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Friday 23 February 2018

Coalition silent on controversial issue of special advisers

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

FINE Gael and Labour have given no commitment to reduce the number of special advisers they constantly criticised while in opposition.

The previous Fianna Fail-led Government hired more than 50 special advisers, with two provided to each senior minister and one for each junior minister. Taoiseach Brian Cowen alone had six special advisers, with the best paid earning an annual salary of €188,000.

Although the Programme for Government pledges to "overhaul the way Irish politics and Government work", there is no commitment to reduce the number of special advisers for new Fine Gael and Labour ministers.

The matter is being discussed by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore. Last night, Fine Gael and Labour would not comment on the matter.

Around half of the advisers hired by the previous Government were press officers, whose duty was to promote the work of their ministers.


But the role of the remaining half was to work on ensuring that Government policies were delivered by the civil service.

Labour TD Brendan Howlin, who helped negotiate the Programme for Government, said the issue of special advisers was a matter for the two party leaders to decide on. But he said that there was a need for some "effective mechanism" to drive change in the civil and public service.

"One of the things that caused us some concern was the lack of political direction in the briefings that we got.

There wasn't a common purpose, there wasn't a clear economic agenda that all agents of the State were working to," he said.

Both Fine Gael and Labour strongly criticised the cost of special advisers during their time in opposition.

But they will now be under pressure internally to appoint many of their own party officials or supporters to the positions, which carry salaries ranging from €90,000 to €188,000.

Special advisers do not have job security. Their job ends as soon as their minister's does.

Irish Independent

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