TANAISTE Mary Coughlan was last night accused of political opportunism over a controversial appointment made to the Higher Education Authority (HEA).
In the dying days of the present administration she has appointed a political ally and Donegal Fianna Fail county councillor Brendan Byrne to the authority that is responsible for funding third-level colleges and advising the Education Minister on policy developments. The post is worth around €8,000 a year.
Mr Byrne, a full-time public representative, declined to speak to the Irish Independent last night.
The 35-year-old is a member of the boards of management of two Donegal vocational schools and was chair of the VEC in 2005 as well as chair of Donegal county council in 2010.
He is one of about eight new appointments being made to the authority -- the others are believed to be senior academics, business people or other professionals.
Sources pointed out that while it was not unique to have HEA members who has political affiliations, they normally are working in third-level colleges or are involved in business. The sources said it was very unusual to appoint a full-time public representative to the authority.
Teachers' Union of Ireland general secretary Peter MacMenamin last expressed outrage over the appointment.
"This smacks of opportunism of the highest order, given that it is coming so near an election," he said.
The new chairman of the authority is John Hennessy. He has been appointed for a five-year period up to January 24, 2016.