a salary of almost €128,000 -- €35,000 more than the Coalition's pay cap.

Mr Brophy advised the Labour Party on economic policy in a voluntary capacity before the general election, when Ms Burton was the party's finance spokesperson.

Outside of the four most senior advisers in the Taoiseach and Tanaiste's office, where the €93,000 salary cap does not apply, Mr Brophy is the highest-paid government adviser.

In total, the team of 40 politically appointed advisers to the Coalition are costing the taxpayer more than €3.6m -- half of the €7m cost of the proposed cut to the disability payment.

Social Protection Minister Ms Burton was at the centre of a storm of controversy yesterday over the Government's climbdown on cuts to benefits for young people with disabilities.

She defended her record on the Budget following the U-turn on the planned €88 cut to the disability allowance.

The climbdown was prompted by a backlash from Fine Gael and Labour Party TDs.

It emerged yesterday that a delegation of Fine Gael TDs confronted Ms Burton with their opposition to the cuts late on Tuesday night.

During an hour-long meeting at 10pm in the office of Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe, Fine Gael backbenchers Joe McHugh, Michael Creed, Damien English, Ray Butler, Simon Harris and Kieran O'Donnell insisted the cuts had to be halted.

Ms Burton got the same message from Labour TDs at her parliamentary party meeting.

Mr Kenny said yesterday the measure was "paused" pending a review by the chairperson of the commission on social welfare and taxation.

Fianna Fail TD Willie O'Dea accused Ms Burton of briefing against Fine Gael on the Budget negotiations and trying to claim credit for herself.

He said: "In recent weeks the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, has been behaving like a modern-day version of the 1960s character, Maxwell Smart, hiding in corridors waiting for a journalist to pass to say that, by the way, the Labour Party is stopping Fine Gael doing A, B and C and to make sure to print that Labour did it and that the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, led the charge."

Meanwhile, the Irish Independent has learned that more than half of the special advisers hired by the Government worked for Fine Gael and Labour before the parties came to power.

Mr Kenny is defending the hiring of political advisers, saying his bill is far lower than the previous government.

The latest figures show the team of advisers employed by the Fianna Fail-led government cost €5m.

However, these figures date from 2009, before salary cuts came into effect, so do not show the real saving to the taxpayer from the transition of power after the general election.

Nonetheless, the salaries paid to advisers have definitely dropped under the new government.


The Government has also abolished the right of junior ministers to have an adviser.

Despite reducing the overall cost, the Taoiseach has come under fire all week for breaching his Government's self-imposed pay cap by personally approving a €35,000 pay rise for one of his former advisers.

Mr Kenny overruled Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin and Finance Minister Michael Noonan to bring the pay of his former Fine Gael spin doctor, Ciaran Conlon, up to €127,000. Mr Conlon works as a special adviser to Jobs Minister Richard Bruton.

Ms Burton's special adviser, Mr Brophy, is on a salary of €127,796. She applied to Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin for the extra salary on the grounds that he was earning more previously.

Mr Brophy is a lawyer and a procurement expert who previously worked with a Spanish energy company, a cable TV company and two leading Dublin solicitors firms.

Irish Independent

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