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Cabinet ministers were told not to hire family

CABINET ministers were told not to appoint relatives to their official staff -- but there was no similar instruction given to junior ministers.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton revealed yesterday she was told on the day of her appointment not to hire family members.

"There was a list of conditions in relation to Cabinet like confidentiality, working together as a team and no relatives," Ms Burton said. "They were saying this to everyone."

Her confirmation comes after the Irish Independent revealed two junior ministers each hired two family members for their departmental staff. It is likely to increase pressure for similar recommendations to be made to second-rank ministers.

It was revealed yesterday that 25 out of 166 TDs hired family members -- positions they are not obliged to advertise.

Training and Skills Minister Ciaran Cannon hired his wife as personal secretary and his brother-in-law as one of the two civilian drivers he is entitled to. The personal secretary position comes with a salary between €23,000 and €49,000, and the driver's position comes with a salary of about €35,000.

The positions also come with a pension, and if Mr Cannon's wife, Niamh Lawless, was paid at the highest scale and served a full five-year term, she would receive an annual payment of €3,111 once she hits 65, as well as a lump sum of €9,330.

Mr Cannon -- who made an election promise to "fix our political system and sweep away cronyism" -- defended his appointments.

"I don't believe the accusation of cronyism is fair," the Galway East TD said.

"For me cronyism would imply I have employed people unsuited to the jobs they occupy and that they are there because they are members of my family. That is not the case.

"My wife is my secretary and she has been acting as my secretary since 2007. She has 20 years' secretarial experience.

"And one of my drivers in my brother-in-law. He is also equally qualified to do the job. And I intend keeping them because they do an excellent job."

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Junior Agriculture Minister Shane McEntee's daughter and sister-in-law are job sharing his €44,000-a-year personal assistant post and Mr McEntee also said his relatives were the "best people to do the job".

"I've two people who share a full-time job," the Meath East TD told LMFM radio.

"One of them is my daughter; she has a degree in politics, economics and law. My daughter applied for the job and went through the system. My daughter is looking for a full-time job, she's with me part time."

Joan Collins, from the United Left Alliance, also defended hiring her partner Dermot Connolly as a part-time parliamentary assistant, and said he was the best person for the job.

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